Awakening to the rhythm of life

outdoor-drumsThe prophet Elijah should have been at the very peak of his game. He marched dramatically onto the pages of history at the beginning of I Kings 17 with a whole series of mighty deeds that he performs that already sets him apart from the ordinary run-of-the-mill followers of God. These deeds reach their crescendo in the confrontation (and slaughter) of the 450 prophets of Ba’al, followed by the ending of the three-and-a-half year drought at the word of his command. But when the evil Queen Jezebel sends him a threatening message, promising to kill him, that is enough for this mighty warrior prophet to turn and run as far and as fast as his little legs would carry him. It is implied that he runs the length of the nation of Israel – from Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the southern kingdom of Judah in the space of a single day – the best part of a hundred kms. And then he leaves his servant there and continues for another whole day further into the wilderness until he ends up lying in a heap under the only shade he could find – the gnarled branches of a brush tree. It’s no wonder that he is somewhat tired when we find him. It is all he can do at the prompting of the messenger of the Lord to awaken to eat and drink – before falling back asleep again.

His life was out of rhythm. Like ours sometimes. Part of the purpose of our lives is to recognise when things have gone astray and allow ourselves the space to hear the invitation of the Lord to get up and eat the precious gift of his body as the bread of life.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil and 9am (10min)
Sunday 19, Year B, Season of Growth

God is always enough

mymatzoh18B – Bread of life (John 6:24-35; Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15)

When you read the Gospel of John, you must always be aware of the broad canvas upon which John writes his Gospel. He is always mindful and aware of all that has gone on before in the past – the history of the people of God; and he is also aware of what may come in the future as he writes for us who will come after him – as we do the things that he talks about. So as John tells us the story of John 6 that we have just read, the one story that he clearly has in mind, and which everyone who was there with him in Capernaum would also have had in mind, was the story that we have just read – the story of Exodus 16, those days when the Lord gave them bread from heaven. The Lord fed and nourished his people. For when the people came to him and said – give us this sign – give us this food to eat: they are asking Jesus to show himself as the true Messiah. They want him to prove and prove that he is the one that they have longed for; the one who will lead them on the new Exodus. That was the role of the Messiah. So Jesus is wanting to both affirm that and wanting them to remember the true nature of the Exodus, and what was actually happening.

When we go back to that scene and that place in Exodus 16, there are a number of things that we need to be aware of. The real event that we call the Exodus – the night of the Passover when the Lord with mighty hand and outstretched arm led the people of God from slavery to freedom – where in the book of Exodus that this happen, in which chapter? In chapter 14 you have the marvellous story of the people escaping through the Sea of Reeds and then in chapter 15 the magnificent song of Miriam of praise and thanksgiving – the one that we sing each year at the Easter Vigil as the response to the Third Reading. Here in chapter 16 we are in the very next chapter after the incredible events of the Exodus. Very little time has passed. Verse 1, which is not part of our reading today, tells us that a few weeks have passed since those incredible events – when they left Egypt with this whole cacophony of people along with their flocks and their herds, their sheep and their cattle. They left ready with provisions; they didn’t leave empty-handed. They had plenty of food to eat because they knew that the journey would be long and hard. So here in chapter 16 when they complain and cry and out and say to the Lord ‘how could you do this to us?’; ‘how could you lead us to this barren place?’ In the end of chapter 15 all they do is complain about the lack of water. So the Lord gives them water to drink. Here the Lord doesn’t say, ‘well, just go away and leave me alone, if you are not going to be thankful.’ No, he feeds his people. He gives them this food to eat.

When the dew lifts in the morning from the camp, and the people see this white flaky substance that has come there from overnight, they look at it and they say ‘what the…?’ (man-nu?) The Hebrew word for ‘what’ is ‘man’, so they look at this stuff and say ‘man-hu’ – what is that? And Moses says no, not ‘man-nu’, but the bread from heaven. This food that the Lord gives us. They are fed by God. The Lord gives them this food to eat. But the Lord also wants them to know that they are on a journey; what he is doing is creating a people. A people who are being led from slavery to freedom. It is sometimes said that while it only took God one night/one day to take Israel out of Egypt, it takes 40 years that they are in the wilderness – those 40 years of beginning to trust in God; beginning to allow the Lord to feed them; those 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel. To take those desires away; to allow them to know that indeed they can trust in God; indeed the Lord will feed them. He will give the manna in the morning; he will give the quail in the evening. The Lord will lead his people; the Lord will feed his people.

