11th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B (Third Sunday After Trinity Sunday) – WHOM DO WE WORSHIP? (Mark 4,26-34)
‘So is the kingdom of God, as a man sows seed on the earth; and he sleeps and wakes, night and day, and the seed sprouts and lengthens, in a way that he himself does not know.’
Jesus, with this parable, invites us to recognise a very important border in our life. He invites us to respect the invisible ‘border’ of faith which connects us with God. There is an underlying question, which all of us need to answer, ‘why do people go to church’? Why do we come to church?
The imagery of the parable is about growth. ‘First a stalk of grain, then an ear, then full corn in the ear, then the full harvest.’ We like growth. We enjoy friendship. We enjoy the family feasts with our relatives. We enjoy our lunch club on Wednesdays. We enjoy doing something new, our hobbies, sometimes buying something nice. We enjoy sharing our table. We enjoy the growth of our families, seeing how children grow. We enjoy coming to church because we see one another, it is also an opportunity for socialising, exchanging news. This type of growth, on a human level, requires commitment. And often, when we handle disagreements in the family, or in the church, growth requires humility. Accommodation to other’s needs and customs, reconciliation after debates, initiating a renewed relationship requires humility and the sense of service.
We come to church, because in our fellowship we enjoy all these ‘natural aspects of growth’. In brief, it is good to be together.
Our parable, however, draws our attention to the ‘invisible border’ that we mentioned. In the Kingdom of God, the ‘earth yields fruit automatically’. That is, all growth is the gift of God. All, what we enjoy in our families, or in the fellowship when we meet on Sundays. This ‘automatically growing’ is a tricky one. We tend to bypass the important fact, that everything what we enjoy in the community, comes from God! It is God who gives the increase. It is in earthly humility (from moderate beginnings like the mustard seed) that God chooses to manifest his glory.
So today all worshiping communities are facing the question. Why do we come to church? Is it the human fellowship what we enjoy or would like to enjoy? Is it about socialising and being together? The answer is, yes, it is an important part of the Kingdom of God, but the main reason is not that. The fully grown mustard tree clearly points to and makes our God, the source of this life, recognisable. ‘And when the mustard seed is sown, it comes up and becomes bigger than all the vegetables, and it makes big branches, so that “under its shadow the birds of the air find shade”’.
We come to church, primarily, because we are called to worship God. We come to church not only because we enjoy the community and we have a social instinct, but because God wants us to unite our souls with His, and recharge it with something special… with the seed of faith, with the seed of healing and life, which growth we have to sow into the world, where we live and work, every single week. Seeing this ‘border’, which makes church communities more than a social club, ‘crossing it’, also requires humility and wisdom. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, I am here to worship you as my redeemer as the Redeemer of this community.’ And we will see the fruits, the very special growth which this recognition of the Kingdom of God produces in your life, and in the life of this community…
We would like to be like the mustard tree where ‘under its shadows’ there is joy and genuine celebration, reconciliation… where we can learn forgiveness, hospitality, and love’. Amen.
A SERMON ON MARY OF MAGDALENE by a Friend of our Church, Dr Anna Abram
Trinity Hall Sermon -- Choral Evensong – 20 May 2018 Who was Mary Magdalene? We know practically nothing about her historical figure except that she was a wealthy woman from Magdala (a village on the shore of Galilee) whom Jesus cured of an unknown sickness and who, though a faithful follower, left only one incident behind her to be associated uniquely with her and that is, an appearance at the Jesus’ tomb of which we have just heard. Pope Gregory the Great seems to be responsible for conflation of Mary Magdalene (the witness of the resurrection), Mary of Bethany (the sister of the busy Martha and Lazarus), and the unnamed repentant sinner who washes Jesus' feet with her tears. Much of devotional representation of Mary Magdalene focused on her conversion while many artistic or popular depictions focused on sexuality, sexual sin in particular. It is only 2 years ago that in my own Tradition (Roman Catholic) the association of Mary Magdalene as lustful young woman saved from a life of sin by her devotion to Jesus was replaced with a more apostolic identity. Pope Francis has elevated her saint’s day to a ‘major feast’ putting her on the same level liturgically as Christ’s apostles. She is now officially ‘Apostola Apostolorum’ (Apostle to the Apostles’), a title used already in the 2nd century by Bishop Hippolytus of Rome, and then by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas amongst others. Some scholars argue that the perverted image of Mary Magdalene portrayed for a long time in the Christian Tradition contributed to the devaluation of women. There are, of course, examples, albeit scarce, when the symbol of Mary Magdalene was used to empower women to act as preachers or in a couple of cases as abbesses. Susan Haskins in her book Mary Magdalene asks what ‘our tradition [would] look like if it had made Peter a converted pimp’ (London: HarperCollins, 1993). Haskins argues that even if we attribute to Mary Magdalene a (common) sexual sin, she is still superior to Peter and Paul since betrayal (in the case of Peter) or persecution (in the case of Paul) are much graver sins. Other scholars warn against a too hasty purification of the image of Mary Magdalene. Holding on to her identity as a sinner makes her more like us. Robbing Mary Magdalene of the need for forgiveness and repentance would make it more difficult for us to grasp the dynamics of conversion and salvation. But, is it really helpful or right to attribute to Mary bits of the story that don’t belong to her? In our culture of fake news adding a bit of fake identity seems acceptable, sometimes even desirable. On the other hand we are becoming more reactive to cases of misinformation or manipulation of facts. If Mary Magdalene lived today, would she sue the Church for misrepresenting her? Would she want to join the ME TOO campaign? It would be quite easy to suggest that in the end twelve male disciples proved inadequate and to claim that a woman was needed to sort out the apostolic household mess. She knew this household well – she was part of it. She accompanied Jesus on his mission and perhaps she did so better than her male colleagues. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that she was entrusted with taking the resurrection message forward. In the end, she (unlike Peter) was more reliable. This way approaching the story seems legitimate and says something important about the role of Mary Magdalene in the history of salvation. But, I think, there is a more meaningful way of engaging with the Gospel story. In the Spirit of today’s Solemnity of Pentecost, let us allow ourselves to override the issues of historicity, sex and gender, and search for some deeper truth contained in the model of discipleship that Mary Magdalene offers to us. What is this model? For me, this model is built around the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), and it is a model that the recent film ‘Mary Magdalene’ by Garth Davis, despite receiving mixed reviews, helps me to put together. Wisdom The film presents Mary Magdalene’s decision to leave her home and follow Jesus as connected to her search for wisdom. This search for wisdom for Mary has something to do with the love of God. She finds its fulfilment in the teaching of Jesus and in everything that his being represents. In Jesus, wisdom of the message and wisdom of the person are one and this is what Mary Magdalene also attempts to embody. Understanding and Knowledge She is presented as someone deeply attentive to Jesus and with an acute understanding of his mission. She really gets it and she knows her companions. Her capacity for compassionate understanding almost matches that of Jesus. She knows her calling and is faithful to it; she has self-knowledge as well as practical knowledge. She knows the boundaries. She also knows that she is taking risks. These different levels of knowledge and understanding, portrayed well in the film, make her a reliable advisor to others. She offers counsel to them, including Judas. Even Jesus makes use of her advice. But, first and foremost, she is able to receive counsel from him and she is extraordinarily receptive to it. Fortitude As for fortitude, it is not a physical bravery; it is a moral quality to overcome fear of rejection, first by her family who is critical of her decision to leave everything behind and follow the Lord. She courageously responds to misunderstandings of society and continues on her mission. Her commitment to the Lord is an expressing of her courage. She has courage to remain with him to the very end; a courage to let her heart be broken as her tears in the Gospel passage we heard illustrate so well. Fear of the Lord Even if we see her as able to overcome fear there is one fear that Mary Magdalene embodies: it is fear of the Lord (the gift of the Holy Spirit that is probably hardest to define). This fear is not about being afraid of God or God’s punishment but it is more about being afraid of losing intimacy with God, a fear of not being close to God. It is this gift of the Holy Spirit that influences my interpretation of the ‘Noli me tangere’ scene or ‘Do not cling to me’, beautifully represented by Giotto in his ‘Resurrection’ fresco, printed on this Chapel termcard. Mary Magdalene doesn’t want to lose Jesus. She has lost him twice already, in his death and when his body disappeared from the grave. Giotto captures well the negotiation between clinging and not clinging in the loving gaze between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and in the space between them in which new green shoots begin to grow. Jesus’ words ‘Do not cling to me’ may sound as a reprimand but there is no offence or bitterness in this scene. The Holy Spirit binds them together and it does so with the rest of creation on the Pentecost. It is through this Spirit that Mary of Magdala receives and accepts her mission. She goes to Galilee and share the good news with other Apostles and, by extension, with us all.
