When Peter saw this he fell at the feet of Jesus

Jesus is growing in popularity, an great crowds are following Him. He is at the lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Galilee, and presumably knew Peter a little as He would have stayed with him in Capernaum after John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out at the river Jordan. Jesus asks Peter to give him a hand and use his boat so Jesus can teach the crowds which had assembled to listen to Him.

I think it is sometimes helpful to think about the circumstances of an event. Sometimes when listening to the Gospels and hearing about one great event after the other it might seem that it is all very disconnected and distant from our own lives. It might feel like reading a novel with elements of reality, but ultimately something that seems fiction. It can seem very unreal and the Gospel stories become stories disconnected. But that is not the way it is. These are not stories which are carefully recorded as we know from St. Luke’s introduction. Luke clearly indicates that he is writing history, and has carefully inquired to make sure they are accurate. We can moreover verify many facts in his accounts and find them to be accurate. While there are naturally many supernatural events in the Gospels, as would be expected,  it doesn’t mean the stories are irrelevant to our lives and by putting ourselves in the story we can learn what it is that is so significant for the characters and why.

So here we have Jesus and Peter and they would have presumably known each other. Jesus, after having taught the crowd asks Peter to pull out into the deep water and to let the nets down for a catch. Peter objects because as a fisherman he knows it is pointless. They didn’t catch anything earlier, the deep water presumably does not render much hope for a catch and moreover it is the wrong time of day. But because Jesus has build up this sense of authority and is a friend of Peter he goes ahead anyway and to his surprise nets a huge catch of fish.

The story as it unfolds is quite a plausible story and we can imagine it happening. But a thing to reflect on is what effect this event has on Peter. Peter falls on his knees before Jesus, and ask Him to go away from Him because He is a sinful man. Peter and his friends knew Jesus, they had heard Him speak, they had seen some of the miracles and moreover had Him as a guest in their house. So while they would have known and respected Him, only now did it really ring home to Peter what all these miracles really indicated. Jesus performed a miracle which really touched Peter’s heart as a fisherman. It is in this instant that something about who Jesus is dawns on Peter, and in addressing Jesus Peter now used Lord instead of Master.

So even if we were witnesses of healing miracles every day this would not necessarily make us realise who God is as is clear from this Gospel message. Miracles might not be as important as some people  think. Jesus performed miracles probably to give Himself credibility and it might help open up people’s minds to the possibility of the supernatural. But ultimately they seem to make little difference in our relationship, our closeness to God, and to accept Him for who He is. This only comes when we allow God to enter into our lives. Like Peter we need to trust and follow the lead God is giving us, even if it might not make complete sense; to pull out into the deep. Only when we give this trust and open our hearts can God really in the depths of who we are connect with us and let us get a glimpse of who He really is and in extension who He is in our lives. This event works a huge change in Peter and he leaves everything including the big catch which must be worth a fortune. He suddenly  doesn’t hesitate to abandon everything and follow Jesus without reserve. This is the effect an encounter with God could and should have, and this is the encounter we should be looking for and should be open towards.

And there is just one little extra remark. While Peter is in awe of what He just experienced, and seems to feel unworthy of being with Jesus, Jesus does not leave Him behind. Instead He invites him exactly to do the opposite and tells Peter to follow Him, to come with Him, to remain with Him. Jesus is not interested in how far we are from Him, He always wants us to come closer to Him.

For me it shows that I need to see where God acts in my life how He personally does things in my life which create this intimate connection with him. It is only when we realise this connection that the relationship becomes meaningful, and only then can we follow Peter’s example; to follow the Lord completely in our own lives and maybe even answer as Isaiah did to the question “Whom shall I sent? Who will be our messenger?” whole heartedly “Here I am, send me!”

It is all the same mystery.

The Irish Dominicans are always fond of recalling memories of past brethren. One particular memory is that of our brother William Barden, Archbishop of Isfahan of the Latins. Archbishop William was noted for his intense spiritual life and his deep insights into the Christian mystery. One day, just before the community processed out for Christmas Mass, one of the brethren on noticing a lady praying the stations of the Cross said how ridiculous it was. Fr. Barden, as he then was, said gently “ Leave her, it is all the same mystery.”

Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel tells the Pharisees that all the teachings of the Prophets and the whole Law can be summed up in two great commandments of love: Love of God being the greatest and first and Love of neighbour being the second. Love of God is the foundation for love of others. St. Augustine said love of neighbour is sure proof of love of God. One could not love authentically without first loving God. What seems like two commandments are really one great commandment to love. In the end Archbishop William is right, it is all the same mystery, the mystery of Love.

