Category Archives: Spiritual

Can you drink the cup that I must drink?

The brothers James and John have a request to make of Jesus. When he is in glory – reigning as Messiah and King – they hope to sit in the seats of honour on his right and his left. Their request shows how completely Jesus’ disciples have failed to understand his teaching. He has explained again and again that he is calling them to service and to love of neighbour. Jesus wants his disciples to follow his example of humility and suffering. Yet the disciples are still thinking in terms of earthly glory and ambition – still falling into rivalry and jealousy, even as Jesus prepares himself to face his suffering and death.

James and John did eventually embrace Jesus’ message. After his death and resurrection, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they became fearless witnesses and teachers of the Good News, and they drank the same cup as the Master, giving their lives for Christ. The Spirit will transform us, too, if we are ready to respond to Christ’s call.

Treasure in Heaven

The people of Jesus’ time believed that worldly wealth was a sign of God’s favour. Rich people were admired and envied. The rich man who approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel tells him eagerly that he has kept all the commandments of God’s law from his earliest days. No doubt he believes that his wealth is God’s reward for living a good life. Jesus looks steadily at the man and loves him, and then issues a radical challenge: to give up all of his possessions and follow Jesus. Once again, Jesus turns the wisdom of the world on its head. He discerns that this man’s riches are an obstacle that prevent him from becoming a disciple. He needs to let them go, for the sake of something better: the treasure in heaven that only Jesus can give him.

The challenge is too much for the rich man, and he goes away sad. He doesn’t appear again in the Gospels, and we don’t know what became of him. This Gospel reading prompts us to imagine Jesus looking at us and loving us. What step does the Lord ask us to take, to set ourselves free for discipleship?

One Body

The Pharisees ask Jesus, ‘Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife?’ and in response to Jesus’ question, they add ‘Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal.’ Their words reflect the inequality of the Jewish Law at that time; a man could divorce his wife by a very simple procedure, but a woman had no right to divorce her husband. A woman dismissed by her husband could be cast off without money, property or place in society – she was nobody. In his reply, Jesus goes back to the origins of the human race. God created man and woman to be ‘one body,’ supporting one another in the covenant of marriage, which cannot be dissolved by human power. It seems a hard teaching to his disciples, but Jesus is challenging the unjust custom of his time.

Today’s Scripture readings remind us how important it is for the Church to support married couples and families on their journey through life. This week, the Synod of Bishops is meeting with the Pope in Rome, to discuss the Church’s ministry to young people. Young people today grow up in families of different shapes and sizes. Marriages can break down and families can find themselves in difficult situations. Pope Francis has often reminded us of the need to support and encourage every family, whatever their circumstances.

What Really Matters?

The apostle John is indignant because Jesus’ name is being used by a man who is ‘not one of us.’ Jesus has a more generous and inclusive vision. If the man is using Jesus’ name to bring healing, there is no reason to stop him; Jesus has come to bring healing for everyone. Today’s readings invite us to focus on what is really important. Jesus uses dramatic language to emphasise the reality of sin: if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off… He is telling us, not to mutilate our bodies, but to cut out of our lives anything which leads us away from faith in him. St James warns the rich that their wealth and comfort will not last – they can’t take it with them. Instead, we are invited to store up treasure in heaven. Even for the smallest acts of kindness, we will not lose our reward.

Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what awaits him in Jerusalem; betrayal, condemnation and death. But they still don’t get it, even after all the time that they have spent living with him and hearing his teaching. Instead of following his example of humility, they are doing the very opposite; jockeying for position, arguing over which of them is the greatest. And so a little child becomes Jesus’ helper in making his point to the disciples. In the kingdom of God, a leader must be a servant of all. Jesus’ disciples must have a special care for the vulnerable, the little ones without status or power. Today’s Gospel challenges us to purify the Church from all traces of elitism and ambition. The Church exists to serve God’s little ones.

Who do you say i am?

Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter has the right answer; Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed one, the Messiah for whom Israel has been waiting. But Peter is shocked by what comes next. The Christ is destined for rejection, suffering and death. His model is the Suffering Servant, described in today’s First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, who trusts completely in God’s power to save him. Jesus makes it absolutely clear to his disciples, and to the people, that anyone who wants to be his follower must walk the same road that he does – the way of the Cross. No wonder Peter is horrified.

Christ’s disciples are not called to seek out suffering for its own sake, but to give ourselves to others with self-sacrificing love, and to accept patiently whatever difficulties life may bring us. There are many Christians whose lives are an inspiring example of Christ-like love and sacrifice. This is what we commit ourselves to as followers of Jesus. If, like Peter, we recognise Jesus as the Christ, then he calls us to take up our cross and follow him.