Piety Mary Magdalene is a contemplative type. There is a lot of silence and quiet gazing in the account of death and resurrection: silent pondering, imagining, suffering and love; there is also enthusiasm and rejoicing in Good News but, fundamentally, she can be described as a contemplative in action. Perhaps it is fitting on this Whitsun day, in this beautiful chapel surrounded by gardens, to refer to the rich symbolism that garden provides and agree with theological proposition as the one voiced by Odo of Cluny who insists that Christ always comes to his Church as Gardener. Similarly, Philip the Chancellor (d. 1236) in his poem on Resurrection shares the same sentiment when he says: O Mary, do not weep, there is no need to seek any further; truly the gardener and cultivator of souls is here. So, Jesus is the New Adam, the restorer of Eden, the Lord of the Garden and Mary Magdalene is the new Eve. She is the principal model for all humanity's appropriation of salvation. Even if the new Adam remains someone with whom we can never completely identify. For it is from his divinity that we seek forgiveness, while his humanity has a perfection that makes him necessarily different from any of us. By contrast, perhaps we can identify with Mary Magdalene and see her story as the inauguration of a new order that brings new life to the garden. Christ-the-Gardener through the Holy Spirit can cultivate our inner garden as he did for Mary Magdalene. He can shower us with the same gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. And, Mary can show us what it means to use these gifts well while developing an intimate relationship with God. Such intimacy makes a true recognition of the persons possible: ‘Mary’ – says Jesus to Mary Magdalene at the end of today’s Gospel’s reading. ‘Rabboni’ (in Aramaic, ‘Teacher’) she responded to him. This is, I think, what lies at the core of faith. That personal exchange which recognises who we are for each other. No fake identity; no manipulation. Just a simple heart to heart exchange. This is the condition of Christian discipleship. This, as we learn through Mary Magdalen, is the fertile ground for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to grow the Garden. And, with the Prophet Isaiah from the first reading we can acclaim: ‘the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem’. May our feet, as in the same reading from Isaiah: ‘bring good news, proclaim peace, bring good tidings, proclaim salvation’ to every corner of the World’s Garden. Amen. Anna Abram
'Narrowing the gap' - 14 January / Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
It is a striking feature in the Gospels that Jesus was calling the first disciples ‘as he was walking.’ This tells us a lot about the nature of being a disciple. Jesus is never an ‘idle figure’. He is not a mere feeling for us. He is not an abstract idea, or a text-book of faith. He is never a routinely task for us. He is not one among the ‘gods’ and powers that govern people’s life. He is not one among the many options.
Our Lord is always on the move, himself being driven by the extra-ordinary love of his Father. Our relationship to Him is always joining to him… catching up with him. The Holy Spirit keeps him on the move, as there is always something to heal, someone to console, someone to guide and redeem.
The best way to jump into this beautiful journey with Him, which is full of surprises, is to ‘speed up’, speeding up our steps. He is leading up from situation to situation. If we visit ‘where he lives’, our life-situations will be marked by his love. Has it ever crossed your mind that our getting up on Sunday mornings and coming to church - by walking, by bus or by car - reveals to us this ‘joining him’, this walking with him.
‘Master, where do you live? Come, and you shall see. They came, and saw where he stayed; and they stayed with him that day. The hour was about the tenth hour.’
This week, I would like us to see our coming week as the place where Jesus lives. It will require a conscious effort, an intent from our part, to remove the gap from between the Gospel and our life. Jesus invites us to merge them. If you are attentive, and make a daily attempt to keep this intent alive (that our life and the Kingdom of God are one!), Jesus will give us the gift, that the words of the Gospel become real!
So, this coming week, let us try to enter the situations of our life in this spirit. Let us walk with Jesus on his journey, during his teaching ministry. When you pray at home, or in church, you will join and see the teaching Jesus. When you give a particular phone call to your neighbours or friends, inquiring about their day, how they are, you will join and see the compassionate Jesus. When you go to work to your respective workplace, bringing hope and discipline, you will see and join Jesus the sanctifier of human work! When you learn at college, you will see and join Jesus the teacher and his divine wisdom. When you say no to a temptation, the path of lie, gossip or greediness, you will see and join Jesus who was tempted by Satan and remained strong! When you work for the church’s nursery or do voluntary work for this community – you will see and join the Eucharistic Lord, who is always present and gives himself in the Sacraments of Love! And this is the nature of the sacrament: being an visible sign of an invisible Life/grace!
This merging our lives with that of Jesus, is the experience, to which we will say, wow! The Gospel is really real! Living the gospel is beautiful. God is real! Being a Christian is the utmost joy! Being a Christian is the utmost joy… I wish all of us glimpses of this experience in the Coming Week. Let us come back in a week time, and share it in our coming Holy Communion, that indeed, ‘we have found the Messiah!’ Our personal renewal in faith, the renewal of the universal church, the renewal and growth of Saint Augustine’s church is that simple! This coming week, let us narrow the gap between our life and grace, as much as possible. And let us do it together, just as we receive the Communion, our sustenance for this endeavour, together. And when you experience the miraculous disappearance of the gap (between our visible life and the invisible life of God), in those moments, let us pray for one another. And just think about this mind-blowing mystery what happens when our visible life and the invisible life of God become one!
P.S. Just one more word. The heart of applying all this to us is the careful wording that then Andrew finds his own brother Simon and tells him, We have found the Messiah. The key is that he immediately felt the compelling urge to find his own brother. We need to find our own ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to whom we want to tell this good news - that God is real! That we are real, our truer self, with Jesus!
