No Man Can Be The Slave Of Two Masters

horsey horseyThe American sociologist Charles Wright Mills once wrote that ‘many whips are inside men, who do not know how they got there or indeed that they are there.’ He is alluding to the whole array of forces, both internally and externally, that shapes our behaviour. ‘No man is an island’ as the old saying goes and none of us are untouched by the world we live in. Even our Lord Jesus was influenced by the society he lived in. He spoke a particular language and adhered to certain political, social and religious norms.

If as Mills suggests, there are many whips inside of men, the question of who is cracking them needs to be asked. Who or what is cracking the whip in our lives? What person, thing or habit are we slaves to? That we have masters is undeniable. Who those masters are can be challenged. Jesus says ‘no one can be the slave of two masters.’ By situating himself as Master among masters, He acknowledges the whole plethora of forces acting on us. Those who say ‘I am my own master’ fail to appreciate this. Many in our time reject all authority, seeing it as an imposition on their freedom. They plough ahead, enslaved by a flawed and unattainable notion of individual autonomy.

However, in a very real sense, we are like that horse St. James speaks of. We have the bit in our mouth, directing all our subsequent movements (James 3:3). The question is who do we want to be at the reins, guiding us to our end? Who can we trust with the unique and delicate gift of our lives? This is where we exercise our freedom, our agency. The stakes are high. Jesus is challenging us to let Him lead. It is the pagans of today’s Gospel we are told, who are slaves to all sorts of temporal desires but we as believers are told that life is more than this. Elsewhere in the Scriptures Jesus teaches that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27). In a similar way in relation to today’s Gospel passage it can be said that food and clothes are at the service of people, not the other way round. The course is for the horse, not the horse for the course.

There are so many whips working on us in our modern world, lashing tirelessly, desperate to prevent us from looking beyond creation to the Creator. So many people think of life as a given and yet strangely, not as a gift. Of course, whips are nothing new to the people of God. Did not the Israelites escape their tormentors in Egypt to enjoy the freedom of the Promised Land? Did not Christ endure the scourging of His tormentors and die on the cross before rising to new life on Easter Sunday? This is our journey today also. It is a journey through the Red Sea, by way of the cross of Calvary, from death to life. Let us cast off the yoke of our oppressors, whoever or whatever they are in our lives, and shoulder the load of Him whose ‘yoke is easy and whose burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30). It is only in this gentle mastery of Christ that we find true rest for our souls.

Gospel Reflection for 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 6: 24-34)

 

Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild?

jesus-do-you-reallyThere is a great temptation in all of us to develop a caricature of Jesus as non-demanding, a Jesus who is overly docile and passive. We can often imagine and invent a Jesus whose actions and words conforms to our will and to our idea of life. As a result we manipulate the Gospel to fit our self-made ideals. But this Jesus is lifeless and can be an excuse for us to be spiritually stagnant and lukewarm.

 

The real Jesus is far more provoking and far more challenging to our tendencies for comforts and for the easy way. In this Sunday’s Gospel if we are really open to let Jesus himself speak to us we will discover a great challenge. We will discover a Jesus who demands us to go beyond the narrow confines of our ego and selfishness to discover true discipleship.

 

The first exhortation in the Gospel that Jesus says to us is to turn our cheek when people strike us. It takes great inner strength and courage to offer our other cheek to those who are persecuting us or being violent to us. It is much easier to run away or even to retaliate. Similarly it takes great character and magnanimity of heart to have the generosity to not only give our clothes to those in need but also to give our cloak as well. Here, Jesus is really telling us to give everything we have and to risk even our own securities and comforts for love of others. If you think about this, it takes great heroism. Likewise when he demands us to go those extra miles for service he is calling us to be true servants who always do more than what is expected.

 

These exhortations and other ones in the Gospel show us that Jesus expects us to step beyond our own limited notions of bravery, love and service. They teach us of a Jesus who is very demanding. But we know he demands only what he himself demands of himself.

