Posts Tagged ‘Rembrandt’

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, April 3, 2018 — Listen to the testimony of those who have encountered the Risen Lord

April 2, 2018

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Lectionary: 262

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Reading 1 ACTS 2:36-41

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the Jewish people,
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other Apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 AND 22

R. (5b) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:

R. Alleluia.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia PS 118:24

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.
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Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, by Rembrandt. St Mary’s right she has her breakfast — a jug of water and some eggs in a basket. Jesus is seen wearing a hat because “She thought it was the gardener.”
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Why Did Mary Turn Around? Reflection by Albert Holtz, OSB of “Downtown Monks”
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St. John Chrysostom suggests that the two angels suddenly caught sight of the Risen Lord standing behind Mary and she read their faces and so turned to see what they were looking at.
She may have turned only partly around, because v.16 tells us that when Jesus called her by name, “She turned and said to him, ‘Rabouni.’”
But the phrase that really caught my interest came when she first turned and saw this figure standing there “but she did not know that it was Jesus.”
Maybe her eyes were filled with tears, or maybe she was so overwhelmed with grief that she wasn’t really thinking sraight. And she certainly had no concept of a “risen Jesus” – Judaism had no such concept nor any vocabulary to express it, so she was not prepared to see a “risen Lord.”
In addition, there are other places in the Easter narratives where other people don’t recognize Jesus either ( e.g. the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the disciples out fishing when Jesus calls to them from the shore), which indicates that there was now something different about his appearance. So we can’t blame poor Magdalene for mistaking Jesus for the gardener. “She did not know it was Jesus.


SO, WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

But what about you and me? We have the gospel accounts along with the hindsight and the insights of two millennia of Christian tradition, all preparing us to recognize Christ in every person we meet. But the same thing happens to you and me as happened to Magadelene: we don’t know that it is Jesus standing before us when he comes.
I’ve learned that He often comes in the guise of the person who puts their umbrella into the spokes of my life’s bicycle: he phones at an inconvenient hour looking for someone to talk to, he needs help pouring cereal into his bowl because his Alzheimer’s is bad this morning, he is a homeless woman asking for a handout on the sidewalk down the hill from the monastery. I need to be on the watch all the time for these “appearances” of the Risen Lord so that I don’t make the same mistake that Magdalene made when “she did not know that it was Jesus.”
We’re about to start classes on Monday after a two-week Easter break. There are lots of terrific kids who I’ll be delighted to see after a two-week vacation; I’ll see Jesus in them right way and enjoy His presence. But will I be willing and able to recognize the same Jesus when he starts acting out his adolescent anger in class because he doesn’t know what else to do with it, or when he starts chatting with his classmate while he’s supposed to be taking notes in class? That will be the test for me.
Let’s pray to the Risen Jesus that He’ll give each of us the eyes of Easter Faith, that he’ll open our eyes to see His presence in every person and every circumstance.
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Lectio Divina From The Carmelites
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Reflection
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• Today’s Gospel describes the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. The death if her great friend urges Mary to lose the sense of life. But she does not give up her search. She goes to the tomb in order to meet again the one whom death has taken away. There are moments in our life in which everything crumbles. It seems that everything is finished. Death, disasters, pain and suffering, disillusions, betrayals! So many things which may cause us to feel in the air, without standing on firm ground and which can lead us to fall into a deep crisis. But other things also happen. For example, that suddenly we meet a friend again and that can give us hope anew and can make us discover that love is stronger than death and defeat.
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• Chapter 20 in John’s Gospel, besides the apparitions of Jesus to Magdalene, it also speaks about diverse episodes which reveal the richness, indicate the richness of the experience of the Resurrection: (a) to the beloved disciple and to Peter (Jn 20, 1-10); (b) to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20, 11-18); (c) to the community of disciples (Jn 20, 19-23) and (d) to the Apostle Thomas (Jn 20, 24-29). The purpose of the writing of the Gospel is that of leading persons to believe in Jesus, and believing in him, to have life (Jn 20, 30-3).
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• In the way of describing the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene one perceives, one is aware of the different stages of the road that she had to follow, of the sorrowful search up to the time of the encounter at Easter. These are also the stages through which we all have to pass, throughout our life, seeking God and living the Gospel.
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• John 20, 11-13: Mary Magdalene weeps, but she seeks. There was a very strong love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. She was one of the few persons who had the courage to remain with Jesus up to the moment of his death on the Cross. After the obligatory rest on Saturday, she goes back to the tomb to be in the place where she had met her Beloved for the last time. But, surprisingly, the tomb is empty! The angels ask her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” and her response is: “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have put him!” Mary Magdalene looked for Jesus, that Jesus whom she had known during three years.
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• John 20, 14-15: Mary Magdalene speaks with Jesus without knowing him. The Disciples of Emmaus saw Jesus but they did not recognize him. She thinks that he is the gardener. And just as the angels had done, Jesus also asks: “Why are you weeping?” and he adds: “Who are you looking for?” The response: “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and get him”. She was still looking for the Jesus of the past, the same one of three days before. And it is precisely the image of the Jesus of the past which prevents her to recognize the living Jesus, who is present before her.
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• John 20, 16: Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus. Jesus pronounces the name: “Mary!” This was the sign to recognize him: the same voice, the same way of pronouncing the name. She answers: “Master!” Jesus had returned the same, as the one who had died on the cross. The first impression was that death was only a painful incident on the journey, but now everything has again become as before. Mary embraces Jesus strongly. He was the same Jesus whom she had known and loved. And thus, is fulfilled what the Parable of the Good Shepherd said: “He calls them by name and they recognize his voice”. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (Jn 10, 3.4.14).
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• John 20, 17-18: Mary Magdalene receives the mission to announce the resurrection to the Apostles. In fact, it is the same Jesus, but the way of being together with her is not the same as before. Jesus tells her: “Do not cling to me, because I have not as yet ascended to the Father!” He goes toward the Father. Mary Magdalene has to let Jesus go and assume her mission: to announce to the brothers that he, Jesus, has ascended to the Father. Jesus has opened up the way for us and thus, once more, God is close to us.
Personal questions
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• Have you ever had an experience which has given you the impression of loss and of death? How was it? What is it that gave you new life and gave you the hope and the joy of living?
• Which is the change that took place in Mary Magdalene throughout the dialogue? Mary Magdalene was looking for Jesus in a certain way and found him in a different way. How does this take place in our life?
Concluding Prayer
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We are waiting for Yahweh;
he is our help and our shield,
for in him our heart rejoices,
in his holy name we trust.
Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us,
as our hope has rested in you. (Ps 33,20-22)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore 
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03 APRIL, 2018, Easter Tuesday
WHAT MUST WE DO?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ACTS 2:36-41PS 33:4-5,18-20,22JN 20:11-18 ]

If you were there among the crowd when St Peter gave his first discourse on the resurrection of Christ and what it meant with regard to the identity of Jesus, what would you have done?  How would you have responded to the declaration that “The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”?  The crowd did not see the Risen Lord, only the apostles and some disciples did.  Neither have we seen the Lord physically as they did.  However, look at their response. “That very day about three thousand were added to their number.”