Saint Stephen, protomartyr - 26 Dec
The martyrdom of Saint Stephen is always a sudden break of the idyllic emotions of Christmas day. We awoke to the harsh reality that witness to Truth is a sacrifice.
I would like to read the scene of his martyrdom as the ‘sacrifice’ which we Christians all of us have to make in order to attain ‘spirituality’ or spiritual life. Spirituality can be defined that ‘extra-life’ on top of our routinely religious sentiments and deeds. We need to have an extra focus, an extra intent to ‘feel’ our deeds and payers. Without this, Christian life is just an ordinary life. Without the conscious effort to have ‘spirituality’, the church is without that extra life which God intended for us, our Lord’s disciples.
Stephen’s sufferings and death, his murder for his faith in Jesus as Saviour, highlights the value and the task, that Christians must go an extra mile. The Wisdom of the Tanya (written by the religious genius, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi /1745-1812/) prompts a healthy dialogue with us, Christians. In Chapter 38, he emphasises that the specific religious intent of a deed or religious act makes it alive. Through this conscious focus, we want to ‘feel’ and experience the good deed and our prayer. This experience of focus or feeling, by way of analogy, can be compared to the soul of the human being. Without this ‘extra’ of an intended spiritual life, the deeds are ‘dead’, they have no life. Routinely life and prayers are not enough. We need the conscious effort of discipleship; that of being disciples of Torah, or, in our case, Christians, of Jesus.
The Christmas crib, with its gentle devotions, and gentle lights, speak about the spirituality which we need to develop. The beauty of the Crib, with the new born Jesus, the Holy Family, and the surrounding visitors - Shepherds, animals, the three Kings - express the beauty of spiritual life. The scenes of our lives around the Crib come alive!
Christmas Eve - Midnight Mass (year B)
Pope Benedict XVI sums up the message of Christmas Eve for us. The birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve is the interpretation of our own origin! He, the one, through whom all light and life entered the cosmos… He is the source of all created beings. Whether we know it or not, we are his children! The children of the light.
This is a beautiful night. A night when our Saviour was born. This eve at the Crib, is about our roots. The joy of Christmas is our deepest root. The lights of this beautiful night convey for us an interesting and important thought.
A human being who exercises free will and has free choice, is able to move around. The baby Jesus, our Saviour King, will grow end embark on a journey where he takes us with him. This life journey is a reminder that the human person is not rooted to one place. And very often a human being - because of our inquisitive and restless mind, our power of enquiry and actions - that human being feels a little lost; sometimes alienated. Because we got far from our roots, we can feel isolated.
As a human family, the searching beyond ourselves, our journeys often cost very dearly. Humankind, smaller communities, and as individuals, we feel this ‘loss’ when we start to move away from our Roots, from our sources.
In the light of this most beautiful night, we can be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we feel that we are away from our source and we don’t know where we are going! The crib with the Christmas tree are the most powerful symbols! The Christmas tree, has a biblical origin. The Bible tells us: the human person is compared to the tree of the field. This night reveals the secret: we belong to the Tree of Life through which Jesus brought about our redemption.
The crib and the Christmas tree remind us: just as the tree always knows its roots - it is rooted to its source - so also are Christians essentially rooted to their source. To this very Crib. And to this very Tree of Life and Light. This night reveals that we are rooted to the source of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. To this new life. To this Family.
However far we may wander, however distant we may move, we know within ourselves that we have these personal roots. And those roots will keep us, guide us, sustain us and lead us to our Salvation.
Today, as a community, we celebrate that the human family has a Saviour. Thanks be to God, we know this! However, as individuals we celebrate the fact that however distant as individuals we have moved from our potentials to love and be happy - Jesus, and the love of Mary and Joseph, as our roots, has marked us for good! Through the love of this community, through the love of our friends, and those who pray for us, we can always return to this Redeeming Love. Which Love, from this eve, mysteriously, will grow with us, will rely on us, just as we rely on Him, for the rest of our life. Amen.
4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)
People often say: ‘God is invisible’, we can’t see Him. This is their lazy justification of their laps faith or total indifference to religion. Or, they quite explicitly say: ‘I don’t believe in God.’ Indeed, how could someone believe in a god whom they don’t know?
The fourth Sunday of Advent invites us both to see God and to know Him. The growing light of Advent is almost fulfilled. In this almost full tide of Divine Light we can go even further: not only we can see God – but we can make Him visible in our lives, as Mary example confirms it. Not only we can know him, but make Him known in a world, which has forgotten God.
How? How is God visible? How can he be heard? Following Mary’s example, every single yes to God makes him visible and felt. Every good deed makes God visible and present. Every prayer, particularly when as the people of God come to worship Him, our worship makes him visible. Just as our words, our prayers, and offerings, the sound our music and our songs are real – God is real and fully revealed! There is no other way for this. God who has created us without our contribution, will not reveal himself without your, and our contribution as a community, reveal us.
Without following Mary’s ‘yes’, her prayers and compassionate service to others, God cannot enter our world. Without your deliberate, conscious intent to serve God and this community, God is simply not there.. he is utterly missing.
Today’s Gospel highlights this act, the irreplaceable value of your service, when we want to make God visible amidst us.
After addressing Mary with the news of God’s redeeming plan, the angel awaits an answer. In one of his Advent homilies, Bernard of Clairvaux says that the whole human race waits with Gabriel: ‘We, too, are waiting, O Lady…We shall be set free at once if you consent!’ And Mary’s assent unlocks a flow of grace which will restore the whole created order.
This is the pattern of this miracle of revealing God in the world. God initiates a saving work, and then chooses to wait on humanity’s response. ‘The Lord waits to be gracious to you… blessed are those who wait for him’ (Isaiah 30:18)
In the Christ-child, God places himself quite literally in Mary’s hands. Jesus will take her features, and be nourished by her body. She and Joseph will teach him the words by which he addresses his Father in heaven. He will speak their accent. ‘Revealing God’ in our life, is not a passive task. As any parent, grandparent or carer can confirm, raising a child is a demanding and active task. In saying ‘yes’ to God, both Mary and Joseph are taking on the tough, dedicated task of nurturing and protecting.
So what is the lesson from this? Making God ‘visible’, and making ourselves ‘knowing him’, requires discipline. It requires spiritual life, that extra life which we have to add to our day-to-day life, which REVEALS GOD.
However, there is an extra lesson in Mary’s ‘yes’. This is the challenge of challenges for Christians, and the Christian community (the local church) itself.
God wants us to focus on the acts of our faith, namely our good deeds and prayers. A deed which has the intent of faith, is a living deed: a living service. A deed or a worship without the appropriate intent is a ‘dead deed’, or to be more precise, a deed which is missing life! Why? Why do we need this conscious focusing - that we want to do this or that in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Because God’s commandment of doing good and worship, reveal God’s will and love. In our conscious deeds and prayer (intended in Christ’s name), God’s will and love is revealed. So the intent, he focus is the energy and life force of our service to others… This intent or focus is the ‘key’… This makes our community alive as disciples. This intent or focus will transform you, make stronger, and wiser than the world of ‘no-s’ and missed opportunities. Mary and Joseph, be our guide and example in saying consciously to God’s love.
