Friday, January 18, 2019

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C (Gospel John 2:1-12) The superabundance of God’s goodness

All of you, I’m sure, have been to weddings. They are happy occasions and we want the best for the couple starting out on their journey. We try and provide them with gifts to help them establish their new home. Older people try to pass on some wisdom to the bride and groom, to help them on their way. Just like at a child’s first Communion, you would never want them to be embarrassed. Once in a while you may have come across a wedding where something went wrong and the bride and groom were embarrassed and it’s awful. It is a day which should be as perfect as possible.

Mediterranean weddings during the time of Christ would have lasted about a week and have involved the whole village. Who would want their wedding to be remembered for the one that ran out of wine, the sign of celebration. It would be considered a bad omen.

Mary the mother of Jesus, becomes aware of the problem and points it out to Jesus. She intercedes for the couple, just as she intercedes for us. Would Jesus refuse something asked by his mother? He didn’t refuse her request on this occasion either, even though he objected that this was not the time for his public ministry to begin. That is one of the reasons why we continually turn to Mary for help, because we know that she is looking out for us.

In the bible, wine is a sign of God’s blessing, a sign of celebration, a sign of happiness. What is amazing is the amount of wine that Jesus made. 6 stone water jars containing 20 to 30 gallons amounts to almost 1,000 bottles of wine. Even for a big wedding that is an awful lot of wine. What is this telling us? It tells us that not only is God with us in the ordinary things of life, but that God wants to bless us lavishly, with great abundance, not just to give us what we need, but far more.
Generally, when we pray for our needs, we hope that God will answer us, although we often wonder if He will. Does God even hear us when we pray? That is question that many people ask. From what the Lord tells us through the Scriptures, He assures us that He always answers us. ‘Ask and it shall be given to you. Knock and the door shall be opened to you. Seek and you shall find’ (Matt 7:7). He doesn’t say ‘Ask and it might be given to you.’

In another parable Jesus tells us to pray for what we need to the point of annoyance (Luke 18:1-8). He uses the story of the unjust judge, who fears neither God nor man. But a widow keeps demanding her rights. It says that initially he refuses, but in the end the judge gave her what she asked simply because she was wearing him down. And Jesus says, that is how we should pray. We should pray to the point of annoyance.

Then we go back to the miracle of water and wine at Cana. Not only did God come to the couple’s rescue, but he did so with outlandish generosity. The Lord is telling us the same thing. Keep asking for what you need and God will answer you and with great generosity. We may not always recognize the answer given, or it may not be the answer we hoped for, but God always answers when we ask.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Baptism of the Lord Year C (Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)

‘The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’ (Acts 10:34-35).

One of the many benefits that comes from a more mixed society, where we have people from many different parts of the world living together, is that it helps to broaden our minds. For 18 months lived in a religious community and we often have people from different parts of the world. One morning  when we came down for breakfast, two of us noticed that someone had cut the loaf of bread not from top to bottom into slices the way we usually do, but from one side to the other across the middle. In other words they had done the complete opposite of what we were used to. The two of us who noticed this at the same time both began to complain saying, ‘Who is the idiot that did this!’ But then almost immediately we both began to check ourselves and say, ‘I suppose there is no law that says you can’t do it this way!’ and we laughed at ourselves and how fixed we can be in our ways. It was a Taiwanese priest living with us whose culture is very different from ours. Something as simple as this helped us to see how small-minded we can be in our ways. 

In the second reading today St. Peter says he realised how anyone can be acceptable to God if they do what is right. That might seem obvious enough to us, but it wasn’t obvious to them at that time. The Jewish people believed that they were specially chosen by God, and that meant anyone else who was not Jewish was not so important to God. But then the Lord began to teach the Apostles that in fact He was there for everyone, of every nationality and creed.  It took them a while to come around to this way of thinking. In fact the first few times some Gentiles (non-Jews) received the gift of the Spirit, the Apostles were quite surprised. They hadn’t expected this. They didn’t think that Gentiles would be given the gift of the Spirit. God was helping them to gradually broaden their horizons. Everyone, of every nationality and creed was being called into God’s family. The Lord showed this to St. Peter through a vision (See Acts 10:9-16). Peter saw a vision of a great sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals and birds. Then he heard a voice saying:
“Now Peter, Kill and eat!”  But Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.” Again a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”. This was repeated three times and suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again (Acts 10:13-16).

This vision helped Peter to understand that no-one was ‘unclean’ in God’s sight if they tried to live the right way. The Lord was helping Peter to see a bigger picture, but as with most of us, this happens gradually. Everyone is called to be part of God’s family.

After Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan a vision was seen of the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Father in heaven was empowering him with the gift of the Spirit, to enable him to live the mission that the Father had given him, to teach the people about God and to offer himself for the sins of the world. The Spirit gave him the strength and wisdom He needed for this difficult mission. 

Perhaps another reason why people were allowed to see the Spirit descend in bodily form was to remind us of what happens when we are baptized.  We are given the gift of the Spirit to enable us to live the Christian life. It is not a way of life that we can live by our own strength; it would be too difficult. This is why God gives us the gift of his Spirit to guide, strengthen and teach us. Jesus said to the Apostles that after He had ascended into heaven He would send the Spirit, ‘Who will teach you everything’ (John 16:13b). Our minds can only take so much, and we are continually learning about the ways of God. As we continue to pray and try and live the Christian way of life, the Lord teaches us more and more. So much of what our faith is about is completely beyond us, and so the Lord teaches us little by little.

When we are baptized we state what it is we believe and we commit ourselves to this way of faith. For many of us someone else will have spoken on our behalf if we were baptized as infants, but this is done on the understanding that we will be taught about our faith as we grow up, otherwise it would make no sense. If we come for baptism as adults we will be examined before-hand to make sure we understand the commitment we are taking on. But the greatest part of Baptism is the gift of the Spirit who will teach us all we need to know, and who will continue to challenge us in different ways so that we grow ever closer to God. As long as we remain open to the gift of God’s Spirit we will be drawn deeper and deeper into God. Only in God will we find our true happiness and fulfillment and so the more we give ourselves to this journey the more fulfillment we will find.

‘The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’ (Acts 10:34-35).

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) All peoples of all religions will recognise Jesus as God

The feast of the Epiphany is an interesting one. In the Eastern Catholic Churches (the ones with all the icons), it is the feast of Christ's baptism, when Jesus was revealed to the world. In our tradition it is the feast where the three kings come to acknowledge and worship Jesus as Lord and God. For some Churches, this is also the day when gifts are exchanged, just as the kings gave the gifts to the child Jesus. Here we celebrate it as the feast of Christ being recognised by the world. The three wise men, or astrologers, were led to this place where Christ was. They read the stars and saw this huge star with great wonder. They are supposed to have come from different countries. They represent all the peoples of the world since they were not Jewish. It is a way of saying that Jesus’ coming is for all peoples of all religions and race. All people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. 

The three gifts they bring are symbolic. Gold is the symbol of a king. Jesus is a king, King of kings and the master of the whole universe. The use of frankincense is a sign of recognising a divinity or God. Jesus is Son of God, the second person of the God-head. And myrrh is a perfume that represents the suffering He will go through to win eternal life for the human race. The symbolism of the three pagan kings is that all peoples of all religions and nations will recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord and that we only have eternal life through him. 

It might seem a bit arrogant of us to say that all people will recognise that Jesus is the Son of God. That seems to imply that we are right and that everyone else is wrong, but that is not the case. People of different religions have very different understandings of God and God speaks to all people through the different religions. Even for those who never come to know Jesus in this lifetime, they still have eternal life won for them by the death and resurrection of Christ and eternal life is still offered to them through him, just as it is to us. When they die they will see this at once. They will know immediately who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

 Although we lost the possibility of eternal life with God through what we call Original Sin, God regained the possibility of eternal life for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can accept or reject this gift individually and we do this through our faith. All people are offered this possibility regardless of whether they come to know of God in this life or not, but it is not as if there is a kind of neutral ground for those who do not believe. We accept life with God when we die which will be our total fulfilment, or we lose it forever and that is the choice we must make.  

This is also where our conscience is so important, because even if we never hear of God during our life, God speaks to us through our conscience, giving us a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. Our faith and the teachings of Jesus through the Church give us a better understanding of what is right or wrong. All of the decisions that we make throughout our life are bringing us closer to, or driving us farther away from God.

 We Christians are the people who recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and has done all these things for us. We consider ourselves blessed that God has made himself known to us in this way, but it doesn’t mean that we have a better chance of going to heaven than anyone else. That depends completely on how we live our life. When we die we will realise that all this is really true. And when other people of different religions die, they will also recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord. What is important for them is to live their faith as well as they can just as it is for us. If they do this, God will also draw them closer to him and bring them to holiness, just as He will with us if we remain open. 

Meanwhile we pray that all peoples will begin to recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord even in this life, because this is the truth which God has revealed to us Either way we try to respect people who believe differently to us and remember that they are also children of God.

Every knee shall bow
in heaven, on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)