One of the things that strikes me about the celebration of Pentecost, are its Jewish roots. When the disciples met in the upper room on that day, they almost certainly would have reflected upon the passages of Exodus 19 and 20 which detail the events around the arrival of the Hebrew nation at Mount Sinai, seven weeks after they had experienced the great liberation from the slavery of Egypt. We read there:
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire.
From this passage we can see that one of the ways that the people knew that God was present on the mountain, and that they were in fact going out to meet him, was the presence of fire. If you want to experience God, then be prepared to be burnt! Which is odd, given that our culture has tended to think of fire for the other destination – hell. Indeed, when you do a Google image search for ‘hell’ the screen will be a wash of red flames. Yet if we took the time to ponder this, we know that it is when out hearts grow colder that we turn inward and away from God. So perhaps Hell should rather be imagined not as a place of fire, but as a place of cold and ice.
Maybe the flames of God’s love, and the flames of heaven, are always going to be hotter and brighter than anything else that the counterfeit can produce – because God’s fire is about purification and truth. Which leads us to ponder more about the end of the story and what the New Creation will be like and how we might imagine the resurrection of our bodies, and what impact this all has on our present experience of following God today.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (13 mins)
Pentecost Sunday, Year C.
View the Presentation Slides. Reflection video: All Creation Worships You (iWorship)
The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast day in the Catholic scheme of things. This is the ninetieth time that it has been celebrated, since Pope Pius XI instituted the feast day through an encyclical letter called Quas primas (In the first) which was published on 11 December 1925. Initially the feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October (the first 45 years), but with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the revised celebration of the liturgical year in 1969, it was moved from 1970 to the thirty-fourth and final Sunday in ‘Ordinary Time’ each year (the last 45 years). Many Anglican churches have now also adopted the feast day. It seems that in the wake of the First World War, that Pope Pius was concerned about the continuing secularisation of the world and the decline in temporal power of the church, especially in Italy after the reduction of the Papal Estates. So this very ‘spiritual’ feast day has a fairly political history.
The second problem is the place that the monarchy has in Australian society. Although we live in a Constitutional Monarchy, the place and power of the monarch within Australia is very carefully defined and constrained by the constitution and even more so by custom and tradition (especially after 1975). Even the visit last week of the likely future King of Australia in the person of Prince Charles and his wife impacted us very little – perhaps I should read certain magazines directed at women to get a better idea of what went on?
As we know, in most of the ancient world for most of the time, Kings were the total thing – they controlled every aspect of a person’s life. For Jesus to claim this title of being the King of the Jews is so totally huge. Step by step we need to begin to make sense of what kind of kingdom we are living in and how we are meant to be part of this great, beautiful world that God has given us to be stewards and co-builders of the kingdom and co-creators of the world.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (7.30am also available)
Sunday 34, Year B – Solemnity of Jesus Christ as Universal King
When we hear the eight beatitudes that begin the Gospel of Matthew’s sermon on the mount in chapter 5, we can easily drift into very well-known territory. Every Christian is very familiar with these sayings, and this gospel or one of its many sung forms is used at weddings and funerals, graduations and dedications. Some dear soul has embroidered the text of the 12 verses and they are placed in our church next to a similar frame containing the ten commandments. But these blessings that accompany our remembrance of this day of all the saints are not new Christian commandments. These declarations are only good news for us if we realise that a beatitude is a statement that declares that certain people are fortunate, or are privileged, or are simply in a great place – because God’s future kingdom is beginning to break into our present reality now.
Beatitudes are unconditional. They do not simply describe something that you hope will one day be true. They do not take the form of ‘if you will do x, then y will happen’ but unconditionally declare that those who are x will be y. In this sense, a beatitude is a prophetic declaration, because it effects what it says and brings into being what it states. So they are nothing like mere laws, because to declare a beatitude is to announce the gospel.
For the beatitudes to be true depends on the truthfulness and authority of the speaker. In this case the speaker is no mere prophet, but our Lord and Saviour himself, and it is on his authority that the church can continue to proclaim and declare the blessedness of anyone who finds themselves already to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers or being persecuted because of righteousness.
The declarations that accompany these beatitudes do not make much sense according to simple human wisdom. Rather they pronounce blessing on any authentic disciples who are living in Christian community. As such, these beatitudes do not apply to eight distinct groups of good people or individuals who will be going to heaven, but to the whole group of Christians together in the church who are striving and struggling to be authentic disciples and indeed saints.
Happy feast day.
Grace and peace.
Journey Radio Program; Sunday Message now also available
The scriptures given to us today for the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus take us to the very centre of our faith and our relationship with God revealed in and through Jesus. The gospel ends with the declaration in the Gospel of John that we will look on the one whom they have pierced. It is in this moment, when we are lost in wonder, that we can begin to discover the very nature of who we are before God – even if we are the least of the saints as Paul describes himself as.
Recorded at a school Mass with St Columbkille’s Catholic Primary School.