 If it is the same mystery we should disregard the temptation at times to see God and our neighbour at opposite ends. Perhaps there are times when we feel we have to forgo the delights of prayer or time with God in order to help someone, we may feel disgruntled to be called away from our solitude with the Lord. However, this can be a false dichotomy because if we get up and go to help our neighbour we are in fact choosing God as well. We recall our Lord’s words “ You did it to me.” Our love and service to others is really love and service of God. Thus, we cannot love God with all our hearts and minds and souls without loving each other. It is all the same mystery of love.

 Gospel Reflection for the 30th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 34-40) IMG_0409_DxO

The “Good” God

The Ancient Greek philosophers had concepts that Christianity assimilated into its own teaching to help penetrate deeper the mysteries of faith. One such concept is that of the Good. Aristotle said that all our actions aim at some end. The criteria for discerning the Good according to Aristotle is such that it is the final end we desire in all our willing. Therefore, the Good is desired for its own sake and not as a means for something else. Aristotle called happiness the Good. St. Thomas Aquinas building on the  thought of Aristotle, said happiness is to possess and be possessed by God. For Aquinas to possess God is to see Him face to face in the beatific vision in heaven. This is man’s perfect happiness, his beatitudo(beatitude).

Our true human beatitude demands that we do not treat other goods as an ends in themselves. Unfortunately human beings, says St. Thomas, tend to look for happiness in other candidates other than in God. He outlines some typical goods we tend to mistake for happiness such as fame, wealth, honour, power and pleasure.

 In the Gospel this Sunday, we see that there were people who were invited to the splendid wedding feast of the king’s son. In light of St. Thomas’s teaching, we can say this banquet is the equivalent of the chief good, the beatific vision. The rich and abundant notions of a feast in the parable takes on a new significance for us, it speaks of the lavishness of being in union with God at the end of time.

The Gospel also echo’s what we have just said about St. Thomas’s teaching on the candidates for happiness and the good. In the parable many people turn down the invitation by the King because some had to attend to their business while others maltreated and killed the servants who were sent to carry their invitation. Can we not say the first group of men were tempted by the desire for wealth and fame that a business could bring? Similarly did the other men kill the servants because they sought some form of power? The Gospel is showing us what St. Thomas articulated, that man often chooses other goods in lieu of the supreme Good, God.

Both St. Thomas and the Gospel is challenging us to question what things in our life are preventing us from receiving God’s invitation to eternal happiness; to the banquet and marriage supper of the lamb. We may have certain idols in our lives that we mistake for happiness and for God. If this is true we are being hindered from union with God, by rejecting God’s invitation to share more deeply in his inner life. Fortunately, as servant of God Catherine Doherty says, “every moment with God is a moment to begin again.” While we still have time on this earth we can repent and accept our Heavenly Father’s invitation to share his divine life. Like the good and the bad who were invited to the feast may we be one of them and not the one without the garment, the one who did not repent and thus was disconnected by his choice from God’s banquet of his presence.

Gospel Reflection for the 28th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 1-10) 

I didn’t expect that!

DamoIn the 1990s there was a famous TV ad for an orange soft drink. It showed a man drinking the soft drink and then in a slow motion replay a small man covered in orange paint is seen running up to the man drinking, unbeknownst to him. After the man has taken a drink, the orange man suddenly appears in front of the man drinking and slaps him on the face with both of his hands. Needless to say the man drinking is left with a bewildered look on his face which clearly says ‘I didn’t expect that!’. In a strange ‘marketing strategy’ way this sudden shock to the system, brought on by the slap to the face, was supposed to represent the unexpected great taste sensation that the soft drink gave.

I couldn’t help but think of this ad when reading today’s Gospel. When Jesus taught through the use of parables He had a unique ability to leave many of his hearers saying to themselves ‘I didn’t expect that!’. As Jesus begins the parable in todays Gospel it seems like a simple story but then Jesus says something which must have registered like a slap in the face for the chief priests and elders He was speaking to. Jesus tells them that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken’ from them. But these were God’s chosen people, a holy nation set apart. How could this be? This would be the result of their rejection of Jesus whom they would have killed just like they had done with the some of the earlier prophets that God had sent to call his chosen people back to him. With teachings like this, it was no wonder that Jesus faced such opposition from the Jewish authorities and ended up being treated so harshly by them, to the point where He received many real slaps to his sacred face.