 

As much as these commands outline to us attitudes of the disciple it also reveals Jesus’s own disposition and inner life to us. They show Jesus’ total gift of self to us. For despite all our sins and even our hostility to him, he does not flint, he offers us his other cheek. He stands his ground in patience waiting for us to come to our senses. He not only gives us his clothes and cloak, he gives us his body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist; his very being and life. He not only walks with us two extra miles he walks with us every second of the day bringing us to heaven. He walked the way of the Cross for us. It is this going out of himself in love that he  invites us to imitate.

 

  We know he will never demand anything from us without his own strength and grace to help us. Jesus may be demanding but he is not unreasonable nor is he intent on weighing us down with commands. Instead he helps us himself to live the way of love. It is in his strength that we live out our daily struggle against sin and self-complacency. It is  he who carries the heavier yoke making our burden light. Let us keep our eyes on him, trusting in his mercy and love to help us in all that he demands of us.

Gospel Reflection for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 5:38-48)

The Messianic Banquet

FoodJesus’ style of teaching in today’s Gospel is challenging. He begins each teaching by saying something like ‘you have heard how it was said’…‘but I say to you.’ This kind of formula has a twofold structure. It initially recalls the common wisdom for the minimalist right ordering of society before proposing a higher standard aimed at something more than merely obeying the law. It is the difference between existing and living; enduring and flourishing. In the God-fearing society of Jesus’ time He could rightly draw upon examples from Scripture, especially the Ten Commandments, and because the people were familiar with them they could have understood Him. In our modern post-Christian society such examples would mean very little yet our message is the same. We have to encourage people to aim higher and to grasp hold of the prize for which they are made.

Imagine what a similar style of teaching might look like in our time. Perhaps you have heard how it is said ‘we are here for a good time, not a long time’ but I say to you ‘is it not a miracle that we have any time at all?’ Or maybe you have heard how it is said ‘I do no harm to anybody; I live a good life and pay my taxes’ but I say to you ‘surely life is more than taxes and the absence of harm to others.’ Or again you have undoubtedly heard how it is said ‘I am spiritual but I don’t go to Mass; sure most religions say the same thing anyway’ but I say to you ‘not all religions speak of God becoming human, being crucified, dying and rising from the dead.’

There is a certain minimalism that too often pervades our thinking about life. We are sometimes like kids at Christmas, enthralled by the wrapping paper and indifferent towards the gift. We are like a foolish person at a fancy restaurant settling for bread and filling up on it before the main course arrives. What Jesus proposed to His hearers, we need to propose to our contemporaries – the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not rejecting the minimal standard but setting it in its proper relation to the kingdom. Like that bread in the restaurant the Law is but a first step, a starter. Of course with Jesus we Catholics go the whole way, dessert and all!

Today we are asked to think about what we have heard said. That means which ideologies, which cultural trends, which television programmes or newspaper columnists have we heard and ultimately, amid all those cluttering voices, what is it that we have heard Jesus say? What are the things that shape the way we live and how do they relate to the kingdom, if at all? The invitation to the Banquet demands a response.

Gospel Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 5:17-37)

 

 

Light of the World!


jumping_joyIn this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of who we are as Christians namely the “light of the world” (Matt 5: 12). But what does this mean? We should first understand what ‘light’ means within the context of the Gospel acclamation, “I am the light of the World, says the Lord, anyone who follows me will have the light of life,”. The acclamation makes it clear that Jesus himself is the light. It also teaches us that if we follow Him we will have light which is life. This is how we will be the “light of the world”.

So our light is Christ’s light! The life of our soul is Him!

The challenge this Gospel poses however is for us to think about how we can facilitate this, how we can allow God’s light of life and grace to shine through to the world. How do we become the light of the world? Or put in other words, how can we grow in to Christ who is the light​​?