Hos 11:1, 3–4, 8c–9; Eph 3:8–12, 14–19; Jn 19:31–37
On the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we really should begin by re-enacting the Exodus reading – it would be a great sight to haul in a few young bullocks, slaughter them, drain all the blood into huge bowls and then begin splashing one bowl all over the altar and then the second one all over the community gathered in their Sunday best. At least you would remember that day when you renewed the covenant and destroyed your dress. But we’ll just reflect about the ongoing significance of the Eucharist for our lives. Let’s begin with the word. We probably know that the word comes as a transliteration from the Greek language (rather than a translation) and we probably know that the word can mean thanksgiving. Another translation is from looking at the parts of the word: ‘eu’ means ‘good’, and ‘charis’ means ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ – so you could also talk about Eucharist as a ‘good gift’.
Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil Mass; Sunday morning didn’t work)
The Body and Blood of Jesus, Year B
On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the heart of our faith – an encounter with a God of love. The Trinity has often been described using images that in the end always limp and fail to capture the glory and sublime beauty of a doctrine that is only able to be encountered in prayer, rather than described by theology. The divine dance between the three persons of the Trinity is capable of holding and sustaining every one of us, as we share in this call to be loved and share that love with others.
Perhaps on a Sunday when we celebrate the experience of love at the heart of God, it is proper to reflect on another love that is in the news with the results of the referendum in Ireland and the new private members bill by the leader of the Opposition to legislate for so-called Gay Marriage. In response, the Australian Bishops have released a document (available on the parish website). It is a good document, but like the public sentiment that it is responding to, the arguments are not deeply convincing. Because we have ostracised anyone who is different and actively discriminated against certain people – whether that difference relates to skin colour, gender, nationality, religion, size, shape, height, weight, dominant hand, looks, wealth, and of course by sexual orientation – for so long, the debate has centred around questions of equality, fairness and discrimination. As much as the church attempts to argue that this is not a case of discrimination, the fact that this is where the debate has (wrongly) landed the church in arguing for a traditional understanding of marriage appears to be discriminating. Which is unfortunate, to say the least.
The word marriage in our society has already been misappropriated. What the state understands as a legal or valid civil marriage can be radically different from the fullness of the Catholic appreciation for the beauty of sacramental marriage. For example, it is perfectly legal in a civil understanding for a man and a woman to enter into a marriage with no intention (borne out by the pre-nuptial agreement) for permanence, fidelity or fruitfulness. The exclusion of any one of these essential ends of marriage automatically annuls a marriage in the Catholic understanding – but not for the civil variety. A couple in a civil marriage can agree to ‘marry’ for as long as the love lasts, not to have any children, and have other partners when the desire arises. That this kind of arrangement has been allowed to wear the (false) title of a marriage is one of the significant problems in this debate. If this kind of relationship can be called a marriage, then it quickly descends into a question of discrimination when a similarly described same-sex relationship is not able to be celebrated. Is marriage the most appropriate word to describe either relationship? No, of course not. And this strikes at the heart of our dilemma as we continue to move forward as a society without adequately addressing the state of our history and the discrimination and hatred that continues to lurk just beneath the surface.
You may object that the scriptures clearly condemn homosexuality – and by extension any version of a same-sex union. Without getting into the arguments about what exactly the six-or-seven verses that condemn sodomy were against – although in that society, homosexuality was more about temple and ritual prostitution, acts of violence, inhospitality and pederasty – so all of these should clearly be condemned. Even so, the fact that it is only six-or-seven verses in a library of 73 books (in a Catholic bible) which together contain some 35,526 verses help put the issue into a scriptural perspective. And although Jesus says many things about money, justice, prayer and some things about human sexuality – he doesn’t actually say anything specifically about homosexuality. Which does leave one wondering…
Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil (10 mins)
Trinity Sunday, Year B.
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.
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.)
It 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.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (10min 58sec)
First 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
When 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?
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (13m 21s)
Today we honour the apostle Peter, who represents that part of the Church which gives it stability: its traditions and the structures which help to give consistency and unity to the Church, spread as it is through so many races, cultures, experiences and geographical diversity.
In the Gospel today from Matthew chapter 16, Peter’s confession of faith begins as a dialogue between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus asks about popular speculations regarding his identity, and the disciples list some current opinions. Then Jesus moves the discussion to be much more personal, with the question that every one of us needs to answer: “who do you say I am?”
Peter appears as the spokesman for the group and proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah which is a Hebrew word that means “anointed one”; its Greek translation is Christos. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah reflects the disciples’ hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. To this declaration, Peter adds further specification of Jesus’ identity – that he is “the Son of the living God” which helps to correct and transcend any false implications present in the title “Messiah.” What Peter was saying was: you are the true king. You’re the one Israel has been waiting for. You are God’s adopted son, the one of whom the Psalms and prophets had spoken.
In reply, Jesus gives a blessing to Peter declaring that Peter’s confession was a revelation from God. The next verse in very Semitic language promises that Peter is the rock on which the Christian community will be built after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Peter, with this declaration of faith, will be the starting point of a new community. Peter has much to learn, and many failures to overcome — including one in the very next passage. But even this is part of the process. Jesus’ new community, after all, will consist simply of forgiven sinners.
Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul (8’46”)
Radio Program recording also available here.
- The Sacrament of Confirmation was conferred upon 247 children from the parish this weekend across five ceremonies. I celebrated the Sunday evening Mass and recorded a homily – but the SD card containing the recording has been misplaced! If St Anthony helps me to find it, I’ll post the homily here.
- Update – the SD card re-appeared and the recording is now available (10 July)