I don’t know about you, but at times I think back on the past – I look back at those memories and those things that I have done in the past that I regret, that still burden me and which are still present. And then I need the bread of God. I need the life of God to feed me now. To remind me not to go back; not to go back to those times when the fleshpots looked so wonderful – but they weren’t. Because that was slavery. The Lord wants to free us; he wants to do the same as what he tried to do with the people in the desert. To purify us and give us that hunger for the true bread; for that true presence of the Lord.

Recorded at St Col’s – Vigil and Sunday morning (10min 30sec)

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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

God proposes a new covenant

Ringed Stem“Then, I will be your God. You will be my people.” This line from the declaration in Jeremiah today is so easily passed over – and yet this covenant declaration lies at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures. Our Lenten journey has been examining the idea of covenant – its achievements and its failures – across the last five weeks. We began in the first week hearing the promise of the rainbow – that God would not punish the world again by flood. In the second week, we saw the covenant with Abraham tested by the request to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son that he loved, Isaac. In the third week, we arrive with the people of God at the holy mountain of Sinai and the fulfillment of the promises as God calls this people and nation to be his special possession: a royal priesthood and a holy nation. But we also know that this covenant promise was not fulfilled because the people were not faithful to the laws and commandments. This is why the promise to Jeremiah in 31:31 is so precious – to receive a new covenant and a new chance to be the people that God has called to himself.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil and 9am (10mins)
Fifth Sunday, Lent, Year B

A covenant people at Sinai

sinaiOne of the great problems with a passage like the Ten Commandments is that we tend to read them with little sense of the context or the who or where of what is happening. Until we do this work, then these commandments, like the rest of the 613 mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) that you find across the first five books of the Bible – called the Torah or Pentateuch – are completely irrelevant to our lives.

So, first the where. The action – and there is lots of action – of Exodus 19-20 takes place on Mount Sinai, also called Horeb – a word in Hebrew that simply means wilderness. Remembering the principle of first mention, that takes us back to Exodus 3, when Moses is at this place, minding his own business as he looks after the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro when he sees this weird phenomena of a bush burning but not being consumed. As the curious bloke, he wanders over to get a better view, only to be told by a voice that comes from the bush to come no closer, and to take off his shoes for this is holy ground. The speaker identifies as “The God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” It is verse 7 that things really get interesting. We are told:

“Surely I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry of distress because of their oppressors, for I know their sufferings. And I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from this land to a good and wide land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites…” [Exodus 3:7-8, LEB; emphasis added]

The Lord goes on to identify himself as “I am who I am” and to give Moses the additional sign, that he will bring the rescued people out of the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the wilderness and he will bring the people back to this holy mountain to worship the Lord. We read this part of the story in Exodus 19, after all the events of the ten plagues and the great Passover in Exodus 12-13, and that it was a great mixture of people that escaped the slavery and joined the Hebrew people in the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:37-38). So this people comes to the region of Sinai and camps at the base of the holy mountain. Moses goes up to meet the Lord on the mountain and the Lord tells him to tell the people: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and I brought you to me.” [Ex 19:4, LEB] The Lord goes on to say that “all the earth is mine”, yet this people will be “a treasured possession for me out of all the peoples” [19:5] and they will belong to the Lord “as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [19:6]

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s at 9am Mass (19mins, 36 secs); the slightly shorter Vigil Mass recording (15mins) is also available which also provides a bit of background of the whole idea of covenant and why there are two tablets.

Lent, Sunday 3, Year B.

To prevent the decalogue (the Ten Words, or the Ten Commandments) from being an irrelevant list of do’s and don’t’s we need to look carefully at the context of the covenant that is being entered into – and particularly the two questions of where this happens and with whom it happens. Unfortunately this does take time to do – hence the longer than usual homily today 😉

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Abraham and the bound sacrifice of Isaac

821isaacOur first reading from Genesis 22 is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac – your only son, the son that you love – for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire – and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage.