The parable in today’s Gospel was like a slap in the face for me too when I read it, reawakening me to the reality of God’s great patience with and love for each of us. It highlights the great lengths He has gone to to save us from sin and death. Each of us has the freedom to accept or reject Jesus. Realising the ultimate sacrifice that He has made out of love for us should lead us to love him with all our heart. If we choose to reject Jesus, who is the source of all love and life, we will, as the Gospel tells us, come to ‘a wretched end’.

Today is Rosary Sunday and in the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary we mediate on the terrible reality of what happened to Jesus, ‘the keystone’, when He was ‘rejected by the builders’. During this month of October, which is dedicated to the promotion of the Rosary, let us make a real effort to pray the rosary each day as an offering of love to Jesus who has loved us to the end. A rosary intention for the month could be to pray for the conversion of the people we may know who have rejected Jesus in their lives. May Our Lady help us to love her son as she does.

O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, Queen of the Rosary, pray for us.

Gospel Reflection: Mt 21:33-43

‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him at the proper time.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing and we marvel at it? ‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

Turning our No into Yes; Grace and Prayer.

This past weekend, a number of brothers were involved in Night Fever, this is a street outreach to people as they pass by a local church. This street evangelization initiative began in London and has spread to other cities across Europe. It is based on a very simple method. Night Fever aims to welcome and invite people off the street into the church principally to meet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and confession. Volunteers stand outside the church with candles and invite people to come into the church to light a candle. Priests are available for confession, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and music is played in the background. Often, like in this Sunday’s Gospel, there are people on the street who at first say ‘no’ but then ‘something happens’ in their hearts and their initial  “No” becomes “a Yes”, they turn back around and they come into the Church.

What is this ‘something’ that happens in their hearts? This openness is the result of prayer, not their prayer but the prayer of those in the church praying for those on the streets. The ceaseless prayer of “the prayer teams” praying in the Church last Saturday resulted in over 800 people accepting the invitation to come into the church and light a candle. Those who went on to the street were amazed at how people seem to have a change of heart in coming into the church. What is even more striking is that some people were seen leaving the Church in tears. No doubt their tears were the fruits of prayer and grace and their “Yes” to the Lord.

Similarly, in the Gospel we can infer this to be the case. While there is no explicit mention of people praying for the tax collectors and prostitutes in the Gospel, their conversion is only possible because of Christ’s own prayer to the Father. We can imagine that Jesus in his many conversations with the Father in solitude, prayed for them to open their hearts to his grace. 

Another wonderful example of the power of prayerful intercession is St. Augustine. In the life of St. Augustine, we see Augustine’s rejection of Christ eventually become a “Yes” through the unwavering prayer of faith of his mother St. Monica. The fruit of Monica’s prayer bore not only in Augustine’s dramatic conversion but also in his intense mission in serving the Lord. 

The lesson then for us from the Gospel, Night Fever and St. Augustine’s life is to believe in grace and the power of prayer. Prayer truly can change hearts only because it invites God’s grace to be at work 

Gospel Reflection for the 26th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 21: 28-32)

Who needs to be reminded of that?

A few years ago I went to visit a friend. My friend looked at my crucifix with a certain distaste saying “You Catholics are always promoting that horrific and dark symbol of suffering, who needs to be reminded of that?”

It is true that Catholics venerate and exalt the Crucifix to remind themselves of Jesus’s death and suffering, however, it is far more than a dark and horrific symbol. It is a reminder of the Divine self-gift of love which is 
the gesture by God that invites us to believe and trust in His mercy and love, opening ourselves to his salvation. This Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross speaks of this Truth: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Hence, when we see the Crucifix we ought to believe in the Father’s loving gift, of that which is most precious to him, his only beloved son.

This belief in the Divine 
Love of God made manifest on the Cross is indispensable for our salvation. The Crucifixion is something we all need reminding of because of original sin, which has left us wounded with a distorted vision. Remember how Adam’s sin made him see God in a distorted way as if he was vindictive and harsh? How Adam hid with Eve behind the bush in shame and how we do the same after our personal sins? As a result of this lack of trust on our part in God, God wanted to prove his love and mercy for us by sending his Son. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas says, of Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, that Man now “knows how much God loves him and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation.” Similarly another theologian, the Cistercian Roch Kereszty, says that owing to our wounded state from original sin “man needed more than just a moral exhortation and a divine offer of grace to convert him” he needed “tangible evidence for the reality of His infinite compassion and of His holiness.”

