Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Drinking the Cup - Wed of the 2nd Week of Lent

FIRST READING  (Jeremiah 18:18-20)
They said, "Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words."

"Give heed to me, O Lord, and hearken to my plea. Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them."

GOSPEL (Matthew 20:17-28)
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom."

But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able."

He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

1. Authority and sacrificial lov

(Word of Life Community) 

2. Can you drink the chalice?
Twice before, Jesus warned His disciples that His life was moving inexorably toward suffering and death. Now, as they walk along the road that leads up to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts His death for the third time. This prediction is somewhat more specific, for Jesus actually names the precise events that will occur: Mockery, flogging, and crucifixion. “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Jesus asks James and John. If they want to sit next to Jesus at the Kingdom banquet, they must drink from the same chalice He drinks, the chalice of suffering. This image of a chalice filled with bitter wine of suffering is taken from the Old Testament (cf Is 51:17; Jer 25:15; Lam 4:21). James and John respond to Jesus’ question by vowing that they are, indeed, able to drink this chalice. In a sense, they are correct. James and John, as leaders in the early Christian community, will endure its persecutions and suffer for their faith; James will die a martyr’s death by Herod Agrippa’s sword (cf Acts 12:2). In another sense, though, they are not able. After only a meager taste of the caustic wine, James and John, as well as the others, throw down the chalice; in Jesus’ passion, “all the disciples left Him and fled” (Mt 26:56).

3. Can they REALLY drink that cup??
(Lutheran Church Augusta, MO)

I find today's gospel quite funny, it has the air of a black comedy about it, mainly due to the misunderstandings of the disciples. In today's Gospel Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem with his disciples. On the way he breaks the news of his impending death. He tells them that when they reach the city he, Jesus, will be handed over to the temple officials and the Romans to be killed. He also tells them that he will rise again on the third day.

How do the disciples react? Do they get upset? Do they try to get Jesus to turn away from Jerusalem? No, they do none of these things, but rather begin to argue over stupid things. The mother of Zebedee's sons approaches Jesus to try and get places of honour for them in the kingdom of Jesus, completely misunderstanding what he meant by kingdom. Jesus tries to inform her that to gain places of honour in his kingdom is to take up the cross and suffer as Jesus himself soon will, and that it is his Father who will give out places there.

You would think that this would have been the end of the discussion. But no, the other ten disciples obviously have the words "places of honour" stuck in their heads, and they begin to get annoyed, one suspects because they didn't get their request in first! Again Jesus tries to give a lesson on what a Christian leader ought to be like, one that follows his example, to serve those over whom they have authority. This is a reversal of what we think someone in a position of authority ought to be like. Yet that is what we are called to be.

So Jesus has told his disciples he is going to die horribly, they fight among themselves for positions of honour, then Jesus has to give them a lesson in Christian leadership! Their reaction to his news is not what one would expect. That is what sin, in the form of ambition in this case, does. It prevents us from hearing clearly the word of God, which means that we cannot follow it. But by being the type of people that Jesus instructs his disciples to be we will hear his word, and be able to follow it.

O gracious Father,
we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church;
that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth,
in all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purify it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, establish it;
where it is in want, provide for it;
where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of him who died and rose again,
and ever liveth to make intercession for us,
Jesus Christ,
thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Seeking the praise of people - Today's Lent reflection

FIRST READING  (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20)
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

GOSPEL READING (Matthew 23:1-12)
At that time: Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Who doesn’t want to be admired and honoured by others? God, however, sees us truly as we are – beggars and sinners in need of his constant grace and mercy. Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for seeking the praise of others by drawing attention to their showy religious practices. To read the rest of this reflection, click HERE.

Today Jesus is being very critical of the Pharisees and the scribes. He tells his listeners that they should observe the teachings of the Pharisees. He has no problem with their teaching. The teachings are O.K. But Jesus also tells his listeners that they shouldn't follow the EXAMPLE of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were great teachers of the law. In fact, many of them were highly principled. However, there was one problem that can easily become the besetting sin of "officials" in any religious tradition. Some of the Pharisees we meet in the New Testament are those who use their teaching to exercise authority over others, but they don't apply that teaching in its original sense to their own lives and the formation of their own character. They bind up ordinary people with many laws, and torture them with extra complicated rules and regulations. They insist that their disciples and students do everything they say. Jesus points out that they themselves conspicuously fail to practice what they preach, even in the most basic matters. Then he says that what many of them really love is sitting in the places of honour and being called “Rabbi”, "Father" and "Teacher." These particular leaders are so filled with a sense of their own importance that, when they go to the synagogue or to a banquet, they automatically take the best seats available. They seem to value their religious position purely for the regard and respect, the esteem, the awe, and the perks it gives them.  

That's why Jesus questions their motivation. Are they simply manipulators for their own pride, or are they sincerely and deeply spiritual? If they are they close to God, why don't they walk their talk? 