To come to faith in the Risen Lord, we must first find grounds for belief.  For the seed of faith to take place, we must first listen to the testimony of those who have encountered the Risen Lord.  This was what the early converts did.  The crowd that gathered at Jerusalem heard the testimony of St Peter and the apostles.  “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.  But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”  (Acts 2:22-24)

Secondly, they heard the arguments to substantiate their claims so that what they saw could be verified from the scriptures.  “He spoke to them for a long time using many arguments.”  So for many of us, before we take the leap of faith, we need to be convinced before we can be convicted.  So St Peter cited from the psalm of David who prophesied that his descendant would not see death.   “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”  Indeed, we read that “They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised.”

Having come to faith in Christ as Lord, the next step is to make an act of commitment.  So when they heard the discourse of St Peter, “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent.’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  So, the action of accepting Jesus as Lord is repentance and be baptized.

What is repentance?  To repent is to turn away from sin.  This is what St Peter asked of them, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.”   Giving up our sins is the way for us to encounter the Risen Lord.  So long as we live in our sins, we will not be able to encounter Him in the Spirit.  “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.”  (1 Cor 2:14f)

To repent means to give up our pride in wanting to comprehend God with our finite minds.  This was what Mary Magdalene and the rest of the apostles did.  They were still looking for the Jesus of Nazareth who was dead.  That was why the angel said to them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Lk 24:5)

So long as we keep looking for the Jesus of Nazareth, we will not be able to see the Risen Lord.  Many of us have preconceived ideas of how the Lord should manifest Himself to us.  We are looking for Him to come in a definite way when He would have come in other ways.  Indeed, we must allow the possibilities for God to show His face to us.  St Paul warns us, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ –  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.”  (1 Cor 2:8-11)

To repent means to come out of our grief.  Mary could not see the Lord because she was too absorbed in her attachment to the Jesus of Nazareth.  She was licking the pain of grief in her life.   Twice, she was asked by the angels and the Lord, “Woman, why are you weeping”  And her response was that “They have taken my Lord away.”  She wanted to reclaim the body.  But the Lord is risen.  There is no earthly body to recover.  But because of her grief and sorrow that came from her attachment to the earthly Jesus, she was blinded from seeing the greater reality in front of her, the Risen Lord, thinking that He was a gardener.  If we want to see the Risen Lord, we must be ready to let go of the past and our attachments, whether to things, money, status,or people.   Then our eyes will be able to see the greater things the Lord has in store for us.

Repentance is looking inwards.  The next step is to look upward.  It is to believe in Him.  This is the necessary way of faith.  Repentance is turning away from something to someone, that is Christ.   Mary Magdalene was led by the Lord to turn away from herself and to turn to Him.  “As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him.  Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.”  We must turn to the Lord if we want to encounter Him.   To turn to the Lord means to hear the voice of our Master, to spend time with Him in intimacy as Mary did.  Without listening to His voice, we will not be able to hear Him or see Him.  With Mary, let us be attentive to the voice of our Lord calling us to Him.

To look upwards also means to grow from an affective relationship with the Lord to a contemplative relationship.  Mary Magdalene could see the Lord because of her passion for Him.  This is but the starting point of coming to know the Lord.  Many of us come to recognize Jesus as our Lord through some miracles, especially of healing, enlightenment or salvific and religious experience.   The Lord will reveal Himself to those who love Him.  The psalmist  says, “The Lord looks on those who revere him, on those who hope in his love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.”   However, we cannot be always clinging to the Lord on this level of relationship.  We need to mature in our relationship from a physical, tangible and affective level to a contemplative level.  Otherwise, we will still be stuck to the Jesus of Nazareth.   This was why the Lord told Mary, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”   Clinging to the Jesus of Nazareth will hinder us from receiving the Risen Lord in a new way when He comes again in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This was what St Peter told the crowd, “be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Finally, encountering the Risen Lord requires us to move out of our comfort zone to the world.  The Lord instructed Mary Magdalene, “’But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.”  In reaching out and proclaiming Christ the Risen Lord to the world, our faith will increase and be strengthened when we see how the Lord works in the lives of those who come to believe in Him as the apostles did.   We evangelize ourselves by evangelizing others.

Truly, as St Peter said,  “The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.”  The Lord is inviting us to come to know Him and believe in Him so that believing in Him as St John wrote, “you may have life in his name.”  (Jn 20:31)  So for those who are still waiting to encounter the Risen Lord, take the courage to search, to study and to pray.   Most of all, wait for Him in love as Mary Magdalene did.  May the prayer of the psalmist be ours.  “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. The Lord is our help and our shield. May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, July 22, 2017 — “The love of Christ impels us.” — “He indeed died for all so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.”

July 21, 2017

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene
Lectionary: 603

Image result for Mary Magdalene, , art, photos

Reading 1  SGS 3:1-4B

The Bride says:
On my bed at night I sought him
whom my heart loves–
I sought him but I did not find him.
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
I sought him but I did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me,
as they made their rounds of the city:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves?
I had hardly left them
when I found him whom my heart loves.

OR  2 COR 5:14-17

Brothers and sisters:
The love of Christ impels us,
once we have come to the conviction that one died for all;
therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all,
so that those who live might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh;
even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh,
yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

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Christ and Mary Magdalene by Albert Edelfelt

Responsorial Psalm  PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

R. (2) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the glory of the risen Christ, I saw his empty tomb.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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“She thought it was the gardener.”

