Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 106’

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 10, 2018 — Feeding the Multitude with Loaves and Fish

February 9, 2018

Memorial of Saint Scholastica, Virgin
Lectionary: 334

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Feeding the Multitude by Bernardo Strozzi, early 17th century.

Reading 1 1 KGS12:26-32; 13:33-34

Jeroboam thought to himself:
“The kingdom will return to David’s house.
If now this people go up to offer sacrifices
in the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem,
the hearts of this people will return to their master,
Rehoboam, king of Judah,
and they will kill me.”
After taking counsel, the king made two calves of gold
and said to the people:
“You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.
Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
And he put one in Bethel, the other in Dan.
This led to sin, because the people frequented those calves
in Bethel and in Dan.
He also built temples on the high places
and made priests from among the people who were not Levites.
Jeroboam established a feast in the eighth month
on the fifteenth day of the month
to duplicate in Bethel the pilgrimage feast of Judah,
with sacrifices to the calves he had made;
and he stationed in Bethel priests of the high places he had built.Jeroboam did not give up his evil ways after this,
but again made priests for the high places
from among the common people.
Whoever desired it was consecrated
and became a priest of the high places.
This was a sin on the part of the house of Jeroboam
for which it was to be cut off and destroyed from the earth.

Responsorial Psalm PS 106:6-7AB, 19-20, 21-22

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
We have sinned, we and our fathers;
we have committed crimes; we have done wrong.
Our fathers in Egypt
considered not your wonders.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

AlleluiaMT 4:4B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Gospel MK 8:1-10

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat,
Jesus summoned the disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
because they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
If I send them away hungry to their homes,
they will collapse on the way,
and some of them have come a great distance.”
His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread
to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”
Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They replied, “Seven.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them,
and gave them to his disciples to distribute,
and they distributed them to the crowd.
They also had a few fish.
He said the blessing over them
and ordered them distributed also.
They ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.
There were about four thousand people.

He dismissed the crowd and got into the boat with his disciples
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Look at the words: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given.
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This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus did with the loaves and the fish — and this is what Jesus does again at The Last Supper.
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Jesus does this over and over again in the Mass — and with us in our lives.
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Whenever we are broken we can return to Him. We can be taken, blessed, broken and given back to Him.
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Archbishop Goh has said, “Without hope, everything will end in nihilism.”
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Nihilism says that life is without objective meaning. Nothing could be further from the truth if we follow Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
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Related:
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Our thanks and prayers go out to Fr. Henri Nouwen who has been my excellent teacher.
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Fr. Henri Nouwen

In Henri Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved” he outlines four words that he believes are central to the spiritual lives of Christians,

“To identify the movements of the Spirit in our lives, I have found it helpful to use for words: taken, blessed, broken and given. These words summarize my life as a priest because each day, when I come together around the table with members of my community, I take bread, bless it, break it and give it. These words also summarize my life as a Christian, because, as a Christian, I am called to become bread for the world: break that is taken, blessed, broken and given. Most importantly, however, they summarize my life as a human being because in every moment of my life somewhere, somehow the taking, the blessings, the breaking and the giving are happening.” (Life of the Beloved, 41-42)

The radical difference between the way God works and the way the world works is that the world only uses 2 of the four. The world takes and breaks with no idea of how to bless and give. Praise God that we have a Father who knows us and loves us enough to give us exactly what we need and then turn right around and use us to be a blessing to others through the experiences we have walking with God…being taken by him, blessed by him, experiencing brokenness through him and with him and then being given for others.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” – Matthew 26:26

Nouwen says, we are now that bread….

http://mattdabbs.com/2014/07/28/taken-blessed-broken-given-we-are-the-bread/

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Commentary on Mark 8:1-10 from Living Space

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Today we have the second of two multiplication stories found in Mark. The first with 5,000 people was in a predominantly Jewish area while this one with 4,000 people is in mainly Gentile territory. Jesus is reaching out to both groups. The people have nothing to eat and are hungry. The meaning is both physical and spiritual.

Once again we see Mark indicating the emotional response of Jesus. He is filled with compassion for the people in their need. “I feel compassion for all these people… If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way… Some have come a great distance.”

They will collapse “on the way”, on the road. Jesus is the Way, the Road. To walk the road of Jesus, we need a certain kind of nourishment. This is what Jesus came to give.

The disciples, interpreting Jesus literally, as they usually do, ask: “Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?” In the presence of Jesus, the question answers itself but the disciples have not yet clicked. In Mark’s gospel they are often shown to be without an understanding of just who their Master is. That is because they represent us.

The disciples are asked what they can supply. Seven loaves and a few fish is all they have.

There is a strong eucharistic element in this, as in the former story. The people are told to sit down. “He took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks (eucharistesas, ’ eucaristhsas in the Greek), he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute. And they distributed them among the crowd.”

Again we note that Jesus himself does not give out the food the people need. It comes from him but his distributed by his disciples. The same is today. It is our task to feed the hungry – both physically and spiritually. All were filled – 4,000 people altogether – and even so there were seven (a perfect number) baskets left over. A sign of God’s abundance shared with his people.

Again, as before, “He sent them away and, immediately, getting into the boat with his

disciples, went to the region of Dalmanutha”, back to Jewish territory. Jesus was leaving no room for any misinterpretations of what he had done. The disciples too are quickly removed from the scene. There was to be no self-congratulation or glorying in their connections with Jesus the wonder worker. Through the miracle the teaching had been given and that was it.

Lord, teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to labour and seek no reward

save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

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http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2057g/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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10 FEBRUARY, 2018, Saturday, 5th Week, Ordinary Time
HEALING THROUGH ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS IN THE EUCHARIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KGS 12:26-3213:33-34PS 106:6-719-22MK 8:1-10  ]

Today’s readings should lead us to reflect on the close link between sickness and sin, whether remotely or proximately.  Sin is alienation from God and from each other.  As a result of our loss of focus, man has usurped the place of God and made himself a god.  That means he can no longer depend on anyone but himself.  Inevitably, he loses his balance in life and all integrity within himself and his relationship with the world.  This has brought about his bodily illness because there is a lack of integrity between his mind, body and spirit. The loss of the preternatural gifts, resulting in death, pain, ignorance and concupiscence, is the consequence of Adam’s disobedience.  Seduced and misled by the serpent who said to his wife Eve, “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5), his pride caused him to deceive himself into thinking that he can do without God.

The sin of the Israelites is the same sin as that of Adam’s.  It is a repetition of the sin of pride and disobedience.  Already in the Book of Exodus, we read how the Israelites made for themselves a golden calf whilst Moses was meeting the Lord at the Mountain.  Again, we see this same attempt of Jeroboam.  He “made two golden calves; he said to the people, ‘You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.  Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”  It was out of ambition, fear and selfishness that he turned away from the true God of Israel and erected his own sanctuaries, altars for sacrifices, appointed his own priests that were not of the Levi tribe.  He did all these to prevent his people from going to Jerusalem for fear that the people might return to the Kingdom of David.  So to restrain contacts between his people and those of Judah, he duplicated the shrines purely for his self-interest.  As a result, he led his people to sin, as their religion and worship became contaminated and diluted by pagan influences.  When God is abandoned, sin increases.  There is no greater sin than the sin of idolatry, for the sin of Adam is in fact the sin of idolatry.  Anyone who worships himself is committing the sin of idolatry, which will lead to every other sin.

It was for this reason that Christ come.  He came to reconcile us with God so that we can find focus in life again.  He came to show us who His Father really is.  He came to reveal to us the mercy and compassion of God.   Indeed, the healing ministry was central to the life of Jesus.  His healing miracles were signs that He has come to overthrow the reign of Satan and destroy sin.  The miracles of Jesus were, on one hand, the expression of God’s compassion for His suffering and afflicted people.  On the other hand, it was also a demonstration of the power of the Spirit at work in Jesus manifesting the divine presence in Him.  By healing the sick, which is the consequence of original sin and also quite often the fruits of our own personal sins, it shows that God has come to restore us.  By living a foolish, selfish, self-centered, ill-disciplined and wanton life, we cannot but bring misery upon ourselves and even our loved ones.  St Paul, warning the Galatians about living a licentious life, wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  (Gal 6:7-8)

Jesus came to teach us about God’s love and the way to live a life of love and service.  This is brought out in today’s gospel story.  By the act of multiplying the loaves for the Seven Thousand, Jesus wanted the crowd to know that only God can satisfy their spiritual and physical hunger completely.  And when God gives, He gives abundantly, beyond human calculation.  This was what the disciples learnt in this miracle.  When they were wondering how to feed so many people, Jesus worked this miracle to let them know that He is the Bread of Life.  Just as God gave manna to their fathers in the desert, so now Jesus, the Bread of life, is doing the same by feeding them in a deserted place.

Accordingly, the best place to be healed is in the Eucharist.  Many Catholics who are seeking spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological healing fail to realize that they have the greatest means of healing before them, namely, the Eucharist.  Being the real presence of our Risen Lord, the Eucharist has the power to transmit the healing grace of God.  At every mass, just before the reception of Holy Communion, we repeat the words of the Centurion, saying, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Indeed, since Jesus is personally present in the Eucharist, He too can heal us the way He healed the sick when He was in His earthly life at Palestine.

Today, as in the days of old, there are so many people who need healing from all kinds of illnesses. Like the apostles, we too ask: how can we find the strength and resources to help them?   The answer of course is to bring Jesus to them.  And what better way to do this than to give them the Eucharist, the presence of Jesus par excellence.  As the gospel tells us, after Jesus multiplied the loaves for them, they ate their fill and still they collected seven basket loads of leftover.  So with Jesus, all can be satisfied.

But how is this so?  Faith in the healing power of the Eucharist must not be reduced to mere superstition.  We must keep the unity between the Word and the Sacrament.  The gospel tells us that Jesus taught them for three days before He broke bread for them.  In other words, before we can celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist, we must be converted in the mind through careful listening of the Word of God.  Unless the mind is renewed and converted, the heart cannot be changed.  Unless a person is brought to repentance and contrition, no effective healing can take place, and even if it does, the person will once again be wounded emotionally, psychologically and physically by his sins.  But if the mind is renewed and the heart is converted, then the person will avoid falling into sin again and save himself from the effects of sin.  Furthermore, unless we have heard the Word, then we can in faith recognize Jesus in the Eucharist.  This means that we must keep that integral and balanced unity between the celebration of the Word and the Sacrament.  Sometimes, we tend to overemphasize the Word at the expense of the Sacrament; or conversely, emphasize the sacrament and neglect to attentively listen to the Word of God proclaimed at mass.

In the final analysis, we must ask whether we have encountered Jesus, the Word made Flesh, incarnated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  If we fail to have a personal faith encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, then the Eucharist cannot feed us or heal us.  Once we encounter Jesus, we will be healed physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.   Encounter with the person of Jesus will heal all our wounds.

However, the healing grace of the Eucharist extends beyond the reception of the sacrament.  We become what we eat.  So we become more like Jesus when we receive Him, putting on His mind and heart.  In turn we too become mediators of Christ’s love and compassion to others.  Like Jesus, we will also become healers ourselves, reaching out to others who are as wounded as we were.  Like Jesus, we too must in turn be motivated by pastoral charity, shown concretely in our actions, our compassion for them in their sufferings and needs.

For this to happen, we need priests chosen by the Lord.  If the Eucharist is the summit of the Church’s liturgy and life, then without priests, we will not have the Eucharist.  That is why we must continue to pray for young men to have the courage and generosity to give themselves to the priesthood.  Without the Eucharist, the people of God would be like those Seven Thousand, hungry for food.  Priests are chosen by God, not by men, as what Jeroboam did.  He tried to dissuade his people from going to the Temple of Jerusalem by erecting his own temples, appointing priests who were not from the tribe of Levi and established his own feasts.  The truth is that just because he was doing and imitating what was being done at the Temple of Jerusalem, it does not mean that he could bring about the presence of God for the people.  Similarly, without ordained ministers, the people of God will be impoverished and be deprived of the healing grace that comes from the Eucharist.  Let us therefore seek a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist, and at the same time pray for an increase of holy priestly vocations.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 
 
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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, February 8, 2018 — Go to any lengeth to get it — Great faith in the Son of God will result in a great deliverance

February 7, 2018

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 332

Image may contain: 5 people

Art: Jesus heals the daughter of the Syro-phoenician woman

Reading 1 1 KGS 11:4-13

When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods,
and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God,
as the heart of his father David had been.
By adoring Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians,
and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites,
Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD;
he did not follow him unreservedly as his father David had done.
Solomon then built a high place to Chemosh, the idol of Moab,
and to Molech, the idol of the Ammonites,
on the hill opposite Jerusalem.
He did the same for all his foreign wives
who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon,
because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel,
who had appeared to him twice
(for though the LORD had forbidden him
this very act of following strange gods,
Solomon had not obeyed him).So the LORD said to Solomon: “Since this is what you want,
and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes
which I enjoined on you,
I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant.
I will not do this during your lifetime, however,
for the sake of your father David;
it is your son whom I will deprive.
Nor will I take away the whole kingdom.
I will leave your son one tribe for the sake of my servant David
and of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 106:3-4, 35-36, 37 AND 40

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Blessed are they who observe what is right,
who do always what is just.
Remember us, O LORD, as you favor your people;
visit us with your saving help.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
But they mingled with the nations
and learned their works.
They served their idols,
which became a snare for them.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
And the LORD grew angry with his people,
and abhorred his inheritance.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Alleluia JAS 1:21BC

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MK 7:24-30

Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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08 FEBRUARY, 2018, Thursday, 5th Week, Ordinary Time
LOSING FOCUS BEGINS WITH ABANDONMENT OF GOD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KGS 11:4-13MK 7:24-30 ]

Solomon started well as a young king.  When he assumed kingship, he was humble and wise enough to ask the Lord for the gift of wisdom and a discerning heart.  He was conscious of his limitations and lack of experience in governing his people.  As a consequence, God, who was delighted with his sincere motive of wanting to serve Him and God’s people rather than his own interests, also blessed him with other things as well.  This was what the Lord promised Him “Since you have asked for this and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what your ask.  I give you a heart wise as shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you.  What you have not asked I shall give you too:  such riches and glory as no other king ever had.”  (1 Kgs 3:11-13)

Unfortunately he failed to take heed of another injunction the Lord made to him, namely, “If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”  (1 Kgs 3:14)  In his success and fame, Solomon in his later days lost focus of the most essential thing in life, namely, God.  As we read in the first reading, “when Solomon grew old his wives swayed his heart to other gods; and his heart was not wholly with the Lord his God as his father David’s had been.  Solomon became a follower of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and of Milcom, the Ammonite abomination.  He did what was displeasing to the Lord, and was not a wholehearted follower of the Lord, as his father David had been.”  This was his greatest folly, prostituting himself to false gods and abandoning his devotion to the true God.

Truly, most of us only turn to God when we are in need of help or when we are desperate.  Often, when we become successful, we are like King Solomon; we tend to forget about God and bask in our laurels and accomplishments.  This is always the constant temptation of every person.  Instead of being dependent on the Lord, we begin to rely on ourselves, consumed by the things of this world, and often become proud and arrogant, thinking so highly of ourselves.  Consciously or unconsciously we are deceived by worldly securities and external achievements.  As a result, like King Solomon, we turn to false gods in our lives, having strayed away from the true God.

The tragedy is that when we turn away from God, we cannot but inevitably end up worshipping other things instead.  In the case of Solomon, because of his disobedience to the statutes of the Lord, he married foreign wives who brought into the kingdom their pagan gods.  Not only was Solomon influenced by their religious practices, he even “built a high place for Chemosh, the god of Moab, on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem, and to Milcom, the god of the Ammonites.  He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrifice to their gods.”  Should we be surprised at all?  Those of us who do not give God the primary place and the first place in our hearts naturally make idols of our loved ones or our work, money and status.  God is among the last in the scale of importance in our lives!  We put our spouse or our friends, especially our boyfriend or girlfriend, before Him.  We would even compromise our values and principles for the love of someone.  Often, parents worship their children and place their needs before God as well.  When we value anyone or anything before God, we have a misplaced devotion.  This would lead to great disorder in our lives because we assign a wrong place to creatures and created things.

The later life of King Solomon was tragic.  We read that “The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned from the Lord the God of Israel who had twice appeared to him and who had forbidden him to follow other gods; but he did not carry the Lord’s order.”  He forgot what the Lord had done for him.  He forgot that his fame and success were due solely to the grace and guidance of God.  He led a life of self-indulgence, of pleasure and sensuality.

Forgetfulness of what the Lord has done for us is the cause of misery for many of us.  Once we forget His kindness and mercy, we begin to focus on ourselves instead of doing His will and serving His people.  That was the case of King Solomon.  He ended up serving himself and satisfying his desires.  Unlike his father who, although did badly at the start by committing adultery and killing his officer to cover up his guilt, repented and never allowed it to happen again.  Hence, at the end of his life, his sin was not only forgiven but forgotten as this failure of his was omitted in the assessment of historians on his reign.

It is such an irony for we would think that one becomes wiser when one gets older.  But in Solomon’s case, he became more foolish as he was distracted by his achievements.  How true for all of us! His folly should be a warning to us all.  Many of us become complacent like him whenever we become successful.  This is even true in Church ministry.  When we become popular, well known and in demand, we act arrogantly and even disdain others. Such an attitude spells the beginning of our downfall as it did for Solomon.  Because of his sins, not only did he suffer, but so did most of all the generations after him.  The Lord therefore said to Solomon, “Since you behave like this and do not keep my covenant or the laws I laid down for you, I will most surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.  For your father David’s sake, however, I will not do this during your lifetime, but will tear it out of your son’s hands.”   The consequences of our folly in abandoning God have lasting repercussions for those people coming after us. The painstaking work that King David did to build up the kingdom, reuniting the Northern and Southern Kingdom were destroyed later on by Solomon’s children; and eventually the kingdom of Israel and Judah fell into the hands of foreign powers.   So too, let us never forget that forgetting God and losing our focus and perspective will cause harm to our loved ones, our children and children’s children!