CHRISTMAS EVE (‘MIDNIGHT MASS’) YEAR B
3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
We have lit the third candle on the advent wreath. This is a very special Sunday. (We compared the first week of Advent to God putting together the jigsaw-peaces of our life. He promised that the seemingly random pieces will bring out a meaningful picture, even if we don't understand a particular event in our life. On the second Sunday, we meditated on how God in Advent 'sums up' Jesus' message and marks us by it... He marks us with the Gospel that we could also offer the 'fullness' of divine Love in the way in which we approach others in love - instead of refusal.)
This third Sunday is a special Sunday. This is special because it connects in us what is unfinished in our Advent preparation to the fulfilment of it. That is why the name of the third Sunday is 'Gaudete!' - Rejoice! 'Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near!' (Entrance antiphone). Indeed, your fulfillment is near! In Saint Paul's words, 'Be happy at all times!... May the God of peace make you perfect and holy!'
The color of this special Sunday is most telling. Pink is 'halfway' between the deep purple of repentance and the white of Christmas joy! This is between the stern voice of John the Baptist: 'Repent' and the joyful song of the Angels at Christmas: 'Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of good will.' Today's Gospel specifically confirms the meeting between our human effort of purifying our faith and life and God's support in Jesus. 'I baptise with water; but there stands among you the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.'
We cannot stop at this beautiful image of 'transition' between where we are and where we can arrive! This Sunday is about the joyful anticipation of the joy of Christmas. We still want to work on our saying sorry to God, that 'I am sorry for my sins'. But we also want to arrive to the joy of our faith. We want to experience how wonderful it is to be a Christian... the privilege of privileges!
We can only connect these two parts of Advent unless we fully commit ourselves to all what our faith teaches us. John the Baptist was a serious person, with a strict, challenging message: produce the fruits of repentance. Turn back to God...otherwise you will lose your ways for good... and persons and nations will reach a point when there is no way back to God. When there is no experience of genuine joy, the joy of love, which joy can overcome any distortions and challenge....!
(Those of us who attended our Advent vigils in the morning, we had a foretaste of this experience. This was very difficult to get up early and start our prayers at 6.45 in the morning. We felt sleepy for the rest of the day. Yet, we felt, that there is a profound joy flowing towards us, through... Without words, we experienced John the Baptist's joy... that there is a stream of love, which comes from God which alone can wash our human history clean... our lost ways, our wars and conflicts afresh...)
The big question is, what could Jesus' call to repentance mean today? This third, pink-joyful light of the third Sunday reminds us of what is real. That it this is only the dialogue, the conversation between Divine love and human love, what is REAL! This is our sole reality - everything else is distraction, unreal, and 'fake news.'
This is a very serious message. At the same time this is a very joyful message! I would like us to think about what is 'repentance' for us. I read a statistic, that the decline of religion starts with 1963, when BBC started broadcasting... I am not blaming 'watching telly', but this is an important 'symbol'. It seems that our departure from God coincides with our entering 'unreal spaces'. When our consciousness is somewhere else... Neil Postman defines the 'cyberspace' in this way, when while I am here, my mind, my consciousness enters somewhere else. Since nineteen sixties, the gap between our self and God is widening... Since we detached the center of our soul from ourselves and God.
This third Sunday of Advent wants us to reconnect with our faith, with our truer self, with God. We believers are offered a journey back from our captivity in the cyberspace. We are offered Jesus as our way and gate back from the captivity of joy-lessness to the joy of fellowship!
Humankind is cherishing the illusion of finding 'new habitable planets' out in the space.... Powerful countries want to send mission to the Moon again, to Mars. This is pure madness! This is the mad rule of the 'cyberspace' over us.
Hail, Saint Augustine's, take the reverse way! Rejoice in your Saviour who is among us! Rejoice in your Saviour who stays with us, if we pray better, if we want to become better persons in our families, workplaces and neighborhoods! Rejoice, because this very Holy Communion makes you real! Touch it, consume it! And let it carry you to those who need a real experience of love and forgiving!
2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
This is always very exciting to read the beginning of the Gospels. It recalls the excitement which we felt, when being young children (year 1) we began a fresh note-book into which no one has written before. This was the challenge of the unknown, a fresh beginning, full of positive hopes.
Mark's Gospel gives an exciting summary of what Jesus' life is about...why he did come among us. Our first and second reading also 'sum up' why we need redemption from sin. The prophet reminds us that the original sin of Adam and Eve has painful consequences. Sin, without the repentance of humankind, has been accumulating ever since. That is why the news of wars, disagreements, and lacking solidarity among nations - and painful divisions within a country. That is why we are facing many forms of exploitation and injustice.
So why is it so important that the Son of God offers his hole-life story for us? The four weeks of Advent seem to be too short a time to repent...or repair in our lives what is broken... Advent seems to be too short for learning all what we need about Jesus, or to learn what this season is about...
Those of us who tried to start our day with a Vigil and being at church by 6.45... all of us felt that it is difficult, we can't do it every day. So why is still every Sunday of Advent so special? Why does want to God communicate with us in special way in these 'summaries'? Why the 'summary' that the Advent wreath offers to us? Why the 'summary' of God's redeeming love which the crib tells us?
Last week we had one light on the Advent wreath. This week, we have lit the second light. The light is growing in us. Perhaps will never be as strong as we want it during these for weeks. Yet, God wants to give us something very precious...despite our limitations. God wants to give Himself to us in a special way.... .... Yesterday's Christmas Bazaar is a further gift, which he gave us, which 'sums up' the fullness of the Christian message. Yesterday you were gifts to all our visitors, among them new faces. For many people among these new faces, this Chistmas Bazaar was the only contact with organised religion. They don't go to church, they have no worshiping community whatsoever - yet yesterday you were 'the summary' of God's love for them. God's all welcoming and embracing love....
We ourselves, who contributed to the bazaar, were like the 'summaries' of the Gospel... or the 'summary of God's love' what the Advent wreath, or the crib tells of God.
Today, I would like to draw our attention to this 'mystery' how this 'condensed love' of God works, and touches us. Often we are not at that level where we could be in our faith. That is, most of the time, or in most of the cases, we are not at the level where we should be in terms of our religious observance. Often we, or Christians in general, are not at the level where we should be in terms of the knowledge of our faith...
The point is that in the four weeks of Advent, in the crib, in the Christmas celebration God fully gives Himself to us. So that even if one is not at the level of these mysteries which we celebrate this is still the fullness of God's love what we receive. Even if we don not understand what the texts of the Gospel, or the liturgy, God marks us with his full love. Even if one does not grasp what he or she is hearing this is still the full Gospel. If one reads the Bible without full understanding this is still the full word of God. Even if we understand little, nevertheless a word or idea or gesture remains with the person, and in its wake can bring (and indeed does bring) all manner of good surely a positive thing.
The same applies to our Advent preparation. The same applies to receiving Holy Communion in Advent. The same applies to the Eucharistic presence... It is important to be marked by it. This divine light, this growing light, symbolised by the Advent candles, step by step, transforms our community into a Eucharistic Community. ('Eucharisten' means thanksgiving; a fully thanksgiving and worshiping community). Advent is about this 'partial' encounter: being marked by the full coming Love of our Lord. And we would like to reach the tipping point, when we can fully respond to this Love in God, and in our loved ones.