Mary Magdalen at the Tomb. By Rembrandt

Gospel JN 20:1-2, 11-18

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”

Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

22 JULY, 2017, Saturday, St Mary Magdalene

MOVEMENT FROM SACRAMENTAL TO MYSTICAL LOVE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ SONG 3:1-4, or 2 COR 5:14-17PS 63: 2.3-4.5-6.8-9JN 20: 1-211-18]

Why is there a lack of fervor in the faith today?  Sad to say, many have left the Church but those who stay are lukewarm and tepid in their faith.  Many lack evangelical zeal and the desire and enthusiasm to spread the Good News about Jesus.  The practice of faith is reduced to the practice of religion.  It has become a routine in life.  It has even become an iron rice bowl for those in priestly and religious life. No wonder, so many have left the Church or some have joined other religions or Protestant churches where faith seems to be more alive and vibrant.

The cause of the indifference towards the faith is due to a lack of the consciousness of the love of God in our lives.   Rationalism is the first cause for distancing from God. With the emphasis on science and reasoning, there is a tendency towards rationalism.  Our faith in God is very much on the level of intellectual knowledge rather an affective experience of His love.  Theologians can be very knowledgeable in theology but yet lack a real faith in Christ because of the lack of a conscious experience of His personal love.   The danger for those who are engaged in theological study is that they think they know about God’s love and yet in truth they do not know it in their personal life.  It is a deceptive way of pretending to know lots about God.

The second reason is activism.  Many are very active in the apostolate and in the ministry.  Today, the emphasis is on work and activities.  People are afraid to stay still and do nothing.  We must always be doing something and multi-tasking as well.  We are afraid of silence and contemplation.  So we are busy with our projects and activities, doing things for people and for the Church.  It is all about output without any input.  As a consequence, we become edgy and irritable when overworked.  We begin to focus on results and efficiency and no longer on the needs of the people.   It is not surprising that many who are involved in Church ministry or those in priestly life become jaded, lose interest and enthusiasm after a while and instead get themselves engaged in squabbling over rules and control.

The third reason is the loss of the Sacred.  They lack devotion and the presence of the sacred.  Religious things are reduced to the level of the profane.  Many no longer respect the sacredness of the Church, the Eucharist, or the sacramentals.  Holy things are treated with irreverence.  When the line between the sacred and profane is blurred, there is no sense of God’s presence.  This is not to say that they are so clearly distinguished, for we know that God could also be found in ordinary things and the ordinary events of life as well.  But to arrive at this realization, we must begin with the experience of God in the sacred.  Without a real encounter of the Sacred, we can no longer feel the presence of God in our lives.

When we read the bible or study the history of the Church, the growth of the Church was always the result of people and charismatic leaders who were deeply in love with Christ and for His people.  In the Old Testament, it was the great love for God in leaders like Moses, King David and the prophets that the faith was kept.  The prophets, Elijah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Isaiah, were all consumed by their love for God.  During the time of Christ, it was His deep love and intimacy with His Father that was the motivating factor in His mission.  It was for the love of His Father that Christ emptied Himself in the incarnation.  During the time of the apostles, it was their love for the Lord that made them give up their life to follow Jesus in the mission.  They were willing to abandon their family and trade to follow after Jesus.

In the gospel today, we read of Mary Magdalene’s deep devotion to the Lord.  Love enabled her to do all things.   When we are in love with someone, there is nothing that can prevent us from giving ourselves to that person.  When we love, we are consumed by love.   Mary Magdalene was so in love with the Lord she could not wait for the sun to rise to visit Him in the grave.  When she arrived in the dark, the stone was already moved away.  Without checking what was inside the tomb, her fear was that His body was taken away.  And later when the angels asked her why she was weeping, she was so absorbed in her attachment to Jesus’ body that she only could say that the body was taken away.  And when Jesus spoke to her, thinking that He was the gardener said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.”   She never thought for a while how she could ever remove a dead body which is too heavy for one person to lift, much less by a woman!  The point is that when we are deeply in love, using all our energy and might, we are able to do things beyond human imagination.

Isn’t this true for all the saints and the missionaries of the early Church and those before the 18th century?  Many of them, for the love of Jesus and their fellowmen, would leave their homeland to far distant countries to spread the gospel.  Many were persecuted and killed or died because of hunger, poverty, poor hygiene and illnesses.   Many died as martyrs for their faith, after being cruelly tortured for their belief.  Saints like St Francis of Assisi left everything and sold all he had for the poor and lived in simplicity because of his love for the Lord.   St Francis Xavier travelled to the Far East to spread the gospel.  Indeed, the Church in the East, Africa and in South America was the result of the sacrifices of the missionaries. This was why St Theresa of the Child Jesus remarked, “I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was aflame with Love. I understood that Love alone stirred the members of the Church to act… I understood that Love encompassed all vocations, that Love was everything”.

However, their love for Christ and His Church came from a prior experience of His love for them.  It is not that we love Him but that He loved us first.  This is what St Paul wrote about his passion for Christ and the gospel.  In the letter to the Corinthians, he said, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”  (2 Cor 5:14f) St John also reiterated the primacy of God’s love for us.  “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”  (1 Jn 4:10)

For this reason, if we want to renew the fervor of the faith of our Catholics, we must lead them to a personal experience of Christ’s love for them.  We need to renew our thirst for the Lord’s love as the Bride did in the Book of Song of Songs.  She cried out, “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City; in the streets and the squares I will seek him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him.”   The responsorial psalm also speaks of this thirst for God in his life.  “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.  My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. For your love is better than life, my lips will speak your praise.”

But it must proceed from the way of human love before we can arrive at mystical love.  There is a danger of Catholics who lack the experience of God’s love but seek a mystical encounter with Him, bypassing the humanity of Christ through some kind of centering prayer.  It has always been the teaching of the Church and of the mystics that the only way to encounter the mystical Lord is through the humanity of Christ.  Hence, it is important to recount how Mary Magdalene made the progress from loving the Jesus of Nazareth before reaching the maturity of loving the Christ of Faith.  The reason why Mary Magdalene could not find the Lord was because she was still attached to the earthly Jesus of Nazareth.