The answer is not as complicated as we may think. This growth in light ( of divine life) according to Bl. Columba Marmion is principally through the sacraments and through the exercise of the virtues. Firstly we must recognise that the sacrament of baptism establishes us as Children of God by sanctifying grace. This sanctifying grace given at baptism also gives our actions and good works a supreme dignity and a supernatural efficacy. It allows for us to live out Christ’s own life and so we can say with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” ( Gal 2:20). However Marmion , a Thomist at heart, says out of all the sacraments the Eucharist causes us to grow the most in the divine life. It is the source and summit of our whole spiritual edifice and in a very real way it causes us to be filled with light and life and enables us to be the light of the world that Jesus talks about in the Gospel.

Now besides the sacraments the exercise of the virtues ( especially the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love) are the next means by which the life of grace grows within us. Like the sacraments they are means by which we become more and more the light of the world as they perfect the supernatural life in us. When we practise and live out the virtues we earn more merit because according to St. Thomas every meritorious act is a source for an increase in grace. It follows then that the more virtuous we become the greater is our interior life and the more efficacious are the effect of our good works. Therefore the more interior life we will possess the brighter will be our light to the world!

And so like the the city on the hill-top in the Gospel the soul built on the mountain of the sacraments and built with the bricks and mortar of the virtues stands out and is inevitably seen and noticed. As the hill suggests elevation, the beauty of a soul filled with the divine light and life will cause others to look up to it with a certain reverence and awe because they see in it something ‘out of this world.’ This is why the Gospel goes on to tell us that people seeing the good works of the Christian soul, perfumed with the light of Christ, will praise our Father in heaven. In other words the soul whose being and actions radiates the light of Christ and so radiates Christ himself, will draw the minds of others to heavenly realities and so ultimately to God himself. For me this is what Christ meant by calling us to be a light for the World.

This is our faith and it is a concrete reality. I remember in my own journey of faith how I marvelled at certain Christians who had a ‘light’ and a virtuosity about them that seemed supernatural. I am thinking here of people like Mother Teresa and her total self-giving to the underprivileged but also members of my own parish and family. For me they looked superhuman and impossible to imitate. But now I realise they were truly human because they were flourishing with God’s grace becoming the imago dei of God HimselfTheir witness summoned my own mind to rise towards God and heavenly realities though I may not have known it. They were being to me what Jesus calls all of us to be namely the ‘light of the world’.

 

Matthew 5: 13-16
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

 

The Presentation of the Lord

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_Presentation_of_Christ_in_the_Temple_-_WGA09082This Sunday we read St Luke’s account of the Presentation of the Lord. St Luke begins by giving the reasons for the Lord’s presentation. It was written in the Law of Moses that every first born male should be consecrated to the Lord. When we contemplate this event in the Gospel, it is easy to think about the idea of giving oneself to the Lord. I am reminded of Samuel who was confused when the Lord called him, Samuel had thought it his master Eli was calling Him. (1 Samuel: Chapter 3) Eli told Samuel to say “Here I am Lord”. When Jesus is presented in the Temple, He is in effect saying the same thing to His Father, “Here I am, Father”. This “Here I am” is the response that we all hope to give when the Lord calls us. Within the feast of the Lord’s presentation we can see the inspiration of our own vocations. Nonetheless, the feast and the Gospel account contain in one sense the whole mystery of salvation and much can be learned from contemplating this Sunday’s Gospel.

When we contemplate the unspoken “Here I am”, of Jesus in the temple, our minds and hearts are drawn to the cross. The presentation of Jesus to His Father cannot be thought about without recalling that it was the Father’s will that Jesus die on the cross. It is the Father’s will that humanity was to be redeemed by the sacrifice of the cross. This is why Simeon is able to say: “my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations”. (Luke 2:30-31) When Jesus is presented to the Lord in the Temple, it is the salvation of Humanity that is being prophesied by Simeon. The “Here I am” which is not spoken by the baby Jesus, is an anticipation of His words in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not My will, but Thy will”. (Matthew 26:39) In the time of Jesus, the presentation of the first-born in the temple would have been a joyous affair, yet for us who understand that the presentation is an anticipation of the Cross, the feast is tinged with sadness. This was especially true for our Lady.