(You know how important it is for me to always think and live as part of Christ's universal, 'Catholick', church. I dare to say, we are marked by the Catholicity of the Church in the same way.... The intense, but partial experiences of Love, which we experienced yesterday, will produce a fruit in us, soon... Just let us keep working and waiting for a fuller understanding of who we are and where we should be in God's sight. Amen.)
1rst Sunday of Advent Year B
Advent is a 'miniature' of our lives. The four weeks sums up your life, where you are. This is an honest test. Our Advent journey is like working on jigsaw puzzles. As we find each piece and fit it into place, a beautiful scene begins to take shape. A Christmas tree begins as a speck of green, forms gradually, and emerges as a beautifully decorated pine. The scene of the Nativity with Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus, or the three magi develop in a similar way. A hand gains a body and face to become a person. Piece by piece the work is completed. How like a jigsaw puzzle is the work of God in our lives! Like the pieces of a puzzle, God places the seemingly disparate pieces of our lives into a picture that, for a tome, only God knows. All along the way, through the circumstances of our lives and the choices we must make, God says to us: "here, my child, take this piece; place it here. Now this peace. Now another. And another", until some form begins to emerge that we can see.
The advent preparation as a jig-shaw is not a naive or mere nice image. These four weeks will be a co-operation, a co-working with God.
What if the jigsaw is completed? That means a good preparation. Your individual faith will be strengthened, you will feel happier, and more connected to God and the persons around you.
However, today's Gospel is a warning. This is a toiling work. God wants to see a change in us. God wants to experience a transformation in you, regardless of age. So, we must also consider the second option, what if the jigsaw is not completed? Without conscious extra work on ourselves, the jigsaw will remain the same.
That is why I said that Advent is a model, a summary of our life! The weeks of Advent are honest with us. Like a clock, the Advent wreath will show that our time is passing... And we don't want to spend these four weeks, and our whole life, starting the same jig-saw again, stopping at halfway, leaving our faith unnourished, uncompleted....
Advent will be an honest test. Advent will be a joyful test. We have to show our Lord progress in important areas.... not only of our personal faith, but of our faith together....
Sunday 19 Novermber 33 OT
33 OT A (Matthew2 5:14,15, 19 - 21)
Today, I would like to relate our gospel reading to the candle as the metaphor of the Christian. The master, who gives the assignment of multiplying of the talents, reminds of a crucial feature of our faith. Namely, God did not create the world and gave us Revelation, and the sacraments, only for emotions! The gospel reminds us that the most important ingredient of being a Christian is action! 'Act as a Christian, act as a disciple!' The most important element of Christianity is to do! The entire purpose of creation is to do!
· 'story of the heart attacks'
The story of the talents invites us to a rich understanding. The 'task of increasing what we have' can mean that God has put us into the world to spend our life in a permanent 'struggle' of saying no to our selfish, nay, evil inclinations.... From this angle, the task of producing growth is about our continuous effort of not giving in to the bad options that we can make...
'The wise man's eyes are in his head!' 'The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness' (Ecclesiastes 2,14)
With this, we arrived to our metaphor, the candle. In the Jewish mystical tradition, God's glory, his Divine Presence rests on the person's head. Divine Glory is, as it were, 'hovering above us.' The candle gives us a powerful teaching. The candle consists of three parts. The flame, the wick, and the fuel (the wax). The flame is the Divine Presence, the wick is the human person, the body of the candle is the fuel. What does our Easter Candle teach us? In brief, 'what keeps God on the head of the Christian?' What keeps God hovering above Saint Augustine's, above the head of our community?
What happens when the flame flickers upwards? It wants to escape... The wick holds it down. But the wick without fuel is dirty and will quickly burn out. When there is no fuel, the wick is consumed and burned up. We always need a healthy flow of oil.
The first question we need to answer, what is the oil that causes the wick burn? What is the good quality, spiritual fuel that makes the godly energies ('God's grace') burning upon or head? The first servant from our gospel shows that it is not enough to 'meditate' on that we belong to God. It is not enough to have sentiments towards God, the feelings of love and fear. It is not enough to speak of God and pray to him. The first servant does this - and nothing more.
Doing God's commandments, doing good in the world, is the good quality fuel! Through these actions, the task of creation is to create a dwelling place for God; here in our material world. So that God can find a dwelling place... Our good deeds must be burning 'on our head'. The talents to be multiplied stands for that you always have to have an abundance of good deeds! Yesterday's good deeds are not enough today!
There is a bit more can be said of the fuel. Why the deeds and not only prayer? Why our soul is not the fuel? Because our soul is only a creature. It is limited in its energies... There is always a gap between us and God. The fuel has to be 'the finest quality'. The fuel has to come from within our Creator! The great recognition of the Bible is that God and his will are one. Whenever we do what he wants, in that deed, God is fully present! The source of energy is God's will for the whole of Creation! That is why it is so important to 'imitate' our Heavenly Father, to strive for perfection and be as perfect as our Heavenly Father is! What Jesus commands us, God's commandments, are the inner essence of God!
So, in order to fuel our candle, we need deeds! We need to use and liberate the Godly energies which are there in every good deed, in every good ocassion when we love!
The servants also teach us something important. God is in what you do, not what you say! We have control over what we are doing right now! What is happening, what is becoming, there where we find God! (Where does God reveal himself? Wherever he is permitted to enter) Even failure is appreciated by God, if there is a genuine attempt. The master in our story tells off only the one who has not made an effort! Those who produced two, three or five talents more, they are rewarded for their efforts.
There is an extra meaning of the light above the candle. That healthy flame also stands for our community's sense that we belong to Christ's Apostolic and Chatholic church. Churches that do not maintain the sense of the 'catholick', that through our Bishop, we belong to Chirst's universal and one church, will necessarily die out! So you can see, our extra motivation to be Christians! We have the wonderful vocation to 'fuel' our personal faith; and we have the twin-task of keeping alive the sense that Christ intended one Church, a family of the local churches, without division!
The flame as our Easter Faith
On every Sunday, we I light like a candle. We would like to walk during the coming week with God's Presence and Love resting above us - and radiating this Light! This is so good - 'so light!' - to be a Christian! And this is wonderful, to see that our Church, through our commitment to this Divine Light, is like a burning candle... God's presence is shining above it! This is so wonderful to keep our church alive and alight! I wish that your faith in Our Lord might be nourished by your good deeds and prayers till we meet again next Sunday, on the Feast of Christ the King - whom we shall celebrate as Christ the Light of the world!