Therefore, it is the witness of Divine 
Love that summons us out of our imprisoned guilt and despair towards salvation. Catholics lift up the Cross of Christ  in order to exalt God’s love and mercy which we need to grasp in order to have the confidence to open ourselves to God’s life saving mystery. Who needs to be reminded of that? We all do.

Gospel Reflection for the 24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (John 3: 13-17)

Love your neighbour as yourself

love your neighbour as yourselfBeing in the Church can make life difficult. Having to throw in your lot with such a mixed bag of characters presents us with unpleasant possibilities: difficult fellow pew-dwellers, boring ceremonies, unwelcome teachings, constant demands on our charity… It’s hard not to sympathise with those who choose the more peaceful and exalted path of ‘spirituality’ over against the mundane demands of ‘religion’. For those who want individual enlightenment and solo salvation rather than put up with the messy reality of Church life, ‘spirituality’ presents an easy path.

An easy path, maybe, but not the path of life. Jesus makes it abundantly clear in this Sunday’s gospel reading that following him always includes being actively caught up in the network of relationships we call ‘the Church’. ‘If your brother sins against you’, says Jesus, you must not simply abandon him and trod on towards your own personal nirvana, rather you must take your relationship seriously and correct him – alone at first, and then in the presence of one or two others, and finally in the presence of the local Church. And if the offending brother refuses to listen at each stage, then he is considered equal to ‘a Gentile or a tax collector’.

There are two implicit commandments of Church life in this scenario. The one is to correct one’s brother, and the other is to listen to one’s correctors. Ultimately both of these actions are aspects of the glue that binds the Church together: charity. If our Church-relationships are weak in love, we will easily avoid the hard tasks of advising our brothers and sisters, on the one hand, and listening carefully to their advice on the other.

Perhaps some reflection on the Golden Rule, cited by St Paul in the second reading, can help us face up to these duties of Church life: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. If you know yourself in the light of your sin and God’s grace, you know that you are weak – even if well-intentioned – and in need of constant help and encouragement on the homeward path to heaven. Loving your neighbour as yourself, then, means offering the help and encouragement your neighbour might need.

Church life, especially correction and obedience, can be difficult, but it is the arena in which our charity is tested and grows. We Christians are not solitary spirits, kitted out with blinkers. We are pilgrims on the same path, invited to come home together, with none of our brothers and sisters left behind. This is the reality of religion, this is the Church, this is charity, this is the pilgrim path of Jesus, who has gone ahead of us without leaving us behind, ‘for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them’.

Gospel Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 18:15-20)

An Apprenticeship in Love

crucifix-thornsIt is a good thing for us that God’s ways are not man’s ways. God understands our weaknesses and still loves us. This is evidenced by the way Jesus takes Peter under his wing, promising to build His Church on Peter’s confession of faith. Such a turn of events might not have been possible according to ‘man’s ways’. That a lowly fisherman should be given the opportunity to become a fisher of men, that beautiful task, reflects God’s wisdom. However, like any beginner in his new trade, Peter has to learn and grow into it.

‘This must not happen to you’ Peter exclaims, remonstrating with Jesus about His determination to go to Jerusalem (Matthew 16:22). The apprentice seemingly knows a better way than the Master craftsman. He does not understand Jesus’ method and so needs to be taught. After the resurrection however, he becomes a tireless defender of the reality of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. For example, remonstrating with his fellow Christians after the resurrection he writes ‘the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Yet this transformation took time. Peter’s skill was honed, often painfully, during his time of apprenticeship. It is a story of ups and downs. He is Rock, yet in today’s Gospel Jesus refers to him as Satan. Peter witnesses Jesus’ glory on the mount of the transfiguration yet he fled the crucifixion. He drew the sword in the garden but again his action was mis-placed; it simply was not that kind of battle.

Our spiritual life is an apprenticeship in love and resembles Peter’s in many ways. It is a story of highs and lows. There are times when we enjoy great consolation, feeling so close to our Lord. Then there are other times when we feel we are a million miles away. Loving God can be difficult. We are told we will have ‘to take up our cross’ (Matthew 16:24). In today’s first reading the Prophet Jeremiah speaks of the trials bearing witness to God has brought him. Similarly, Christians in Iraq today are suffering terribly because of their love for Christ. Like Peter, they confess Jesus as the Son of the living God and they are giving their lives because they refuse to relinquish the rock upon which their very being is founded.

