Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: A Reflection on the Sunday Readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Then the master said: “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger, the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. “And that is how my heavenly father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18: 21-35

Naomi Levy is a Jewish Rabbi who lives with her husband and family in Venice, California. She has written extensively on the place of prayer in one’s life and is much sought after as a public speaker. In the last 25 years she has published five bestsellers, suitable reading for people of all faiths. While Einstein and the Rabbi is probably her best-known book, I recommend highly To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength and Faith in Difficult Times (1999). In this, she relates the story of a mother who brought her six-year-old son, Joey to her office. The young lad was pale and shaking markedly. Rabbi Levy welcomed him with a hug and invited him to tell her what was troubling him. Joey told her that his friend Andy had died recently in a car accident. That led to an extended conversation between Joey and Rabbi Levy about death and the impact the death of a close friend can have on us. However, the rabbi sensed that there was something particular that Joey wanted to talk about. Eventually, the young lad blurted out: “When we were playing together last week, I kicked Andy on purpose.” “And now you feel bad about that?”, Rabbi Levy asked. As the tears ran down his face, Joey sobbed: “Yes”. “ And if Andy were still alive, what would you say to him?” she asked. “I’d say ‘I’m sorry I kicked you.’”

Rabbi Levy wrote that as soon as Joey said those words, he looked visibly relieved. Just being able to express his regret seemed to lighten his load.

While young Joey needed some help to articulate his problem, he had already experienced how hurting somebody else could eventually come back to hurt him. He had discovered how painful it can be when guilt ties us up in knots.

Today’s readings take us on an exploration into the wide-ranging ramifications for a community when some of its members inflict physical and emotional hurts on one another. What we read and hear today from Ben Sira and Matthew is more than a clinical analysis of offending and its consequences. It will engage us at an emotional level simply because it will confront us with hurts we have inflicted and memories of those we have endured. None of us has lived free from hurting our sisters and brothers or from being hurt by them. We have all known the anger of being the target of insult, slight and injury and we have all found ourselves plotting retribution, for no other reason than to get some kind of satisfaction or compensation by brooding over what has been done to us. Ben Sira knew this aspect of human behaviour and named it for what it is: “Resentment and anger are foul things, too, and both are found in the sinner.” (Sirach 27: 30) And then he observed how we human beings like hugging to ourselves thoughts and feelings of vengeance.

Astute observer that he was of the among whom he lived, Ben Sira proceeded to add that we all play a role in creating the communities to which we belong, be they our families, sporting clubs, worshipping communities, political parties or nations. We cannot feed anger and resentment within ourselves and, at the same time, look for forgiveness and acceptance from family members, colleagues, and God. The simple truth Ben Sira expounds is that we will get from others only what we’re prepared to give.

Another integral aspect of this topic is the longing for reconciliation we all experience on occasion. We know our tendency to cling to anger and to harbour grudges. We also know the desire to forgive and be forgiven that wells up in us. We know, too, the internal struggle required to reach those goals. It is one thing to realise that, we have been created in the image of a God of boundless mercy, and quite another to accept that we have a responsibility to reflect something of God’s mercy to one another. Coming to accept forgiveness and mercy from God and from our sisters and brothers can also be something of a struggle.

I well remember a story I heard from an Anglican pastor about one of his congregation who could not bring himself to participate in the weekly parish communion service. The Pastor took the risk of visiting the man in his home and commenting to him that he couldn’t help noticing that he didn’t come to communion. “I can’t do it”, the man said. “I can’t come to the table. You see, I’m, a Vietnam vet, and during the war there I killed a man. I don’t think God could ever forgive me for that.” The Christian communities to which we belong are somehow meant to help us realise that we are abundantly forgiven by God. They do this through the way in which they create a climate of tolerance of one another and forgiveness of each other, especially when our eccentricities and oddities become so apparent that we get on one another’s nerves. Forgiving and being open to be forgiven are practices that are meant to be integrated into the way in which we live each day. This calls for a commitment to be mirrors or instruments of God’s mercy to one another. We have to let go of any inclination we might have to leave mercy to God. In her novel Adam Bede, George Eliot attributed to her main character, whose name provided the title of the novel, these words: “We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves.”

