Friday, 21 March 2014

Why attack a good man?

In the Mass readings today (Gen 37:3f ; Mt 21:33-43,45-46) we find the theme of the rejection of the good and innocent man doing his father’s work. First in Genesis it is the rejection of Joseph by his brothers who are jealous of the favour shown to their father’s youngest son. They almost kill him in the wilds but instead sell him into slavery and fake his death by a wild animal. In the Gospel parable of wicked tenants of the vineyard the tenants in the vineyard refuse to pay the owner of the vineyard his dues in the form of a proportion of the harvest. They thrash and kill the owner’s servants, and then when the owner sends his son (whom he thinks they will respect) they murder him.
On the face of it we might well ask, why is it that good people can be so rejected even to the point of murder? What was it that drove Joseph’s brothers to consider selling him to slavery or even consider murdering him? What was it that led the religious opponents of Jesus to consider finding a way to have him killed? Jesus had only done good in His life, but He had also challenged and pointed out the Jewish leaders’ errors. But was that enough for them to consider having him executed? It is naturally difficult for us to see how this can happen, and I think the early Christians must have also struggled with this question. The parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard in part answers that question, showing the long history of the rejection of the prophets by Jerusalem leaders, and then finally the rejection of the Father’s only Son.
What causes the heart of man to consider the murder of a good man the best option? The short answer is, of course, sin. It was jealousy. It was anger. It was looking for the easy way out. It was fearing earthly powers more than God. It was pride and not wanting to lose one’s own status.
The sad fact is that when light shines, those that wish their deeds to remain hidden despise the light. The light that shines from a good and righteous man can cause those who are attached to their sin to react against that good and righteous man, sometimes in ways that are surprising and shocking to us. But this is the way of the witnesses of Christ, which we are all called to walk. We are called to live Christ’s way even when it is counter everything that the world stands for. We are living in a time when increasingly we who answer the call of Christ to bear witness to him will face rejection and conflict. Let us ask for the prayers of the Martyrs that we may have the courage to be faithful to Christ and less concerned about the world’s reaction.
Fr Ian

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The abyss that divides


The Parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19), in our gospel today, deals with the gap between the rich and the inhumanly poor. The economics of the world can be deadly and it makes the rich live separately: in their housing, by transportation, recreation, and medical care. In the parable the wall the rich man willingly builds in this life, becomes after his death an abyss that no one will be able to bridge. We who live today in the richest parts of the world should be disturbed by this parable, for the one who is content with such a divide in this life may well find himself on the wrong side of the abyss in the life to come.
In the parable, the poor man is named, Lazarus, but the rich man is not named, thus the world order is reversed. In the world today, the well to do man is treated with dignity, the anonymous poor man is not. This de-humanisation is at the root of the problem. We also see that on dying the man Lazarus finds many friends (angels, father Abraham) whereas the rich man finds neither friends nor lawyers to relieve his situation – hell is isolation.
We must remember that the table of the rich man is in fact God’s table not his. And God invites all to eat at His table. In Lent traditionally we are exhorted to practice almsgiving to remind us that we are to be detached from our wealth; not so much seeing it as our own wealth, but that which God wants us to use for His glory. Perhaps most of all, this parable reminds us that we must not shut off our hearts from the needs of poorest in the world, in the parable one of the most chilling aspects is that the rich man didn’t even notice Lazarus in his misery.
Fr Ian

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

St Joseph

St Joseph by Guido Reni
Standing with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, and also the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Angels, St Joseph tends to fade into the background somewhat. And this is of course understandable and to an extent quite right. However on this his day we do well to consider this man.

We do not have too much information about him beyond what the gospels tell us. His lineage is that of the House of David, but he is a humble artisan. He is betrothed to the Virgin Mary, who like him is of a poor Nazareth family. He is a carpenter; a man of wood and tools. We are told he was an upright man. For Joseph to be espoused to Our Lady, we can assume that her parents must have regarded him as a suitable husband for their remarkable and highly virtuous daughter.
As the drama of the Incarnation unfolds in the Gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) St Joseph receives his vocation by an angel in a dream. Here we receive a clue that St Joseph was a man of faith and discernment. He knew the truth of the dream, and he acted upon it decisively. How remarkable was the message the angel gave him! Yet Joseph obeyed his Lord through the Angel. This obedience led him to accept his betrothed in marriage as the Mother of God. As a husband and as guardian of the divine child he protected them from the forces of evil. In Bethlehem he thwarted Herod’s plan to eradicate challenges to the throne of David by once again trusting the message of the Angel in a dream. He led his family to Egypt for a time and then home to Nazareth where he could return to his trade. In the hidden life of Jesus’ childhood (hidden except for the incident in Jerusalem) we can only surmise that the fatherly and manly example of Joseph would positively influence the human nature of the Christ-child. We presume that Joseph died some time after Jesus had reached 12 years old (for he was with them on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem) and before Jesus’ own death, for Christ places His mother into the care of St John from the cross.
St Joseph was a man chosen by God and set apart. It was under his guardianship and fatherly care that Jesus was introduced into the world. Yes we honour and are indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her came the Christ, but after her we owe special gratitude for Saint Joseph. Christ does not now of course deny Joseph in heaven that intimacy, reverence and honour He had shown His foster-father on earth.
St Joseph is not officially patron, I believe, to any particular matter in human life (like other saints) except that he is patron of the whole Church. As he was chosen by God as guardian to the Holy Family so St Joseph continues to be guardian of all the brothers and sisters of Christ by adoption. Let us call on his intercession for protection from all evil and for guidance to walk the right path. May all earthly fathers find in him a worthy and chaste example to follow. May all men find in him an example to follow of honour and virtue.
Fr Ian

