Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle 1)
Friday 1 November
All Saints – Solemnity
Revelation 1.2-4, 9-14
Psalm 23.1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12a
As the Gospel for today, the solemnity of All Saints is straightforward – giving the main character traits of the children of the Kingdom – I will focus my reflection on Rev 7.2-4. 9-14, as the book of Revelation often gets ‘short shrift’ in preaching. A caveat is often necessary when interpreting the book of Revelation; it needs to be read as symbolic language designed to give hope to a dispirited community such as the one addressed by John in his apocalypse. In today’s excerpt John wants to encourage those suffering persecution to hold on to the hope of being redeemed. The number of those assured of redemption, 144,000, has often been read literally rather than metaphorically or symbolically. In the Hebrew Scriptures some numbers have a special significance, such as 12, which stands for completeness and 1,000 for an uncountable multitude. By simple mathematics, 12x12x1000 gives us 144,000 which symbolises a complete and uncountable number of the redeemed as Rev 7.9 indicates. In verse 14 the redeemed are described as ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,’ meaning they have been tried and tested through persecution and emerged victorious. This coheres with today’s Gospel where we are told ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account’ (Mt 5.11) – a reminder to the contemporary Christian that persecution on account of one’s faith is often par for the course.
Saturday 2 November
All Souls (Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed)
Psalm 26.1, 4, 13-14
Romans 5.5-11; Luke 7.11-17
Jesus as miracle worker is one of the most outstanding and awe inspiring aspects of his ministry. For the modern reader, even more awe inspiring are the New Testament miracles of Jesus raising someone from the dead (Mk 5.21-43; Lk 7.11-17 and Jn 11.1-44). Taken together, what is interesting about these accounts is that they narrate miracles of raising someone from the dead at different stages of their death. In the first instance the young girl has just died. In the second the young man is on the way to being interred and in the third Jesus’ friend Lazarus has been interred for four days. It may not be very significant but it assures us that Jesus has the power over death at any stage of our lives. In the case of today’s miracle story, the plot is compounded by the fact that the mother of the dead young man is a widow. She is now twice bereft and hence the significance of Jesus’ response of compassion. In the context of the feast of All Souls, this is a fitting reminder of the Christian’s hope in the resurrection. As the first reading puts it: ‘hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’ (Rom 5.5).
Thirty First Week in Ordinary Time
Monday 4 November
St Charles Borromeo, Bishop (Memorial)
Psalm 68.30-31, 33-34, 36-37
In order to get the full flavour from today’s Gospel (Lk 14.12-14) it is advisable that one reads the entire self-contained unit of Lk 14.7-14 on humility and hospitality. Today’s Gospel is the denouement of the story on humility and hospitality underlying how human hospitality differs from divine authority. Human hospitality is given according to social status or in expectation of reciprocity as in the principle do ut des [I give so that you might give] of Roman religion and indeed of much of our own interactions with others. The Italians have a saying ‘Una mano lava l’altra’ (one hand washes the other), which captures most of our philosophy of hospitality and giving. Divine hospitality is unconditional, based on agape. It is given without expectation of reciprocity. As the first reading asks rhetorically, ‘who has given a gift to him [God], to receive a gift in return?’ (Rom 1.35).
Tuesday 5 November
Psalm 130. 1.2.3; Luke 14.15-24
The Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14.15-24 is similar in theme to the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22.1-14), but with some significant differences. The story in Luke’s Gospel was told at a dinner party that Jesus had attended. He had just healed a man with dropsy and taught a brief lesson on serving others altruistically. He then says that those who serve others altruistically ‘will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’ (Lk14.14). At the mention of the resurrection, someone at the table with Jesus chimed in, ‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God’ (verse 15). In reply, Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Banquet. The statement that prompted the parable is important for our appreciation of the meaning of this story. The man who in verse 15 looks forward to dining in the Messianic kingdom banquet, probably subscribed to the popular notion that only his kith and kin or ethnic group would be part of that kingdom banquet. The parable Jesus tells is aimed at debunking that notion. It is a reminder of the openness and non-ethnocentric nature of God’s kingdom and that there are no reserved seats for card-carrying members only. As Jesus said elsewhere, to the chagrin of the chief priests and the elders, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you’ (Mt 21.31).
