receiver
receiver
receiver

Fr Silvio homily: 1st Advent Sunday B:  The Coming of God.

1st Advent Sunday B:  The Coming of God.
Isa 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8; Ps 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37            Link to readings

 

Dear friends,

Today we celebrate the first of the four Sundays of Advent.  It marks the beginning of a new liturgical year after its conclusion last Sunday with the feast of Christ the King.  Advent is a season which sees us looking forward to the coming of the Lord.  It is a time of expectation.  It is, actually, a double expectation:

First of all, we look forward to the celebration of Christmas, with all the joys related to our encounter with family and friends, with the sharing of gifts and meals.  Unfortunately, for many, “it’s a season to be merry”, and that’s it!  They have forgotten that Christ is the “reason for the season”.   However, the Christian knows that he or she is celebrating the greatest event in human history… the incarnation of God himself, who chose to be born in the little town of Bethlehem in Judea.  There, far away from the fanfare of royalty, Jesus was born and showed himself to the poor and the outcast.   While looking forward to Christmas, Christmas invites us to look back to that moment in time.

We also look forward to the second coming of Jesus, at the end of time.   Reflecting upon His first coming, his teachings, and his commendations, we prepare ourselves to encounter him when He comes again.  The Jews needed, and were promised salvation.  They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.   We believe that the Messiah has come.    The death and resurrection of Jesus did in fact reconcile the human race with God.  However, salvation is not yet completed for there is still a lot more to accomplish, as is evidenced by the number of people who do not yet know God, the rejection of God by others, and, as importantly, by the fact that many people still live a life that, because of sin, is far from being decent or humane.   No wonder we long for a completion of the work of salvation and the second coming of Christ our Saviour.  Advent expresses our faith in the possibility of a better world, a world where people are given priority over profit, power, and privilege.

Today’s scripture readings give voice to our own experience and our longing for a Saviour.   The first reading, taken from the third part of the book of Isaiah, expresses a sincere longing for true salvation.   The Jews had experienced exile, and knew that the prophecies of salvation proclaimed earlier in the book had been fulfilled.  They also knew that there was still a long way to go.   They still had to struggle to see God’s promises fulfilled.

The prophet addresses God as Redeemer and Father, and asks Him the question that resonates in our mind:  Why do you let us go astray?    Why O Lord, are there so many people who have no regard for you and for fellow human beings?  Why do so many people sin and bring suffering to others?  Why do we find ourselves so tempted to depart from the path of righteousness?   He writes:

We were all like men unclean,

all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.

We have all withered like leaves

and our sins blew us away like the wind.  (Isa 64:6)

 

The prophet believes that God, like a potter refashioning clay, is able to refashion people according to his plan.   And so, in very vivid language he gives expression to his belief that God could end his silence and remoteness.  He calls upon Him:  Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!  How many times have we prayed for the same thing?   If only God would open the heavens and come down to see what is happening in the world around us… people struggling for power only to serve themselves; people who live and act as if their neighbour did not exist; people who abuse others for their own gain and questionable desires.  It is never-ending.

Making it more personal: If only God would come down and touch our own weaknesses and failings!  If only He would do away with our sinfulness and make us pure within and without.

And then we remember the day Jesus called upon John the Baptist, to be baptised like all the rest.  As he emerged from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11).   In the person of Jesus, God’s answer has come.  Salvation is at hand.  It is offered to all, whether it comes as a result of a tearing apart of heaven, or the result of a small crack in the wall that allows light to shine through.  How wonderful it would be if men and women, acting from within their freedom and liberty, responded positively to God’s presence.

That positive response is what Jesus encourages us to make our own.  He invites us to be on guard and to stay awake.  Surely Jesus is not inviting us to take these words literally and spend our days and nights awake, sitting with folded arms, waiting for Him to appear, or obsess ourselves with the end of the world.  He is rather inviting us to be alert to his promptings, to use our time well, and thus be well-disposed to welcome Him when He comes to encounter us… whether that’s in our daily life, at the end of our life on earth, or on the final day.

Advent invites us discover that there could be a difference between the life we live and the life we choose to live.  God does reveal his plan to us through the people we encounter and the circumstances of life.  They are a revelation of His presence in our midst.   We only need to be alert and open to the unmistakable signs of God’s presence in people and events. As faithful disciples we need to commit our lives, here and now, to the great work God has begun in this world.  May our eyes be open to the comings of God into our lives and into the lives of others, especially those who are suffering.

In his poem “Silent Steps”, the Indian poet Tagore says…

Have you not heard his silent steps?

He comes, comes, ever comes.

In every moment and every age, every day and every night.

May we be awake and alert to welcome Him.

 

 

If you have found this homily spiritually uplifting, encouraging and/or challenging, please send me your reflection on [email protected].  I would love to hear what the Spirit inspires you with.  God bless you.

 

Fr Silvio

Read More →

Year A: 33rd Sunday in OT: Using our talents productively

Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps 127(128):1-5; 1 Thess 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30            Link to readings

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Today we meet to celebrate Sunday Eucharist and we remember all our dear relatives, friends, and parishioners who have passed on to eternal life during this year.  We remember those who died in COVID-19 circumstances, and were not able to bid a final goodbye to their loved ones.  We also remember our grieving families and friends, especially those who are struggling to come to terms with their loss.  May God grant the dead eternal life, and serenity and peace to their loved ones.

Today’s gospel reading from Matthew focuses on the manner in which we are to conduct our lives, in preparation for the day when we too will be meeting the Lord.   The early disciples were expecting the Lord Jesus to return to them soon after his ascension to heaven.  When that did not happen, they began to realise that it is not appropriate for them to go about waiting and wasting their time.  They needed to do something with the gifts and graces that the Lord had endowed them with.  They remembered Jesus’ parable and the message he was conveying to them through it.