It behooves us therefore to learn from Jesus in today’s gospel.  He was someone who was very much focused in His mission.  We read that He left “Genesaret and set out for the territory of Tyre.”  Most likely, He was overwhelmed by the demands of the ministry and wanted to take a break in a foreign land where He could be left alone.  He felt the need to be alone to recuperate.  But we read that even then, “he could not pass unrecognised.  A women whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him straightaway and came and fell at his feet.”  Initially, Jesus was reluctant to work another healing miracle.  At any rate, He was conscious that His primary mission was to restore the Kingdom of Israel and that He was sent to redeem His people.  This is no implication that He was not concerned with the conversion of the Gentiles, but He knew that at that point in time, His Father wanted Him to focus on Israel.  Nevertheless, because of the pleading of the woman “a pagan, by birth a Syro-phoenician” and her insistent faith, He relented.  Still, He was clear that He should not lose focus in His mission for He told her, “the children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.”  In truth, Jesus could have been tempted to work outside Israel, for it seems that the non-Jews were more welcoming of Jesus than His own countrymen.   Many of us would have been tempted to go where we are loved, honoured, accepted and revered, even though we know where we should be working.  In Jesus’ case, regardless how difficult it was to work amongst His people, no matter how much rejection and opposition he faced, “He loved them to the end.”  (Jn 13:1)

Similarly, we can also learn perseverance and single mindedness from the Syro-phonecian woman.  She did not give up so easily simply because she received a negative or non-committal answer from the Lord.  She continued to engage Jesus, saying: “Ah yes, sir, but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.”  Her love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus made her persist to the end.  Truly, we too must cultivate a deep love for the Lord, for only when we are devoted to Him above everyone else will we be blessed by Him.  Let the Lord be our compass always so that we do not lose focus in our mission on earth, in whatever we do, whether as parents, workers or collaborators.  We must endeavor to serve God ultimately in all things, whether taking care of our family or those under our charge, or in our contribution to Church and society.  Only then, like King David, can we end our life in deep gratitude and joy rather than in regret, like King Solomon.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 
 
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Timeless Themes

  • Jesus reaches out to everyone. The women who prayed, and the child who was healed, were both females. Not only that, they were foreigners. Jesus looked past these two counts against them, and saw their intrinsic worth.
  • Persistence pays. The woman in this story would not take ‘no’ for an answer. She humiliated herself in a desperate effort to save her daughter, refusing to give up even when Jesus rebuffed her. Her quick and nimble repartee turned what seemed like rejection on Jesus’ part to her advantage. Jesus lost the argument — albeit willingly. It is the only time we know of where Jesus was out-argued.
  • It doesn’t matter if we are separated in time from Jesus. We can still know him. Three times (this story is one of them) Jesus healed someone at a distance (the Centurion’s servant, the nobleman’s son, and this woman’s child).

 

The Syrophoenician woman was willing to do whatever it took, even if it meant rejection and humiliation, to save her suffering child. Just as Jesus, a short time later, would suffer rejection and humiliation to save us.

It is one of only two times we know of where Jesus healed a Gentile; the other being the Centurion’s servant.

  • In both cases, the sufferer’s case was brought to Jesus by someone else.
  • In both cases, Jesus made a point of remarking upon the faith of the Gentile.
  • In both cases, Jesus did not visit the suffering person but healed them from afar.

http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/jesus-cures-syrophoenician-womans-daughter

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The Syrophoenician Woman: A Woman of Great Faith

“And from thence he arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24a). Matthew wrote that Jesus “withdrew” (15:21). This was the third time in which Jesus withdrew from Galilee in the gospel of Mark (cf. 4:35; 6:31).

The Lord sought solitude with his disciples, but the text says,

“And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it; and he could not be hid” (7:24b).

He had not gone into Gentile territory to embark on a healing ministry, but his fame had reached beyond the borders of Galilee (cf. 3:8).

During this retreat into a largely Gentile region, a woman approached Jesus for help. Mark introduced the account with a strong adversative conjunction, “but,” (Grk. alla), recording the fact that in contrast to the need for seclusion, a notable scene developed.

Mark 7:25 reveals that when this woman heard that Jesus was in the area, she came immediately and fell down at his feet. The aorist participles indicate that she fell down at his feet when she heard and when she came. Thus, the writer expressed the urgency in this mother’s heart as she unabashedly pursued Jesus — immediately.

Mark explained that she was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race (7:26). She was a Greek speaking lady who was a Gentile. She kept on asking (Grk. imperfect tense) him to cast forth the demon out of her daughter (cf. Demons: Ancient Superstition or Historical Reality?).

Matthew related that her request was formed in this way: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon. But he answered her not a word” (Matthew 15:22-23). So intrusive was this woman that the disciples encouraged Jesus to send her away.

Jesus replied by saying, “I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). “But she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me” (v. 25).

“And he said to her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). Jesus used the diminutive form of the term “dogs” (i.e., the little dogs). D. Edmond Hiebert observed, “Jesus softened the force of the expression with His use of the diminutive, ‘little dogs’. . . Clearly His reference is to the little household pets, which, while not children in the house, yet had a place in the affairs of the household” (The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary, Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1994, p. 210).

The woman followed the Lord’s parable, acknowledging the distinction implied by his words. Perhaps she saw a glimmer of hope in the word “first,” for Jesus implicitly revealed that while there was a redemptive priority for the Jews, the blessings of heaven did not exclusively belong to them.

With remarkable insight and persistence, she replied, “Yea, Lord; even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs” (Mark. 7:28). Jesus responded, “For this saying go thy way; the demon is gone out of thy daughter” (v. 29).

“This saying,” (i.e., her reply to Jesus) evidenced great faith on her part. Matthew records the assessment of our Lord: “O woman, great is thy faith” (15:28). Because of her faith, expressed in her thoughtful exchange with Jesus, the Lord granted her request for a miracle. The verb “is gone out,” is in the perfect tense, reflecting the Lord’s control and power. The demon left while they spoke and would remain out.

Consider the following observations about this woman of great faith.

This lady had great spiritual insight. She was not asking the Lord to alter the way he was implementing the plan of God, which would later be carried out by the apostles to the Jew first and also to the Greek. She was simply asking for a “crumb.” Faith is based upon understanding the will of God. It is founded upon knowledge — not mere emotion.

This mother illustrated the connection between faith and unfavorable circumstances. Great faith will rely upon the Son of God. Faith becomes stronger in times of distress for those who tenaciously depend on God (cf. James 1:2-4).

This woman demonstrated that great faith seeks the welfare of others. Those who trust in God will intercede for others. How much more ought we to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of those we love?

The Gentile lady showed the relationship of faith and humility. Her humble disposition complimented her genuine faith. Great faith is seeing one’s complete dependence upon God.

The Syrophoenician woman taught us that great faith endures.She was steadfast and resilient in her request of the Lord. Reminiscent of the woman who pursued the unjust judge, she reminds us to always pray and never give up (cf. Luke 18:1ff).

The distressed mother exemplified that great faith in the Son of God will result in a great deliverance. Although miraculous healings were confined to the first century during the infancy of Christianity (cf. John 20:30-31; see What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?), today everyone who will follow the Lord with obedient faith can be delivered from that which plagues all morally accountable people — sin.

What a relevant message. We need to cultivate great faith so that we may obtain the greater deliverance through the Great Physician — the salvation of our souls.

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1235-syrophoenician-woman-a-woman-of-great-faith-the

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, August 21, 2017 — “If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…” — The more we give the poorer we become — How rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms

August 20, 2017

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope
Lectionary: 419

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Reading 1 JGS2:11-19

The children of Israel offended the LORD by serving the Baals.
Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers,
who led them out of the land of Egypt,
they followed the other gods of the various nations around them,
and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD.

Because they had thus abandoned him and served Baal and the Ashtaroth,
the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel,
and he delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them.
He allowed them to fall into the power of their enemies round about
whom they were no longer able to withstand.
Whatever they undertook, the LORD turned into disaster for them,
as in his warning he had sworn he would do,
till they were in great distress.
Even when the LORD raised up judges to deliver them
from the power of their despoilers,
they did not listen to their judges,
but abandoned themselves to the worship of other gods.
They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken,
and did not follow their example of obedience
to the commandments of the LORD.
Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, he would be with the judge
and save them from the power of their enemies
as long as the judge lived;
it was thus the LORD took pity on their distressful cries
of affliction under their oppressors.
But when the judge died,
they would relapse and do worse than their ancestors,
following other gods in service and worship,
relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.

Responsorial Psalm PS 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43AB AND 44

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They did not exterminate the peoples,
as the LORD had commanded them,
But mingled with the nations
and learned their works.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They served their idols,
which became a snare for them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They became defiled by their works,
and wanton in their crimes.
And the LORD grew angry with his people,
and abhorred his inheritance.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Many times did he rescue them,
but they embittered him with their counsels.
Yet he had regard for their affliction
when he heard their cry.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

AlleluiaMT 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;

and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

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Reflection From Spirituality Matters — The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales
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And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor”.

He does say, “Give to the poor.” This presumes that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide.

In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything – not one bit – to the poor. His unwillingness to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with others makes his reluctance he even more saddening.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

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Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent, what transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate and with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? How many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy?

Just today?

http://www.oblates.org/spirituality-matters-feed/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 AUGUST, 2017, Monday, 20th Week, Ordinary Time
HISTORY IS AN INTERPLAY OF SIN AND GRACE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jdg 2:11-19Ps 106:34-37,39-40,43-44Mt 19:16-22 ]

In the first reading, we read about the existential struggle of every human person.   We see the history of man’s infidelity towards God and his fellowmen.  We are fundamentally sinners, ignorant and weak.  We are ungrateful and unrepentant, until we suffer the consequences of our sins, then we repent and behave ourselves.   But eventually, such things are forgotten and we once again repeat our sins.   This has been the state of humanity since the beginning of time.

Indeed, our attitudes are no different from that of the Israelites.   So before we condemn them, let us remember that we will also repeat their mistakes and history.  Like them, we are blind, ignorant or too weak to resist the temptation to serve false gods.  Instead of acknowledging that God is our only Lord we serve other gods in our lives. “The sons of Israel did what displeases the Lord and served the Baals.  They deserted the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from the gods of the peoples round them.  They bowed down to these; they provoked the Lord; they deserted the Lord to serve Baal and Astarte.”  The god of Baals were gods of fertility and that of the vegetation.  The sons of Israel were no longer nomads and so they sought the pagan gods to protect their crops.   Astarte was also the goddess of love, hatred, wars and fertility.  She was important for their protection from their enemies.   We too worship what we seek in life.  We seek power, glory and wealth hoping that these things could give us the security and satisfy our yearnings.

Then we are punished accordingly.  This is because what we sow is what we reap. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  (Gal 6:8f)

Truly, the Lord behaves like a father who disciplines His child.  “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 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 12:7-11)

After the discipline, the Lord who loves us all the same would then send His messengers to offer us salvation and freedom.   This is the constant experience of humanity with regard to the love and mercy of God, provided we are receptive of His mercy and forgiveness.  This is what the psalmist expressed of our situation.  “Time after time he rescued them, but in their malice they dared to defy him.   In spite of this he paid heed to their distress, so often as he heard their cry.  When the Lord appointed judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and rescued them from the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord felt pity for them as they groaned under the iron grip of their oppressors.”   God is always forgiving and He is always there to assure us of His forgiveness.   He hears our cry for liberation from sin and from the clutches of the Evil One.  He is with us in our struggles and loneliness.

Then this history of infidelity repeats itself.  “But once the judge was dead, they relapsed and behaved even worse than their ancestors.  They followed other gods; they served them and bowed before them, and would not give up the practices and stubborn ways of their ancestors at all.”  This, then, is the ongoing cycle of sin and the prevalence of grace.  Regardless of what situation we are in, the Lord remains faithful to us.   He will not abandon us but He will allow the punishment to unfold itself because of the consequences of our actions.  “Then the Lord appointed judges for them, and rescued the men of Israel from the hands of their plunderers.  But they would not listen to their judges.  They prostituted themselves to other gods, and bowed down before these.  Very quickly they left the path their ancestors had trodden in obedience to the orders of the Lord; they did not follow their example.”

We learn the hard way.  This is the reality of life.  Experience is the best teacher but we have to pay an exorbitant price for the experience.  Somehow, we are slow learners and often forgetful of the mistakes we make.  What lessons can we learn from the Israelites?  

Firstly, serving false gods will lead us to other sins.  When we worship the illusions of our lives, we tend to forget the more essential dimensions of life, such as a clear conscience, love and right relationships.  When we begin to worship the means and forget the ends of all that we do, we are worshipping the false gods of our lives.   All other things can die or disintegrate but not God.   To worship false gods is to worship an illusion.  Only the love of God is true.

Secondly, there is a need to accommodate the beliefs of other religions, especially in this secular global village.   However, secularization can lead us to sin if we are not discerning as to what is good and what is bad. “They failed to destroy the peoples as the Lord had given command, but instead they mingled with the nations and learned to act as they did. They worshipped the idols of the nations and these became a snare to entrap them.  They even offered their own sons and their daughters in sacrifice to demons.  So, they defiled themselves by their deeds and broke their marriage bond with the Lord till his anger blazed against his people; he was filled with horror at his chosen ones.”  That was why the laws in those days were very strict with respect to mingling with people of other religions.

Today, because of better communication and dialogue with other religions, we are able to accommodate and learn from them as much as they from us.  “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.”  (Nostra Aetate, 2)   We must seek out what is true and noble for the development of humanity.   That is why we must affirm our common goal of building a united family of peoples.  But we must be judicious.

But life is more than not just getting into trouble.   It is more than obeying the commandments to worship God alone.  This call to worship God alone is spelt out concretely also in the love of our fellowmen.  This is where Jesus brings us further in the application of the observance of God’s commandments.  When the rich man asked the Lord, “’Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good.  There is one alone who is good.  But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’”   What are these commandments?  Significantly, it concerns an authentic love of self and for others.   Jesus listed the commandments in terms of authentic justice towards our fellowmen.  “You must not kill.  You must not commit adultery.  You must not steal.  You must not bring false witness.  Honour your father and mother, and: You must love your neighbour as yourself.”   It is the love of our fellowmen, practicing mercy and compassion that puts us in the right religion.  Jesus sums up, “Do this and we will have life.”

However, if we want to find a perfect life, then Jesus tells us, “go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  This is a very tall order.   It is not everyone’s calling to do that.  Indeed, this was too much for the young man, for he was attached to his wealth.  He had not come to the state of totally falling in love with Jesus, or have the faith to entrust our his life totally to the providence of God. That is why some of us feel incomplete in life even though we have everything we want.  Many of us are attached to the luxurious lifestyle, food and creature comforts.  It is a lifelong process of submitting everything under the Lordship of Christ.  In this way, the worship of God is the ultimate commandment because it leads to living a life of authentic love and compassion for our brothers and sisters.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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It is not the riches of this world that hold us back: it is our own selves failing to give them up.
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Isn’t everything we have, everything we seem to gain, a gift from God? Isn’t our work a result of the gifts God has given to us?
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My mind jumps ahead to the story of the Camel unable to get through the eye of the needle.
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Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure
you: it will be very hard for rich people to
enter the Kingdom of heaven. I repeat:
it is much harder for a rich person to enter
the Kingdom of God than for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle”
(Matt. 19:23-23).
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Which way to the needle?

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Have you ever thought of trying to get through the “eye of the needle”? Me neither! I have a bad enough time just trying to “thread” a needle. Either there is not enough light, or the thread is frayed, or my eyes just cannot seem to focus too well. I have many excuses including that … the eye of the needle is too small.

Of course, Jesus was not talking about me, but of a camel, getting through the eye of a needle. I always wondered about that phrase in the Gospels….

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Related:

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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, August 9, 2017 — “Let it be done for you as you wish. Your faith is so great.” 

August 8, 2017

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 409

Image result for Jesus casts out a demon from the woman's daughter, art, photos

Jesus Casts Out The Demon, Saying, “O Woman, Let it be done for you as you wish. Your faith is so great.” by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Reading 1  NM 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26A-29A, 34-35

The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,]
“Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.
You shall send one man from each ancestral tribe,
all of them princes.”

After reconnoitering the land for forty days they returned,
met Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the children of Israel
in the desert of Paran at Kadesh,
made a report to them all,
and showed the fruit of the country
to the whole congregation.
They told Moses: “We went into the land to which you sent us.
It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.
However, the people who are living in the land are fierce,
and the towns are fortified and very strong.
Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there.
Amalekites live in the region of the Negeb;
Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites dwell in the highlands,
and Canaanites along the seacoast and the banks of the Jordan.”

Caleb, however, to quiet the people toward Moses, said,
“We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so.”
But the men who had gone up with him said,
“We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.”
So they spread discouraging reports among the children of Israel
about the land they had scouted, saying,
“The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants.
And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants
(the Anakim were a race of giants);
we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”

At this, the whole community broke out with loud cries,
and even in the night the people wailed.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
“How long will this wicked assembly grumble against me?
I have heard the grumblings of the children of Israel against me.
Tell them: By my life, says the LORD,
I will do to you just what I have heard you say.
Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
Forty days you spent in scouting the land;
forty years shall you suffer for your crimes:
one year for each day.
Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me.
I, the LORD, have sworn to do this
to all this wicked assembly that conspired against me:
here in the desert they shall die to the last man.”