In the parable that is at the centre of this Sunday’s gospel-reading, Jesus used the most extravagant exaggeration to illustrate that by asking how many times he was expected to forgive those around him, Peter was operating out of a mentality of keeping the score. His question reflected the teachings of the rabbis of his time. They taught that faithful Jews were to give an offender three times. If a fourth offence occurred, forgiveness was to be denied. Peter probably thought he was making an impression on Jesus by extending the limit to seven. Jesus countered with a number that suggested that there was to be no limit to our readiness to forgive and supported that with a parable that clearly indicated that our approach to forgiveness was to be like God’s – limitless!

At the conclusion of his book Becoming Human, Jean Vanier, theologian, philosopher, and founder of the L’Arche Community Movement, wrote that foundational to forgiveness is a three-fold conviction that we all have intrinsic value and share a common humanity, that each of us has a capacity to change and to grow, and that peace and unity are what every human being longs for. Such conviction is essential to the building of every worthwhile community. I ask myself if that’s a conviction that finds expression in my life.

Posted by superadmin in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven…Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18: 15-20

‘Speech is silver, Silence is golden’ is a proverb I learned decades ago in primary school. Whenever one of our teachers wanted to quieten our class down, he bellowed only the second half of that proverb. It wasn’t until I was in secondary school that I realised how anomalous that teacher’s bellowing was. More years passed before I came to appreciate that silence can be used destructively. I can use silence to express protest and annoyance. In fact, we have all probably learned how to use silence as a weapon to hold hostage somebody who has upset us. It is then that our silence becomes deafening. Moreover, we seem to get some satisfaction from hoping that our silence will prompt those around us to ask themselves questions like: “What have I done this time to upset her/him?” Jesus clearly knew that despite our antics to get even with those we believe have caused us grief, we all seem to want reconciliation with those by whom we have been distanced and we want it to be quick and easy, even though it’s not.

To better understand the significance of today’s gospel-reading, we would do well to give some consideration to the earlier part of chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel from which today’s reading is taken. The focus of this chapter is advice given by Jesus to his disciples about community building and formation. While Jesus had given attention in his ministry to reaching out to the poor, the forgotten and the overlooked, Matthew opened chapter 18 of his Gospel with an account of the disciples asking a surprising question: “”Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” That question is surprising in that it indicates that the disciples were completely unaware of the attention that Jesus had been giving to the poor, the sick, the disabled and the needy. The attention of the disciples was given to finding out who was at the top of the pecking-order in the kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in. Instead of dismissing their question as out-of-hand, Jesus chose to take it seriously and use it as a launching point for teaching the disciples how to go about using the power that he intended to invest in them. He singled out a small child as a symbol of those who most deserved their attention. Children represented those in society who were not listened to, like women and shepherds, those who had no credibility, those who strayed off the tracks like lost sheep, those who had lowered themselves to work for the Romans, like tax-collectors. Jesus was pointing out that true disciples would contribute to building up the kingdom of God by using their position and power to reach out to the least and the most vulnerable. Moreover, he chose to use exaggerated examples so that his disciples could learn what he was teaching without being threatened or thinking that Jesus was criticising them. The kingdom of God gives no attention whatsoever to listing who is rhe most important in the pecking-order or who is the greatest.

The section of Matthew chapter 18, leading up to today’s gospel-reading is a set of brief teachings from Jesus about attitudes needed for building healthy community. That calls for avoiding competition and vying for status. It means reaching out to the most vulnerable and giving priority to respecting the young and those at risk, making sure not to manipulate them, scandalise them or lead them astray. It’s important to search for what lies beneath the hyperboles that Jesus used and to discern what is to be taken literally and what is to be viewed figuratively. For instance, we don’t amputate our limbs or those of others because they have been instrumental in our sinning. Nor do we pluck out eyes that have been used for offending. And drowning people who have been “stumbling blocks” is not a practice to be recommended.

