Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Week 30 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128; Luke 13:18-21

The readings today give us three domestic parables. It goes without saying that Jesus is wiser than Paul and perhaps we see it in a practical way here in the fact that his parables are so simple whereas Paul seeks to spell out the analogy based on marriage. In doing so he gives many hostages to fortune.

The two parables of Jesus could hardly be shorter. To what can the kingdom of God be compared? It is like a mustard seed which a man sows, it grows into a big shrub, and the birds come to make their nests in it. It is like the yeast which a woman adds to three measures of flour and eventually it is all leavened. That's it. No allegories, no commentaries, think about either of these situations and meditate on how the kingdom of God is like it. They are rich and wonderful.

Paul gives a much fuller explanation of the ways in which the relationship between Christ and the Church can be compared to marriage. His intention also is to keep us focused on the mystery of Christ and the Church, the mystery of the kingdom of God. The analogy he offers has a long biblical history. God is the husband of Israel and she is his wife. Jesus speaks of himself as the bridegroom inviting his disciples to continue to use the analogy, now in speaking about the relationship between Christ and his body, the Church.

But things get in the way of our meditating serenely on this passage. It has been used in the course of the centuries to support discrimination against women. There are some places where it is now considered unsuitable for celebrations of marriage. Social and political arguments about the equality of the sexes and the roles of men and women gather around as we listen to this reading and distract us from its main focus. Here is another domestic parable, an analogy, that teaches us important things about the kingdom of God. But its use over the centuries, and some of its phrases, make it a stumbling block.

One might begin to list the points that weigh against a discriminatory interpretation of this 'profound mystery': be subject to one another (it is mutual, not one-sided), out of reverence for Christ (the focus is on Christ), love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (this is the counterpart to the wife's obedience which represents our obedience to Christ), a husband loves his wife as his own body (the union is the most intimate possible), nourishing and cherishing her as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (the mystery is the love of Christ for the Church).

The sowing of a mustard seed and the placing of yeast are rich subjects for meditating on the mystery of the kingdom, but neither has become a sacrament of the Church. Marriage, however, the fundamental domestic reality, is a sacrament of the Church, In some ways it is the paradigmatic sacrament since all the sacraments establish, express, and celebrate the nuptial relationship between Christ and the Church, the covenant of life and love that binds the believer to Christ in the Church.

Acknowledging the difficulties this text generates for us we must, nevertheless, continue to listen to it and to meditate on its teaching, to try to glimpse the mystery. I can never hear it without thinking of the old Anglican marriage service during which the woman said to the man, but not he to her, that she will obey him. What a shocking thing, we might now say. But the man said to the woman, but not she to him, that he will worship her. Is that even more shocking?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Saint Luke, Evangelist -- 18 October

Readings: 2 Timothy 4:10-17b; Psalm 145: Luke 10:1-9

St Paul mentions Luke, one of his co-workers, a few times — Philemon 23-24, 2 Timothy 4.11 and Colossians 4.14 where he refers to Luke as ‘the beloved physician’. There is no good reason to doubt the early Church’s attribution of the third gospel to Luke. And the Acts of the Apostles as well of course, since the Gospel of Luke and the Acts go together.

Luke seems to have been a person of particular sensitivity and gentleness. The picture of Jesus we gain from Luke is correspondingly sensitive and compassionate, with an eye always to the unfortunate and the afflicted.

Luke has been described (by Dante) as ‘the recorder of the tenderness of Christ’ and this comes through in a number of ways. Think, for example, of parables which are found only in Luke’s gospel: the good Samaritan (Luke 10), the prodigal son (Luke 15), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18) to name just four of them. If asked to pick out stories that best summarise the good news of Christianity I bet we would all include at least the first two.

In both parables the turning point is when one human being is moved with compassion at the distress of another and does something to help. The good Samaritan, unlike the priest and Levite who passed by, is ‘moved with compassion’ to help the unfortunate man he sees on the Jericho road. The prodigal son is on his way home, and is still a good way off, when his father sees him, is ‘moved with compassion’ and rushes out to embrace him.

Luke uses the same Greek word in both places. And he uses it again in telling how Jesus encountered a funeral procession in the town of Nain, that of a man who was the only son of his widowed mother (Luke 7: it is typical of Luke to note things which deepen the sadness of situations: the ‘only’ son and she a ‘widow’.) Here, Luke tells us, Jesus himself is ‘moved with compassion’ and restores the man to life.

The miracles recorded only by Luke often have some added reason for compassion. The woman bent over (Luke 13), the man with dropsy (Luke 14), and Zaccheus the tax-collector too small to see Jesus (Luke 19), are all afflicted in ways that might well have led to them being laughed at and jeered.

