Posts Tagged ‘prostitutes’

Cambodia PM orders closure of child sex slave charity

August 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Hun Sen has long jousted with local and international NGOs, which he accuses of meddling in Cambodian affairs

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered a Christian charity that rescues child sex slaves to be shut down, after it featured in a recent CNN report that he described as an “insult” to his country.The impoverished Southeast Asian nation has long been a destination for sex tourists, with minors often the victims of a flesh trade aided by endemic corruption.

A CNN report broadcast on 25 July featured three girls who were reportedly rescued from the sex trade by Agape International Missions (AIM), a charity founded by an American pastor which has been operating in the country since 1988.

The girls had first appeared in a 2013 documentary by CNN on Svay Pak, a poor suburb on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, before the network decided to pay them another visit this year and follow up on their fate.

Until a crackdown in the early 2000s Svay Pak hosted a huge red light district notorious for child sex slaves and the documentary showed the trade still existed a decade on.

The head of the charity, American pastor Don Brewster, was quoted in last week’s report as saying that Svay Pak was “at one point the epicenter” of the child sex trade.

He said things had dramatically improved in recent years but that some trade in minors still occured behind closed doors.

But Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, took exception to the report.

“I cannot accept the insult by an NGO that was broadcasted on CNN… that said in Cambodia mothers sold daughters to be prostitutes,” he told a graduation ceremony.

“This is an insult that cannot be tolerated. At any cost, this organisation must leave Cambodia. We cannot let them stay anymore,” he added.

AIM did not respond to requests for comment.

Hun Sen and nationalists seized on an early version of CNN’s online report which described the girls as Cambodian, when in fact they either spoke Vietnamese or Khmer with a thick Vietnamese accent.

CNN later removed the word Cambodian from their headline.

The network did not respond to an AFP request for comment but told the Cambodia Daily it “stood by its reporting”.

Many of Svay Pak’s poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants are indeed Vietnamese migrants.

But police raids, court cases and efforts by charities show ample evidence over the years that children from impoverished Cambodian families are also at risk of sex trafficking.

Hun Sen has long jousted with local and international NGOs, which he accuses of meddling in Cambodian affairs.

In 2015 he drove through a controversial and broadly-worded law that allows authorities to shutter any that harms national security or the “traditions and culture” of Cambodia.

 

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, March 23, 2017 — “This is the nation that does not listen.” — “Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.”

March 22, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 240

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Christ Healing, by Rembrandt, 1649

Reading 1 JER 7:23-28

Thus says the LORD:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Responsorial Psalm PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Verse Before The Gospel JL 2:12-13

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel LK 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

***********************************

Sinners, the Bible and Jesus

It’s common to hear Christians saying things like “We’re all sinners who need God’s grace,” and “Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone.” Cliché-ish though they may be, they carry a great deal of truth. Any honest person recognizes her faults, carries her regrets, and wishes she might improve. It’s a good thing God is kind because we’re pretty much a mess. But if it’s good theology to recognize that we all are sinners, that assumption can also lead to misunderstanding when it comes to reading the Bible.

Many biblical authors recognize the universality of sin. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul rattles off a series of indictments against sinful humanity: no one is righteous; no one truly seeks God; all have turned aside; people use their tongues to deceive and to curse; people do not know the way of peace or the fear of God. Paul’s account represents no uniquely Christian insight; the Apostle is simple quoting a variety of passages from the Jewish Scriptures. Almost all of them come from the Psalms.

But if the Psalms acknowledge humankind’s universal sinful condition, they also discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. Psalm 1 begins by blessing those who do not take the path of sinners: the wicked cannot withstand the judgment, nor can they assemble among the righteous. God watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Psalm 34 celebrates how God rescues the righteous from their troubles, while evil brings death to the wicked. And Psalm 37 instructs its reader to heed the example of blameless and righteous persons.

Some Christians might be tempted to object. “Well, the Old Testament may divide the world between the righteous and the wicked, but the New Testament is a book of grace. In the New Testament we’re all sinners who stand in need of God’s grace.” That objection simply fails. For one thing, the Jewish Scriptures testify to God’s grace just as fully as do the New Testament writings. When God reveals the divine nature to Moses, God’s voice proclaims, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6, NRSV). The passage does go on to name God’s judgment against the guilty, a sentiment no less consistent in the New Testament than in the Jewish Scriptures. The biblical God, whether “Old” or “New” Testament, is a God of grace.

The New Testament itself discriminates between righteous people and sinners. When the anonymous woman comes to anoint Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, the storyteller leaves no question as to whether she’s a sinner: “a woman in the city, who was a sinner…” (NRSV). Thinking to himself, Jesus’ host surmises that if Jesus were a prophet, he would recognize her status as a sinner. And Jesus himself says aloud that her sins are “many.” The story singles out the woman as a sinner, leaving open the assumption that others in her world must be righteous.

Jesus himself acknowledges the distinction between righteous people and sinners, claiming that he comes to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). His parable of the sheep and the goats divides judgment according to the righteous and the, well, goats (Matthew 25:31-46), while his parable of the lost sheep reemphasizes the distinction between sinners who repent and those who do not need repentance (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7).

Hence, many parts of the Bible do distinguish righteous persons from wicked ones. We may ignore that distinction. Or we may rationalize it: “Oh, we’re all sinners, but Jesus makes us righteous before God.” Both choices will prevent us from understanding passages like the ones we’ve just reviewed.

Simply, in the biblical world some people were considered righteous and others wicked. We may even assume that some people regarded themselves as righteous, while others accepted their own status as sinners. We lack clear evidence, biblical or otherwise, as to what defined the two categories. Most scholars think, as I do, that the distinction boiled down to whether people basically tried to live according to Israel’s covenant with God. People who flagrantly disregarded the Law were sinners; others could stand among the righteous.

But there’s a hitch. Without clear criteria — and what clear criteria could there have been? — the distinction between sinners and the righteous amounted to a social verdict. Modern anthropologists would interpret this distinction in terms of labeling and deviance: labeling has to do with the values societies assign to individuals, and deviance involves how societies determine who counts among the unworthy. In other words, categories like “righteous” and “sinner” reflect social values that are subject to change from one period to another and from one culture to another.

Why does it matter? Jesus’ opponents routinely criticized Jesus for cavorting with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30). In turn, Jesus’ followers celebrated this reputation. They remembered that such people freely chose to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1-2). They recalled how Jesus envisioned the tax collectors and prostitutes preceding the righteous in God’s new reign (Matthew 21:31-32).

The acknowledgement of tax collectors and prostitutes reveals something about sinners in Jesus’ day — and our own. Many people live in desperate circumstances. We may deplore their lifestyles, but we should also consider how they came to pass. No one in Jesus’ day grew up thinking, “I hope I’ll be a tax collector when I grow up” any more than young girls daydream about a life of prostitution today. Yet there they are: people corrupted by exploitative economics and people abused for others’ pleasure. Both “sinners” in society’s vision; both companions of Jesus in early Christian memory.

If you’d like to read more about the question of sinners and Jesus’ ministry among them, please read my book, ‘Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers.’

Iran official calls for sterilisation for sex workers, homeless drug addicts

January 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | “These women deal drugs, consume drugs and also work as sex workers,” a deputy provincial governor in Tehran said. “Over 20 percent of them have AIDS and (they) spread various diseases.”
TEHRAN (AFP) – Female sex workers and homeless drug addicts in Tehran should be “convinced” to undergo sterilisation to prevent social problems, a deputy provincial governor in the Iranian capital said on Sunday.

“These women deal drugs, consume drugs and also work as sex workers,” Siavash Shahrivar told the ILNA news agency.

“Over 20 percent of them have AIDS and (they) spread various diseases,” he said.

“In addition to … spreading depravity, they reproduce like hatching machines and as their children have no guardians, they sell them,” he added.

“There is a project, a reality, an opinion, agreed on by many NGOs and the social elite, that if a women is sick, and is also a sex worker and has no place to stay, she should be sterilised with her own approval, and not forcefully”.

“The sterilisation should be done through a project to convince homeless women to prevent social harm,” he added.

Last week, when images of homeless men and women sleeping in open graves outside Tehran shocked Iranian society, a cartoonist said on social media that the women must be sterilised because they give birth to children with “weak genes”.

The suggestion by Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour to “block the misery of poor humans who enter this world with many diseases, pain and addiction” outraged many people. Some said it reminded them of “Nazi cleansing” projects.

He later apologised and said the women should be given consultation for sterilisation “with their own approval.”

The controversy quickly turned into a political football with conservative media accusing Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice president for women’s affairs, of advocating the sterilisation of homeless women — which she denies.

In April Molaverdi said the government “has not yet offered any specific plans for sterilisation of homeless women” and such plans should be “proposed and reviewed by the Health Ministry”.

In recent years, there has been a growing crisis in Tehran where street children are born and sold by homeless or poor women living in and around the capital.

Thousands of such children are put to work as beggars or street vendors.

Last week the haunting images of dozens of homeless people living in empty graves in a town outside Tehran caused social media users and celebrities to react with expressions of alarm and sadness.

Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi aired his frustration in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, in which he said he was “filled with shame and sorrow”.

The president responded to Farhadi’s “painful” letter on Wednesday.

“Who can see human beings hurt by social issues who take shelter in graves…. and not feel ashamed?” Rouhani said.

© 2017 AFP

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The Epic Honey Trap: A Classic Case Shows Just How Far Moscow Will Go To Get What It Wants — It really did resemble something out of Dangerous Liaisons by way of The Lower Depths

August 1, 2016

By Michael Weiss

The French ambassador looked like an easy target, but 100 operatives were called on to get him laid, and get him recruited.

“Eh bien, Dejean, on couche.”

With that contemptuous locution, which one might translate very roughly as, “Well, De Jean, one gets laid,” with perhaps the added thought that having made one’s bed, one must lie in it, Charles De Gaulle dismissed his old friend Maurice Dejean from diplomatic service to the Fifth Republic.

It was 1964, six years after the KGB had staged one of its long-running and most elaborate honey traps in Moscow against a Western diplomat. The operation involved over 100 officers and agents of the KGB including, incognito, the head of the Second Chief Directorate, the branch responsible for domestic surveillance and the monitoring or recruitment of foreigners inside the Soviet Union.

Celebrated Russian writers, actresses, painters, and intellectuals, and not a few prostitutes were conscripted for this mission of interlocking plots and subplots, featuring Dejean’s wife and the wives of others. Even Premier Nikita Khrushchev played a role in snaring the high-value mark he himself ordered snared. It was a mission of entrapment that repeatedly risked coming undone and likely would have but for the cosmic surety of French womanizing.

Dejean had served faithfully with De Gaulle in the resistance during World War II, first in Morocco and then London. Although the two had quarreled in the Free French administration after the Allied liberation of Paris, Dejean went on to become political director at the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry.

From there, his career was largely a series of botched attempts to extricate postwar France from various folds in the Iron Curtain, a somewhat quixotic search for a “third way” between the democratic West and the totalitarian East.