In today’s gospel-reading we are given another strategy for how to go about strengthening community when wrong is done to us or another. Jesus warns against going off and rallying support by gossiping about the offender and what he or she is alleged to have done. Rather, we are urged to be courageous and honest enough to speak directly, one-to-one with the person who has hurt us in order to resolve the issue. Honest dialogue is the first step in opening the way to forgiveness and reconciliation. If that doesn’t work and a meeting with community representatives produces no worthwhile outcome, the recommendation from Jesus is to treat the resistor “as a gentile/pagan or a tax-collector”. And they were the very ones with whom Jesus preferred to dine and converse. In other words, if preaching and honest exchange do not work, proclaim the Gospel through the way in which we put it into practical action, through treating “offenders” with acceptance and respect. Don’t resort to running them out of the community or out of town.

This reading boils down to exercising whatever role we have in the Christian community with accountability and a readiness to listen with an open ear and an open heart and to engage in honest discerning with those around us. To conduct ourselves like that implies that we engage creatively with the word of God in Scripture. The Bible texts which we are invited to explore each week do not amount to a book of answers. Neither are they weapons to be used for winning arguments. They offer us material for enriching our conversation with one another as together we venture to discover what it means to live faithfully in the communities we call family and Church. All the while, the Scripture calls us to look at the world beyond ourselves and to discern how best we engage sensitively with it.

Posted by superadmin in Sunday Readings Reflection

Danny Meagher and John Warhurst Reflect on Unity in the Church

Bishop Danny Meagher and Emeritus Professor John Warhurst spoke to an appreciative audience about “The Future of the Catholic Church: Creating Unity through Diversity” at a Q&A in the Crypt on Sunday 27th August 2023.

Bishop Danny, by starting his talk with some solid theology, laid a good foundation for the rest of his talk and for Professor Warhurst’s too. Both explored the areas in which diversity is not only accepted but even celebrated while also identifying some area’s where it is not.

Professor Warhurst explored the background to both the Plenary Council and the upcoming Synod. While happy with a change in approach he is looking for practical outcomes especially in matters concerning the rights of women and the inclusion of gay and gender diverse people.

To listen to an audio recording of both talks click here.

To read the notes from which Bishop Danny spoke click here.

Professor Warhurst’s paper has been published in Pearl’s and Irritations and can be read here.

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Theologian Richard Lennan speaks on God and the Church

Theologian Richard Lennan speaks on God and the Church

On Sunday June 25, Fr Richard Lennan strolled around the stage in the Crypt at St Patrick’s, Church Hill explaining the Theology of Church and how it relates to contemporary changes in society, with the ease of one who had thought long and deeply on the subject. Our understanding of “God”, of “Church”, our anxieties, our feeling of dislocation and suspicion of institutions were explored. Then the large and enthusiastic audience discussed several scenarios, “Do we as church……?”.

Richard is a priest of the Diocese of Newcastle (NSW) who has taught theology at Boston College, USA since 2008. Richard’s research and teaching focuses on ecclesiology, ministry, and the theology of Karl Rahner.

Listen to the audio recording of Richard’s rich address here, and download the slides used in his address and his sheet on current challenges for the church.

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Catalyst Congratulates Sr Mary Shanahan rscj on Papal Award

Congratulations to Sr Mary Shanahan RSCJ OAM , a patron of Catalyst for Renewal, on her recent award, presented by the Archbishop of Sydney, His Grace Anthony Fisher OP, of the Papal honour of Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, at Sancta Sophia College on Friday, 26 May 2023. The award is in recognition of her distinguished services to the Church in the Archdiocese of Sydney and Australia.

Sr Mary Shanahan made her final profession in 1954. She studied at the Universities of Sydney, Yale and Oxford. While she taught in schools in both Australia and France her outstanding contribution has been to Sancta Sophia, a residential college for catholic women within the University of Sydney. (More recently men who are post graduate students have also been welcomed to the College.) Her contribution has extended over 60 years as student, dean, counsellor, principal, fellow and chaplain. The citation for her OAM: For service to tertiary education, and as a mentor of young students.

