When I was a student at Sydney University, there was one question that I was regularly asked – are you saved? Sometimes it was in the form of the “if you died tonight, where would you end up – in heaven or hell?” Perhaps this was because as an Economics student I had more time to wander around campus and hang out at other Christian meetings, especially those of the evangelical and pentecostal students. There was also a time when if you asked a Catholic this same question of “are you saved” you could be assured of firstly puzzled looks, and then the reassurance of an answer along the lines of: “of course I am saved, I am a Catholic, aren’t I?” It is strange that whenever the question arises within a particular church group, you can be assured that the person providing an answer will at least be confident of the salvation of her group and her people.
But when a man in the crowd asks Jesus the question today of “will only a few be saved?” (Luke 13:22-30) the first thing that we must note is that Jesus does not give a straight answer. What he does tell us is that we must “strive to enter by the narrow gate.” Unless we are familiar with all the gospels, that saying of Jesus can leave none the wiser; but if we are familiar with the various “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John, such as “I am the bread of life”, “I am the true vine”, “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the way, the truth and the life” we will recall that one of these sayings is “I am the gate.” So if Jesus tells us both to strive to enter by the narrow gate, and that he himself is that gate, then it becomes clearer what salvation means and how it is possible. The only way to enter into eternal life – the life of the age to come – is to become like Jesus. Or as St John of the Cross puts it, we need to have “an habitual desire to imitate Christ in all that we do by bringing our lives into conformity with his.” (The Ascent of Mt Carmel, Book I, chapter 13)
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (9’31”)
One of the things that never fails to amaze me – and this is a little embarrassing to admit! – is when you have been literally under the weather for a while: the sky is grey and overcast, perhaps it has rained a bit, with fog and mist thrown in and the weather is really beginning to have its depressing impact upon you. But then you get to the airport, and after your flight takes off and you leave Melbourne, it only takes a few minutes and suddenly you are through all the cloud and the day is bright and warm – like it is in Camden today! Every time that this happens, I forget that the sun is still shining brightly above me – only there is this thick layer of cloud that prevents me from experiencing the warmth and light.
Now all images are flawed, but perhaps this helps us remember what the love of God is like. His love continues to shine forth across the whole world – but sometimes there are all kinds of obstacles that are in the way, and which need to be burned away and purified. Perhaps this is an image that can help us to approach this otherwise rather bizarre Gospel (Luke 12:49-53).
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm (8’04”)
Sunday 20, Year C
The opening line of our Gospel today provides an essential description of the Christian message for us – if only we could receive it and live it. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom.” So often we live caught up in a false notion that God is constantly keeping track in some imagined heavenly ledger of all our activities. We imagine that there is a credit side and a debit side to the ledger, and our objective is to do enough positive things to make up for the areas of sin and addiction in our lives. If, at the end of our lives, there are more positive than negative deeds, then God will begrudgingly allow us into heaven. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth of what Jesus tells us himself in the Gospel today.
Do not be afraid – why? Because – and this is a case where the Jerusalem bible translation gets it exactly correct – it has already pleased the Father to give us the kingdom. Many English translations render this verse either in the present tense, or in a future tense – of what the Lord will give us at some point in the future. But no – to geek out – the Greek word is in the aorist tense, indicating that this is something that had already fully and completely happened. Because of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross and through his resurrection, everything that was needed to be done has been done.
God is not only faithful to this – but he is also abundant. If we can actually trust his word this begins to change everything! We are no longer caught up in a relationship with a stingy, begrudging God. We can be generous, because we get that all we have has been given to us by God. It is all gift – all grace. So of course, we can share what we have, we can give alms, we can freely love and share with all those that the Lord places in our lives. What freedom this gives to us.
But wait there is more! “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be…”
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’14”)
Sunday 19, Year C. Luke 12:32-46
“Vanity of vanities says the Preacher – all is vanity.”
In the middle of the crowd of 3,700,000 pilgrims on Copacabana Beach last weekend for the World Youth Day vigil and Mass with Pope Francis it was easy to feel overawed, excited and probably more scared than I wanted to admit. Two years ago I was shut-out of the final vigil when Spanish officials over-estimated the capacity of the venue; five years ago in the best-organised WYD in Sydney everyone was able to make it inside Randwick Racecourse. But the crowds of young people who descended upon Sydney were dwarfed by the ten-times-larger crowds that swelled the city of Rio de Janeiro. A crowd like that one is very good at making you feel very small and very insignificant.
The experience in Rio reminded me of my first experience of a World Youth Day, way back in Paris 1997, and discovered what being Catholic actually meant. No longer was I just one lone Catholic seminarian in a secular nation, but I found that in that crowd of 1.2 million pilgrims I was in the heart of the Church that can truly be called Catholic. The terrible experience of the failed and boring Madrid WYD [Sydney’s high-church liturgies were equally irrelevant to young people] had blunted my memories of how good WYD could be – but thankfully the beauty and joy of the celebrations in Rio restored all that.
In the Hebrew language, there are very few abstract words; so when Qoheleth [the Preacher] attempts to describe his experience at the end of his life of realising that all the riches and pleasures that he has shared in across the span of his life, he chooses the word ‘havel’ which means vapour. It is a great word to describe something that you cannot grab hold of because it simply slips between your fingers. Likewise when you find yourself in the middle of an immense crowd of young Catholics gathered in worship, so many of the things that we build our lives upon turn out to be mere vanity.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington, 8am (7’53”)
Sunday 18, Year C