Wednesday 6 November
Psalm 111.1-2, 4-5, 9
There are two difficulties with today’s Gospel. First, the meaning of ‘hate’ in verse 26 and the questions Jesus asks to illustrate his point. To us they sound perfectly reasonable. We call it planning but the point of the story is that what is perfectly reasonable in our human endeavours is not sufficient when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. The decision to follow Jesus is a decision, in the words of the late John Dalrymple – a priest from the Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh – ‘Costing not less than everything’ (1975), sometimes including relationships with our own kith and kin. But the question of ‘hate’ in verse 26 is probably a remnant from the Hebrew or Aramaic semantic world where it appears to say one prefers X to Y but one expresses it as loving X and hating Y or vice versa.
Thursday 7 November
Psalm 26.1, 4, 13-14
Today’s Gospel narrates two parables: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. There is something of an exaggeration in both parables – and this is not unusual in New Testament parables – in the reaction of the person who finds the lost sheep or lost coin. I think the point being made is that what may appear to us as insignificant in God’s grand scheme of things is a big deal. Jesus’ listeners then, the Pharisees and Scribes, would not have shared Jesus’ conviviality with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ – not exactly a complimentary term for the Hoi polloi of Jesus’ time – but Jesus’ point is exactly that it was for the Hoi Polloi that he had come and no effort will be spared to bring them in.
Friday 8 November
Psalm 97.1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
The parable of the dishonest servant strikes me has having an unusual dénouement. It is as if Jesus is encouraging dishonesty. The dishonest servant is commended not for mishandling his master’s wealth or for cooking his master’s books, but for his shrewd provision in averting personal disaster and in securing his future livelihood. The original meaning of ‘shrewdness’ is ‘foresight.’ A shrewd person grasps a critical situation without panicking but with resolution, foresight, and the determination to avoid serious loss or disaster. Jesus is concerned here with something more critical than a personal financial meltdown. His concern is that we avert spiritual crisis and personal disaster through the exercise of spiritual foresight. If Christians would only expend as much foresight and energy to spiritual matters which have eternal consequences as much as they do to mundane matters which have temporal consequences, then they would be truly better off, both in this life and in the age to come. The true wisdom of the dishonest servant lies in deciding to do something he ought to have done before greed got the better of him. When he tells the other servants to reduce the figures he is not doing them a favour, he is simply asking them to revert to the original amount they owed their master in the first place. Not everything about the dishonest servant is given for our emulation. For one thing he decides to be just for the wrong reasons. Christians are called to be just for the right reasons.
Saturday 9 November
The dedication of the Lateran Basilica – Feast
Ezekiel 47.1-2, 8-9, 12 or
1Corinthians 3.9b-11, 16-17
Psalm 45.2-3, 5-6, 8-9
The balance between religion and economics is not always easy to strike as the recent banking scandals even in the Vatican show us. John tells the story of the cleansing of the Temple (Jn 2.13-22), not to show how economics have nothing to do with religion. As the one time President of the Vatican Bank, Paul Marcinkus was reported to have said ‘You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys.’ If we try to imagine the world behind today’s text we will realise how important the money changers and those who sold animals were intrinsic to the functioning of the Temple worship. It was important that anyone who wanted to offer sacrifice had the right place and price for the animals for the sacrifice. But what probably happened was that greed once again took over and commerce began to take over from worship. Jesus’ action is an attempt to redress the imbalance. As he says in the Synoptic Gospels, ‘But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Mt 6.33) or ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth’ (6.24).
Monday 11 November
St Martin of Tours, Bishop – Memorial
Psalm 138.1-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-10
Today’s Gospel is a short medley of sayings addressed to the inner circle, the disciples. Jesus opens by stating the obvious – that occasions for stumbling are bound to come – but that does not mean we ought to expedite them. If we do, it is at great cost as the woe [disaster saying] clearly states – ‘It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.’ This was probably the worst death imaginable for Jesus’ listeners. There is an element of poetic license in this saying designed to bring about the desired effect. Being an occasion or cause for someone else’s – God’s little ones’ – stumbling has dire consequences. It is no surprise therefore that Pope Francis has taken very seriously scandals of paedophilia among priestly and religious ranks. But it is all very well to point the finger at others when our own life styles are sometimes the cause of God’s little ones to stumble. Today’s Gospel links very well with the first reading from the book of Wisdom. This literature was replete with nuggets of wisdom to live by and Jesus continues the wisdom style of preaching evident in today's Gospel. The reason why the Gospel frowns on being a cause of scandal for God’s little ones may be explained from the first reading as equivalent to those who put the Lord to the test (Wis 1.3).