Some have suggested that Luke’s medical background explains his interest in the details of various conditions. Perhaps it is enough that his sensitivity drew him to relate events which best illustrate the compassion of our Lord.

A further illustration of this compassion is in the words from the cross which Luke records (Luke 23). The first is ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. The concern of Jesus for the plight of others remains to the very end. In the same spirit is his assurance to the good thief, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. And his final word is a prayer, ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit’.

Luke, recorder of Christ’s gentleness, is symbolised by a bull or ox. This is the biblical symbol (Apocalypse 4) traditionally assigned to him, because his gospel begins with Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, offering incense in the temple at Jerusalem, the place of sacrifice. The compassion which permeates Luke’s gospel may seem fragile and vulnerable before the powers of this world but we believe that this kind love which comes from God is stronger than anything in creation. The ox is a symbol of this strength.

It is always good to read the gospel of Luke, to make it our spiritual reading — if only to realise how much our appreciation and love of Jesus of Nazareth have been shaped by what we learn from this gentle physician.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

St Teresa of Avila -- 15 October

You will find here a homily for today's feast.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Week 28 Friday (Year 2)

Readings: Ephesians 1:11-14; Psalm 33; Luke 12:1-7

On Sunday next, at St Peter's in Rome, Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization of a group of new saints, a group that includes Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, a French Carmelite nun who lived at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Searching the New Testament for words that would serve as her motto, blessed Elisabeth fixed on a phrase that we find twice in the first reading at Mass today: she wanted to be, on earth and in heaven, 'the praise of his glory'. Saint Paul says, in fact, that those who come to believe in Christ have been predestined to be 'the praise of Christ's glory', that they are among those whom God has acquired for himself to the praise of his glory.

What is this glory, to the praise of which blessed Elisabeth wanted to consecrate herself completely? It is the word of truth, says Paul, the Word that is Christ himself, bringing to the world the light of truth, the light of redemption, the first installment of which we have already received when we were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

In the gospel reading also Jesus speaks about truth, the light that will illuminate all things. In 2016 our Order, the Order of preachers founded by Saint Dominic Guzman, celebrates the eighth centenary of its confirmation. It is an Order specially dedicated to preaching the gospel of truth for the salvation of human beings. Many things in the readings today call us back to this, our Christian vocation: to live in the truth of the Lord.

We might, however, interpret as threats certain expressions about truth in the gospel reading that we read today - in this light  all secrets will be revealed, and what has been whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. If it was a cruel light we would have reason to be fearful. But this light of the Word of God is always the light of an eternal and infinite love. The attention God gives to our hairs, and to all the details of our lives, is not the attention of an enemy, or of one who does not have our interest at heart. It is comparable instead to the attention adults give to a newborn child, when we look carefully at all the details of the baby, with a look of affection, admiration and love.

So this light of love and truth is what Dominicans have preached for eight hundred years and continue to preach today. This is the glory to the praise of which blessed Elisabeth - soon to be Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity - wished to dedicate herself completely.

This homily was preached at a Mass broadcast on Radio Maria (Italia) on Friday 14 October 2016. The Mass was celebrated at the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria della Neve e San Domenico, in Pratovecchio, Tuscany. The Italian version is below.

Domenica prossima, a San Pietro in Vaticano, Papa Francesco celebrerà la canonizzazione di un gruppo di nuovi santi, fra cui la Beata Elisabetta della Trinità, monaca carmelitana francese della fine dell’ottocento e l’inizio del novecento. Mentre cercava nel nuovo testamento qualche parola da prendere come proprio motto, la beata Elisabetta si soffermò su una frase che troviamo due volte nella prima lettura della Messa di oggi: voleva essere, in terra e nel paradiso, ‘lode della sua gloria’. San Paolo dice, infatti, che noi Cristiani siamo predestinati ad essere lode della gloria di Cristo, che siamo fra coloro che Dio si è acquistato a lode della sua gloria.

Qual è questa gloria alla lode della quale la beata Elisabetta voleva consacrarsi totalmente? É la parola della verità, dice san Paolo, la Parola che è Cristo stesso, che porta nel mondo la luce della verità, la luce della redenzione, la caparra della quale abbiamo ricevuto nel sigillo dello Spirito Santo.

