Friday of Week 5 in Ordinary Time

We all know how Adam and Eve felt after they disobeyed God.  They felt guilty.  After eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve realized that they were naked, and they tried to cover themselves with foliage.  But it must have been something more than guilt they felt.  Not only did they try to hide their mistake; they tried to hide themselves.  They didn’t want God to see them at all.  So along with guilt, they experienced the related, yet even stronger feeling of shame.

Shame can do the same thing to us that it did to Adam and Eve.  It’s the feeling that tells us, ‘You’re no good’.  Shame gets at who we are, not just what we’ve done.  Instead of motivating us to fix our problems, shame makes us believe we are the problem, and that we’ll just never be good enough.  As such, shame is the devil’s ultimate weapon.  In his ongoing quest to drive us away from God, the devil always tries to convince us that we have no hope of receiving God’s mercy.

What a contrast to the way God sees us.  God is the very perfection of love, and he wants to shower us with that love.  He sent his Son into the world so that we could be free from our sins and never again feel that we have to hide from him.  When Our Lord died on the Cross and the veil of the Temple was torn in two, we were invited back to the Garden of Paradise.  We were offered another chance at eternal life.

Every day, God calls us to draw closer to him.  Let us be confident in knowing that He will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us.

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Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P.

Today we honour the memory of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who succeeded Our Holy Father Dominic as Master of the Order in 1222.  Blessed Jordan was such a powerful preacher that Saint Albert the Great was moved to join the Order after hearing one of his homilies.  Blessed Jordan became an effective promoter of Dominican vocations and he is the patron of Dominican vocation work.  He died in 1237 when his ship sank en route to the Holy Land.

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When God created the world, he gave human beings a special power which sets us apart from other creatures.  This power makes people more like God, and yet its misuse can drive people away from God.  People have fought and died for the right to exercise this power, and others have attempted to suppress it in order to gain complete domination over individuals and nations.  This awesome power is freedom.

Although we have instincts like those of the animals, we are not completely controlled by them.  We have the ability to choose.  A hungry animal when faced with food has no option, it is driven to eat, it can’t help itself.  And yet an equally hungry man or woman can, for whatever reason, choose not to eat.  And so it’s no wonder that the Scriptures present the problem of freedom within the context of forbidden fruit.  The Tree of Life is presented as a symbol of the fact that we human beings are called to choose what is good, and that God directs us in what is the real good of life.

When God gave us the gift of freedom he ran the risk that we would abuse this gift.  And yet he judged the risk to be worthwhile.  God wants us to return his love freely, not by compulsion.  He sees value only in love which is freely given.  God doesn’t want robots who must respond to the proper command.

The fact that we are here at Mass today shows that we have used our gift of freedom well.  We could be elsewhere, reading a newspaper or washing the car.  We have freely chosen to show our love for God by coming to Mass to worship him, and making this an important part of our daily routine, and the most sacred and special time of our day as a religious community.  Love freely given is, without doubt, pleasing to God, and despite the dangers of freedom, we should be glad that God has given us this most extraordinary gift.

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Blessed Reginald, O.P.

Today we honour the memory of Blessed Reginald, an early Dominican and friend of Saint Dominic.  He was a powerful preacher and inspired many novices to join the Order in Bologna.  Dominican tradition tells us that Our Lady appeared to him in a vision and presented him with a black and white habit which members of the Order were to wear – and Dominicans have done so ever since.

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When you’re looking to buy a car, it can be difficult to size up all your options.  You look at the bodywork.  You start it up: how does the engine sound?  You may even look under the bonnet and peer at the engine.  But this gets you only so far.  It’s so much better if you also know that this model has a good track record, and if you know the car’s previous owner and how well they maintained it.

In some ways, the same is true about understanding ourselves and our world.  We get only so far by looking at the way things are right now.  It’s much more helpful to know where the world came from, who made it, and why.  Today’s first reading tells us just that.  In it we learn that God made the world.  We learn that he made it good, and that it gives him great pleasure.  We learn that he made it for us.

It can be easy to forget these basic facts about our world.  Sin has wounded our world, but we must always remember the goodness, the beauty, and the lavish generosity that lies at the heart of all creation.  Today’s first reading is overflowing with wondrous details.  Look at the words that show the bounty of creation: teem, abundance, fertile, multiply.  Notice the variety of the creation, both in the passage and simply by looking outside the window.  God doesn’t do anything in half measures.

And then there’s the crown of creation, the culmination of all that God made.  “God created man in his image”.  Humans are unique in all of creation because God modelled us after himself.  Now, it’s difficult to even take in what that means, but it’s certainly a life-changing truth.

God made us to share his creation; he has appointed us as caretakers of his world.  In part, this means that we hurt because of the darkness sin has brought into the world, but it also means that we can still delight in its beauty and goodness.

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Saturday of Week 4 in Ordinary Time

Our Lord extends this invitation to his Apostles and to us: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”  The Apostles had just returned from an arduous missionary journey, and Our Lord was eager that they enjoy not only a physical rest but a spiritual one as well.  He was concerned that the rigours and the demands of ministry and the apostolic life might so absorb them that they could lose their sense of union with him.  And so, he wanted them to spend some time alone with him, in retreat.

