Holiness today

Feast of the Holy Family.

In the lives of the saints we are presented with different models of how to live a live dedicated to the Lord. Perhaps this is because there is in fact no one way to be holy – all that we can do is to look at the lives of people – and in our feast today of families – and take inspiration from them in our own pursuit of holiness.

The first reading reminds us of the story of Hannah, who we are introduced to at the start of 1 Samuel as a devote woman who desires to conceive a child, but remains barren. She and her husband Elkanah go up each year to the sanctuary of Shiloh. On one occasion she is so distraught by her barrenness that she prays and weeps bitterly. But Eli the priest misunderstands her actions and thinks she is drunk (perhaps like many priests across the centuries?) but she (perhaps like many devote women across the centuries?) defends herself and receives his blessing. In due course she conceives and bears a son, whom she names Samuel, which means the ‘name of God’ or ‘offspring of God’. Now, after Samuel is weaned, she takes him back to the sanctuary – in fulfillment of the vow that she had made. The holiness of Hannah and Elkanah, and their devotion to the Lord is clear, and is well expressed in their outward commitment to the Lord which mirrors their internal disposition.

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Mary the revolutionary

Christmas 2009 – a revolutionary Christmas
Christmas often brings out the very best in us; but of course it can also bring out the very worst. If we are honest, we can probably admit that at times all we want to do is gag at the very mention of it. Sometimes we tell the story of Christmas in a way that is absolutely detached: we talk about all the cute little animals, and eggnog, Santa, snow, reindeer, drummer boys and perfect babies that never cry or soil their nappies.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that “Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken.” (Luke 2:1)

Julius Caesar was the first person to declare himself emperor or use the title Caesar. He had no son, but when he was assassinated in 43BC, he passed on the rule to his nephew, Octavius. There was a power struggle for a number of years, between Antony and Cleopatra on one side, and Brutus and Octavius on the other. Eventually Octavius won, and became undisputed emperor in 31BC, taking the name Caesar Augustus. He would go on to rule for 45 years. He declared his adopted father to be a ‘god’, so Augustus then declared himself to be the son of God. He saw himself as a divine mediator between God and man, and required people who were part of the Roman Empire to greet one another on the streets with ‘Caesar is Lord.’ One of the popular sayings of the time was ‘there is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved, except for Caesar.’

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Leaping and dancing for joy

4th Sunday of Advent – Year C. (Luke 1: 39-44; Micah 5:1-4)

In a survey published in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend it seems that around 68% of Australians still believe in God, but only 27% believe that the Bible is literally true. Which may not be a bad thing, if by literally true we think that reading the bible is like reading a history text book or a science journal. The original authors of scripture never intended us to read it this way. They want us to read it like we read any other story – which is more like reading poetry or listening to music. For when we listen to a song, we are usually aware of the emotional content and of echoes of other songs and other times that we heard this song and what was happening in our life back then. Powerful stuff. To gain access to this story of the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary, and to work out the significance of Bethlehem Ephrathah, and how they both connect with the anointing of a shepherd boy, the Ark of the Covenant and the call to worship – to leap with joy.

Recorded at Sacred Heart (12’23”)

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Vatican Museum App on iTunes

Last night I downloaded the new The Vatican Museums Interactive guide for iPhone and iPod touch. It is a great little app with wonderful audio commentary and fantastic detail on many of the wonders of the Museum. A really well-executed application and great value for only $5.99 in the Australian iTunes shop. Go on – you know you want to!

http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/

What must we do?

Third Sunday of Advent (C) – Luke 3:10-18.

When you look through the teachings of Jesus, a number of themes emerge – love, prayer, money and faith. But as you consider the teachings of Jesus according to these categories, it quickly becomes apparent that Jesus talks about money and possessions far more than he talks about any thing else – in fact he talks about money 3 times more than he talks even about love (which conquers all); 7 times more than he talks about prayer; and 8 times more than he talks about faith and belief.

So it should come as no surprise to us when we continue with the teaching ministry of John, son of Zechariah, that he too should talk about money and possessions. You may recall that last week, after almost 490 years of silence – the word of the Lord was once again addressed to one of his prophets. And when John began to preach, he proclaimed that what was needed was repentance and baptism to cleanse us from our sins. Now as people come to him, they ask a single question – ‘what must we do?’

John gives simple, practical advice in answer: ‘if you have two cloaks, you must share with the person who has none’ as well as ‘don’t rip people of’ and ‘be content with your pay.’ John follows in a long line of prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in putting the demands of justice front and centre for followers of the Lord. His teaching has been emphasised by the saints across the centuries and by the popes, most especially since the tradition of the Social Doctrine of the church has been given, beginning with Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (1891). There, the pope reminds us that once our basic needs have been met (food, clothing, housing, recreation, transport), then everything else that we have belongs to those who are poor. This is the idea that all we have belongs not to us, but to the common good.

“But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over.” (Rerum Novarum, 22)

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The word of hope

Second Sunday of Advent (Year C) – Baruch 5:1-9; Phil 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6.

Luke begins the account of the ministry of John the Baptist with a list of strange names – what is he doing and why is he doing it and how does it relate to the splendour and integrity of a people lost in a foreign land?

In order to understand why Luke begins this account of the ministry of John, son of Zechariah, with all of those names – we need to do some background work. We need to go back to the first reading – from the prophet Baruch (the secretary of Jeremiah).

Baruch prophesied during the same period – the time of Exile. This was an utterly devastating period in the history of Israel. For us to make any sense of the readings today we need to first attempt to at least get into the mindset of what it would be like for the whole of your life – and of the whole of your country to be turned completely upside down and inside out. They were treated as slaves and they lost all of the land of the promise; the empire of Babylon had swept down upon them and completely destroyed their land, their city and their temple. All that Jerusalem stood for was destroyed and taken away from them when they were escorted under military guard from Jerusalem into exile. Everything that they had based their lives upon was gone. It is hard to appreciate how devastating this was for them.

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