Responsorial Psalm   PS 106:6-7AB, 13-14, 21-22, 23

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
We have sinned, we and our fathers;
we have committed crimes; we have done wrong.
Our fathers in Egypt
considered not your wonders.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
But soon they forgot his works;
they waited not for his counsel.
They gave way to craving in the desert
and tempted God in the wilderness.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

AlleluiaLK 7:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A great prophet has arisen in our midst
and God has visited his people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 15: 21-28

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Let it be done for you as you wish.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

09 AUGUST, 2017, Wednesday, 18th Week, Ordinary Time

UNDAUNTED FAITH


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ NUM 13:1-225 – 14:1, 26-29. 34-35; MT 15:21-28 ]

It is not difficult to identify with the fear and dismay of the Israelites in the face of such formidable foes in the land that God had given to them to occupy.  They were inexperienced and untrained soldiers, probably with very primitive weapons compared to their more established foes. Those who reconnoitered the land said, “Its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there.  Every man we saw there was of enormous size… We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Indeed, fear overcame them.  Upon hearing this report, the Israelites were overwhelmed by terror and fright. “The whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.”  Fear, of course, is always contagious. When we are alarmed, we tend to influence others and discourage them as well.

Like the Israelites, we too, when under threat due to seemingly insurmountable problems and challenges at home, in the office and in relationships, can be so crushed that we are tempted to give up hope.  We fall into despair and this is worsened when there are many discouraging voices around us that seem to confirm our pessimistic prognosis of the situation.  This can be even more daunting if we are leaders in our community or organization. When the leader loses hope and is diffident about the outlook, he would neither have courage and strength, nor the conviction to steer and motivate those under him to fight on.
Perhaps we can take comfort in our cowardice because, unlike the Israelites, we can at least give the excuse that we have not seen the great wonders and works that God performed for His people at the Exodus.  The Israelites had no justification for doubting the divine power of God.  For ourselves, although we might have seen some small wonders of God at work in our lives, these perhaps may not have been convincing enough to cause us to radically change our minds about God’s love, mercy and power. Of course, some of us may have had more significant God-experiences, or seen and heard testimonies of how God had saved their friends or relatives in a most miraculous way from their sickness, relationships or from financial straits.

The lesson we can learn from the Israelites is that forgetfulness of God’s love, mercy and power is the cause of fear, distress, discouragement and the loss of faith.  This was the lesson Israel learnt, as expressed by the psalmist.  “We have sinned, we and our fathers; we have committed crimes; we have done wrong. Our fathers in Egypt considered not your wonders. But soon they forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel. They gave way to craving in the desert and tempted God in the wilderness. They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt, wondrous deeds in the land of Ham, terrible things at the Red Sea.”

How then can we remember His love for us?  The story of the Canaanite woman is a story of what faith entails.  She had an undaunted faith in the power of Jesus to heal, and total confidence in that not only could He heal, but that He would heal.  So assured was she of Jesus’ works of mercy that she would not relent even when Jesus appeared not to take notice of her and even suggested that His priority was to the House of Israel.  But this woman would not take “no” for an answer and continued pleading on behalf of her daughter.

This woman most probably had heard much about Jesus and may even have followed Him.  She saw the miracles He had performed.  She heard His teachings about God’s love, mercy and of His mission of establishing the reign of God.  She remembered His teaching and His miracles.  She knew Jesus so well and therefore had no fear of rejection.  She knew she would not return home empty.  So great was her faith in Jesus that she believed that even if she were to take the mere scraps that fell from the master’s table, it would be sufficient to heal her daughter. Her great faith, as Jesus commended her, reminds us also of another pagan, the Centurion, when he told Jesus, “I am not worthy to have you under my roof, just give the word and my servant will be cured.” (Mt 8:8).

We, too, are invited to trust in the Lord in such moments of trial and hopelessness.  We must believe that God will hear our prayers, even when we do not know how to pray as we ought.  All we need to do is to surrender the little efforts and trust that we have to the Lord, and He will elevate us further in our faith in Him, a faith that will set us free.  We must recall the good times, the blessings that we have received, the assistance we received from Him and how He had protected and guided us all this while till this day.  By remembering what He has done for us, we will regain our trust and confidence in Him.

We must also learn from the punishment meted out to the Israelites, that when we do not trust God and surrender our lives, plans and projects to Him, we will cause more problems for ourselves and those who have been entrusted to our care.  Complaining and moping will not do us any good, just as it did not help the Israelites.  Regretting and wallowing only make us inward-looking.  Staring at our navel instead of looking up to God will lead us to depression and despondency.

Like the Canaanite woman, we must press on with all our strength, trusting that God will do something for us, even beyond our imagination.  We must be proactive and take action.  During such trials, instead of grumbling against God and even becoming resentful of Him, we should take such occasions to grow in faith, in grace and in holiness.  It is said that the same fire that purifies gold also destroys the straws.  We can trust that Jesus will take the broken pieces of our lives and our wounded hearts and put them together to make them whole again.   Indeed, not only will He repair our hearts but He will transform them into something more beautiful than before.  As Psalm 30:11 says, “You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance. You have stripped off my sackcloth and clothed them with joy.”

Finally, if we find ourselves unable to make that leap of faith like the Canaanite woman, or to have that humility to continue begging from the Lord, then at least remember that He is patient with us.  He does not want to punish.  The penalty meted out to the unbelieving Israelites must not be interpreted literally.  When God pronounced judgment on them saying: “In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall … you who have complained against me.  For forty days you reconnoitered the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins … Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.” He knew that if they were not confident in seizing the Promised Land from the inhabitants, the whole community would be exterminated by their enemies. This explains why although they were geographically so near to the Promised Land, yet God made them travel the long way through the desert for forty years before entering it.  It was a way to strengthen their faith and to help them to psychologically come to terms with themselves. Three generations had to pass before God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled.

Psychological and emotional barriers require time to come to terms with.  So let us be patient with ourselves whilst seeking to imitate the faith of the Canaanite woman.  Let us ask for the grace of faith, which requires the gift of humility as well.  Only then can we surrender our lives to the Lord, knowing that nothing can overwhelm us as St Paul says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:37-39).


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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Commentary on Matthew 15:21-28 From Living Space


Jesus is seen on one of his few visits outside Jewish territory. The cities of Tyre and Sidon are on the Mediterranean coast in what is today Lebanon.

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While he is there he is approached by a Canaanite (that is, a non-Jewish) woman whose child is “troubled by a demon”. Whether it was an actual possession or some natural physical or mental ailment does not really matter. Already the woman’s faith and trust in Jesus is indicated by the way she addresses him, “Lord, Son of David!” coupled with her plea for his compassion.

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At first, Jesus ignores her completely. The disciples intervene and ask Jesus to give her what she wants because she is making such a nuisance of herself. Jesus replies that his mission is only to the “house of Israel”, to which this woman clearly does not belong.

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In the meantime the woman continues her pleading, “Help me, Lord!” She is following, in fact, advice that the Gospel gives – keep on asking. Jesus replies in words that sound very harsh, if not racist: “It is not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

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‘Dogs’, together with ‘swine’, was a common colloquial expression among Jews for Gentiles (cf. Matt 7:6: “Do not give what is holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine.”) The dog was regarded as an unclean and promiscuous animal. Because it was such a common expression, it is probably not as harsh as it sounds to us and, if spoken with a measure of humour (implied by Jesus’ use of the diminutive, ‘doggies’), would not have given offence at all. As they say, everything is in the tone of voice. (Not unlike when my Chinese friends call me a gwai-lo [‘devil fellow’] – a common term for non-Chinese.) Jesus was not a racist; that is clear from other situations where he dealt with non-Jews and with other commonly despised groups.

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For her part, the woman certainly is not in the least fazed. She comes right back: “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” That was enough for Jesus. She had proved her genuineness. “Woman, you have great faith. Your wish will come to pass.” Her daughter was cured on the spot.

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It is a hint of what is to come. Membership of God’s people will be measured not by birth or circumcision but by a living faith in Jesus as Lord.

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A story like this is an occasion for us to look at our own attitudes to people of other races, ethnic groups and nationalities not to mention the socially disadvantaged or physically or mentally disabled – in other words, any people who are ‘different’. How inclusive are we in word and action? And does our parish community go out of its way to provide a welcome for the ‘outsider’? These are very real questions in societies which are becoming more and more inter-cultural.

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http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o1184g/

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A miracle is a phenomenal or supernatural event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers, and more often than not cannot be explained by the laws of nature. God never operates contrary to His Word or to the laws of nature which He has established, but He has the prerogative to supersede them. Instantaneous healings and the expulsion of evil spirits always constitute a miracle.

Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 both record a Gentile woman coming to Jesus for the deliverance of her daughter. Mark indicates clearly that she was “a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth.” She cried out to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But Jesus didn’t even answer her. He kept walking. She continued crying out to Him. Jesus’ disciples came to Him and said,“Send her away.” Jesus’ reply was seemingly heartless and cold. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He kept walking. She continued crying out to Him. “Lord, help me!” She kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

Finally He spoke to the woman. “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” She replied with a statement that arrested His attention and impressed Him. “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire. For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And her daughter was healed at that very minute. When she came to her house, she found her daughter lying on the bed and the demon was gone.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told a parable about a persistent widow. The lesson was about being persistent in prayer. “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

Jesus “came to His own, [Israel] and His own did not receive Him.” Jesus knew the Scriptures about how ultimately the Gentiles would be blessed. “For the Gentiles shall seek Him… He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:10; 42:1; 49:6) He marveled at Israel’s unbelief (Mark 6:6), and marveled at the faith of Gentiles (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9). In the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus certainly found persistent faith. He was trying to reach the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but the greatest faith was coming from Gentiles.

She came to Jesus and He ignored her. The disciples were annoyed with her. Finally Jesus said that what He had was not even for her. But she did not give up in her mind. Her love and determination brought total deliverance for her daughter. Author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/christian-ministries/ministry-of-jesus/healings-of-jesus/daughter-of-the-canaanite-woman-healing-ministry-of-jesus.html

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Lectio divina from the Carmelites
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Opening prayer
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Father of everlasting goodness, our origin and guide, be close to us and hear the prayers of all who praise you. Forgive our sins and restore us to life. Keep us safe in your love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Reflection 
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Context. The bread of the children and the great faith of a Canaanite woman is the theme presented in the liturgical passage taken from chapter 15 of Matthew who proposes to the reader of his Gospel a further deepening of faith in Christ. The episode is preceded by an initiative of the Pharisees and Scribes who go down to Jerusalem and cause a dispute to take place with Jesus, but which did not last long, because he, together with his disciples withdrew to go to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
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While he is on the way, a woman from the pagan places comes to him. This woman is presented by Matthew by the name of a “Canaanite woman” who in the light of the Old Testament, she is presented with great harshness. In the Book of Deuteronomy the inhabitants of Canaan were considered people full of sins, evil and idolatrous people.
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The dynamic of the account. While Jesus carries out his activity in Galilee and is on the way toward Tyre and Sidon, a woman came up to him and began to bother him with a petition for help for her sick daughter. The woman addresses Jesus using the title “Son of David”; a title which sounds strange pronounced by a pagan and that could be justified because of the extreme situation in which the woman lives. It could be thought that this woman already believes in some way, in the person of Jesus as final Savior, but this is excluded because it is only in v. 28 that her act of faith is recognized, precisely by Jesus.
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In the dialogue with the woman Jesus seems to show that distance and diffidence which reigned between the people of Israel and the pagans. On one side Jesus confirms to the woman the priority for Israel to have access to salvation, and before the insistent prayer of her interlocutor Jesus seems to withdraw, to be at a distance; an incomprehensible attitude for the reader, but in the intention of Jesus it expresses an act of pedagogical value. To the first invocation “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David” (v. 22) Jesus does not respond.
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To the second intervention this time on the part of the disciples who invite him to listen to the prayer of the woman, he only expresses rejection that stresses that secular distance between the chosen people and the pagan people (vv. 23b-24) But at the insistence of the prayer of the woman who bows before Jesus, a harsh and mysterious response follows: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs” (v. 26).
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The woman goes beyond the harsh response of the words of Jesus and gets a small sign of hope: the woman recognizes that the plan of God being carried out by Jesus initially concerns the chosen people and Jesus asks the woman to recognize that priority; the woman takes advantage of that priority to present a strong reason to obtain the miracle: “Ah yes, Lord, but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27).
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The woman has exceeded the test of faith: “Woman, you have great faith” (v. 28); in fact, to the humble insistence of her faith corresponds a gesture of salvation.
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This episode addresses an invitation to every reader of the Gospel to have that interior attitude of “openness” toward everyone, believers or not, that is to say, availability and acceptance without distinction toward all men.
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Personal questions
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The disturbing word of God invites you to break open your closeness and all your small plans. Are you capable to accept all the brothers and sisters who come to you?
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Are you aware of your poverty to be capable like the Canaanite woman to entrust yourself to the word of salvation of Jesus?
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Concluding Prayer
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Lord, do not thrust me away from your presence, do not take away from me your spirit of holiness. Give me back the joy of your salvation, sustain in me a generous spirit. (Ps 51,11-12)
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COVENANT RELATIONSHIP

Covenant relationships are essentially those which were never intended to be disrupted any more than the vital relationship between the heart and the lungs is meant to be disrupted.  There is literally life and death at stake in the establishing or breaking of covenant relationship.  In particular they refer to those which we hold with our spouses, our families, and yes, even the church.  We live in a day and age whereby all three of these are treated to be as disposable as a dirty diaper.  And in truth some of these relationships may smell and even appear as such!  Nevertheless there is blessing found in fighting for and seeking to grow in each and every one of these relationships.  Romans 12:4-5 says this:

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

In Joshua 1:12-18 we see Joshua renewing covenant relationship with the people of Israel.

Honoring and acknowledging our need for covenant relationship with the body of Christ is essential for stepping into the promises of God.

He is doing a restorative work in His church in this hour.  And while it’s true that He desires a pure and spotless bride, I do not believe that this is His primary motivation.  The motivation is simply this…Love.  Love for every member who has been rejected, abused, run over, or sinned against in any way, shape or form by His body, the church.  Please understand that a fully restored church is seeing each member within her fully restored so that every joint may supply (Eph 4:11-16) and so that she could therefore function as she was designed to from the very beginning.  The restoration and maintenance of every covenant relationship is ultimately found in this one, our relationship to Christ.  However, if Christ truly is the head of the body, then the rejection of the Body of Christ is the rejection of a large portion of Jesus Himself.  As much as it is up to us, we need to pursue covenant relationship if we are to step into the promise of God in our lives.

INCREASING FAITH & UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS!

Finally we see in Joshua chapter 2, that Joshua responds to God’s word to him by secretly sending spies into the Promised Land saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” (v1)  What purpose did it serve?  Let’s look at the report which the spies brought back in Joshua 2:24:

“Surely the LORD has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”

First of all they were encouraged.  Their faith was increased by the report that God would indeed do what He said He would do!  Secondly, they were given the opportunity to cooperate with the plan of God, as they received favor from and established covenant relationship with Rahab the harlot, whose name is also to be found in the genealogy of Jesus himself in Matthew chapter 1.

http://fredgarcia.com/

Do we have a covenant relationship with the body of Christ? With another human being?

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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, July 31, 2017 — Transformational Change in Life — Toward God, Away from Self

July 30, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
Lectionary: 401

No automatic alt text available.

Art: The Adoration of the Golden Calf (detail) by Nicolas Poussin

Reading 1  EX 32:15-24, 30-34

Moses turned and came down the mountain
with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands,
tablets that were written on both sides, front and back;
tablets that were made by God,
having inscriptions on them that were engraved by God himself.
Now, when Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting,
he said to Moses, “That sounds like a battle in the camp.”
But Moses answered, “It does not sound like cries of victory,
nor does it sound like cries of defeat;
the sounds that I hear are cries of revelry.”
As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing.
With that, Moses’ wrath flared up, so that he threw the tablets down
and broke them on the base of the mountain.
Taking the calf they had made, he fused it in the fire
and then ground it down to powder,
which he scattered on the water and made the children of Israel drink.

Moses asked Aaron, “What did this people ever do to you
that you should lead them into so grave a sin?”
Aaron replied, “Let not my lord be angry.
You know well enough how prone the people are to evil.
They said to me, ‘Make us a god to be our leader;
as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt,
we do not know what has happened to him.’
So I told them, ‘Let anyone who has gold jewelry take it off.’
They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

On the next day Moses said to the people,
“You have committed a grave sin.
I will go up to the LORD, then;
perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin.”
So Moses went back to the LORD and said,
“Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin
in making a god of gold for themselves!
If you would only forgive their sin!
If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written.”
The LORD answered, “Him only who has sinned against me
will I strike out of my book.
Now, go and lead the people to the place I have told you.
My angel will go before you.
When it is time for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23

R. (1a) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

AlleluiaJAS 1:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 13:31-35

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.”

He spoke to them another parable.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:

I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
Monday, July 31, 2017
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31 JULY, 2017, Monday, 17th Week, Ordinary Time
LEADERSHIP IS TO STEER PEOPLE AWAY FROM IDOLATRY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ex 32:15-2430-34Ps 105:19-23Mt 13:31-35 ]

We can imagine how angry Moses was with the infidelity of the people to the Lord.  He had just returned from meeting the Lord at Mount Horeb.  He came down from the mountain “with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, tablets inscribed on both sides, inscribed on the front and on the back.  These tablets were the work of God, and the writing on them was God’s writing engraved on the tablets.”  And as he arrived, he heard the chanting of the people, the dancing and worship of the golden calf.  We read that “Moses’ anger blazed.  He threw down the tablets he was holding and broke them at the foot of the mountain.  He seized the calf they had made and burned it, grinding it into powder which he scattered on the water; and he made the sons of Israel drink it.”

Was his anger justified?  Perhaps such anger would not be justified today.  We read that he even ordered the sons of Levi “Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.’”  The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day.” (Ex 32:27bf)  Yet, in the ancient days, such anger was justified because it was such a grave sin and could destroy the whole community if it were not checked.   The purity of faith was something that the prophets sought for the People of Israel, as they could be easily influenced by their pagan neighbours.  This is true in our situation today.

