Scripture in Church, July 2020

June 24, 2020

Scripture in Church, July 2020

Sundays and Festivals

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

5 July 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

As we gather, we are responding to the Lord’s invitation. ‘Come to me’. While God is near to us at every moment of our journey, we need this privileged time with the One who chooses to reveal the Father to us.

Penitential Rite

We pause to admit our unworthiness to be in God’s presence, and to celebrate the greatness of his love and mercy that draw us to be here.

Lord Jesus, everything has been entrusted to you by your Father. Lord, have mercy.

You welcome all who labour and are overburdened. Christ, have mercy.

You are gentle and humble in heart. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading • (Zech 9: 9-10). The prophet Zechariah promises that God’s victory will come about, but not through warfare or might.

Second Reading • (Rom 8: 9, 11-13). Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit resides within each believer, and this makes all the difference.

Gospel • (Mt 11:25-30). Jesus invites those who follow him to take up the yoke of the Gospel. It brings rest for the soul.

Prayer of the Faithful

President • Believing, with St Paul, that the Spirit of God has made his home in us, let us pray.

Readers • That through the words and actions of the Church all people will hear the invitation of Christ to come to him.

That missionaries who reach out to those who have never heard of Christ may know that the power of the Spirit is with them.

That the over-burdened may find peace and comfort in Christ.

That Christians in troubled parts of the world will lead their people into the ways of justice and peace by word and example.

That young people may grow in commitment to Christ and to the Gospel.

That each of us may learn to value the gift which God has given us in his Son, and may live in the wisdom he teaches us.

President • Father, Lord of heaven and earth, by whose gracious will the mysteries of the kingdom are revealed to the childlike, make us learn from your Son humility of heart, that in shouldering his yoke we may find refreshment and rest. Through Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

Let us bless God’s name for all the good things he has done for us, and especially fro the gift of knowing him through Jesus his Son.

Invitation to the Sign of Peace

The prophet Zechariah assured us that the Messiah King would come to us proclaiming peace to the nations. Let us share with one another a sign of his peace.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading • (Zech 9:9-10). There are records of a time when a donkey or a mule was a royal mount. King David used a mule, and at his coronation (1 Kgs 1:38) Zadok the priest had Solomon mounted on his father’s mule to escort him to the place of his anointing. But by the time of the prophet Zechariah, fashions had changed, the donkey now being regarded as a sign of humility and peacefulness, in manifest contrast to cavalry and to war-horses and chariots. This symbolism Jesus called on when he chose to enter Jerusalem on such a mount (Jn 12:14-16). The triumph of the king riding this steed comes about through the mighty works of God, not the skill, force or machinations of the king’s human forces.

Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 144:1-2.8-11.23-24). We call out in praise of the compassionate love of God which cares for all creation, with a special regard for those in difficulty. All creatures join together in praising the gracious reign of God.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:9.11-13). Paul was deeply insightful about the ambiguities of human life, insight he had gained from his sense that there was a gulf between his choosing good and actually doing it (Rom 7:15-20). In this part of the Letter his outlook is more hopeful. His thinking is based on knowing that believers , having been gifted with the Spirit of God, are driven by a new energy and a new set of aspirations. The Spirit Jesus gives is the Spirit of Life – a truth seen most clearly in its power to raise Jesus from death. The new energy believers experience in themselves comes from this life-giving power of the Spirit. Paul’s argument is insistent that any attempt to live as they did before their conversion involves believers returning to the way of death. Instead, the task is to trust the ways in which the Spirit prompts them onwards towards finding life in Christ.

Gospel • (Mt 11:25-30). This invitation from Christ, so encouraging and so consoling, is deeply rooted: it reverberates with the invitation of Lady Wisdom, in the Old Testament, to approach her for the fulfilment of all needs and many desires (see Prov 8:4-11 and Sir 24:19-22). Jesus is speaking of himself as the Wisdom of God, and the only one who truly knows God. This wisdom stands in sharp contrast to that of all other teachers, ‘the learned and clever’, a phrase we can apply to others as well as to the scribes and Pharisees. This wisdom is pure gift which Jesus can bestow on all those who come to him. It is possible to embrace the wisdom of God only if one is unencumbered by the amalgam of contrary wisdoms, which can be disguises for selfishness, bigotries bitterness – all attitudes which weigh us down. In this light, the apparent burden attached to the challenge of accepting Jesus as the true wisdom is indeed light.

What does Jesus mean by ‘these things’? Earlier in this chapter, there occurred the Baptist’s question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ (Mt 11:3). Jesus answers John’s questions by referring to various aspects of his miraculous healing ministry: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk (11:4-5). Well-versed in the prophetic literature. John would have realized that Jesus’ proclamation to the poor and miraculous deeds are the fulfilment of Isaiah’s messianic oracles (see Is 26:19; 35:5-6, 42.7, 18; 61:1). What seemed almost intuitive for the Baptist to understand from past predictions and present miraculous happenings was not so easy for others, including the Scribes and the Pharisees, ‘experts’ in the Law and the Prophets. John might be described, in many respects, as an infant to whom these things have been revealed by God.

Reflections towards a Homily

For the Christian, Jesus can never be considered no more than one among humanity’s great teachers. He saw himself as being uniquely representative of God. We are so accustomed to the words of today’s Gospel that we may no longer be startled by their claims: ‘Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father … no one knows the Father expect the Son’.

For the Christian believer, Jesus is the unique revelation of God. We recognise, of course, the many wise people who have lived throughout history and are living today, and we find their insights helpful and enlightening. Indeed, some of our greatest theologians – Thomas Aquinas and liberation theologians are examples – worked to bring the truth found in non-Christian systems of thought into conversation with the Christian faith. And we recognise the good work, often heroic, undertaken especially in humanitarian causes, by people outside the Christian fold. If Christian at times do not seem to be as wise or to do as much good as some non-Christians, it is to our shame since we are those to whom Jesus has made known God’s love and God’s will.

For the Christian, Jesus is always present. Other great figures of history may leave behind exceptional and admirable accomplishments , but they themselves are gone. But Jesus continues to be present: in the beauty of his teaching, yes, but there is more. He continues to be present in the world through his body, the Church; he continues to speak in a living voice through his Word; he continues to give himself to his followers through the sacraments. And, as St Paul reminds, us, he continues to share his Spirit with us, so that his power is with us, enabling us to be transformed. If Christians are to boast – and it is highly debatable if they should – it can only be about Christ in their midst, and that is a humbling style of boast.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

15 July 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Today, as we gather in the name of Jesus, he assures us that God’s Word will always accomplish its purpose, even when that appears unlikely. This is a source of hope and consolation for us as it was for the people who heard Jesus himself proclaim it.

Penitential Rite

We acknowledge that, although the word of God is planted in our hearts, our lives do not always bring forth its fruit.

Lord Jesus, you make us children of God. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you sow of the word of life in our hearts. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you are the hope and joy of those who trust in you. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading • (Is 55:10-11). Like the rain and snow that provide moisture and life for the growing seed, the Word of God spoken by the prophet causes life to spring up in the community that hears it.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:18-23). Paul shares his glorious vision of the world waiting for its liberation and longing to be set forth from its bondage to decay.

