Fr Patrick’s Reflections of the daily readings
Thursday 14th Week Ordinary Time
Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 / Matthew 10:7-15
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends forth the apostles to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Jesus is himself the very embodiment of the kingdom. When Jesus preaches about the ‘Kingdom of heaven,’ he often uses images based on planting, growing, harvesting. What you plant is important. You reap what you sow. You get what you planted. What I decide to do today will have an impact on the future.
The kingdom is like a small mustard seed which grows to an enormous size…
The kingdom is like a farmer, who sows seed on different kinds of soils…
The kingdom is like a farmer who finds weeds among his wheat…
The apostles of Jesus are sent to proclaim the good news, which teaches us how to live the kingdom here and now. We too are called to proclaim the kingdom of God by our words, actions and lifestyle. The kingdom is not a place. The kingdom of God happens wherever people decide to do God’s will on earth, ‘as it is in heaven.’ The kingdom begins to happen wherever life is cherished as a precious gift, wherever a culture of life is promoted over culture of death. The kingdom begins to happen wherever the truth is spoken, wherever love is chosen over hate, wherever justice is embraced. Through these kingdom images, Christians are called to do the right thing right now, realising that the harvest – the result – may not become evident for years and years. Farmers planted corn and soybeans weeks ago – the harvest will come later in the summer.
We, who participate in the kingdom, are called to do what is true, what is loving, what is just, TODAY… even if no one notices, even if we don’t see immediate results, even if we are not sure how our decision today will impact the future. The Lord asks us to plant the seed of goodness wherever we go, whatever we do… trusting that the harvest, the future, is in God’s hands. The good decisions I make today, may bring a rich harvest to someone in the future. The bad decisions I make today, may bring suffering to someone in the future.
Right now, as a nation, we are struggling to deal with the bitter harvest of slavery and racial injustice. Centuries ago, there were people around the world – including right here in our own country – who believed that they had a right to own other human beings. That decision planted a destructive seed. The painful harvest continues to unfold.
As the industrial revolution happened, few paid attention to how human decisions would have an impact on our environment. Pollution became rampant. The destructive results of what was planted then continue to create a concern today. And yet, the Lord of the harvest tells us to keep planting in the kingdom. The Lord of the harvest calls on each of us to plant goodness, truth, justice, love, peace; right here, right now, today. Yes, in our culture, there have been some destructive things planted, but our Lord has not given us a spirit of cowardice. The Lord fills us with his spirit of courage.
We are called, like the apostles, to go out each day and do what is right, say what is right, stand for what is right. Every time we do that – even when no one else is looking – we are planting another seed in the kingdom. We are choosing to believe in a future full of hope. We are trusting that the seedling we put into God’s ground today, will grow with God’s help and become what God wants it to be.
The world – today, and tomorrow – needs love, life, goodness, kindness, justice, joy, forgiveness, peace.
Plant that seed today. Then stand back and watch as God helps it grow.
Wednesday 14th Week Ordinary Time
Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 / Matthew 10:1-7
Many years ago when I was young, I was travelling in car with my dad, and later on in our journey, I noticed several large birds circling slowly over a spot in a field.
Even from a distance, I could tell that these birds were big. So I asked, “What kind of bird is that?” , and my dad said, “Oh, that’s a vulture.” Then I asked, “Why are they circling around the same spot?” My dad said, “Something must be dying in the field, and once it dies, the vultures will eat it.” From that day forward, if I saw vultures circling in the air, I knew it was a sign that something was dying.
Since Monday from our first readings, we have been listening to prophet Hosea. His prophecy comes from one of the most difficult times in the life of ancient Israel. In a period of 14 years in the 8th century BC, Israel had 7 kings. There were assassinations, a disastrous foreign war, and ultimately the whole northern part of the kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians.
This political mess was reflected in the religious life of the nation. Leaders in the north created an idol in the shape of a calf. Foreign gods were worshipped. Idolatry was rampant. The people were not faithful to God. Yet the people of Israel kept telling themselves, “Yes, things are a mess, but don’t worry, God is on our side. We’re the chosen people!”
