Gay Walsh

Fourth Sunday in Lent Yr A – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him…I came into the world for judgement, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  John 9: 1-41

It would seem that, whenever anything in our world goes wrong or turns out to be contrary to our expectations, we human beings look for a reason or search for somebody or something to blame. When a stockpile of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port area of Beirut in August 2021, claiming more than 200 lives and levelling countless buildings, responsibility was sheeted home to the outgoing Prime Minister of Lebanon and three former ministers, all of whom were accused of negligence. Early this month, two trains collided in Greece killing scores of passengers. A cause was demanded by protesters, and a station manager was accused of telling one of the train drivers to ignore a red light. The Minister for Transport resigned to appease the protesters. For some reason, we want the satisfaction of knowing the causes of misadventures, accidents and human failings. In the time of Jesus, the Jewish people attributed birth defects to the sinfulness of current family members or ancestors. So, in today’s gospel-reading we hear the disciples asking Jesus for the cause of the blindness of the man whom they encountered as they walked along: “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?”  (John 9:2).  Were they implying that healthy babies are a reward for parents who live good and decent lives?

That led Jesus to state categorically that God is not in the business of visiting disabilities on anyone as a punishment for sin. He proceeded to explain that God’s love can be revealed to us and to our world through people who meet with misadventure and carry disability, and that love is also reflected in the kindness of those who care for them.

What follows is a declaration by Jesus identifying himself as “the light of the world” sent by God to enlighten a world whose people live in darkness because of ignorance, insensitivity to the prejudice that blinds them, or deliberate choice.

When people allow themselves to see the truth of realities they witness, they sometimes have to let go of opinions that are hard-wired in their brains or allow long-held prejudices to evaporate. Such demands call for flexibility, open-heartedness and a willingness to grow and develop. The Pharisees who witnessed Jesus cure the blind man could not bring themselves to admit that Jesus might have something to offer from which even they could benefit. Rather than admit that Jesus might be God-sent, they resorted to a range of specious explanations to convince themselves and others that Jesus was really a fraud: He has contravened the law of sabbath rest by setting to work and mixing soil and saliva and daubing it on the blind man’s eyes! How can any good emanate from an action that breaks the sabbath law? The man who sought the cure from Jesus was only pretending to be blind!

Moreover, as they had already threatened with expulsion from the synagogue anyone who accepted Jesus as a prophet worthy of credibility, when the cured man, in his simplicity, declared to them that a man who can cure blindness, can’t be anything but a prophet, he was discarded. In the process of all this, the Pharisees demonstrated that anyone whose actions were a threat to their position and power would be ridiculed and discredited. We still have among us the equivalent of “temple police”, whose approach to ritual, whose rigid approach to religious practice seems to be distant from the compassion of Jesus. The challenge for us is to refrain from dismissing them and, instead, to love them gently and tolerantly into freedom and life.

There is further food for reflection in all three of today’s readings. They all have the theme of light and seeing woven through them, as well was the way in which we can close our eyes to both when what we see calls us to act. Samuel, categorised as a seer, had been sent by God to find a suitable candidate from among the sons of Jesse as King to replace Saul. Samuel was reluctant to play a role in removing a reigning king but was urged by God to open his eyes to see that Saul was no longer worthy to hold his position on the throne. No fewer than six times Samuel was instructed to open his eyes to Saul’s inadequacy and to keep them open until he recognised which of Jesse’s sons was the most suitable to succeed Saul. The message for us is that we, too, have to be prepared to open our eyes to see what is sometimes below the surface and then to summon the courage to act on what we eventually come to see. We have to trust in the guidance of God’s Spirit and let go of the fear that holds us captive from doing what we know is right. Samuel eventually saw that the least likely successor to Saul was Jesse’s youngest son David who was a mere shepherd, with neither status nor power.

In the second of today’s readings from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that, with the coming of Jesus, the light of the world, what is right, good and true is now longer hidden from our view. Our lives can now be lived in the enlightenment offered to us by Jesus and his Gospel. We still have to open our eyes and hearts to make space for that enlightenment.

Finally, in the gospel-reading, we are invited to look into the mirror of compassion held up to us by the way in which Jesus reached out to the man born blind, and then rescued him from being excluded from the community of synagogue worshippers into which he had just qualified for entry. The irony, of course, was that by ignoring Jesus and his compassion, those whose role was to model compassion, welcome, inclusion and acceptance, were distancing themselves from genuine worship of God.

As disciples of Jesus, we all have a responsibility to keep our hearts, minds and eyes open, so as to be sensitive to everyone whom we encounter, to be aware as to whom we include and whom we lock out when we allow our prejudice, bias, bigotry or some other kind of blindness to keep them on the outer. We have a responsibility through the way in which we live our faith lives and practice compassion to be instruments of making visible the works of God.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Third Sunday in Lent YrA – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“The woman said to Jesus: ‘I know that the Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’”   John 4: 5-42

Today’s gospel-story from John stands alone in the New Testament. It is unique in that it has no parallel in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and in the fact that it is the longest account of any conversation in which Jesus engaged. It is significant in that both Jesus and the woman he encountered at Jacob’s well on the edge of the Samaritan town of Sychar did not allow themselves to be hamstrung by cultural expectations, rules and prejudices.