Anche nel vangelo Gesù parla della verità, di questa luce che illuminerà tutte le cose. In quest’anno il nostro Ordine, l’Ordine dei predicatori fondato da san Domenico di Guzman, celebra l’ottavo centenario della sua conferma. È un Ordine particolarmente dèdito alla predicazione del vangelo della verità per la salvezza degli uomini. Tante cose nelle letture ci richiamano a questa nostra vocazione cristiana: vivere nella verità del Signore.

Potremmo però interpretare come minacce certe espressioni sulla verità nel brano del vangelo che abbiamo appena ascoltato – in questa luce della verità, infatti, saranno rivelati tutti i segreti, saranno pubblicate tutte le cose dette all’orecchio nelle stanze più interne. Se fosse una luce crudele, avremmo ragione ad essere paurosi. Ma questa luce della Parola di Dio è la luce di un amore eterno e infinito. L’attenzione di Dio ai nostri capelli, e a tutti i dettagli delle nostre vite, non è l’attenzione di un nemico o di uno che non ha alcun interesse per noi nel suo cuore. È invece paragonabile all’attenzione degli adulti per un neonato, quando guardiamo attentamente tutti i dettagli del bambino, con uno sguardo di affetto, di ammirazione e di amore.

Allora, questa luce di amore e di verità è ciò che i Domenicani hanno predicato per otto cento anni e continuano a predicare oggi. Questa è la gloria alla lode della quale la beata Elisabetta voleva dedicarsi totalmente.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Week 28 Thursday (Year 2)

Readings: Ephesians 1:1-10; Psalm 98; Luke 11:47-54

In Luke's account, Jesus is invariably gentler than he is presented in Matthew or in Mark, whether in regard to the apostles and disciples or in regard to the enemies of Jesus. But of course the end result is the same: Jesus is crucified. Today's gospel contains woes against various elements in the religious authorities, as incisive if not as insulting as the woes against the scribes and Pharisees that we find in Matthew 23. And the end result is the same: they are increasingly angry with him and with what he is saying about them to the people.

Here they are described as 'scholars of the law' and 'those who build the monuments of the prophets' but it is the same scribes and Pharisees who see that the criticisms are leveled against them and who react accordingly. The scholars of the law have taken away the key of knowledge, not entering themselves but not allowing anybody else to enter either. A less clearly defined group, those who build the monuments of the prophets, are those who support prophets as long as they are dead but whenever a living prophet arises will be among the first to make sure he is silenced.

Religious teachers and authorities have to listen carefully to these words and examine their own thoughts, words, deeds and omissions in the light of them. Just like everybody else, and even more so, they are called to repent and to position themselves in God's way of bringing in the kingdom of grace. The challenge to them is to remain open to the Spirit who breathes where he will and who cannot be confined to particular institutions or doctrines or practices. And yet it is the same Spirit who establishes and animates the institutions and doctrines and practices in which the relationship with God is lived and understood and celebrated.

It is too simple to set up here an easy contrast between Judaism and Christianity. It is too easy also to set up an easy contrast between institutional types and charismatic types, or between priestly types and prophetic types, between radicals who are faithful to the wild call of the gospel and liberals who will always be at hand to anoint the bodies of dead prophets and to bury martyred apostles. Often the best we can manage is to live between such polarities, making efforts to keep people together, complementing each other in the ways in which they bear witness to the truth of God.

But the mystery of God's will is that all things are summed up in Christ. It is Christ who is the recapitulation of all things. We are not going to do it no matter what our political or intellectual achievements. It is Christ who brings all together, opening the door of knowledge and revealing the glory of God's grace. We are not going to do it no matter what our institutional structures, our grand strategies or our good intentions.

When the Blood of this prophet is shed, and the blood of this Apostle is poured out, it is the moment of the world's redemption. He is not just one more martyred prophet in the line running from Abel to Zechariah. This dead body is not to be contained in any tomb, to be honoured once a year by those claiming to be his heirs. Because it has been carried to the throne of grace, this Blood flows forever, redeeming and bringing forgiveness. The power of this Blood tears the curtain of the Temple and opens the way to a new knowledge and a new life. This is the Blood which establishes unity between the persecuted and those who killed them. This is the Blood which heals the world's wounds, forgives the world's sins, and lavishes grace on the world.

The preaching of this truth and the testimony to this grace continue to invite rejection and persecution. That preaching and that testimony continue to call us to repent and to change, to position ourselves in God's way of bringing in the kingdom of grace. And that, it seems, will always be some kind of threat to us, a subversion of our comfort, a relativisation of our achievements, a criticism of our best intentions, changes in our way of living. Only the Spirit, who has spoken through the prophets, will keep us on this road of repentance, ready to learn and to change again, the Spirit who bears witness with the water and the Blood to the riches of God's grace.