Gospel • (Mt 13:1-23). Jesus begins to speak to the crowd in parables. He draws their attention to the sower who casts his seed generously, hoping that it will take root wherever it falls. In the same way, the word Jesus speaks will take root in the soil of the attentive heart.

Prayer of the Faithful

President • We who have received the word of God, now find that it prompts us to turn in prayer to the Lord of the harvest.

Readers • For all who seek God in sincerity of heart: that they may find in their lives the signs of his presence.

For the Church: that the seed of God’s word sown in her may produce a rich fruit in holiness, love and commitment.

For those who sow and reap the crops we need for our nourishment: that the Lord will crown their labour with the blessing of good weather.

For communities forced by drought or disasters to seek food in unproductive areas: that we may share with them the gifts of the earth.

For all who are committed to ensuring there is food for all: that their work will be successful.

For the dead: that they may experience already the great harvest of the Lord.

President • God of the heavens, God of the earth, all creation awaits your gift of new life. Prepare our hearts to receive the word of your Son, that his Gospel may grow within us and yield a harvest that is a hundredfold. Through Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

We share Paul’s vision of all creation eagerly waiting for the moment when God will reveal the freedom of the children of God. Until that day comes, we address God in the words our Saviour gave us.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading • (Is 55:10-11). These words conclude Isaiah’s marvellous message of consolation to the Jewish people during their time of exile. He had urged them to lay aside their despair. So many thought that they would never get back to Palestine, that their God was defeated. They were trapped into thinking of God as conforming to human ways. They need to open their minds to appreciate the utter otherness of God.

The confident statement of the creative power of God’s word is beautifully refers to the annual miracle of spring growth after rain. At the edge of the desert winter rain and occasional falls of snow are vital for the fertility of the land and for human survival. Such is the power of God’s word that, for God, to speak is to act and to say is to make reality.

Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 64). This is a national hymn of thanksgiving, celebrating the end of a drought. It was likely to have been used on the Feast of Tabernacles when prayers were offered for rainfall. The verses employed today are an exclamation of joy in a bountiful rainfall, something much appreciated in hot, desert conditions. Hills full of joy, the meadows full of sheep, the valleys full of wheat are all symbols of abundance. When we appreciate how great is God, the world is full of song.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:18-23). Paul’s focus here is on expressing his hope of what the next stage of the story of creation will entail. For believers, it will be a homecoming when, because they share the Spirit of Christ, the Father will acknowledge them as adopted children. Because of Adam’s sin the earth came under a curse to bring forth brambles and thistles (Gen 3:17). This frustrated the natural drive towards beauty which the Creator had placed within the created order from the beginning. Like humanity, it never totally lost direction, retaining some deep but inarticulate sense that it could achieve its original blessing. Some ancient philosophers compared the annual cycle of growth to the human process of pregnancy and birthing. Paul may be drawing on their work, but he pushed the image further. For him, creation’s straining and groaning each year against its bondage to decay is proof not just of reaching towards its natural fulfilment, but that it will be renewed in the second coming of Christ.

Gospel • (Mt 13:1-23). In the agriculture of Galilee, all the conditions the sower encountered could have occurred in the one field.

There are notable differences between Matthew’s and Mark’s interpretation of the parables. Mark’s Gospel stresses the mystery of Jesus’ messiahship. But Matthew and Luke are different. In both, the messiahship is clear from the Infancy Narratives. Matthew concentrates on the real truths about the judgement of God on Israel now, the salvation of the Gentiles, and the judgement of the lawless members of the Church in the end times. Parables are ways of dealing with deeper things that do not always yield to the normal methods of analysing events. The Kingdom of God and its signs and achievements are often hidden from unrepentant people and even from religious leaders.

The first type of response in Matthew where the message is not understood seems to refer to the unrepentant cities of 10:14 and 11:10, to the treasonable scribes of 12:24 (possibly the synagogue or community leaders of Matthew’s own time). The second and third responses (the rocky ground and the thorns) describe some of the main reasons why leaders who begin well, defect: they cannot take persecution and difficulties and are in fact enslaved by the cares of office or of the world. The fourth response describes those who, accepting the message and its costs, produce its fruits.

For Matthew, the fruit is love within the community – a love reaching out even to enemies. In particular, he is concerned with a love which energises a mission to the ends of the world.

Reflections towards a Homily

One clear option for preaching today is to look at ways in which present-day people respond to the word of God. How to do this without being moralistic or judgemental is a delicate task. Condemnation of the modern world has to accommodate the truth that some (perhaps many?) in the congregation at Mass will know people who have been unable to find nourishment in the life of the Church or, even more sadly, in the Gospel who are in now way shallow or rootless or choked with pleasure or wealth. These may include family members.

Jesus’ comment that ‘the mysteries of the Kingdom are revealed to you but they are not revealed to them’ seems to recognise that there can be a kind of tension between the call of grace and the variations and ambiguities of human experience. Something of that was illustrated in an interview with Francois Mitterand (President of France, 1981-1995). The interview about a year before he died in 1996 dealt with the sweep of his religious convictions throughout his life. Brought up a Catholic, he ceased practising in his twenties but, he said, ‘I never rebelled against God. I did not tear up my membership card.’ To the question, ‘If God exists what would you like to hear from him when you die?’, he replied ‘Welcome home.’ And when the interviewer asked, ‘What would your reaction be?, Mitterand answered, ‘At last I know.’ Isaiah’s conviction stands, that God’s word does not return empty.

Another approach to a homily could be prompted by the images of the natural world in today’s readings which alert us to our responsibility for God’s creation. The First Reading, in particular, could prompt a homily on the gift of water as part of the gift which is creation. A preacher would find rich material for reflection and exposition on the letter, Laudato Si’, by Pope Francis. One section lists out topics which could be more fully expounded:

One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century (Laudato Si’, nn. 29-31).

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 July 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

As we gather in the name of our Saviour, we come together, each with a share of the joy of following Christ and with a sense of responsibility for those who find it difficult or burdensome to live as a disciple of Christ. We trust the Spirit to guide us to offer worthy worship.

Penitential Rite

God gives us the good hope that after sin he will grant repentance.

Lord Jesus, you are good and forgiving. Lord, have mercy.

You are full of love to all who call. Christ, have mercy.

You are abounding in love and truth. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading • (Wis 12:13.16-19). God demonstrates strength and power in being ready to forgive even outcasts.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:26-27). Believers do not need to search for words with which to pray; if we are open in love and in faith, the Spirit gives us the words we lack.

Gospel • (Mt 13:24-33). The parable of the weeds growing within a field of wheat demonstrates God’s willingness to give us time for repentance.

Prayer of the Faithful

President • With St Paul we believe that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God, and with trust we pray.

Response • Come, Holy Spirit.

Readers • On the Church, and its mission to be a haven of repentance and forgiveness.

On the nations of the world and on their leaders.

On those whose lives are damaged by the pandemic and by economic convulsions.

On all who are tempted to judge or exclude.

On those who find it difficult to pray.

On all who have asked for our prayers.

On all who have gone before us into the harvest of God’s love.

President • O God, patient and forbearing, you alone know fully the goodness of what you have made. Strengthen our spirit when we are slow and temper our zeal when we are rash, that in your own good time you may produce in us a rich harvest from the seed you have sown and tended. Through Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer

Jesus has given us the words with which to pray, and has given us his Spirit praying within us as we make his prayer our prayer too.