The current principal of Sancta, Fiona Hastings, summed up Sr Shanahan’s contribution with a warmth which was obvious at the awards ceremony. She’s remembered as a much-loved principal, but since then she’s continued to have a very deep spiritual influence on the college. Really she’s kept the heart of the college beating, and maintained that really strong connection not just with the RSCJs but with the heart of Christ. She’s an amazing woman.

It was pleasing to see some familar Catalyst faces including foundation member Marea Donovan at the award ceremony.


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SOS 7 June 2023 Resources

Spirituality on the Sofa
Spirituality in Inclusiveness

7.30pm AEST 7 June 2023

To download the A4 PDF flier for this conversation, please click here:

To access the advertising snippet for your church, school or other bulletin, please click here:

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SOS 3 May 2023 Resources

Spirituality on the Sofa
Spirituality in Life After High School

7.30pm AEST 3 May 2023

To download the A4 PDF flier for this conversation, please click here:

To access the advertising snippet for your church, school or other bulletin, please click here:

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Large Turnout Hears Frank Brennan on the Voice

Over 200 people packed the Crypt of St Patrick’s Church on a wet Sydney afternoon on Sunday, 2 April to hear Fr Frank Brennan sj speak on the subject of his latest book, An Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Frank’s prepared address was followed by a vigorous and searching conversation, with a wide range of questions and comments offered by the appreciative audience.

This forum was organised jointly by St Patrick’s Parish and Catalyst for Renewal. Fr Michael Whelan sm welcomed the attendees and introduced Fr Brennan.

A sound recording of Frank’s prepared address is available for download here. The recording is copyright of Catalyst for Renewal Inc and is made freely available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives license (CC BY NC-ND). For details of the license, see the Creative Commons website. For permission for uses not permitted by the license, contact Catalyst for Renewal Inc.

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

by Brother Julian McDonald cfc

I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life and let them live in their own land.” Ezekiel 37: 12-14

Jesus said: ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha said to him: ‘Lord, by now he’ll smell; this is the fourth day.’ …Then Jesus cried out loudly: ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ …Jesus said to them: ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’” John 11: 1-45

All three of today’s readings turn their attention to the promise of resurrected life extended to all who put their faith in God and God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Ezekiel presents the story of the revivification of the dry bones – a parable about Israel’s resurrection as a nation. In the second reading from Romans, Paul assures all who trust that God’s Spirit is alive in them that God will raise them to eternal life in the same way as he raised up Jesus from the grave. The gospel-reading not only gives us John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb but challenges us to become agents of resurrection in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

We cannot read the story of Lazarus without reflecting, at least in passing, on the certainty that we, too, will die. But when, where and how, we know not. Still, we human beings together spend billions of dollars annually on our efforts to live as long as possible. We buy products that promise to keep us looking youthful. We hire personal trainers, and exercise in gyms to keep our bodies slim and flexible. Deep down it seems that the fear of dying is a strong motivator. Yet, Tolstoy asserted that anyone over thirty-five who doesn’t give a lot of thought to dying is a fool, and, in contrast, the Anglo-American novelist, Susan Ertz observed: “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do on a rainy, Sunday afternoon.”

But, while, in the course of the gospel-reading, Jesus reiterated to Martha (and to all of us) his promise of resurrection, the response Martha gave was a safe one, without being an expression of resounding confidence. Her response prods me to consider my response. The question from Jesus hangs there for all of us to answer. What’s more, it follows what is arguably the farthest-reaching, most powerful and most hope-filled promise attributed to Jesus by John in his Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though she/he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26) The mere formulation of my authentic response will tell me a lot about the strength or weakness of my faith commitment to Jesus.

While the focus of today’s gospel-reading is the actual account of the raising of Lazarus with its revelation of God’s power working through Jesus to overcome death and renew life, there are other significant aspects of the story equally worthy of our consideration. For example, Jesus utters three commands: “Take away the stone.” “Lazarus here, come out!” and “Unbind him and let him go free.”