With globalization, migration and mass media, we are being secularized.   As a result, today the purity of faith in many of our religions are compromised or are undergoing great changes, forced by situation to adopt values that seem to contradict the Word of God.   Indeed, once the evils of society penetrate our faith, especially the hierarchy and leadership of the Church, the values are compromised.   This is the stark reality of the Church today.  Many of our leaders are making false compromises to please the crowd.  This was precisely the mistake of Aaron.  When Moses confronted him for misleading the people, his excuse was, “You know yourself how prone this people is to evil.  They said to me, ‘Make us a god to go at our head; this Moses, the man who bought us up from Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Who has gold?’ and they took it off and brought it to me.  I threw in into the fire and out came this calf.”

Like Aaron, many leaders today are no longer shepherding their flock, teaching them right from wrong.  Rather, they seek popularity and are acting more like coordinators, allowing the people to lead them, and to choose what they will.  This is the downside of democracy, where decisions are decided based on the whims and fancies of the community, depending on how they are indoctrinated, influenced or bought over.   This explains why it is so difficult for the Holy Father to revamp the Church, or the bishop his diocese, as the infiltration of alien values and doctrines contrary to the Church have been imbibed by weak leaders.  They want to feel loved and accepted by the people and so give in to their desires and wishes.

Moses however would take no nonsense from his people.   He was very clear about the costs of allowing idolatry to take root in the people.  He took action immediately and his actions appeared to be rather harsh in our assessment today.  But it was necessary to deter the people from being so easily swayed by the foreign gods of the lands around them.  He punished the people and he ordered them to be killed.  Why were such measures necessary?   Why was the sin of idolatry such a grievous offence against God in the Old Testament?  Because it the sin of all sins.  By turning away from God, the living reality to an illusion, we worship nothingness.

St Paul in his letter to the Romans called the sin of idolatry the ultimate sin, the sin that leads to all other sins.“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”  (Rom 1:18-21 cf Rom 1:22-31)  When we reject God and make our own gods, we make ourselves our own gods, worshipping creatures, our passions and living a debased life.   Relativism is the consequence of agnosticism.  Amorality is the consequence of relativism.

Indeed, the first commandment of the Decalogue clearly states, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents.”  (Ex 20:2-5a)  Images are prohibited simply because God cannot be captured in such images.   God is beyond images.  He is pure Spirit.

To reduce God to an image of this world is to reduce the dynamism of God.  He is not a static God but a trek God, always on the move and always with His people, “I am who I am.”  He cannot be placed in a little temple even.  That was what the Lord told King David when he wanted to build Him a temple.  The Lord said, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”  (cf 2 Sm 7:5b-7)

The prohibition against images of God does not preclude the images to express our devotion to God, which we call sacramentals.  Signs and symbols are necessary to help us to encounter the presence of God, as in the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Jerusalem, the Sacred Scriptures, the Crucifix and the cross, other images and icons of Christ and saints, because these are means by which we remember the goodness and mercy of God.  So it is not wrong to make use of images and icons of those people who lived in our midst, just as we keep photos of our loved ones with reverence.   Christ, for us, is the greatest image of God as St Paul tells us.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible – all things have been created through him and for him.”  (Col 1:15f)

Yet, in the final analysis, we must safeguard what we wish to inculcate for our community, the values and the beliefs.  In the gospel, Jesus, makes it clear that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and the leaven in the dough. Everything begins small, good or bad.  If we plant good values, then “when it is grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.”   But if we plant wrong values, then, like the yeast which is also a symbol of evil and impurity, it can cause the Church to grow in the wrong way.  The Lord is warning us, especially leaders, educators, parents and those in authority, how we want to influence the world, for good or for evil.  What we sow today will be what we reap tomorrow.  “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” (Gal 6:7) Are we sowing the seeds for the Kingdom or the weeds of the Evil one? “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Gal 6:8)

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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We all know what pleases self: Gold and Bull.
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But what pleases God? And if we do what pleases God, what do we attain?
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Peace.
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And how do we start?
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“If you love me, keep my commandments.”
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A detail from Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt, 1659. Wikipedia.
A detail from Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt, 1659.
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What should we learn from the golden calf incident in Exodus 32
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The story of the golden calf is found in Exodus 32:1–6. The children of Israel had been in bondage in Egypt for over two hundred years. God called Moses, the deliverer, and told him that He had heard their cries and was about to deliver them (Exodus 3:6–8). During their time in Egypt, the Israelites had apparently begun to doubt the existence of the God their fathers worshiped because Moses anticipated some hard questions from them (Exodus 3:13). To help Moses prove the existence and power of God, he was given a number of miraculous signs to help the Israelites believe. After all of these miracles were done, including the ten plagues on the Egyptians, the Israelites came out of Egypt with a renewed belief in the God of their fathers. They passed through the Red Sea on dry land, while the Egyptian army was drowned, and they were brought to the mountain of God to receive His laws.

The people of the Middle East were very religious, but they also worshiped many gods. The ten plagues God brought on the Egyptians were judgments against specific gods they worshiped and showed that the Lord was greater than all of them. Even Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, who was the priest of Midian and a worshiper of the true God, was impacted by the religious pluralism of the people around him. When Moses and the people arrived at Mount Sinai, and Jethro heard of all God’s works, he replied, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people” (Exodus 18:11). When God gave His laws to the Israelites, He began by addressing this religious pluralism. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:2–5).

While Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s laws, the people were getting anxious down on the plain. Moses spent forty days (Exodus 24:18) up on the mountain with God, and by the end of that time, the people were beginning to think Moses had died or left them. The people urged Aaron, their temporary leader, to make gods for them to follow. Since they were accustomed to having visual representations of gods, this was the natural (but sinful) result of their thinking. Aaron took their gold earrings, which they had brought from Egypt, and melted them down to make a golden idol. The idol he crafted for them was a calf, but Aaron maintained the name of the Lord in connection with it (Exodus 32:5). He was merging the pagan practices they were familiar with and the worship of the God they were just beginning to be re-acquainted with. Aaron called the people together and told them that the golden calf was the god who delivered them from Egypt. The people offered sacrifices and then engaged in pagan rituals, including orgies (Exodus 32:25) to worship this new god.

Why did Aaron do this? Scripture doesn’t give us the full answer, but we can put certain clues together and get a fairly good picture. First, the people’s long familiarity with idol worship would incline them to follow that method in the absence of clear direction otherwise. It is likely that the people had not yet received the commands against idol worship, since Moses was yet to come down with the tablets of the law. Second, they were already in the habit of merging their beliefs with those of the people around them, a practice that would continue to plague them throughout the kingdom years. Third, Aaron was faced with an unruly crowd that placed a demand on him. The solution of making an idol and calling it by God’s name seemed fairly reasonable.

Why did he choose a calf/bull? His lame excuse to Moses—“It just came out of the fire like this!” Exodus 32:24)—was just a feeble attempt to dodge blame. He fashioned it with a graving tool (Exodus 32:4) and took great care to form it that way. Some have tried to show that the bull represented one of the gods of Egypt, but that doesn’t fit the text, because Aaron called a feast to the Lord (Yahweh) and said that it was the god(s) which brought them out of the land of Egypt. The bull was a symbol of strength and fertility, and the people were already familiar with bull gods from Egypt. Bulls were also typical animals of sacrifice, so to use their image as a symbol of the god being worshiped was a natural connection. Aaron’s bull was a mixture of the powerful God who delivered the people through mighty works and the pagan methods of worship that were borrowed from the people around them.

Even though there are reasonable explanations for why Aaron and the people began to worship the golden calf, those explanations do not excuse the sin. God certainly held the people accountable for their corruption (Exodus 32:7–10) and was ready to destroy them for their sin. Moses’ personal intercession on behalf of his people saved them. Moses indicated that Aaron at least should have known that his actions were sinful (Exodus 32:21) and didn’t let him off the hook. As with any other sin, the punishment is death, and the only proper response is repentance. Moses called for those who were on the Lord’s side to come stand with him (Exodus 32:26). The Levites stood with him and were commanded to go through the camp and kill anyone who persisted in the idolatry. Three thousand men were killed that day. The next day, Moses went up and confessed the people’s sins before God, asking for His forgiveness. God declared that the guilty ones would yet pay with their own deaths and be blotted out of His book. These were the same ones who, on the verge of entering the Promised Land, would deny God’s promises and be sent into the wilderness to die for their sins. Their children would be the ones to receive God’s promised blessings.

Their experiences are a lesson to us today. Even though we might justify our actions through reason or logic, if we are violating God’s clear commands, we are sinning against Him, and He will hold us accountable for those sins. God is not to be worshiped with images, because any image we make will draw more attention to the work of our hands than the God who made all things. Also, there is no way we can ever fully represent the holiness and awesomeness of God through an image. To attempt to do so will always fall short. On top of this, God is a spirit (John 4:24), and we cannot form an image of a spirit. We worship God by believing His Word, obeying it, and declaring His greatness to others.

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From 2015:
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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IMPATIENCE WITH GROWTH IN HOLINESS AS A LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S GRACE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: EX 32:15-2430-3428MT 13:31-35
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We all want to grow in holiness and be successful in our projects but, quite often, we cannot wait.  We have no patience, not only with ourselves but also with those around us who are slow in living up to the life of Christ, or slow in their work. This is even more so in community living.  How often do we bemoan the fact that our community is not as united and loving as it should be?  At times when we see the failings and weaknesses of our fellow brothers and sisters, we cannot help but judge and condemn them.  Sometimes, we even wish that they be removed from the community.  Yes, if only such difficult people are removed from our community then our life would be so wonderful and godly.
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If we are feeling this way, then we can easily identify ourselves with the impatience exhibited by Moses and the Israelites in today’s first reading.  The narrative tells us that the people were impatient in waiting for Moses who went up to the mountain to receive instructions from Yahweh. In their impatience, they pressurized Aaron to make for them a god who could be their leader.  They simply could not wait.  Aaron in his rashness acted without thinking of the consequences and gave in to their demands and made for them a golden calf, a symbol of power and strength.Similarly, Moses too was impatient.  He projected his intolerance onto Yahweh, making God appear as if He were also impatient and angry.  Moses’ deep encounter with God made him feel great shame for his people who turned against Yahweh when He had delivered them from the slavery of the Egyptians.  Thus, when he came down from the mountain, and when he saw the calf, the scripture says, “Moses’ anger blazed.”  Fuming mad, “he threw down the tablets he was holding and broke them at the foot of the mountain.  He burned the calf into powder which he scattered on the water and forced the Israelites to drink it.”

But the truth is that God is patient and merciful.  If God were portrayed otherwise, it is due to a mistaken perception due to fear and guilt.  Indeed, when Moses later interceded for the grievous sin of his people, the Lord forgave them, albeit not without the need to repair the damage done.  As if to reassure Moses to leave this matter behind him, He commanded him, “Go now, lead the people to the place of which I told you.  My angel shall go before you.”  Yes, God is patient with us in our sinfulness.  At the same time, we cannot avoid running away from the consequences of our sins.  This is made clear when Yahweh said, “but on the day of my visitation, I shall punish them for their sin.”

Today, Jesus in the gospel affirms the patience and grace of God for us sinners.  In the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, Jesus wants to remind us that the kingdom of God is not built in a day but gradually with the grace of God.  Three qualities are needed if we were to recognize the process of growth,namely, patience, humility, and faith in the power of God.

Like the mustard seed, we must recognize that growth in holiness takes time.  We need to reckon with the natural law of human growth.  We need to allow people, including ourselves, time to grow out of our immaturity, ignorance and selfishness.  We must therefore be patient and learn to wait.  It is necessary to give people the benefit of the doubt that they want to change their lives and that they are trying, albeit with much struggles and difficulty.  To condemn and pass judgment on them is to rule out any possibility of growth or the power of God’s grace.

To have patience, we must be humble, like the mustard seed.  Just as the mustard seed begins in a small way and later blossoms into one of the biggest shrub and becomes a tree, so too it would be foolish of us to despise small efforts in beginning something good.  Be it a project or a good practice, we must begin small and start from somewhere. The danger is that quite often, in the face of evil and sin, as in community living, we tend to give up hope and say to ourselves, “Oh, it has been like that for years.  Nothing can be done.  So do not waste time doing anything good!”  When we adopt this kind of negativity then it shows that we are impatient with growth.  In giving up hope on people, we give up hope on ourselves too.

More than just impatience, it is also our failure to recognize the power of God at work in transforming our lives.  In the final analysis, conversion and growth is not a human effort but the grace of God at work in us.  This is what the parable of the leaven is illustrating.  The leaven is the grace of God at work in us, secretly and invisibly transforming us from within.  It is that same inner divine power that enables the mustard seed to become a tree.  So too, we cannot rely on our human strength to grow in holiness and perfection but on the grace of God.  But we must be patient, since holiness is ultimately a grace and a gift.

If we are patient and learn to wait, then the grace of God will gradually but surely transform us, as the leaven transformed the dough and the growth of the mustard seed.  When that happens, then the glory of God will be visible in us for all to see, so much so that we will attract others to see the glory of God at work in our lives.  In this way, like the mustard tree, we become a refuge whereby people can take shelter in us.  As a result, more and more people are able to embrace the kingdom for themselves until one day, the whole earth is filled with the glory and power of God.

Let us therefore pray for this patience, humility and faith in the power of God’s grace.  Our task is to be open to His grace; but the work of conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.  We must abide by His time, knowing that God will definitely be faithful to His promises and that He will transform us into a community of grace and love just as He transformed the Israelites into the people of God.  We must have hope, not despair; patience, not condemnation; faith, not self-reliance.

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“No life is complete without pain, suffering and death.” — Viktor Frankl
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First Thought From Peace and Freedom
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St. Ignatius of Loyola believed very strongly that every person could and should achieve a transformational change in life — a change toward a more God-centered and less self-centered existence.
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Ignatius started his transformation or conversion while in recovery from wounds of war. For centuries, pain, suffering and hardships in life have become the catalyst for a complete change of self for many people. The Spiritual Exercise were written by Ignatius to assist everyman in achieving this life-saving transformational change.
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Centuries later, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and its “Twelve Steps” provided a new but very similar roadmap to those seeking a transformational change.
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When the Big Book was first published, Fr. Eddie Dowling bought a copy in St. Louis to read. He was so taken by the book, he took the train to New York City to meet Bill Wilson, whom people said had written the book. When Fr. Dowling met Bill W. he asked him, “Where did you get all this Ignatian teaching?”
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St. Ignatius Loyola
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“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)
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Conversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo

Who else in our “modern world” said “scales fell from my eyes”?

In November 1934, a man named Ebby Thacher visited Bill Wilson and sat with Bill in the kitchen of the Wilson’s Brooklyn apartment, and talked about the way this new spiritual answer to alcoholism had gotten him sober.  Bill W.’s fundamental conversion experience took place while he was talking with Ebby, as “the scales fell from his eyes” and he became willing for the first time to turn to the experience of the holy in prayer and meditation, and let its healing power begin to restore his soul.

The scales fell from the eyes….

Bill’s Story, p.12, Big Book

“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

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Ebby Thacher (on the right) with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

Do you pray? Saint John Paul II said, “No prayer, no spiritual life.” If you aren’t talking to God who are you talking to when you pray? Yourself?  See also:

John Paul II Said no faith, no miracles….

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“The Catholic Guide to Depression,” by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD.

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Fr. Edward Dowling, SJ,  a friend of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was convinced that the Spiritual Exercises influenced the 12 Steps of AA (which guide many other 12-step programs).  Bill Wilson said he had never heard of Ignatius or the Exercises. He said he sat down at his kitchen table one day and wrote out the 12 Steps in about 20 minutes. To this Fr. Dowling said, “If it were twenty weeks, you could suspect improvisation. Twenty minutes sounds reasonable under the theory of divine help.”

I recently ran across an article Fr. Dowling wrote showing the parallels between the Exercises and the 12 Steps.  A sample:

St. Ignatius starts with a presumption that our power of faculties are bound by sinful tendencies and addictions to the wrong things. The Spiritual Exercises, therefore, work on the soul in both a negative and positive way. The first section, the consideration of my sins and of their effects in hell, is the negative part. It aims by self-denial to release our wills from our binding addictions, to enable the will to desire and to choose rationally.

The second part of the Spiritual Exercises, start in with a consideration of the Incarnation and going through the Passion and Resurrection, is an effort to see how Christ would handle various situations.

A priest alcoholic, who has written with discernment on the Spiritual Exercises, first pointed out to me the similarity between them and the twelve steps of A.A. Bill, the founder of A.A. recognized that those twelve steps are pretty much the releasing of myself from the things that prevent my will’s choosing God as I understand Him.

Like the Spiritual Exercises, like Christian asceticism in general, the twelve steps are not speculative ideas. They are practical steps. May I suggest some of the parallels between the Spiritual Exercises and the twelve steps.

If you are interested, read more at:

http://venerablematttalbotresourcecenter.blogspot.com/2009/09/catholic-asceticism-and-twelve-steps_27.html

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Jim Harbaugh’s book is the best among several on this topic….

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Fr. James Martin, S.J., is a modern follower of St. Ignatius. His book, “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything — Spirituality for Real Life,” is a must read for those who, like Ignatius, want a life transformed by a better way of living.

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The Venerable Matt TalbotOFS (2 May 1856 – 7 June 1925) was an Irish ascetic and alcoholic revered by many Catholics for his pietycharity and mortification of the flesh.

Talbot was an unskilled labourer. Though he lived alone for most of his life, Talbot did live with his mother for a time. His life would have gone unnoticed were it not for the cords and chains discovered on his body when he died suddenly on a Dublin street in 1925.

Though he has not been formally recognized as a saint, Talbot may be considered a patron of men and women struggling with alcoholism. He is commemorated on 19 June.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Talbot

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Ideas of Matt Talbot 

 

“The Problem of Pain and Suffering,” focusing on:

 ”(1) Emmet Fox and New Thought: pain and suffering are caused by wrong thoughts. If we change the way we think, the pain and suffering will disappear. As can be seen, Fox preached many radical New Thought ideas, but he had been born in Ireland, was brought up as a Catholic, and had been trained by the Jesuits. God as Creative Intelligence and the power of Being Itself.