Jesus speaks of this master or businessman who needed to travel abroad for a long time.  As he did not want his wealth to stay idle, he entrusted the considerable sums of five, two, and one talent to three servants, taking into account their ability to manage the funds was assigning to them. It is like he was saying to them: I trust you, I have faith in your abilities, and I won’t be looking over your shoulder.  Just use the money well to make a profit.   Two of them did, and they made a 100% profit.  Both were rewarded by being invited to join in the “master’s happiness”, the final banquet of the Kingdom, referred to in other parables.

The third servant presented a problem.  He did not trade with the money as the first two did.  He did not even deposit it in the bank to get some interest back.  Out of fear of losing the money, he hid it, all wrapped up, in the ground, and out of honesty returned it to the master when he returned.  Maybe he expected the master to applaud him for his honesty.  To his surprise, he was served a severe penalty.  He was thrown out into the darkness for being more concerned with his own security than with fulfilling what was required of him: making good use of the money.

This parable has a lot to say to us.   First and foremost, we endeavour to commit no sin, of course with God’s grace.  That is good in itself, because after all, we are called to avoid sin and whatever displeases God.  But it is surely not enough.  It is neither enough, nor appropriate, to harbour a fearful image of God.  God does invite us to be proactive, enterprising, and even take a risk, to practice what is most important.  He says this in so many words to the Pharisees (Mt 23:23), when he calls them hypocrites for neglecting the mightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.   God has provided us with gifts (the talents of the parable), and we need to use these gifts well, thus accruing a profit

The story is told of how Mother Teresa was paying a visit to a community of sisters, and she as she accompanied them on their daily rounds, she met an elderly man, ignored and isolated, living in a disordered and dirty house.  She asked if he would allow her to clean up his house, wash his clothes and make his bed.  But he was happy to live in such disorderliness, and only allowed her to do the work when she insisted.  While she was cleaning, she chanced upon a neglected, dirty lamp, which had not been lit for a long time.  (It was not Aladdin’s!!) Noticing its beauty, she asked the man why he does not light it.   He replied that it was no use to light it, for nobody visited him.  “Would you light it if the sisters come to visit you?”, she asked.   He said he would, and from that day onward the sisters committed themselves to pay him a daily visit.  Years later he sent her a message… the light you lit in my life continues to shine!

God has endowed each and every one of us with many gifts and talents.   The list of gifts is endless.    Mother Teresa used her God-given gift (talent) of kindness to bring light into the poor man’s house and heart.  We too are called to bring light to other people.  God invites us to invest our talents to light as many lamps as we can.

Some lamps point towards God’s kindness, forgiveness, mercy and love.  How wonderful it is to use our God-given abilities and blessings to make such a light shine on the faces of those who are suffering and dying of sickness, loneliness, exclusion, and as a result of the selfishness of others.

God gives us free gifts, not to squander them by burying them in the hole of fear, laziness or greed.  Rather, he wants us to use them as Jesus himself used his powers to bring light, healing, joy, kindness and love in the hearts of many.

We may ask ourselves the questions: What gifts have I been given?

  1. To answer this question, we may first of all give thanks to God for his countless blessings, and then reflect on a few strong characteristics, traits, or talents we have. What gives me joy, what is my passion, what am I excited about, what have I dreamt of doing but was always afraid to get started with?
  2. Secondly, we need to get close, and stay close to God. That implies prayer, knowing His word and will by reading and reflecting upon scripture.  I cannot bear fruit if I am not connected to the vine.
  3. Thirdly, to put our gift at the service of others. To be creative, to love, to give of ourselves, to put the needs of others before my own.

In a few minutes the bread and wine we offer will become the body and blood of Christ.  Through the Eucharist, Jesus gave, and continues to give His all to us.  May we take up His example, and focus our energy to invest our God-given talents and abilities for the good of others and the glory of his name.

 

If you have found this homily spiritually uplifting, encouraging and/or challenging, please send me your reflection on [email protected].  I would love to hear what the Spirit inspires you with.  God bless you.

 

Fr Silvio

Read More →

Year A: 31st Sunday – All Saints (1st Nov 2020) – The joy of the Saints

Rev 7:2-4,9-14; Ps 23(24):1-6; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a.                                       Link to readings

 

November, besides reminding us to pray for our faithful departed, is usually the time for graduations.  Many students, and their families, look forward to graduation day after years of hard study, stressful examinations, some disappointments, and final success.  This year’s COVID-19 restrictions will probably make it more difficult to celebrate, but surely more significant.     Many of us may have had the opportunity to attend such a ceremony, either to celebrate our own success, or the success of a relative or friend.  The feelings of success, satisfaction and joy are tangible, and can be observed on the faces of many.

Of course we would personally know a relative or friend, and we acknowledge and celebrate his or her achievement with joy.  However, there are many more whom we do not know.  They are not famous on graduation day, and they may not make the headlines later.    Among the thousands of hard working and successful students, there are many who have not made a great name for themselves in the public sphere.  Most would have served well, but did not become famous.  Some may have encountered difficulties, and decided to travel along a different path.  And some may have forgone a particular career to dedicate their lives to their loved ones.  Their success is expressed in a different way.

In a similar sort of way, throughout the year we remember famous saints… Mother Theresa, St. Francis, Pope John Paul II, Mary McKillop, St James, St Claire, Bishop Oscar Romero, and many more.  But today we acknowledge all saints, especially those who have no “Saint” title.   All those who are now with God.   And here the list is endless.

As we lift up our heart’s gaze to heaven, we call to mind all those who have gone before us, our older sisters and brothers in the faith.  They not only persevered in their faith, but also lived in a way that helped build the Kingdom of God.  Their memory brings joy to our heart.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation, written during a time of persecution, speaks of those who died a martyrs’ death. They come from every race and language, men and women, young and old, and they all stand before the heavenly throne of God.  They are described as people who in their faithfulness have washed their clothes in the blood of Christ (that is they have suffered and died giving witness), and so are with him in the resurrection.  To these are added modern day martyrs, and those who lived heroically, not necessarily shedding their blood, but also giving witness to Jesus Christ.  Present among them we will surely find people whom we knew, and they are all called blessed for they are now with God.