Sunday 31 November OT 5
31 OT (Matthew 23:1-12)
· Last week, on Wednesday and Thursday there were two very important feasts. First, we remembered All Saints. We celebrated all God's saints, whose name we know, and whose name we don't. Who is a saint: a saint is a person, who in his earthly life excelled in all virtues, who was outstandingly charitable, loving, and compassionate. On Thursday, we prayed for the departed members of our families. We lit a candle for them and friends. These two important days marked the whole of November. November is a month dedicated to faith. The weeks before Advent is about re-focusing our life on its very Source: God's Love. - At the end of this period we will celebrate Christ the King, who sums up our listening 'to the beyond', to our fulfilled life in God. - This focus on the very heart of our Christian faith is crucial. This makes us what we are, different from any other religions, the people of hope. We are people of belonging to the House of Love. We believe and witness to the truth that our life is part of a much wider life, where it will be fulfilled and completed.
Our Faith in Jesus Christ, Our Messiah · We live in very challenging times where Christian witness is very important. - Our community, here at St Augustine's, and St Alphage, through the efforts of our faith, is a light for the world. - We are approaching Messsianic times. We believe that Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who redeemed us, has brought about an important change. - We are preparing for his second Coming... - As we are approach 'Messianic times', "we go from the condition of many to the condition of one". - The world of science was teaching that everything is many, and how we know that everything is one! - The internet is showing that 'many', our muti-faced world is one, that all is united... The internet unites time, space, everything. - The history of humankind is also 'many', it is fragmented, broken down into more and more chaotic stories... - But it is still a many-faced, disunited world....
· The world of 'many', the 'public domain', which is the domain of many, is a world of separation... Where we need laws, interpreters.... - The world of the 'many', the world of disunity, the world of chaos is filled with impurity, even sin. There is no unifying light, there is no Light that would arrange it into a unified community. God's life and grace is also present in this world, but it is concealed in this world of 'the many'.
· 'One' represents Revelation. Through God's Revelation, all is transformed into light, the domain of One! - Our first reading tells us how important it is to unite 'morally' our life. That is to lead a godly life, which is united with God's life. 'If you do not listen, if you do not find it in your heart to glorify my name, says the Lord of Hosts, I will send the curse on you and curse your very blessing. But you, you have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching. You have destroyed the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of Hosts.' - Saint Paul reminds us that Our Messiah, Jesus is a living power among you who believe it. - The Gospel also invite us to remain faithful to this unifying Center, the Father's love which our Lord revealed to us: you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’ · So let us think about it individually, how important it is to make this unity with God visible... Why the life of our local community is so important? What is your specific task of making this community and your personal life a 'pointer' to God.... · Our life is torn apart by many forces, which want to 'de-center' us... But when we bring to realization the divine intention underlying our life, it re-unites us with this life giving center time and again!
Sunday, 15 October, 28 OT
Feasting in the Bible symbolises heaven. Today’s gospel, however, adds some sombre notes. First, we notice the sad lot of those who refuse the invitation, even to the point of murdering the king’s servants. Then we are startled how one of those brought in from the byroads, almost at random, is severely punished for not being properly prepared for the wedding.
The three readings as the expression of the Eucharist While the gospel and Isaiah refers to the final banquet at the end of times, and Paul to his daily sustenance, all the three readings today can be interpreted as the Eucharistic celebration itself. The Eucharistic bread and wine, what we eat and drink, is at once food for the daily journey, the prophet’s reward in their quest for justice, and a foretaste of heaven.
The ‘contents of the Eucharist’
What is offered in this feast of our great King and Lord? Even more, what is our duty and obligation in the light of this great gift? What are we called to via the Eucharist? - Isaiah speaks of God as home for the poor, refuge for the needy in distress, shelter from the rain, shad from the heat. (Isa 25:4)
- If we, the poor and discouraged people of God, retain our faith and confidence in God, then by faith we will move mountains and sycamore trees which stand in the way. We will find ourselves at a ‘feast of rich food and choice wines.’ - At the Eucharist we are nourished with the word of God and with the body and blood of the Word Incarnate. Here we are given nourishment to share ourselves with others as Jesus does with us. - Here we all overcome all barriers of race and prestige, for we are all the ‘needy’ looking for shelter and love. Thus every tear is wiped away and death is overcome!
What conclusions can we draw in view of God’s invitation to this rich feasting?
The parable of the Gospel is all about the way in which Jesus’ audience are passing up their chance to share in the kingdom of God. The focus is clearly Jesus: Jesus and the kingdom go together! Jesus and the gifts of life go together. To reject one is to reject the other. - The Pharisees understand what is being said: it’s just that they don’t believe it. They do not believe that this ordinary human being, standing before them, has their life in his hand. They do not believe that their reaction to him will decide their fates.
· The man who turned up at the wedding without a proper dress is only seemingly treated unfairly. Like the people who rejected the initial invitation, this guest is not interested in his relationship with the King. He never expected or wanted to meet him or speak to him, and he doesn’t care what the banquet is for. - This is Matthew’s sombre warning to us Christians, and non-Christians, lapsed Christians, and non-believers, who are nourished by the Feast of Life every day. Unless we have come to rejoice with the Son, there is nothing for us here! · What a wonderful thing it is that we are rejoicing with Him, on every Sunday!
Archbishop Welby’ s message
Finally, let me share the message of Justin Welby’s thought from our clergy study day from last week. When asked what kind of priests we need for the 21st century, he said: ‘Heaven knows….’ I don’t know, we don’t know. However, we know one thing. The life of these priests must be rooted in the life of Jesus, it must be rooted in Jesus. - Because it is through prayers that they will be open to the needs of those whom they serve. · The same applies to the community. We need communities and local churches whose life is rooted in prayer. It will transform us, and make us compassionate. - We need to pray together, as often as we can, and the Holy Spirit will turn us into the sharers of God’s heavenly banquet…
Are we prepared?
Are we prepared? This question sums up our parable. - As a new generation of Christians, do we have the sense of responsibility to all Christians? To all who live and work with us and around us? - Are we ready to learn eagerly about our faith, who Christ is for us?
Our answer is the Eucharist we receive.
26 OT – A – (Matthew 21:28-32)
Last week we celebrated our harvest festival. We sought the moral message of the gathered and offered fruits of the year. In them, we contemplated the two energies which govern and sustain this both nature and human life. The fruits revealed God’s immense hospitality, sharing, benevolence, that God is our measureless giver! But they also pointed to God’s ‘judging intelligence’. How God who takes a distance from its creation, and judges how we lived with the gifts of life. So our harvest festival invited us to prayer: we asked God to move from his throne of judgement to his throne of compassion and abundant life giving.
Today’s Gospel invites us to contemplate a similar ‘double movement’. This time it is the two types of energy in the human heart. One, which wants to center upon one’s own life and narrow self-interest. The other energy is the energy of love: which is so fertile that it is responsive to both our neighbour’s and God’s life.
We can learn a lot indeed from the balanced way in which God judges the world with justice and loves the world with immense hospitality…
Joining God’s compassion
First, the Gospel for today comforts the sinful and the despised. God holds his ground against those good people who complain that God is too merciful and too soft towards sinners… The unethical practice for which God is being accused turns out to be the forgiveness of sinful people. Ezekiel connects us with our God who is a genius in his judgement. He judges the sinner but (think of the two energies contemplated in the harvest festival) with immense mercy, hospitality, and sharing of his goodness. The emphasis is on the harvest, the possible and desired fruit: ‘when the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.’