Introduction to the Sign of Peace

As we reach out to one another, our sign of peace is also a sign of encouragement.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading • (Wis 12:13.16-19). The Book of Wisdom ends with an extended meditation on the ways in which, from the beginning of creation, God’s wisdom has guided the world and individual nations. This passage occurs within a reflection on God’s patience with the nations which inhabited the Holy Land at the time Israel occupied it. Instead of destroying them instantly, God gave them an opportunity to repent and to become partners with Israel in the covenant. This wise way of handling the matter is presented as a lesson to the people to deal kindly with one another, and as a testimony to God’s generosity in granting pardon after sin. This reflection links with the patience of the owner of the field in the Gospel parable.

Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 85). In this lament for an individual in a time of trial, the psalmist is sustained by recalling God’s forgiving love, and looks forward to a time when all the nations will acknowledge God’s saving power.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:26-27). These two verses succinctly express a deep truth about Christian prayer. Paul assures us that we need never despair of finding the right words to pray or of being able to express our current needs. The boundaries of language seem to strain as he searches for an adequate way to describe the urgency of the Spirit’s prayer on our behalf – it is not a matter just of asking, more of making ‘insistent intercession’. The Old Testament often described God as knowing what is in the human heart. Now, when God looks into the heart of the believer, he is met by the prayer of the Spirit.

Gospel • (Mt 13:24-33). This passage is in two parts. The first is made up of three parables of Jesus: the longer one is that of the weeds sown among the wheat, and there are two short parables, of the mustard seed and of the yeast. The focus of these two brief parables is the astounding growth of the Kingdom, a level of growth entirely out of proportion to its unprepossessing beginnings.

The second section is an explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. This parable, unique to Matthew, shows a particular interest in the interval before the return of the Son of Man, and it pays attention to the role of servants. For Matthew, the interval is the time of the Church’s mission, and the servants represent Church officials. The servants who advise that the weeds be immediately pulled up represent Church officials who would want the less than perfect members of the community to be expelled. Such a rigorist approach would risk expelling members who were genuinely committed but because of human weakness were unable, at all times, to live up fully to what was needed in a disciple. Further, expulsions would alienate fully committed members linked, by family or by friendship, with the weaker members. In addition to these practical reasons for caution, there is a theological point: the Church is still living in an interim phase, and decisions of the kind proposed are not to be make until the mission of the Church is completed. At that point the decision will not be one for human beings, even those who are entrusted with Church leadership, but will be made by ‘the angels’, whose approach may not be as demanding as that of earthly leaders.

Reflections towards a Homily

A topic which clearly presents itself today is how to deal with disruptive, or even sinful, conduct in a parish or a family or a religious community – or even in society at large. The topic is not irrelevant in the present day with some elements in the Church clamouring for the refusal of Holy Communion to parliamentarians whose voting record they find contentious. Within family life, challenging behaviour by a toddler or teenager can be regarded with a degree of understanding: ‘It’s a phase … they’ll grow out of it’ can be a relevant and responsible response.

There are schools of sociology which argue that identifying and facing down the challenging other is a necessary element in creating social cohesion. The group can find a unity and mutual support over against those labelled as deviant. If this is a natural process it can be regarded as a fruit of original sin, of the disorder bought into God’s created order by human agency.

There is a natural tendency to expect to find or create a perfect family or a perfect society or, even, a perfect Church, untouched by the any form of contamination. This is an illusion which can carry social or spiritual dangers. The social danger is of an unreal perception of human nature or society: the parable is realistic in recognising that the wheat and the weeds are intermingled. The second danger is spiritual. It presents the Church as a sanctuary for an elite. Pope Francis has memorably countered this outlook with his insistence on the image of the Church as a field hospital. The success of such a centre is measured not by counting those who are super-fit, but by looking at how many troubled people, or people of ambiguous commitment, is copes with. And there is another spiritual danger: constantly taking other people’s spiritual temperature is an impertinent escape form the demand of witnessing to the Gospel by serving the needs of suffering humanity.

The advice to ‘wait until the harvest’ recognises that the Church exists in an in-between time. What is being suggested is not the passivity of thinking that ‘it will all turn out OK.’ Instead, there is the mission to ‘make disciples’ and to ‘teach them to observe all the commands I gave you’ (Mt 28:19,20), and this is ongoing until the end of time. This will involve, as Paul points out, the duty to ‘proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it … but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching’ (2 Tim 4:1-2). This involves a level of trust which is familiar with human weakness, and it takes to heart the second parable of today’s Gospel – comparing the Church to a great tree in which all kinds of birds can make their nests. Such trust is compassionate, recognising that people sometimes run away from their responsibility into such dark alleys as alcoholism or abusive power or sexual deviance. It is important not to condone such behaviour. But the Church which must expose folly must never abandon the member is who is so afflicted.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

26 July 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Being together to celebrate the Eucharist is a great treasure. The Lord invites us now to pay heed to his word and to discover his body in the broken bread and in the needs of our neighbour.

Invitation to Repentance

We acknowledge how we fall short in the call to rule our lives by God’s precepts. And we trust the unfolding of God’s word to give us light and forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, you are the wisdom of God. Lord, have mercy.

Your body broken for us is the source of our healing. Christ, have mercy.

In your blood poured out for us we find our strength. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading • (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12). Solomon prays for the gift of wisdom to ensure the discerning judgment he would need to be a good king. This surpasses all other gifts he might have asked from the Lord.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:28-30). God has chosen us and transformed into the image of his Son.

Gospel • (Mt 13:14-52). The kingdom is compared to a valuable find – a treasure, a pearl, and a good catch of fish.

Prayer of the Faithful

President • The Lord told Solomon, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you’. The same generous invitation is issued to us as we make our prayer together.

Readers • For the Church and its leaders: that they may witness wisely to God’s love and truth for today’s world.

For judges: that they may have insight to recognise what needs to be done to effect justice and uphold true values.

For governments: that they may focus on the common good of all.

For all in our parish and community: that they may appreciate the gifts God gives in their neighbours.

For those who have gone before us: that they may a place of refreshment, light and peace.

President • God of eternal wisdom, you alone impart the gift of right judgement. Grant us an understanding heart, that we may value wisely the treasure of your kingdom and gladly forgo all lesser gifts to possess that kingdom’s incomparable joy. Through our Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

Called to be his true images, we make our own the prayer God’s Son gave us.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading • (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12). This incident takes place at Gibeon, an ancient sanctuary dating back to the time of the Judges. Solomon’s action is an example of the custom in the ancient Near East of sleeping in a sanctuary in the hope of receiving a divine message. The Jewish people and the neighbouring nations all valued wisdom highly. This is obvious from their ancient literature. The people of Israel similarly valued human wisdom accumulated and passed on through the generations. They blended the broader human tradition of wisdom with their religious understanding and saw God as the author of all true wisdom. Openness to wisdom was seen as a highly prized virtue. Solomon displays such virtue in seeking the wisdom that comes from God ahead of all other blessings or rewards that God could bestow on him.

Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 119:57,72, 76-77,127-128,129-130). This mosaic of quotations from the longest of the Psalms extols the wisdom of God as it is revealed through the Law, the word of God.