Tuesday 12 November
St Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr – Memorial
Psalm 33.2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Today’s Gospel looks somewhat asyndetic or unconnected to the rest of Lk 17 and talk about slaves might grate on the ears of the modern reader. In many significant respects, slavery in the Roman Empire was very different from slavery in 19th century America or Europe: Many people were ‘debt slaves,’ who had sold themselves (or been sold by their family) to pay off a debt. Many slaves were eventually freed by their masters, either as a reward for good service or after their debt had been paid. When the New Testament uses the image of slavery, it is not to justify it but rather to use a common practice as a metaphor for the ‘slavery’ – being bound – that the redeemed person now finds himself or herself in. In that sense, they are like worthless slaves (Lk 17.10). But what unites Lk 17.7-10 with the previous passage (Lk 17.1-6) is the mention of the obedience faith brings about (Lk 17.6). It is this faith that must characterise the Christian’s relationship with God.
Wednesday 13 November
Psalm 81.3-4, 6-7; Luke 17.11-19
The cleansing of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel has important lessons for the modern reader. While leprosy is not a common disease, modern society has its own versions of lepers – people marginalised because of gender, age, disability, ethnicity, mental state or sexual orientation etc. Today’s Gospel is a call to an ethic of inclusion in which there are no subalterns or dalits – groups of people traditionally considered untouchable simply because of an accident of circumstances of birth. Those of us born with privilege or blue blood are tempted to take for granted the good fortune that comes our way. Jesus takes a swipe at such people and instead praises the Samaritan, who in this case had been disadvantaged twice – by being untouchable as a leper and through ethnic marginalisation.
Thursday 14 November
Psalm 118.89-91, 130, 135, 175
Lk 17.20-25 forms part of the pericope on the coming of God’s kingdom (Lk 17.20-37). The Pharisees ask Jesus about the coming of the kingdom, tongue in cheek, one might say, since they must have heard that in Jesus of Nazareth God’s kingdom had been inaugurated or so Jesus claimed. They must have heard what happened at the Synagogue in Nazareth when as guest Rabbi Jesus proclaimed, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Lk 4.18-19). Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and to all his listeners was the unexpected ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ (Lk 17.21). In fact the original Greek ‘he- basileia tou- theou- entos umo-n estin’ is better translated by the more difficult reading you might say ‘the kingdom of God is within you.’ The ‘you’ are all of Jesus’ listeners, then and now. In fact the kingdom of God as taught by Jesus was paradoxical – while it was within or among the people it was still yet to be consummated or fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. The Italians have a lovely phrase to describe this paradox: ‘già e non ancora’ (already and not yet). Being a Christian means balancing this paradox in our lives.
Friday 15 November
Liturgy of the day or St Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor – Memorial
Psalm 18.2-3, 4-5
Lk 17.26-37 is the dénouement of Jesus’ locution on the coming of God’s kingdom mooted in yesterday’s reading. What is underscored in today’s excerpt is that there will be no warning regarding the coming of the Son of Man or the Human One – a messianic title beloved of Jesus to highlight the necessity of suffering and death as part of God’s redemptive plan. The question of the disciples is quite enigmatic. In response to the unexpected nature of the final revelation of the Son of Man or the Human One, the disciples ask ‘Where, Lord?’ (Lk 17.37). Perhaps in the context of apocalyptic expectation this is not surprising. One such popular locale would have been Harmageddon or Armageddon (Rev 16.16) – a metaphor for the final conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Jesus has not been concerned about the place of his revelation; once again the disciples have missed the point just as the modern Christian misses the point by asking where the rupture will take place as did the Thessalonians
(1 Thess 4.17) or when and where Armageddon will take place. Jesus’ answer is even more enigmatic: ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather’ (LK 17. 37). Just as it does not matter for the vulture where a carcass is, so will it not matter where the Jesus-follower will be. What will matter is the state he or she will be in.