So Jesus invited her to transcend the level of sensual love to a spiritual love for Him.  He said to her, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”   St Paul in the same vein urged the Christians to do likewise.  “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”

In other words, whilst spiritual life begins with an encounter with the Lord through the human way, that is, by tangible and sacramental means, yet we must not just cling to such devotions.  There are many of these devotions, charismatic worship, healing services, Divine Mercy, Novenas and devotions to the saints in the Church.  They are not to be despised or thought to be for the uneducated.  Such devotions help us to cultivate a human love for God and the saints.  It helps us to experience their love affectively.  But if our love for the Lord is just focused on devotions and the sacramentals, we can become overly superstitious.   Nevertheless, they are important means to lead us to into a deeper encounter with the Lord in contemplative prayer, in silence and in charity.  In the final analysis, the height of love for God is both a contemplative and mystical experience of His love leading us to share His love with others.

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

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Reflection from Living Space

After going off to tell Peter and the other disciples about the empty tomb, it seems that Mary of Magdala went back there to grieve over her lost friend and master. She sees two angels sitting inside the tomb and asks where her Lord has been taken. When asked why she is weeping, she replies that her Lord has been “taken away” and she does not know where he has been put.

Then, as she turns round, there is Jesus before her but she does not recognise him. This is a common experience with those who meet Jesus after the resurrection. He is the same and he is not the same. In this transitional period they have to learn to recognise Jesus in unexpected forms and places and situations. He asks the same question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” A question we need to ask ourselves constantly. Like Mary, we may say we are looking for Jesus – but which Jesus?
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She thinks the person in front of her is the gardener. How often we jump to conclusions about people, about their character and personality and true identity! Maybe this man has taken Jesus away and knows where he is. It is also another lovely example of Johannine irony. First, that the one she took to be the gardener should know where Jesus was to be found. Second, it is John who tells us that the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (19:41). All the world’s pain and sorrow began with the sin of the Man and the Woman in a garden (Eden) and now new life also finds its beginnings in a garden. Mary was unwittingly right – Jesus is a Gardener, the one who produces life from the earth, and is the Word of his Father, the Gardener of Eden.
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Then Jesus speaks: “Mary!” Immediately she recognises his voice, the voice of her Master. It reminds us of the passage about Jesus the Shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name… the sheep follow him because they recognise his voice… I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:3-4,15).
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Immediately she turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni”. This is a more formal address than just “Rabbi” and was often used when speaking to God. In which case, Mary’s exclamation is not unlike that of Thomas in the upper room – “My Lord and my God!” We should also note that earlier she had already turned to face Jesus so this turning is different. It is an interior turning from strangeness to recognition, from sadness to joy, from a sense of loss to a close bonding, from doubt to faith.
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With a mixture of joy and affection and partly out of fear of losing him again, she clings on to him tightly. But Jesus tells her to let him go, because “I have not ascended to the
Father”. A sentence which may be better read as a rhetorical question: “Have I not ascended to my Father?” In John, the glorification of Jesus takes place on the cross at the moment of death. At that moment of triumph, Jesus is raised straight to the glory of the Father. In that sense, it is the glorified Jesus who now speaks with Mary not the Jesus she knew earlier. This Jesus cannot be clung to. In fact, there is no need. From now on “I am with you always.”
The phrase “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” echoes a sentence in the Book of Ruth (1:16): “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The Father of Jesus now becomes the Father of his disciples as they are filled with the Spirit that is both in the Father and the Son. Thus they will be re-born (John 3:5) as God’s children and can be called “brothers” by Jesus.
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Mary – and all the others – have to learn that the Risen Jesus is different from the Jesus before the crucifixion. They have to let go of the earlier Jesus and learn to relate to the “new” Jesus in a very different way.
So she is told to do what every Christian is supposed to do: go and tell the other disciples that she has seen the Lord and she shares with them what he has said to her. “I have seen the Lord.” She is not just passing on a doctrine but sharing an experience. That is what we are all called to do.
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It is significant that it is a woman who is the first person in John’s gospel to see and to be spoken to by the Risen Jesus. Not only that, if she is the same person mentioned by Luke as one of Jesus’ women followers (Luke 8:2), she was formerly a deeply sinful woman from whom seven demons had been driven out. Often no one is closer to God than someone who has been converted from a sinful past. We think of people like St Augustine or St Ignatius Loyola. We remember the example of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:35-50). Of her Jesus said: “Seeing that she loved much, her many sins are forgiven. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”
(Luke 7:47).

So Mary, who (who with Mary, Jesus’ Mother, stood by the cross of Jesus to the very end – unlike the men disciples), is now rewarded by being the first to meet him risen and glorified. She is truly a beloved disciple.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1013g/

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Meditation: Do you recognize the presence and reality of the Lord Jesus in your life? How easy it is to miss the Lord when our focus is on ourselves! Mary Magdalene did not at first recognize the Lord Jesus after he had risen from the grave because her focus was on the empty tomb and on her own grief. It took only one word from the Master, when he called her by name, for Mary to recognize him.

Recognizing the Lord’s presence in our lives
Mary’s message to the disciples, I have seen the Lord, is the very essence of Christianity. It is not enough that every Christian know something about the Lord, but that each one of us know him personally and intimately. It is not enough to argue about him, but that we meet him. Through the power of his resurrection we can encounter the living Lord who loves us personally and shares his glory with us.

The Lord Jesus gives us “eyes of faith” to see the truth of his resurrection and his victory over sin and death (Ephesians 1:18). The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our hope – the hope that we will see God face to face and share in his everlasting glory and joy.

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Do you recognize the Lord’s presence with you, in his word, in the “breaking of the bread”, and in his church, the body of Christ?

“Lord Jesus, may I never fail to recognize your voice nor lose sight of your presence in your saving word.”