 The lectionary reading skips over some of the details, so it well worth reading the full passage to see all the details – and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac – now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: ‘here is the flint/fire and the wood – but where is the lamb of sacrifice?’ With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham’s greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: ‘The Lord himself, will provide the lamb – my son.’ We are left to wonder whether ‘the son’ is meant to be ironic – a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son – an act that provides the title for this sacrifice – the Akedah of Isaac (or in Hebrew, Akeidat Yitzchak). We are not told how old Isaac is at this point – at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that ‘a long time passed’ so Isaac could be a young boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord. He also seems to be the stronger one in the pair – since he is the one assigned to carry the wood for the fire of sacrifice.

It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham – presumably racked in grief and tears – reaches out with the knife to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram – not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb – when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s 9am – with the assistance of Daniel, a whole lot of rope and a huge knife from the presbytery kitchen.
The recording from the Vigil Mass is also available (where Mark assisted me): http://www.frrick.org/

Lent, Sunday 2, Year B.
Genesis 22:1-19; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

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Wilderness now redeemed

Wild_iStock_000006508876As we move into the new season of Lent accompanied by the Gospel of Mark, the starkness of the presentation of the testing in the wilderness in Mark becomes quickly apparent. Whereas the other synoptic Gospels offer us more detailed descriptions including the fasting, the nature of the testing and the dialogue that occurs between Jesus and the Satan, Mark simply tells us that immediately the Spirit of God – freshly poured upon Jesus at his baptism in the wilderness of the Jordan valley – drives Jesus out into the wilderness. The wilderness was not a comfortable place but rather a frightening place characterised by the wild animals that prowled around within its empty expanse. But unlike others who were tested by the accuser and failed – Adam is the primary example – Jesus succeeds in his testing. And unlike the whole nation of Israel that was likewise tested in the wilderness and also failed, Jesus offers redemption to the whole people by demonstrating that he is the stronger one who will overcome all failure and sin.

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Corrimal, 9am (9 mins, 26 secs)
Lent, Sunday 1, Year B. Mark 1:12-15

From the Pastor’s PC – First Sunday of Lent

Well with a new season comes a new priest. I thought that it would be helpful for a bit of background info on who this new guy is – if you have to put up with me you deserve at least this much! So to begin with I’m a country kid. I grew up as the youngest of five kids on the far south coast of NSW, on a farm north of Bega. I am a very productive uncle: I have two sisters and two brothers; they are all married and have given me 17 nieces and nephews. I attended school in Bega – the local Catholic Primary School and then the local state High School – there was no Catholic school there in those days. My parents will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this year.

After school, I completed a degree in economics at Sydney University (1987-89) – with a triple major in economics, accounting and commercial law. I then worked in University ministry as part of the Disciples of Jesus Community – a lay Catholic community (1990-93), and began studies in theology at St Patrick’s College, Manly (1992-95) and Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush (1996-98). I continued to work in the area of evangelisation and youth ministry during my seminary formation, as part of the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, which included opportunities to take part in street evangelisation in cities like Rome, Paris, Brussels, London and Dublin. I also spent more than four years with the Discalced Carmelites (1999-2003) and worked in the area of media and communications for the Archdiocese of Sydney (2003-2005).

I joined the Diocese of Wollongong at the beginning of 2005. The first five plus years were spent in the Nowra parish, as a seminarian, deacon and priest, being ordained deacon in December 2005 and priest in June 2006. In July 2010 I was appointed to Fairy Meadow parish as an assistant priest to the new Lumen Christi pastoral region in Wollongong, and in October 2011 as assistant priest to St Paul’s Parish, Camden. As you know, I have now been appointed as the administrator or the ‘priest-in-charge’ here at St Columbkille’s. I have also applied to be the parish priest of the northern suburbs cluster – but we will have to wait and see what the bishop and the good Lord wants with all that!