Jesus tells HIS disciples that in contrast THEIR role is to serve others — not to BE served. Of course, he says, they are to follow the Jewish laws and even the customs the Pharisees teach. But they are not follow the Pharisees’ example. Jesus wants his disciples to be genuinely humble people. 

As Christians, we know how much we are loved by God, and that he intends us to live by the law of love. We are to care for our neighbour and all around us who are in need (even if we don't particularly like some of them). Today's clergy, religious, evangelisits, and even church bureaucrats, need to examine our personal motivations. Why do we do what we do? Is it so that others will think we are holier than we are? Is it a way of exercising power over other people? Or is it because we have a passion to serve the Lord and draw others into his love by helping to free them from the burdens that crush them?  

Much of the time our ministry will be made up of small daily tasks or actions. So, the REAL gift for which we should pray is the gift of being able to notice the other person's need, and then for the courage to reach out in loving, sensitive care and support. Today let us pray for open eyes and open hearts. Let us ask the Lord to cleanse us from all selfish or impure motives behind our ministry.  (Based on a meditation by Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau OSB, from the Dome Blog)

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church
with they perpetual mercy;
and, because the frailty of man without thee
cannot but fall,
keep us ever by thy help
from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable
to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Today's Lent reflection: Being merciful like God

FIRST READING  (Daniel 9:4b - 10)
"O Lord, the great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

"To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those that are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery which they have committed against you.

"To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.

"To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness; because we have rebelled against you, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets."

GOSPEL READING  (Luke 6:36-38)
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

With God all things are possible 
(Word of Life Community)

Forgive to give
(Presentation Ministries)

The late Fr Michael Harper wrote, "Jesus did not come to present a new set of ideas to us. He came to show us the meaning of love. He revealed what love is. He manifested love. The secret of Jesus' revolution was not the love of power but the power of love," (Michael Harper's book, "The Love Affair" can be downloaded for free in its entirety HERE. If you haven't read it yet, it would make a great Lent book!)

Notice that in today's gospel reading, Jesus asks us to not judge or condemn. He also tells us to give and forgive. We are reminded that we cannot receive without first giving of ourselves. St Ignatius of Loyola reminds us this in his prayer for generosity:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

Let us be challenged this Lenten season to truly try giving without counting the cost or expecting something in return. To be the first to forgive. Jesus tells us that only the measure we give will be what we receive.

Give your people, Lord,
pardon and peace,
that we may be cleansed from all our sins,
serve you with a quiet mind,
and gladly forgive one another.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who lives and reigneth with you,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Loving enemies????? Today's Lent reflection.

FIRST READING  (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)
Moses spoke to the people, saying: "This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances; you shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day concerning the Lord that he is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his ordinances, and will obey his voice; and the Lord has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, that he will set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he has spoken."

GOSPEL  (Matthew 5:43-48)
"You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

"And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The Sunday sermon was on "Forgive Your Enemies." The priest asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?" About half the congregation held up their hands. He asked again, and about 80% put up their hands. The third time round, all hands were raised except for one elderly lady.

"Mrs Jones, I'm surprised at you. Why aren't you willing to forgive your enemies?"

"I don't have any" she responded.

"Are you sure, Mrs Jones? Said the priest. I find that very hard to believe! Please come to the front and explain to everyone how it is possible not to have an enemy in the world."

The little old lady tottered down the aisle, and said: "It's easy, Father. I'm ninety-three years old. I've outlived every single one of them!"

Hearts on fire with the Love of God 
(Word of Life Community)

A godly homily for today
(Paul Hinnebusch)

I remember when I was a little girl in Russia during Holy Week every member of my family - father, mother, and all the servants lined up and, beginning with father, bowed low before one another and said to each, "Forgive me for any hurt that I might have inflicted on you." And the answer from the other was, "May the Lord forgive you as I forgive you. Amen." So everyone asked forgiveness from one another, because without forgiveness, which is the greatest sign of love, how can one receive the God of love?

We hurt people, unwillingly and even unwittingly, by the weakness of our nature, so we need forgiveness from our brothers and sisters, and we need to forgive them as well. We cannot enter Holy Week unless we forgive totally, uncompromisingly, and completely. For before our eyes will soon be Jesus Christ himself, who will cry out from the height of the cross, "Father, forgive them."

