The longing of Advent

SittingAs we begin this new liturgical year and return in Year B to the Gospel of Mark, it is a little odd that we don’t begin with the opening lines of the Gospel. Surely we should be reading from the Infancy Narratives in Mark. Oh wait – there aren’t any. Yes, that’s right, you can tell the Gospel story and not worry at all about the story of the birth of Jesus. In fact St Paul does a rather splendid job of telling us about the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the only detail that he tells us about the birth of Jesus is in Galatians 4:4 – For in the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world, born of a woman, born the subject of the law.” Yep, the only thing that Paul tells us across his thirteen letters about the birth of Jesus is that he was – gasp! – born of a woman. Thanks Paul. That is very helpful. So we could tell the Gospel story about Jesus and celebrate Christmas with just four words and fewer distractions: Merry Christmas. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born of a woman. Even the Gospels that do mention the birth of Jesus – Matthew and Luke – would function rather well without all those stories and beginning like John* and Mark do with the adult public ministry of Jesus.

So what about this new season of Advent? Can the meaning and significance of all this longing for a Saviour and Redeemer also be cut out from the bible and leave it pretty much intact? Not likely – given that this theme makes up at least half of the Hebrew Scriptures and a huge chunk of the Christian Scriptures as well.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm
Advent, Sunday 1, Year B.

Isaiah 63:16b–17, 19b, 64:2–7; Psalm 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

* Okay, yes, of course John has his Prologue that talks about the incarnation of Jesus – being born in the flesh – but you could also argue that John 1:14 doesn’t add much more detail than Gal 4:4 already gives us: “And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, LEB)

Good goats did it for me

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Bad sheep and good goats

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, and now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8min 47sec)
Solemnity of Christ the King (Sunday 34, Year A)

We celebrated the reception of Holy Communion for the first time for 305 Year 3 and older children over 6 special Masses this weekend, when the temperature rose to over 42 degrees (hence the reference to cold weather.)

Sharing Talents

A GiftThe parable of the talents has a number of unusual qualities. Unlike most of the parables, which seem to be aimed at farmers and fishers and other country folk, this parable is aimed at people who are familiar with the workings of a market economy. So while it was good, prudent and standard Jewish practice to bury treasure in a field to safeguard it, within the market-based understanding that operates in this parable’s worldview, all that results in this practice is the diminution of the market value of the item – in this case a single measure of money called a talent, equivalent to 15 years of wages of a labourer (4500 denarii). This is a rare parable because it praises the risk-taking activities of the first two traders who both manage to double their master’s investment. The problem is that this pro-capitalist reading also tends to leave us wondering if the Christian life is simply going to culminate in a great test that will measure how great a return on the Lord’s investment we have managed to make as the basis of our salvation. Such a reading tends to move in the direction of a heresy called Pelagianism that imagines that we are essentially responsible for our own salvation. As a more careful reading of this parable demonstrates – which is confirmed by the rest of the gospels and the Christian scriptures – the God that we worship is a generous and gracious God who freely offers us all that we need and more. We cannot claim to truly possess anything that we can offer – since all is based on what we have received directly from the Lord. (All that we can claim any credit for is our own sin!) What we can offer in return are acts of thanksgiving and service that flow out of our experience of salvation.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (11min 5sec)

The dedication of the Lateran Basilica

dreamstime_108589It is rare for a feast day to bump-off the Sunday liturgy – usually only the feast days and solemnities of the Lord or of our Lady (but only during Ordinary Time) – but today the dedication of a basilica in the city of Rome from back in the fourth century displaces the Sunday cycle of readings and prayers. So this must be some church. Which it is. Not only is it the oldest church in the western branch of Christianity, being the first church dedicated after the so-called ‘conversion’ of the Emperor Constantine, it remains to this day the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome and consequently the mother church of the whole Catholic world and the see for our holy father Pope Francis. But like the universal church, and the papacy, this particular church has a rich and diverse history including being sacked, burnt and destroyed by earthquake. It has also been repaired and rebuilt many times. It has also been the site of five Ecumenical Councils and was the location of the proclamation of the first Holy Year in 1300. Although small parts of the church date to its original dedication in 324, the majority of the present building only dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The readings today help to point us into much deeper mysteries then simply the fate of one particular church – even one as significant and beautiful as this.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (10min 58sec)

Large Blog ImageFirst Reading Eze 47:1–2, 8–9, 12;
Response Ps 46:5; 
Psalm Ps 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9;
Second Reading 1 Co 3:9c–11, 16–17;
Gospel Acclamation 2 Ch 7:16;
Gospel Jn 2:13–22

Perfected in the paradise of purgatory (All Souls Day)

IMG_20140916_095320_15237226126_lWhen discussion turns to the last things – heaven, hell and purgatory – I am amazed how much of the discussion of such crucial questions in church circles is so muddy. We are talking about the destination for eternity – which most people know means a rather long time. In fact, we are more likely to be influenced by the images about such things that are presented by popular culture then the much richer descriptions present within the pages of the scriptures. So as we embark upon the month of November which begins with the dual celebration (or commemoration) of All Saints and All Souls, leading into the month of holy souls when most Masses during the month will be offered for the beloved dead of parishioners. So what is all of this about? How do we make sense of a concept like purgatory and where should it fit within our wider understanding and interpretation of the bible?

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (13m 21s)