Saturday 16 November
Liturgy of the day or St Margaret of Scotland, or St Gertrude (Virgin) or Saturday Mass of our Lady
Wisdom 18.14-16; 19.6-9
Psalm 104.2-3, 36-37, 42-43
There is something quaint about the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Lk 18.1-8). First, there is the sheer courage that this widow has in pestering the judge who is described as ‘a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people’ (Lk 18.2). Second, there is the result of her pestering the judge in search of justice. Her efforts are rewarded. Jesus used her as an example of the kind of dogged faith that must characterise the Jesus-follower. God answers the prayer of faith but as the sages have reminded us, we need the spiritual ear to hear his answer or the type of answer God gives.
Thirty third Week in Ordinary Time
Monday 18 November
Liturgy of the day or Dedication of the Basilicas of St Peter and St Paul
1 Macabees 1.10-15, 41-43, 54
Psalm 118.53, 61, 134, 150, 155, 158 Luke 18.35-43
(in Mass for Dedication of the Basilicas):
Acts 28.11-16, 30-31
Psalm 97.1.2-3ab, 3c-4, 5-6
The healing of the blind beggar near Jericho concludes Luke 18 and once again what is underlined is the necessity for faith, which has been a recurring theme in the chapter. What strikes me in the reading from Lk 18.35-43 are three things: First, we have Jesus going out of his way to find out what the commotion was all about. This assures me that whatever my status or the trouble I am in Jesus is not too busy to bother about me; second, the blind beggar is determined to meet Jesus and he will not have any political correctness or protocol prevent him from attracting the attention of Jesus; third, whatever ails me or troubles me, I must want to be healed. No one can want that for me. For that the blind beggar gets my full marks.
Tuesday, 19 November
2 Macabees 6.18-31
Psalm 3.2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Luke 19.1-10
Jesus continues his journey to Jericho. Yesterday we met him near Jericho where he healed the blind beggar. As in the story of the blind beggar, Jesus goes out of his way ‘to seek out and to save the lost’ (Lk 19.10). Once again what is most praiseworthy is the effort and determination of Zacchaeus to meet Jesus. He is prepared to put aside all decorum. For that he is rewarded, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (Lk 19.9). But there is an important lesson we might easily gloss over in this encounter: Meeting Jesus must be followed by transformation. As Zacchaeus says: ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much’ (Lk 19.8). Another way of putting it, using scholastic theology, is that every act of penance must be followed by satisfaction. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the sacrament of penance and reconciliation: ‘It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction’ (par 1423).
Wednesday 20 November
2 Macabees 7.1.20-31
Psalm 16.1, 5-6, 8b, 15
Luke’s parable of the Minas (Lk 19.11-28) is similar to Matthew’s parable of the talents (Mt 25.14-30). Its general message is clear: that we all need to give an account of the talents that we have been given but two things about the parable may not be very clear. First, there is Jesus’ conclusion to the parable, ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ (Lk 19.26). Second, what may have been its original context? Taking the two issues together we learn that in fact, a Jewish delegation had gone to Rome protesting at the idea of Archelaus becoming king. In the same way, Jesus was soon to go away and return some day as King and Judge. While he is ‘away’, his ‘servants’ will be entrusted to take care of their Master’s affairs. But others will reject him completely. In that sense his servants would have had time to build up capital for evangelistic investments and it is on that capital they are going to be questioned.
Thursday 21 November
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Memorial
Canticle: Luke 1.46-55
Mt 12.46-50 is a rather curious passage
to choose for the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, what with Jesus seemingly not politically correct question, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ (Mt 12.48). But the episode does not say that Jesus spoke these words in front of his mother and brothers. For all we know Jesus, as any good Jewish son would have done, would have been happy to see mum with the other adult siblings in tow. Most commentators focus on the brothers of Jesus, whether they were blood brothers, cousins or half-brothers. In some sense that does not really matter. They were family and Jesus uses their visit to expand the notion of family.