Speak Out

Jesus is in pagan territory when a man is brought to him for healing. The man is deaf and unable to speak clearly – isolated from society, because he can’t express himself. The story clearly shows us Jesus’ compassion for the man, reaching out to him with a healing touch, and sighing as he looks to heaven for a cure. He speaks a word – unusually, Mark gives us the word in Jesus’ own language, Aramaic – and the man is freed of his impediment and enabled to speak for himself.

There are many people in our world who are silenced; by disability, by poverty, by lack of education, by the prejudice of others. Now, movements are arising that harness the power of the internet to allow the silent to speak. Shamefully, many victims of abuse have also been silenced by those holding positions of trust in the Church. There can be no justice until every member of society can speak out and be heard. Jesus is the healer who loosens the tongues of the poor and powerless.

Listen and understand

Every community has rules and customs, whether it’s a family, a nation or the Church. Our rules and customs reflect our values. For the people of Israel, the Law was a gift that they had received from God; a gift that made them a nation, God’s chosen people. When Jesus disputes with the Pharisees, he’s not rejecting the Law that has come from God, his Father. But the Pharisees interpreted the Law so strictly that it was almost impossible for an ordinary working person to keep all of their rules. And even worse, as Jesus points out, they sometimes used their legalistic interpretations to avoid the most important obligations, such as caring for one’s parents. They honoured God only with lip service. Jesus asks his disciples, instead, to give our whole hearts to him. If our hearts are with Christ, then God’s law will not feel like a burden too heavy to bear.

WHO ELSE SHALL WE GO TO?

Jesus presents his disciples with a challenge. He has spelled out his teaching clearly; ‘I am the bread of life.’ His followers must eat his body and drink his blood, in order to have eternal life. His language seems so strange and shocking that many find it intolerable. They leave him, even though they have seen his miracles. But Jesus never tones down his message to make it acceptable. He speaks with absolute truth and integrity.

‘What about you?’ Jesus asks the twelve apostles. And Peter replies on behalf of all. ‘Who shall we go to?’ They have come to know Jesus, and to believe in him. They have seen that there is no other Saviour, and no other teaching that brings life. We may feel discouraged by our own sins and failures; we may feel outraged by the scandals and the shortcomings that we see in the Church; we may be tempted to go away too, as others have done. But as Pope Francis has said, the Church can only repent and reform herself with the involvement of all her members. Who else shall we go to?

Wisdom or Foolishness?

In today’s first reading, Wisdom invites everyone to her house. Even the ignorant and foolish are promised that they can become wise, if they sit down and eat with her. Paul, too, urges the Christians living in Ephesus to live sober, sensible lives, like intelligent people. But in the Gospel, Jesus confronts his disciples with a teaching that seems to fly in the face of common sense. They must eat his flesh and drink his blood, in order to have eternal life. Many of his disciples rejected this idea, and gave up following him. It’s a teaching that is incomprehensible, if we think in worldly terms. Only our faith tells us that the Body and Blood of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist is God’s promise of everlasting life.

What is that between so many?

Jesus and his disciples are faced with a crisis – a crowd of hungry people, and no food to offer them. The disciples look at the situation in practical terms: Philip speaks of how much money would be needed to buy enough bread, Andrew about the small amount of food that is actually available. They are overwhelmed by the situation. But Jesus knows what he is going to do. Through the power of God, the food that they do have – five loaves and two fishes, shared by a young boy – is enough to feed the great crowd.

We sometimes feel overwhelmed, like Jesus’ disciples, when we’re faced with great needs and seemingly inadequate resources. The Lord calls us to follow the example of the nameless and silent young boy in today’s Gospel. He handed over generously the little that he had, and left the rest to Jesus. If we respond as generously as we can, with trust in Christ’s power, we can leave the rest to him.

Travel Light

Jesus sends the twelve apostles out to preach in the towns and villages. What do they have to say to the people? At this stage of Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection, and many of his great miracles, are still in the future. But the apostles can speak of their own encounter with Jesus. They can recount how he has changed their lives. The Twelve preach repentance – a change of heart that leads to the forgiveness of sins. They bring healing to the sick. Their preaching presents the people with a choice: those who reject the Good News are challenged by the prophetic gesture of the apostles shaking off the dust of the place from their feet.

Jesus tells his missionaries to travel light, without money, food or spare clothing, relying on the hospitality of strangers. If we can speak with conviction about how Jesus has touched our lives, then we don’t need to carry a lot of baggage. Our witness is enough.

Have Faith

In today’s Gospel, we encounter two desperate people. Jairus, the synagogue official, is a man who holds a position of respect in the community. But when he comes to Jesus, he is simply a worried father, seeking help for his sick daughter. The unnamed woman is desperate because she has been suffering for twelve years from a painful complaint that makes her ritually unclean, and so isolates her from family and society. They both approach Jesus in faith, believing that he has the power to help them. And Jesus responds to their faith. The woman is told that her faith has healed her. Jairus’ daughter is restored to him.