The unnamed Samaritan woman was uncharacteristic of the women of her day in her feistiness. She was not going to be pushed around by a Jewish stranger nor was she going to retire demurely from the task of collecting water, just because there was a man in her way. Her experience of having had five men in her life might well have emboldened her from allowing herself to be pushed around.

Jesus, in his turn, crossed some cultural boundaries, but only after the Samaritan woman displayed her independence. He was well-aware of the Jewish expectation that it was improper in public for men to engage in conversation with women. To further appreciate the radicalness of this gospel-reading, we might consider some of the cultural norms in relation to marriage that prevailed in the time of Jesus. Marriage was something imposed on women rather than something they chose. In some respects, marriage made good sense for women in that it promised to provide them with physical safety, economic security and companionship into old age. Given that marriages were arranged by the parents of the two younger people being promised to one another, it was hoped that the union would grow into a loving one. Divorce could be requested and filed for only by the husband. That request could be made for almost any reason he presented, even a frivolous one. The Samaritan woman in the story comes across as liberated. Was her independence such that she frustrated five husbands into divorcing her? Women were meant to be neither seen nor heard. Religious men like Pharisees were not supposed to speak to their wives in public. What’s more, some religious leaders were jokingly labelled as “the bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they closed their eyes when they saw a woman coming in the opposite direction, and they ended up with cuts, bruises and even broken noses from running into walls or tripping over. In addition, this Samaritan woman clearly had a reputation for unconventional living. Note, however, that Jesus did not judge her. “Respectable” women went to the town well in the mornings with all the other respectable women with whom they chatted and gossiped. It did not take long for Jesus to conclude that this woman, who came to fill her buckets from the well in the middle of the day, had been ostracised.

The conversation between her and Jesus got off to a stilted start. She, very clearly, was not expecting a lone foreigner to be sitting near the well. Moreover, they both knew that they were not supposed to be speaking to one another. But she was determined to hold her ground and not slink away because she was only a woman. Nor did she know that Jesus had arrived with two friends who had gone off to get lunch for the three of them. Perhaps guessing at why a woman would come alone to the well in the middle of the day, Jesus dared to initiate the conversation by asking her for a drink from her bucket. In her turn, she would have known that, by drinking from a Samaritan’s bucket, he would have ignored a purity rule and defiled himself immediately. She, in her turn, challenged him on two counts in relation to his request: “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?” She surely had her wits about her, and she had no intention of taking a backward step. Sensing that here was a woman with whom he could engage in conversation as an equal, Jesus seized the moment and introduced a topic of substance. Here was an opportunity for him to further his mission with a woman who, he sensed, might be open to listen to him. So, lunch could wait.

What began with an edge of confrontation and hostility, developed into mutual sharing. Both were thirsty – Jesus for a drink of cool water in the midday, desert heat, the Samaritan woman for something she could not immediately name. She had something he needed and he had something she needed but could not identify. In coming together in what developed into mutual respect, they demonstrated that prejudice, division, enmity and hatred could be dissolved. While she did not immediately grasp that Jesus was using water as a symbol of the life that God offered humanity, she was intelligent enough to come to an understanding and appreciation of the “water” the man in front of her was offering. A least, when Jesus referred to “water welling up to eternal life”, she showed that she was sufficiently clever and open to respond with: “Sir, give me this water, so that I shall not grow thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
When she acknowledged her need for that, Jesus abruptly changed the topic and asked her to go home and bring her husband back with her. Instead of pretending or dodging the truth, she courageously acknowledged the truth about herself: “I have no husband.” Jesus, in turn, told her the history of her five marriages and her current relationship. However, to avoid the risk of hearing more home truths, the woman neatly switched the conversation back to religion. Acknowledging that the man speaking to her was a prophet, she added: “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you (Jewish) people claim Jerusalem is the only place for authentic worship of God.” Jesus responded by pointing out neither nationality nor place of worship really mattered. He went on to say that true worship is about being true to oneself before God, living authentically and seeking the truth. This evoked from the woman an admission: “I know there is a Messiah coming. When he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus responded with a disclosure he had not yet made to anyone: “I am he.” (ie the Messiah to whom you have just referred.)

The significance of this gospel-reading for us in this second week of Lent is that it challenges us to come before God acknowledging our inadequacy and our vulnerability. There is no substitute for honesty and integrity. If we disclose ourselves as we really are, with our strengths and faults, our triumphs and failures, our longings and our hopes, he will confirm who we are by showing us who he is. We see in today’s gospel reading that he has no reluctance when it comes to crossing boundaries, breaking rules and dropping disguises. His goodness and readiness to welcome bubbled up in the Samaritan woman’s life like a well that needed no bucket. She was transformed from being an outsider into someone worthy of being heard. In the Gospel writer’s mind she was the first of Jesus’ disciples, convincing the residents of her village to come and witness the advent of the Messiah.