Friday 22 November
St Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr – Memorial
1 Macabees 4.36-37, 52-59
Canticle: 1 Chronicles 29.10,
11abc, 11d-12a, 12bcd
Luke 19.45 -48
Lk 19.45-48 is the synoptic equivalent of Jn 2.13-22, which we saw on 9 November for the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. While the Johannine version focused on Jesus as the new Temple through the power of the resurrection, Luke uses the incident as a conflict story and argues that as a result of the cleansing of the Temple ‘The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him’ (Lk 19.47). The penny must have dropped for the chief priests, the scribes and the leaders of the people that here was someone out to put them out of their jobs as ‘all the people were spellbound by what they heard’ (Lk 19.48).
Saturday 23 November
Liturgy of the day or St Clement I (Pope and Martyr), or St Columban (Abbot), or Saturday Mass of Our Lady
1 Macabees 6.1-13
Psalm 9.2-3, 4, 6.16b, 19
I have always wondered what will become of our family relationships in the afterlife and today’s Gospel satisfies my curiosity. Its answer is that in the post-resurrection life we transcend the relationships we needed in our earthly journey. That seems to be the point of Jesus’ locution that ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage’ (Lk 20.34-35) but that is not even the main point of the passage. The main point is a teaching about the resurrection. Marriage is needed for our earthly sojourn but in the hereafter we ‘cannot die anymore,’ because we ‘are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection’ (Lk 20.36).
Thirty fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Monday 25 November
Liturgy of the day or St Catharine of Alexandria – Virgin and Martyr
Canticle: Daniel 3.52-56
Luke’s widow’s mite (Lk 21.1-4) has a clear message about generous giving. What counts in Jesus’ view is not the amount one gives but the quality of the giving. The widow is praised because ‘she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on’ (Lk 21.4). To the modern reader that may sound as being unwise but that is precisely the point, giving of oneself to God transcends the logic by which we transact every day interactions.
Tuesday 26 November
Canticle: Daniel 3.57-61
Attracted by the verse ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ (Lk 21.6) Most editors of new translations of the Bible describe Lk 21.5-11 as forming part of the foretelling of the destruction of the Temple. The English subtitle of my Greek New Testament gives the same title. In my view the destruction of the Temple forms part of the signs that will precede the second coming and as for that no chronological time table is available.
Wednesday 27 November
Daniel 5.1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28
Canticle: Daniel 3.62-67
Lk 21.12-19 completes yesterday’s discourse on signs that will precede the second coming. The conclusion focuses on the persecutions that will be par for the course for the Jesus-follower. And as history tells us, one thing we can be certain of if we are faithful Jesus-followers is that some form of persecution will accompany us along the way.
Thursday 28 November
Canticle: Daniel 3.68-74
Lk 21.20-28 continues the discourse on the signs that will precede the coming of the Son of Man or the Human One. One of these signs is the very destruction of God’s abode on earth – Jerusalem. But this and the previous signs in the earlier verses are simply warning signs. The real conclusion is that ‘Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’ (Lk 21.27-28). The upshot is that we need to be ready whenever that will be.
Friday 29 November
Canticle: Daniel 3.75-81
Lk 21.29-33 is a call to the Jesus-follower to read the signs of the times and not be taken unawares. And if the signs predicted as preparing for the second coming are still with us the least we can say is that whatever time God gives us on earth he also gives us enough time to prepare for the second coming. If we needed any further evidence we can read today’s first reading from Dan 7.2-14 in which the apocalyptic author tells of the demise of ancient great empires. All empires will pass away but as Lk 21.33 says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’ – a Hebrew way of saying everything will pass away but not the power of God, which as Genesis tells us was there right at the beginning.
Saturday 30 November
St Andrew, Apostle – Feast
Romans 10.9-18; Psalm 18.2-3, 4-5
Mt 4.18-22 has been chosen as the Gospel reading for the feast of St Andrew, the brother of St Peter, principally because it deals with the call of the first four disciples. The New Testament call narratives (perhaps with the exception of Mary) differ from the Old Testament narratives on one important detail. Often the Old Testament call narrative contains the element of objection to the call to highlight the human unworthiness of the recipient. In the New Testament this is replaced with the alacrity of the response of the recipient. ‘Immediately they left their nets and followed him’ (Mt 4.20). What the narrative underlines with this aspect is the immediacy of the call. There is no time to put one’s affairs in order. This is it, you blink you miss it.