We may for a moment be tempted to believe that these people lived an easy-going life, bereft of problems.  That is far from the truth, for in reality, the saints are people like us.  They experienced pain and suffering, carried the cross, and struggled to live a life inspired by God’s word.  They have sought to love God and love their neighbour, whoever he or she may have been.  This is what makes them saints, and not…

  • Intelligence? No-one needs to be smart to be a saint, as the life of St. Joseph of Copertino (the priest who needed miracles to pass his theology exams) shows.
  • Good looks? Neither. Rita of Cascia is quite a well-known saint.  Her life-story tells us how she had a mystical vision of the passion of Jesus, and afterwards experienced a wound from Christ’s crown on her forehead.  It was not something beautiful to behold.   It was really her spiritual beauty that made a true impact on the people of Italy.
  • Great personality? Not even.  St Pio of Petralcina, of great spiritual renown, was known to be very temperamental, harsh and demanding.  Yet people, especially sinners, flocked to him.
  • Wealth or poverty? Neither way is necessary.  We find kings and beggars on the list of declared saints.

How do we therefore recognise a saint?  What is the mark of a saint?  The mark would be joy.  Joy, not giddiness or just laughter.  Joy, even in the midst of suffering.  It is the joy of blessedness, of which Jesus speaks in today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew… the beatitudes.

Jesus is calling “blessed” those people whom the world may call “pitiful” or “unfortunate”.  The world around us sends us the message that it is neither romantic nor blessed to be poor, mournful, gentle, meek, mistreated, hungry for justice, merciful, pure in heart, or persecuted.  They don’t get you in good places.  So, what is Jesus talking about?  The answer comes slowly with each second part of every sentence… you will be comforted, you shall be satisfied, you shall receive mercy, you shall see God, you will be called sons (and daughters) of God, the Kingdom of Heaven itself will be yours!  He concludes…  “Rejoice and be glad” all of you, who suffer all this “on my account…, for your reward is great in heaven”.

Jesus is presenting us, his disciples, with a vision that goes beyond what we experience here on earth.  It is a future blessedness that God has in prepared for those who live the values of the Kingdom.  But that is not all.   He goes as far to say that such blessedness is not just reserved for us in heaven.  It is a blessedness that we experience here on earth as well.  The connection is there for us to see.     It is the blessedness of the sons and daughters of God.   It is the blessedness that brings joy.

It is the joy of blessedness that a disciple feels when she is acting with love, mercy and forgiveness towards others, even if she has been treated wrongly.  It is the joy of blessedness that a disciple experiences in his heart when he uses his material goods to do what is right and proper, when he refrains from taking advantage of others and is willing to take a step to favour those who are vulnerable.  Both disciples are already blessed.  This is the blessedness we are all called for, and which finds fulfilment in the world to come

Today we have an opportunity to remember our beloved deceased.  They may not be declared saints, but, having lived a life which is consonant with the values of the gospel, even if at times, being human, they failed, they are with God.   We are invited to reflect on their lives, and emulate their love of God and neighbour.  May God grant them eternal rest, and the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

If you have found this homily spiritually uplifting, encouraging and/or challenging, please send me your reflection on [email protected].  I would love to hear what the Spirit inspires you with.  God bless you.

 

Fr Silvio

Read More →

Year A – 29th Sunday in OT.  Mission Sunday.  18th October 2020

Here I am Lord, Send me!

Isa 45:1, 4-6; Ps 95(96):1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thes 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21.  Link to readings

 

The words from the prophet Isaiah “Here I am Lord, send me!” echo today as we celebrate Mission Sunday.   We also hear Jesus’ words from the gospel reading: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”  We are hearing both in the present context of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Is there a connection?

The Pharisees and the Herodians (usually opposed to each other) asked Jesus a question with the intent of getting him into trouble with either civic or religious, or both authorities: “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”   It was a question that Jesus could not ignore, probably because it had implications on the life and behaviour of people back then, and also on people today.  As Christians, we have, so to speak, a dual citizenship.  By birth we belong to a nation.  By baptism we belong to the everlasting Kingdom of God.  Some may think that we cannot belong to both.   Jesus believes that we can, as long as we know the difference, act responsibly and give each one its due.  Furthermore, being faithful to one, will make us better citizens of the other.

“Giving Caesar his due”, in our day and age, means being good citizens, giving our best to the advancement of our country and its people.  It is not just a question of paying our taxes (although that is included).  It also means taking good care of those closest to us, our families and dependents.  It means carrying out our duties at work, reaching out to others responsibly.  It means being attentive to the needs of those who are more vulnerable, those who are or could be in danger.  It means giving a voice to those who have no voice.  In this way, our duties to the country overlap with living as good Christians, responding to God’s love for us by showing love to others.  Pope Francis, in his latest encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, puts emphasis on this point through the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

As Christians, we also acknowledge the need to live in communion with God, in whose image and likeness we are created.  Jesus Christ showed us how to relate to God who loved us, and how to love Him by obeying his commandment of love.  So we do give God his due be responding to Him through prayer, through listening to His word, through discerning His will and committing ourselves to it, and through loving our neighbour as ourselves.  We see in our brothers and sisters His sons and daughters.

Such an outlook and commitment leads us to show greater respect towards our common home (the Earth).  It leads us to give witness to the sanctity and dignity of human life by celebrating life, and by opposing all forms of abuse directed towards the vulnerable, including the unborn and the aged, children, the sick, migrants and refugees, the marginalised, and all those living and working on the fringes of society.   To do so may bring us into conflict with certain aspects and exponents of our culture, like the throw-away culture and those who have made material wealth their god.  It becomes more important to hold on to our values, and to continue to give to God what belongs to God.  While showing greater love towards God, we will be upholding the human dignity of all.   That pleases God, who has shown us through Jesus Christ his love for humanity.