Daily Quote from the early church fathersMary Magdalene’s love for Jesus, by Gregory the Great (540-604 AD)

“Mary Magdalene, who had been a sinner in the city (rf. Luke 7:37), loved the Truth and so washed away with her tears the stains of wickedness (rf Luke 7:47). Her sins had kept her cold, but afterward she burned with an irresistible love.… We must consider this woman’s state of mind whose great force of love inflamed her. When even the disciples departed from the sepulcher, she did not depart. She looked for him whom she had not found.… But it is not enough for a lover to have looked once, because the force of love intensifies the effort of the search. She looked for him a first time and found nothing. She persevered in seeking, and that is why she found him. As her unfulfilled desires increased, they took possession of what they found (rf. Song of Solomon 3:1-4)… Holy desires, as I have told you before, increase by delay in their fulfillment. If delay causes them to fail, they were not desires.… This was Mary’s kind of love as she turned a second time to the sepulcher she had already looked into. Let us see the result of her search, which had been redoubled by the power of love. (excerpt from FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25)

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Do Not Be Afraid
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Art: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, By Rembrandt

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Jesus walks on water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888) — He said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

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She mistook him for the gardener — And he said to her, “Do not be afraid.”
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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22 JULY 2016, Friday, St. Mary Magdalene
PERSEVERING LOVE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ SG 3:1-4 or 2 COR 5:14-17; PS 62(63):2-6.8-9; JN 20: 1-2, 11-18  ]

How can we know God?  Most people want to know God through reason.  In the bible, it is clear that the way to know God is through faith rather than through reason.  It is the way of the heart, not the head.  The difficulty of arriving at the knowledge of God through the head is because our minds keep changing.  Reasoning has no end because our minds are always curious and searching for the fullness of truth which can only be arrived at when we find God.  The way to God is always through the heart.  But how can we have faith?  Faith comes through love.  We can place our faith in God only because of love.  Moses instructed the people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  (Dt 6:4f)

Indeed, this has always been the case of all those who have found God.  Very few have come to know God through an intellectual process.  The way of St Paul was that of love.  In his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”  (2 Cor 5:14)  All the disciples, including Mary Magdalene whose feast we celebrate today, followed the Lord because they were moved by His love for them.  This is true for all the saints and mystics.  Even St Thomas Aquinas abandoned his great project, the Summa Theologica, upon encountering God whilst celebrating Mass.  He refused to complete his works saying, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.  I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”  His vision of heaven or of God cannot be compared to anything else, so that all things on earth appeared to be worthless to him.

Indeed, when we have fallen in love with God, everything changes.  This is what St Paul says again, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”  (2 Cor 5:16-17)  When we love, we see things and people differently.  We no longer see them as they are but we see them with the eyes of love.  Both the lover and the beloved are transformed by love.  All religions are based on faith, a personal encounter with the Lord or a mystical experience.  This explains why different people have different faiths, and why some do not have faith in any religion at all.   This is true in all human relationships.  When we fall in love with someone, we perceive the person with the eyes of love and that colours our judgment of the person.  We see beyond what the person is externally.

Mary Magdalene is the exemplar of a disciple who was deeply in love with the Lord. She had been delivered from the seven demons by Jesus.  Apparently, she was a wealthy lady.  From then on, she, with the other women, travelled with Jesus in his itinerant ministry.  They were ministering and taking care of Jesus and the disciples in the background.  Her love for Jesus could be seen in the way, she went to look for Jesus at the tomb early in the morning before all others.  She was with Jesus at the foot of the cross at His death.  All she wanted was to be with the Lord.  And so, upon discovering that the tomb was empty, she went to inform the disciples.  What was significant was that only John who went to the tomb, upon seeing the linen cloths that were left behind, believed that the Lord was risen.  Peter saw but could not make sense of it.  And so he went back still mystified.  However, the faithful Mary Magdalene stayed outside near the tomb weeping and waiting for Jesus.  She did not give up hope.

Mary Magdalene is for us an example of one who waits actively for her beloved to appear.  As the Song of Songs says of the bride who not only waits for her bridegroom but with expectant faith and hope, goes in search for him. “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City; in the streets and the squares. I will seek him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. The watchmen came upon me on their rounds in the City: ‘Have you seen him whom my heart loves?’ Scarcely had I passed them than I found him whom my heart loves.”

For those of us who have no experience of God’s love or find it difficult to allow God to love us, then we are called to follow the path of Mary Magdalene.  We must abandon the way of reason and take the path of love.  How can we empty our minds when we are so used to reasoning and proofs? 

We must be like Magdalene, be ready to keep on waiting patiently for the Lord.  But we do not simply just wait for Christ to appear. We need to search for Him. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Mt 7:7f)  Waiting for the Lord is necessary, just like Mary Magdalene who remained outside the tomb when the other disciples left after finding no one there.

Secondly, if we want to encounter Him, then we are called to be like Mary Magdalene whose desire for the Lord is beautifully expressed in the responsorial psalm.  “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.  My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. For your love is better than life, my lips will speak your praise.”  By longing for the Lord, we increase our capacity to love Him even more so that when He appears, we can enjoy a deeper experience of His love.  The deeper the desire, the bigger the capacity to receive His love.  This explains why when the Lord appeared to Magdalene He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She replied, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”   This act of asking Magdalene is to strengthen and deepen her desire for Christ.

Thirdly, we need to wait till we hear Him calling us by name.  This was what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene.  “‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.”  Until we hear the Lord calling us by name, we will never know His love.  Before that when Jesus addressed her as woman, she was not able to recognize Jesus:  “’Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’” To hear the call of Jesus and to recognize Him requires that we are called by name, as the prophet Isaiah says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even if these may forget, I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before Me.”  (Isa 49:15f)  Those of us who have heard Him calling our names are set free and feel loved again. Only then are we convinced that He really loves us.

Finally, we must also avoid falling into the same mistake as Magdalene when she allowed her grief to blind her to the presence of Jesus.  Quite often our pains, hurts and resentments prevent us from looking for the Lord.  Like Mary Magdalene, we want to cling on to the past instead of allowing the new creation to work in us.  Jesus told Mary, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Mary Magdalene could not see the Risen Lord because she was looking for the Historical Jesus.  But Christ is a New Creation. We must look beyond ourselves to the Lord, to focus on Him rather than on ourselves.  In this way, we can then recognize the Lord coming into our lives in so many ways.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, March 17, 2017 — “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone” — Saint Patrick — “Everyone who believes in him might have eternal life”

March 16, 2017

Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Lectionary: 234

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Reading 1 GN 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

One day, when his brothers had gone
to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”

So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this,
he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father.
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.

They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin
to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21

R. (5a) Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
When the LORD called down a famine on the land
and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
Joseph, sold as a slave.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
They had weighed him down with fetters,
and he was bound with chains,
Till his prediction came to pass
and the word of the LORD proved him true.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
The king sent and released him,
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house
and ruler of all his possessions.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.

Verse Before The GospelJN 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.

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Gospel MT 21:33-43, 45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it,
dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them,
thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore, I say to you,
the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

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Commentary on Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 from Living Space

We have here a parable spoken to the unbelieving chief priests and elders of the people.