Only the conviction of a deep prayer life, rooted in the reality of the living God can sustain us in our trials. Indeed, God’s ways are not man’s. That is why it is only in the light of Christ’s suffering that human suffering can have any meaning. It is in this school of self-giving love that we are shown how to renounce ourselves for God and neighbour, even unto death.

Gospel Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 16:21-27)

 

Keys of the Kingdom

 

keysIn recent times Jehovah Witnesses have been standing outside the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the main street of Dublin, Ireland, holding aloft copies of a book entitled, What does the Bible Really Say? On a number of occasions I have stopped to engage in conversation with them, beginning the conversation a little bit facetiously with the question, “Well, tell me, what does the Bible really say?”

Jehovah Witnesses are just one of a vast array of groups and individuals who claim to possess the sole true interpretation of Scripture – and yet most of these interpretations differ from each other to varying degrees. As the highly esteemed historian, Brad S. Gregory, writes, the assertion that Scripture alone is a self-sufficient basis for Christian faith and life has produced “an open-ended welter of competing and incompatible interpretations of Luther’s “one certain rule”” (The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society).

The fruit of this kind of interpretation, uncoupled from Tradition and the Church’s authority, has today gone beyond the confines of Scripture to embrace any aspect of life and meaning you wish to think of. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was at pains to highlight the dangers of this development, famously referring to “the dictatorship of relativism.”

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with one of the passages that that undergirds the claims of the Catholic Church concerning the papacy: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” Jesus’s words are a response to Peter’s answer to His question, “who do you say I am?” Peter answers that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, an answer that no merely human powers of intelligence could have afforded him. Peter’s insight is inspired by the Father in heaven. It is knowledge that is possible through faith alone.

Further on Our Lord proclaims to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” When viewed in the light of this conferral of authority, the manner in which the canon of Scripture was established should cause us all to stop and to reflect.

In brief, the work that culminated in the collection of writings that we now accept as the New Testament began in the second century and was only concluded in the fourth or fifth century. It was the work of tradition in its sacramental form, that is to say, of apostolic succession. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “Scripture became Scripture through the tradition” (Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today). The preeminent authority in this process was the Roman see.

Without tradition in the sacramental form of apostolic succession there could have been no New Testament so that, as Benedict asserts, “we are caught in a contradiction when we affirm the one while wanting to deny the other.”

It ought to be a cause of profound gratitude on our part that the Lord in his mercy has granted us the authority of Peter and his successors, along with that of his brothers in the episcopate, the successors of the apostles, in this way protecting us from the vast array of erroneous truth claims concerning faith and morals that constantly assail us from all sides.

Gospel Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 16:13-20)

 

‘Us’ and ‘Them’

Union in Christ 2“The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these [other] religions” (Nostra Aetate, par. 2). In this document of the Second Vatican Council, the Church commends all those who navigate life’s choppy waters using what is true and what is holy for guides. These are the marks of an authentic search for God. As such, many false searches for ultimate fulfilment fall when measured against this standard because those who genuinely pursue what is true and holy will find Christ who is the truth (John 14:6). Like the evangelist Matthew, the Council Fathers were trying to address the tension between ‘us’ and ‘them’. That the world is full of many different groups of people seems obvious enough, yet we are all people nonetheless. There is much diversity though we have much in common.

Those fundamental truths of our humanity relating to our origin and our destiny are intricately bound up with God. When it comes to dialogue with non-Christian religions, we can all generally appreciate this.  Living out this reality though, in various times, cultures and contexts is not as clear cut. The emergence of ‘our God’ and ‘their god’, ‘our beliefs’ and ‘their beliefs’, give lie to that lazy claim that all religions are pretty much the same. The Christian claim is quite unique. Not every religion claims that God assumed human nature, walked the face of the earth, was crucified, died and rose again in Jesus Christ.

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel is searching. Her daughter is tormented by a devil. How desperately does she need to find that which is true and that which is holy to relieve her daughter’s unholy agony? The woman’s search led her “out from her district” (Matthew 15:22), beyond the frontiers of her own limited cultural context. In Jesus a new horizon appears with new possibilities. Kneeling before Jesus, her faith journey has reached its conclusion. He is the climax of all our searching.

Though it is of central importance to respect other people’s beliefs, the Church “is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life” (Nostra Aetate, par. 2). Christians are charged with the task of helping our non-Christian brothers and sisters on their journey to Christ. We have been commissioned to put a name and a face on that deep desire for God in every human heart. Even Jesus grappled with the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of today’s Gospel but as He has shown with the Canaanite woman, ‘us’ and ’them’ become one in Him.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 15:21-28)