Apostles breaking down barriers

Jesus-Shepherd-TissotWe meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.)

Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that.

What happens in the life and death of Jesus is the beginning of the incredible process of reconciliation – the tearing down of all barriers to allow both Jews and Gentiles to no longer be two separate streams, but now one newly recreated humanity able to live in the grace and peace of God.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)

Sunday 16, Year B

Grace, power and weakness

tektonAny truly compelling story always seems to have one common element: just as the protagonist or hero of the story is nearing their goal – whether it is true love, destined position or treasure – some major setback interrupts everything and this hurdle needs to be overcome before we can reach the conclusion, and everyone lives happily ever after as the credits roll. This is not just in Hollywood films but also it seems in many saints lives. For example, it was only after the death of (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata that her diaries revealed the extent of personal darkness that she experienced in prayer and her difficulties to continue to believe. The writings of St Therese of Lisieux show a similar depression and darkness in her final years. We can surmise that what St Paul reveals in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 was a similar hurdle that he really didn’t want to dominate his life. Yet here was this skolops that Paul was experiencing in his flesh – usually translated as a thorn, but perhaps better translated as a stake – a military description of the sharpened stake of timber driven into the ground around your defences to impale an invading soldier. Paul didn’t need or want this skolops – so he prays to the Lord again and again and again to remove it. But the Lord doesn’t provide a simple solution or resolution. No Hollywood movie here. No instead the Lord addresses Paul and tells him that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This is the only saying of the risen Lord in the letters of Paul. We are on sacred ground here. It is not in our strength that God has room to move – but in our weakness. As Paul concludes this section: “when I am weak, then strong I am” – channelling Yoda he was.

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Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am; 10-11 mins)
Sunday 14, Year B.
Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

The good gift of the body broken

SK_LastSupperOn 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’.

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Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil Mass; Sunday morning didn’t work)
The Body and Blood of Jesus, Year B

Living with a great soul – making sense of repentance

breaking_bread“In the name of Jesus, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.”

The readings this week again invite us to reflect on sin and repentance so that our hearts may burn with love. Jesus the just one, is the sacrifice that takes our sins away – not only ours, but the whole world’s. (I Jn 2:2) Peter in his declaration to the people says that we must now repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. (Acts 3:19) But both sin and this act of repentance are very often misunderstood. We might imagine that to repent is to acknowledge that we have already done something wrong, which we regret, and so we now commit ourselves to living in a new way. We probably know that the word that is used in the Gospels for repentance is the word metanoia which means to change our minds and literally to do an about face and turn around, facing an entirely new direction. But what is perhaps not necessarily very clear is what the new direction should be!

The Gospel story of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem and being joined by the (unknown) Jesus on the road who shared and taught from the scriptures about the suffering Messiah provides us some insights. We note that as they walk along, their hearts begin to burn within them as Jesus shares from the scriptures, but it is only when he begins to share a meal with them that their eyes are opened and they finally recognise him. It seems that a lot of what is going on in this passage is the true sense of repentance. Indeed as a result of this encounter the disciples literally do an about face and run back towards Jerusalem to share their story with the other disciples.

What Jesus was able to open up to them is the truth that needs to also be opened up to us. Last week I spoke about the truth that a better way to understand sin is as a theological problem more than a moral problem. Sure we experience sin morally – in the many ways that we fail to live in the fulness of God’s new life. But the more that I experience my own sin and that of others in the confessional, the more I realise that the sins that we know and are ashamed about in our lives are essentially the symptoms of something deeper. The moral failures in our lives are a pointer to a failure to truly repent. But what does this mean?

Perhaps the best way of appreciating this is to recall that within the Thomistic tradition, there is an understanding that within us there are two souls, often referred to as the little soul and the great soul. At any given moment in our lives we are either identifying with one or the other. If I identify with my little soul, I will feel bitter and angry. I know that I am living from my little soul when I am petty, afraid, aware of my hurts and being abused. If I relate to life from my little soul, then I will be impatient, short-sighted, despairing and constantly looking to feed my addictions.

But on the other hand, every one of us has a great soul. If I allow my great soul to reign within me, then I will be a different person altogether. As Fr Ron Rolheiser puts it: “I am relating out of my great soul at those moments when I am overwhelmed by compassion, when everyone is brother or sister to me, when I want to give of myself without concern of cost, when I am able to carry the tensions of life without a breakdown in my chastity, when I would willingly die for others, and when my arms and my heart would want nothing other than to embrace the whole world and everyone in it.”

Every day we are given the choice: will I live under the influence of my small petty soul; or will I choose to allow the grace and mercy of the Lord wash over me and call me to respond to him from the fullness of his creation in my great soul.