Martha’s warning of the distinct possibility of a very unpleasant stench demonstrates her practicality. Jesus, however, invites a different possibility. Nobody opens a tomb merely to find a decaying body. By directing the tomb to be opened, Jesus was implying that there was a brighter possibility behind the initial stench. Implicit in that action is an invitation for all of us to admit that even in the most unpleasant experiences of our lives are yet undetected possibilities for good. The emergence of Lazarus from the tomb in response to Jesus’ next command was testimony to Jesus’ power over life and death. But the miracle came to its full conclusion only after Jesus engaged those gathered around to participate in setting Lazarus completely free.

Lent as a whole, and this gospel-reading in particular, hold God’s invitation to us to emerge from the metaphorical tombs in which we find ourselves locked because of our own decisions or through circumstances imposed on us. We can trap ourselves with addictions to things like gambling, junk-food, complaining, criticising others, pessimism, guilt. In addition, as members of the wider community of Christians we are invited by Jesus to work to free our sisters and brothers who are bound by social injustices like blocked access to clean water, insufficient opportunities for education and employment, and insufficient relief to deal with the natural disasters of fire, flood, earthquake and famine. Then there are those forced to flee their homeland because of war, persecution and terrorism. How might we assist them?

There is deep irony in the fact that the continuation of this gospel-reading records how Caiaphas proposed a plan to dispatch Jesus. Jesus was to be murdered for bringing Lazarus back to life. Speaking to a group of Pharisees, Caiaphas proposed: “You have no understanding whatever! Can’t you see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (John 11: 49-50) There is a double irony a little later when the chief priests revealed that they planned to kill Lazarus, too, because many Jews were switching their allegiance to Jesus “believing in him on account of Lazarus.” (John 12: 11). Did Jesus, then, weep in front of Lazarus’ tomb because he realised that he was about to restore him to life only to lose him as a martyr?

All three readings today highlight the message that love will triumph over death. And love is often found in the most unexpected of places. So let me conclude with a story that comes from Fr William Bausch whom I recently quoted in one of these reflections:

When a young couple found that they were about to have a baby daughter, they set to preparing their young son to welcome his new baby sister. Young Michael began to sit beside his mother, Karen, morning, afternoon and night and put his hand on her tummy to feel his baby sister developing inside. He soon took to singing to his little sister the only song he knew: You are my sunshine. The pregnancy progressed normally until the time of birth was imminent. It was then that complications developed. After hours of labour, the little girl was born, but she was in a serious condition and had to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) at St Mary’s Hospital.

Over the next few days, the baby’s condition deteriorated so much that the paediatric specialist told her parents that there was little hope for her survival. Sadly, the parents set about preparing for a funeral. Meanwhile, young Michael kept insisting that he be taken to visit his new sister and sing to her. However, hospital regulations don’t allow children into the ICU. Michael did not stop pleading to be allowed to visit and sing. Deciding that the little boy would not see his sister alive if she delayed, Karen agreed to sneak Michael into the ICU. She dressed him in an oversized scrub suit so that he looked a bit like a walking laundry basket. However, he did not escape the notice of the head nurse who bellowed: “Get that kid out of here now! No children allowed!
Karen’s motherly instinct expressed itself strongly. She looked the nurse in the eye and stated firmly: “He’s not leaving here until he sings to his sister!” With that, she led Michael over to look at the baby lying wired-up in a tiny humidicrib. Without hesitating, Michael launched into what he had come to do and sweetly sang: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…”
The change was almost instant. The tiny baby’s breathing became calm, and a monitor indicated a steady pulse rate. And Michael kept singing: “You never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” Now there was no stopping him. Somehow, he saw something change in the little girl, and on he went: “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamt I held you in my arms…” Tears streamed down the face of the bossy nurse as Michael pressed on to the end: “…Please don’t take my sunshine. away” The very next day, the little girl was allowed to go home. Woman’s Day described it as “the miracle of a brother’s song”. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love. The doctors and nurses called it a miracle. Maybe we could call it the Lazarus story rerun. Love is truly stronger than death.

Posted by superadmin in Sunday Readings Reflection

SOS 5 April 2023 Resources

Spirituality on the Sofa

Spirituality in Charity and International Development

7.30pm AEST 5 April 2023

To download the A4 PDF flier for this conversation, please click here:

To access the advertising snippet for your church, school or other bulletin, please click here:

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