Since we are baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, we should not allow the night to fall on our anger. We should beg forgiveness and forgive every day. Let us pray that we may forgive, because no one forgives these days, nationally and internationally speaking, and perhaps also personally. That is why we have the mess that we have.
Catherine Doherty in the Madonna House Staff Letter #59 
(Reproduced in Grace in Every Season, page 97)

Lord, thou hast prepared a table for me
against them that trouble me.
Let that holy Sacrament of the Eucharist
be to me a defence and shield,
a nourishment and medicine, life and health,
a means of sanctification and spiritual growth;
that I, receiving the Body of my dearest Lord,
may be one with his mystical body,
and of the same Spirit,
united with indissoluble bonds of a strong faith,
and a holy hope,
and a never-failing charity,
that from this veil I may pass into the visions of eternal charity,
from eating thy Body to beholding thy face
in the glories of thy everlasting kingdom,
O blessed and eternal Jesus. Amen.
Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday of the First Week of Lent . . . Reconciliation and Forgiveness

FIRST READING  (Ezekiel 18:21-28)
Thus says the Lord: "If a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

"Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

GOSPEL  (Matthew 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

If, like me, you are around 60 years of age and have been a practising Christian for most of your life, you will have listened to at least 2,500 sermons. What experts we should be in things concerning the Christian Faith! For you as well as for me, however, just a few of those sermons remain in our minds and hearts as if we heard them yesterday. One such sermon bowled me over when I was just 15. It gave shape to my lifelong meditation on so many aspects of God's revelation. The preacher (a retired missionary from China) spoke at the youth fellowship one Sunday night and then preached in church - electrifyingly - about "the scarlet cord" which runs through Scripture, binding it together - the Blood of Jesus which atones for our sins and brings us new life, and in the light of which we should read the Old Testament. Imagine my surprise when recently browsing through Alice Linsley's blog Just Genesis (one of the most worthwhile blogs there is, packed full of orthodox scholarship which is at the same time challenging and devotional) and finding - as if it were a summary of sermon notes made on that Sunday back in 1967 - Alice's post The Scarlet Cord Woven Through the Bible. It is a fitting meditation for this Lenten Friday. I encourage you to go there, and - if you have time - to follow the links in the post, as well.

Be reconciled
(Word of Life Community)

Patience and Impatience
(Mother Basilea Schlink) 

To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened, but to shoulder the weight of another person's frailty or even another person's evil. St. Paul says, "Learn to carry one another's burdens." These burdens are often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling - our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. Let each of us pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life, judge ourselves honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God but from our neighbor, which is sometimes much harder than asking forgiveness from God.

We are all frail. We are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship? Let us avoid seeking reasons not to forgive.

I remember a man who said to me, "I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I must hate the enemies of God." I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, "Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner."

Remember, if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded. If we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.

Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed, but also that we may be healed ourselves. Come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, and then turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us.
(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh from a Forgiveness Vespers sermon given in 1999)

We beseech thee O Lord,
let our hearts be graciously enlightened
by thy holy radiance,
that we may serve thee without fear
in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our life;
that so we may escape the darkness of this world,
and by thy guidance
attain the land of eternal brightness;
through thy mercy O blessed Lord,
who dost live and govern all things,
world without end. Amen.
From the Sarum Breviary of 1085

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The 21 Egyptians martyred in Lybia recognised as saints

Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church
has recognised the 21 mem martyred in Lybia
as saints.

Their names are:

St. Milad (Milad Makeen Zaky)
St. Abanub (Abanub Ayad Atiya)
St. Maged (Maged Solaiman Shehata)
St. Yusuf (Yusuf Shukry Yunan)
St. Kirollos (KIrollos Shokry Fawzy)
St. Bishoy (Bishoy Astafanus Kamel)
St. Somaily (Astafanus Kamel) 
St. Malak (Malak Ibrahim Sinweet)
St. Tawadros (Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros)
St. Girgis (Girgis Milad Sinweet)
St. Mina (Mina Fayez Aziz)
St. Hany (Hany Abdelmesih Salib)
St. Bishoy (Bishoy Adel Khalaf)
St. Samuel (Samuel Alham Wilson)
A Worker from Awr village, name unknown
St. Ezat (Ezat Bishri Naseef)
St. Loqa (Loqa Nagaty)
St. Gaber (Gaber Munir Adly)
St. Esam (Esam Badir Samir)
St. Malak (Malak Farag Abram)
St. Sameh (Sameh Salah Faruq)

O God of love, 
your holy martyrs died 
rather than deny Jesus. 
We ask them to pray for us,
that our lives will bear witness to the Gospel 
and be worthy of their sacrifice. 
Through Jesus Christ, your Son,
who is alive and reigns with you 
and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Addresses on family & complementarity - HUMANUM 2014 (including N.T. Wright)

From November 17 to 19, 2014, Pope Francis drew together a colloquium in Rome called HUMANUM. It was jointly organised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The purpose of the colloquium was to hear presentations and witness testimonies of leading religious figures and scholars representing 14 religious traditions and 23 countries on the subject of the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage. 

All of the presentations (below, from the YouTube HUMANUM website) are worth listening to. In particular, though, among the Anglican contributions, I think that Bishop Tom Wright’s talk on the Scriptural witness to Complementarity is magisterial. It is all the more remarkable because he is not usually thought of as a “Complementarian” as that word is often understood in evangelical circles (i.e. as pertaining to the ordained ministry).