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Easter, Sunday 3, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s Parish (9am).
Acts 3:13-15; I John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

A God who is rich in mercy

God-loved-the-worldBeginnings and endings are always significant. How you start a story – and how you end a story create so much of the impact of the whole story. We know well how the Bible begins – “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen 1:1) We might even know how the story ends in Rev 22:21: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” A great beginning and a very hope-filled ending. But for the Jewish people, their scriptures do not end with the New Testament book of Revelation, nor do they end with the final prophet Malachi, like most of our English bibles do. No, the Hebrew bible is actually organised into three sections (Torah, Prophets and Writings), not the four sections that most of our bibles use (Pentateuch/Law, History, Wisdom and Prophets). The twenty-four books that comprise the Hebrew Bible (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah which are broken into two books in our bibles are considered one in theirs; and the Twelve Minor Prophets are considered a single work) come to their conclusion in the Book of Chronicles, and the final passage in their bible is what we read today as our first reading. Which if you think about it, doesn’t seem like a very satisfactory ending. The final words are even given to a pagan king, rather than a Jewish hero. Have they really sunk that low? Well, I guess – yes! One of the things that really strikes me about the Jewish scriptures is that they do not eulogise; their story is told with all the gritty and shocking details. They know whose fault it is that they ended up in such a mess: theirs. The own their sin and the claim it as their own. They would agree with St Paul that when God intervened in our lives we were still dead in our sins. We hadn’t done anything to earn God’s grace and mercy. Yet still it was faithfully and freely given: “because it is by grace that you have been saved.”

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Recorded at St Col’s, 9am (11mins)

The blessing of children and adults

Just as the Lord teaches us how to pray (and not just one specific prayer) in the Our Father, so also he teaches us how to bless when he instructs Aaron to bless the people in Numbers 6:22-24. There he tells the people to bless each other saying “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

So when people come forward to Extraordinary Ministers with their arms crossed, it is entirely appropriate to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads (just as parents and godparents are asked to do during baptism) while saying the same prayer of blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

Note this is appropriately different to a priest’s blessing. 

From the Pastor’s PC – Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today is called Laetare Sunday (from the Latin for ‘be joyful’) and the Gospel reading provides many reasons to indeed rejoice. And to celebrate the fullness of life here at St Col’s. Although the Gospel verse that lies at the centre of our reading this week is so well known that it is almost a cliché, the truth of this verse must be allowed to rest lightly yet deeply upon our souls. We have heard in these weeks something of God’s plan for salvation and his desire to dwell with and among his people. But we also know our failure to respond; our failure to be faithful; our failure to trust; our failure to keep the commandments.

What is astounding about the liturgy today is that God wants to tell us about how much he has loved us and how generous he is with his mercy. Why? Because he is not just rich in grace, but infinitely rich in grace. Which in my book is rather large. In fact, enormous. (Kudos to the Monty Python crew.) Now, if only we could embrace this, and live it. How great would that be?

The first reading today is actually taken from the very end of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the Greek bible – which English bibles follow – which breaks up the Old Testament text into four basic sections: Law (Pentateuch), History, Wisdom and Prophets, the Hebrew Bible has three sections which provide the name of the Bible: Tanakh. T is for Torah; N is for Nebi’im (the Prophets) and Kethubim is the Hebrew for Writings. The Prophets contain some of what we call history (like Samuel and Kings) and then the Writings contains everything else (like Psalms, Proverbs, later history and then Chronicles to finish everything off.)

The Sunday readings in Lent have given us key points in salvation history. Today we hear that the chosen people abandoned the law God gave them and the destruction of the kingdom established by the final Old Testament covenant – the covenant with David. As a result of their sins, the temple was destroyed, and they were exiled in Babylon. We hear their sorrow and repentance in the exile lament we sing as the Psalm.

But we also hear how God, in His mercy, gathered them back, even anointing a pagan king to shepherd them and rebuild the temple. God is so very rich in mercy. He promised that David’s kingdom would last forever, that David’s son would be His Son and rule all nations. In Jesus, God keeps that promise.

Moses lifted up the serpent as a sign of salvation. Now Jesus is lifted up on the cross, to draw all people to himself (see John 12:32). Those who refuse to believe in this sign of the Father’s love are not condemned by God; no, they condemn themselves.

But just as God did not leave Israel in exile, He does not want to leave any of us dead in our transgressions. We are God’s handiwork, saved to live as His people in the light of His truth. Midway through Lent, let us behold the Pierced One, and renew our commitment to living the “good works” that God has prepared us for.

Good goats did it for me


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.)

Grief and Grace

canadian-lakeDuring the week as I was bombarded by both traditional media and social media with increasingly violent and horrific articles and images of the death and destruction in the conflicts in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, it was difficult not to feel completely overwhelmed by grief and sadness in the face of such hatred and cruelty. All of this grief compounded on Friday afternoon when I celebrated a funeral in our chapel for Gabriel – a tiny stillborn child. Being with the family who had lost so much and feeling so completely inadequate to the task of speaking hope and grace into their lives, the palpable grief in the chapel overwhelmed me and I also began to weep and barely managed to complete the service. Perhaps it was something like this that confronted Jesus after he heard the news of the death of his cousin and friend, John (the Baptist). As he left the crowds behind to go to a lonely place to sit in the silence of his grief with his disciples, the lonely place becomes another place of encounter as it is filled with an even greater crowd, hungry for the teaching that only Jesus was able to offer. Although I suspect I would have been likely to turn the boat around and head for a lonelier place, Jesus has compassion on the crowds and begins to heal their sick. Late in the afternoon, the disciples remind him that it is a lonely place and that he should show compassion to the crowds (and to the disciples) by sending them away to the villages around the lake where they could find something to eat. But Jesus has other plans.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’14”)
Sunday 18, Year A.