In a democratic society like ours, we are all called upon to support what is right and just, and to voice our concerns and withhold support where this is not the case.  While acknowledging that nobody is perfect, we strive towards the creation of a better society where everyone, whatever his or her background, has a place and a role to play. Such an outlook becomes another a point of encounter, an overlap, between what we give to Caesar (that is society) and what we give to God.

We are today celebrating World Mission Sunday with the theme “Here am I, send me” (Isa 6:8).  In his message, Pope Francis reminds us that in the present international crisis brought about by COVID-19, the Lord continues to ask: “Whom shall I send?”  As we touch our frailty, suffering and death, we are challenged to believe in our deep desire for life and liberation from evil.   It is an “invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbour”.

In these circumstances, we remember all those who have lost their lives to the pandemic.  We acknowledge all those who have given their lives, grieved for lost loved ones, and suffered the pain caused by the pandemic.  We turn our eyes to Jesus, who accomplished his mission by dying on the cross.  He is the Father’s Missionary, says Pope Francis.  The church, the Christian community, continues the mission of Jesus in the world by sending out its members to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel.   Through them, God continues to touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures, and show them his love.

An invitation to mission is addressed to and heard by any Christian who has a personal relationship with Jesus.  Whoever that person is, prompted by the Holy Spirit, he or she would be willing to give witness to the faith, and like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, be at the service of God’s will.

The pandemic has challenged us to reflect upon and try to understand what God is telling us.    People have died abandoned and alone.  Breadwinners have lost their jobs.  Social distancing kept us away from each other.  Churches were closed.    Maybe that is telling us more forcefully that we do need each other, and that it is together that we journey towards God.

God poses a challenging question: Whom shall I send?   He awaits a generous response:  Here I am, send me!  Let us pray and reflect… Lord, whom do you want me to encounter today? Whom do you want me to give witness to?  Whom do you want me to love?  The Spirit of God will show the way to those whose hearts and minds are open.

 

 

 

If you have found this homily spiritually uplifting, encouraging and/or challenging, please send me your reflection on [email protected].  I would love to hear what the Spirit inspires you with.  God bless you.

 

Fr Silvio

 

Read More →

Year A: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. (4th October 2020)

The Lord’s Vineyard

Isa 5:1-7; Ps 79(80):9, 12-16, 19-20; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

 

Most probably, the year 2020 will be forever etched into our minds as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We will forever remember the hardships suffered, especially by those who have lost their lives, or lost loved ones.  On the other hand, one of the unexpected positives of the pandemic has been the bringing together of family, and the joy of an evening spent watching a movie while sipping some good wine.  Surely such an evening brings joy to an otherwise stressful or anxious day.

Today’s readings take up vineyards, vines and wines to convey two very important messages related to the way God behaves with and on behalf of His people, and the manner in which they reply, or rather, should reply.

It seems from the first reading that one of prophet Isaiah’s friends planted a state-of-the-art vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He cleared it of stones, built a rubble wall all around it, and a watchtower to guard it. An on-site wine-press ensured the immediate pressing of the grapes, fruit of the choicest of vines.  But he was deeply disappointed, for it only yielded sour grapes.

Isaiah reflected and noted that his friend’s experience was actually an allegory of God’s experience with His people, God’s vineyard. God had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard.  The people had received from God love and protection.   Quite justly, as one would expect from a good investment, He expected a good return.  Unfortunately, His project turned sour, because the vintners entrusted with the cultivation of the vines, abandoned their vines.  The leaders of the people, both civil and religious, who were responsible for the fostering of justice and peace, lost their sense of justice and integrity.  They delivered violence and bloodshed.  Instead of joy and laughter, cries of distress were to be heard because social justice was abandoned, violence was used against the vulnerable, and advantage was taken of the poor.

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we find Jesus again speaking of the vineyard which is the people of Israel, and again lamenting the maliciousness of the vintners, who represent the religious leaders of the people.  They had traditionally resisted the prophets sent by God.  And now they were resisting Him, the Son.

In the parable, Jesus invites them to consider the great personal and professional opportunity the landowner of the vineyard gave to his tenants.  In his generosity, he granted them a lucrative business in an excellent location, an abundant clientele, a favourable lease, and the enviable job of making people happy through the production of wine.   Through it they could have enjoyed a very good quality of life.  In return he asked for a share in the production.

But the tenants did not like the sharing.  They wanted to hold on to the entire produce, carrying out whatever was to their liking.  So they beat up, and even killed the people who were sent to collect the owner’s less-than-fair share.  He, on the other hand, kept showing them kindness and giving them the opportunity to repent of their sinfulness.  Finally, he sent them his own son, the heir, believing that they would show him due respect.

But, as is often the case with sinful people who are totally bent on evil, they considered this visit as an opportunity to consolidate their theft of the vineyard.  So they killed him.  “The landowner will not bother us any more”, they said to themselves in their twisted logic.

Jesus ends the parable by asking the chief priests and the elders to pronounce judgement on these tenants.  They condemned them, and suggested that the landowner grant the lease to other tenants who were more faithful.  They were in fact condemning themselves.

Laying bare their inner thoughts and motivations, Jesus taught the chief priests and elders an important lesson:  The people of God is exactly that: the people OF GOD, not theirs.  They were entrusted with religious leadership to lead the people to God, not to monopolize it for themselves.  They were duty bound, as all are, to listen to the word of God, let it be their joy, and share it with others.  Where necessary, and this was becoming very evident, they needed to amend their ways.

Jesus knew that they had no intention of doing so, and they were bent upon rejecting him too.  And that’s where he refers to the stone rejected by the builders: it would become the keystone, or the cornerstone of the new building, holding it together.  The crucified and risen Jesus is this cornerstone, made so by God, to hold together the new people of God.  We are part of it.