It is the history of the Israelite people told in parable form. In fact, it is more of an allegory than a parable as each of the persons and incidents described point to real people and real events. Some scholars feel that what we have here is really an early Church document rather than something directly from Jesus. What seems more likely is that a parable spoken by Jesus has been modified in the light of later events.

The owner of the vineyard is clearly God. The vineyard is the house of Israel, where God’s people are to be found. The tenants of the vineyard are the people of God. The servants sent to collect the harvest are abused in various ways – beaten, killed, stoned.

The servants represent the prophets and other spokespersons sent by God to his people, many of whom were rejected, not listened to and even abused. Finally, the owner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son.” On the contrary, they saw that, if they got rid of the son, they could take over the whole vineyard for themselves. They could carry on without the owner.

So they seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. A clear reference to Jesus being crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.

And what will the king do then? Jesus asks. The leaders condemn themselves by answering the question: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end” as happened when the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed in 70 AD.

Instead, the vineyard is let out to new tenants – those Jews and Gentiles, the new people of God, who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone. “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (This is one of only two instances where Matthew uses the term ‘Kingdom of God’ rather than ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.) The Gentiles had for long been rejected as unbelievers and outsiders. Now, it is on them, together with those Jews who accepted Jesus, that the Kingdom will be built.

The Gospel ends by commenting that Jesus’ hearers understood his message perfectly but, because of Jesus’ popularity with the people, they could do nothing in retaliation for the moment.

Again and again it has happened in world history that fighters for truth and justice have been rejected, jailed, tortured and eventually found themselves the saviours of their people. Pavel in Czechoslovakia, Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King in the US, Gandhi in India.

Let us make sure that we are listening to the right people, the people who have the message of truth, love and justice and that we follow them. Jesus our Saviour still speaks through his followers.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1026g/

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St. Patrick’s Day — Trinity College Dublin. Photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons, Irish Times (File Photo)

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St. Patrick’s Day 2013 in Rio

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Related:

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Related:

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 Art: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Hermitage Museum,Saint Petersburg
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The story of the Prodigal Son (Totally Forgiving Father) has become one of my favorites.
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Spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen traveled to St. Petersburg to sit before this painting for days: meditating and praying. In fact, he wrote an entire book on the meaning of this story and this painting. We highly recommend all of Henri Nouwen’s books, and maybe our favorite is:
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Nouwen teaches us to always remember that we are human beings with many flaws. Our lives do not always progress like the perfect symphony in our imagination. We need to learn from our mistakes but allow them to go away. We need to escape self punishment which can be the ruin of us!
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Our lives have many facets. Some days we are the corner stone! Some days we aren’t!
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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SEIZING THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GN 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; MT 21:33-43 ]

Lent is an invitation to enter the kingdom of God.  It is an invitation to live a life of love, joy, peace and freedom.  It is a great opportunity for anyone to receive the grace to embrace the life of the kingdom.  During this season of Lent, the Church presents us many possibilities to journey together as one family of God to enter the Promised Land of the life of the Risen Lord.  What we make of it depends on whether we seize this opportunity of grace or whether we let this prospect pass us by.

Indeed, in life, we are given many opportunities to be happy, successful and to live life to the fullest.  Every day that we are alive is itself an opportunity.   Every day that we are able to walk, eat, talk and think means that we have the opportunity to grow and make a success of our life.  To have good health is the greatest blessing, for with health, everything is possible and within our reach.  It is a question of whether we are open, receptive and courageous to seize the opportunities when they come, and whether we are alert, proactive and positive in making use of the occasions presented to us.  And such opportunities abound.

Unfortunately, instead of seizing the opportunity of the day, many of us live in the past, lamenting what it could have been, bemoaning our misfortunes, blaming people for our failures and falling into depression.  The sad reality is that whilst they are grumbling about their problems, the opportunities fly past without their notice. So downcast they are and stuck in the mud, they cannot see the graces that God sends through their friends, colleagues and family members.   Jobs are offered to them but they make excuses that these are not suitable for them, because the place of work is more than three bus-stops away!  Friends invite them out for a meal but they give excuses that they do not have nice clothes to wear, or that it is too hot or crowded. Such people are impossible to help or please.  And there are many of them.  In fact, many times we try to help such supposedly “poor” people but they are not interested to be helped.  All they want is regular hand-outs; not work, not a solution.

In the scripture readings, we are told that our God is a God of opportunities.  He never gets tired of helping us.  He is a God of many chances.  He does not give us one chance but repeated chances.  He is always patient, forgiving and long-suffering.  He never gives up hope on us. The parable of the vineyard speaks of this God who perseveres in saving us.  Since the beginning of salvation history, God has been sending the Israelites one prophet after another to call them to conversion.  The vineyard refers to the people of Israel because God called Israel His vineyard. Yet, instead of taking care of the vineyard, they abused their authority and sought to be masters and lords of the vineyard, instead of tilling it to serve God who was the master.  They did not listen to the prophets sent by God to ask the kings and the peoples to repent.  Instead, not only did they persecute the prophets of God, they even had them killed.

This history of infidelity and the rejection of God’s grace continued into the time of Jesus, when the chief priests and the elders of the people rejected Jesus, who is the son of the owner, the only begotten Son.  They killed the Son of God and put Him out of the vineyard.  This is the sad reality even today, because often the call to conversion and repentance is rejected not by the common people but the leaders of religion and society.

The tragedy of the world today is that instead of seizing the opportunities for conversion and new life, we seize the opportunities for evil.  This was what happened to Joseph’s brothers and the religious leaders during the time of Jesus.  In the first reading, we read of how the brothers of Joseph were jealous of him.  They were envious that their father loved him more than the others.  “He was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him.”   Naturally they felt angry and resentful of Joseph and “came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.”  And so, when the opportunity came, they plotted to have him killed so that they could get rid of their competitor once and for all.  They said, “Here comes the man of dreams. Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him, then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.”   It was an opportunity indeed, but it was an opportunity for evil.

In the gospel too, we are told that the leaders of Israel, both in the Old Testament and during the time of Jesus, had the opportunity to put their lives in order.  Alas, instead of seizing these opportunities, they looked for the opportunity to put away the prophets, Jesus and His apostles.  Indeed, all through the history of Israel, the primitive Church and even today, leaders are using every opportunity to silence the truth of the gospel. Instead of being receptive to the grace of God that comes through His prophets, we seek to silence them instead.  The Church of old and the Church today continues to suffer under the persecution of secularism, relativism and pragmatism.