Second Reading • (Rom 8:28-30). The NRSV translation of the first verse reads: ‘we know that all things work together for good for those who love God.’ This may be more accurate than that given in the lectionary (Jerusalem Bible). Paul uses the Greek word which gives us the English ‘synergy’ – the process whereby individual energies are directed towards a common purpose. His teaching is that there is nothing – not even apparently hostile or negative elements – which cannot be given a part in God’s plan of salvation. This plan is represented dynamically, its stages moving from call to justification and culminating in glory.

Gospel • (Mt 13:44-52). Three parables illustrate the value of the kingdom and show how three different persons recognize that value. The first person comes upon it unexpectedly, the second as a result of a tireless personal search, and the third by way of distinguishing the authentic from the inauthentic fruits of one’s toil. Making such a discovery presents a person with a dilemma. Top gain the new treasure, everything else must be re-evaluated and, if necessary, sacrificed in order to realise the value.

The scribe who is a disciple in the kingdom knows how to discern what is valuable in the traditions we inherit and at the same time remains open to the challenges and blessings of each new situation in the present and the future.

Reflections towards a Homily

The mention last Sunday and today of ‘the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth’ may prompt some in the congregation to welcome a sermon on aspects of hell. And this is a topic linked to the concerns of Matthew’s Gospel. Of the 11 mentions of hell in the Synoptics, nine are in Matthew. More than other evangelists he raises the question of the duty of the believer to reach the fullness of salvation, and of the consequences of failing in this duty. What might failure in that duty mean? The poet Dante imaginatively placed in the lowest level of hell three figures frozen in ice: Judas, Brutus and Cassius. The connection between them is they betrayed their friends, and through that betrayal had ceased to have the capacity for love and thus for heaven.

It is important to recall that Matthew’s Gospel focuses on the Church as being in mission until the End Times, and thus having the responsibility of supporting its members in their commitment to Gospel living even as they daily struggle – and may on occasion, know failure – to be consistent in that commitment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church portrays the doctrine of hell in that light: ‘The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church on the doctrine of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to redemption’ (n. 1036).

Theologian Martin Henry has written: ‘What can be said with certainty is that the Church has never stated that any specific individual was in hell, only that hell remains a permanent possibility for free human beings. It is worth pointing out in this context that while the Church has ventured into the business of declaring who is in Heaven, in its process of beatification and canonization, there is no similar procedure for declaring who might be in hell.’

And he goes on: ‘The truth, which the doctrine seeks to give recognition to, is that questions of ultimate good and evil are not illusory. Human decisions can have lethal, devastating consequences, which are irreversible. The sins of the world, which continue to inflict unimaginable suffering on human beings, have to be taken seriously, not least for the potentially eternal anguish they may visit upon the perpetrators of evil themselves: and who is without sin? But the traditional visions of hell are perhaps not so much visions of what is to come, as rather visions of, or visceral reactions to, the damage inflicted in history by human beings on each other.’

 

Weekdays

Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

1-4 July 2020 • B. Treacy and Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Wednesday of Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Amos 5:14-15.21-24). For the prophets, organised public worship needed to be both honoured and treated with suspicion. They were intensely aware that no amount of religious practice or liturgical excellence is acceptable to the Lord if those who claim to be the Lord’s people fall short regarding social justice and individual integrity.

Gospel • (Mt 8:28-34). Jesus moves on to minister in Gentile territory. He has power to overcome anything which threatens or hampers the full flowering of human potential. Though we no longer use the concept of demonic possession as an explanation for certain illnesses, there remain forces beyond our control which damage our lives and our society deeply – as the outbreak of a viral pandemic reminds us. In his act of healing, Jesus discovers that compassion involves risk. The people are so unable to cope with the unexpected that they want to be rid of Jesus.

Wednesday, 1 July: St Oliver Plunkett

Bishop and Martyr. In Ireland, Feast

The first Irish martyr to be formally canonised, he was also the last Catholic to be martyred at Tyburn. It is ironic that this prelate should have been executed for treason, for he was of a royalist, noble family, and at the scaffold prayed for the king, queen and royal family.

He was born in Co. Meath, in 1629. After a brilliant career as a student and professor in Rome, he was appointed in 1669 to be Archbishop of Armagh, he proved to be a great reforming prelate determined to carry through in Ireland the decrees of the Council of Trent.

The archbishop fell victim to the hysteria that followed the so-called Popish plot in 1678. His last letters, written from the prison cell, reveal a soul at peace with God and with himself, a proud spirit grown humble, resigned and gentle through the ordeals of his captivity.

Thursday of Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Amos 7:10-17). Bethel was a royal sanctuary, whose priests and prophets depended on the king’s favour for their livelihood. The presence of Amos and his uncomfortable and critical message was a thorn in their side. The warning that official religion and its ministers stand under the judgment of the word of God remains vitally in need of attention. It can be true that those most critical of the way a religious institution is run, including outsiders as Amos was, may care deeply for its welfare.

Gospel • (Mt 9:1-8). ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic....’ He did not enquire about the paralytic’s own faith. We are always a community of faith. For about four centuries now the western world has laboured under philosophies that are profoundly individualistic; all meaning is thought to repose in the individual rather than in the society or even the family. It was on this basis that the theory of Limbo (only recently disowned by the Church) was constructed. Even new-born babies, dying at birth or soon after, were thought to be on their own before God; the faith of their parents had no bearing on their destiny. This, even though St Paul, writing about marriage between believers and unbelievers, had written: ‘The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy’ (1 Cor 7:14).

Friday, 3 July: St Thomas, apostle

This date is chosen for celebrating this apostle, venerated with particular devotion of Syria, because it is the date in 384 AD when his relics were translated to the church in Edessa. Syrian missionaries brought the faith to India where Thomas is also venerated as the apostle of the Syrian rite, in both its Orthodox and Catholic branches.

First Reading • (Eph 2:19-22). Every church group, even the most recently established, is founded on the witness of the apostles to the resurrection.

Gospel • (Jn 20:29). Thomas, the questioner, will not be satisfied merely with what others tell him, but wants to see for himself. His experience of encountering the Risen Lord is the occasion for Jesus to pronounce a special beatitude which applies to all who have to believe without an experience such as he was afforded – ourselves. St Gregory the Great commented: ‘The disbelief of Thomas was more profitable to our faith than the faith of the believing disciples, for when he is brought to faith by touching, our doubts are removed and we are confirmed in our belief.’

Saturday of Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Amos 9:11-15). The Book of Amos ends on a note of hope, after relentless denunciations and threats. The Lord’s The Lord’s punishment is meant to recall the people to the responsibilities that flow from the privileges conferred in the covenant. The vision is one of peace and prosperity after violent destruction, when the Lord has redeemed what is left of the (hopefully chastened) people.

Gospel • (Mt 9:14-17). John the Baptist’s disciples were fasting as followers of a very ascetical leader. But from the way they asked Jesus’ disciples about fasting, it appears that they also felt rather superior. ‘It is likely that the disciples of John the Baptist were thinking highly of themselves,’ wrote St John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), ‘and because of this Jesus put down this inflated conceit through what he said.’ To engage in such tit-for-tat would make Jesus no better than those conceited disciples. And besides, he told them why his disciples were not fasting: they were not fasting because it was not a time of preparation but a season for joy. They were not preparing for his coming; they were celebrating it. 

Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

6-11 July 2020 • B. Treacy and Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Monday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Hos 2:16-18.21-22). The beautiful and moving core of the teaching of the prophet Hosea is to present the covenant relationship between God and Israel in images drawn from marriage. Reflecting on his own continuing passion for his wife, despite her infidelity, prompted him to appreciate the depth of God’s love for the people. The healing of God’s relationship with Israel he saw as a second wooing, a return to the wilderness experience of the Exodus, where Israel was dependent on the Lord, a time regarded as one of exceptional closeness.

Gospel • (Mt 9:18-26). St John Chrysostom commented on this: ‘It is possible that the man was overstating the misfortune. It is the habit among people who are in need to exaggerate their personal problems. They do this to get a more effective response.’ This sounds rather too rational, like those modern scholars who thought that if you scraped off all the wonder and the poetry (the ‘myths’, they called it) of the Scriptures you would find the truth hiding underneath. But what if the truth lies also in the wonder and the poetry? God is a poet – a word that means ‘a maker’; and Jesus thought and spoke like a poet, not in the least like a logician. 

If we wanted to argue with John Chrysostom we could say that Jesus still saved the little girl’s life, because prompt burial was the normal procedure: on the evening of the same day, at the latest. He saved her from being buried alive.

Tuesday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Hos 8:4-7.1-13). Soon after the death of Solomon, the kingdom broke up into two separate parts, the southern kingdom of Judah, where the house of David continued to rule in a stable fashion, and the northern kingdom of Israel, which included Samaria, where there was little political stability, and assassinations were not uncommon. As far as the prophets were concerned, the state of the religion was deplorable, and the denunciation in today’s readings shows Hosea’s anger at the political and religious condition of the northern kingdom.

Gospel • (Mt 9:32-38). Doing things to impress others used to be called ‘human respect’. It was badly named, because there is no real respect involved at all, neither for oneself nor for others. The word ‘respect’ here was just a bad translation of respicere, which means ‘to look back’. In this context it means checking to see how your performance is going down with the audience. A better translation today might be ‘seeking to impress’ or ‘seeking celebrity’. It is clear on every page of the Gospels that Jesus was entirely free of it. 

Jesus ignored the jibe about Beelzebul. That’s undoubtedly the best thing to do with explanations, especially explanations ‘from below’. Trying to counter them only robs us of our power. I love the way the narrative just continues, ‘Then Jesus went about all the towns and villages….’

Wednesday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Hos 10:1-3.7-8). Among the Chosen People there was a tension between being committed to the Lord of history and wandering off towards following gods of nature, worshipping the pagan deities of the land just in case they had influence regarding the fertility of crops and animals. Hosea solves the problem earlier, in chapter 2, by identifying the Lord of Israel as the giver of grain, wine and oil, but the people’s heart remained divided. What they (and we) should be sowing is integrity and kindness, which in this case means fidelity to the covenant with the Lord.

Gospel • (Mt 10:1-7). Jesus picked twelve followers. Tertullian (155-222 saw the number 12 as ‘typified by many things in the Old Testament; by the twelve sons of Jacob, by the twelve princes of the children of Israel, by the twelve running springs in Helim, by the twelve stones in Aaron’s breastplate, by the twelve loaves of the shew-bread, by the twelve spies sent by Moses, by the twelve stones of which the altar was made, by the twelve stones taken out of Jordan, by the twelve oxen which bare the brazen sea. Also in the New Testament, by the twelve stars in the bride’s crown, by the twelve foundations of Jerusalem which John saw, and her twelve gates.’

Thursday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Hos 11:1-4.8-9). Hosea here presents the relationship between God and Israel in terms of that between a loving and affectionate parent and the child. The emphasis here is not on a strict or authoritarian parent, but on a caring and nurturing one, who is able to control anger, and does not give in to it, unlike many human beings

Gospel • (Mt 10:7-15). Money, a bag, an extra shirt…. These things are for my future needs. Luggage is always for the future. In the present it is only a burden; but we carry the burden for the sake of the future. To carry luggage is to live, to some degree, in the future. The same is true of money: my hunger may be satisfied now, but I take money with me so that I can satisfy it again tomorrow.

It is a severe criticism to be told that you are living in the past. Strangely, we think it is the highest praise to be told that you are living in the future. It is hard to see why we make such a difference between them, for one is just as unreal as the other. Many people almost kill themselves amassing wealth; even in their old age they still want to be turning a profit. It is an endless deferral of life. But the Gospel challenges us to face it now or never. 

Friday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Hos 14:2-20). The Book of Hosea concludes with an appeal to the people to return to the Lord, based on the promise of healing, reconciliation and prosperity, rather than threat. It is a vision of the relationship which the Lord wants with the people, both then and now. The Lord is the source of all good things, and Israel needs to look to no one else for security.

Gospel • (Mt 10:16-23). Many things in life require planning, but it can become a compulsive habit. If I feel I have to plan everything, it means that I don’t trust myself to react correctly in some future situation. But what makes me think I can do it better now, before the situation has even arisen? How should I know what to say to some people when I haven’t even seen them yet? When I do meet them I will just repeat the things I had planned before. In this way, compulsive planning ensures that I will always live in the past – which is truly ironic. I try to live in the future before it comes, and I find myself living in the past when it does come.

‘When the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say.’ Not before. The things that are very alive – love, intelligence, faith – don’t keep till tomorrow; they are for now.

Saturday, 11 July: St Benedict

The Rule, which is Benedict’s great legacy to the Church, is a spiritual document characterised by wisdom, humanity and moderation. While it is tolerant on such things as the measure of food and drink, it insists on the importance of humility which for him was the basic attitude of the monk before God. He had a deep, personal love of Christ, and a strong sense of Christ’s presence in the community. He was very conscious of the diversity of human types with which he had to deal, and he respected the uniqueness of each individual in the sight of God.

Saturday of Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 6:1-8). The characteristic mission of the prophet was to speak the word of God. Today’s reading emphasises this by describing the call of Isaiah in terms of his mouth being purified so that he will be able to fulfil his calling. Once that is done, he feels able not just to accept his commission, but even to volunteer for it.

Gospel • (Mt 10:24-33). We have more instructions to the Twelve, but there is no common thread among them, except perhaps for a call to confidence, being free of fear even in the face of opposition. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit being called ‘fear of the Lord’ has nothing to do with fear in the ordinary sense. What is at stake is a feeling of awe and reverence before the ultimate mystery. Jesus kept saying, ‘Don’t be afraid!’ (Mt 14:28; 17:7; 28: 5,10; Lk 5:10). And St John wrote, ‘Perfect love casts out fear”(1 Jn 4:18). God asks for our love, not our fear. It is said that those who love to be feared, fear to be loved. How could God love to be feared, or fear to be loved? ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8, 16).

Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

13-18 July 2020 • B. Treacy and Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Monday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 1:10-17). Like Hosea, Isaiah stresses that external ritual carried out with concern for justice and righteousness is unacceptable to the Lord, a situation as true today as it was then. The orphan and the widow were particularly vulnerable in ancient Israel, and so the extent to which the more fortunate took care of them was an indication of the health of the covenant relationship with the Lord. It was not that they and the poor were seen as being especially close to the Lord, but rather that others had responsibilities towards them.