The Abundant Word

wheat_harvestIsaiah chapter 55 begins in a very awesome and utopian way – “Come all who are thirsty, come to the water; and you that have no money – come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” This is certainly a beautiful vision and description of the abundance of God’s invitation to his people. If anyone continues to cling to an old vision of a stingy and mean God, this scripture should be enough to dispel those images. Our verses for today, from Isaiah 55: 10-11 should be read in the light of the opening paragraphs of this chapter – there is always this abundance in God’s grace. His word is always creative and always effective – just as the rain and the snow always bring new life and allow growth to occur. Jesus provides a similar emphasis in the Gospel today – one of the longer of the around forty parables that Jesus tells with the most detailed explanation which unlike the parable which is told to the crowd, the explanation is only directed towards the disciples. Again the sower of the seed is abundant and generous.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (6’10”)

Sunday 15, Year A. Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 13:1-43

Thirsting for relationship and meaning

desert-sunset-streamThirst is one of those basic human needs that is hard to ignore. When you have worked hard on a hot day, or you have returned from a vigorous run or work-out, or you simply out in the heat of the desert, the need to drink and quench your thirst is usually significant. So, even though the Hebrews had escaped from the slavery of Egypt, the concrete possibility of dying from thirst drove them to want to return. In answer to their pleading, Moses is instructed to go to the front of the people and to strike the rock with the staff that he used to part of the water of the Sea of Reeds. Thirst – when it is experienced acutely – can be so basic that it will drive a person to all kinds of things that aren’t the usual. Although we thirst for God, the incredible truth that the Gospel reveals today is that Jesus not only thirsts for water, but he also thirst for our faith and response to his invitation to worship and love.

“O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory.” Psalm 62 (63)

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Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington, 8am (10’29”)
Sunday 3, Lent, Year A. John 4:5-42.

Behold the Lamb of God

Lamb of GodWhen John the Baptist, sees his cousin Jesus coming towards him, it seems a little odd to declare “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Presuming that John has not simply forgotten the name of his cousin, there must be something much deeper going on. As we have often seen before, one of the best ways to understand a word or phrase that seems to be out of context is to begin by looking through scripture and see where the word first appears. This is called the ‘principle of first mention.’ So when we do this, we find that there is even more odd story in the pages of the book of Genesis, in chapter 22. The Rabbis called this story where Abraham is called by God to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice the “Akeda Sacrifice.” We recall that Abraham had been called by God to leave behind the security of his homeland to go to a place that God will show him, whereby he will become the father of a great nation. After many years of waiting, the Lord finally answers this promise when Abraham and Sarah give birth to a son, whom they call Isaac – the child of laughter. Some unspecified years have passed when the Lord calls Abraham to take “your son, your only son Isaac (in case Abraham is confused), whom you love,” and sacrifice him in the wilderness. Even though we are 22 long chapters into the Book of Genesis, this is the first time that the word ‘love’ appears in scripture. That has got to be significant!

Not knowing exactly what is to unfold, but trusting somehow in the creative goodness of God, Abraham does what he is told and journeys into the wilderness with his son and two servants. On the third day Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees the place in the distance. Leaving the servants with the donkey, he loads the wood upon Isaac and they travel the final distance to the mountain. It is here that Isaac asks the question that will burn in the hearts of believers until the day that Jesus offers his own life: “Father… behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answers in a most prophetic way: “God himself will provide the lamb.” Father and son arrive on the mountain top, and they build an altar and prepare the wood for the sacrifice. He binds his son (which is where the word ‘akeda’ comes from) – Isaac seems unusually compliant through all of this, especially if he could be a fourteen or sixteen year old man at this point and could easily fight back against this act of child cruelty – and lays him down on the altar, with hand poised on the knife, ready to slaughter his son. It is at this point that God intervenes – phew! Abraham looks up in answer to the voice of the angel ordering him to stay his hand, and he sees caught there in the thickets of a nearby bush – not a lamb – but a ram, able to be offered in sacrifice. Abraham names the place ‘Moriah’ – the Lord will provide. [It is on this same place that hundreds of years later King Solomon will build the temple.] So yes, God provides the ram – but not the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people of God began to ask – when will God provide the lamb? Who is the lamb of God?

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Recorded (badly) at QCCC Mt Tamborine, during Ignite Summer Camp.
Gospel proclaimed by Fr Morgan Batt, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Sunday 2, Year A. John 1:29-34