There is a further challenge here for us individuals, our parish communities and our large Church community. We have to make welcome the Samaritan women among us, those who are less than compliant, whose way of expressing their faith is different from ours, who do not sing from the same hymn book. We have to be wary of imposing our likes and preferences, our rules and expectations on others. We can express our faith in unity without always trying to impose uniformity. It might come as a surprise that the Samaritan woman is honoured as a saint in the Eastern churches, with the name St Photina which is variously translated as “equal to the apostles” or “the bright and shining woman”. She is also listed in the Roman Martyrology because it is believed that she was martyred by the Emperor Nero. Her feast day is March 20. She represents all those who struggle to find a place in the community we call church. We who sit comfortably in that community have a responsibility to make them welcome.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Second Sunday in Lent YrA – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”   Genesis 12: 1-4.
“Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain…As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white.”   Matthew 17: 1-9.

Today’s second reading from St Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy reminds us of something we all know, namely that living the Gospel is no easy task: “…but with the strength which comes from God bear your share of the hardship which the Gospel entails.” (2 Timothy 1: 8).  This reflection will concentrate on the first reading from Genesis and the gospel-reading from Matthew, which reveal something of how God’s strength can impact on the lives of all human beings, even on the life of Jesus as he grew to understand himself.

But let’s start with Abraham. At a time when it looked as though he was well into the second half of his life, he was prompted by God to move out of his comfort zone and embrace a nomadic lifestyle by undertaking a journey to a destination about which he had no knowledge. That would be a challenge for somebody in the bloom of youth, but for a man bordering on old age it might well be considered as unreasonable. The fact that Abraham and his elderly wife Sarah gathered together their family, their possessions and their flocks and launched out into the unknown is testimony to their faith and trust in God. They are presented to us on this second Sunday of Lent as the benchmark against which to measure our faith and trust in God and the depth of our spirituality. We’re all familiar with the notion of a journey as a metaphor of our lives. Literature through the ages has presented life as a journey. The motif of journey is written large in novels like The Pilgrim’s Progress published in the 17th century by the Puritan preacher John Bunyan. In more recent times, the same motif has been a feature of novels like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The earliest example is probably the short story of Abraham and Sarah as presented by the author of The Book of Genesis.

When we stop to think about it, we can see that life for all of us has so far been a succession of comings and goings as we have moved from the security of home to study in a university or to begin our first job; as we have said goodbye to parents and set out to explore the world; as we have fallen in love, married and begun a family of our own; as we have moved interstate to pursue new employment opportunities; as we have made decisions to move to more manageable accommodation when our children have flown the nest; as we decide to retire and make application for a place in hostel or aged-care facilities. Irrespective of where we find ourselves on life’s journey, today’s first reading invites us to stop and reflect on how our faith and trust in God has progressed, and even to count the times when we have set aside self-care to offer hospitality, help and friendship to angels who came to us in the guise of strangers, refugees, discards or strugglers at the bottom of the social heap. As we look at our lives, the story of Abraham and Sarah nudges us to ask ourselves if we are just growing older, without becoming more compassionate, more tolerant, more open to accept those who are different from us, more forgiving, more like the Jesus to whom we have committed ourselves as disciples?
Let me share a story I have borrowed from William Bausch, a retired priest from the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. It’s the story of Rose, a woman who enrolled in university at the age of eighty-seven. Blessed with a quirky sense of humour, she replied to an interviewer who asked her what a woman of her age was doing at university: “I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, have a couple of children and then retire and travel.” When the laughter of everyone within hearing range died down, Rose added that she was at university because she had long dreamed of rounding off her education with a tertiary degree. In the course of that year, she won the admiration of other students because of her wisdom common sense and the depth of experience she shared with them. She became something of a darling to the university community and was invited to give the occasional address at the football banquet. As she stepped up to share her prepared speech, she dropped the cards that had her notes. In that moment of embarrassment, she leaned into the microphone and apologised with: “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent, and this whiskey is killing me.” When the laughter subsided, she proceeded: “Look, I’ll never get my speech back in order, so let me just tell you what I know.” Here are snippets of what she shared: “We don’t stop playing because we’re old, you know. We grow old because we stop playing… We all have to have a dream. When we lose our dreams, we die…There’s a huge difference between growing older and growing up. Anybody can grow older. That takes neither talent nor ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change. Growing older is mandatory; growing up is optional.” The stories of Abraham and Sarah and of Rose, together with the arrival of the Lenten season are reminders to us to stop and assess the extent to which we are growing up as followers of Jesus. That kind of growth is optional. Lent invites us to explore our options.
Let’s turn now to the gospel-reading of the transfiguration. This reading fits what Paul reminded us of in the today’s second reading: “God has called us to a holy life.”  (2 Timothy 1: 8).  We can easily excuse ourselves from heeding that call, rationalising that it’s a call only to those who are saints, not to ordinary people like us. In reality, it’s a call to all Christians. Moreover, the voice from the clouds at the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration was directed to us as much as it was to Peter, James and John: “This is my beloved Son on whom my favour rests. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17: 5).   While Jesus and the three disciples heard that pronouncement, it is not clear that any of them grasped its full significance at the time. We might note that only the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke record the transfiguration event. John is silent on this extraordinary occurrence. I cannot read today’s gospel without wondering just how aware Jesus was of his divinity. Limited by his humanity and the physical and cultural circumstances into which he was born, Jesus, like every other human being, had to slowly discover his identity. If he was fully human, such a discovery process would have been as difficult for him as it has been for us. Do I really know who I am? Do you really know who you are? We all see something of our identity reflected in what we say and do, in what we create and imagine, in the mistakes we make, in our personal sins and failings. We are all more than what we do and say, more than our failures, successes, sins and triumphs. Let’s not ignore what today’s gospel reading does not record. When Peter suggested building a monument to mark what they had all experienced, Jesus did not correct or reprimand him as he had done on other occasions when Peter demonstrated his impetuosity. Without commenting on the actual experience, Jesus simply asked his friends not to tell anyone about it, adding that there was no need for a monument. I therefore dare to suggest that the experience was something of a revelation to Jesus himself, a revelation in which he glimpsed vividly a side to himself that he had not until then seen. He saw something of his divinity. True, there was a voice from heaven at his baptism by John in the Jordan, but there is no indication from the gospel writers that Jesus comprehended it. The transfiguration was for Jesus a very intense experience, something which increased his self-awareness. It was like a bolt from the blue.