(2) Matt Talbot and self-punishment, the very different path taken by another Irish Catholic, a laboring man in Dublin. Wearing chains around his body, sleeping on a bare wooden plank, and so on. We must atone for our sin and guilt by deliberately inflicting pain and hardship on ourselves before God will forgive us. The self-torture game.

(3) In Ignatian spirituality: pain and suffering exist because life in this fallen world is a war. As a good soldier, you must continue to do your duty and fight for the good down to your last breath, even when surrounded on every side by death and horror. The central Ignatian teaching of the Two Standards (Las Dos Banderas), choosing which of these two battle flags you will follow in the war between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. Choosing between the way of Pride and the way of Humility. St. Augustine and the two cities: the City of God vs. the Earthly City, surrender of my ego to God vs. trying to play God myself.”

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Venerable Matt Talbot and the Blessed Mother Figurine by Timothy Schmalz

The overall outline of this 247 page manuscript can be viewed at http://www.hindsfoot.org/inProgr.html and worth reading first.

The section that addresses Matt Talbot is found on pages 63-69 at  PDF file or as MS Word DOC file.
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The Light Shines on in the Darkness — Transforming Suffering Through Faith By Robert Spitzer
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This is the best book on Catholic interpretation of pain and suffering. Every AA would benefit from Fr. Spitzer’s insights….. Spitzer knows about suffering, as he has become almost totally blind over the course of his life.
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Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in Nazi death camps. He survived the experience and came to believe that pain and suffering are crucial in every life — offering each of us the opportunity to decide which way we will go….
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Frankl teaches that we always have the free will to decide how we will conduct ourselves — even in a “death camp.”
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, July 7, 2017 — Jesus said, “Follow me.” — “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” — Reaching Out To The Marginalized

July 6, 2017

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 381

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The Good Samaritan by Walter Rane.

Reading 1 GN 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67

The span of Sarah’s life was one hundred and twenty-seven years.
She died in Kiriatharba (that is, Hebron)
in the land of Canaan,
and Abraham performed the customary mourning rites for her.
Then he left the side of his dead one and addressed the Hittites:
“Although I am a resident alien among you,
sell me from your holdings a piece of property for a burial ground,
that I may bury my dead wife.”

After the transaction, Abraham buried his wife Sarah
in the cave of the field of Machpelah,
facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

Abraham had now reached a ripe old age,
and the LORD had blessed him in every way.
Abraham said to the senior servant of his household,
who had charge of all his possessions:
“Put your hand under my thigh,
and I will make you swear by the LORD,
the God of heaven and the God of earth,
that you will not procure a wife for my son
from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live,
but that you will go to my own land and to my kindred
to get a wife for my son Isaac.”
The servant asked him:
“What if the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land?
Should I then take your son back to the land from which you migrated?”
“Never take my son back there for any reason,” Abraham told him.
“The LORD, the God of heaven,
who took me from my father’s house and the land of my kin,
and who confirmed by oath the promise he then made to me,
‘I will give this land to your descendants’–
he will send his messenger before you,
and you will obtain a wife for my son there.
If the woman is unwilling to follow you,
you will be released from this oath.
But never take my son back there!”

A long time later, Isaac went to live in the region of the Negeb.
One day toward evening he went out . . . in the field,
and as he looked around, he noticed that camels were approaching.
Rebekah, too, was looking about, and when she saw him,
she alighted from her camel and asked the servant,
“Who is the man out there, walking through the fields toward us?”
“That is my master,” replied the servant.
Then she covered herself with her veil.

The servant recounted to Isaac all the things he had done.
Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent;
he married her, and thus she became his wife.
In his love for her, Isaac found solace
after the death of his mother Sarah.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 106:1B-2, 3-4A, 4B-5

R. (1b) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Who can tell the mighty deeds of the LORD,
or proclaim all his praises?
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Blessed are they who observe what is right,
who do always what is just.
Remember us, O LORD, as you favor your people.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Visit me with your saving help,
That I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
rejoice in the joy of your people,
and glory with your inheritance.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
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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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 do 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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(“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you”)
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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07 JULY, 2017, Friday, 13th Week, Ordinary Time
REACHING OUT TO THE MARGINALIZED

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GN 23:1-41924:1-862-67PS 106:1-5MT 9:9-13 ]

Tax collectors were the most hated and despised of all peoples during the time of the Jews.  They were considered as traitors and outcasts of society.   They were worse than prostitutes because they not only cheated their own people in taxes but worked for their enemies.  So they were marginalized.  Any Jew involved in this trade was ostracized.  Nobody wanted to have anything to do with them.

But this is the same attitude we have towards sinners and broken people.   We are told to have nothing to do with them.  We are often told not to mix with bad company, and those who have no morals.  If it is because we know we are weak and are susceptible to their influence, it is understandable that we should avoid the occasion of sin.  So this in itself is not wrong.  It is a sign of humility to know that we might fall into temptations if we associate with them.  But it is a different matter when we stay away from these people because we think that we are superior to them.  When we have a disdain for them and are too proud to be among them, that is the sin of pride.

In the first reading, we can appreciate Abraham and those who were chosen to be people of the Covenant.  In the Old Testament, it was necessary to protect the Israelites who were living among the Canaanites, considered to be worse than pagans.  So when Abraham settled in Canaan, he gave specific instructions to his steward to find a wife for his son, Isaac, from among his kinsfolk.  “Abraham said to the eldest servant of his household, the steward of all his property, ‘Place your hand under my thigh, I would have you swear by the Lord God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live.  Instead, go to my own land and my own kinsfolk to choose a wife for my son Isaac.’” This is to ensure that the purity of the faith, the culture and the peoples would be preserved.  As Israel was still a small nation, it was always in danger of being contaminated by the pagan cultures surrounding them.  This was the reason for the insistence of keeping Israel apart from the rest of the peoples; not out of pride but out of fear.

Unfortunately, during the time of Jesus, the motive became one of superiority rather than self-protection.  The Pharisees considered themselves as the “Separated Ones”, that is, set apart for holiness.  They would not do anything that could make them unclean or unfit for rituals.  They were obsessed with ritual purity.  But they became presumptuous.   They began to look down on those who could not keep meticulously all the laws of Moses and the detailed elaboration of these laws in practical terms.  This explains why when Jesus “was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

But this was not the attitude of Christ towards those who were sinners.  He replied, “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.”   Jesus came to show the mercy of God.  He came for sinners.  He came for those who are struggling in their sins.  He knows we are weak.  He sees how much we are struggling.  He knows that we are born sinners with a wounded nature.  We are grasping for more because of the desire to preserve ourselves.   He also knows how we are entrapped by the culture around us, especially the secular, promiscuous, individualistic and consumerist environment.  It is not easy to transcend the culture we are in.

Above all, Jesus sees the saint in every sinner.   He has tremendous hope in man.  He knows that even though man is weak, he has great potential to be like Christ in love and in service.  When we fall, He raises us up because He knows that if we keep believing in ourselves, we will eventually become the person we are called to be.  That is why He does not condemn sinners.  He knows that we are sinners called to be saints in Him.  For this reason, when “he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And he got up and followed him.”  He saw the great potential in Matthew even though the people would have written him off.  Yet, Jesus chose from among the most hated and despised lost souls, one to be His apostles.  Jesus believed that such people were not condemned.  This is the great faith Jesus has in us human beings, sinners that we are.

He saw sinners, broken people and those without faith and morals as sick people.  He said, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.”  What is our attitude towards the sick?  Do we condemn them? No!  We show mercy to the sick and the suffering.  Those who live in sin are also sick in their mind and in their heart. They too need our mercy and compassion, not our judgment and condemnation.  They are wounded and injured because of their past, the sins of society and their own fears and anger that caused them to sin further.  So to sick people, we are called to be compassionate, understanding and forgiving.  This was the case of Jesus when He saw the tax-collectors and sinners.  He had nothing but sorrow and compassion for them.

To such wounded and sick people, we are called to reach out to them.   That is why Jesus ate and drank with them.  The only way to heal them is to begin, not by moralizing or condemning them, or worse still to exclude them, but by loving them.  He gave Matthew his dignity as a son of God. He affirmed the goodness in Matthew.  Jesus brought out the inherent goodness and virtues in Matthew.   This was what He did with all sinners.  By accepting them for what they are, He showed them His genuine love and friendship for them.  He did not tell them to change their lives.  But He first demonstrated to them that they are loved by God by eating and drinking with them.  He offered them His friendship without conditions and reservations. In other words, Jesus was telling them that regardless of what we do, we are the children of God. He loves us for who we are; not for what we are.   Only when we are loved for who we are, and recognize the dignity of our sonship and daughtership in Christ, can we then begin to live like Christ.  Jesus did not come as judge but to offer us the unconditional love and mercy of God.

Unconditional love and acceptance is the first stage to the healing process.  Unless we are loved unconditionally, we will not be able to accept ourselves and our weaknesses.  The more wrongs we do, the more we hate ourselves.   And if we hate ourselves, we cannot love others as well.  We also become judgmental and presumptuous.  Those of us who do not live the life we are called to, do so because we do not believe that we are loved for who we are.  The more we try to prove ourselves, the more we fail.  But if we discover that we are loved as children of God, this realization will enable the doing to flow from our being.  Mattthew was accepted and loved.  Hence, he was transformed in love.

We too have been given the grace at baptism and anointed like Christ to bring God’s love and mercy to the poor, the sick, the wounded and all sinners.  Like Abraham who claimed his possession of Canaan by buying the burial plot for his wife, we too must claim our baptismal rights of being the anointed one of Christ.  We are called to be like the Messiah to bear the good news of salvation to all.  Abraham was convicted of God’s promise for him when he instructed his servant to bring the wife of Isaac back to Canaan.  “The Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, took me from the land of my kinsfolk, and he swore to me that he would give this country to my descendants.  He will now send his angel ahead of you, so that you may choose a wife for my son there.”

How can we exercise this mission of mercy and inclusivity?  We must recognize our own humanity and sinfulness.  But equally, we must accept first and foremost the love of God for us.  Hence, Jesus took upon our humanity to identify with us in our sinful humanity.  St Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). He became man to assume our humanity.  He was baptised for our sake.  He carried our infirmities in His body.  “This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” (Mt 8:17)  Jesus was identified with us in every way except sin.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb 4:15f).   We too when we can identify ourselves as one like Matthew, a tax-collector and an outcast, but now loved and accepted by God in Christ, we too will be able to reach out to other tax-collectors as Matthew did by inviting them to meet Jesus, the love of God in person.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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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.

 

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

 

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From 2016

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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21 SEPTEMBER 2016, Wednesday, St Matthew, Apostle

MERCY BRINGS GOOD OUT OF EVIL

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  Ephesians 4:1-711-13Ps 18:2-5Matthew 9:9-13 ]

Today, when we celebrate the Feast of St Matthew, we celebrate the mercy of God in Christ, a mercy that gives hope to those who are deemed useless and hopeless in the eyes of the world.  One can imagine how touched and moved St Matthew was to be called by the Lord to be His apostle.  In the eyes of his contemporaries he was considered an outcast, a sinner, a traitor of the Jews and most of all, a swindler and cheat.   As a tax collector, he was hated by the people.  No one in his time would want to be associated with such a person, lest one gets contaminated ritually by mixing with him.  Indeed, that was how the scribes and the Pharisees viewed him.  It was unthinkable for a supposedly holy man like Jesus to be seen in his company.  Hence, “when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

What, then, is the answer to the question of Jesus fellowshipping with sinners and tax-collectors? The response of Jesus was swift and sharp.  He said, “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.”  Jesus reckoned Himself as a doctor.  The vocation of a doctor is to give life and to give hope to the sick.  His task is to restore a person to health so that he can live again.  In the same way, Jesus came to give hope to us all, especially those who consider themselves outside the ambit of God’s love and mercy.   So, like all doctors, He came principally for the sick whilst keeping the strong healthy.

But how could He give life to those condemned as ‘outcasts’ by society?  Again, like the doctor, Jesus needed to approach the sick directly and personally.  What kind of doctor would He be if He were to stay away from the illness of the patients?  It is the task of the doctor to attend to the patients directly and diagnose their illness.  So if Jesus were to offer life to sinners, it was necessary for Him to go in their midst.  If the scribes and Pharisees really had mercy for the sinners, they would not have stayed away from them. They showed their selfishness in wanting to save themselves rather than those who were in need of God.  Indeed, we remember how many doctors gave up their lives to save those infected by SARS many years ago when Singapore went through the terrifying epidemic in our history.  So, too, Jesus the divine physician came to be with the sinners in order that He might feel with them, hear them out and be the light of God’s mercy to them. 

Secondly, a good doctor is one who always has hope of a cure.  If a doctor begins his job with a sense of hopelessness, he would never be able to go far except to prepare a person for death.  But a doctor, even though he is aware of his limitations, must also live with hope of finding a cure.  He would try all means possible to cure the patient.  If the procedure cannot work or the medication is not effective, he would resort to other methods and medication till the patient recovers.  This was the attitude of Jesus towards those who were incorrigible.  The world thought that besides prostitutes, tax collectors particularly had no hope in the eyes of God.  They would surely be condemned to hell.  But Jesus never saw sinners as people who had no hope.  In fact, He saw in Matthew the ingredients of a good apostle-to-be.  When we are merciful, we see the wicked person with hope and confidence; we see much goodness even in the difficult person whom the world has given up hope on.  Jesus had the gift to see the goodness and the sincerity hidden in Matthew despite the shady trade he was engaged in.

Indeed, when we see the goodness in the apparently evil person, we will help the person to begin the process of healing.  So when Jesus called Matthew, it was not a sudden response.  We can be sure that Matthew would have heard about Jesus or even heard Him teaching.  His heart was already open but he did not feel worthy to take another step.  He deemed himself to be an outcast and was certain that he would be rejected.  But lo and behold, Jesus read his heart, a heart that was filled with emptiness, loneliness and bereft of joy.  This is true in daily life, especially with difficult colleagues or students who do not perform.  We need the eyes of mercy to see the potential goodness and the hidden virtues in the person.

Thirdly, Jesus helped Matthew to find his true vocation in life.  Only when we find our vocation can we truly live meaningfully in life.  Those who live only for their career cannot find real happiness and meaning.  Success is empty when what we do only brings in money but not life and love.  Following Christ does not mean that we have to give up our career or what we like to do.  Rather, it is more about changing the motives than changing our circumstances.  Conversion is not about giving up one’s talents but rather to use them in the right way.  Jesus therefore encouraged St Matthew, who was probably one of the few educated ones in His band, to use his knowledge and writing skills to proclaim the gospel.  St Matthew did not have to give up all his knowledge and training but he could now use it for the service of the gospel.  So with St Matthew, instead of having a career that was directed at enriching himself, he changed his career and sought a vocation.  He now used his talents for the service of God and the gospel.  A career is about advancing oneself but a vocation is always for the service of God and humanity.  So from that day onwards, Matthew used all his resources for the glory of God.

Fourthly, a good doctor’s only desire is to help, to heal and to console.  We must avoid following the negative attitude of the scribes and Pharisees.  All they knew was to criticize Jesus and condemn the sinners.  Instead of seeking a solution to bring them back to God, they stayed away from them.  True doctors only think about how to help and relieve pain when they see their patients suffer. They do not stand around and lecture their patients for getting into trouble or falling sick.  So when we see people suffering or someone who has made a mistake in life, we do not keep on scolding the person and putting that person down.  Rather, our task is to lift them up through gentle correction, enlightenment and encouragement.  We should seek to help and not to condemn those who are already down and out. 

Finally, a good doctor of mercy not only has hope but will transform all obstacles into learning curves so as to be a better doctor.  All good doctors see obstacles as opportunities for learning. There are many things we learn through trial and error.  We all learn from mistakes.  That is why in every hospital there must always be case studies to see how we can learn from mistakes and new experiments and initiatives.  So too with Jesus; He saw Matthew as a great opportunity, not just to save, but to be put to use in reaching out to those whom Jesus would have found difficult to reach.  Being a convert and a former tax collector, Matthew was well placed to help Jesus make inroads with those who were ‘unreachable’.  We can be sure that with Matthew’s conversion, many other tax collectors, seeing him living a much happier and liberated life, would have also come to Jesus.  

Today as we celebrate the feast of St Matthew, let us never give up hope on those who are difficult, those who seem to be failures in life and the ‘incorrigibles’.  Before we write them off, let us remember that for Jesus, nothing is impossible.  We must continue to hope that God will give them the grace to be touched by His word and be transformed. All of us are called to this same hope.  “There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.”   To give up hope on them is to be lacking in mercy.  Look at them with eyes of mercy and they will find hope in themselves.

Let us help others as St Paul urged us; to live a life worthy of our vocation.  We are called to use our talents to help build up the Church and to build up the individual. “Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. … so that the saints together make a unit in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to 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.”   Let us follow the example of St Matthew and St Paul who gave up their lives for others after having been transformed, loved and forgiven by Christ.  Let everything we do in life be done for the good of humanity and the glory of God.

 

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, March 30, 2017 — God answers prayer; But people are easily distracted by shiny things and false worship

March 29, 2017

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 247

God answers prayer; But people are easily distracted by shiny things

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Reading 1 EX 32:7-14

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'”
The LORD said to Moses,
“I see how stiff-necked this people is.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘With evil intent he brought them out,
that he might kill them in the mountains
and exterminate them from the face of the earth’?
Let your blazing wrath die down;
relent in punishing your people.
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'”
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Verse Before The Gospel  JN 3:16

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Gospel  JN 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.
Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.
But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept human praise;
moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I came in the name of my Father,
but you do not accept me;
yet if another comes in his own name,
you will accept him.
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another
and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father:
the one who will accuse you is Moses,
in whom you have placed your hope.
For if you had believed Moses,
you would have believed me,
because he wrote about me.
But if you do not believe his writings,
how will you believe my words?”

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Image result for Golden calf, bible, art
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Reflection on Exodus 32:7-14 By Dr. Calvin Wittman
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Our text today is a clear example of the power of prayer. Last week we observed the impatience of the Israelites and the sins that are born out of impatience. We saw how they constructed an idol of gold and how they bowed down and worshiped it, in what we termed false worship. We pick up our story this morning in chapter 32, with our principle text being verses 7-14.