It is very tempting, and quite easy, to point our fingers at the Jewish chief priests and the elders, and to forget that we, living in this day and age, have a responsibility as well.  Calling us to form part of his church community, Jesus is granting us a great opportunity to live in his peace and joy.  In today’s second reading, St. Paul (Phil 4:6) tells us that He is also calling us to be united to Him in prayer and thanksgiving, and to bear fruit by reaching out to others, so that our joy in the Lord may be shared, and others may be led to encounter Him.

Paul ends his letter to the Philippians with the following words:

“Finally, brothers (and sisters), fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:7)

Serving Him with gratitude and humility, and living in this way brings peace and joy to us and those whom we know and love.  It brings joy to God Himself.   It makes us worthy tenants of His vineyard.

 

Fr Silvio

Read More →

Year A: 25th Sunday in OT– (20th September 2020) 

The Wonderful Generosity of God. 

Isa 55:6-9; Ps 144(145):2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Phil 1:20-24, 27; Mt 20:1-16

In his classic novel Les Miserables, Victor Hugo recounts the story of the convict Jean Valjean.  Upon his release from prison, he sleeps on the streets, angry and bitter.  A benevolent Bishop Myriel gives him shelter, but Jean runs off with his silver.  When the police capture Valjean, the bishop says that he had given the silverware to him, and presses him to take another two silver candlesticks he had “forgotten” to take with him. Valjean never expected that.   Myriel tells him that he should use the money to make an honest man of himself.  His life had been spared for God.  The generosity of the bishop brought about a change in him.

Today’s readings speak to us of the magnanimity and the generosity of God.   In straightforward words, the prophet Isaiah tell us that God’s way are not human ways… “my thoughts are not your thoughts”.   A closer look at the first reading reveals an invitation encouraging the sinful and the wicked to abandon their evil ways and turn back to God.  The prophet counters the belief that they have sunk too low, and are too far removed from God to be reconciled to him.   It is inconceivable that God could have anything to do with me, they say.   They are resigned to their fate, thinking: the Lord will not forgive me.    But no, says the prophet, “our God is rich in forgiving”, his thoughts are not human thoughts. They are as far removed from our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth.

These words are very encouraging.   We may not be evil or wicked, but, in our striving to lead good lives, we are aware of our failings and our frequent falls.  We may be tempted to believe that our sins will lead God to shun us, to give up on us.  That is what people usually do, and we project our and other people’s thoughts onto God.  That is when we need to believe in the words of the prophet.

Jesus has more to say about this in today’s Gospel reading.   In the context of his proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, He recounts the parable of the generous landowner. Through it, he describes how God relates to his people, and how they are to relate to each other.   What he says may have come as a surprise to his listeners back then, as much as to us, listeners of today.

The landowner’s actions remind us of the surprisingly risky decision of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to search for the single lost sheep.  That is not the human, normal, conventional way of doing things!  But God’s ways are not our ways.  The equal payment to the day labourers may hint on injustice.  Is Jesus calling for injustice?  Surely not.  Injustice goes contrary to the values of the kingdom.  So what is he calling for?

Jesus speaks of this landowner who hires day labourers, as was normal employment in the Palestine of His time.  It seems that those he hired early in the morning were not in a position to finish the work on their own, so he hires more, at different times of the day.  When evening came, the labourers expected payment, and they received the stipulated wage, one denarius.  Those hired first noticed that those who were hired late in the day received the same amount.  They considered that as being unjust.   “We have worked hard all day”, they told the landowner, “and it is only just that we should receive more”.    The landowner points out that he gave them, early-morning labourers, their just wage.  So really, they should not complain.   He was being just with them.   But he also wanted to be generous with the others, knowing that if they did not receive a day’s wage, their family would go hungry that night.   So, out of what we would today call social justice, he decides to pay them a living wage.    He not only employs them towards the end of the day – that would be generous enough.  He also pays them for a full day’s work, and that is extremely generous.

Christ, or God the Father Himself, is represented in this parable.  He is telling us that His generosity and care go far beyond our understanding.

  • Why else would he, in the parable, be willing to pay a full day’s wage for only a few hours’ work?
  • Why else would He gift us with life through creation, grant us redemption through the incarnation of His Son, and sanctify us through the power of the Holy Spirit?
  • Why else would He make us partakers, even if in a very small way, of His outreach to all his loved ones?
  • Why else would he invite us to commit our lives to show compassion, be kind and merciful, forgive and love those around us?
  • Why else would He promise us eternal life with Him?

…except for the fact that He is generous.

Last Thursday, 17th of September, the Paulist Fathers (including Frs Jude, Mario, and myself), together with all lay people who share the missionary charism of Msgr Joseph DePiro, our founder, celebrated the 87th anniversary of the death of the same Joseph DePiro.  Joseph, of noble birth, was known  to be a very kind and caring person, and among his many responsibilities, he cared for many poor and orphan children, giving them food, clothing and shelter.  His six orphanages were full to capacity.  One day, a poor mother brought two young boys to one orphanage and asked for them to be cared for.  The brother in charge informed her that there were no more vacant beds, and so could not admit her children. She called upon Joseph, who, seeing her plight, welcomed the children, giving them his own bed.  “Never say no to Jesus who comes to knock at your door”, he used to say.  Such generosity and altruism can only come from a person who has a place for the extremely generous God in his own heart. God’s wonderful generosity works wonders in the hearts of those who love Him and his sisters and brothers.

The landowner of the parable gave real work to the labourers he hired.  Then He rewarded them with great generosity.  At some point in our lives, he calls each and every one of us to work in His vineyard, that is the Church, the Christian community.  Whether young or old, women or men, highly intelligent or not, firm believers or not, whatever our ethnic background, circumstances and mission in life, He calls upon us to work in His vineyard, doing His bidding by ministering to others with love and generosity.  He does not conduct an interview, but simply invites us to “come as you are”, and says “go to my vineyard”.