Gospel • (Mt 10:34–11:1). Why is the Prince of Peace telling us that he has not come to bring peace but the sword?  Clearly, there are wrong kinds of peace – or rather situations that look peaceful on the outside but are full of injustice within. An appearance of peace is not peace; it may be exactly the opposite. There are people who crush life all around them and call it restoring peace. The Prince of Peace has not come to bless violence and oppression that have been so successful that the powerless have no resistance left. Look at public bodies and at business companies, certainly, but don’t forget to look at your own family too. Why are your wife and children so quiet? Are they sinking into despair? Or have you a way of making your husband feel so bad that everything he might do or say is condemned even before he says or does it?

A word about the even more terrible statement: ‘The one who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.’ The word ‘prefer’ comes from Latin praeferre, ‘to place before’. We should not place other people before Christ. It would not be fair to them, it would be too much for them, and they could not bear it. Only Christ is able to be Christ.

Tuesday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 7:1-9). Small countries hemmed in between great powers, Judah and Israel had a subtle path to traverse in political and military matters. When the northern kingdom, Israel, and Damascus joined forces to rebel against Assyria, the world power of the day, they tried to force Judah to join them. Isaiah urges King Ahaz of Jerusalem to stand firm, that the Lord is with the people, and this is the context of the prophecy of Emmanuel, the symbolic name applied to Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, which means ‘God is with us’.

Gospel • (Mt 11:20-24). If the stars came out only one night in 100 years the whole human race would look up. Some astronomers believe that eventually no stars will be visible to the naked eye because they will all be too distant from one another. So take a good look! Familiarity breeds blindness. 

Tyre, Sidon and Sodom (sample cases of wickedness) would have opened their eyes, Jesus says, but God’s people took Jesus’ ‘deeds of power’ for granted. This is why the Gospel has to be proclaimed to the whole world: no one can tell who is going to hear it and who is not going to hear it. Like every lover, the God of Surprises sends unexpected gifts, or leaves them hidden in unexpected places.

Nazareth was the most unexpected place of all. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (Jn 1:46). When Jesus was born, pagan astrologers came from afar to do him homage, but his own country-man, Herod, tried to kill him. 

Jesus had an eye for the unexpected. He praised the faith of a Roman pagan centurion (Mt 8:10) and a Canaanite pagan woman (Mt 15:28); he told an expert on Jewish law to imitate the behaviour of a Samaritan (Lk 10:37); he befriended the outcasts of society, tax-collectors and sinners. Almost everything he did was unexpected: the authorities could hardly fail to see him. But when they did they determined to kill him. 

Wednesday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 10:5-7). At a time when the Jewish people had little belief in an afterlife of any meaningful kind, their theology had to be whatever God does in relation to the people of Israel would happen in the here and now. God’s rewards or punishments had to come through historical events and through human agents. That is why the prophet sees Assyria (present-day Iraq) as God’s instrument to punish and correct the chosen people. But Assyria does not recognize that it is only an instrument, and is condemned for its arrogance and brutality.

Gospel • (Mt 11:25-27). ‘Infant’ comes from the Latin ‘in-fans’: non-speaking. Language helps us distinguish things, and very soon distinction becomes separation, which then turns into opposition. Potentially the most destructive opposition is between ‘I’ and ‘not-I’. Language can seduce me into believing that I am somehow divided from everything else, and that everything in the world opposes me…. Then I spend my life mentally protecting and defending this first person singular – who in reality would not last five minutes if left without such ‘non-I’ things as oxygen, water, shelter…. 

The ‘little ones’ Jesus spoke of were not just children but the humble, the helpless, the heavy-burdened, those who were ready to hear what he was saying: disciples. They are the ones who know their need of God and of everything that God gives. This knowledge may not look like knowledge at all: it can adduce no subtle arguments, no book-learning; but it is, wrote St Paul, ‘a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known’ (1 Cor. 2:8). It is the wisdom of God incarnate in Jesus.

Thursday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 26:7-9). Our search for God, both as individuals and as a people, is a continuing challenge, often painful. The people’s prayer looks to a positive outcome, as the pains of childbirth signify the approach of new life, and death is the occasion for the gift of restored life (not, in this case, our understanding of resurrection). The prayer is grounded confidence and in trust in the Lord, even though the evidence may be puzzling.

Gospel • (Mt 11:28-30). Commenting on this, St Augustine wrote, ‘If you wish to reach high, then begin at the lowest level. If you are trying to construct some mighty tall edifice, begin with the foundation. This is humility. However great the mass of the building you may wish to design or erect, the taller the building is to be, the deeper you will have to dig the foundation…. So then, you see even a building is low before it is high and the tower is raised only after humiliation.’ In another place he wrote, ‘God accepts offerings only from the altar of humility.’ When St Bernard of Clairvaux was asked what the four cardinal virtues were, he replied ‘humility, humility, humility, and humility.’

This is just another way of describing a life that is, even to small degree, free of the stubborn clutches of the ego. It is a false identity, and therefore every morsel of truth has the capacity to undermine it. Humility, on the other hand, is just the unadorned truth. It is not about belittling oneself or hiding in a corner. It is about letting the plain truth be seen.

Friday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Is 38:1-6.21-22.7-1). Hezekiah is one of the few kings of Judah to be approved by the editor of the Book of Kings because of his fidelity to the Law of the Lord. He prays that the promise made through Isaiah that Jerusalem would not fall into the hands its enemies would be fulfilled. For reasons not fully explained, the Assyrian army gave up the siege and withdrew. This really confirmed Isaiah’s reputation, but led to the belief that Jerusalem would never be captured, a problem with which Jeremiah had to grapple later. Signs often accompany messages from God, as confirmation that the message was not merely a dream.

Gospel • (Mt 12:1-8). The Pharisees were more interested in the appearances of religion than in its substance. But we too are in the picture. Since the substance of religion is so subtle and deep, it is no surprise that we are often like them, concentrating on what is obvious and shallow. 

Jesus seemed to say his own behaviour was excusable because great people in the past had done similar things. John Chrysostom (344/35-407) pointed out that ‘here the Giver of the law was overriding the law.’ Sometimes laws try to go into every nook and cranny and to legislate for every possible human situation. But human life is simply too multitudinous for that. We need spirit, or rather the Spirit, to guide us wisely. The Lord of the Sabbath is the one who is able to give us the Spirit.

Saturday of Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Mic 2:1-5). The selection of prophetic readings dealing with questions of justice, brings us to the prophet Micah, a native of Judah and a contemporary of Isaiah. He is eloquent in decrying sharp business practices. Not everything which is legal is moral. When the ruling class dominates the poor, depriving them of shelter and freedom, the prophet is clear in seeing that God is on the side of the oppressed.

Gospel • (Mt 12:14-21). A distinct warning-bell sounds with the mention of a plot against Jesus, who is presented in terms of the Suffering Servant of the Lord as portrayed in Isaiah. He gently cares for those in any way afflicted. Although he is rejected by the leaders of his own people, he is the true source of hope for them and for the Gentiles.

Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

20-25 July 2020 • B. Treacy and Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Monday of Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Mic 6:1-4.6-8). This reading contains some of the best-loved lines from prophetic literature. It is the foundation for the Good Friday Reproaches – ‘My people, what have I done to you?’ – and for some modern hymns. And the concluding meditation on acting justly, loving tenderly, walking humbly with God, remains an inspiration. God does not want sacrifice, animal, cereal, or worst of all, that of the first-born child: those lines from Micah sum up the entire prophetic tradition, and we should take them to heart in our own lives.