The critical question is not just whether we seize the opportunity at hand but whether we are using the grace of God rightly.  We can use the grace of God given to us for the wrong things.  There are many who are intelligent but use their intelligence to enrich themselves and to cheat.  Even Joseph was equally at fault because although God gave him the gift of leadership and intelligence, he became boastful and caused his brothers to feel insecure. Some are talented and eloquent but use their gift to gain popularity and even to manipulate people.  Whatever we have in life is given to us so that we can use them for good.  But often, because of jealousy, pride or greed, we misuse the gifts for evil intentions.

Regardless, God is gracious.  The sins of man cannot disrupt His plan for the salvation of humanity.  He would not let us down if we repent.  Even in the case of Joseph, God inspired his brother Rueben to save him from being killed.  And then in accordance with His divine plan, God had Joseph sold as a slave but later made him a great adviser to Pharaoh.  Joseph must have learnt his lesson and thus when he cooperated with God’s grace, God made him a great ruler in Egypt and the savior of his people.  This time, he seized the opportunity correctly.

We too must learn how to seize the opportunity for growth and conversion when God sends His prophets to us.   Through them, we can grow in our faith and relationship.  We must see them as instruments of God to purify us in our growth in authentic love.  At the same time, we are called to transcend our enemies by conquering them with love.  This was the case of Joseph and Jesus.  They did not succumb to the reign of revenge and bitterness in their lives against those who did them harm.  Instead, they returned love for hatred.  That is the way we too are called to act in dealing with our enemies.  This is using the opportunity of grace positively.

When we adopt such attitudes to the prophets of grace in our lives, we will find that we can grow and be purified in love and holiness in every way.  It will always be a win-win situation.  With our enemies, we grow by transcending them; with our true prophets, we can learn from their advice and challenges.   Whether true or false prophets, they are our spiritual benefactors, helping us to grow in grace and love. Consequently, those whom we find a nuisance in our lives, especially the difficult ones, are probably people who can really help us to purify our motives of loving in life.  That is why they are often called our spiritual benefactors.  In fact, the more a person is a thorn in our lives, the more he or she is our spiritual benefactor. Thus, what we perceive to be unwanted stones or pains in our lives, are often the very instruments through which we grow in virtue and faith.   Let us pray that we will be able to always respond positively to the prophets in our lives and all the opportunities of grace so that we might not miss the opportunities for conversion in our lives.

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

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Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, dog, tree and outdoor
South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Chicago

Trying not to go haywire… “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

September 9, 2016

Trying not to go haywire…

“I do not understand my own actions because I do not do what I want to. But I do the very thing that I hate. … I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who does it but the sin that dwells within me. … Wretched person that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death, from this life of sin? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And we love Romans 7 because this chapter is so accurate in its description of our human nature.

— Romans 7:15

I am happily married, for forty years now, and my wife is here today, and so it is uncomfortable for me to say that I look lustfully at certain women. Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I. Neither do you. But in reality, we have them.

So I come to the conclusion: what kind of a Christian am I anyhow? I must not be a very good Christian. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside of me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me?

We all have these kinds of inner struggles within ourselves. You have yours; I have mine.

Now, who is it that wrote these words? “That which I want to do, I do not do. And that which I hate to do is exactly what I do.”  Who is it that wrote these words? Was it some seventeen year old kid who was off parked with his girlfriend one night and he discovered his hormones were stronger than the Holy Spirit?  Was it some newly “born again” Christian who was a recent Christian convert? Was this written by some TV evangelist who pompously parades around on some platform,  preaching and pretending, that all of these temptations have left him?

We all know that the man who wrote these words was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian, at the top of his game, at the top of his A game (to use an analogy from golf) saying, “I don’t get it. I do not get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”

And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in your life. One of the marks of a mature Christian is this honest awareness about who are, honest about this civil war within us. It is to struggle with evil until your dying day. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”

Or perhaps have you outgrown this? Have you become so mature, so holy? Is your life so together, so you have finally arrived at the point where you say, “I am just fine. I am not life the Apostle Paul. You say inside, “Wretched are those other people. I have won the battle with my sin; I have conquered my sinful self and my civil war.”

According to the Apostle Paul, a mark of a mature Christian is that a person continues to struggle with sin until your dying day. This is not a sign of Christian immaturity,  not a sign of Christian weakness, not a sign of Christian double mindedness and doubt. This is a mark of a real Christian who lives in a real world and has real feelings inside and real awareness of himself or herself. Yes, we know that we struggle with it.

So here we are. The Apostle Paul, at the very top of his life, at the top of his game, at the very apex of his Christian life, when he was writing the finest letter that he had ever written, he says, “What is wrong with me? How come? The very good that I want to do, I do not do. That which I don’t want to do, is precisely what I do.” The Apostle Paul, who was the most mature Christian in his era, was writing these words.

But … is that all there is? That we struggle with sin? No, not at all. That is Romans, chapter seven. Chapter seven sets the table for chapter eight. Chapter seven is a prelude for chapter eight. At the end of chapter seven, he adds the transitional verse: “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord.” If you move into Romans, chapter eight, you will discover Paul talking about the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit that comes into your life and gives you strength. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get over your alcoholism, your drug addictions. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get control of those destructive behaviors that are hurting your family, your marriage, yourself and hurting you in so many different ways. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit coming into you and strengthening you and helping you to do what is right. He talks about the Holy Spirit, forgiving you through the death of Christ on the cross.

Romans 8 is one of the fines chapters in the Bible. In this summer sermon series, I have preached one sermon on chapter three, one on chapter four, one on chapter five, one on chapter six, one on chapter seven; but when we get to chapter eight next week, there will be five sermons on one chapter. Romans 8 is one of the grandest chapters of the Bible.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, based on chapter seven, we remain sinners. At the same time, we remain with our self-contradictions.  Even after you have memorized all the verses of chapter eight; even after you have assimilated chapter eight; even after you have put chapter eight into practice in your life, chapter seven still stands.  You still live with the truth from chapter seven. You never can escape the civil war inside of you.

Martin Luther understood this well, when he used this Latin phrase that sounds like this: “simil Justus epecator.” It was a very famous phrase during the Reformation. Simil Justus Epecator.” Simultaneously, saint and sinner. Simultaneously, when you are a saint, you are also a sinner. This phrase is true. You, as a Christian, are going to struggle with the sin inside of you until your dying day. That is just the way it is.