Herein we find God angered with the Israelites and threatening to destroy them and to make a new nation out of Moses. Moses, acting as the intercessor for the Israelites, pleads with God to relent and not to destroy His people, and the scripture says that God changes His mind and turns from the punishment He had threatened against Israel.

Notice three things this text tells us about God this morning.

I. God is aware of everything (32:7)

Nothing escapes the all seeing eyes of God. Nothing is beyond the scope of His knowledge. In reality, we know that God knew what Israel was going to do, so the golden calf comes as no surprise to Him. This is what Verse 7 tells us.

II. God is a jealous God (32:8-10)

Remember the second commandment, back in Exodus 20:4-6, God made it very clear that He would not tolerate divided loyalty. He wanted all of their devotion; He would not share it with anyone.

III. God is sovereign (32:11-14)

There are those who read this passage and want to focus on the fact that the text says that God changed His mind. This sends some folks into absolute panic, especially those who are fatalistic and are so wrapped up in predestination that their limited view of God leaves Him no room to be God. A plain reading of this text tells us that God changed His mind about what He was going to do to Israel.

This presents us with somewhat of a theological dilemma. For you see, since we know that God knows all things, and has perfect foreknowledge, it would seem incompatible with His nature for Him to change His mind. To deal with this tension, scholars have come up with several theories. Some tell us that God never really intended to destroy the Israelites, but that He was just testing Moses to see if Moses would intercede for them as he was supposed to. The problem with this theory is that it is not what the text tells us.

Which brings me to my final point…look again at verses.

IV. God answers prayer (32:11-14)

I want you to notice the characteristics of Moses’ prayer; what made it work.

It was personal – that is, it was given within the context of authentic relationship. While God can answer the prayers of anyone He wants, the only people whose prayers He has promised to hear and answer are of those who are in relationship with Him.

It was purposeful – So many of our prayers lack actual specifics. We pray that God would bless all the missionaries, would help the poor and comfort the afflicted. That’s not how Moses prayed. He had a specific purpose in mind when He prayed. He was intentional. He went to God with a purpose weighing heavily on his heart.

It was positional – That is, Moses used His position as intercessor and mediator to go to God on behalf of the people.

It was passionate – We know from the verse 32, that Moses was even willing to have his own name blotted out of the book of life, if only God would forgive Israel. Moses was passionately involved with the people he was leading.

Conclusion

Are you doing anything which you think will escape God’s attention? Are you slowly but surely drifting away from God, wandering from the intimacy which you once had with Him? You can get back into fellowship this morning. Is your view of God limited? Have you been fooled into believing that prayer doesn’t really change things? Friend, don’t let anyone or anything steal that most precious resource from you. God hears our prayers and answers them.

Dr. Calvin Wittman

http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-god-answers-prayer-moses-forgiveness-golden-calf-exodus-32

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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30 MARCH, 2017, Thursday, 4th Week of Lent
HOSTILITY AGAINST CHRIST AND HIS GOSPEL
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EXODUS 32:7-14; JOHN 5:31-47]

Since the healing of the paralyzed man at the Sabbath, we read of the growing hostility and opposition against Jesus from the Jewish leaders. Today, Christianity is in many ways under assault from all sides.  Externally, the world is opposed to the teachings of the gospel.  Those involved in business and in politics find the gospel a nuisance to their aspirations and their pursuits.   Internally, many Catholics are not even convinced of the truth of the Word of God, paying lip service to the Bible as an inspired book with God as the author.  Much less do they show allegiance to the teachings of the Holy Father and the Magisterium as authoritative teachers and interpreters of the Word of God!

Why are people opposed to the gospel, including so called Catholics and Christians?  In the first reading, we read that the people apostatized simply because they were looking for a vacuum to fill their empty lives when Moses left them to go to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.  Many people seek to fill their emptiness by creating false gods in their lives.  Idolatry is the worship of false gods, something that cannot give true happiness and life.  In a word, idolatry is a worship of nothingness.  Those who worship idols will come to naught. “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.”  (Isa 44:9) “Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them.”  (Ps 115:8)   Idolatry can come in the form of worship of our spouse, our children, our work, our possessions, power, status and our pleasures in life.  These things cannot last and bring us real happiness.

Secondly, like the Jewish leaders, people are opposed to the gospel because of selfish interests.  They are afraid to lose their status quo in society.  As Jesus remarked, “Besides, I know you too well; you have no love of God in you. I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else comes in his own name you will accept him.  How can you believe since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God?”  People in the world, including nominal Catholics, reject the truth of the gospel because their interests and desires of this world are being challenged.  For some, they feel that the gospel is a cause of them losing business in the entertainment world or power in the political and scientific world, especially when the Church condemns certain forms of entertainment or immoral bio-ethical practices and social injustices.  When the profits of such people are undermined, they defend their position by aggressively attacking the teachings of the Church and the Bible.

Thirdly, enemies of the Church are those who worship their intelligence. They have deep intellectual pride.  They take offence when their views are not accepted.  They only believe in themselves and their reasoning.  Anything that is opposed to their beliefs or their reasoning is not acceptable.  They lack humility to recognize the limits of reason, particularly their own reasoning.  In the final analysis, they are not keen to seek the truth but they only want to prove that others are wrong.   They want to show themselves to be wise in the world.  That is why they would go to the social media to make sure their views are heard loud and clear; and would vehemently defend their position right to the end.  As Jesus said, they are seeking for human approval.  Jesus came and spoke only for our salvation, out of love for us.  He made it clear, “as for human approval, this means nothing to me.”  Jesus was not interested in arguing with the Jewish authorities.  He knew that such intellectual arguments will go nowhere because there is a lack of sincerity to search for the truth.  All they wanted was to prove Jesus wrong.  So too, there are many enemies of the Church, within and without, who just want to flaunt their sophisticated arguments, showing themselves to be very intelligent, not to defend the truth but to win an argument.

In the light of such opposition, what must we do?  How do we respond to our critics?Firstly, we depend on human witnesses.  Jesus appealed to John the Baptist.  He said, “Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid; but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is valid. You sent messengers to John and he gave his testimony to the truth.”  We too need Catholics to be witnesses to Christ.  We need courageous Catholics who are willing to stand up for their faith.  We need Catholics who are living signs of God’s love and mercy in the world.  We are called to be like John the Baptist, by being a light in darkness, not cursing the darkness but simply to be that light.   Indeed, “John was a lamp alight and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.”   There is nothing more convincing than Christians witnessing to the truth in their lives by words and deeds.  Unfortunately, many of our Catholics are hiding behind the light and not allowing their lamp to shine.  As Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Mt 5:14-16)

 

A lamp in the time of Jesus

Secondly, we need to rely on the works of Christ.  “But my testimony is greater than John’s: the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself.”  Clearly, the best testimony is always in the fruits and works of what a person teaches.  What he says is not as important as how he lives his life.  In the case of Jesus, we have seen His miracles at work, and His works of mercy, compassion and healing.  How do we know the gospel is true if not through the fruits of love that Catholics manifest in their lives?  Catholics need to give testimony to Jesus at work in their lives.  St Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  (Phil 2:12b, 13)   When we listen to the beautiful testimonies of how God works miracles in the lives of our Catholics, especially when they are transformed, then we know that this God we worship is a living God and the true God.

I bless the Lord:  O Lord my God, how great you are!  You are robed with honor and majesty and light!

Thirdly, we need to seek the scriptures to find the Lord.  Jesus reprimanded the Jews, “You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape, and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one he has sent.”  This was because they sought the scriptures to select texts that justified their prejudices.  They failed to see that the scriptures point us to Jesus, the truth as proclaimed by Him.  We cannot see God but we can see God and hear Him in Jesus.  This is what Jesus said, “You study the scriptures, believing that in them you have eternal life; now these same scriptures testify to me and yet you refuse to come to me for life!”  In truth, the scriptures point towards Jesus as the fulfillment.  He enlightened the disciples at Emmaus, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk 24:44)  Again at the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah appeared together with Jesus, we have a reiteration that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Laws as represented by Moses and the eschatological prophet as represented by Elijah.  In a word, Jesus is the Word of God in person, because all the Laws and the prophecies are fulfilled in Him.  This explains why Jesus said, “Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you place your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be your accuser. If you really believed him, you would believe me too, since it was I that he was writing about but if you refuse to believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?”

So today, let us testify for Jesus.  Let us be His witnesses and light in the world. Let us search the scriptures, not to look for answers to satisfy our prejudices and preconceived notions, but to allow scriptures to lead us to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  When we allow the Word of God to work in and through us, our lives will be changed. Indeed, “when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”  (1 Th 2:13)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, March 10, 2016 — “In whom you have placed your hope?” — “How can you believe when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

March 9, 2016

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 247

Worshipping the Golden Calf by Etienne Baudet, French (Grafier pres Bois), France 1636 – 1711 Paris, France, Harvard Museum collection

Reading 1 EX 32:7-14

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
The LORD said to Moses,
“I see how stiff-necked this people is.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘With evil intent he brought them out,
that he might kill them in the mountains
and exterminate them from the face of the earth’?
Let your blazing wrath die down;
relent in punishing your people.
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’“
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.
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Responsorial Psalm PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23

R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Verse Before The Gospel JN 3:16

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Gospel JN 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.
Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.
But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept human praise;
moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I came in the name of my Father,
but you do not accept me;
yet if another comes in his own name,
you will accept him.
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another
and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father:
the one who will accuse you is Moses,
in whom you have placed your hope.
For if you had believed Moses,
you would have believed me,
because he wrote about me.
But if you do not believe his writings,
how will you believe my words?”

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Throughout the Bible, the people are constantly reminded of their sinfulness. — both as a group (“the people”) and often as individuals (“get behind me Satan”). God also reminds us as individuals during our daily lives that He is not pleased by our sinful conduct. The purpose is not to remind us that our sins may lead us to an eternal Hell — but to allow us to choose to repent, avail ourselves of His Divine Mercy and to find forgiveness and joy. It is only though our individual suffering and sin that many of us are awakened to the reality of God and His plan, God’s Will, for us.
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My Spiritual Director has said, “Beware the Golden Calves all around us,” and “Beware the narcissistic pull of so many perfect selfies.”
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The question I have to always ask myself is: “What is it I am putting on a pedestal?”
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Related:
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God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787)
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

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• John, interpreter of Jesus. John is a good interpreter of the words of Jesus. A good interpreter has to have a two-fold fidelity. Fidelity to the words of the one who speaks, and fidelity to the language of the one who listens. In John’s Gospel, the words of Jesus are not transmitted materially, literally; rather they are translated and transferred to the language of the people of the Christian communities of the first century in Asia Minor. For this reason, the reflections of the Gospel of John are not always easy to understand. Because in them are mixed the words of God and the words of the Evangelist himself who mirrors the language of faith of the communities of Asia Minor. The scholarly or scientific study of Jesus is not sufficient for this. It is also necessary that we have the lived experience of faith in the community. Today’s Gospel is a typical example of the spiritual and mystical depth of the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple.

• Reciprocal enlightenment between life and faith. Here it is well to repeat what John Cassian says regarding the discovery of the full and profound sense of the Psalms: “Instructed by that which we ourselves feel, let us not consider the text as something which we have only heard, but rather like something which we have experienced and which we touch with our hands; not like a strange and unheard of story, but rather like something that we bring out to light from the deepest part of our heart, as if these were sentiments which form part of our being. Let us repeat them; it is not the reading (the study) what makes us penetrate into the sense or meaning of the words, but rather our own experience which has previously been acquired in the life of every day”. (Collationes X, 11). Life enlightens the text, the text enlightens life. If, at times, the text says nothing, it is not because of lack of study or because of lack of prayer, but simply because of lack of depth in one’s own life.

• John 31-32: The value of the witness of Jesus. The witness of Jesus is true because he does not promote or exalt himself. “There is another witness who speaks on my behalf”, that is the Father. And his witness is true and deserves to be believed.

• John 5, 33-36: The value of the witness of John the Baptist and of the works of Jesus. John the Baptist also gave witness of Jesus and presents him to the people as the one sent by God who has to come to this world (cf. Jn 1, 29.33-34; 3, 28-34). For this reason, even if the witness of John the Baptist is very important, Jesus does not depend on him. He has a witness in his favour who is greater than the witness of John, and that is, the works which the Father carries out through him (Jn 14, 10-11).

• John 5, 37-38: The Father bears witness of Jesus. Previously, Jesus had said: “Whoever is from God listens to the words of God” (Jn 8, 47). The Jews who accused Jesus did not have a mind open to God. And for this reason, they do not succeed to perceive the witness of the Father which reaches them through Jesus.

• John 5, 39-41: Scripture itself gives testimony of Jesus. The Jews say that they have faith in the Scriptures, but in reality, they do not understand Scripture, because the Scripture speaks of Jesus (cf. Jn 5, 46; 12, 16.41; 20, 9).

• John 5, 42-47: The Father does not judge but entrusts his judgment to the Son. The Jews say that they are faithful to the Scripture of Moses and, because of this, they condemn Jesus. In reality, Moses and the Scripture speak about Jesus and ask to believe in him.

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Personal questions

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• Life enlightens the text and the text enlightens life. Have you experienced this some times?

• Try to deepen the value of the testimony of Jesus.

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Concluding Prayer

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Yahweh, your kingship is a kingship for ever,
your reign lasts from age to age.
Yahweh is trustworthy in all his words,
and upright in all his deeds.
Yahweh supports all who stumble,
lifts up those who are bowed down. (Ps 145,13-14)

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From http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-531-47

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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10 MARCH 2016, Thursday, 4th Week of Lent
ACCEPTING WOUNDED MEMBERS IN OUR COMMUNITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47

We are a wounded community of sinners.  Even though we have been baptized and given a new birth in Christ, the residues of sin and our past are not totally taken away.  So we should not be surprised that within the Christian community, there are still many wounded members in need of healing.  We should not be scandalized to find the reality of sin and division brought upon by selfishness and pride in our community, even though we might have experienced the love and mercy of God.

This was certainly the case of the Israelites.  They, too, had just been liberated from the slavery of the Egyptians by the mighty hand of God.  However, in spite of their new found freedom, they quickly became disgruntled over the fact that they were not having a good life in the desert.  In the face of suffering and inconvenience, they began to become nostalgic of the good old days in Egypt.  How quickly in the face of difficulties, one forgets the sufferings from one’s previous predicament.  We begin to grumble and complain, finding a scapegoat to blame for our unhappiness.  So, too, the Israelites became ungrateful towards God and Moses, His representative.  They blamed Him for their woes.

Apparently, God was very disappointed with them, for He said to Moses,
“Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice.”  How short-lived their love and devotion to God in spite of the many miracles and wonders they saw with their own eyes, when God protected them from the Egyptian Army.  As the psalmist says, “They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt, wondrous deeds in the land of Ham, terrible things at the Red Sea.” But are we better?  After a God-experience, we, too, also so quickly apostatized and abandoned Him for false gods that we have created for ourselves.  The calf of molten metal can very well symbolise all our worldly pursuit of things and attachment to our opinions, status and people.

So in our community, even though it might be a Christian community of born-again Christians, let us not be disillusioned if we find that there are many members who, although serving God and their fellow brothers and sisters, carry with them their molten calf.  They still remain attached to their sins.  Some have become self-righteous and live under the illusion that they are a super-class of Catholics, better than the others. As a consequence, there is much division within the community.  In every Christian community and organization, we will disagree and quite often, we might hurt each other by words and actions, consciously and unconsciously.  This is because we are wounded and still in the process of seeking healing.  Wounds do not get healed immediately but gradually, through prayer, time and understanding.  We must therefore learn to accept each other.

The complaint of God to Moses appears more to be a projection of Moses’ impatience of his people than of God’s actual anger with the people.  Our God is a merciful God, patient and forgiving.  This is what God revealed to Moses about Himself when He said, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  (Ex 34:6)  More likely, it was Moses projecting his own anger towards them.  Many times, Moses cried out to God in frustration over the rebellious and demanding people who only knew how to complain instead of being grateful.  As a result we read that Moses was always tempted to quit in the face of such ingrates, especially when they grumbled that they had no food, water, meat etc.  Endless requests led Moses to call it quits. Indeed, Moses called them stiff-necked and headstrong!

Well, we might also follow the same path as well in the face of difficult people in our community and organization.  How often have we also felt like quitting!  Otherwise, if we do not remove ourselves, we remove others.  This is the easiest way to solve problems in our community apparently, getting rid of those difficult people whom we find problematic to work with.  This has always been the way most people deal with wounded members in their community, by forcing them to resign through pressure.  Instead of attending to their wounds, we seek to rid of them. This would be a great mistake. Wasn’t this expressed by God, through Moses when He said, “Leave me now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.”

That is why Moses told God to relent, or rather, in truth God was telling Moses to be patient becauseunderlying the wounds of each person is much goodness, love and beauty.  When Moses said to God, “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever”, he was actually speaking about the potentials of the so called stiff-necked race.  So, too, if we are able to be patient and heal the pains of our wounded members, they will also become great leaders, just as what happened to St Peter and St Paul.  They became great apostles only through their sins and the healing of their wounds by the forgiveness and compassion of the Lord.

As for ourselves, like Jesus in the gospel, we must realize that even when we are rejected or misunderstood for doing good, we have God on our side.  As Jesus reminds us, perhaps our anger with the bruised members of our community arises more out of their rejection of us.  Perhaps we want to seek human approval rather than God’s.  Jesus gives us the key to remaining loving and patient when He said, “As for human approval, this means nothing to me. Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.”  If there is true love in our hearts for God, we would also have true love for all the wounded and hurting members in our community, seeing them not as nuisance and trouble makers but people seeking love and acceptance and desperate for healing.