Gospel • (Mt 12:38-42). Searching for signs seems to be a perennial temptation and distraction. The only sign that is reliable is to pay heed to the preaching of the resurrection. If the preaching of such a reluctant messenger as was Jonah could bring about the conversion of the citizens of Nineveh, how much more should the proclamation of the resurrection. But no even that will convince people unless they are prepared to accept the wisdom enshrined in the teachings of the Gospel.

Tuesday of Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Mic 7:14-15.18-20). In heartfelt prayer the prophet appeals to God’s mercy, reminding him of the positive events of the past, and asking for forgiveness and a renewal of the relationship which existed between the Lord and the ancestors of the people of Israel, one of faithfulness and mercy. This is a style of prayer which believers today could adopt, almost shaming God to grant mercy today seeing that we know of his generosity in the past.

Gospel • (Mt 12:46-50). Commenting on a similar passage (Luke 11:27) Meister Eckhart said, ‘The whole of Christendom pays our Lady great honour and respect because she is the bodily mother of Christ, and that is right and proper. Holy Christendom prays to her for grace which she is able to obtain, and that is right. And if holy Christendom pays her such honour, as indeed is fitting, nevertheless holy Christendom should pay even greater honour and glory to those who hear God’s word and keep it, for they are even more blessed than our Lady is through being the bodily mother of Christ, as Christ himself has told us. All that honour, and immeasurably more, is accorded to those who hear God’s word and keep it.’

Wednesday, 22 July: St Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen experienced some profound healing at the hands of Jesus; the Gospels tell us he cast out seven demons from her (Mk 16:9; Lk 8:2). (Illnesses were thought to be caused by demonic infestation – the popular belief was that the air was thick with them, like bugs today.) She helped him in his work and was a witness to his crucifixion. 

In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalen is the only woman at the tomb (in Matthew’s there are two, in Mark’s three, and in Luke’s an indeterminate number). They were the first to know of the Resurrection of Jesus. They were sent to tell the news to the brothers. The word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek apostellein, ‘to send’. Therefore the first apostles of the distinctive Christian proclamation of the Resurrection were women. Indeed, Mary Magdalen is traditionally known as ‘the apostle of the apostles’ apostola apostolorum. She is a patroness of d the Order of Preachers, and for this reason many Dominican houses are called St Magdalen’s. She could also be seen as the patroness of all the women who have preached the Gospel in countless ways throughout the Christian centuries.

Wednesday of Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 1:1.4-10). Jeremiah is the most sensitive of the prophets, and the one who had to wrestle most strenuously with his vocation, as is shown in at least five passages usually called his Confessions. Unlike the impression given by some of the other prophets, he was unable to separate himself from the fate of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. The account of his calling today shows that, unlike other prophets, it did not occur later in life, but rather from the moment of his conception. The purpose of his life from the beginning was to communicate the word of God to be people of Judah.

Gospel • (Mt 13:1-9). Many seeds require a resting period after falling from the parent plant before they are able to germinate into new plants. Chemical changes take place during this period, making the seed ready for germination. Germination does not take place unless the seed finds itself in a favourable environment. The conditions of a favourable environment are adequate water and oxygen, and a suitable temperature. When these conditions are not present, the seed is prepared to wait …and wait. Seeds found in the excavations at Pompeii, dating from 79 AD, grew when scientists placed in the right conditions. 

Thursday, 23 July: St Bridget of Sweden Patron of Europe

Bridget (or Birgitta) is patron saint of Sweden. She was born of a noble family about 1303. While still a child she had a deep spiritual experience, and from that moment her life became devoted to God’s service. The Passion of Christ was to be at the centre of her devotion. Aged 14, she was married to a Swedish prince, to whom in the course of 28 years of happy married life she bore eight children.

On the death of her husband and after a pilgrimage to Compostella, she founded a monastery at Vadstena on Lake Vattern in southern Sweden a double monastery comprising separate communities of nuns and canons regular. In time the female branch developed into a new religious order, commonly known as the Bridgettines. A woman of great courage and energy, she died at Rome in 1373 after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Like Catherine of Siena, she was a great traveller and was outspoken when it came to correcting abuses. She played a significant role in civil and ecclesiastical affairs, and included men among her followers and disciples. She a deep devotion to the Passion of Christ.

Thursday of Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 2:1-3.7-18.12-13). The prophets interpret Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness after their escape from slavery in Egypt as a time as of special closeness between the Lord and the people of Israel, which is the theme of the first part of this text. That special affection morphed into the people’s taking the Lord for granted when they entered the Promised Land and were no longer dependent on the Lord for sheer survival. Particularly to blame for this deterioration were the priests and the rulers (the shepherds), whom Jeremiah singles out for particular criticism – a warning to anyone in a position of leadership in the church today.

Gospel • (Mt 13:10-17). In many ways, the parables are the Gospel equivalent of the preaching of the prophets. They show the message of Jesus as challenges which cannot be avoided. Those who are generously open will understand God’s plan, while those who are not have closed themselves off.

Friday of Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 3:14-17). The ark of the covenant was the most important symbol of the religious and, to a certain extent, political unity of the people of Israel, representing the presence of the Lord among the people, and was lost when Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians in the time of Jeremiah. The prophet looks forward to a time when the people will have new leaders after the Lord’s own heart. Then their religion will be focused not on any object, however sacred, but on the Lord alone.

Gospel • (Mt 13:18-23). The meditation of early Christians shows that they had experience of four kinds of listening to the word: the three fruitless ones and the one fruitful. So has the Church in every age, and so have we today. In today’s circumstances, the list might go like this: 1. My heart is just a public path with no interiority at all, nowhere to ‘abide’. I am full of restless activity, so that I never really see anyone or face anything. I am constantly ‘transmitting’, so that I can never hear what others are trying to tell me. 2. My heart is a hard, stony place. I have little or no feeling for anyone who is not ‘one of us’, and I am wary of anyone who comes near me, in case they make demands I don’t want to meet. 3. My heart is choked by the dissipation of modern life. I can’t sit without turning on the TV or picking up something to read. My life is a series of disconnected events, with no vision, no direction, no passion. 4. There are occasional unguarded moments when the seed of the word falls into good soil. These are the moments to live for.

Saturday, 25 July: St James, apostle

James was the son of Zebedee and brother of John the evangelist. With his brother, John, and Peter he was a witness of the transfiguration of the Lord and of his agony. Close to the feast of Passover, he was executed by Herod and became the first of the Apostles to gain the crown of martyrdom. It is clear that he had a leading position among the Twelve. In every list of the apostles he is in the first three; and he was the first apostle to be martyred. Yet, with one exception, he is never mentioned apart from his brother John. The one exception is when his martyrdom is recounted in Acts 12:2.

James and John were fishermen, sons of Zebedee. They seem to have been typical impulsive and quick-tempered Galileans, for they were nicknamed ‘sons of thunder’, boanerges (Mk 3:17). They were ambitious men who wanted an assurance that they would have big jobs in the Kingdom (Mk 10:35-45).