· We must immediately notice that it is this same spirit in Jesus which his opponents attacked. It is our Lord’s authority of mercy which was new to their experience. What kind of authority is it, and who gave it to him? - That is why it is not the Lord’s teaching what his opponents challenged: they have little interest in that. The challenge which this world feels lies not so much in what we the disciples of our merciful God say as in what we do.
Being non-jugmental · How does God’s compassion challenge us in practical terms? - The underlying message of today’s Gospel is what our guardian angels have been whispering to our ears every single day. (Tommorrow is the feast of the holy guardian angels….) - They say: ‘And be humble of spirit before every single person’. That is, we should not feel to be better than others! - All of us have experience of ‘bad people’. All of us are tempted to judge those who are less observant in faith, or have no faith of all… If we are honest with ourselves, yes, we do make judgements, we do compare ourselves with others. We do judge ‘criminals’, we do despise those who do something immoral, who cheat, who steal, who lie…. - Yet, today we are invited leave this judgement to our powerful and merciful God. Let this thing happen between ‘the sinner’ and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. - In God’s eye (and the Gospel is like the merciful eye of Jesus) something important is reflected… We can read this great wisdom, reflected in God’s eye, the great liberating wisdom, which only the disciples of our God can see. - We should not feel to be better than others. Why? Because the intensity of their struggle is greater than your own. - Do not judge your fellow man until you have stood in his or her place! - We should not be judgmental of others because we do not know their upbringing, their trials and tribulations! - It is his or her place that causes the person to sin… We are not allowed to make the final judgement because this person is exposed to all the negativity and temptations of sin… Compared with them we actually spend our whole day in a safe environment. -In brief, how can we judge a person who batters with a temptation or challenge when we do not have that temptation or challenge?
· And this is the story which we have to respect: it is between them and God alone.
Our wider responsibility
However, this does not mean that we remain passive. We, as a Christian community at St Augustine’s are called to be compassionate for creating an environment which offers ‘guidance’ to all. - Our God, who is our judge, calls upon each person to recognise their responsibility to uncover the holiness and mercy latent within himself or herself… to reveal the inherent holiness of the world, and to take responsibility to similarly inspire others.
‘Three loves are intertwined: the love of God, the love of the Christian teaching, and the love of our neighbors. If you have only the love of God and not the love of your neighbour, that is a sign that the service of God is deficient. The love of hour neighbour (and local church community!) will bring us closer to the love of God and the love of his teaching.’
Sunday 24th September, 25 OT/15th Sunday after Trinity - HARVEST FESTIVAL
Today is our thanksgiving for the Harvest. We thank God for all the things he gives us in this life. We remember those who are less fortunate then ourselves. But our Harvest festival, and our celebration of the Eucharist, is a very unique one.
We have the fruits of the previous ‘fertile year’ on our altar. They remind us, that there is a human life, the human calendar is subjected to a greater Law. Actually, we finish the ‘old year’ given for growth, and we begin a new year. We are standing in front of our God, who is the giver of all life.
- It is not accidental, that the Jewish ‘new year’ coincides with the harvest festival! That is why we played the sound of the Sofar, the mesmerizing sound of the ritual horn of the feast. - So what are we celebrating today? How does our celebration reveal that ‘harvest’ is also a ‘judgement day’ with one of the most powerful messages of the year.
· The first meaning of our harvest festival is that we remember that we have come to the end of the cycle of sowing, growth, and harvest. With the ‘new year’, the cycle begins anew with the autumn sowing of the seeds… - We remember many things today.
1 Our autumn products are the fruits of creation. When we present them to our God with thanksgiving we remember the creation of Adam and Eve, the fact that we are creatures. - All the other ‘deeper messages’ come from this reminder that we are subjected to our Creator.
2 This is not the beginning of the calendar year. ‘Rosh Hasanah’, does not mean ‘new year’, but the ‘head of the year.’ - The significance is control! It is the ‘head’, the brain which controls everything. It determines what is coming for the new year… - Today we remember that our world is under judgement: God is judging what kind of year is coming for us… ® So when we present our gifts, we also bring our requests to God. What kind of year we would like to have. It is a good time to ask from God…
3 The magnificent colours of our fruits sum up the two types of different energies which govern and sustain this universe… both nature and human life. - On the one hand, these bright colours reveal God’s immense hospitality, sharing, benevolence, that God is our measureless giver! - Yet, on the hand, these fruits are also windows onto God’s ‘intelligence’. They reveal the opposite energies of ‘planning life’, being focused, disciplined. This energy can be summed up as discernment, and judgment. The two poles are: total, free life giving, and the God who takes a distance from its creation and judges how he lived with the gifts of life.
4 · Our fruits stand exactly at the mid-point of these energies… - This is a unique Eucharist, because today plead our God who is examining everything and forgets nothing to revert his energies of withdrawal and judgement. - The reason the Jews blow the Sofar, and we offer today’s Eucharist, is to get God to move from his throne of judgement to his throne of compassion… and generous giving. - Offering our harvest, and making our requests is when the switch happens from judgement to compassion. (and we have to imitate the compassionate God in our relation to our neighbours!)
5 Today, the sound of the festival trumpet invites us to listen! - We are invited to shut down everything who we have been before in order to hear a message that we have never heard before! - How do we switch God’s ‘mode of judgement’ to ‘God’s being compassionate and generous’ is not by what you are doing best but rather hearing what you need to hear! - We can have our requests today… But not a wish-list of what I want to have this year, what I am entitled of…
· Harvest festival is about ONE REQUEST. We should power down ‘who I am, with my ‘demands’’… We should ask on our harvest festival what God wants me to achieve in the new year of growth! - ‘Can I hear what God is asking of me for this new year…’ ‘What I have to do till next harvest time…’ - When we enjoy the flavor of our fruits, we are invited to listen with every fiber of our being, with our heart, to unlock God’s blessing for the new year.
6 The story of the man who had to teach the king’s horses to fly.
- a man was waiting for his execution. - Then in his despair, in the king’s court said, o King, save my life, and I will teach your horses to fly! You will be admired and famous for your flying horses. - What? You can teach my horses fly? How much time you need? - One year! - If you don’t do that, I will execute you in a year time. - The mans goes home, the wife is surprised… But you have a phobia of horses! You cannot even approach a horse without fainting? First you will have to learn to approach a hoarse, already an impossible task for you. - Darling, one year is long time. May be the king’s horses die in the meantime. May be I will drop dead in the meantime. May be the king will go on war, and will lose and be deposed. - So Darling, let is enjoy and cherish and spend this time together in a meaningful way…
Sunday, 17th September. 24 OT (Matthew 18:21-35)
Forgiveness that is off the scale. In brief, this is the theme of today’s readings. There are two questions, which we would like to answer. What does forgiveness mean for us Christians. What it must mean for a Christian? Second, what is the source of our forgiveness? And thirdly, what is the significance of it on a larger scale? Why is it so important for Christ, the King?