The transfiguration of Jesus was an intense experience for Jesus himself, and it was an intense experience for Peter, James and John as they witnessed how Jesus shone with the presence of God. Somehow Peter grasped that the glory he saw in Jesus transfigured, and in the visions of Moses and Elijah was the glory that awaits us all. I suggest that, in his experience on the mountaintop, Peter realised that in Jesus God became like us humans so that, eventually, we might become like God, by increasingly learning how to reflect to our world something of the compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness of God. That’s the promise and mystery of our faith. In order to respond to Paul’s reminder to us that “God calls us to a holy life”, we have to take time to be present to Jesus who is present in everyone and everything we encounter. In that way we open ourselves to be transformed and transfigured. There is no need to set about doing what Peter suggested in the intensity of the moment and busying ourselves building tabernacles and monuments. The presence of Jesus in our humanity is the only tabernacle worthy of our attention and worship.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

First Sunday in Lent YrA – a reflection on the Sunday Reading

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“The snake replied: ‘When you eat it, you will be like God and know what is good and what is bad.’” Genesis 2: 7- 9; 3: 1-7

We humans are story-telling creatures. For a significant part of each day, we tell stories. We engage in that activity when we’re on the phone, when we sit around with co-workers at morning tea and lunch, when we gather with friends for a drink after work, when we sit with family at the dinner table. Most of our stories are accounts of our experience, about what we saw and heard. To those accounts we add our interpretations and impressions. Every now and then we embellish our stories with creative additions in order to impress our audience. As time goes by, the original story may be increasingly embellished, so much so that it adopts the status of a family or institutional legend.

Readers of this weekly reflection have seen on several occasions a statement of my conviction that all stories are true, even though they might not be factual. All cultures have shaped legends that have grown out of real or imagined events and have been shaped to teach cherished values. The Genesis story of the fall of Adam and Eve from their original innocence (today’s first reading) is a true story for the message it carries, rather than an account of a factual happening. From a literary perspective, it belongs to the category of legend. Yet it carries a valuable message about the propensity we all have for doing evil.

The gospel-reading is another story from Matthew that declares how Jesus, in his humanity, had to contend with temptations to do evil but was successful in resisting them. Matthew’s account reinforces the message from the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus was like us in every way, except that he did not sin (cf Hebrews 4: 15). The underlying message of the first two temptations that Satan put to Jesus was that God is really capricious, unpredictable and unable to be trusted. Satan effectively claimed that, if God can turn stones into bread, then God should do it on a regular basis; that if God can send angels to catch people who jump from heights, can such a God, who looks for entertainment in histrionics and spectacular, life-risking swan dives, be trustworthy? When Jesus dismissed those two temptations, Satan shifted to a direct approach, and put it to Jesus that embracing evil would bring him limitless wealth and personal satisfaction. Jesus refused to be seduced and stated clearly that his allegiance and fidelity were to Israel’s God of limitless love and goodness. The three responses Jesus gave to Satan echo words from Moses recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. To Satan’s first temptation Jesus replied, using words Moses had spoken to the people of Israel : “God let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”  (Deuteronomy 8: 3). To the second temptation Jesus said: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test, as you did at Massa” (Deuteronomy 6: 16). Then to the third: “Deeply respect God your God. Serve and worship him exclusively”  (Deuteronomy 6: 13).

There is deep irony in our rationalising that, by giving ourselves an experience of evil, we can become like God. When we make that choice, we wipe away any goodness to which we might have been able to lay claim.