Dejean served as ambassador to Prague and worked assiduously to restore Franco-Czech relations until the 1948 communist coup, which Dejean blamed (rightly) on the Soviets. He headed the French mission in Tokyo in 1950; then he was dispatched to Saigon where he watched the siege of Dien Ben Phu and its fall to communist insurgents in 1954: prelude to an engulfing conflict that would eventually lure the United States into its first disastrous war of choice.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Dejean’s next posting would also be his last, in Moscow, a year later. He was 56, eager to establish cultural ties and, as the haughty De Gaulle put it, not above sleeping around.

In the age of email hacking and cyber insecurity, it is easy to forget the more cunning, intimate, and human side of tradecraft, which is why over the last several months I’ve been taking slow, deep sips from KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, a book published in 1974, at a time when we knew far less than we do now about how the Cold War was being fought in the shadows and street corners and embassies of the world.

The author, John Barron, a Reader’s Digest journalist (and not the “spokesman” Donald Trump used to conjure out of thin air) , spent years accumulating first-hand accounts from Soviet defectors about the nature and style of the special services’ invigilation of the citizenry and of usually unsuspecting foreign visitors to the USSR, or foreign marks abroad.

Barron, who was himself a spook in the 1950s, was so accomplished by the end of his spadework that he frequently testified for the FBI in prominent espionage cases, explaining the patterns of Soviet surveillance and spy-running. The Dejean operation is in many ways the summa of KGB and the subject matter therein.

It all began in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Revolution, at the Moskva Hotel, with KGB Col. Leonid Kunavin instructing one of his subordinates, the dramatist Yuri Krotkov, that Dejean was the target for recruitment, given his closeness to De Gaulle and the likelihood that the latter was on his way to ruling France. “The order comes from the very top,” Kunavin said. “Nikita Sergeyevich [Khrushchev] himself wants him caught.”

The use of Krotkov as the seconded scalp-hunter was as clever as it was customary, given his bona fides in the artistic milieu of Soviet Moscow. Born in Tbilisi, he was the son of a famous Georgian painter who once did a portrait of Lavrenty Beria that Stalin’s last-appointed security chief so admired, he had copies made and hung around the security service’s Lubyanka headquarters—until, of course, Beria was purged by Khrushchev following Stalin’s death.

Even so, paternal accomplishment and connections afforded Krotkov the necessary state protections, as a writer, to advance quickly through the ranks of the nomenklatura. He relied on his friends in the NKVD, as Beria’s spy service was then known, to evict squatters who had taken over his former room in Moscow, prior to the Nazi siege, which had forced him to flee. Krotkov then worked for TASS and Radio Moscow. He became an agent of the KGB in 1946, at the age of 28.

“As a writer, intellectual, and friend of the Boris Pasternak [author of Dr. Zhivago] family, Krotkov was welcomed by foreigners in Moscow. This tall, slender man, with a handsome shock of dark brown hair and an intense, expressive face, could talk suavely in English or Russian about the arts, history, and prominent Soviet personalities. Soon he learned to exploit the hunger of visitors for communication with the Soviet people. All the while, Krotkov was instructed to look for attractive girls whom the KGB could use to tempt foreigners into trouble. He picked them primarily from among actresses he met while writing film scenarios. The KGB offered them various inducements—the promise of better roles, money, clothes, a measure of liberty and gaiety absent from normal Soviet life.”

The girls were called “swallows” and they flew solo or in formation, depending upon the needs of Krotkov and his masters in the special services. Quarters were provided to them for assignations with their foreign marks—these were “swallow’s nests”—which consisted of two adjoining rooms; one for the tryst and one for the KGB’s audio-visual squad to record everything for the inevitable blackmail and Faustian offer.

Upon their arrival in Moscow, in December 1955, Dejean and his wife Marie-Claire had already been put under extensive surveillance. Their apartment at the French embassy was bugged. Their chauffeur was a KGB informant. They didn’t go anywhere or see anyone without the KGB’s knowledge, in accordance with Second Chief Directorate policy.

“We know everything about him there is to know,” Col. Kunavin told Krotkov during their meeting at the Moskva Hotel. A day later, the colonel told Krotkov his role would be to get to know Marie-Claire. “You must gain control of her; make her ours. You must get her in bed.”

Nor were the Dejeans the only mark. The Soviets also wanted to recruit an assistant air attaché at the French embassy, Col. Louis Guibaud, who was also married and whose wife Ginette would also have to play a sexual part in Krotkov’s little cinema vérité production. Moscow’s Frank Sinatra at the time, the actor and singer Misha Orlov, would be the one to seduce Madame Guibaud.

Charles de Gaulle (L), Chief of the French Free Forces, decorates six French officers in London on November 11, 1941 during World War II. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty

Charles de Gaulle (L), Chief of the French Free Forces, decorates six French officers in London on November 11, 1941 during World War II.

“When the time comes, it all will fit together,” Kunavin said. “You’ll see; we have something special in mind. There is one thing in our favor. Dejean really is trying to do his job. He wants to get out among the people—and his wife is trying to help him. He really wants to be friends. Well, we’ll show him how friendly our girls can be.”

Orlov and another KGB operative, Boris Cherkashin, who masqueraded as a Soviet diplomat named Karelin, arranged for a not-so-chance encounter with Madame Dejean at a resort by the Black Sea. She was duly impressed with their company and, perhaps not wanting to squander the opportunity to get to know a national celebrity and fellow foreign service officer, befriended them.

The three kept running into each other again and again at state functions, furnishing the perfect pretext for the eventual introduction of the ambassador’s wife to Krotkov. This happened aboard a police motorboat, repainted and redecorated to resemble a private boat, which, after being stuffed with fine wine and gourmet cuisine, took a picnic cruise along the Khimki Reservoir. Krotkov set to work on Madame Dejean, telling her that a friend of his, an official in the Sports Administration, had lent him the craft that had actually come from the Moscow militia, while Orlov hit on Madame Guibard.

Here the set-piece recounted by Barron really did resemble something out of Dangerous Liaisons by way of The Lower Depths.

Krotkov asked Madame Dejean how she was finding the Soviet Union. Too polite to tell the truth, she answered that she was “delighted” by it as well as the graciousness of her communist hosts. Krotkov then compared Moscow unfavorably to Paris, trying to provoke her into national amour-propre, a challenge she also (diplomatically) declined by refusing to compare the two cities.

Krotkov: “Would you have me believe that you like everything you have seen?”

Madame Dejean: “I am a guest. We did not come here to criticize. We came to help our countries be friends.”

Krotkov: “And I hope you succeed. But we should be honest, and I might as well tell you that there is much in Soviet reality that I detest. As a writer, I would be interested to know if we see the same reality.”

Madame Dejean: “If you insist. One difference between France and the Soviet Union: a conversation over a glass of wine can bring a Frenchman to the verge of revolution, while your people seem willing to tolerate anything. I think it very sad when people lose their capacity to be outraged.”

Krotkov: “I can see that you and I are going to be good friends.”

By the end of the cruise, Madame Dejean had invited the entire retinue to celebrate Bastille Day at the embassy. There was just one wrinkle. Cherkashin had previously been identified by French counterintelligence in Paris as a KGB spy, so he couldn’t attend.

Krotkov and Orlov showed up, however, and finally made the acquaintance of Amb. Dejean, who was also entertaining another Soviet luminary.

“Later in the evening,” Barron writes, “Krotkov watched as Dejean and Khrushchev, the guest of honor, drank champagne and traded jokes, occasionally poking each other in the ribs amid the laughter.”

Khrushchev, who had ordered Dejean’s recruitment, must have found the evening very amusing indeed.

The only Frenchman not susceptible to the KGB’s charms, it seems, was the second target, the assistant air attaché, Col. Guibard, who gave the operatives and plants there to toast French independence a frosty reception. Guibard would require more work, Krotkov and Orlov concluded.

The next cast member to enter the plot was nicknamed “Little Napoleon.” He was Lt. Gen. Oleg Gribanov, at the time the head of the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate. He was infamous—at least internally—for crushing dissent and “counter-revolutionary” activity within the broader USSR. He had won the esteem of his superiors by helping to oversee the destruction of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the year Dejean came to Moscow. So Little Napoleon was enlisted to try to foment treason against La France.

Gribanov was given a “legend,” or back story, that made him an “important official in the Council of Ministers” named Oleg Gorbunov. He was married to a woman named Vera Andreyeva, who was in fact a KGB major. Her introduction to the Dejeans came by way of two more agents: Sergei Mikhalkov, the co-author of the Soviet national anthem, and his wife Natalia Konchalovskaya, a children’s book writer. Vera Andreyeva and Madame Dejean, who had yet to go to bed with Krotkov, became good friends.

The two couples took dinner together at the Grubanov’s supposed home, a spacious apartment in Moscow, which was really a KGB-run residence. They holidayed at a lavishly appointed log cabin in Kurkino-Mashkino, just outside the capital—actually, the dacha of Ivan Serov, the chairman of the KGB. Meanwhile, Andreyeva was tasked with keeping Madame Dejean preoccupied and out of town as often as possible, the easier to fly swallows across her husband’s line of sight.

The first to catch his interest was a French-speaking, curvy divorcee named Lydia Khovanskaya, who was repurposed as a translator and made a point of brushing her hair up against the ambassador’s face at a ballet put on just for the benefit of allowing her to entice him into an affair. A subsequent dinner at the pricy Praga Restaurant brought Lydia back into his attention; and, just in case he wasn’t interested, two more swallows—actresses—were invited along as insurance.

But Dejean was interested, as it turned out. At a later art exhibit, Lydia asked the ambassador for a ride home. Then she asked him up for coffee and to “see how an ordinary Soviet woman lives.” He came down two hours later, according to his KGB chauffeur.

Her mission accomplished, she was instructed by Kunavin to play hard to get. “Gradually build up the relationship,” he told her. “But don’t appear too available for a while.”

It would be a minor victory to let the cage descend upon Dejean when he was still just an ambassador to Moscow. The goal was to wait until he climbed the ladder from diplomat to cabinet official or national security adviser to De Gaulle, now coming into focus, in 1958, as the likely next prime minister or, indeed, president. Dejean’s recall to Paris now appeared inevitable.

Act II was an unexpected rearrangement of the dramatis personae.

Lydia had succeeded but had been miscast, according to Kunavin, because she only had an ex-husband—one well known in Paris—and this operation, to be fully realized, required an active spouse who could barge in on the ambassador and his swallow.

Lydia fashioned an excuse: She was leaving Moscow to shoot a film on location and wouldn’t return for some time. Her replacement was already known to Dejean; one of the beautiful young ingénues brought to the Praga Restaurant as backup.

Larissa Kronberg-Sobolevskaya was an unruly and flamboyant mess, overly fond of the bottle and inclined to take her clothes off without official permission. She had agreed to go along with Moscow Centre’s designs on Dejean in exchange for a permit to acquire a room in the city.

Maurice Dejean, The Epic Honey Trap: A Classic Case Shows Just How Far Moscow Will Go

Getty

French diplomat Maurice DeJean entering the Soviet Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The legend: Her husband, “Misha,” was a geologist away on assignment in Siberia. He was insanely jealous and given to fits of violence. No matter. At a lunch fixed at a former KGB colonel’s house, Dejean asked Lora to take him back to her apartment (another KGB spot). So she phoned Krotkov in a panic.

“Yuri, what should I do with him?”

“That’s a ridiculous question.”

“I’m serious. Oleg Mikhailovich [Gribanov] warned me not to do anything without permission. Nobody told me I could make a date today. The proposition just popped up at lunch, and I took advantage of it.”

“Very well, we’ll call from the apartment.”

Krotkov couldn’t find Gribanov to take orders, so he told Lora to go ahead and take Dejean to bed. The subsequent affair was even steamier than the one with Lydia, possibly because Lora went off script so much that she threatened to spoil the entire operation.

It happened during another picnic.

Dejean spent the entire meal lusting after Lora, while Krotkov watched the clock, given that the ambassador was due back at her “apartment” at 5 o’clock in order for Misha, a hulking Tatar employee of the KGB, and his “friend”—Kunavin himself, in disguise—to unexpectedly walk in on them.

Gribanov’s instructions to Misha, Kunavin and Lora: “I want you to beat the hell out of him,” meaning Dejean. “Really hurt him. Terrify him. But I warn you, if you leave one mark on his face, I’ll put you both in jail. And, Lora, the same goes for you if he is not in your apartment by five o’clock. This must go exactly according to schedule.”

Lora had other ideas. While driving back to Moscow, she ordered the car stopped and got out to swim in a nearby lake. Years later, in his memoir, Krotkov would recall frantically running up to Lora, now taking off her clothes as she splashed around, and hissing at her to get back into the damned car:

“She laughed in response and did whatever she pleased. (We made sure the ambassador didn’t hear us arguing, of course.) O, great is the power of woman! How right Lora was in everything, listening to her intuition and acting in accordance with some sixth sense. I was forced to follow her into the lake…. And so right in front of the ambassador’s eyes, she began undressing and climbing from the water in just her slip, which immediately conformed to her body, and when she came out of the water, she looked not just naked, but naked twice over. She came out of the water several times and walked around on the shore look like this. Poor Maurice!”

When Dejean and Lora finally made it back to the apartment, a telegram had been placed there, ostensibly from Misha saying that he’d be back from Siberia the next day. So Dejean and Lora undressed, this time together.

The code word for Misha’s abrupt entry was “Kiev” and as soon as Lora spoke it, the thuggish Tatar and Kunavin sprang into action, beating Dejean about the body and also smacking Lora around for theatrical effect. She screamed that the man they were on the verge of killing was the French ambassador, so Misha and Kunavin pretended to think it over. Misha decided that he’d instead call the police and Dejean would find himself in disgrace and out of a job in the embassy.

Dejean drove home in agony and terror.

In the apartment next door to Lora’s, the champagne glasses were clinking, as the actress-swallow still strutted around naked, taking her bows and chiding Misha and Kunavin for hitting her too hard. She’d earned her room with distinction.

Later, Kunavin received the Order of the Red Star, according to Barron. Krotkov was feted at an expensive feast at the Aragvi Restaurant. One KGB general referred to what had just transpired as “one of the most brilliant” operations “ever consummated by the organs of State Security.” He personally handed Krotkov a gold Doxa watch.

The same day he was beaten up, Dejean attended a dinner engagement black-and-blue under his black tie.

Gribanov/Gorbunov was at the dinner and, seeing a familiar face and someone plausibly in the Soviet Council of Ministers, Dejean approached him and confided all. Gribanov, ever the wise counselor, told him that if Misha sang, “he could make quite a scandal” given that Soviet law was on the jilted husband’s side in such circumstances.

Gribanov offered to try and help but made no promises to Dejean, being suitably downcast about the chances of plucking the Frenchman from his own misfortune. Days later, he delivered. Gribanov said that he’d convinced Misha to keep quiet “in the interests of Soviet-French relations.” The implicit understanding was that in future Dejean might have to return the favor.

But De Gaulle’s ascent had not yet led to the ambassador’s. So the KGB kept Dejean in its good graces; it even arranged to have Lydia return from her movie to take up with him again, all the while feeding every utterance and move by the incorrigible diplomat back to Moscow Centre.

For his part, Dejean relayed whatever Gribanov and his new secret-sharers intended for him to relay back to Paris, whether it be truthful or false.

Everything, in other words, had gone off beautifully, save for just one thing.

The assistant air attaché, Col. Louis Guibard, finally succumbed after a series of swallows had flitted past him and one proved irresistible. The KGB wasn’t as artful in entrapment this time, however. Plainclothes Chekists presented Guibard with photographic evidence of his indiscretion and told him he had two choices: either work for Moscow or be exposed. He opted for a third choice: suicide.

In death, he didn’t confess to what he had done, making it easier for the KGB to invent a story that he shot himself out of severe depression. But to one man, Krotkov, Guibard’s demise did not appear to be self-inflicted at all.

It was murder and it haunted the Georgian dramatist for years afterward and there was only one course of action he could conceive of to exorcise his demons.

While touring London with a delegation of Soviet writers and artists in 1963, Krotkov defected and explained what Barron calls one of the KGB’s “most massive entrapment operations since World War II.”

The British were shocked, but not nearly so much as their French counterparts. The counterintelligence official stationed at the French embassy in London flew back to Paris the same day he was briefed by MI6 about Krotkov’s tale. De Gaulle ordered an investigation and had Dejean recalled for interrogation.

The French concluded that everything Krotkov had said was true, but could not find evidence that Dejean had yet betrayed his country—he was still being cultivated at the time of the Soviet playwright’s defection, and had apparently not given up any state information. Nor did he know that Gribanov/Grubanov was a spy.

The entire plot had been uncovered just in time, before De Gaulle had had reason or chance to promote his old ally in the resistance to a more sensitive portfolio in the French government. When the pouty moralist De Gaulle pronounced his famous animadversion, he allegedly refused to shake Dejean’s hand in dismissing him.

Her Majesty’s Secret Service, meanwhile, faced its own dilemma: Should it out Krotkov’s story to humiliate the Russians, or would doing so only scandalize and antagonize the French, then still dyspeptic over Churchill’s policies toward Paris during the war, as the Soviets well appreciated and, indeed, tried to exacerbate. In the end, MI6 convinced Krotkov to keep his mouth shut, at least temporarily.

Krotkov came to the United States in 1969 to testify before the Senate about the Dejean case, by then no longer a secret. He decided to expatriate to these shores and write novels. He died, as it happens, the same year that his erstwhile victim Dejean did, in 1982.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/30/the-epic-honey-trap-a-classic-case-shows-just-how-far-moscow-will-go.html?source=TDB&via=FB_Page

Police Officer Vows Not To Sleep With Other Women After Wife Picked Up a Kitchen Knife and Chopped Off His Penis — Surgeons attempt to reattach the piece which measured over one inch

June 26, 2016

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Men consider buying only sliced meat and ridding the community of knives

Many of them vow to go strait

James Ochaya was sleeping in their house when Jessica Ochaya picked a kitchen knife and chopped off the penis.
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A police officer attached to Lyantonde Police in Uganda is in pain after his wife cut off his penis accusing him of cheating on her.

James Ochaya was sleeping in their house when Jessica Ochaya picked a kitchen knife and chopped off the penis.

The incident happened early this week but police chose to keep it from journalists until when Ochaya’s situation worsened forcing his fellow officers to break the silence.

It is said that Jessica has always suspected Ochaya to having an affair with other women and warned him about it.

Fellow officers, who preferred anonymity, said that Ochaya raised an alarm before passing out after bleeding excessively. The knife was too sharp that it also damaged the scrotum.

They said that they rushed him to Born Medical centre in Lyantonde, where surgeons attempted to reattach the piece which measured over one inch.

A medical staff at the unit told New Vision that Ochaya’s chances of gaining his functionality may take over a year or more.

Idi Ibin Ssenkumbi, the Masaka Regional Police spokesperson, confirmed the incident calling it unfortunate. He said that Ochaya is improving due to the intensive care given to him.

Ssenkumbi explained that the officer would have defended himself if he was awake at the time of the attack.

He said that there has been a longstanding dispute between the couple which triggered off the horrible action. He added that Ochaya has not placed charges against his wife claiming there was no one to take care of him.

He further urged couples to always report cases beyond their control to the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) for redress than opting for deadly measures.

Beatrice Kabasindi, the head of CFPU at Lyantonde police station, said that cases of domestic violence are becoming rampant in the district despite awareness campaigns.

She added that most couples fail to report cases beyond their control and chose to retaliate when the matter goes out of control.
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http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1427841/wife-cuts-police-officer-penis-infidelity

– See more at: http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1427841/wife-cuts-police-officer-penis-infidelity#sthash.X9j99tqJ.dpuf

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Prof Barya to Give Prostitutes Startup Capital

By Farouk Twesigye

Presidential candidate Prof Venansius Baryamureeba yesterday met and interacted at length with sex workers in Lyantonde town in western Uganda, and promised to get them out of their misery.

Prof Baryamureeba while on his campaign trail in the district, met with the prostitutes at Kaaro Radio station compound in Lyantonde town.

After listening to their tales, the independent candidate informed the women who operate in Lyantonde, Mbarara and the neighboring towns that once elected into office, he would establish a fund from which they would access startup capital to join other productive ventures other than selling their bodies.

The computer scientist advised the sex workers to abandon their business owing to the many hazards it exposes them to.

“This is not only dangerous in terms of your health, but as a Christian I know that it is against the teachings of the Bible,” he said.

Some of the prostitutes informed him that they had acquired vast formal education but were forced into selling their bodies by lack of employment.

Prof Barya also called upon religious leaders in the area to guide the sex workers out of their dangerous business.

He also advised the women to focus more on finding long term happiness by getting married and staing up families.

Come 2016, Prof Barya urged the women to vote him in office and to jealously guard their vote against malpractice, by sticking at the polling station until the counting is completed.

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 27, 2016 — “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

February 26, 2016

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Lectionary: 235

Reading 1 MI 7:14-15, 18-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.

Responsorial PsalmPS 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Verse Before The GospelLK 15:18

I will get up and go to my father and shall say to him,
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

Art: The Father and His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness…. Akso called “The Lost Boys” By
Edward Riojas (AKA The Prodigal Son)

Gospel LK 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable.
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
“The Fattened Calf”
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Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 from Living Space

The parable of the Prodigal Son, a marvellous revelation of God’s unending love and mercy for the repentant sinner.

Steps in the story:

The son receives his share of the inheritance from a loving father. Asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive was tantamount to saying he could not wait until his father had died.

He goes off to a far country, far from his father.

He is not only far in distance but also in thinking: he wastes the inheritance he has been given in pleasures and enjoyment of the most immoral kind.

In the end, he has nothing.

A famine strikes the place and he has nothing to eat, no money to buy food.

He is forced (horror of horrors for a Jew) to feed pigs and is so hungry he is ready even to eat the slops given to them. One can hardly imagine a lower level of abasement and poverty.

Then, he comes to his senses.

He thinks of the home and the loving father he abandoned so stupidly.

Where the lowest servants/slaves are better off than he is.

He will try to go home.

After what he has done, he does not expect to be accepted back.

He will beg to be taken as one of the lowest servants.

He prepares a carefully worded speech for his father.

Then he starts the journey back in fear and trepidation. He knows he deserves very severe treatment, if not outright rejection. “Go back to your pigs and your whores!”

While still far away, the father sees him. He has been anxiously waiting all this time.

But he never sent out to have him brought back.

If the son wants to go his own way, the father will not stop him. He will not be forced back.

Full of compassion the father rushes out to welcome his returning son and takes him in his arms.

The son tries to make his speech of repentance but it is totally ignored.

Instead orders are given for the best clothes to be brought out and a magnificent banquet to be laid on.

“This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

It is a time of celebration.

The elder son, working in the fields (the Lord’s vineyard) comes back at the end of a hard day and hears the sounds of merrymaking.

When he is told what is going on, he is extremely angry.

He has been a loyal, faithful, hard-working son and nothing even approaching this was ever done for him.

While his brother, who was steeped in debauchery and wasted so much of his father’s wealth, is welcomed like a returning hero.

He refuses to go into his father’s house. (Surely the saddest words in this story.)

The father remonstrates: “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.

But your son was utterly lost. Now he is back, we have to celebrate.”

The story is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behaviour. How well do we understand them?

The two clear lessons for today are:

– I can be absolutely sure of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided I turn back to him in true sorrow.

– I need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend me. I must be ready to forgive and be reconciled. I cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.

There are three people in this story and we can identify with all of them:

– The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way into the most degrading behaviour.

– The son who thought he was good and observant but, deep down, did not have the mind of his Father at all. He kept the commandments and all the rules but did not have a forgiving heart. He did not belong in his Father’s house.

– The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.

Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son. Which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners – who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.

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Related:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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27 FEBRUARY 2016, Saturday, 2nd Week of Lent
WELCOMING SINNERS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 102:1-4,9-12; Lk 15:1-3; 11-32

“The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” How would you like to be labelled as the religious leaders did of Jesus?  Would you be proud to be identified as one who mixed with wrong company and people with dubious characters?  Would you be embarrassed to let your reputable relatives, friends and colleagues know that you hang out with such people?  And would you even dare to be anywhere near the pubs and brothels?  But that was what Jesus actually did.  He welcomed sinners, tax-collectors, adulterers and prostitutes.  No wonder the religious leaders were scandalized as His reputation as a Rabbi did not go well with the company He was with.

That is the way and heart of God.  God is always forgiving.  He does not wish to see us fall or hurt ourselves.  He is not out to take revenge or see us suffer.  On the contrary, He wants us to repent and be reconciled, not so much for His sake but for ours. This is because He loves us deeply and unconditionally.   This is the experience of the Israelites when the Prophet Micah said, “What God can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger forever but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.”

In the gospel, we have Jesus manifesting the mercy and compassion of God for sinners when He ate and drank with sinners.   The story of the forgiving father in the gospel captures succinctly in a dramatic way how much God loves us and forgives us every time when we sin.  He does not take account of our past.   When the prodigal son returned, the father did not demand an explanation or lambasted him for being so irresponsible or condemned him as deserving of such a tragedy.   On the contrary, the father, in spite of the humiliation and insult he suffered from the younger son who demanded a share of the property even before his death, did not take the past hurts into account.  All he thought of each day was when his son would return.  We can be sure that the father was on the lookout for him each day because we read, ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.”

Secondly, all that God desires is that we be restored to fullness of life and love.  Thus before the son could even act out his rehearsed speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants”, the father interjected before he could complete the last part of the sentence.  He said to his servants. “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”  By giving back his robe, he gave the son back his honour; by giving him a ring, the son received back his authority; and by giving a pair of sandals, it was an indication that he was not a servant or slave but a member of the family.

Such a God of mercy and compassion is too hard to believe.   Deep in our hearts, many of us cannot believe that God would really forgive us.   That is why many penitents in spite of going for confession still do not feel forgiven because they doubt that God could ever forgive them their horrendous and unspeakable sins against Him and their fellowmen, especially their loved ones.    Most cannot forgive themselves or believe that they could be forgiven by those whom they have hurt.  Hence, some of them never come back to God.

Why is it so difficult for us to accept the mercy and forgiveness of God?  This is because we are like the elder son and the religious leaders in the gospel.  Firstly, we believe in merits only.  We do not believe in grace.  What we sow is what we reap.  Therefore the only way to gain acceptance and appreciation is through sheer hard work and slavery.  This was the attitude of the elder son.  He said, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.”   Although the younger son was a slave to sin of the flesh, he was, as he admitted, a slave of pride and self-righteousness.  Pride has made us intolerant of others who cannot do what we do.

Secondly, we are revengeful.  The elder son felt unjustified because he was the one who put in all the hard work in the fields.  As far as he was concerned, his younger brother did not deserve anything since he had taken his share of the property and left.  So he was not entitled to anything from the family.   We can imagine how hurt and indignant he was when the father restored his sonship and all the rights as well.  In the same vein, we cannot forgive fellow sinners because we feel they deserve the punishments for all the pains they have caused us and all the sufferings we have gone through because of their selfishness, greed, lust, anger and irresponsibility.  Can you forgive someone who has caused you to lose your life’s savings?  Can you forgive someone who has broken up your family?  Can you forgive someone who has betrayed you whether in business or in friendship or at work?

Thirdly, we cannot welcome sinners because of the need to protect our reputation.  We do not welcome sinners because we do not wish to tarnish our reputation or be misunderstood by righteous people.  We want to be thought of well by others and have a good reputation in society.  So by getting involved with sinners, we might be ostracized as Jesus was by the religious leaders.  This was the same reason why the religious leaders stayed away from sinners because they might contaminate them ritually or discredit their office.  It was much safer that they had nothing to do with them, least of all to be their guests or even have them as guests.   Staying away from them was the safest thing to do.

So if we were to welcome sinners today, what must we do?  We need first and foremost to recognize that we are all sinners in our own ways.  We also have our fair share of mistakes in life.  As fallen creatures, we grow and purify ourselves over time.  We are called not to be saints but saints in the making.  So if we were to forgive and be compassionate with fellow sinners, we need to forgive ourselves. I always feel that those who are harsh and lacking compassion are that way because they cannot see themselves as sinners and if they do, they cannot forgive themselves and are ashamed of their past.  They have not yet come to integrate their mistakes and sins with the grace of God at work in their lives.  So if we were to welcome sinners like Jesus, we must be aware of our own sinfulness and the mercy of God in our lives.   This is a pre-requisite.

Secondly, we must realize that there are different degrees and types of sinners.  In Luke chapter 15, the evangelist first told the story of the lost sheep followed by the lost coin and lastly by the prodigal son.   Although all these stories speak about being lost and found, yet the way they were lost were different.  The lost sheep lost its way by ignorance, just like many of us.  Because of ignorance, we fall into sin, often deceived by the half-truths and illusions of the world, power, glory, food and possessions.   This explains why on the cross, Jesus could pray for His enemies, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they were doing.”   Jesus knew that our ignorance, often the result of pride, arrogance and fear lead us to be blind to what we are pursuing for ourselves.

Thirdly, the lost coin got lost through no fault of its own but it was lost accidentally because of the carelessness of others.  Some sinners are such simply because of their upbringing and the wrong company they fell into.  Often, irresponsible parents, because of family squabbles, adultery, gambling and violence, destroy the peace and unity at home.  They drive their children to seek consolation and love outside the family.   So for such people who have fallen into wrong company because they are so desperate for love and happiness, they should be pitied, not blamed.

Finally, we have sinners like the prodigal son who deliberately choose to go that way.  Even for such people, the Lord said something so beautiful about them.  “When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses.”   For many of us, we are not ourselves.  To come to our senses means that we come to realize who we are.  The son forgot that he was called to be a child of God, not a servant, not a slave and much less a pig, an animal held with contempt by the Jews, the most degrading kind of animal one could become.  So the Lord also forgives such people because they have lost their senses!  They have forgotten their real identity.  They wanted to live without God, but left to themselves, they are led to self-destruction and slavery.

Today, let us turn to the Lord of mercy and compassion.  With the psalmist we pray, “My soul, give thanks to the Lord all my being, bless his holy name. It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry forever: He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. For as the heavens are high above the earth so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins?”   This is our God and following Jesus, not only must we be bold to turn to Him and ask for forgiveness, we must lead others back to Him so that they too can experience joy and peace again.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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By Pastor Charles Henrickson
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Gather round, and today I’ll tell you the story of “The Lost Boys.” No, not the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. This is a different story. It’s a story that Jesus tells, actually. It’s the tale of two boys that get lost. They get separated from their father, through their own stupidity and pig-headedness, and yet their father is very gracious and kind toward them, patient beyond all measure, and he wants to welcome them back with open arms.

“Oh, wait a minute, Pastor! Aren’t you talking about the parable of the Prodigal Son? That’s a very famous story that Jesus told. You know, the one about the son who took his inheritance money and left home and wasted it all in a far country, and so on. But in that story, Pastor, I’m afraid there’s only one lost son, not two. So shouldn’t you call it ‘The Lost Boy,’ singular, instead of ‘The Lost Boys,’ plural?”

Well, we’ll see, dear listener, we’ll see. In any case, let’s start the story: “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.” Well, that’s kind of a shocking start to the story. Imagine a son saying that to his father! “Give me my inheritance money, and give it to me now!” What brash impudence that is! It’s as good as saying, “I wish you were dead!” How disrespectful! What a dishonorable thing to do. The father would have every right to strike this son down. But, amazingly, he doesn’t. In fact, he lets the young man have his way and gives him his share of the inheritance ahead of time.

“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” The boy leaves home. He thinks he’ll have more fun if he goes off somewhere far away and uses all his wealth on having a good time, living it up. And here’s where the “prodigal” part comes in. That old-timey word “prodigal” means “wasteful.” And that’s what this boy does with all the wealth his father gave him–he wastes it. This son is not wise, but foolish. All that this reckless living does is to make a wreck of his life, and he ends up in a place he didn’t reckon on.

“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.” He’s wasted all his resources, so now he has nothing to fall back on. This boy, so recently flush with cash, now is in serious need. He hires himself out to do any sort of menial job he can find, and, for a Jewish boy, it’s work about as demeaning and low as you can go. He ends up feeding pigs, unclean animals according to Jewish law.

“And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.” If you look up “bottoming out” in the dictionary, this verse could be listed as a cross-reference. The young man wishes he could eat pig food, that’s how hungry he was. “And no one gave him anything.” That’s hard. But he deserves it, you might say. And you would be right. He brought all this on himself, through his own impudence and foolishness and, no pun intended, his pig-headedness.

So now, what to do? With only pigs to talk to, the young man has some time to think it over. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’” The light bulb has just turned on. The memory of his father’s generosity and kindheartedness is turning his heart toward home.

“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ A plan is born. The boy figures even being hired help on his father’s place is better than starving in a pig sty. And so he’s concocted this plan, sort of a ‘working it off’ scheme. He figures there’s no way he can go back home in anything else but shame, but at least he might be able to get on as a servant, and pay off some of the money he’s wasted, and at least have enough food to eat. So that’s it. It’s the best option he can come up with. “And he arose and came to his father.”

So, what do you think? This boy certainly deserves to suffer. He got a taste of it in the pig sty. And now he will be reduced to the status of a servant. Serves him right. And if that’s what happened, we’d all have to say, it’s more than fair.

But here the story takes an unexpected twist. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Whoa! Didn’t see that coming! But the father saw his son coming! That must mean he was waiting for him, looking for him. Even when the boy was still a long way off, the father was waiting and watching. But instead of waiting to lay down the hammer, the father is moved with compassion. He runs out to greet this boy who had dishonored him so. Quite unexpected! He runs out to greet him and “falls on his neck,” the Greek says. He embraces his lost son and kisses him warmly on the cheek. This is a remarkable father, full of forgiveness!

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” No, wait, far enough. The son’s rehearsed speech breaks off before he can get to the “working it off” part. No payback scheme necessary.

The father interrupts, his joy is so great. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” With robe, ring, and shoes, the father restores this lost boy back to full sonship. He doesn’t want another servant, he wants his son back! And that is what he has. This loving and patient father has his son back, solely through his own forgiveness and compassion.

“And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” From famine to feast, from the pig sty to the banqueting hall, the lost boy is now back home. The father’s joy is overflowing: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

And that, dear listener, is the story of “The Lost Boy,” the prodi–

“Hey, wait a minute, Pastor, I thought you said this story was about ‘The Lost Boys,’ plural! You said there were two of them. So what about the other one? Let’s hear about him.”

OK, thanks for reminding me. Can’t stop with just the one. Jesus doesn’t stop there, does he? He goes on:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’” Well, if this older son shares any of the character of his father, I bet he’s happy the runaway, his brother, is back home now. Right?

Wrong. “But he was angry and refused to go in.” No, this doesn’t sound like the character of the forgiving father. No joy here. Hey, older son, this is not a very polite thing to do, to stay outside, when your father is having a big party to welcome your brother back. It’s actually kind of insulting.
But what does the father do? “His father came out and entreated him.” My goodness, the lengths to which this father will go! First he runs out to meet the younger son, who had wasted all his money. And now he goes out, leaves the party, goes outside to entreat this older son, who is acting so disrespectfully and coldly.

But the older son reveals his true character now as he speaks to his father. “Look,” he begins. Notice, he doesn’t even start with a respectful “Father.” Just a rude “Look.” “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” The older son is thinking like a servant, not a son. To him, it’s all about what he deserves, what he ought to get for “slaving away” all these years.

He continues his angry, jealous rant: “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” Notice, too, that the older son won’t even refer to his brother as “my brother.” He calls him “this son of yours.” The older son begrudges his father’s generosity. He truly does not share his father’s character, which is to have mercy and to forgive.

The father responds: “Son”–notice, he calls him “son,” even though this son couldn’t even come up with a respectful “Father.” “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The older son had referred to his brother as “this son of yours.” The father turns it around and calls him “this your brother.” He wants the older son to recognize the family connection and to come in and join the party.

I think now you can see why I called this parable the story of “The Lost Boys,” plural. The first lost boy was the prodigal son, who ran away from home and lost everything he had. But this other son, the older one–he is a lost boy, too. Lost, even while staying at home. He has lost the mercy and the compassion, the forgiveness and the joy of the father.

The father wants the older son to come in and join the party. But will he? We’re not told. This is where the story stops. The parable is left open-ended. Jesus leaves it open-ended, because he wanted the Pharisees and the scribes to see themselves in this story as the older son–to see themselves and to repent. For they had been grumbling against Jesus, just like the older son grumbled against the father. Jesus had been welcoming and compassionate toward more public outward sinners–people who had acted like the prodigal son and made a wreck of their lives, but who now were being brought back home through the mercy and the forgiveness of Jesus. And Jesus wants the older sons among us to rejoice with him when this happens. If God is rejoicing over the restoration of sinners, then why aren’t you? Come in and join the party!

Yes, see the family resemblance with your brothers. For all of us, both the stay-at-home “golden child” and the runaway “black sheep” of the family–we are all “Lost Boys,” in one way or another. Maybe we’ve played both parts at different times in our lives. But we all have shown impudence and insolence toward our heavenly Father, who is so gracious and kind toward us. God wants you back, he wants you back home, whether you’ve strayed off to a far country or have been lost at home all these years.

And he doesn’t want you back as servants, either. He wants you here as his dearly loved children. There’s no working your way into his favor. You are already in his favor. The reason? Because of Christ.

You see, God’s love is sacrificial, his compassion is costly–to him. In the story, when the father ran out to greet his younger son, when the father came out to entreat his older son–both times the God-figure in the story was humbling himself, lowering himself, in order to bring his children in. His love was costly. Likewise, God’s love toward us is costly.

It is a costly love with which God welcomes us. The father in the story even sacrificed the fattened calf, a rich feast indeed. And so God so loved us, that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice for our sin, for all our rebellion and foolishness and pig-headedness. All of that is forgiven, because of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ’s death on the cross opens the door of heaven to all believers. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So which of “The Lost Boys” are you? The younger one or the older one? Maybe some of both? In any case, the Father today is welcoming you home. Come in and join the party!

http://steadfastlutherans.org/2013/03/the-lost-boys-sermon-on-luke-151-3-11-32-by-pr-charles-henrickson/

stmatthewbt.org

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Human Rights: U.S. downplayed evidence of abuses in Chinese detention camps — Obama Administration rewarded China for false human rights gains

December 30, 2015

World | Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:20pm EST

Reuters

After China abolished a notorious penal system based on forced labor in December 2013, the United States rewarded Beijing by removing the world’s most populous country from a global blacklist of countries that are failing to combat modern-day slavery.

Shutting the detention camps had been a U.S. priority for more than a decade, according to a previously unreleased U.S. State Department memo seen by Reuters.

But two years after China announced it was ending the “re-education through labor” system, extrajudicial networks of detention facilities featuring torture and forced labor thrive in its place, according to former detainees, their lawyers and people with knowledge of the facilities.

Between February and April this year, State Department human rights experts cited these facilities as reason to downgrade China to the blacklist again, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and not previously made public.

The downgrade would have placed China on the lowest Tier 3 of an annual evaluation of how 188 countries deal with modern slavery, a status shared by serial abusers of forced labor or trafficking including North Korea, Russia and Thailand.

The experts were overruled by senior American diplomats in the final report on July 27. It was one of more than a dozen decisions on country rankings documented by Reuters that have raised questions over whether the Obama administration placed diplomatic priorities over human rights in the congressionally mandated report that can incur sanctions. The report came at a time of sensitive U.S. diplomatic issues with China, ranging from cybersecurity to tensions in the South China Sea.

In all, the experts in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries including China in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report, a Reuters story on Aug. 3 showed. The experts won only three of those battles, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit.

“Trafficking and human rights fall into the basket of things we’d like to make progress on but probably won’t,” said one congressional aide with knowledge of the back and forth over China’s trafficking ranking.

In this year’s trafficking report, the State Department acknowledged that China converted the nearly six-decade-old labor camps into other detention facilities but decided a downgrade was unjustified, citing a rise in arrests and convictions of suspected human traffickers and better international cooperation to fight modern slavery.

The Trafficking in Persons report, meant to independently grade countries on trafficking and forced labor, calls itself the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts. Rights groups generally agree. Countries often lobby the State Department to stay off Tier 3, which can trigger the withholding of aid.

In response to questions from Reuters, a State Department official said it stands behind “the integrity” of the report, including China’s ranking, which was kept on a “Tier 2 Watch List” for a second straight year. Asked whether the United States was aware of forced labor in the detention centers, the official said, “we are not able to quantify the extent of forced labor that occurs in these centers at this time.”

Chinese government authorities did not respond to requests for comment on any of the detention facilities mentioned in this article.

A general view is seen outside a labour camp in Kunming, Yunnan province, November 22, 2013. REUTERS/John Ruwitch

GULAG-LIKE CAMPS

Colloquially known as “laojiao”, China’s gulag-like re-education through labor camps drew domestic and international condemnation by empowering police to detain people for up to four years without trial, often forcing them to work in mines, factories or farms, according to rights groups.

A Human Rights Watch researcher estimated in 2013 that about 160,000 people, including drug addicts and members of banned religious groups, were held at about 350 laojiao camps before they were abolished.

Lawyers of detainees say that while China may have shut down the camps, similar abuses – including forced labor – continue in other types of detention centers.

Some people who might once have been sent to laojiao are disappearing into a secretive, illegal network of “education” facilities that sometimes employ torture techniques, according to former detainees and their lawyers.

Reuters was unable to independently verify conditions inside the detention centers now operating in China, or confirm the specific mistreatment described by the detainees.

Many of the laojiao camps have been turned into compulsory drug rehabilitation centers, where people considered addicts can be incarcerated for up to three years without trial, according to Chinese regulations and state media. In June, Chinese vice justice minister Zhang Sujun was quoted in state media as saying there were 334 compulsory drug rehab centers holding almost 240,000 people.

China has been reforming its rehabilitation system for drug users and some activists report improvements in conditions, including compensating inmates, if only with token amounts, for their work, and less use of violence.

A 2011 measure allowed addicts to work as part of their recovery for up to six hours a day but forbid forced labor in compulsory rehab centers.

Still, forced labor is common in the centers, said an activist with direct knowledge of the facilities who asked not to be identified for fear of punishment by authorities.

Inmates made lights, electronic parts and other products, he said. Pay is typically between 30-50 yuan ($4.62-$7.70) a month — around two percent of the average monthly wage in China, according to this person. Another person who has worked closely with drug addicts confirmed the existence of forced labor.

Another extrajudicial detention system, called “custody and education,” focuses on suspected prostitutes and their clients, holding them for up to two years without trial.

It shares traits of laojiao, including forced labor, say human rights advocates. China’s government has acknowledged that labor is a central component of this system. But the number of custody and education centers has shrunk in recent years, say lawyers and activists.

“BRAINWASHING CLASSES”

Yet another type of facility the government calls “legal education centers” is among the most secretive.

Detainees at these centers are illegally held without trial, four lawyers told Reuters. They are not formally charged, have no right of appeal and are not allowed access to lawyers or family members, lawyers said.

Many detainees are members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that was outlawed in 1999 after seeking official legitimacy, say the lawyers. Others include victims of injustice who make personal appeals to the government for intervention in their case.

Reuters obtained written and video statements from nine former detainees of one such center in Jiansanjiang, in northeast Heilongjiang province. Five of them made allegations of torture in what they said those held there sometimes call “brainwashing classes”.

Meng Xianjie, 67, said her arms were strapped to wooden boards and she was injected with an “unknown medicine” that caused her to cough up blood, according to her written statement about her detention from January 2010.

Shi Mengchang described being forced to squat while handcuffed in a T-position for about five hours once during his detention from September 2013 to March 2014. Shi and Meng are both followers of Falun Gong, according to a fellow believer and a lawyer with direct knowledge of their situations.

In Washington, some lawmakers have questioned whether China’s dodging of a downgrade in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report suggests geopolitics and the need to protect Washington’s delicate relationship with Beijing trumped human rights.

“China continues to force and detain its citizens to perform manual labor,” Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who authored a 2000 law that led to the creation of the trafficking report, told a Nov. 4 hearing. “How can a country that systematically traffics his own people be anything but Tier 3?”

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, December 15, 2015 — “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”

December 14, 2015

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
Lectionary: 188

Reading 1 ZEP 3:1-2, 9-13

Thus says the LORD:
Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted,
to the tyrannical city!
She hears no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD she has not trusted,
to her God she has not drawn near.

For then I will change and purify
the lips of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the LORD,
to serve him with one accord;
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
and as far as the recesses of the North,
they shall bring me offerings.

On that day
You need not be ashamed
of all your deeds,
your rebellious actions against me;
For then will I remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and couch their flocks
with none to disturb them.

Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19 AND 23

R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come, O Lord, do not delay;
forgive the sins of your people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
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Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32 From Living Space
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It helps to be aware that today’s Gospel reading follows immediately on yesterday’s when the authority of Jesus was called into question. Today Jesus offers the religious leaders a parable. It is about two sons who were asked by their father to go and work in his vineyard. One refused to go, but later repented and went. The other son said he would go, but did not. The question is then: “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
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The parable can be read on two levels. On a more general level, it is the common theme of the Gospel that doing is more important than mere words. “It is not those who just say, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom…” The important thing is actually to carry out the will of God in our daily lives.
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On a more particular level, the parable points to the situation which Jesus was facing.
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The religious leaders and many of the apparently religious people, who believed they were following God’s ways, refused to believe in John the Baptist and, after him, Jesus himself. On the other hand, people who were rated as deeply sinful and violators of the Law – tax collectors and prostitutes, responded to the call of John to repentance. They were deeply moved by John’s preaching, changed their ways and were baptised by him in the Jordan. Even after that, the religious leaders still made no move. When Jesus came, again the religious leaders refused to see God’s hand in all he was doing, while huge crowds gathered round him.
The religious leaders are like the son who said ‘Yes’ to the Lord’s word but did not follow it out in their lives. They were experts in the wording and interpretation of the Law. The sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, who had constantly violated the Law of God, repented and changed their ways. It is clear which group is finding its way into the Kingdom.
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Of course, we are not reflecting on these readings just to know how proud and arrogant the chief priests and elders were. They are for us to reflect on for our own lives. Do we think that because we are practising Christians we are in a privileged and untouchable position? Do we spend a lot of time praying in church but not doing much loving outside of it? Do we find ourselves speaking in a critical or condescending way of less devout Christians or of people who do not seem to be very moral by our standards? We have said Yes to God by our baptism and membership of the Church but can we say that we always carry out what God is asking us to do?
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Probably, after some honest reflection, we would have to admit that we are not really in a position to sit in judgment on others. Given the gifts and graces we have received as Christians, we may not be doing very well compared with those who have never enjoyed the support of a Christian faith and a Christian environment. As Christmas approaches, let us be followers of the Lord in deeds as well as words.
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The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, by Alexander Ivanov
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Homily Notes on Matthew 21:28-32

By Fr. Tommy Lane

It is rather shocking that Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt 21:31) Notice to whom Jesus was speaking, the chief priests and elders of the people (Matt 21:23). That makes it even more shocking. Of course Jesus was talking about tax collectors and prostitutes who had listened to his preaching and had converted. We can think of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) who was a chief tax collector. One of the Twelve Apostles, Matthew (Matt 9:9) also called Levi (Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-28), had been a tax collector. The Scriptures do not explicitly say that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute (Luke 6:36-50 does not mention her) but Luke tells us that Jesus expelled seven demons from her (Luke 8:2) so certainly Luke intends us to understand that she had lived what we might describe as “a very bad life” before she met Jesus.

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On the other hand the chief priests and elders of the people had not converted. So in the parable that Jesus taught, the tax collectors and prostitutes were the first son who at first said no to his father but then thought better and obeyed his father and worked in the vineyard. They had lived a life disobedient to God in the past but when they heard the preaching of Jesus they converted. Like the first son they said no at first but later said yes. The chief priests and elders of the people were like the second son in Jesus’ parable who said “Yes sir” but did not obey his father. They heard the preaching of Jesus and knew the Scriptures but their hearts were closed and they were not responding to God. They were like the second son who said yes but in fact did not obey his father.

Why were tax collectors and sinners able to open their hearts and respond to the preaching of Jesus while the chief priests and elders were not? Perhaps it is because the tax collectors and sinners had reached rock bottom and realized that the lives they were living were empty and meaningless. The tax collectors were well known to be greedy. They paid taxes for the full year in advance to Rome which they would later collect from others but Rome never checked if they were overcharging the tax they collected from others. Everyone suspected they collected much more tax than they paid to Rome. Surely the sinners and tax collectors realized their lives were meaningless and they received respect from Jesus which they did not receive from any of their contemporaries. In Jesus they found life as it was meant to be. Jesus offered hope to the tax collectors and sinners, hope they never before had. When they converted the words of God to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading were fulfilled,

…if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. (Ezek 18:27-28)

If Jesus were talking to us now we can imagine that he might say, “The drug addicts, the alcoholics, the gang members, are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” That would be rather shocking but if they really allowed Jesus to touch their heartsand convert while we only knew about Jesus but did not know him personally in our heart that would make a lot of sense. Those who lived dark lives in the past and have undergone conversion experiences may be living life at a much higher level of meaning than many of us now. Having experienced the depths of misery and the meaningless of their former life they have probed very deeply the meaning of life and found that only in friendship with God does life have value. Having spoken with some of these people and knowing them I am extremely impressed with them. Likewise many of those who convert and enter the Catholic Church know the faith at a much deeper level than “cradle Catholics” because they were searching for answers in their own church denomination and did not find the answers but found the complete answer in the Catholic Church.

Many of those who allowed Jesus to touch their hearts and convert have shared their stories in recent years. (conversion stories) One example is John Pridmore who shared the story of his dark past and his conversion in his book From Gangland to Promised Land. He described the moment of his conversion like this,

…I sat alone and found myself thinking how my life was completely messed up. I felt very depressed and empty…Then I heard what I can only describe as a voice. It was telling me the worst things I had ever done…It was the voice of God, my conscience. The breath was going out of me. It was as if I was dying, and an incredible fear gripped me. I’m going, to hell, I thought. I fell to my knees, and tears began to well up in my eyes. ‘Give me another chance!’ I cried.

Suddenly, I felt as if someone’s hands were on my shoulders and I was being lifted up. An incredible warmth overpowered [p85] me and the fear immediately evaporated. At that moment I knew — really knew, not just believed — that God was real.

…Then I did something I had never done before: I prayed. ‘God, up to now, all I’ve done is take from you in my life and now I want to give.’ What I can only describe as an awesome feeling of love consumed me.…Then I knew for the first time in my life that I was loved by God. Up until then, I had always thought I was worthless and it didn’t matter whether I lived or died.
(From Gangland to Promised Land 84-85)

Looking back on his life later in his book he wrote,

Looking back across my life — a journey, you might say, from gangland to promised land — I’ve come to understand that we just need to ask Jesus to reveal himself in our hearts and let us know that he’s real and that he loves us. I did, and he replied. To anyone who is sceptical about this, I would simply say, just do it. If someone had said this to me when I was involved in all that criminal activity, I would probably have laughed and told them they were living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Now I know that Jesus is real, not through reading books or studying theology, but from personal experience.
(From Gangland to Promised Land 174)

John Pridmore was like the first son in Jesus’ parable; in his early life was said no to work in the vineyard but then underwent a conversion, came to know Jesus, and said yes to work in the vineyard. Do you know Jesus or do you only know about Jesus? Pridmore wrote,

When I was with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the South Bronx, Father Bernard told me about the time he went to work with some poor people in a village in the mountains of northern America. He was deeply impressed by one old man who, despite having no running water, no electricity and little food, was so joyful.

‘How come you’re so happy when you have so little?’ asked Father Bernard.

‘Because I know Jesus,’ replied the old man.

‘But I know Jesus as well.’

‘No. You might know about Jesus in your head, but not in your heart.’
(From Gangland to Promised Land 175)

Do you know Jesus or do you only know about Jesus? If we only know about Jesus while those who were drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, sex addicts, have converted and know Jesus personally then surely Jesus can say they are making their way into the kingdom of God before us. Do you only know about Jesus or do you know Jesus in your heart? Have you met Jesus? If not, tell him you want to meet him.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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15 DECEMBER 2015, Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent
SHAME IS OVERCOME BY REPENTANCE AND NEW LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ZEPH 3:1-2,9-13; MATTHEW 21:28-32

One of the most painful experiences in life is shame.  The feeling of shame is peculiar to man because of pride and our sense of dignity.  We feel shame because of failures in life.  Shame is often impressed on us when we do something wrong or against the decorum of the culture of the day.  Shame comes about because of our sins against God and our fellowmen.   Shame happens because our nakedness is being exposed, literally or otherwise.  Shame makes us vulnerable and exposed to the world as we are.

The truth is that man possesses a certain sense of dignity.  He wants to be loved, admired and respected.  Honour is one of the things that man treasures so that he can walk upright.   Many people would die for their honour and for the honour of their family and country.  So when he is shamed, he is not able to face the world.  Anyone who is in shame hides himself from the world.  A criminal once released feels shameful to meet his friends and especially his relatives.   More so, when we were once famous, powerful and rich and then reduced to a pauper or a scum in the eyes of the world.  When negative things are published about us in the newspapers or uploaded on the internet, we also feel abashed.  That is why when we have done something wrong, we avoid the glare of publicity.

What is worse is that the world does not forgive us and want to remind us of our shame constantly.  This is a fact of life.  In the eyes of the world, once you are convicted of a wrongdoing, you are forever branded a convict; once an adulterous, always an adulterous.  Those of us who have watched the musical opera, “Les Miserables” will understand how often ex-criminals are rejected by the world and society.  In spite of their having served their sentence, the word “criminal” or “cheat” is written on their foreheads.  People fight shy of those who are ex-offenders.  They tend to look at them in a deprecating manner.   The world looks at people based on what they had done in the past and not what they are today, or what they can do or be in the future.  The world condemns us until we die for the offences we have committed.  There is no mercy or forgiveness.  That was how the religious leaders treated the sinners in those days during the time of Jesus too.  Sinners were ostracized and treated with contempt, especially prostitutes and tax-collectors.  They were despised and rejected as outcasts.  No one wanted to associate with them for fear of being contaminated and frowned upon for befriending sinners. They were treated worse than some of our people who suffer from infectious diseases.

Consequently, we can feel with the Israelites in the first reading.  We can imagine the shame they bore.  They were once a powerful and prosperous kingdom under King David and Solomon.   Many nations had heard of them. Even the Queen of Sheba would travel to hear the wisdom of Solomon.   They were once flourishing but over the years, the kingdom was not only divided, but they became weak and eventually were conquered by the more powerful nations like Assyria and Babylon.  With the glory of the Temple destroyed, the Kingdom lost and the people exiled to Babylon and ruled by a foreign army, they lost all dignity.  It was the most shameful period of their history; not much different when they were once slaves in Egypt.

But what was the cause?  It was their rebellion against God.  In spite of the warnings from God, they did not take heed.  They were too stubborn and misled by false prophets.  They could not see the dangers ahead of them.  They remained defiant and unrepentant.

Zephaniah warned the people, “Trouble is coming to the rebellious, the defiled, the tyrannical city! She would never listen to the call, would never learn the lesson; she has never trusted in the Lord, never drawn near to her God.”  Well, we are no different.  The writing is on the wall but we pay no heed.  We want to believe that we will never get caught for taking drugs, speeding, cheating, lying, having an affair, or indulging in sexual activities with prostitutes and promiscuous people, abusing our bodies through unhealthy lifestyles.   And so we all learn the hard way, just like the Israelites.

But the good news is that the Lord is taking away our shame.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  The psalmist says, “Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed. This poor man called, the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.  The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants. Those who hide in him shall not be condemned.”  The Lord says, “When that day comes you need feel no shame for all the misdeeds you have committed against me, for I will remove your proud boasters from your midst; and you will cease to strut on my holy mountain.”  Indeed, this promise is fulfilled in Christ.  He comes as our redeemer to give us back our dignity again. He comes for the sinners and was branded “a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” (cf  Lk 7:34)  In God’s eyes, we are always His beloved.  He never stops loving us.  He always forgives us.  “Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18f)

But how will the Lord take away our shame?  Firstly, He allows us to go through the purifying process.  This is what the prophet Hosea said, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (Hos 6:1)  If the Lord permits us to sink into the mud, it is because He wants to raise us up.  But He cannot do so till we have learnt humility and are awaken to the truth.  This is what the prophet said, “In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people, and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of the Lord. They will do no wrong, will tell no lies; and the perjured tongue will no longer be found in their mouths. But they will be able to graze and rest with no one to disturb them.”  So the time of exile was a necessary stage of coming to realization.  This is true for us.  So we must not take the time when we are serving our sentence, whether in prison or just in our own prison of loneliness and shame and pain, as punishment from God is but a time to rebuild ourselves.

Secondly, He desires our repentance.  This is all that the Lord wishes for us.   He does not punish us out of vindictiveness or revenge but purely out of love.  “For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:10f)  It is for this reason, the Lord gave credit to the so-called outcasts of society when He remarked, “I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.”  Although they had sinned against the Lord and messed up their lives, yet upon hearing the call to conversion and the love and mercy of God, they were most ready to repent.   They were like the first son who answered, “’I will not go,’ but afterwards thought better of it and went.”  Such people will find salvation because they opt to live the life of Christ, the life of the kingdom.  Hence, we hear the favourable judgment of Jesus on them.

But the real challenge today is help those who appear to be converted and holy to be ashamed of their sins and their true self so that, feeling ashamed for their hypocrisy, they might truly repent of their pretenses.  These are the so-called pious, faithful religious leaders and active laity in the Church.  They know much about the faith.  They study theology and are supposedly familiar with the scriptures.  They have gone through many retreats and attended many seminars on Church related issues.  They are active in Church and assume leadership positions in many organizations and committees.  So in the eyes of the world, they are respected and even admired as good Catholics.  But these are the people who are often not true to themselves.  Their spirituality is only skin-deep.  Their hearts are far from God.  What they do in public is just to make them look good in the eyes of the world.   They are far from what they profess to be and even further from what they teach or preach.   For such people, there is no real conversion and therefore in truth they are not living the life of the kingdom.  That is what Jesus told the Jewish leaders.  He said, “For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did.  Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.”  They were the second son, who when called upon to work in the vineyard said, “’Certainly, sir,’ but did not go.”

So what is our decision today, to be prisoners of our shame or be set free to praise God?  As we approach nearer to Christmas, we must ask whether we are ready to welcome the king of peace into our lives and our hearts.   Are we prepared to accept the prophets of the Lord and examine ourselves in full honesty, in total nakedness before the Lord and confess our sins before His appointed servants so that our shame can be taken away once and for all?  Hidden shame will only cripple us because we know we are living a double life.   We are not free.  Only those freed from shame, from their past, from their sins feel truly free to boast about their past mistakes and what God has done for them today, making them a new creature and a new creation.  If we allow shame to control our life, then we remain slaves of the past, of the future and we remain slaves.  With the psalmist, we pray, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise always on my lips; in the Lord my soul shall make its boast. The humble shall hear and be glad.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, September 21, 2015 — Striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit — Lead a life worthy of your vocation

September 20, 2015

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist
Lectionary: 643

Arnold Houbraken, The calling of St. Matthew. Dordrechts Museum

Art: The Calling of Matthew, the tax collector, by Arnold Houbraken

Reading 1 EPH 4:1-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

Responsorial Psalm PS 19:2-3, 4-5

R. (5) Their message goes out through all the earth.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.

Alleluia – See Te Deum

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 9:9-13

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
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St. Matthew by Frans Hals
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First Thought from Peace and Freedom
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Jesus again shows us that ANYONE can be forgiven, and then follow Jesus’ Way — even unto the way of the Cross and eternal salvation.
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No matter where we find others or ourselves, we need always recall the many encounters Jesus had with people that were “unclean,” physically or mentally “distorted” or disturbed, or people suffering from other maladies both physical and spiritual.
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Jesus personally went about saving, healing and recruiting some of the true outcasts in life. Saint Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most hated men in the colonial rule of Rome.
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But Jesus also heals lepers, paralytics, the blind, the deaf, prostitutes, a women taken in adultery.
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Every “Prodigal Son” should know Christ’s promise. All we have to is ask.
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And Jesus seems to want to show the disciples, and us, that if we pay attention and care for others, like Our Lord did, we too will see that the marginalized have meaning. And perhaps we all, due to our human nature, can expect some times in life  to become the marginalized ourselves. We all have opportunity through our free will to discover our dark side and to commit acts we are not too proud to recall. We are all potentially the Prodigal son or the unclean woman.
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Jesus is overjoyed when the Samaritan woman at the well draws her water from where Jesus himself took water to quench his thirst. He is delighted when the centurion comes to him begging for the life of his servant.
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Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be cured.”
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The Gospels tell us, in no uncertain may, that we are all worthy, and we will be embraced as we return to Him.
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This message seems directly tied to the many times in scripture we see the words, “Do not be afraid.”
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The miracles of salvation occur, due to God’s great love and forgiveness for us. All we have to do is ask….
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Related:
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The Good Samaritan By Walter Rane

“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you”

Jesus urges us to discover the wisdom and the principles underlying the laws … and He asks us to live by these principles in all our affairs.

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Commentary on Eph 4:1-7, 11-13; Ps 18; Matthew 9:9-13 From Living Space

The Gospel reading tells Matthew’s version of Jesus calling a tax-collector to be a disciple. Tax collectors have a very poor reputation in the Gospel. They are numbered among the groups of outcasts with whom no decent person would have any contact. In Palestine, most of them would have been Jews, employed by the Roman colonial power to collect taxes from their own people. Roman citizens did not have to pay taxes; only the conquered peoples had to do this.

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So they were seen both as renegades and traitors and also as people who were in gross violation of their Jewish faith in working for Gentiles in this way. Even Jesus, when speaking of members of the Christian community who refuse to change their sinful ways in spite of every effort made to help them reform, said that they should be treated “as a Gentile or a tax collector”. The Jewish tax collector was put on the same level as a Gentile, a person with whom no self-respecting Jew would have any relationship.

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And here, in today’s reading, we see Jesus inviting such a person to be his disciple! This tells us a number of things about Jesus. It means that he does not look at stereotypes. He does not say, “He is a tax collector, so he must be a very sinful person with whom I should have no contact.” No, he looks at the person and sees the potential there. And in Matthew he sees the potential for him to be one of his followers and indeed one of his Apostles, on whom the continuation of Jesus’ mission will depend. For Jesus, our past is not very important. What counts is where we are now and where we can be in the future.

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After Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow me”, the tax collector gets up and goes after Jesus, leaving all the paraphernalia of his occupation behind him. It is very similar to the Peter, Andrew, James and John leaving their boats, their nets and even their family to go with Jesus. It is an unconditional and total following.

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Matthew then decides to celebrate his new calling. He invites Jesus and his disciples and also the only friends he has – other sinners and tax collectors. They all sit down together in ‘his’ house. Whose house? It could be the house where Jesus is staying, a house mentioned a number of times in the Gospel and which is a symbol of the Christian community, the place where Jesus gathers with his disciples.

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Here, tax collectors and sinners are invited into the house to eat together with Jesus and his followers. This does not indicate that Jesus does not care about their behaviour but rather that they are being brought under his influence, they are the ‘lost sheep’ being brought back to the Shepherd.
Or it could refer to Matthew’s house. In that case, we see Jesus and his disciples unhesitatingly going into the house of a sinner and accepting his hospitality. Of course, the Pharisees are scandalized: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” As devout followers of the Law, they would never have contact with such people. How can Jesus as a rabbi behave like this?

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Jesus answers them very bluntly. “Those who are well do not need a doctor, only the sick do.” Matthew and his friends are people in need of healing. Jesus is there to give it to them. And he quotes from the prophet Hosea: “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” Jesus and his true followers are measured by their compassion and care of those in real need. They are not measured by their observation of ritual laws.

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In fact, says Jesus, he has come with a special interest in the sinner. Genuinely good people do not really need the services of Jesus. They are the sheep who stay with the flock and close to the Shepherd. Jesus is interested in the stray sheep.

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This reading has many lessons for us living our Christian life today.

The First Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians is a prayer for unity in a Church where there are many different responsibilities. The Church is the Body of the Risen Christ and, like any body, is a unified organism in which each of its parts has part to play in contributing to the whole.

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The source of this unity is that there is one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

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But unity is not uniformity. Unity is when different elements merge together in perfect harmony. So he goes on to say that there are different callings and responsibilities in the community. And he mentions a few of them – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But there are many others. The purpose of these ministries is to equip the members of the community for the work of service and for building up the Body of Christ. It is a beautiful picture of a Christian community. All deeply united in faith and love and yet each one serving the community with a different responsibility.

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We remember Matthew, of course, as an Apostle and also an Evangelist. It was through these charisms that he contributed to the building up of the Church as the Body of the Risen Christ.

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Let each one of us recognise the charism in us by which we can serve and build up the Christian community. Let us work together for greater unity while tolerating and even encouraging diversity so that God’s Word can find fertile root in as many of God’s children as possible.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/f0921r/

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Jesus and the “Woman Taken in Adultery”

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE COMMON VOCATION OF ALL CHRISTIANS IS THE CALL TO UNITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: EPHESIANS 4:1-7, 11-13; MATTHEW 9:9-13

.In the first reading, St Paul exhorts the Ephesians, “I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation”.  What is this vocation that we are called to live worthily?  Essentially, all of us have one vocation only.  It is the call to love and unity.  Indeed, St Matthew, whose feast we are celebrating today is an apostle of unity.  The theme of forgiveness and reconciliation is a dominant theme of the evangelist.  Matthew’s gospel underscores the need to forgive everyone, including our enemies, as we read in the Sermon on the Mount.  Chapter 18 also provides guidelines on how to reconcile recalcitrant Christians to the community. St Matthew saw the absolute importance of unity as a necessary prerequisite for the spread of the gospel.  Perhaps it is for this reason that the Church has selected the text from Ephesians Chapter 4 for today’s first reading, since this theme of unity resonates so strongly with the sentiments of St Matthew.

At any rate, to celebrate the feast of the apostle is to celebrate the unity of the Church and its pastoral and missionary outreach to all of humanity, within the Church and those outside the Church.  Christ has bequeathed to the Church the Apostolic College united under St Peter, the chief of apostles, so that the Church in the midst of changes and challenges could remain firm and strong in her beliefs and devotion to the Lord.  If the Church underscores the necessity of apostolic succession as a criterion of being in the Church of Christ, it is because this is the means by which the truth is guaranteed.  By remaining in union with our pope and the universal magisterium, we are assured that what we believe in is in fidelity to the faith handed on to us by the apostles.  In this way, the unity of faith is protected.  We must value unity above all else.  By insisting only on one’s way and by adopting an individualistic outlook, one will destroy the unity of Christ’s Church.  So when there are differences in opinions, we must look to the legitimate leaders of the Church who have been appointed by Christ for direction and focus.

This is what St Paul is urging the Christians.  He wrote to the Ephesians, “Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all”.  Indeed, we know that the greatest scandal to the promotion and extension of the Christian faith is the disunity among Christians.  Without unity, we cannot carry out the mission of Christ effectively, as the diverse and often contradictory teachings among Christians from different denominations and communions confuse those who are attracted to the gospel of Christ.  Hence, St Paul appealed to the Christians at the very outset of the foundation of the Christian communities to strive for unity among themselves.  Only by living in this way, St Paul says, can we all “come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.”

Besides being in communion with the apostles and sharing the same faith, what else can one do to preserve the unity of the Church? We must play our part in the one Body of Christ, by employing the charisms and the gifts of the Spirit given to us for the building of the Church of Christ.   In the Church of Christ, we act organically, not just hierarchically.  No one monopolizes the gifts of the Spirit.  St Paul reminds us of the need to contribute to the growth of the community when he wrote, “Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unit in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.”  The real setback in the progress of the Church today and her mission is that very few Catholics are giving their services and sharing their talents with the Church.  With so many diverse gifts and talents in our midst, one wonders how the Church could be short of professionals and workers to labour in the vineyard of the Lord.

Thirdly, we must strive to live a life worthy of our calling as Christians.  In other words, we must live a compatible lifestyle in line with our faith.  Specifically, St Paul says, “Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.”  Indeed, there can be no unity and love among ourselves if we do not deal with each other with compassion, understanding, tolerance and generosity.  It is ironical that quite often, working among Christians and Catholics, we are amazed at the lack of courtesy, justice, fairness and forgiveness at our workplace or in Church organizations.  If the Church environment is modeled after the corporate world, based on the principle of utility, then the Church is no longer a refuge and a haven to experience the merciful and compassionate face of God.

Today, we have the example of St Matthew.  In that brief sentence, “He rose and followed him”, the evangelist explains to us how Matthew understood his calling.  To follow Jesus is not just a matter of being with Him but to leave everything behind, especially a devious and disreputable lifestyle as a tax collector who made money using dishonest and unscrupulous means.  This of course meant that he had to surrender what he loved most, namely, money!  When we follow Jesus, we can no longer pursue activities contrary to the gospel values but to give up those things and habits that are incompatible with the teaching of Jesus.  “To rose” has also the connotation of dying to self and rising to a new life in Christ.  In order to rise, we must die to ourselves, our sins and our attachments to the world.  So when St Matthew “rose and followed” Jesus, it was his utter conviction that his life must now be aligned to the life of God.

Indeed, as Catholics, we must always remind ourselves that because we are the ambassadors of Christ in our own ways, to the world and to people around us, we must be mindful of what we do.  Sin, for Christians, is never just an individual action with repercussions for the sinner only.  Because we are all members of the one body of Christ, every sin of the individual Christian will inevitably have ramifications for the credibility of the Church.  More so, if we hold greater authority, whether as a religious leader, lay leader or simply being parents and teachers of our children.  Our failure as leaders causes unbelievers to distrust us.  It is sad that today, many people do not have confidence in the Church or their leaders anymore.  Everything their leaders do is under suspect.  This is the outcome of Christians failing to live a life that is worthy of their vocation.

But all these means to unity presupposes a more fundamental calling which is the call to be loved by Christ. Precisely, if St Matthew was called to be an apostle and he responded so generously, it was not simply because he was inspired by Jesus’ teachings, but by His compassionate and forgiving love for him.  He never felt judged by Jesus or condemned by Him.  We can be certain that Jesus’ compassionate and loving approach to him must have won him over.  This experience of Jesus’ forgiving love is expressed in the gospel when Jesus was challenged and reproached for eating with tax-collectors and sinners. The evangelist captures the heart of Jesus in His reply to the criticisms of the Pharisees, saying “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners”.  Only those who have understood their own sinfulness and taken the courage to surrender to Jesus, like Matthew, understand the real conversion of life.  The true conversion of heart to one of mercy and compassion for others must begin with an encounter with Divine Mercy.  When we are ready to acknowledge our sinfulness without excuses and turn to the Lord in humility and in truth, then we can experience the healing of our soul and body.

With the experience of His mercy and love, comes the desire to proclaim His mercy.  Unity is only possible wherever we are when we learn compassion.  What breaks up the family unity is always pre-judgment and prejudice.  The unity of the Spirit does not mean that the Christian community is perfect and all are living impeccable lives at all times.  Rather, whilst we must seek to live the gospel life as perfectly as possible, we must realize that we are pilgrims on a journey.  So with the call to live our life worthy of our vocation from the perspective of Christian conduct and lifestyle, we must also complement it with compassion and forgiveness.  Unity requires that we are in solidarity with each other, despite our differences and human frailties.

Truly, if the message of the Good News is to go out through all the earth, as the psalmist says, we must transform society, not by behaving like self-righteous Pharisees, as many active and supposedly good and religious minded Catholics do, but by a life of compassion and understanding, never judging others but thinking the best of them and their motives.  Only when we are able to see goodness in them, will we be able to help bring out the best even in the worst of sinners, as Jesus did with the tax-collectors and the prostitutes.  Love and compassion is the loudest proclamation of the gospel according to the responsorial psalm, “Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard; through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message”, simply because God shows His divine providence to us all in His creative work.

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The Return of the Prodigal Son By Rembrandt

House of Good Repute: Washington DC’s Best Civil War Brothel

April 10, 2015

During the Civil War, a canal ran along what we now know of as the Mall (Print from Edward Sachse’s 1852 book “Views of Washington.”) — Mary Ann Hall’s “House” at arrow.

By John E. Carey

Mary Ann Hall catered to the nation’s elite in Washington as the proprietor of the capital’s best brothel during the Civil War.

Located just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol on Maryland Avenue on what now is part of the Mall, her house, a three-story structure nearly the size of a city block, included parlors, an elegant dining room and, almost assuredly, the most attractive of the city’s estimated 5,000 “soiled doves.”

Prostitution was not a crime in the 19th century, and any concentration of troops during the Civil War attracted flocks of “camp followers” who were available for a price. Women often would show up after battles and offer their services to the generals as nurses. The “nursing,” however, frequently became an open door to those less honest and caring, and when armies experienced theft, prostitution and other less traditional forms of nursing, generals sometimes rejected offers of female help.

Houses of prostitution were fairly common in America’s larger cities, and Washington had as many as 450 entertainment venues on the “wilder side.” The presence of affluent politicians, lobbyists and the hierarchy of the government departments helped make Washington a man’s home away from home.

Elected representatives in those years did not routinely bring wives and families to Washington. Service in Congress was not necessarily even a full-time job. The city was hot and steamy. Nights could be filled with drinking, smoking, gambling and frolicking with willing companions of the gentler sex, far from the eyes of the electorate at home.

Mary Ann Hall took every opportunity to provide such indulgences. The throngs of men willing and able to pay her comparatively exorbitant rates deserved the best. Imported hats, dresses and perfume enhanced her staff. Magnums of champaign added an air of dignity, gentility and grace. Fine food filled the supper tables. Her real goal as hostess, however, was to supply attractive women.

The fashion of the time was an hourglass shape – an ample bosom and tiny waist – which not all women could achieve without corsets reinforced with steel belts called busks. Busks, champagne corks, fine china and combs to hold spectacular hair creations all have been excavated from the site where Hall’s house once stood. Historians and archaeologists believe the quality of these items shows the elegance Hall brought to her entertainment trade. Several of them, including rusted busks, have been preserved by the Smithsonian Institution.

Hall insisted on certain standards of decorum, and her house, which opened around 1837, flourished until it closed in 1878. She was never raided by police, was not the subject of public disgrace or even controversy and was never discussed in newspapers. Editors in those days believed that what was private should stay private. Unless a public figure disgraced himself so thoroughly that prosecution was in order, private excesses remained unreported.

Rep. Daniel E. Sickles of New York learned the limits the hard way. Rumors abounded in the late 1850s that he maintained close personal relationships with a variety of women. Though tongues wagged, his private pleasures never merited newspaper interest. Then, when he murdered his much-younger wife’s lover, Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”- detailed accounts of the court proceedings made newspaper sales soar.

The 1859 trial and associated juicy details sold newspapers and became for a time the talk of Washington and New York. Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper printed 200,000 copies as the trial opened. Demand forced a second printing of 300,000. (During the Civil War, then-Gen. Sickles’ private indiscretions returned to the realm of private matters. After the war, despite routine and well-documented misbehavior, his private life remained taboo to journalists.)

Mary Ann Hall became a wealthy woman. She died in 1886 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery beneath a carved stone statue of herself.

 

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Ladies’ general

The slang word for prostitute, hooker, is generally thought to have originated during the Civil War. For generations, rumors claimed that Union Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker had inspired the nickname by his amorous relationships.

Image result for General Joe Hooker
General Joe Hooker

There is, however, a recorded use of the word before the war, according to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. The dictionary’s authors queried historian Bruce Catton, who agreed that the term came into use before the Civil War but that it became popular during the conflict. An area south of Constitution Avenue was known for its extracurricular activities and was referred to as “Hooker’s Division.” A Civil War officer, Charles Francis Adams Jr., referred to Hooker’s headquarters as “as place to which no self-respecting man likes to go, and no decent woman could go – a combination of barroom and brothel.”

Hooker should be remembered, however, for more than his moral laxities. He was wounded at Antietam and fought at Second Bull Run, and Lincoln made him commander of the Army of the Potomac after Ambrose Burnside’s disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg.

The Battle of Chancellorsville began well and ended badly for the 48-year-old West Point graduate, and just days before Gettysburg, Hooker asked to be relieved. The president appointed George Gordon Meade his successor as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page and The Washington Times.

Related:

 (Contains an index of some of our Civil War stories)

See also: Meet the Madam on the Mall

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-madam-mall-180954371/