We all need time alone with Our Lord.  We all need to spend some time with him in retreat, and not just once a year during the community retreat.  Here at Mass we fulfil the exhortation of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Through Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise.”  The Mass is community prayer and it’s meant to be generous, outgoing, and not a self-centred type of prayer.  As community prayer the Mass cannot possibly cater to the taste of each individual; just as it can’t always satisfy genuine personal needs.  For a proper and well-balanced life of prayer we need both liturgical and private prayer, each in its own time and in its own place.

Some older people still complain that they don’t like ‘the new Mass’ because there is little opportunity for them to say their personal prayers.  With Mass in a language we can all understand and with active participation encouraged, there is little or no opportunity during the Mass for personal devotions.  This opportunity must be found outside the liturgy.

Coming to Mass each day means that we have already made a sacrifice of time and effort, and a very worthwhile sacrifice it is.  But even more is needed.  In addition to daily Mass, each of us must search for solitude and a time to pray each in our own way.

Saint Paul Miki and Companions

Today we honour the memory of  the Jesuit seminarian Saint Paul Miki and 26 others who were persecuted and crucified in Japan for being Catholics.  Let us pray that as a result of their example and their witness we may come to appreciate the faith for which they readily laid down their lives.

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Being learned Dominicans I’m sure you know that the words “discipline” and “disciple” come from the same root word discipulus, which means “learner”.  We want to be disciples of Christ, and we want to respond to his call to learn from him, and to be transformed more and more into his image.  And part of that learning and transformation process involves discipline and correction.  Like any good teacher, Our Lord knows he must encourage us and tell us when we are doing well.  And like any good teacher, he knows that he must also point out our mistakes and correct us when we go the wrong way.  Without correction, we will never learn.  So, correction is a good thing.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how God can use the hard things we are asked to do, or the hard things that befall us, to discipline us.  Experiences like these clarify two things for us.  First, when things don’t go so well, or they don’t go our own way, we discover what matters most to us.  And second, when pressed beyond our natural abilities, we realize that our real strength comes from God and not from our own resources.  This is something Saint Paul Miki and his Companions would have learned, otherwise they would never have been able to witness to the Gospel in the way they did.

Often God clarifies his intentions for us through a word of correction.  This may come through Scripture, or in our prayer, through study or, for us religious, through our superior.

We all like to be encouraged and even praised and given a pat on the back for a job well done, but we should ask ourselves whether we avoid being disciplined.  We need to follow the advice given in the Letter to the Hebrews: Your Father is only treating you as his beloved child.  Remember the Son who learned obedience from what he suffered so that he could become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8).

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Friday of Week 3 in Ordinary Time

Memory sometimes plays tricks on us.  Years after some difficult incident, which at the time seemed unbearable, we scarcely recall how trying things were.  That’s why people can so easily refer back to the ‘good old days’.  But more often than not, they weren’t all that good but our memory casts a veil over the unpleasant aspects of that time.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written after the original ‘good old days’ of Christianity.  Many of the people to whom this letter was addressed had endured terrible persecutions but had survived.  Now, for some reason, they had grown discouraged and lazy in the practice of their faith.  They needed to recall former times when they had been more heroic, not with a sense of nostalgia, but with a realisation that old zeal and enthusiasm could be recaptured.  Scholars are not sure what their present problem was, but the author of the letter wanted them to recognise that any effort needed to rejuvenate themselves should be attempted.  Effort in the present would bring about satisfaction in the future, because God responds to that effort.

Something of this same idea is contained in the words of Our Lord in the gospel today.  The most difficult time for the farmer is when the seed must be sown.  Once that work has been completed, the farmer can look forward to the harvest.  And the day of the harvest makes him forget all the back breaking work which preceded it.

When we have bad days, and we all have them, we can look back on some past experience and remember that God got us through.   That realisation should give us encouragement in the present and hope for the future.  The harvest God will grant us is surely worth any struggle now.

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Tuesday of Week 3 in Ordinary Time

When I was young, I wanted to learn to play the violin, and one year with my birthday money of 10 shillings I bought a brand-new violin and case from the local musical instruments shop.  Sadly, I never mastered the violin, but we’ve all heard how someone who knows what they are doing can make a musical instrument sing.  And yet each violin starts out as a tree in a forest, which was cut down and turned into lumber. Then a craftsman got to work on it. All the pieces had to be cut, sawn, chiselled, bent, and glued into place. The sides, ribs, back, top, and neck all had to be shaped just right, so that it would resonate properly. Just imagine all the time and care that goes into making just this one instrument.

Like a violin, we have been set apart for God’s purpose and for his glory. Now, unlike the violin, which has already been created and finished, we are still being formed and shaped by God, and this process will continue until the day when we finally see God face-to-face.

Every time we respond to God’s craftsmanship, we are giving him another opportunity to shape us for his purposes, and these opportunities come to us all the time, every day. The seemingly minor decisions we make as we share our lives with others are often far more important than we think. Each one bends us a little bit more. Each one chisels us a little bit more. Each one enables us to reflect our Creator a little bit more.

Pope Benedict XVI said that we were all “made for greatness”. And that is possible as we keep inviting God, the Master Craftsman, to form us and shape us. Never forget that “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

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