Traditionally, Lent is a time when we turn our close attention to how we deal with the temptations that come our way. While we were reminded on Ash Wednesday that prayer and fasting are helpful disciplines for ordering our waywardness, our focus might best be put on quality rather than quantity. God is not a subscriber to the deprivation business. Yet, the central part of the subtlety of the snake’s proposal to Eve was the idea that God was depriving Adam and her of something to which they were entitled. Neither is it helpful for us to conclude that we can earn God’s approval by our setting for ourselves targets for the number of times we stop for prayers or the number of drinks, cigarettes or chocolates we can deny ourselves. Any disciplines we decide to undertake for Lent are surely meant to be about enhancing the quality of our love, our compassion for others and our relationships with one another.

Over centuries, many legends have grown up in the Christian churches, especially linked to saints. One, for example, with which most of us are familiar is that of St Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes. He was credited with chasing them all into the sea when some of them attacked him during a 40 day fast he was undertaking (Sounds a little like Lent, doesn’t it?). A popular Lenten devotion for hundreds of years has been making The Stations of the Cross. The sixth Station has the title: “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus”. While there is no reference to this in the Gospels, it comes as no surprise to us that one of the women who followed Jesus to Calvary would have been brave enough to reach out to him in compassion as he was being goaded along, and to use her veil to wipe the blood, sweat and spittle from his face. The story originated in the Eastern Church and was not embraced by the Roman or Western Church until the 14th Century. The Eastern Church had attributed this extraordinary act of compassion to the woman Jesus had cured of a haemorrhage when she reached out in faith to touch the hem of his cloak. They gave her the name of Bernice. When the Latins adopted the story, they changed the woman’s name to Veronica, a name derived from two Latin words meaning true image (vera and icon). While the legend relates that Jesus left the image of his face on the woman’s veil, the act of compassion shown by Bernice, whose name was changed to Veronica, was presented to all Christians as a model or icon of the compassion that Jesus showed to the rejects of society throughout the three years of his public ministry.

The truth of the story is the unmistakable message that everyone who reaches out in compassion to victims of prejudice, oppression, wars, natural disasters and every kind of injustice has the image of Jesus engraved on her or his heart. If there is any meaning to the fasting, abstaining and prayer in which we engage during Lent, it is that those very activities will lead us to reach out in care, compassion and practical assistance to our fellow human beings who yearn for acceptance, security, shelter, food and clean water. The legend of this woman, irrespective of how we name her, is the Gospel in short-hand. Every Lenten discipline we undertake is meant to transform us to live and love in imitation of the woman at the centre of the legend. Let’s not forget that the Gospel can come to us in ways we may not have imagined.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time YrA – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by  Br Julian McDonald cfc

“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…for if you love only those who love you, what recompense will you have?”   Matthew 5: 38-48

Towards the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul challenged the members of that community to do a self-evaluation of the quality of their faith: “Put yourselves to the test.” he wrote. “Examine yourselves to make sure you are in the faith. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is really in you? If not, you have failed the test.”  (2 Corinthians 15: 5-6)

Today’s gospel-reading presents us with another call to measure the quality of our discipleship. It comes from Jesus himself to everyone who would be his disciple, and it is given as a simple, unambiguous directive: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  That’s the standard against which to measure our discipleship.

We all know how tall an order that is. But, at the same time, we all pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, giving, at the very least, lip-service to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are probably times when we feel uncomfortable about asking God to forgive us in proportion to the genuineness of our forgiveness of those who have hurt us. That, of course, is due to the fact that, when we are insulted, abused, physically assaulted, or have our reputation sullied, we respond instinctively, wanting to avenge the harm done to us. Sometimes, we want to exact interest in our effort to settle the score.

Today’s gospel-reading effectively says to us:  Put yourself to the test. Examine yourself to make sure that you really forgive those who harm you, who speak ill of you, who criticise and detest you.

We can look for wriggle room here and rationalise ourselves into thinking that the direction from Jesus to go the extra mile, to give beggars double what they ask for, and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is aspirational, something to aim for rather than an absolute requirement. But working to make God’s reign or kingdom real calls us to leave self-interest and half-hearted compliance behind. While the first reading from Leviticus prepares the way for the challenge Jesus puts to all who would be his disciples, it stops short and accommodates the position of the scribes and Pharisees who made the assumption that anyone who was not a Jew was, in fact an enemy. While Leviticus stated: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbour as yourself”   (Leviticus 19: 18), Jesus went a big step further in calling for love of enemies and prayer for persecutors. It’s important to note, however, that the word Jesus used for love in Matthew’s Gospel is agape, a word devoid of emotional connection, and meaning good-will or tolerance towards one’s enemies.

The view espoused by the scribes and Pharisees that anyone who was not a Jew was categorised as an enemy permeated Jewish society in the time of Jesus and, indeed, well before his time. Samaritans were labelled as enemies and ostracised by Jews because their way of practising religion was different from the Jewish way. When Jesus and his disciples ventured into territory on the other side of Lake Galilee, they saw themselves as going into enemy territory because the people they would encounter did things differently, held different views, even ate food which Jews regarded as defiled or contaminated or forbidden by their law. Anyone who had a different point of view on one or many issues was considered by the Jewish people as an enemy. The call by Jesus to reach out in compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation to such people was revolutionary. But working to establish the kingdom of God was working to include everyone, for all have been loved into life by God and, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity and justice.