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Hierarchy and Equality

The young Jesus teaches
Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activities belonged. Nor was Jesus part of any religious party or association – he was not a Pharisee nor a Sadducee. He was on the side of the common man and He saw how the leaders of God’s people acted.
However even from the perspective of seeing how poor the leaders were (not practicing what they preached and not being merciful) our Lord does not suggest doing away with them. Our Lord wants leaders who are not so much concerned about what they look like nor what others think about them, but men of integrity and who are humble. No religious leader should stand in the way of a person and their God. Jesus makes this point by saying “Call no one Rabbi”, “Call no one Father” and “Call no one Teacher”. Jesus is not banning the normal use of these words, because the words would then just drop from usage and lose their meaning. Jesus is making His point through hyperbole and it is not to be taken literally.*
We are being reminded today of the profound equality of all children of God. No member of the Church should think themselves better than others. No one should be seeking titles and honours. We all share an equal dignity given us by God through our creation, and new creation in Christ by baptism. However our Lord does not suggest bringing down the hierarchy! The Church has a hierarchy but no member of the hierarchy should consider themselves better than anyone else. Each member of the Church is called to grow in holiness and draw closer to God, and each of us must strive to do that through the grace given us through the Holy Spirit – this is true of priests, bishops and popes, as well as the Religious and the Laity. We are all in the same boat struggling against sin and seeking grace to grow in Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Yes we should honour those that sit in the seat of the Apostles because through them we honour the Apostolic ministry and therefore Christ, but the man who sits in the seat is not better than anyone else. We are all where we are through the grace of God alone.
Each member of the Church has their vocation and their work to be doing. We must all pay one another the respect due to our dignity in Christ, and we all must pray for one another that we will resist temptation and grow in the life of grace.
Amen.
Fr Ian
NOTE
* “father” is used in the New Testament referring to human fathers (Heb 12:7-11) and spiritual fathers (1 Cor 4:15 ; Philem 10), and this emphasises Jesus was not intending His words be taken literally.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Apostle

St Patrick was born towards the end of the 4th century in Roman Britain; he died in Ireland in the middle of the 5th century. He died having served his Lord as a Missionary and Bishop to the Irish people. The people who had originally enslaved him as a youth were those he was instrumental in converting. He was an evangelist with extraordinary zeal and of incredible hardiness, yet most of all, enormous faith, hope and love – and not least, for the people he proclaimed the love of God to.
In our Gospel today (Luke 5:1-11) our Lord calls the first Apostles by inviting Himself onto Peter’s boat and Peter willingly does as he is asked. Jesus looks for more. He is looking not just for someone to render Him service; Jesus is looking for someone willing to totally to surrender himself to Him. There are many listeners, but Jesus wants Apostles.
The miraculous catch is also a sign pointing to the work of the Apostles: to catch people.
Peter’s beginning might not seem very promising, for he seems overwhelmed by fear. One who discovers that God has entered their inner life may well react with fear. However this fear is good. Peter truly knows who is with him! He is aware of his own sinfulness, and the presence of the holy Lord. On his knees, Peter says, “Lord, leave me, I am a sinful man.” This is the first act of faith in the divinity of Jesus.
Apostle means “sent”. Christ choses apostles and sends them in His name. One begins to cooperate with the call of Christ in apostolic ministry when one begins to do more than listen. In fact one begins to cooperate with the call of Christ in apostolic ministry when one seeks to do more than perform good works for the benefit of the parish. One begins to answer a call to apostolic service when one feels responsible for people, i.e. when one becomes a fisher of men.
The apostolate of the laity is not just listening to Christ. The apostolate of the laity is not just doing good things for the priest or the parish. The principle focus in the apostolate of the laity is people; people who know not the true Christ, and know not the Church through whom they are saved.
Let us pray that we all may answer the call of Christ to our particular apostolate, that we may be fishers of men. St Patrick, pray for us.
Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)