First Week of Advent
Monday 2 December
A shelter from the storm and the rain
Isaiah is the great prophet of Advent and in the first reading is a sonorous oracle celebrating the survival of the holy ones in Jerusalem and those still standing after the cloud, blast and smoke of the Day of the Lord. Ultimately the Lord is their shelter, their protection, their father.
In the Gospel, a different storm – a storm of concern and of faith. The centurion’s servant is dying, a proud man, a strong man, a pagan man of violence kneels before Jesus. Normally it is Jesus who astonishes others, here instead it is Jesus who is astonished at this man’s faith and the healing of the servant goes almost unremarked as he prophesies a Day of the Lord that will draw people way beyond Israel to the shelter of the Father.
This is our delight, that the Saviour who has fulfilled this promise for us is prepared, humble and gentle, to be with us in Eucharist under this roof, for our healing and to still the storms of our concern.
Tuesday 3 December
Feast of St Francis Xavier
Psalm 71.1-2,7-8, 12-13, 17
Stand as a signal to the nations
The Church has rarely seen so dedicated a missionary as St Francis Xavier. In an age of outstanding heroes of the faith, he was pre-eminent. Following his death, his fellow Jesuits returned his right arm to Rome from the East in recognition of the number of souls baptized during his many journeys. The vitality of Francis is captured in the wonderful words of Isaiah chosen for the feast – ‘on him rests the spirit of the Lord, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.’
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of joy, a gift that should mark the lives of Christians. The Gospel captures a picture of Jesus revelling in the Spirit and in the love of the Father. His happiness that the disciples who have proclaimed the Word almost bursts out from the page. And this love is not trapped in the past or restricted to the missionary days of Francis Xavier. God’s joy is every bit as explosive when we too raise our voices to share the Good News and stand as a signal to the nations.
Wednesday 4 December
St John Damascene
They collected what was left of the scraps
The Feast of St John of Damascus calls to mind the ancient heritage of the faith in Syria, a land so troubled in these past months, a land where families, communities and particularly the Christian Churches have suffered enormously. Though the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean have long been called ‘holy’ they have equally been called ‘troubled’ since the earliest times.
The readings speak to this brokenness. Isaiah promises that the shroud enwrapping all the nations will be removed and death will be destroyed for ever. David calls upon the Lord as his shepherd for protection in the valley of darkness. Jesus feeds the thousands on the hillside lest they collapse along the way.
In sure faith, we pray for the orphans, the widowed, the maimed. In sure hope we commend them to God’s care through the intercession of St John of Damascus, that from the scraps of their lives, the dispersed and the homeless will once more be restored in the house of the Lord.
Thursday 5 December
Psalm 117.1, 8-9,1 9-21, 25-27 Matthew 7.21, 24-27
Between a rock and a soft place
It may surprise some, but building regulations have been around since ancient times. Moreover, today’s readings demonstrate that they are a requirement not just of present day council planning departments but also for the Kingdom of God. Isaiah has the image of God’s people as a strong city, built upon fidelity to God. The gates of ancient cities were huge, armoured, decorated and creaky in equal measure. ‘Open up!’ proclaims the prophet – so that an invasion of the poor and lowly might enter, trampling haughtiness and pride.
The Gospel has a similarly architectural theme. ‘Lord Lord’ is not the guarantee of salvation, warns Jesus, but a readiness to do the will of the Father. Prayer put into action makes our lives resilient, founded upon rock. Prayer without a change in life priorities leaves us on dodgy ground. In this Advent season, it might be good to reflect upon the efforts we make to secure our homes and their structural integrity. Do we do take the same care when building the Kingdom?
Friday 6 December
Psalm 26.1, 4, 13-14
Santa Claus, clouts and cures
For many years now, the Church has fought a losing battle to retain the integrity of Advent against creeping ‘Christmasification’. Most folk have had many a turkey before Christmas day and carols are at least partially present as soundtracks in the days leading up to the great feast. But perhaps the Church doesn’t help itself either. After all, today is the Feast of St Nicholas, the original Sant Ni-Claus – Santa Claus. A bishop originally from Asia Minor, he is entombed in Bari, Italy, where there remains lively devotion to him. It is pretty doubtful that he would recognize himself in the podgy jolly figure of Father C