“Persecutors”, however, belonged to a different category. They were people intent on doing harm to others. They dealt in harassment, violence and causing trouble for anyone for whom they developed a dislike. What Jesus, then, was asking of all who would be his disciples was to reach out in love to all whose opinions differed on from theirs on issues those disciples regarded as important. In addition, he called his disciples to pray for all those people who were intent on bringing harm to them.

Effectively, Jesus was challenging his disciples to love their enemies (everyone who was not a law-abiding Jew) and pray for God’s abundant blessing on everyone who was out to do them harm.

That challenge is directed to every one of us who have dared to be baptised into Jesus Christ. Does it ever occur to us to actually reach out in acceptance and love to those with whom we have argued and fallen out? Can we bring ourselves to pray God’s abundant blessings on the Vladimir Putins, the Bolsonaros, the Myanmar Juntas, the Xi Jinpings and the Bashar al-Assads of our world? An abundance of God’s blessings might be needed to change their hearts. Moreover, there is little to be gained by responding to their violence with more of the same. Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian advocate for non-violence, echoed the call of Jesus when he warned that a world that insists on demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will end up blind and toothless. Does that describe the United Nations, governments that stockpile weapons of war and allow their citizens to arm themselves with lethal weapons for self-defence and cultures in which domestic violence is rife?

Jesus, we know, practiced what he preached. He intervened at the time of his arrest when an over-vigorous disciple drew his sword and severed an ear of the high priest’s servant. He cured the servant on the spot and reprimanded the aggressor. He silenced his disciples when they suggested that fire be called down from heaven as punishment for a group of Samaritans. He absorbed the cruelty of the Roman soldiers without even uttering insults or threats of retaliation. He prayed to God from the Cross for forgiveness for those who had crucified him.

He reinforced his challenge to all would-be disciples by urging them to imitate the benevolence of God who did not play favourites, allowing sun to shine on and rain to refresh good and bad alike. He proceeded to add that munificence towards everyone calls for the kind of generosity that God displays: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That surely was not a call for disciples to be flawless, to be more than human. It was a plea to reach into our depths to let loose a love for others similar to God’s love which knows no bounds. That’s the dream of Jesus for all of us.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection, Uncategorised

SIP/SOS 2023 Calendar

Wednesday evenings via ZOOM 7.30 – 9.00pm (AEDT)

1st March   Topic tonight is our year’s theme expanded: “Spirituality in …”. 

Two speakers: Zaahir Edries and Dr Julie Thorpe


5th April   Topic: “Spirituality in Charity and International Development”.

Three Speakers: Nick Abraham, Joe Wehbe and TBA


3rd May   Topic: “Spirituality in life after high school …” . 

Two speakers: Jordan Jensen and Emily Hausman


7th June   Topic: “Spirituality in inclusiveness…” . 

Two speakers:  Elizabeth Duckchong and TBA


5th July   Topic: NAIDOC Week theme: “For our Elders”.

Two speakers: TBA


2nd August .  Topic: “Spirituality in Autism ” .

Three speakers Ann Edwards and TBA, TBA


6th September   Topic: “Spirituality in Medicine” .

Two speakers: Dr Louisa Sondergeld and Dr Cam Hollows


4th October   Topic and Speakers TBA

Posted by Gay Walsh in Spirituality In the Pub

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time YrA – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“You can decide whether you’ll be loyal to God or not.”   Sirach 15: 15-20

“You have heard it said to your ancestors: ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you: ‘Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement…’”   Matthew 5: 17-37

Whenever we stop to read and reflect on passages from the Gospels, we have to remember that the words attributed to Jesus, his disciples and people who came to them for help are probably not transcripts of what they said to one another or to those who cared to listen to them. After all, the Gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus and were based on the memories of those who were Jesus’ earliest followers. Inevitably, they, too, would have reflected on and interpreted some of what they heard and witnessed. Some of the things Jesus said would have been so impressive that they remembered his words perfectly. Others would have been paraphrased and interpreted. We also need to take into account the fact that the Gospel writers were intent on writing for their communities, whose needs they assessed before deciding what particular parts of Jesus’ teaching might be especially relevant to addressing those needs.

So, when we hear today’s gospel-reading, we might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was somewhat insensitive to the role that emotions play in our lives and, especially, in our moral decision-making. We know from reflecting on our own lived lives that we often experience ourselves as a bundle of mixed emotions, and that those emotions can come in to intensify the struggle we experience when we are trying to make the decisions that we know deep-down to be right. In this context, let’s not forget that Jesus, fully human like us, experienced the full range of human emotions. In all his decisions he had to deal with the mix of emotions that the prospect of those decisions provoked.