There is a legend that he went to Spain and preached the Gospel there; he is the patron saint of that country. There is a popular pilgrimage to his tomb in the city of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino begins in Roncesvalles, on the French border, and covers 783 km to the Atlantic coast. Many pilgrims walk part of it, but sturdy ones walk the whole way, which takes about a month.

It was suggested that the name of the shrine of Compostela may be a corruption of Giacomo Postolo (James the Apostle). To this day there is an image of the Virgin Mary in Saragossa, before which a hundred lamps are kept forever burning, for the legend is that Mary appeared to James there to strengthen him and encourage him in his work.

Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

27 July – 1 August 2020 • Valerie Warren

Monday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 13:1-11). We continue to read the story of Jeremiah’s ministry. Jeremiah, who understands himself to have been called by God, even before birth, experiences and records an extraordinary intimacy with God. What happens in the everyday events of his life, discloses to him the presence and guidance of God. The image of a cloth clinging to the body reveals that intimacy. That we frail, fragile, faulty, humans can somehow contribute to God’s glory is a staggering and sobering thought. May our goal and our joy be God’s glory, revealed in the way we live.

Gospel • (Mt 13:31-35). Because we are God’s creation, there is in each of us the possibility not only to progress our own lives and understanding, but to provide shelter for others. The teaching that the smallest, the least of us, has the capacity to become the largest, is both inspiring and challenging. Jesus assures us by pointing to something that can be seen and known, that this growth is not beyond us. If a tiny mustard seed can become a tree, why would we be prevented from becoming much more than we are at present? Jesus reveals our hidden destiny by telling us stories. We must seek to live those stories.

Tuesday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 14:17-22). The tears and distress experienced by those who witness all that is wrong in the world is acknowledged by the Lord as a ‘most grievous injury’. Recent events have confirmed, that though we may bear the name, we are not yet converted to living as Christians. Our acceptance of injustice, our unwillingness to give up our comfort for the sake of security for others, betrays our belief. We might wonder if we have been rejected by God, if God has somehow let us down by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our choices and decisions. We may have our questions; still our hope is in God.

Gospel • (Mt 13:36-43). In all our lives, the good and the evil intermingle, we are intimate with both. The struggle to allow the Spirit and word of God to have precedence in our daily living, is an ongoing effort, as the gradual unfolding of the ways we avoid, neglect or even reject his command to love one another reveal themselves to us. The parable Jesus explains to his disciples in this reading, assures us however, that God’s patience with us endures right to the end of our lives.

Wednesday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 15:10. 16-21). ‘Your word was my delight and the joy of my heart’. Jeremiah’s lament echoes in the hearts of all who seek to live a life that is authentic and inspired by faith in the God of love. It is not easy to be true to ourselves and the call to be faithful to the one who gives us life. There is a price to be paid for integrity. Jeremiah wonders why must it be this way. Is God really to be trusted, can he/we depend on God? He receives reassurance that ‘they will not overcome you because I am with you’. God is constant and caring and always present.

Gospel • (Mt 13:44-46). The Gospel parable responds to Jeremiah’s question to God in the First Reading. When we come to a realisation of the value of the faith we have been gifted with, everything we have considered important up till then becomes relative to that gift. If it helps us hold on to the gift, the ‘precious pearl’ of the parable, then it is put in service of the gift. If not, it is to be sold or discarded as worthless. The real advantage for us is in recognising the greatness of the gift we have been given. That recognition what allows us let go of the lesser treasures.

Wednesday, 29 July: St Martha • Gospel is proper: Jn 11:19-27 or Lk 10:38-42 ‘Martha received Jesus as a guest, just as the Lord does when he makes his servants God’s children and his own brothers and sisters, who ransoms the captives and makes them coheirs with himself. But do not say, “How fortunate are they who have received Jesus into their own home!” Do not be sad that you live in an age when the Lord is no longer seen in the flesh. He has not deprived you of Martha’s privilege, for “when you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me”.’ (St Augustine)

Thursday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 18:1-6). Jeremiah demonstrates a willingness to listen and to follow the way that God sets out for him. At the potters house he watches and reflects on what is happening, ready to recognise the word or action that comes from God. The skill of the potter lies in being able to rework and reshape the clay until something purposeful is produced. We have the opportunity to recreate our lives when circumstances open up a better or more authentic road to follow.

Help us, Lord recognise those opportunities when they are presented to us.

Gospel • (Mt 13:47-53). The message of the great love of God for humankind and the open invitation to enter into and live in this kingdom, is one which many initially welcome as the good news that it is. Yet, the parable of the dragnet reminds us that we are not always ready to live in the manner the kingdom demands of us. Our first enthusiasm will not necessarily carry us all the way. It needs to be strengthened by prayer and practice if we are to be capable of running the race to the finish.

Friday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 26:1-9). In yesterday’s reading, Jeremiah was called to watch and learn. When Jehoiakim comes to the throne however, he is called to act. For the new king had rowed back on the reforms put in place by Josiah. Jeremiah must speak to all those who come to worship at the Temple, those who identify themselves as God’s people. Therefore, Jeremiah is preaching to those who already believe, or who say they believe. Believers however, are not always willing to hear that they may be required to change their ways. Still, God is always ready to suspend his judgement if the people repent and observe the law.

Gospel • (Mt 13:54-58). Parents will often say something like, ‘I tell her that all the time but when her teacher says it, suddenly its Gospel’. Human beings have a habit of overlooking the uniqueness and wisdom of the ones they are familiar with. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then at least a lack of attention. An expert is always someone from the next parish, or county or country. Certainly not our next-door neighbour. That Jesus was not unaware of this phenomenon is demonstrated in the story we hear today. Prophets are not usually recognised in their own place.

Friday, 31 July: St ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits • ‘We live in times when great importance is attached to planning, and Christian people are apt to catch the infection from their surroundings. We must revise, we must reorganise, we must have a plan or we are lost! But I do not think St Ignatius would encourage us to echo that cry. Rather he would find fault with our half-heartedness – ready to believe, to do, to spend just so much and no more. But the fire of love has never enough.’ (Ronald Knox)

Saturday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading • (Jer 26:11-16.24). The social context in which Jeremiah now finds himself is open to listening to God’s challenge to change. Because he has told them what they do not want to hear, the people seek to have him silenced. Jeremiah insists that it is the Lord who calls them through him. It is the Lord who seeks their repentance. Regardless of what happens to him, Jeremiah, as God’s true prophet must speak God’s word.

Gospel • (Mt 14:1-12). In having John the Baptist beheaded, Herod has done something he knows is wrong. He has gone against his own conscience. The knowledge of this truth makes him anxious and fearful. Was there ever a situation in which we have said or done something to show off in front of others without considering the consequences? If we are true to ourselves and our own inspiration, we can be at peace. However if our conduct is dictated by the desire to be all things to others, we can very easily be led far away from the truth.

Saturday, 1 August: St Alphonsus, bishop, doctor, founder of the Redemptorists • ‘God is so devoted to your interests. It is as if Providence existed only to aid you, omnipotence only to help you, the divine goodness and mercy only to sympathise with you, to do you good, to win your confidence by the delicacy of his affection. Open your inner world to God with perfect freedom and pray that he guide you to do his holy will perfectly. Let your every desire be directed to the discovery of God’s good pleasure and how to give joy to the divine heart.’ (St Alphonsus, Way of Conversing with God as with a Friend)




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