Thursday, July 25, 2019

17th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 11:1-13) Ask and it will be given to you

There is an American writer called Scott Hahn, who used to be a Presbyterian and extremely anti-Catholic, but through his own studies ended up converting and becoming a Catholic. He is a brilliant writer and teacher on the faith. His own conversion story called Rome Sweet Home, is well worth reading. He now writes and teaches as a Catholic theologian in Stubenville University. In one of his CDs he mentions that he had arranged to have a public debate with a Muslim about the differences between the two faiths. Before they had the debate he met the Muslim and he mentioned to him that he would be talking about the fact that Christians understand God as a loving Father who looks after his children. Before he was able to go any farther, he said that the other man got upset and said that it is not right to talk about God as a Father. He said God is master and that it was insulting to speak about him as Father. The Muslim ended up refusing to have the debate at all. Scott says that this really brought home to him the difference in the way we understand God. 

Jesus taught us to talk about and address God in a way that was strange and almost scandalous, for many people then and now. The Jews in Jesus’ time were scandalised that Jesus would talk about God as Father, especially the way Jesus used the word ‘Abba’. Once when I was in Israel I remember hearing a boy address his dad as ‘Abba’. It was amazing for me to hear this and it really brought home to me what it meant. The idea of addressing God as ‘daddy’ is still strange to us, and yet that’s what Jesus did.

While God is all-powerful and doesn’t need us in any way, yet He chooses to have us involved in what happens in the world. He asks us to take part in his creation, by interceding for each other, by being responsible for our actions. That is very much the action of a good parent with their child. Any parent doesn’t need their children’s help, especially when the children are small, but they love to allow the children to take part in things, for the sheer joy of having them there and helping them to learn. God does the same with us, even though there is the risk of us making a mess of things, which we regularly do.

In the first reading Abraham intercedes for the people of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God is threatening to destroy and in the classic Middle-Eastern way, he bargains his way down to the best deal. The wonderful thing is that God is happy to let him do this. God showed him what He intended to do, so that Abraham would intercede for those people. He wanted Abraham to be involved. He wants us to be involved in his world. He wants us to pray and intercede for the world around us and you are in exactly the right place to pray for those around you. You may be the only one who is praying for those people. Take it seriously. We have been blessed with the gift of faith and that is part of what God asks us to do; to intercede for those around us.

In the New Testament, Jesus brought this idea to a new level. He taught us that of course God is going to help us and listen when we ask him for help, and he spoke about it in terms of parents looking after their children. ‘Ask and you will receive. The one who asks always receives.’

Now the question comes up with most of us, ‘How come I’m always asking for things and they often aren’t answered?’ God can see a much bigger picture than we can, and what we ask for is not always the wisest thing to ask for. If your eight year old son asked for a chainsaw for his birthday, would you give it to him? of course not. The child may think that you are really mean and never give him what he asks for, but you can see a bigger picture than he can, because you are older and wiser. God is the same with us. God does answer our prayers, otherwise Jesus is a liar, but He doesn’t always answer them in the way that we expect, or understand, or even recognise. That is where we have to believe and trust that God knows what He is doing and God is looking after us.

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gives them the Our Father. Note, they didn’t ask him for ‘a prayer’, but a way of praying. So this is teaching us how to pray; a question which people often ask. The first half of the Our Father is acknowledging God, his holiness and that his will may be done. Only in the second half do we ask for our needs. So even if you only take that much away from the Our Father, remember to always start by praising and thanking God for all that we have before you ask for what you need. That’s why at the beginning of the mass each Sunday, we pray the Gloria. We praise and acknowledge God. It is only after listening to the readings that we ask for our own needs in the intercessions. This is how God teaches us to pray.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing of all is the way that Jesus teaches us to pray to the point of being annoying, the way a child will keep asking you for the same thing until you give in. This is how Jesus tells us to pray. Be persistent, until God gives in!

For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

16th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 10:38-42) Only one thing is necessary

A few years ago, something like 35 people working for French Telecom, took their own lives. The company finally began to take a serious look at what was going wrong and realised that they were just pushing their employees too hard and they couldn’t take it anymore. So the company began to change their work policy and take some of the pressure off. It is terrible that it would come to that, but I think it is also a good reminder that we are not machines and we are not just meant to be worked to death. Apparently something similar has been happening in China where people were also being pushed too hard. We are not machines and there is a spiritual side to us which is just as real as the physical, and which also needs to be cared for if we are to be healthy.

Much of our society has gone like this, working like ‘the hammers of hell’ as the expression goes. We don’t seem to know when to stop, or even how to stop. And now because Sunday is a shopping day there seems to be no beginning or end to the week. Business people will tell you that Sunday is now one of the busiest shopping days of the week. Even apart from a religious point of view, this cannot be good for us, because we need to be able to rest, to just stop and do nothing. We are not machines.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.’ In this Gospel, look at what Martha was saying to Jesus. ‘Can’t you see how much work there is to be done? Tell my sister to be busy too. She shouldn’t just be sitting there.’ But Jesus’ reply is interesting. He says that only one thing is necessary. He doesn’t just say that there is nothing wrong with her sitting and listening to him; he says it is necessary and that she shouldn’t be stopped from doing that. Stopping and listening is not just a nice idea. It is necessary. Why is it so important?