· Today is forgiveness Sunday. · We Christians have received much forgiveness from God. It ought to be second nature for us to forgive others. Yet we all realize how difficult it is to offer forgiveness. - We may be taken advantage of again by new offenses by the other person (who is of ‘the difficult person’ for us.) Or our open hand may be refused. Or we may say honestly to ourselves: how can I forgive if I am unable to forget the sting and pain of wounds once inflicted upon me? · Despite all these valid difficulties, the Scriptures (and the sacraments we receive!) leave us no alternative than to forgive our neighbor. Or, what is still more demanding to us, to forgive the member of one’s own family. Sirach writes for us: ‘Should a person nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Should a person refuse mercy to another, yet seek pardon for their own sins?’ - The answer is an obvious yes. Because of the difficulties Sirach repeats himself in a clear statement: The Lord heals us only when we stop nourishing anger against another.
· The Gospel is still more precise and forthright. When we are wronged by a brother or sister, we do not forgive seven times, but seventy seven times. My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless you forgive from the heart.
· Our readings not only place before us the clear expectation of forgiving, but they also motivate and direct this difficult process… - First of all, the Bible assists us by its clarity: forgiveness is a matter of life or death, of peace or bitterness. Sirach tells us: ‘Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner who refuses to forgive hugs them tight.’ - The unforgiving person is self-consumed by ‘wrath and anger’. The failure to forgive brings much pain and a score of inhuman reactions. Not to forgive is like not breathing: it is that unnatural and inhuman! - Forgiveness then towards others enables us to be in control of ourselves, just as the inability to forgive delivers us over to a bitter slavery of wrath, anger and mistrust.
Our source for forgiving others
Our second question was, what is the source of our forgiveness? Actually, it is not forgiveness by itself that makes us our own masters or mistress. But rather as Paul writes to the Romans: ‘While we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as the Lord’s servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s.’
· Christ, and now the Christ in the Eucharistic celebration, who enables us to forgive. By forgiving others, and by receiving the Lord’s forgiveness in our sinful life, we become the Lord’s. We become the Lord’s.
· The parable of forgiveness in the Gospel can be read in many ways. Usually we focus on the wickedness of the merciless servant. Yet there is a positive, kind of patient reading of the story. On the one hand, Jesus explains the necessity to forgive another. On the other hand, the servant refuses to forgive another, even after receiving for himself a still more generous retirement of all personal debt. - This contradiction also shows that forgiveness covers a long period of ups and downs. Sirach, from his part, speaks of ‘healing’. This does not happen instantly. While the act of forgiveness takes only a moment, the full effects cover a long period of time and require careful attention. We need to re-establish bonds of friendship across the family or parish or workplace. - The Holy Communion is our nourishment on this journey, which we indeed need. As forgiving is both simple and complicated; most of all it is absolute necessary.
The importance of forgiveness on a larger scale
Biblical history is the history of one true, loving, and forgiving God. This God is urging us to cast aside the false idols of self-interest and to live in the truth. This is from this inability to forgive, to imitate the example of the forgiving God, from which stems all the violence of our age. Wars, bombs planted in revenge, fight on personal and international scale… are coming from the distorted desires, from the heart that is unable to forgive. Who planted this heart? And who plants the new heart?
· Come Jesus, transform our hearts! Amen.
10th September - 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR A (Matt 18:15-20)
To be a Catholic in a special sense
· On every Sunday, we pray in the Creed: we believe in the Holy, Catholick, and Apostolic Church. We belong to the Catholic tradition within the Church of England. That is why we are called ‘Anglican Catholics.’ - Today’s readings reveal a very important and interesting aspect of what it means to be ‘Catholick’. ‘Catholick Church’, the ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’, the universal church. That is, what is believed universally at present, by everyone throughout the earth at this time of history; what was believed by all the previous generation of Christians; and what will be believed by the future generations.
However, there is another meaning of the word ‘Catholic.’ What is this meaning? When we celebrate the Eucharist, we, very different people come together to the Lord’s Table. And out of an enormous diversity, different family backgrounds, different qualities, habits, and thinking – the Eucharist creates ONE community, unified by Christ Love and Teaching. - From diversity unity is created. A shared commitment to Saint Augustine’s. This is a miracle, the greatest miracle on Earth. (- That is why the life of the local church is important! The quality of how we respond to God’s love, how we imitate Jesus Christ in this particular family is very important. We are a living cell of the ‘universal’ Catholic Church.
Brotherly correction – a special aspect of Catholic life/ Christian
· Today’s readings highlight a very important aspect of the transformation which happens to us through the Eucharist. - Namely, how are we to deal with brotherly or sisterly correction as adults. How do ‘Catholic Christians’ do this very difficult task? - If we approach the other person or group with genuine love, then we are not setting out to win an argument. With Christ in our heart, we do not want to prove the other person wrong. ‘Love - Saint Paul insists - is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor.’ - And it is wrong to humiliate the other, the shame the other person. - Sarcasm is wrong; mockery is wrong; half-truths are wrong. In correcting the neighbor, therefore, ‘love never does any wrong’ to them.
· Because love unites, in the difficult matter how we are heard is just as important as how we are speaking. - According to the commandment to love we need to hear with the ears of the other person while admonishing them. - We need, as it were, ‘Eucharistic ears’. What we speak must make sense to them and be in contact with their values and hopes. When we are correcting someone we are addressing what is good in them. - And this is the big difference, when ‘the Eucharist corrects us’, or the person, who corrects us in the power of the Eucharist. We are addressing what is authentically good in the person that this goodness can become more visible in their actions. - If we correct others with love, then we are enhancing and affirming what is valuable in them.
· There is even something more. To correct with love also means to share the pain of mistakes. If we are discussing sins and failures, imprudence and impulsiveness, the we are bonded in suffering together. - We weep with those who are weeping, we are shamed with those who are ashamed, we feel helpless with the helpless and impulsive. · When corrected, God, and the other person in the power of God, seeks to counteract what is working against the hidden yet real goodness in us. - Correction seeks to motivate, to reveal unsuspected sources of strength, to revitalize ideals, to find and encourage what seems lost.
· Brotherly or sisterly correction is never easy. In fact, this is the most difficult thing, usually a risk of losing what little friendship is left. - Despite all this, Ezekiel’s words are necessary. Correction of a brother or sister, or a community, a church, even a nation, nay, nations! - is at times not an optional matter. Correction (including self-correction!) can be so obligatory that our own salvation depends on it. ‘If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from their way, they shall die for their guilt, but I will hold you responsible for their (spiritual) death’
· And here is when the meaning of ‘Catholic’, with which we started becomes important. Out of diversity of habits, virtues, or sins, we are created as a new community. - The Eucharist, God’s love, unites us. - We sink or swim together! And this is the key. We never save our own, private, individual soul. We never save our own individual soul. We live in heaven as we would in our home, with the entire family or community.
· And what happens if every appeal of love fails to correct the wrong? - Like Jesus, we must continue to look for the lost sheep. Then each one of us, in that part of ourselves where we too are wrong, sinful or lost, will not be endangered of being lost for ever!
The Rule of Saint Benedict
· Dear Brother and Sister. Saint Benedict’s Rule, which we are using in our prayers during the weak, is a powerful support to us, as a community – to handle our differences, challenges, and work together. Through its wisdom, the wisdom of Christ, it wants to correct and transform us as community to bring out all the goodness what is in us! Amen.