These two miracles show us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has come so that we may all have life to the full. We may not experience a miraculous physical cure, but we will know the healing that the Lord desires for us, if we turn to him in faith.

The Lord called me before i was born

John the Baptist was chosen by God to play a unique part in the plan of salvation. John would become the prophet who would proclaim to the people of Israel the message of repentance and forgiveness. He would announce the coming of the Saviour, and would witness by the sacrifice of his life.

John’s special mission is foreshadowed in the events around his birth. He was born miraculously, to elderly, childless parents. His coming was foretold by the angel Gabriel, and God gave him the name ‘John,’ meaning ‘God is gracious.’ The words of the prophet Isaiah were fulfilled in him: ‘The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.’ No wonder that people asked, ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ But that question could be asked of any newborn child. Each one of us has been called by God before we were born. Each of us is chosen and named for a special part in God’s plan. Every disciple, in their own way, can be a prophet of the coming of Christ, as John was.

Sprouting and Growing

The kingdom of God is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Speaking to people living under the harsh and oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, Jesus teaches them in parables how different the world will be when God rules in the hearts of believers. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice, mercy and reconciliation. The two parables that we hear in today’s Gospel show us that the kingdom of God cannot be suppressed. The kingdom sprouts and grows, night and day. It grows like a mushroom bush, sprawling and spreading, impossible to root out. The seeds of the kingdom of God are our small acts of care and kindness – small expressions of faith. From such tiny seeds, God brings growth and fruitfulness beyond our imagination. This is what the kingdom of God is like.

We too believe

Jesus’ public ministry has only just begun, and already great crowds of people are following him, to hear his teaching and to seek healing from illness, disability or possession by demons. But others are not so sure. Jesus’ relatives, motivated by love and concern for him, are afraid that he must be out of his mind. Why else would he leave behind home and family for the life of a wandering rabbi? The scribes, meanwhile, are blinded by jealousy when they declare that Jesus’ power over devils can only come from Beelzebul, the prince of devils himself.

Jesus’ response to the scribes is to point to the fruits of his ministry. How can Satan cast out Satan? Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. And even for his own family, Jesus has a challenging reply. Anyone who hears his words and does his Father’s will is his mother, sister or brother. His disciples are his family. Jesus models for us a love that is inclusive and uncompromising – and he asks us to follow his example. What might be obstructing us from responding to Christ’s call?

This is my body; this is my blood

In the Gospels, Jesus is often shown sitting at table with his disciples, sharing food and conversation and teaching them about the kingdom of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus does something radically new. As he shares the bread and wine with the Twelve Apostles, he tells them: this is my body; this is my blood. By the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the Cross, the new covenant is established between God and humanity, bringing the promise of eternal life. Every time the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is present among us, as he was present to the Apostles at the Last Supper. The celebration of the Eucharist is the very heart of our life as a church. Our celebration unites us with Christ and with one another, and impels us to go out to the world and share Christ’s love with our neighbours. Today, as we celebrate God’s gift of the Eucharist, we also acknowledge the generous commitment of those who serve our communities as Ministers of Holy Communion.

God is Love

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. Jesus reveals to us that God is three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and yet one God. It’s a mystery that is beyond human understanding. But what is revealed in the mystery is that at the heart of God is loving relationship. Together, the three Persons of the Trinity represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is their love for each other. We are made in the image of a triune God; the Father, who created us, his Son who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us.

We are baptised as Christians in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and so our lives as disciples, and the life of the Church, should reflect the life of the Trinity. God empowers us to be creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and give our talents freely in the service of others like the Holy Spirit. In this way, we can reveal God’s love to the world.

The work of the spirit

We can’t see the Holy Spirit. In today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses images to express what can’t be described literally: the reality of the coming of the Spirit. The Spirit’s coming ‘sounds like’ a powerful wind, and ‘seems like’ tongues of flame descending on the heads of the apostles. The Holy Spirit is not seen directly, but the Spirit’s actions are plain to see. The apostles are given power to witness to the Good News in all the languages of the world. The division of the human race into different languages and nations is overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit, as people from all parts of the world can hear and understand the apostles’ preaching. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. Paul, in the Second Reading, describes what the Spirit brings to the Christian community: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will bear these fruits in our own communities, and we will be credible witnesses to Christ.

Consecrate them in the truth

Today is World Communications Day. In his message for today, Pope Francis speaks of the danger of ‘fake news,’ which appeals to prejudice and promotes anger, resentment and division. This is the Pope’s prayer for World Communications Day:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.

Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.

Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.

You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:

Where there is shouting, let us practise listening;

Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;

Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;

Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;

Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;

Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;

Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;

Where there is hostility, let us bring respect;

Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.

Amen.