There is an order to God’s creation. It will work a certain way and the Lord knows what we are able for, better than we do. The third commandment that God gives us is to keep the Sabbath, or Sunday, holy. It is to be a day of rest, where God is acknowledged and worshipped, where God is given priority; but also a day where we can rest and recover, because we need it ourselves.

When the people of Israel (who represent all of us) were wandering through the desert, initially they had nothing to eat. So God provided them with ‘manna,’ a food that they could collect each day. This sustained them each day. But He also told them that they should go out and collect just enough for that day; but on the day before the Sabbath, they should also collect enough for the Sabbath, so that they could rest and give God priority that day. To put it in modern English, He said, ‘Do enough shopping on Saturday so that you don’t have to go shopping on Sunday.’ Sunday is to be a day of rest from unnecessary work, where we can worship God, relax, take a walk with family or friends. Why? Because we need it. It is necessary for our sanity. It is part of the order that God created, because God knows what works best for us.

God also asks us to rest so that we can continually learn how to listen to him.  I often hear people say that they wish God would speak to them more. The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, but mostly we are not listening. To a large degree we don’t even know how to listen any more, because we have gotten used to being so busy and having so much noise around us. 

You might be thinking that that is just how society has gone now and we should just get used to it. But the point is that if we are following the way of Christ as we say we are, then we need to listen to what God is saying to us, even if the rest of society doesn’t. We are told to be obedient to God. The word ‘obedience’ comes from two Latin words, ob audire, which means ‘to listen intently’. God is telling us to keep listening to him because He knows exactly what we need to do.

Christians have always been different and we will be different if we follow the path that God shows us. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe in this or not?’ Do I believe this is what God is saying to us or not?  If we believe this—as we say we do—then we need to listen to what God asks of us and follow his directions, because they are what will help us more than anything else. The order that God has given his creation, is not to make life difficult, but to help us blossom because God knows better than any of us what will help us grow.

Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things; only one thing is necessary. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

15th Sunday Yr C (Gospel: Luke 10:25-37) There is good in everyone

I remember hearing a story of a priest who went to stay with his niece and her husband. They were a young couple and were both into occult practice, so it was going to be awkward and they were a bit nervous about him staying. But when he came and stayed with them, he never said anything to them about it. He was just very loving and considerate of them both and their needs. They were so moved by this, that it actually brought about their conversion. The power of love and seeing good in others before anything else. 

All of us grow up with a lot of prejudice. We aren’t even aware of most of it, but it is there. Before we see ‘people,’ we tend to see someone who is American or Irish, black, or white, Muslim or Christian. But these are all human categories that we put on people, and even though they will tell us something about a person, we have a lot of associations with each category. We tend to think that if they are our own nationality, they’re probably ok. If they are from somewhere else we may think we have to be careful, if they are a priest maybe we have to be careful too. But if you take away all the different labels, then first of all you have another human being and that is really the only thing that matters.

This was really brought home to me visiting two prisoners in Dublin over two years.  One was in for a very serious crime, a brutal murder, which he deeply regretted. If you were to make a picture of him from the papers, you would write him off as a monster, but he was one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met. It was a freak meeting and a tragic crime.

It says in Genesis that ‘God saw all that He had made and indeed it was good.’  God’s creation is basically good and every human being is basically good. The good in them/us may have gotten buried because of the different hurts we have encountered, or because of what we were taught growing up, but there is good in everyone and that goodness is the thing that we must try and tap into in each person. We are not born with prejudice, we learn it as we grow and our family and environment forms us into who we are.

In this parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was showing the people that there could be good even in someone like a Samaritan. Ironically, we now associate the name Samaritan with someone who does good to others, but at the time that Jesus gave this parable it would have been the opposite. It would have been like trying to convince us that there could be good in an Islamic extremist, or vice versa. In Jesus’ time they would have found it impossible to believe that there could be any good in a Samaritan.  But Jesus in his wisdom used this parable to force them to admit that there could be good even in someone that they were totally prejudiced against. 

All the people around us, no matter what they believe, or where they come from, are human beings before they are anything else. Ordinary people trying to raise their families and make their way in the world just like the rest of us. Even if they have a totally different understanding of God to ours, or indeed don’t believe in God at all, there is still goodness in them.

The teachings of Jesus teach us to try and see people as people, before anything else. Each week we keep coming back to the Lord in the mass, because it is in him that we find strength to live with and love the people around us. That is where our strength comes from; from Jesus himself. Every time we receive the Eucharist we are renewing our bond with the source of love, the one who is Love itself, because all love comes from God, not from us. 

So if you want to tell other people about God as we understand him, the best thing we can do is to love them.  That will say more than anything else.

I will finish with the words of Saint Francis: ‘Let us go and preach the Gospel, and only if necessary... use words.’