There are many works to be done in the vineyard, but no specific job description.    Be it within the parish, at work, in the neighbourhood, among friends, or within the family, we are all called to make a true and real contribution to the building of His kingdom of love through our faithfulness and service.  May our generosity be a reflection of His own.  His wonderful generosity will be shown to all those who labour with generosity among His people.

 

Fr Silvio

Read More →

Year A, 22nd Sunday in OT: Taking up the Cross                29th August 2020

Jer 20:7-9; Ps 62(63):2-6, 8-9; Rm 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27;                             

 

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  This is what we heard Peter say last Sunday.  Today, we find Peter objecting to the thought that Jesus now needs to go to Jerusalem, and there suffer and die at the hands of religious and civil authorities.  Last week, Jesus praised him.  Today he tells him off: Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’  Can we blame Peter for thinking in a very human way?  Surely, we cannot.  But then, on the other hand, Jesus is calling upon him (and upon us) to look at things through His glasses.

Talking of glasses, some of us might have read Douglas Adam’s science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The author encourages the Galactic hitchhiker to use the peril-sensitive sunglasses.  The greater the danger, the darker they grow, finally blinding the wearer if he/she is doomed.

Today’s first reading takes us to the prophet Jeremiah, and the ridicule and anguish he is suffering because his message, actually God’s message, is rejected by the people.  The people wanted positive messages, and all he could give them were messages of violence and pain.  He found himself in quite a fix.   He attempts to resist his prophetic duty by remaining silent, but this brings about the sensation of a more painful fire burning within his heart.  So he turns to the Lord and complains: “you have seduced me, Lord”.  The prophetic vocation may be very demanding indeed, because it is the prophet’s mission to point out to blinded people the painful truth about their errors and what they need to do to get back on the right path leading to God.

The Gospel then takes us through the anguish of Peter and Jesus.  Following his statement about the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, Peter’s insight is commended by Jesus as coming from God the Father himself.  It is this that makes him such a happy man, a man to be trusted to be the rock of the new community of faithful people.   Jesus then announces that he needs to go to Jerusalem, and there he will suffer and die.  Peter, very understandably, objects to this.  “God forbid, Lord; this must not happen to you.”  That is where he gets rebuked.  He is called “Satan” by Jesus, and told to get behind him, out of his sight!   He is an obstacle to Jesus’ path.  Peter’s way of thinking is not God’s way, but the human way.   The other disciples must have thought the same as well, and  fell silent.

Jesus must have felt the same tension and anguish that Jeremiah felt.  He did not have an easy task.  The mission given to him by God was a hard one indeed.    He was not immune to it.  Peter, even if unknowingly, was tempting Jesus in the same way the devil tempted him in the desert.  Back then, the devil proposed to Jesus an easy way to become the lord of the world: by worshipping him.  Jesus conquered his desert temptation, and sent the devil reeling.  Now he uses the same words to rebuke Peter, telling him “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me!”

Poor Peter!  One moment he is The Rock, and now he is The Stumbling Block!  One moment he is the recipient of divine revelation.  Next moment he is told that his mind is set on human things, not divine.  We cannot really blame him, can we?  Afterall, he wants to save Jesus from suffering and death.  What he did not realise was that in doing so he was putting Jesus’ mission in danger of failure.  Jesus would not allow himself to be deflected from the mission assigned to him by the Father.

That’s when Jesus felt the need to explain something very important to all his disciples, including us.  If you want to follow me, he tells them (and us), you need to take up your cross and follow me.  You need to lose your life, and in so doing, find it. This is the path I am taking, and if you want to follow me, you need to embrace the same path.

Jesus’ path was a difficult one, and he was tempted to shun it, to let go of it.  But he did not.  Taking up the cross and following Jesus was difficult for Peter, for his disciples back then, and for us, his present-day disciples.  As we go about our daily life and struggles, sometimes we do feel the need to vent out our humiliations, frustrations, sadness, and fear like Jeremiah, or to remonstrate with Jesus, like Peter did.  Their words echo in our hearts, as we deal with our own weaknesses and failings, with  unappreciative, unforgiving, selfish and self-centred difficult people, with some aspects of family life, with work-related stress, with COVID-19 anxiety, and much more.

Today we are celebrating Social Justice Sunday.  It is a reminder that there are people around us who are suffering injustice and exclusion.  If the unfortunate reality of injustice does not cause us to worry, then we are shunning, not embracing the cross.   This year’s statement focuses on the issue of mental health.  “People living with mental ill-health are part of the Body of Christ – ‘us’ and not ‘them’ – and share equally in Jesus’ promise of the fullness of life (Jn 10:10), Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta says in his address.  As a Christian community, we need commit ourselves so that  our parishes, organisations and communities can be places of acceptance, care and healing, not places of rejection, judgment or stigma.  That’s taking up the cross, and carrying it.

We are very much aware of our weaknesses and failings.  Sometimes the cross appears to be too heavy, and we are tempted to shun it or to reject its very existence, believing that by doing so we can lead a life of lasting happiness.  Experience shows otherwise.  The cross is very much a part of all human life.  If we shun it,  it will chase us.  If we embrace it as Jesus did, losing our life in the process, we know that we are finding life.  “For anyone,” says Jesus “who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus encourages us to put on His glasses, not the glasses of the above-mentioned Galactic Hitchhiker. These latter ones only blind the wearer to the coming doom.  They do not save him from danger.    Jesus’ glasses open up a new reality to the wearer.  It is the reality of finding life when one loses it.

 

Like Peter we may have missed the last few words of Jesus when he announced his forthcoming death:  “and to be raised up on the third day”.  The resurrection is, in fact, the last word.  May we remember that it is the last word that lasts forever!

 

 

Fr Silvio

 

 

 

 

Read More →

Year A, 20th Sunday in OT:   – Praying with love, faith, and humility

Isa 56:1, 6-7; Ps 66(67):2-3, 5-6, 8; Rm 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28.

Was she stubborn or determined?  Today’s gospel reading from St. Matthew speaks to us of the tense, and later heart-warming encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite (that is, not Jewish) woman.   Leaving no stone unturned, she comes to him pleading for her daughter who is sick, believing that he can cure her.  She does not take “no” for an answer.  Jesus appears as the one who changes his mind, and finally says yes, for very valid reasons.

To understand better what was happening, we need to go back to the first reading from Isaiah.  After Babylonian captivity, the Israelites were given permission to return home.  There they found that other people had moved in, and now they needed to live as neighbours.  It was not a very happy situation!  Isaiah, who knew that for the Israelites the temple was what gave them identity, envisioned a situation where God would be calling everyone, both Israelite and foreigner, to pray in the temple together.  It was an inclusivity they could hardly imagine.

The gospel refers to Jesus travelling to that same area (of Tyre and Sidon).  He crosses over to gentile (foreign) territory.  Why did he go there, if not to show that he could cross physical and religious barriers?  The barriers that separated the “holy people” of Israel from the “unclean” gentiles needed to be broken down to allow all peoples to come to know Him.  Practicing greater inclusivity was not going to be easy, as the episode of the Canaanite woman shows.

Addressing Jesus as the Son of David, the woman asks for His help to free her daughter from the devil’s torment.  At first he does not respond.  Then, when he does, it is to tell his disciples that he came to call the lost sheep of Israel, and to tell her that it is not fitting to throw children’s food to the house-dogs.  In reply, the woman, a mother who knows what really happens during lunch time, says that house-dogs do help themselves to what falls from the table.

During the encounter, Jesus is first depicted as acting coldly towards a desperate person.  He explained that his mission, up to that point, was to reach out to the lost sheep of Israel.  In this, he was fulfilling Old Testament prophesies.  Such a mission did not include people of other faiths, least of all Canaanites, who were considered to be ancestral enemies of the Israelites.

But then, Jesus breaks down the barriers of separation.  Leaving behind his initial mission of reaching out to the lost sheep, he reached out to people who professed other faiths.   What made Jesus have a change of heart?  It was probably because this woman touched his heart.  If we truly believe that God is not just a force (as in “the force be with you” of Star Wars fame), but a person (in whose image we are created), then we believe that what we say, or pray, to him does make a difference.

As a mother, the woman showed great love for her daughter.  It was a love that made her forget herself.   She thought nothing of making a spectacle out of herself by tagging along behind this Jewish rabbi in public and screaming to get his attention.

She was a woman of faith, calling Jesus Son of David.  Although of Canaanite origin, she must have been familiar with the history and beliefs of the Jews amongst whom she lived.  She believed that God had promised to send the Messiah.  As far as she was concerned, Jesus was Him!  When He finally called her, she knelt at his feet, calling him “Lord” with a request to help her by doing something which was nothing short of a miracle… to release her daughter from the demons.  Her faith is commended by Jesus himself.  “Woman, you have great faith”, he tells her.  And her daughter was saved.

The woman’s actions showed great humility.  She did not harbour or express any anger at God for bringing about, or allowing her daughter to be tormented by the devil.  That’s a far cry from other people’s tendency to reject God because He does not do things their way.  In humility she pleads with Him.  “Help me”, she says, knowing that she has no right to command him to work a miracle, but trusting in his capacity to do so.

The woman’s love, faith and humility touched Jesus’ heart, and He responded positively to her request.  From that moment, her daughter was well again.

 

The story is told of the 14-year old St. Therese of Lisieux, who, with her sister Celine, heard of the upcoming execution of a notorious criminal.  The story made headlines, as he was involved in numerous crimes, and was defiant and unrepentant.   Therese and Celine decided to pray insistently for his repentance, and with genuine boldness asked God to also give them some sign of his repentance.  Up to the day of his execution, even as he was strapped to the guillotine, he refused to see a priest and make reconciliation with God.  Then, at the last minute, he called out for a cross.  As the priest held out the cross, the criminal kissed it three times, and died peacefully.   The sisters’ prayers led to his last-minute repentance, and a sign was also delivered to the girls.  Their insistent prayers for a guilty criminal had been answered with a resounding yes.

 

Sometimes were are tempted to think that God does not listen to, or answer our prayers, because He does not grant us what we ask for.  Such thinking does not stand well with our belief in a loving God, a perfect Father.  The truth is that all prayers, offered with real faith, love and humility, are always listened to and answered.  Sometimes with a “yes” and sometimes with a “no”.  And sometimes in unexpected ways.   Let us believe that God’s providence is always active, and what He grants, He grants with love.

Jesus allowed the Canaanite woman to change His plans.  He surely had her and many others in mind when a couple of years later he missioned his apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).   Sometimes, we too may be asked to change our plans to help someone in need.   May we be flexible enough to give space to others’ needs, and in so doing follow Jesus’ example.  He, who never turns his ears from listening to the cries of our heart, encourages us never to turn a deaf ear to our neighbours’ very often hidden cries for help and support.

May we always pray with love, faith and humility, and let God answer us in His own way.  He always does, with love.

 

Fr Silvio

 

Read More →
Exemple

Greetings parishioners and friends of St James the Apostle, as we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Today’s feast is very significant to us Paulist Missionaries as our founder, Joseph De Piro chose Mary of the Assumption as a special protectress to the Missionary Society of St Paul.

Many of the images for the Assumption, I have often found to be too sentimental and over the top. But there is something about this image, that drew me in – maybe the slightly tattered world-weary look of the crown, with a chipped edge, is what did it for me.

It is almost as if Christ is welcoming Mary home, after a hard journey on this earth. The small and gentle ‘crown tip’ to Mary that might say, ‘you are home now. All is well.’

What is that in his hand? – a gift of heavenly iPad maybe (love the jacket cover), just to keep in touch with what is going on down below. Or is it a book of poetry, he wrote just for her …. I hope God writes poetry.

The feast of the Assumption of Mary, honours the joyful departure of God’s mother. We celebrate her going to sleep, recognising her as the mother of Jesus. It is the journey of Mary which began at the Annunciation that encourages us to remember that where Mary has gone, we too are called to follow.

So, what can this feast of Mary’s Assumption say to us today, with our lives and struggles, especially during this time of COVID? Life can be very challenging at times; there are some things that cannot be escaped. As I reflect on my own life journey, I will attempt to offer some answers to this question.

There were moments in my life when feelings of failure clung to me for years, and at times even paralysed me. At the age of fourteen, at a time when I needed my father most, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a few months later in Germany, where he had to go for special treatment. I felt lost and confused. His death weighed heavily on my heart as I tried to find purpose and meaning in life. All my dreams and hopes seemed to be shattered. As I grew older, I came to realise that life was not what I expected it to be, here and now. I started to focus my attention on being recognised by my peers, my teachers, and my family. I started to dream about future studies, a career, an ideal job, money and success. Soon I realised that I was being chained down by these ambitious dreams.

In time I came to realise that this was not where I could find true joy that would sustain me in life. It is when I felt strong enough to let go of these empty dreams, that I could become free and start living life again.

Reflecting on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I discovered a person who grew out of her many losses and failures, who was ready to give up all her dreams and hopes and was not chained by her dreams to the point of death. Mary was able to rise above her disappointments and become fully human and fully alive. Mary of Nazareth is the model of all our losses in life; the mother of hope, in the midst of despair; the woman of courage.

In her assumption, God lifted Mary far above the loves, goals and gains of those who have never really encountered and surrendered to Christ for what he really was, because they were totally absorbed in themselves. Mary of the Assumption teaches us to keep our eyes on the things of heaven, to free ourselves from the chains of anything lesser, to develop a vision, larger than ourselves, and outside of ourselves, and to allow ourselves to be lifted up to reach out to others. Mary is a sign of what we can become if we are willing to let go of what we have planned for ourselves, and lift our hearts to higher things. The prayer at the heart of this great feast is Mary, woman of freedom, be with us as we struggle with whatever it is that is holding us down again.

Fr Jude Pirotta mssp

Read More →

WALKING ON WATER

I think most of us would be happy to describe our lives as they unfold over weeks, months, and years as a journey. From the day we are born—though we can’t remember anything of that—we are being shaped by all the experiences that come our way, some happy, some painful; sometimes with a strong sense of purpose and direction, sometimes feeling we are floundering around, not getting anywhere in particular.

Those of us who have the privilege of being believers know that our journey through life has a beginning and an end beyond what we can presently see and feel. At the Last Supper, on the night before he died, Jesus made a magnificent statement to his disciples:

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (John 16:28).

Though Jesus said that about himself, there is a sense in which it is true of every human life seen from the perspective of faith. Each one of us has come from God and each one of us is going to God. Pope Francis, citing his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way:

We were conceived in the heart of God and for this reason ‘each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary’ (Laudato Sí 65).

As people of faith our lives may not seem all that different from the lives of others who do not share our beliefs. But what we are trying to do as a community of believers, when we come together for Mass each Sunday, is keep in mind that deeper story of our life that has a beginning and an end—though it is hardly an end but rather a new beginning of life—in God.

We are trying to deepen the sense that accompanying our journey through life is a journey of faith, which is not something quite separate from our journey of life but rather its deepest meaning.

These two journeys—our life journey and our faith journey—are in dialogue and interaction with each other throughout our lives. When we are young, we may take what we are taught about our faith in a very accepting and simple way—even though there are many aspects that we may not understand. As our life journey proceeds, especially as we enter that questioning stage of adolescence and young adulthood, our understanding of the faith will have to grow if we are not to slough it off as we discard old clothes when we grow out of them—through age or putting on more weight!

Wider experience of life, especially painful experiences—loss, sudden death of family members and friends—will severely test our faith in the power and goodness of God, and sometimes seem to blow it out of the water entirely.

We may give up on God. What we do know is that God never gives up on us. And God takes a long range view of our lives and is patient with our failures and sins far beyond anything we can hope or imagine.

I think we can see Peter’s walking on the water as described in the Gospel today as something like the journey of faith that we all have to make. I’ve never quite made up my mind on what it was that prompted Peter to want to leave the safety of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. Clearly, there was a bit of bravado as well as spontaneity in his character. I bet the other apostles said, “There he goes again!” But that might be being a bit unfair. Surely, it was also love and faith that made him want to join Jesus.

For a while Peter’s journey across the stormy water went well. But then he made a bad, near fatal, mistake. He took his eyes off Jesus and focused only on the wind and the waves, at which point he began to sink. When he cried out in panic and fear, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus put out his hand at once and held him.

Can we imagine what it was like for Peter to feel that strong hand of Jesus holding him up out of the water and bringing him back to the boat? And Jesus’ gentle chiding, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Our own journey of faith towards Jesus probably has many moments that are rather like the journey of Peter across the water: times when we feel the force of the wind and waves, and are tempted to concentrate on those—whatever shape they may take in our lives—rather than towards Jesus; times when our faith seems “little” and doubts swamp over us—sometimes big doubts, sometimes just little waves of doubt that niggle at us and crush our spirit.

Jesus is always there to put out his hand and catch us, as he caught Peter. That is surely one message we should draw from our Gospel today.

And, when Jesus and Peter come back to the boat, we’re told that all the apostles fell down and worshipped him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God”. The whole experience had led them to know more deeply the divine presence in the human Jesus that they had come to know so well.

In the dialogue between our life journey and our journey of faith that goes on continually in our lives it is perhaps through the challenges and difficulties that we come to know God more clearly—not as someone remote and mysterious watching us from afar but more like what Peter experienced when he felt the strong, loving hand of Jesus lifting him up from the sea and walking with him back to the boat and a new sense of life.

The First Reading tells a similar—and wonderful—story about the prophet Elijah. But perhaps we should leave that for another day.

Brendan Byrne, SJ
8 August, 2020.

Read More →
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!