We should remind ourselves that we come to each other in the name of the Father and of Jesus.  Like John, we are called to be “a lamp alight and shining” for the wounded to see the love of God.  God will ultimately be our witness to what we do.  Because they are wounded “have never heard his voice … seen his shape”, they do not believe in Him.    Our task, therefore, is to make God real so that when they see us, they will believe in Him.  God will be proven by the same works we do for and with the Father, as in the case of Jesus.  This is what Jesus said, “But my testimony is greater than John’s: the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself.”  So let us be contented and seek the approval of God.

Finally, in our frustrations in handling such difficult people in our midst, we only need to cry out to God for mercy, “Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.”  We can be sure that God will give us the grace to deal with the challenges we face in helping the lepers in our community to become integrated.  Like Moses, if we intercede for them, God will hear us and heal them through us by softening our hearts and opening their hearts to us.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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Golden calf by Nicolas Poussin

“Idolatry is the cause of unbelief”

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From the Qur’an — Tafsir (Sura 7: verse 152) – false religion (the golden calf) “Beware the deceptive counterfeits to religion.”

Sura 7, verses 152 reads as follows:

“(As for) those who took the calf (for worship), surely wrath from their Lord and humiliation shall overtake them, and thus do We recompense the devisers of lies. (Qur’an 7:152)”
This verse refers to the story of the golden calf made and worshipped by the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt. While Moses (Musa (a.s.)) was in communion with God on the heights of mount Sinai, while revelation was in the process of being sent down to him, while God was manifesting His presence to Moses and divulging to him the secrets of creation and of the structure of religion, some of the Israelites (under the direction and supervision of a person called Samiri) constructed and worshipped a statue of a golden calf.

 

The worshippers of the calf had not turned against religion in and of itself – they were not rejecters of belief in God. They sought the divine but they sought it through the worship of a concrete manifestation – through a visible, tangible object, an idol – one constructed of ornaments that were a symbol of worldly wealth, power, and pleasures. They engaged inshirk (idolatry or association). Through this desire of theirs for a worldly, visible, ostentatious representation of the divine, they became deceived.

 

This deception came about through the action of Samiri, a person who was endowed with a degree of knowledge and insight into religion, but who used that insight to fasify rather than clarify matters for the Israelites. Together with Samiri they became inventors of a counterfeit religion – a counterfeit belief – a belief that was a direct antithesis to the purity of the revelation that was simultaneously manifesting on Mount Sinai and within the heart of Moses. While this powerful descent of Divine knowledge occured on the heights of Sinai, at the base of the mountain a caricature, a parody of this Divine process was unfolding. This forgery emerged when the nascent belief of the Israelites was still taking shape and was, historically, still in it’s infancy. This is perhaps, part of the reason for the qur’an’s harsh condemnation of their action. Samiri’s deception was an attempt to “knife the baby”, to kill or distort the religion before it took on an aspect of solidity and maturity, by creating a counter-religion.

 

What does this mean? What is a counterfeit religion? It is one that imitates real religion, but it exteriorizes and materializes that which is above and beyond matter, that which remains unseen and that which is only represented by abstract symbols in real religion. It takes something which is, in its essence, non-material, super-sensory (beyond the senses), spiritual, of a higher order – and converts it into something of a lower order, one that is nevertheless compelling because it is immediate, tangible, material, worldly, easily perceptible. It makes a solidified (but gross and distorted) image here in this lower world and in doing so attempts to waylay or kill deeper understanding.

 

In order to do this it imitates real religion but it is an imitation that is gross, materialistic, feeble, and low – a burlesque of traditional religion. But for this false religion to achieve acceptance, it must have some element of truth in it. For a deception in any realm to succeed, it must have some connection, however tenuous, with a true source – just as a counterfeit coin must be struck in the image of a real coin even while the substance it is made of is of lower value than the gold of the original. And just as a counterfeit currency creates confusion and mischief once it’s in wide circulation, the same is true with a counterfeit or deluded belief.

 

The nafs (the soul) is the locus where unseen realities unfold and manifest – they unfurl within, and expand human knowledge, intellect, and consciousness beyond the limits of the many and varying systems of knowledge created and utilized by man. Our internal self is the place for apperception of the unseen – God manifests His truths to the purified human heart and displays his signs within the human nafs – within those nafs which have awoken to the awareness that in man there is hidden an axis that cuts across all the worlds, both high and low. The imitative religion of Samiri moves the locus away from the internal to the external (a crude and vulgar external).

 

In Sura 20 (verses 85 to 98), the qur’an tells the story of how Samiri deceived the people with the golden calf. When Moses departs for Sinai, his whole being is suffused with the power of the Divine attraction that calls him to Itself. Samiri notices something in the dust of the footsteps of Moses. It is as if there is a trace, a perfume, a presence left behind in the footsteps of those who are close to God. Samiri is able to discern this presence where others are not – so he has some degree of insight which they lack – but at the same time the lower aspect of his self (nafs al-amarra) is strong and misdirects his discernment towards a base end.

 

“He (Samiri) said: I saw what they did not see, so I took a handful (of the dust) from the footsteps of the messenger, then I threw it in the casting (of the calf); thus did my soul (nafs) commend to me.” (Qur’an 20:96)

 

It is the spirit, the spiritual presence in the dust that causes a semblance of life to come into the calf  – a feeble but nevertheless mysterious facsimile of life. Samiri knew something of the value of spirit, so he knew a spiritual force was communicated to the place where the messenger had struck his foot. He seized the dust in the traces of the Messenger and threw it into the casting for the golden calf. In this way he gives a spiritual aura to the calf.

 

“Phenomena, by themselves, are not proof of spiritual truth” (Rene Guenon). Samiri uses his perceptiveness of the spiritual phenomena of the dust for gain, for ego, for deception – he turns the qualities of true religion on their head and deceives others through this to create a counter to Moses’ religion.

 

Samiri clearly has some level of spiritual insight but his insight is used to commit a kind of spiritual theft in order to deceive the people and create a counterfeit religion, a counter to the religion manifested through Moses. In the absence of a messenger who is connected to the spiritual world, in the absence of someone whose essential being is consciously present not just in this world but through all the higher worlds, feeble but deceptive counterfeits to religion are able to emerge. When Moses was absent for forty days and nights, Samiri used his insight to deceive – he mixed truth and falsehood in order to lead into complete falsehood.

Read more:

http://www.islamfrominside.com/Pages/Tafsir/Tafsir(7-152).html

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, August 17, 2015 — “They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken” — Yet all the baptised are called to the same level of service

August 16, 2015

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 419

Charlton Heston as Moses with the Ten Commandments

Reading 1 JGS 2:11-19

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The children of Israel offended the LORD by serving the Baals.
Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers,
who led them out of the land of Egypt,
they followed the other gods of the various nations around them,
and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD.Because they had thus abandoned him and served Baal and the Ashtaroth,
the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel,
and he delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them.
He allowed them to fall into the power of their enemies round about
whom they were no longer able to withstand.
Whatever they undertook, the LORD turned into disaster for them,
as in his warning he had sworn he would do,
till they were in great distress.
Even when the LORD raised up judges to deliver them
from the power of their despoilers,
they did not listen to their judges,
but abandoned themselves to the worship of other gods.
They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken,
and did not follow their example of obedience
to the commandments of the LORD.
Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, he would be with the judge
and save them from the power of their enemies
as long as the judge lived;
it was thus the LORD took pity on their distressful cries
of affliction under their oppressors.
But when the judge died,
they would relapse and do worse than their ancestors,
following other gods in service and worship,
relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct.
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Responsorial Psalm PS 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43AB AND 44

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R. (4a) Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They did not exterminate the peoples,
as the LORD had commanded them,
But mingled with the nations
and learned their works.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They served their idols,
which became a snare for them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They became defiled by their works,
and wanton in their crimes.
And the LORD grew angry with his people,
and abhorred his inheritance.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Many times did he rescue them,
but they embittered him with their counsels.
Yet he had regard for their affliction
when he heard their cry.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

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Alleluia MT 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Gospel MT 19:16-22

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A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
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Commentary on Matthew 19:16-22 From Living Space

We have here a story of a young man who did not have that simple trust of the child which Jesus spoke about in the immediately preceding passage. (Only Matthew describes him as ‘young’.)

He was apparently a good man, an unusually good man. He asks Jesus what he needs to do in order to have eternal life. However, he seemed to be operating out of the legalistic mind with the emphasis on external actions. For Jesus what we are is more important than what we do. The man also asked about ‘eternal life’. In Matthew (and in Mark and Luke) ‘eternal life’ is really synonymous with ‘entering the Kingdom of Heaven [God]’ and ‘being saved’. It is to be totally taken up into God’s world and sharing God’s understanding of life.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus asks him. “There is One alone who is good.” This seems to be a way of telling the man that goodness is not something merely external. The real source of goodness is inside, although, of course, it will flow out to the exterior. Is it also a way of asking the man who he really thinks Jesus is?

In any case, the man is told, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” As we have just said, to ‘enter into life’ is equivalent to entering the Kingdom. And Jesus mentions just four of the commandments, all touching on relationships with other people. And he adds, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

The man is not satisfied. “I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?” Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect then he should sell off everything he has, give it to the poor and then become a disciple of Jesus.

Obviously, the man was not expecting this. He was very rich and, although he wanted to serve God, he was not prepared to separate himself from the security of his wealth. And he walked away from Jesus full of sadness. It is an example of Jesus’ words earlier on that we cannot at the same time serve God and wealth.

To be rich is not just to have a lot of money. It is to have a lot more money than others and especially to have more money than one needs in a world where there are people who do not have enough for a life of dignity. And wealth is very relative: a person close to the poverty line in Europe could be seen as very rich in a remote African or Asian village.

So as long as the man had to cling to his money, he could not – as he claimed to be doing – be loving his neighbour as his own self. Clearly he was not yet ready for an unconditional following of Jesus. He was not able to follow the example of Peter and Andrew, James and John who left their boats, nets and family to go and put all their security with Jesus.

Before we think that this gospel does not particularly concern us because we do not see ourselves as numbered among the rich, we should listen to what Jesus is really saying.

He touched on the one thing that the man was not ready to give up – his money and all that it brought. But, if we are honest, we will admit that we all have some things we would be very slow to let go of. Things we would not like God to ask us to give up.

It might be a good exercise today for us to ask ourselves what would be the most difficult thing for us to give up if Jesus asked us to do so. It might be some thing we own like our house, or it might be a relationship, or our job, or our health. Whatever it is, it could be coming between us and our total following of Jesus. Do the things we own really own us?

Why not ask for the strength to be ready, if called on, to give it up? Only then do we know that we are truly free and truly followers of Jesus.

One final point. This story has been used in the past as an example of someone getting a special ‘vocation’. According to this view, all are expected to keep the commandments but only some are invited to follow a ‘counsel’, such as living a life of ‘poverty’, as members of religious institutes do. It would be quite wrong to see Jesus here suggesting two levels of living the Christian life. What is said here applies to every person who wants to follow Christ. All the baptised are called to the same level of service although there are different ways of doing this.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2202g/

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The reading from Judges 2:11-19 touches upon the “false gods” humans have been drawn to throughout time. The sexual relationship between these false gods set the example for unbridled sensuality among their worshipers.
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The scripture have captured for us the essence of developing a human life and culture acceptable to The Lord. It also captures for us guidance on what might earn for us the wrath of God.
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Scripture experts say the “Good Book” shows us the things we may consider holding dear that will bring us closer to eternal life. It also lets us see a glimmer of what happens when we devote ourselves to “disordered attachments.”
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Related:
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The Ten Commandment
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1. I am the LORD your God:  you shall not have  strange Gods before me.
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2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
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3. Remember to keep holy the LORD’S Day.
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4. Honor your father and your mother.
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5. You shall not kill.
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6. You shall not commit adultery.
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7. You shall not steal.
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8. You shall not bear false witness  against your neighbor.
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9. You shall not covet  your neighbor’s wife.

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10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

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http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/command.htm

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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It is not the riches of this world that hold us back: it is our own selves failing to give them up.
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Isn’t everything we have, everything we seem to gain, a gift from God? Isn’t our work a result of the gifts God has given to us?
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My mind jumps ahead to the story of the Camel unable to get through the eye of the needle.
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Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure
you: it will be very hard for rich people to
enter the Kingdom of heaven. I repeat:
it is much harder for a rich person to enter
the Kingdom of God than for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle”
(Matt. 19:23-23).
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Which way to the needle?

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Have you ever thought of trying to get through the “eye of the needle”? Me neither! I have a bad enough time just trying to “thread” a needle. Either there is not enough light, or the thread is frayed, or my eyes just cannot seem to focus too well. I have many excuses including that … the eye of the needle is too small.

Of course, Jesus was not talking about me, but of a camel, getting through the eye of a needle. I always wondered about that phrase in the Gospels….

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Related:

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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• The Gospel today speaks to us about a young man who asks Jesus which is the way to eternal life. Jesus indicates to him the way of poverty. The young man does not accept the proposal of Jesus because he is very rich. A rich person is protected by the security of the riches which he possesses. He has difficulty to open the hand of his security. Attached to the advantages of his goods, he lives concerned to defend his own interests. A poor person does not have this concern.
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But there are some poor people who have the mentality of the rich. Many times, the desire for riches creates in them a great dependence and renders the poor, slaves of consumerism, because they seek riches everywhere. They no longer have time to dedicate themselves to the service of neighbour.
• Matthew 19, 16-19: The commandments and eternal life. A person approaches Jesus and asks him: “Master, what good deed should I do to possess eternal life?” Some manuscripts say that it was a young man. Jesus responds abruptly: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good!”
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Then he responds to the question and says: “If you wish to enter into life keep the commandments”. The young rich man reacts and asks: “Which commandments?” Jesus very kindly enumerates the commandments which the young man already knew: “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honour father and mother, love your neighbour as yourself”. The response of Jesus is very significant. The young man had asked what to do to obtain eternal life. He wanted to live close to God! But Jesus recalls only the commandments which refer to respect for the life close to others! He does not mention the first three commandments which define the relationship with God. According to Jesus, we will be well with God only if we are well with our neighbour. It is not worth it to deceive oneself. The door to reach God is our neighbour.
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In Mark, the question of the young man is different: “Good Master what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers: “Why do you call me good? No one is good, but God alone.” (Mk 10, 17-18). Jesus deviates the attention from himself toward God, because what is important is to do God’s will, to reveal the project of the Father.
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• Matthew 19, 20: What does it serve to observe the commandments? The young man responds: “I have always observed all these things. What more do I need to do?” What follows is strange. The young man wanted to know the way which leads to eternal life. Now, the way of eternal life was and continues to be: to do God’s will, expressed in the commandments. In other words, the young man observed the commandments without knowing for what purpose. If he had known it he would not have asked the question. It is like for many Catholics who do not know why they are Catholics. “I was born a Catholic and this is why I am Catholic!” It is as if was a custom!
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• Matthew 19, 21-22: The proposal of Jesus and the response of the young man. Jesus answers: “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come follow me”. But on hearing these words the young man went away very sad because he was very rich. The observance of the commandments is only the first degree of a stairway that goes beyond, much farther and much higher.
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Jesus asks more! The observance of the commandments prepares the persons to be able to reach the point of giving oneself completely to the neighbour. Mark says that Jesus looked at the young man with love (Mk 10, 21). Jesus asks for very much, but he asks for it with much love. The young man did not accept the proposal of Jesus and goes away, “because he was very rich”.
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• Jesus and the option for the poor. A two-fold slavery marked the situation of the people at the time of Jesus: the slavery of the politics of Herod, supported by the Roman Empire and maintained by a whole system which was well organized for exploitation and repression, and the slavery of the official religion, maintained by the religious authority of the time. For this reason the clan, the families, the community, were disintegrating and the majority of the people were excluded, marginalized, homeless, without either a religion or a society.
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So, for this reason, there were diverse movements which, like Jesus, tried to build up life in the communities: Essens, Pharisees and later on, the Zelots. But in the community of Jesus, there was something new which made it different from the other groups. There was the attitude concerning the poor and the excluded. The communities of the Pharisees lived separated. The word “Pharisee” meant “separated”. This was the attitude concerning the poor and the excluded. The communities of the Pharisees lived separated from the impure people.
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Some Pharisees considered the people, ignorant and damned (Jn 7, 49), in sin (Jn 9, 34). They could learn nothing from the people (Jn 9,34). On the contrary, Jesus and his community lived in the midst of persons who were excluded, considered impure; tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, lepers (Ml 2, 16; 1, 41; Lk 7, 37). Jesus recognizes the richness and the values which the poor possess (Mt 11, 25-26; Lk 2 1, 1-4). He proclaims them blessed, because the Kingdom is theirs, of the poor (Lk 6, 20; Mt 5, 3).
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He defines his mission in this way: “To announce the Good News to the poor” (Lk 4, 18). He himself lives poorly. He possesses nothing for himself, not even a stone where to recline his head (Lk 9, 58). And to anyone who wants to follow him, who wants to live like him, he orders that he choose either God or money! (Mt 6, 24). He orders to choose the poor, as he proposed it to the rich young man! (Mk 10, 21). This different way of accepting the poor and of living with them is a sign of the Kingdom of God.
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Personal questions
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• Can a person who lives concerned about his wealth or with acquiring the goods which the propaganda of consumerism offers, free himself from all this in order to follow Jesus and live in peace in a Christian community? Is this possible? What do you think?
• What does it mean for us today: “Go, sell all you possess and give it to the poor?” Is it possible to do this concretely? Do you know anybody who has succeeded to do this for the Kingdom?
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Concluding Prayer
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Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice
as befits his name. (Ps 23,1-3)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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LACK OF FRATERNAL COMMUNION AS THE OBSTACLE TO ETERNAL LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: JUDGES 2:11-19; MATTHEW 19:16-22

“Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?”  We too ask the same question.  Like the rich young man in today’s gospel, we are happy but not really happy.  Why?  What is the obstacle that prevents us from attaining the fullness of life?