Even though we don’t hear it in today’s reading, the very first verse of Chapter 8 is crucial. Here is what it says:
“Put the trumpet to your lips. One like an eagle is over the house of the Lord, because they… have rebelled against my law.” Notice, verse one begins: “Put a trumpet to your lips.” Which is another way of saying, “Sound the alarm! Turn on the warning sirens!” In the ancient world, if a disaster was approaching, you blew the trumpet in the city to get people’s attention. And then verse one says: “One like an eagle is over the house of the Lord.” But the original Hebrew really says: “One like a vulture is (hovering) over the house of the Lord.”
A vulture, circling around the temple of Jerusalem, and the people of Israel. What does that mean? Something is dying, and the vulture is just waiting to swoop in on the carcass. Remember what I said a moment ago – the people of Israel had become unfaithful. They tolerated a political mess, they had allowed their faith to become a mess, and yet they kept telling themselves, that God would work it all out, since they were the chosen people.
But Hosea has a different message. Hosea reminds the people that God always loves them enough to tell them the truth. God had consistently told the people that if they were unfaithful, eventually the consequences of their choices would come crashing in on them. Their nation is dying.
God does not have to punish us from a far – if we keep making bad choices, the natural consequences of those choices will befall us. So we should not be surprised when our bad choices lead to bad outcomes – God has told is the truth! He has warned us, like a trumpet blowing in the city. We know it’s coming – the vulture is circling in the sky!
Speaking on God’s behalf, Hosea warns ancient Israel:
+ You have appointed kings without my approval
+ You have made idols out of silver and gold.
+ I gave you the Law, and you ignored it.
‘If you sow the wind,’ Hosea says, ‘you will reap the whirlwind.’ In other words, if you plant bad seed, you will get a bad harvest. If you keep doing evil, evil will befall you.
During WWII, Germany carried out extensive air raids in England. The British developed a warning system using human spotters and primitive radar. If they saw that German aircraft were coming, loud air raid sirens would sound all over the city. The citizens were warned. And why? Because, with that warning, they had some time to get to shelter. When they heard the horns and sirens, they knew that they needed to rush to the shelters, where they would be safe. The warning gave them time to reach safety.
God spoke through Hosea, because God was giving his people a warning. God wanted the people to seek shelter, to find safety, to listen to the trumpet, and change their ways. God had not given up on them. God told them the truth. God gave the warning. ‘We will reap what we sow.’ But even though ancient Israel had created a mess, God was still giving them a chance. A chance to come back to him. To come home to him. To be faithful to him. They had made bad choices, but they could still make the best choice – to be faithful to the living God.
The vultures could still leave with empty bellies, if God’s people would turn away from sin, and return to him. You and I – we – still have time to make the same choice.
Jesus came and told us the truth. In him, we find our shelter.
Tuesday 14th Week Ordinary Time.
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 / Matt 9:32-38 0
We read in today’s Gospel, Jesus was teaching in synagogues, he was proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and he was healing all kinds of diseases and sickness.
The Pharisees saw Jesus as one who was in league with all the powers of evil. They did not deny his wondrous powers; but they attributed them to his complicity with the prince of the devils.
This verdict of the Pharisees was due to certain attitudes of mind. They were too set in their ways to change. As we have seen, so far as they were concerned, not one word could be added or subtracted from the Law. To them, all the great things belonged to the past. To them, to change a tradition or a convention was deadly sin. Anything that was new was wrong, and when Jesus came with a new interpretation of what real religion was, they hated him, as they had hated the prophets long ago. The Pharisees were so well satisfied with themselves, that they saw no need to change. They hated anyone who wished to change them. Their eyes were so blinded by their own ideas, that they could not see in Jesus Christ the truth and the power of God.
Jesus was teacher. We Christians must teach Christianity, not by talking about it, but by living it. It is not the Christian’s duty to discuss Christianity with others, so much as it is to show them what Christianity is. Our duty is not to just to talk to people about Jesus Christ, but to show Christ to them.
A saint has been defined as someone in whom Christ lives again. Every Christian must be a teacher, and must teach others what Christianity is, not by our words, but our life.
Jesus was a healer. The Gospel which Jesus brought, did not stop at words; it was translated into deeds. If we read through the Gospels, we will see that Jesus spent far more time healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, and comforting the sorrowing, than he did merely talking about God. He turned the words of Christianity’s truth, into the deeds of Christian love. We are not truly Christian, until our Christian belief issues in Christian action. The priest would have said that religion consists of sacrifice; the Scribe would have said that religion consist of Law; but Jesus Christ said that religion consists of love. True love means saying and doing what is best for people.
Jesus, in today’s gospel, expresses concern over the crowds that followed Him. He says, “His heart was moved with pity for them for they were troubled and abandoned, like a sheep without a shepherd,” (v. 36). He sees them like a sheep without a shepherd because they are helpless, troubled and abandoned.
Jesus was moved to compassion by the world’s pain.
Jesus was moved with compassion for the sick.
Jesus was moved to compassion by world’s sorrow.
Jesus was moved to compassion by the world’s loneliness.
Jesus was moved to compassion by the world’s hunger.
As followers of Christ, the plight of any human being cannot be a matter of indifference. We must especially be concerned for those who are far away from God. It is our turn to step up and help those who are lost and wandering. Little everyday acts of kindness, can make such a difference in someone’s life.
It is our turn to do something to help people feeling troubled and abandoned. We may not be able to solve all their problems, but that feeling of connection, and a feeling that someone cares, can offer renewed hope. Those acts of reaching out, strengthen our own bonds of community. We are not abandoned.
We must always remember that Christianity exists, not to discourage, but to encourage. Not to weigh people down with burdens, but to lift them up with wings.
Monday 14th Week Ordinary Time
Hosea 2:16-18, 21-22 Matt 9:18-26
Throughout this week we will be reading from another prophet – Prophet Hosea. Hosea was from Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and began his prophet career in the last years of King Jeroboam II. Hosea’s name means Salvation. He was a man of great feeling and could go from anger to extreme tenderness.
Hosea was told by God, to go and marry a certain woman whose name was Gomer, a prostitute from the town. He does so, and they have three children. Hosea suffers heartache and humiliation through this relationship, as she leaves him and returns to the streets. Gomer does nothing to deserve the love of Hosea. She is loved from the outset because of the promise and the covenant that Hosea makes. Hosea never gives up on her.
At the time of Hosea’s prophecy, King Jeroboam II was ruling over Israel. He was one of the worst kings in Israel’s history. He allowed idol worship and, as a result, many Israelites had forgotten the true God, and worshipped idols. The people grew cold and distant, and they no longer knew God intimately. But God didn’t forget Israel, even in their self-destruction. God sent Hosea to Israel, to admonish them of their idol worship, to repent its sins of apostasy, and to turn them again to the faith of their Fathers’ the true God.
Hosea’s personal experience of his difficult marriage, affected and deepened his teaching. His wife was guilty of adultery, and comes to symbolise the sinful Israel. And just as Hosea could not give up his wife in spite of her infidelity, so neither could God abandon Israel. Hosea uses marriage as an image of the covenant relationship between God and his people. When they forsake the covenant, they are like a spouse who commits adultery. But God never gives up on them. The Lord abounds in steadfast, forgiving love, always ready to take them back.
In fact, it was Hosea who began the tradition of describing the relations between God and Israel in terms of marriage, and this is taken up in the New Testament by Paul and John.
One of the most difficult sins for us to forgive, is that of betrayal. More so in a marriage, when this betrayal takes the form of unfaithfulness, and specifically adultery. Then it is even more difficult to forgive. Prophet Hosea suffered this experience of betrayal, but he used this experience to show what God is like to His unfaithful people. God is compassionate and forgiving, even when His people broke the covenant and worshipped idols. Hosea showed that God is forgiving, and He forgives so completely, that punishment can be changed to restoration and reconciliation.
We are loved, undeservedly. God wants to enter into our story, to remind us that he persists in seeking to win us over and make us his own. God has always loved us, and He loves us with an everlasting love. Even when we have sinned, God does not turn away from us but instead turns towards us with all His love.
You can break God’s heart, but you cannot break God’s love
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year
COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO LABOUR…
Zech 9:9-10 Rom 8:9, 11-13 Matt 11:25-30
In today’s Gospel passage we hear some of the most consoling and loveliest words in the entire New Testament: ‘’Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy my burden light.’’
At certain times we have all felt under pressure, stressed or stretched to our limits. Life can be very burdensome. There are all kinds of burdens – worry, responsibility, disappointments, hurts, bitterness, loneliness, failure, guilt, illness, bereavement, unemployment, poverty, a difficult relationship, addiction, etc. At some stage we have all felt overburdened by what life throws at us. At times like that, we all need a helping hand or an encouraging word. How a little sensitivity, or a word of appreciation, would help us make a very heavy burden, light. It makes the world of difference when people are recognised, and treated with kindness and respect. We need human support but we also need something more.
The Scribes and Pharisees lived a privileged existence. They had no understanding of what life was like for the ordinary people. With their emphasis on the exact observance of the Law, and their multiplication of rules and regulations, they placed an impossible burden on the people. They had little sympathy for those who found this burden too much to bear. Remember that by that time, well over 600 Commandments had been articulated to the people of God by the religious leaders. 600 rules and regulations that they have been told they had to follow to the letter. The religious leaders had given the impression, that if the people don’t follow all those 600 commandments to the letter, they fear God would be angry with them.
During the years he spent at Nazareth, Jesus lived among the ordinary people. For many of those years he lived the life of a working man. He knew at first-hand the struggles, difficulties and frustrations ordinary people had to endure. He was aware of the heavy burdens that life placed on their shoulders.
Consequently, he felt for the ordinary people, and wanted to lighten their burdens. People came to him from all quarters with their burdens of sickness and misery. All of them had their burdens lightened as a result of meeting Jesus. His mere presence could bring peace to an anguished soul. Jesus took on himself the burdens of so many, and he carried the burden with love. Only love can make a heavy burden seem light.
Religion should not make life more burdensome. If Jesus placed any burden on us at all, it was that of loving one another. But if we have love, that is no burden at all. He doesn’t take our burdens from us, but gives us the strength to carry them. While faith makes all things possible, love makes all things easy.
Jesus is telling us that; we will only get through life; we will only carry our burdens; we will only make progress if we realise, that he is walking right beside us. That he is carrying the burden with us, that he is wearing the yoke but I like to think that it’s a yoke built for two persons, and the risen Saviour is the one who wears the other part, carrying more than his share of the weight.
I know 57 years old man who appears to be in perfect physical health, but he just found out that cancer has grown through his body and there is no treatment which is going to cure him – heavy burden.
I know a couple who have been married 66 years. She is now in a care home facing death. He is facing life without the love of his life – heavy burden.
I talked to a friend last month, whose husband has left her for somebody else – heavy burden.
We watch the news and we have seen the effects of the pandemic on the health of people, people have lost their love ones, people have lost their jobs – heavy burden.
None of these burdens can be handled if we try to handle them alone. Perhaps that’s why Jesus says, ‘Come to us, come we will walk through it together. Come to me we will carry the weight together. Come to me and we will wear whatever yoke life brings together. Come to me and I will gently lead you to a place where you can find rest in the living God. Come to me, not only will I help you carry the burden, I will lead you to a church, a family, a community where others will wear the yoke with you, and walk beside you and give you peace.
‘’Learn from me, for I am gently and humble of heart.’’ Jesus is telling us to take him, his gift of divine love and life that he gives us daily, and share it all with others, especially with those who seem to lack hope and love.
There are two bodies of water in the Holy Land: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is beautiful, mainly because it receives water and it releases water into the Jordan River. The Dead Sea is ugly and lifeless, because it retains all the water that it receives. So with us. We all receive very much, especially from God, but only if we share what we have received will we be integrated, and whole beings.
Within the laughter and tears of life, sharing takes many forms. If someone has hurt you, sharing is forgiveness. If you are abrupt with people, sharing is being considerate. If you tend to others, sharing is reverence for the other.
We are called not only to find peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves, but also to live the kind of life through which others, too, may find God’s peace; God’s refreshing grace; and the joy of placing their lives in God’s hands.
Come to me, all who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you, says the lord
Wednesday 13th Week Ordinary Time Year A
Amos 5:14-15, 21-24 / Matthew 8:28-34
How we respond to people, depends very much on how much we know them or how much we understand them. Whenever we come across an angry person or a hostile person, we would surely want to avoid having any contact with them. In other words, anger and hostility are a frightening behaviour, and we will avoid people with such behaviour as if they have a contagious disease. But, if we know these people personally, then we may have a different response and a different point of view.