Today’s gospel-reading is an invitation for us to reflect on our attitude to law and the situations that can arise for us when we become fixated on demanding adherence to the letter of the law by ourselves and others. Bear in mind, too, that our approach to law can sometimes be influenced by the feelings we have for those who have formulated the law in the first place. If we don’t like the politicians or judicial authorities who shape our laws, we may find ourselves inclined to discard their laws. If we are afraid of God, we might well be fixed on compliance with divine law in order to escape God’s perceived wrath or punishment. We end up failing to see God’s law as the essence of wisdom, love and respect.

A brief look at our approach to laws and regulations related to driving will tell us something about our attitude to a fairly uncomplicated kind of law. Do we stay within set speed-limits to avoid monetary and restriction penalties or because we respect the rights of fellow citizens to live and move in safety? Only we can answer that.

Closely linked to the way in which we approach law is the formation of conscience. In his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) 2016, #37, Pope Francis made the point that there has been a tendency in the Church to emphasise the gravity of doctrinal and moral issues without allowing room for faithful Catholics to make difficult decisions with the help of grace and their own consciences. He concluded this section of the document stating: “We are called to form consciences, not replace them.”

Today’s gospel-reading from the Sermon on the Mount gives us an insight into how Jesus engaged in contributing to the development of the consciences of those who had gathered to listen to him. These were people who were schooled in the teaching of Moses, who had taught them that that God’s law was not to be considered as a set of injunctions requiring conformity. On the contrary, Moses had told their ancestors that God’s law was so close to them that it dwelt in their hearts, where it would be a source of life for them: “What I enjoin on you today is neither mysterious nor remote…It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” (Deuteronomy 30: 11-14)

In today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used examples from the Mosaic tradition the people knew and explained what was implicit in them. In speaking about the inviolability and sacredness of life, he alluded to how Cain had killed his brother Abel when he was in the act of making an offering to God. Jesus pointed out that anger and hatred of one’s brother emanates from the same place in one’s heart as the desire to murder. He proceeded to elaborate by stating that, if we cannot solve peacefully the differences between us, we might resort to court action. The consequence of tactics like that is that we end up becoming victims of our very efforts to get even.

In examining the issue of adultery, he implies that everyone is made in the image of God and is therefore deserving of respect. Any man who seeks gratification from looking lustfully at women not only devalues the women who are the objects of his desires but corrupts his own heart and devalues himself. Degrading oneself with lustful desire for gratification from the body of a woman is tantamount to adultery.

Jesus then took up the example of divorce, a practice that could be initiated in Jewish law only by a husband who could be rid of his wife even for trivial reasons. The consequence of divorce was that the woman’s livelihood was put at risk. By jeopardising the future livelihood of his former wife, the man, according to Jesus, would carry responsibility for any misfortune that eventuated for her as a result of his abandoning her.

Jesus’ final example was about people who used swearing oaths in the name of God to bolster their views and the positions they adopted. God’s name was not some magic formula for guaranteeing the success of plans and statements that were intended to deceive in the first place.

To regard compliance to divine law and the commandments which Moses had set before the people is not a formula for ensuring that one is in good standing with God. God’s law is all about ensuring that people can live decent and wholesome lives in community, respecting one another’s true dignity. Disregarding God’s law and commandments can only be regarded as an offence against God because it brings harm to members of the human community who are made in God’s image and likeness.


Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Reflection Mornings 2023 Lawson


A venture of Catalyst for Renewal
Seeking renewal through conversation

March 18thJohn Cox – “Surprised by Nature: Conversations Considering the Spiritual Journey with and in Nature”

April 15th  – Patty Andrew – “Mysticism: The Continuous Thread of Mysticism in our Christian Tradition”

May 20th  – Gerard Kelly – “Vatican II: Its Reception 60 Years Later”

June 17th  – Jonathan Drew – “History, Religion, Myth: The Hope for the Resacralazation of Earth (Part I)”

July 15th  – Sally Neaves – “Laudato Si as the ‘Resacralisation of Earth (Part II)”

August 19th  – Sally Longley – “Conversations with Silence: The Transformative Power of Silence”

Posted by Gay Walsh in Reflection Mornings

Reflection Mornings 2023 Hunters Hill

Holy Name of Mary Parish Hall 3 Mary St Hunters Hill NSW          9.30 AM – 12.30 PM

A venture of Catalyst for Renewal
Seeking renewal through conversation

March 4 – Fr Michael Whelan sm
“Vulnerability: Is it possible our vulnerability holds the key to our growth?”

April 1– Sr Michele Connolly rsj
“Present Your Body Holy & Acceptable as a Living Sacrifice to God”. The radically different Christian way of living.

May 6 – Rev Professor Gerard Kelly
“Vatican II: Its Reception after 60 Years”.

June 3 – Catherine Hammond
“Am I Really Who I think I Am? How Do I Define Myself?”

July 1 – Sr Ann Morrison rsj
“Keeping our connection with God open and active”

August 5 – Rev David Ranson
“Synodality – Experience in Sydney and Rome”

September 2 – Fr Michael Kelly osb
“Desert spirituality – Drawing on the Wisdom of early Christian Desert elders”.