Like the young man, we think that the problem could be that we are not doing enough.  Like him, we ask the question, “What else must I do to attain eternal life?” The ironical answer that Jesus gave is, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments”.  Clearly, this man believed he has kept all the commandments and thus he was clarifying with Jesus which commandments he might have omitted.  Again, Jesus spelt out the commandments which are found in the second part of the Decalogue, which deals with one’s duty towards our fellowman rather than our duty towards God, which is found in the first part of the Decalogue.

But precisely, in the young man’s understanding, he has fulfilled the laws of justice that are required of him towards his fellowmen.  Hence, his immediate response was, “I have kept all these.  What more I need to do?”  And so Jesus said, ’If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’“  Here we arrive at the crux of the matter.  Why did Jesus ask him to sell all that he owns and give to the poor?  The truth is that Jesus wanted him to realize thateternal life is not simply a question of doing things for people or even fulfilling the laws of justice.  More than that, eternal life is to be in communion with our fellow human beings. 

In other words, what Jesus is inviting the man to do is to keep a right relationship with his fellowmen.  Without communion with his fellowmen, there is no way to participate in the life of God, that is, eternal life, since the life of God is a life of giving, fidelity and compassion.  Such is the portrayal of God in the first reading when we read how God has been faithful to the Israelites even when they deserted Him for false gods because they did not know Him as Moses and Joshua did.  But time and again, God showed His forgiving love and mercy especially when He heard their groans “under the iron grip of their oppressors”.   Feeling with them, He would send judges, one after another to rescue them “from the hands of their plunderers.”  God was in communion with them even though they were not in communion with Him.  Thus, to observe the commandments is to worship God.  By so doing, we realize our communion with our fellowmen as well.

When we situate today’s gospel text with the gospel texts of the last two days, this emphasis on complete communion with our fellowmen becomes clearer.  Last Friday, the gospel spoke about the union and communion between husband and wife; then on Saturday, the text dealt with the importance of children and their attitude of trust in a relationship.  Today, Jesus is giving instructions to the young man who probably had not been faithful to his parents since he put the commandment of honouring one’s parents as the last in the series of commandments that he should observe.  In all these gospel texts, the question of communion and accessibility to each other is underscored.

Within this context, we can therefore understand why “when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth”.   If he went away sad, it was because he understood the words of Jesus clearly.  Although he might have fulfilled the legal requirements of the commandments, he had not gone to the extent of giving himself totally to others.  He continued to hold back from giving himself completely to others, thereby his love for his neighbour cannot be said to be perfect or godly. The implication therefore is that the rich young man did not love his neighbour as much as he loved himself.  The message that Jesus wanted to drive across is that if we truly love others, then we would want to be one with them.  We must identify with them in every way.  When others’ happiness is as important as ours, then we can claim that we have loved our neighbours.  Paradoxically, this is also the only way to really love ourselves.  This explains why this is the way to perfect ourselves and inherit the treasure in heaven, which is eternal life; the life of God.  Thus, to the extent we give ourselves to others in love, to that extent we share in the life of God

Consequently, the important lesson we need to learn from today’s liturgy is that so long as we are not in good relationship and in communion with our fellowmen or we do not give ourselves in love for them, it would be the primary obstacle that prevents us from attaining full union with God and from following Jesus.   Until and unless we practise justice and love, we cannot be in full communion with God.  Without truly loving ourselves in others, we cannot be free to follow Jesus and give our lives to Him.  Only by removing the obstacle of injustice in our lives, can we then be free to follow Jesus.  This explains why great importance is given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for without it, the graces of God cannot flow to us.  Hence, the condition for following Jesus is that we must first give up whatever is an impediment to loving ourselves so that God’s love can reach us fully.

Consequently, if we are not truly happy, then we need to ask ourselves which area of our lives is hampering us from truly loving our fellowmen and to be in union with them.  Has money become the obstacle to unity, especially when we squabble over financial and material matters?  Have we become too attached to some people in our lives, that we are no longer free for His service?  Or have we by our unforgiveness blocked that channel of love from flowing out from us?  Our wealth or false gods could be certainly anyone of these.  We would have fallen into the same sin as the Israelites in the first reading so long as we allow these false gods to enslave us.

Thus, from today’s scripture readings, it is clear that the lack of love and communion with others will lead to the lack of love for oneself.    As a result, we will not only be sad like the rich young man who could not give up his wealth, his false god, but we will also suffer untold misery like the Israelites who continued to serve and worship false gods and “would not give up the practices and stubborn ways of their ancestors at all.”  The response is ours.  God wants us to share His life and be completely fulfilled.  But so long as we allow our attachment to some false gods to separate us from our fellowmen, we can never give ourselves fully to live the life of Jesus and share our lives with Him.  But if we do, then we will be able to share in His life of self-emptying love.

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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, August 12, 2015 — Reconciliation and healing of divisions — The recalcitrant brother — Mercy triumphs over judgment

August 11, 2015

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 415

Reading 1 DT 34:1-12

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,
the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho,
and the LORD showed him all the land—
Gilead, and as far as Dan, all Naphtali,
the land of Ephraim and Manasseh,
all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea,
the Negeb, the circuit of the Jordan
with the lowlands at Jericho, city of palms,
and as far as Zoar.
The LORD then said to him,
“This is the land
which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
that I would give to their descendants.
I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”
So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD,
died as the LORD had said; and he was buried in the ravine
opposite Beth-peor in the land of Moab,
but to this day no one knows the place of his burial.
Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died,
yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.
For thirty days the children of Israel wept for Moses
in the plains of Moab, till they had completed
the period of grief and mourning for Moses.Now Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom,
since Moses had laid his hands upon him;
and so the children of Israel gave him their obedience,
thus carrying out the LORD’s command to Moses.Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses,
whom the LORD knew face to face.
He had no equal in all the signs and wonders
the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land,
and for the might and the terrifying power
that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel.

Responsorial Psalm PS 66:1-3A, 5 AND 8, 16-17

R. (see 20a and 10b) Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth;
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God: “How tremendous are your deeds!”
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
Bless our God, you peoples;
loudly sound his praise.
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
When I appealed to him in words,
praise was on the tip of my tongue.
R. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!

Alleluia 2 COR 5:19

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
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Moses Sees the Promised Land
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Commentary on Matthew 18:15-20 From Living Space

The discourse on the church (cont’d):

Today’s part of the discourse shifts from the harm that we can do to others to the harm that others can do to the community and how the community and its members should respond. Clearly we are speaking here of some serious wrong which hurts the mission of the Church community.

The wrongdoer is to be tackled on three levels and this reflects what has just gone before about bringing back the sheep which is lost. Reconciliation, not punishment, is the objective.

If the wrong directly affects one person, then that person or another should go along to the wrongdoer privately and try to help him/her change his/her ways. If this works, then that is the end of the matter. However, if the wrongdoer will not listen, then one or two others who are also aware of the wrongdoing should be brought along as corroboration. This is based on a passage from Deuteronomy: “A single witness cannot suffice to convict a man of a crime or offence of any kind; whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two witnesses or three is required to sustain the charge.” (Deut 19:15).

If the wrongdoer remains obstinate in the face of this evidence, then the whole community is to be brought in. And, if in the face of the whole community, there is still no sign of repentance, then the person is to be expelled and treated like “a pagan or a tax collector”, in other words, as a total outsider. The tax collectors were among the most despised people in the community. They were local people employed by Roman tax contractors to collect taxes for them. Because they worked for Rome and often demanded unreasonable payments (they had to make a profit!), they gained a bad reputation and were generally hated and considered traitors to their own people and their religion.

The word Matthew uses for ‘community’ here is ‘church’, ekklesia(‘ekklhsia) or, in Hebrew, qahal, which refers to the gathering of a Christian community. As mentioned earlier, this is only one of two places (the other is Matt 16:18) where this term is used in the gospels.

Jesus now goes further in saying that all such decisions by the community have God’s full endorsement: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven (i.e. by God)” and “if two of you on earth agree about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” and “where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”. This mandate seems to be given to the community as a whole and not just to specific individuals.

It would be worth our while going carefully through this text and see how it applies to our church situation today. To what extent do we feel responsible for the wrongdoings of our fellow-Christians? To what extent do we realise that our behaviour both as individuals and groups reflects on the overall witness that the Church is called to give as the Body of Christ? Do people clearly see the message of the Gospel from the way we live both individually and corporately?

While, on the one hand, we are told to be compassionate and non-judgmental, are we over-tolerant of what people in the community who believe that anything they do is just their own business? Every Christian community has a solemn responsibility to give witness to the vision of life that Jesus gave to us. There have then to be standards of behaviour which bind all. Moments of weakness can be and should be treated with compassion but deliberate and continued flouting of our central commitment to truth, love, justice and so on cannot be overlooked or allowed to undermine the central mission of the Christian community to be a sacrament of the Kingdom. It is not a question of image but of our integrity.

What has all this to do with the way we use the Sacrament of Reconciliation and what is the relationship of the sacrament to this passage? The passage is closely linked with what Jesus says about the problem of giving scandal, of being a stumbling block in people coming to Christ. At the same time, as tomorrow’s passage indicates the long-term aim above all is not punishment but reconciliation and healing of divisions.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o1194g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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CORRECTING A RECALCITRANT SINNER

SCRIPTURE READINGS: DT 34:1-12MT 18:15-20

The Gospel touches on a very concrete reality in our lives, namely, to correct a recalcitrant brother.  St Matthew gives a three-stage trial procedure in dealing with such a member in the community.   Scripture commentators are in agreement that this is basically a construct of Matthew and not from the lips of Jesus.  Matthew was merely adopting a legal practice already existing in Judaism.  Indeed, it would be difficult to believe that Jesus could advocate ex-communication, namely, to treat such a person as a Gentile, for we know that Jesus always preaches about compassion and forgiveness.

Furthermore, based on our own experience, we know that this three-stage procedure does not really solve our problems.  On the legal level, we might have apparently resolved the problem by taking action, but we know that the heart of that person has normally not been won over.   Taking legal action is always the last resort because the heart of the accused is not converted.  It only breeds resentment and anger.  Why?

Firstly, take the first stage of the trial procedure.  It says that if your brother has committed some wrong against you, go and point out his fault … if he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  Now such a stance can appear to be rather biased.  We come with a position already, thinking that we are right and the other person needs to be converted. He is supposed to listen to us, rather than we listening to him.   There is hardly any dialogue since dialogue requires openness and the readiness to admit that we can also be wrong in our judgment.   And even if we are open, the accused party may not be willing to speak about the matter yet.  There are other psychological and emotional factors involved, for example, the wounds are still raw and the trust is still not there.  So trying to tell a person that he is wrong would only be met with anger and denial.  It leads to retaliation.  Nasty letters written to and fro do not solve a problem but worsens it.

Secondly, the plaintiff is supposed to summon another witness, apparently to be on his side again.  And presumably, if another witness can be an arbitrator, it may not work also because the third person can also be prejudiced.  The fact that the plaintiff has himself called another to be his witness or arbitrator would seem to lack credibility.  Indeed, to be truly more objective, both parties must first agree to a common arbitrator.  Our own life experience has taught us that involving a third party can make the situation even more complicated, especially when the third party does not show himself to be impartial.

In the third stage, the accused is to be referred to the Church, i.e. the authority, and then if he ignores the authority, he should be excommunicated.  Even among ourselves, how many of us would really want to report our misunderstandings with our brothers to the authorities?  And even if we do so, and the authority listens to us and takes action, have we really solved the problem?  The history of the Church has shown how applying the rule of excommunication has caused more harm than good.  The way to correct a person is not by applying  juridical discipline but persuasion, patience and dialogue.  That is why the Church hardly excommunicates anyone publicly.   Indeed, to alienate someone from us is not really helping that person.  Did not Jesus speak about compassion, forgiveness and so on?

Notwithstanding my critique on the legalistic procedures given by Matthew, it does not mean that such a three-stage trial procedure cannot work.  It can, if we read further down the passage, where further guidelines are given.  These, I believe, are the pre-requisites before the legal process can take place.  What are these?

Firstly, from the book of Deuteronomy, we have Moses who meets God face to face.  Now, before we can meet man face to face, it presupposes that we ourselves have truly met God face to face.  For it is in having met God face to face that we come to recognize our own faces – our motives, our intentions and how we might be reacting to a situation.  What is important in any conflict is that the parties involved must be ready to pray before the Lord, asking for forgiveness of his own sins before thinking about the sins of others against him or her.  Only through prayer, will we recognize that whilst we demand justice, God prefers that we learn how to forgive like Him.  Jesus Himself, although innocently accused, did not seek justice but only forgiveness of His enemies.

Secondly, the gospel tells us that whenever two or three pray in his name, our prayers would be granted.  That is to say, after we have prayed on our own, we need to pray with our accused brother.  Unless we can pray together first, I doubt both parties can be truly open to each other, since we are not yet even open to the Spirit.  But if we have truly prayed together, we can be quite confident that that openness resulting from our common search for the truth and for love will help us to find an amiable solution.  This is what it means to pray in His name – to have this common desire with God, for life and love.   If the love of God is not in us, there is no way to resolve a problem through legal means.  Whoever loses the case will feel even more aggrieved and worse still, if one cannot afford a good lawyer to defend himself.

Finally, we must realize that the power to bind or loosen is a basic principle with regard to our well-being.   No one can ultimately force us to be open or to forgive, not even the external authority.  Of course, they can physically alienate us, but that does not mean the problem has been resolved.  Ultimately, the power to forgive or to heal is dependent on ourselves.  But the point is that when we are able to surrender our pride and our unforgiveness, then we are liberated for life and love.  The refusal to let loose will bind us even more in our misery.  What is even sillier is that in refusing to forgive someone, we hurt ourselves much more than our enemy.

Yes, the task of fraternal correction is perhaps one of the most difficult things in community life and inter-personal relationships.  It is something that we wish to avoid all together.  However for those who are too quick to correct his brother, he must also be prudent.  For what he sees and condemns in another brother is but a mere projection of his poor judgments and prejudices towards life and others.   However if we have searched ourselves thoroughly and still not be reconciled, then we can treat our accused brothers as pagans.  It does not mean that we condemn them; rather, we are giving them the opportunity to reflect on their actions.  Excommunication and punishment meted by the authorities can only be exercised when dialogue has reached a deadlock. Then for the greater good of the unity of the Church and her interests, the authorities have to step in to protect the community from being destroyed by a few individuals.

Let us be reminded of the words of St James in all that we do. He wrote, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12f) In another text warning us against judging others, he wrote, “Do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11f)

 

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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• In the Gospel of today and of tomorrow we read and meditate on the second half of the Discourse of the Community. Today’s Gospel speaks about fraternal correction (Mt 18, 15-18) and of prayer in common (Mt 18, 19-20). The Gospel of tomorrow speaks about pardon (Mt 18, 21-22) and presents the parable of pardon without limitations (Mt 18, 23-35). The key word in this second part is “to forgive”. The accent is on reconciliation. In order that there may be reconciliation which will allow the little ones to return, it is important to know how to dialogue and to forgive, because the foundation of fraternity is the gratuitous love of God. It is only in this way that the community will be a sign of the Kingdom. It is not easy to forgive. There is a certain grief which continues to strike the heart as with a hammer. There are persons who say: “I forgive, but I do not forget!” There is: resentment, tensions, clashes, diverse opinions, and offences, provocations which render pardon and reconciliation difficult.
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• The organization of the words of Jesus in the five Great Discourses of the Gospel of Matthew indicates that at the end of the first century, the communities had very concrete forms of catechesis. The Discourse of the Community (Mt 18, 1-35), for example gives updated instructions of how to proceed in case of any conflict among the members of the community and how to find criteria to solve the conflicts. Matthew gathers together those phrases of Jesus which can help the communities of the end of the first century to overcome the two more acute problems which they had to face at that moment, that is, the exodus of the little ones because of the scandal given by some and the need to dialogue in order to overcome the rigor of others in accepting the little ones, the poor, in the community.
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• Matthew 18, 15-18: Fraternal correction and the power to forgive. These verses give simple norms of how to proceed in case of conflicts in the community. If a brother or a sister should sin, if they had behaviour not in accordance to the life of the community, they should not be denounced immediately. First, it is necessary to try to speak with them alone. Then it is necessary to try to know the reasons of the other. If no results are obtained, then it is necessary to take two or three persons of the community to see if it is possible to obtain some result. Only in extreme cases, it is necessary to expose the problem to the whole community. And if the person refuses to listen to the community, then they should be considered by you as “a sinner or a pagan”, that is, as someone who is not part of the community. Therefore, it is not you who excludes, but it is the person himself/herself who excludes himself/herself. The community gathered together only verifies or ratifies the exclusion. The grace to be able to forgive and to reconcile in the name of God was given to Peter (Mt 16, 19), to the Apostles ( Jn 20, 23) and, here in the Discourse of the Community, to the community itself (Mt 18, 18). This reveals the importance of the decisions which the community assumes in regard to its members.
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• Matthew 18, 19: Prayer in common. The exclusion does not mean that the person is abandoned to his/her own fate. No! The person may be separated from the community, but will never be separated from God. In the case in which the conversation in the community does not produce any result, and the person does not want to be integrated in the life of the community, there still remains the last possibility to remain together with the Father to obtain reconciliation, and Jesus guarantees that the Father will listen: “If two of you agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in Heaven; for where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them”.
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• Matthew 18, 20: The presence of Jesus in the community. The reason of the certainty of being heard by the Father is the promise of Jesus: “Because where there are two or three who meet in my name, I am there among them!” Jesus is the centre, the axis, of the community, and, as such, together with the Community, it will always be praying with us to the Father, in order that he may grant the gift of the return of the brother or the sister who have excluded themselves.
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Personal questions
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• Why is it so difficult to forgive? In our community, is there some space for reconciliation? In which way?
• Jesus says: “For wherever there are two or three who meet in my name, I am also there among them”. What does this mean for us today?
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Concluding Prayer
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Praise, servants of Yahweh,
praise the name of Yahweh.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh,
henceforth and for ever. (Ps 113,1-2)
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