The two demoniacs in the gospel were not born demoniacs. For whatever reason, evil entered into them and made them demoniacs. Even the gospel described them as “creatures so fierce” that it seemed that they had lost their humanity. Christ’s mercy and compassion, refused to be confined to any place, to any people, or to any time. Jesus healed them and restored their humanity. He restored their pride and dignity.
The supreme tragedy of this story lies in its conclusion. Those who were looking after the pigs, ran back to the town and told what had happened. The result was that the people of the town asked Jesus to leave their territory at once.
Here is human selfishness at its worst. It did not matter to these people that two men, possessed by demons, had been cured, and it didn’t matter to them that the two men’s dignity and worth had been restored to them. All that mattered to them was that their pigs had perished. It is so often the case, that people in effect say, ‘’l don’t care what happens to anyone else, as long as my profits and my comfort and my ease are preserved.’’ We must have a care, that we too do not resent any helping of others which reduces our own privileges.
As Jesus liberated the two men from evil influences which were destroying their lives, we too need to ask Jesus, to liberate us from any evil influences, or addictions which enslave us, and prevent us from being the kind of persons he want us to be.
Jesus came to save our humanity and to restore our pride and dignity. He came to free us from the bondage of sin and evil, a bondage that is expressed in anger, hostility and selfishness. He saw through our crust of sin, He touched our humanity and restored our dignity with His love.
What Jesus has done for us, let us in turn do the same for others.
Tuesday 13th Week Ordinary Time Year A
Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12 Matt 8:23-27
CALM AMIDST THE STORM
“Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?
Life is unpredictable, and at times things happen to us without any warning. The coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example. No one saw it coming.
Think about the disciples. When they got into the boat and left the shore, everything was fine. Then, without warning, a violent storm came . . . caught them off guard . . . and it did not take too long for it to break right over the boat. It is easy to recognise ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, Jesus is asleep. What really shook up the disciples is what happened after they woke Jesus. They said “save us, Lord, we are going down.” Then Jesus said to them, ‘why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’. With that he rebuked the winds and the sea; and all was calm again.
Wherever Jesus is, the storms of life become calm. When the storms of doubt seek to uproot the very foundations of our faith, there is a steady safety in the presence of Jesus Christ. In every storm that shakes our human heart there is peace with Jesus Christ.
“Why are you so frightened, have you no faith?” The Lord is calling to us, calling us to faith. This is not so much believing that he exist, but going to him and trusting in him. The storm exposes our vulnerability, and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. In life we are often crossing rough and windy waters. Today, the rough and windy times are COVID-19 and its impact on our lives. There is fear and anxiety about the unknown.
Looking back on our lives, things appear to have been peaceful and content, and now suddenly we are living in the time of a pandemic and the unknowns about the future. So, where does this leave us? Let us be assured of Jesus’ constant presence in the storms of life that we struggle through, and have faith in him. By faith here, I mean trust in God. Maybe we tend to focus on those storms battering us, rather than focusing on Jesus who is in our life, riding the rough waters with us.
There will always be mysteries of religion that baffle us, and there will always be problems that we encounter in life, that will make us doubt what we once believed. This is okay. When we are questioning and struggling with God . . . we are experiencing our faith in action. Doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. It is a healthy sign that we are taking our relationship with God seriously, allowing ourselves to be honest . . . allowing doubt to propel us to a richer and a more robust faith, and knowing Jesus is always at our side. Faith reaches its height in the middle of doubt and the unknown.
Our faith requires trust, openness to mystery, and a willingness to doubt our doubts. Our faith continuously seeks understanding, and our understanding continuously seeks faith. No matter whatever the storm we are battling now, whether it is our ill health, our finance, joblessness, family crisis, or broken relationships – no matter how difficult things might get, we must go on believing, go on trusting in God. What real faith does assure us, is that God is with us in the midst of our crisis. It is that feeling, that conviction, that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned, which enables us to get through a crisis. Yes, we are frightened by the anxieties and worries of life, and the little faith that we have is shaken. Yet a person with a grain of faith in God never loses hope.
So when things are bad, may we hear the gentle words of Jesus: “Why are you so frightened? Are you lacking in faith?” Let us invite Jesus into the boat of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good, everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings calm and peace into our storms, because with God, life never dies.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still.