We can place ourselves in the shoes of Mary, who heard Simeon’s words: “A sword of sorrow will pierce your own soul”. The feast of the presentation is one of Our Lady’s seven sorrows, and in the list it is called the prophesy of Simeon. This sword of sorrow is the cross, and St Luke is reminding us of Our Lady’s presence at the Crucifixion. When I think about the fact that Our Lady was present at the Crucifixion, I am struck by the fact that Our Lord permitted her to be there. A son who loves his mother, does not want her to see him suffer terribly. It is one thing to want one’s mother when one is slightly ill, but when one is suffering terribly as Jesus did on the cross, I do not think that Jesus as a man wanted to see his mother’s heart break to see Him hurt so. As God, He could have arranged things providentially, in such a way that He would have spared her the sight of His sufferings. I think that the very fact that Jesus’ did die in the presence of His mother, meant that there was a good reason for this. The reason can be seen in some of Jesus’ last actions on the Cross.

“When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (John 19: 26-27) A simple reading of these words, we could conclude that Jesus is merely asking the disciple to look after His mother. However, His words are addressed to all disciples: “behold your mother”. In this we can see the plan of the Lord for His mother, she is to become the mother of all disciples. So when we hear this Sunday’s Gospel, let us be reminded of the reality of the cross which is present in this feast and think about the words of Simeon addressed to Mary. Let us also remember the sorrows of the Mother of God and the fact that she is Our Mother also.

The Perfume of Preachers

Fishers-of-MenSt. Dominic encouraged his brothers and sisters to “contemplate and to share the fruits of that contemplation.” This was how he imagined an Order of Preachers should preach the Gospel. We Dominicans are to look at God in the depths of our hearts in silence and prayer before going out to share what we see with others. It is no wonder then as Dominican students that when we come across passages of Scripture like today’s Gospel passage, we are so sensitive to this beautiful tension between the contemplative and apostolic demands of our vocation. It is a very real tension for us to get the balance right and yet at the same time it is truly beautiful; there is no doubt about it.

Amid the busyness of their active labour, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew as they are casting their net into the lake. In just the same way, he calls James and John as they are mending their net at a more restful pace. In this we can see Jesus reconciling contemplative and apostolic fervour, putting them both at the service of the fishing of men. In the language of today’s Gospel, Dominic’s vision might be translated into something like “to fish and to share the fruits of one’s fishing.”

To contemplate God is to fish in that great sea of love. To explore and discover; to fill our nets with treasures from the deep and to feed on them. In this vast abyss that is God, there is no possibility of over-fishing. There is more than enough for everybody. St. John of the Cross speaks of the depths of Christ as a “rich mine with many recesses containing treasures; no matter how men try to fathom them, the end is never reached.”

To share the fruits of one’s fishing is exactly that – to feed others as we ourselves have been fed. This was how the disciples became fishers of men. St. John Chrysostom believed that the disciples were to “catch others by those same words by which they themselves had been caught.” The disciples were first convinced in their hearts and then told to go and fish for others. All Christians share in this dual mandate. We are fish captivated by Christ and yet we are fishers of men for Christ; we are both contemplatives and missionaries. Pope Francis said shepherds ought to smell like their sheep. If this is so, we might as well reek of fish too in this new line of Gospel fragrances.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 4:12-23)

 

Not Only My Feet…

Holy Thursday

On the Gospel of John 13:1-15

In today’s Gospel we read of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, a job that was left to the lower people, namely servants who washed the master’s feet when he returned home from being out on the dusty roads.

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The Silent Man of Bethlehem

 

 

Question: How often so far this Advent have you paused to think about the story of Christmas? Probably quite frequently. (I know that readers of Dominicans Interactive are very holy people.)

Second Question: How often so far this Advent have you paused to think about St Joseph? Ah yes, we always forget about Joseph….

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