October 7 – Sr Carmel Pilcher rsj
“Sunday Eucharist – life support or support for life”

Posted by Gay Walsh in Reflection Mornings

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr A – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”   Matthew 5: 13-16

As I reflected on this Sunday’s gospel-reading, I was prompted to ask myself just how often I stop to assess myself on how I live out my commitment to be a follower of Jesus. There was a time in my life when living as a Catholic meant saying prayers that I had learned by rote and going to Mass every Sunday.  That was about it!  Then, when I joined the Christian Brothers, I quickly learned that survival meant compliance with every direction promulgated by the Novice Director, even when my head told me that some of those directions were ludicrous. I and my peers learned the necessity of conforming with all the “Thou shalts” and all the “Thou shalt nots”. I came to see Religious practice as something of a burden that somehow was meant to be pleasing to a God I was expected to obey. I have no doubt that the commercial and professional worlds trained neophytes with equally stringent rules and practices. While such practices may have toughened those to whom they were prescribed, they did little to promote healthy emotional growth or to contribute growth into independence, freedom and a willingness to take initiative.

Every profession, be it in the sphere of law, medicine, architecture, teaching or religious life and practice, invites those who choose to undertake it to engage in a formation process. As Sr. Evelyn Woodward explained in her wonderful book Poets, Prophets and Pragmatists (Ave Maria Press, Indiana, 1987): “Formation is assisted growth into life.” That growth has to be into life, not stagnation, not dependence, not conformity. Complementing what Sr Evelyn said is the joint statement of the late Archbishop Philip Wilson and the late Br Michael Hill fms that: “A code of conduct formulated for any profession aims to breathe freedom and energy into practitioners of that particular profession as they interact with the people who come to them seeking to benefit from their expertise. A code of conduct is not intended to restrict or stifle the conduct of those professionals to whom it applies. Rather, it is a set of behavioural standards to ensure that professionals themselves preserve their own dignity and respect the human dignity of all to whom they relate in the exercise of their profession.” (Foreword, Integrity in Ministry, National Committee for Professional Standards, p. iv, 2004)

Through our baptism, we Christians profess our commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, giving witness to his teaching set out in the Gospels and designed to promote the life, dignity and freedom of all humanity. That is our profession as card-carrying Christians. Before commenting on the significance of today’s gospel-reading for our lives, I want to refer to several aspects of it that are worthy of note. The first is that all of the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to the whole audience that had gathered to listen to Jesus. Matthew noted that at the very end of the long discourse, stating that there was clear crowd approval of what Jesus had said, and explaining why: “Jesus finished this discourse and left the crowd spellbound at his teaching. The reason was that he taught with authority, not like their scribes.” (Matthew 7: 28-29)

Secondly, before proceeding to extend and challenge his audience, Jesus alluded to the fact that, despite their best intentions, all people can lose their enthusiasm when it comes to reaching out to others, and just slip into mediocrity. He did that through the metaphors of salt losing its taste and light losing its brilliance. He then went on to make the point that the gifts everyone has are for the benefit of others and for giving glory to the God from whom those gifts have come in the first place. Isn’t it true that there have been times in our lives when we have lapsed into thinking that our good works have been about accruing “heavenly brownie points” for ourselves?

In the Sundays ahead we will hear two more extracts from this long discourse. Throughout it, Jesus repeatedly reminded his audience of what was taught to them by Moses, Isaiah and the other prophets but then he urged them on with challenges to something more – to reconciliation whenever relationships broke down, to a firm resolution to dismiss intentions of seeking retribution whenever injustice was meted out to them, to forgive enemies and even reach out to them in love, to treat everyone with respect and dignity for all are beloved of God. The agenda for all who accepted Jesus’ message then and are open to it now was and is to be agents of building and maintaining the reign or kingdom of God.

We count ourselves as followers of Jesus and activists in building and proclaiming the reign of God. That surely means that we cannot remain silent when we come face to face with injustice, with anything that undermines the reign of God. What then is our attitude and response to people in power who oppose the admission of refugees seeking security, food and accommodation? To those who insist on capital punishment for people who commit violent crimes? To those who make fortunes at the expense of those who are destitute? To those who insist on the rights of individuals to purchase and use lethal weapons? To those who cannot bring themselves to respect the dignity and freedom of their sisters and brothers from different ethnic origins? Silence in situations like this is surely a betrayal of the faith we proclaim.

In the discourse we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered a message that was designed to revolutionise the society in which he had grown to maturity. If we listen closely to that discourse, our only authentic option will be to allow ourselves to be galvanised into becoming agents of justice, peace, reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness. If we fail to do that, our faith in Jesus Christ will become bland and ineffective, inspiring and encouraging nobody. The light of the faith we claim to hold up will flicker and die.

There is a place for regular prayer and worship in our lives, a place for gathering as parish communities in prayer and praise of the God who has invited us to be kingdom builders, but our prayer and worship must be matched with authentic, kingdom-building action. If we dare to embrace what Jesus proclaimed to all who would be his followers, we might well be shaken to the core, but our living will be full of zest and enlightenment.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection