Event

Fourth Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

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

Today’s gospel consists of a fascinating story in which the Pharisees, intent on trapping and discrediting Jesus, end up being caught in their own trap. They set out to establish that Jesus is a sinner, and, therefore, powerless to perform miracles. They logically conclude that the man to whom Jesus reached out could not have been blind from birth. When the man and his parents protest, they are dismissed as liars. In the eyes of the crowd who witnessed what took place, the Pharisees ended up painting themselves into a corner from which they were unable to extract themselves. They had denied the physical evidence which both they and the crowd had seen with their own eyes. They destroyed their own credibility by dismissing as a liar the man who had been healed. In word and action, Jesus demolished the moral and theological constructs that the Pharisees had created to preserve the status they had built for themselves as educated religious leaders, expert in understanding and applying Jewish law.

The upshot is that the account of the blind man’s cure is pushed into the background as the antagonism between Jesus and the Pharisees is intensified. The group of nitpicking legalists insist that Jesus’ actions of mixing spittle and soil to make a paste and rubbing it in the blind man’s eyes constitute a breach of the law that prohibits manual work on the Sabbath. In their eyes, the compassion of Jesus counts for nothing. They become even more intent on destroying him because his compassion stands in stark comparison to the emptiness of their legalism. Ultimately, a rise in Jesus’ popularity would threaten their status, security and comfort.

It is worth our digressing to take note of one of the differences between John’s Gospel and the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. The latter treat the miracles of Jesus as demonstrations of his compassion, kindness and care for people in great need. John, however, beginning with the miracle of Cana and progressing through the conversion of the woman at the well, the cure of the blind man and the raising of Lazarus (next Sunday’s gospel) builds a case to establish that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God. John puts one miracle on another, as layers of a foundation, to prove that Jesus is on a mission to bring God’s love to life for a world in need of being freed from whatever is stifling it and holding it in chains, be it oppression, injustice or even religious legalism that presents God as someone intent on punishment, and meant to be feared.

Woven into today’s gospel story are the images of light and darkness, repeated so often that I wonder if John thought his community would otherwise fail to see the irony, paradox and upside-down state of religious practice on which the Pharisees insisted. A blind man, to whom Jesus gives the gift of sight, embraces the added gift of faith that helps him to see that Jesus is the one who personifies the love, compassion and light of God for all in need. Ironically, the very ones whose role is to reflect the light, love and compassion of God are blind when all this is acted out in front of them.  While today’s gospel is taken from chapter 9 of John’s Gospel, John has Jesus declare in Chapter 8: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8, 12).

Jesus was the incarnation of God in our world. He gave light and love and life to those whom he encountered, by healing their brokenness and by welcoming them as his brothers and sisters, affirming and encouraging them. In his Gospel, Matthew affirms that we are icons of Jesus, as he has Jesus proclaim to his disciples and to us that we, too, are light for our world: “You are the light of the world”. A contemporary paraphrase of this section of Matthew expresses it this way:

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (The Message Bible, Matthew 5, 13-16)

In coming to grips with today’s gospel there are a couple of aspects of John’s skill in shaping his story that are worthy of note. Very early in the story when the disciples demonstrate that they hold to the popular belief that physical dysfunction and infirmity were punishment by God for the sins of some family member, Jesus corrects them and proceeds to say that what he is about to do for the blind man is to demonstrate God’s power, goodness and compassion in action: Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked: “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” (John 9, 1-5)

The man who was healed responded magnificently, carrying out to the letter the mission Jesus had just articulated for himself and for all who would follow him. By courageously confronting the narrow-mindedness and legalism of the Pharisees, this man voiced what the mercy, goodness and justice of God look like in action. His courage challenges us to do likewise: to light up the world with the goodness of God.

Note, too, how Jesus went about healing the man in front of him. He used mud—adamah, (that’s where the name Adam comes from) the stuff of God’s earliest creative acts—to restore the man born blind to the fullness of his humanity. Moreover, in John’s mind, the mission God gave Jesus would come to completion on the Cross on Golgotha, where Jesus’s final words were: “It is finished!” (John 19, 30) Today’s gospel invites us to stop and consider where and how we are blind, wilfully or inadvertently. It also reminds us how Jesus insists that our role as Christians is to reveal God’s goodness, love mercy and compassion to the world by the way we live. Do we dare illuminate our world by letting our light shine?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Reflection Mornings

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

by Br Julian McDonald

“Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. Amen, I say to you, I have come not to abolish but to fulfil…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

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tackles the way in which we human beings have often approached law. We have often slipped into a legalistic approach to law, giving our attention to observing the letter of the law but missing the spirit underlying the letter. I can still recall classroom discussions and debates from my own school-days of the 1950s as we explored what were then called the Laws of the Church. There was one about Sunday observance (going to Mass on Sundays and avoiding unnecessary, heavy work). This led to discussions about whether or not latecomers committed venial sins if they arrived at Mass after the gospel was read. It was asserted that, if they missed the offertory prayer, they would have to line up for the next Mass. The ruling was that they would not have met their Sunday obligation if they came in after the offertory and that they would be guilty of a mortal sin if they didn’t attend another Mass that day. That led to debates on whether they had to stay at the second Mass only up to the point at which they arrived on their first attempt. There were also debates about the seriousness of eating meat on Fridays. Would the consumption of meat gravy be equivalent to having eaten a steak or a meat pie? Was having the gravy less sinful than having solid meat? This was legalism at its worst, and there were many Catholics who grew up with an infantile approach to law: “How far can I go before I end up committing a sin?” It was as though morality was measured by a slide-rule or a micrometer screw gauge.

As a consequence of such an approach, law and codes of conduct came to be seen as oppressive and regulatory rather than instruments to promote and guide responsible freedom. At the same time, there is something within many of us human beings that longs for the comfort of certainty, of knowing that we are right within ourselves, with one another, and, especially, right with God. The desire to be “right with God” is often related to a belief that life is about earning one’s way into heaven. Being compliant with the commandments and faithful to the laws and traditions of the Church will give us the assurance that God will reserve for us a place in heaven.

But walking in the footsteps of Jesus means living life with vigour and energy; it calls for making prudential judgements in situations that are often ambiguous, that are tinged with uncertainty and doubt, that don’t open themselves to easy answers but ones that are the product of discerning hearts and the riskiness of faith. Life is not meant to be lived according to some absolute, clearly articulated formula. It is an adventure inspired and guided by the Spirit of God planted deep in our hearts. Living in tune with God’s Spirit means getting beyond obsession with legal details to living lives inspired by love, selflessness, care and compassion – qualities that give meaning to all laws built on justice. Living by faith is a risky business. It means trusting God.

The writers of Integrity in Ministry: A Document of Principles & Standards to Guide Priests and Religious Women and Men in their Ministry captured Jesus’ understanding of the spirit meant to enliven law when they wrote in the Foreword:

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. Integrity in Ministry, p. iii, April 2010

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus proclaims that we live our lives in tune with God, filled with freedom and energy when we truly respect and honour everyone around us. A minimalist approach to law puts the focus on what is forbidden – killing and committing adultery (the two directives of the Mosaic Law to which Jesus specifically refers). But Jesus says that it is important to look within ourselves at what it is that first fuels the urge to kill and what it is that leads us to want to use others as objects for sexual gratification. He points out that we are all capable of fuelling the anger inside and the desire to get even until they overflow into violence. He knows that we all experience desires for lust, and proceeds to say that there are times when we prefer the illusion of dishonesty to speaking the truth about ourselves and our world. Moreover, we know that there are times when truth-telling is punished by ridicule. Many of us will remember when Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party candidate in the 1976 US Presidential Election, spoke with honesty in an interview with Playboy magazine: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” He was belittled for echoing what Jesus says in today’s gospel reading. Yet harbouring and feeding the very attitudes that Jesus challenges are what prevent us from opening ourselves to God’s Spirit within us and, thereby, living into the fullness of God’s life to which all three of today’s readings refer.

Sirach reminds us that we have the capacity to choose life or death. Paul, in today’s second reading, explains that we are spiritually mature when we can look beyond the emptiness of what the world holds out as wisdom to choose the wisdom of God. And Jesus urges us to identify and explore the motives on which all our actions are built. In this context, I am reminded of the Cherokee story of the two wolves:

A Cherokee Indian elder was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
His grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked: “Which wolf will win, grandad?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Posted by Gay Walsh in Reflection Mornings

Dates for your Diary

Dates for Q & A in the Crypt are:

Sunday 27th May & Sunday 5th August.

Other dates will be advised.
Venue: The Crypt at St Patrick’s Church, Grosvenor Street, Sydney.
Time: 1.30—3.00pm (Doors open 1.00pm)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Event

Reflection Mornings 2019 -Hunters Hill – full list speakers and topics

March 2 – Fr Michael Whelan sm
“Living is Epiphanic”

April 6– Sr Jan Barnett You can look her up on Google and see that she is the Social Justice person for the Brown Joeys and the national team and is a facilitator as well as a retreat leader.

May 4 – Fr Richard Leonard sj
“Will Our Faith have Young People in the 21st Century?”

June 1 – Catherine McCahill sgs
“Mary of Magdala: Sinner? Prostitute” Disciple Apostle?”

July 6 – Patty Andrew osu
“Seeing God Face to Face”

August 3 – Fr Peter Maher & Ben Oh
“Building Bridges toward a more humane world”

September 7 – Sr Elizabeth Brennan sgs
“St Hildegard – Dashing Seer of Bingen”\

October 5 – Bishop Peter Ingham DD
“A Gospel Potpourri to Engender Hope and Make Each Day Matter”

Holy Name of Mary Parish Hall 3 Mary St Hunters Hill NSW
9.30 AM – 12.30 PM
Come and enjoy some reflection, silence and solitude in the beautiful Marist grounds
 ALL WELCOME  NO BOOKING REQUIRED
 ENTRY BY DONATION  TEA & COFFEE PROVIDED

A joint venture of Aquinas Academy & Catalyst for Renewal
Enquiries Carole 9869 1036 or Michelle 9958 5963

Posted by Bob Birchall in Event