I am somewhat into technology and gadgets, and I have presented at national conferences on the role of technology and the church. In addition to my parish role, I am also the Vocations Director and chair of the Vocations Team, chaplain to Catholic Youth Ministry in Wollongong, chair of the Youth Council, I help with the Diocesan website, several other parish and national websites, I have helped to prepare the Lenten and Advent Programs, and I am a member of the Proclaim Conference organising committee and the Diocesan representative on the National Evangelisation Forum.

From 2007 – 2013 I was also secretary of the Wollongong Diocese Council of Priests, and a member of the National World Youth Day Committee. Since 1992 I have been a regular presenter at the Summer School of Evangelisation in Bathurst, and since 2008, I have been very blessed by the opportunity to travel to Queensland in January to help out with initial training for NET Ministries and to be a presenter at the Ignite Conference and chaplain to six Ignite Summer Camps for teenagers. I prepare liturgical resources for the Church, including the iPriest Missal and Lectionary – which is what I use during the Mass. Since November 2008, I have also published a blog (frrick.me) and podcast (frrick.org) of my weekly homilies, which is available on iTunes. The audio recordings of my homilies have received several hundred thousand downloads. Finally, like Fr Graham, I am a regular contributor to the Journey Radio program.

So, let us journey with the Lord during this season of Lent, embracing the chance to hear the kingdom of God being proclaimed into our lives, and this chance to repent – to turn again to the Lord of all life and goodness.

Fr Richard Healey (or Fr Rick – or any variation that begins with R!)

Beginning of good news in the desert

baptistAs we enter the second Sunday in the season of Advent, we come to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. The opening line of his Gospel is somewhat curious – it isn’t immediately obvious if it is meant to be a heading or simply the first line. It richly evokes a number of scripture passages – including the opening line of Genesis (also evoked more clearly in the prologue to the Gospel of John). It declares very strongly and clearly who Jesus is – using and adapting the common political language of the day. Jesus is the Messiah which is good news – he is bringing about a true victory for all who believe in him. Many manuscripts add the additional descriptor that he is the Son of God – although some believe that this is a later scribal addition.

Rather than telling us any of the details about the birth of Jesus, Mark launches straight into the public ministry of Jesus, taking us out into the wilderness (midvar in Hebrew) to be with John the Immerser or John the Baptiser. It is only here, away from the distractions of the big city, that the Word of God (davar in Hebrew) can truly be heard and encountered.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 8am (10 min, 37 sec)

Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
Mark 1:1-8

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.

The Choice to Rejoice

column-fire

Pillar of Fire by night, by James Murnane (which I purchased last week)

If you took a poll among first century Jews about their expectations of what the Messiah would be like, and what he (a female Messiah would not feature) would do – there would be many and varied replies. Many would look at the many and varied prophecies that are contained within the Hebrew scriptures and somehow attempt to form a job description. The great variety in that description would be revealed by the poll. Some would point to the great 9th century BCE prophetic figure of Elijah, who helped to cleanse Israel during a period of great moral decay. Others would go with the perennially popular 10th century BCE figure of shepherd King David. Most would say that the messiah would bring judgement to the nation of Israel, before raising an army to overthrow the oppressive overlords of the Roman occupiers, and taking his place as the new rightful king.

So it is little wonder that John the Baptist – languishing in a gaol after denouncing King Herod – wants to know what kind of messiah Jesus is going to be. As the weeks turn into months and years after his baptism in the Jordan, it is becoming clearer that Jesus is not acting as a Zealot (contra Reza Aslan*), but instead fulfilling a very different messianic ideal. It has only been in more recent years that texts found in Qumran – the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls – notably the Messianic Apocalpyse found in 4Q521 have brought to life the popularity of a very different hope. This hope is captured powerfully in the first reading today – from Isaiah 35.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’27”)
Advent, Sunday 3, Year A.
The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5.7-10; and Matthew 11.2-11

* I read the book by Aslan, Zealot, this week. As Fr Robert Barron comments on the book, Aslan misses the full reality of the historical Jesus by adopting the strange debunking and demythologising methodology. There are so many factual errors in the poorly argued book, and Aslan gets himself into weird academic knots by trying to argue his position – accepting some texts and rejecting others with no stated basis for either position.