I have it figured out. The foolish religious-type said: “Tomorrow, I am going to start again. There will be a new leaf tomorrow. Turning over a new chapter in my life I am going to get up and roll out of bed and before my feet hit the floor, I’m going to pull out the Bible and read and pray for an hour. And then tomorrow morning, I am going to have a vegetarian breakfast, then a vegetarian lunch and then a vegetarian dinner. Tomorrow night, late, about midnight, when everybody is asleep, when the wife is asleep and the children are not watching and the dog is asleep by the fireplace, I am going to sneak into the refrigerator and just … pig out on a bowl … full of vegetables. Amen.

http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/romans_idontdowhatiwant.htm

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Why do we pray, meditate and do all the things that Christians are taught to do?

Because we are trying to get God’s help in our lives. Because we are trying, striving, and never quite able to live up to His expectations for us.

Because we are human but we know we have a spiritual core.

We want the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We want that little tiny spark within is, that small pilot light of God, to become a reliable compass that draws us closer to Him and further from our humanness. Our sinfulness.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Hermitage Museum,Saint Petersburg
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt)
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The story of the Prodigal Son (Totally Forgiving Father) has become one of my favorites.
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Spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen traveled to St. Petersburg to sit before this painting for days: meditating and praying. In fact, he wrote an entire book on the meaning of this story and this painting. We highly recommend all of Henri Nouwen’s books, and maybe our favorite is The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, July 22, 2016 — “Woman, why are you weeping?” — She thought she was talking to the gardener — Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

July 21, 2016

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene
Lectionary: 603

Reading 1 SGS 3:1-4B

The Bride says:
On my bed at night I sought him
whom my heart loves–
I sought him but I did not find him.
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
I sought him but I did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me,
as they made their rounds of the city:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves?
I had hardly left them
when I found him whom my heart loves.

OR 2 COR 5:14-17

Brothers and sisters:
The love of Christ impels us,
once we have come to the conviction that one died for all;
therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all,
so that those who live might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh;
even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh,
yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

Responsorial Psalm PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

R. (2) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the glory of the risen Christ, I saw his empty tomb.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:1-2, 11-18

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”

Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.

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Reflection from Living Space

After going off to tell Peter and the other disciples about the empty tomb, it seems that Mary of Magdala went back there to grieve over her lost friend and master. She sees two angels sitting inside the tomb and asks where her Lord has been taken. When asked why she is weeping, she replies that her Lord has been “taken away” and she does not know where he has been put.

Then, as she turns round, there is Jesus before her but she does not recognise him. This is a common experience with those who meet Jesus after the resurrection. He is the same and he is not the same. In this transitional period they have to learn to recognise Jesus in unexpected forms and places and situations. He asks the same question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” A question we need to ask ourselves constantly. Like Mary, we may say we are looking for Jesus – but which Jesus?
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She thinks the person in front of her is the gardener. How often we jump to conclusions about people, about their character and personality and true identity! Maybe this man has taken Jesus away and knows where he is. It is also another lovely example of Johannine irony. First, that the one she took to be the gardener should know where Jesus was to be found. Second, it is John who tells us that the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (19:41). All the world’s pain and sorrow began with the sin of the Man and the Woman in a garden (Eden) and now new life also finds its beginnings in a garden. Mary was unwittingly right – Jesus is a Gardener, the one who produces life from the earth, and is the Word of his Father, the Gardener of Eden.
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Then Jesus speaks: “Mary!” Immediately she recognises his voice, the voice of her Master. It reminds us of the passage about Jesus the Shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name… the sheep follow him because they recognise his voice… I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:3-4,15).
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Immediately she turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni”. This is a more formal address than just “Rabbi” and was often used when speaking to God. In which case, Mary’s exclamation is not unlike that of Thomas in the upper room – “My Lord and my God!” We should also note that earlier she had already turned to face Jesus so this turning is different. It is an interior turning from strangeness to recognition, from sadness to joy, from a sense of loss to a close bonding, from doubt to faith.
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With a mixture of joy and affection and partly out of fear of losing him again, she clings on to him tightly. But Jesus tells her to let him go, because “I have not ascended to the
Father”. A sentence which may be better read as a rhetorical question: “Have I not ascended to my Father?” In John, the glorification of Jesus takes place on the cross at the moment of death. At that moment of triumph, Jesus is raised straight to the glory of the Father. In that sense, it is the glorified Jesus who now speaks with Mary not the Jesus she knew earlier. This Jesus cannot be clung to. In fact, there is no need. From now on “I am with you always.”
The phrase “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” echoes a sentence in the Book of Ruth (1:16): “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The Father of Jesus now becomes the Father of his disciples as they are filled with the Spirit that is both in the Father and the Son. Thus they will be re-born (John 3:5) as God’s children and can be called “brothers” by Jesus.
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Mary – and all the others – have to learn that the Risen Jesus is different from the Jesus before the crucifixion. They have to let go of the earlier Jesus and learn to relate to the “new” Jesus in a very different way.
So she is told to do what every Christian is supposed to do: go and tell the other disciples that she has seen the Lord and she shares with them what he has said to her. “I have seen the Lord.” She is not just passing on a doctrine but sharing an experience. That is what we are all called to do.
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It is significant that it is a woman who is the first person in John’s gospel to see and to be spoken to by the Risen Jesus. Not only that, if she is the same person mentioned by Luke as one of Jesus’ women followers (Luke 8:2), she was formerly a deeply sinful woman from whom seven demons had been driven out. Often no one is closer to God than someone who has been converted from a sinful past. We think of people like St Augustine or St Ignatius Loyola. We remember the example of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:35-50). Of her Jesus said: “Seeing that she loved much, her many sins are forgiven. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little”
(Luke 7:47).

So Mary, who (who with Mary, Jesus’ Mother, stood by the cross of Jesus to the very end – unlike the men disciples), is now rewarded by being the first to meet him risen and glorified. She is truly a beloved disciple.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1013g/

Mary Magdalene Thought She Was talking To The Gardener by Rembrandt

Meditation: Do you recognize the presence and reality of the Lord Jesus in your life? How easy it is to miss the Lord when our focus is on ourselves! Mary Magdalene did not at first recognize the Lord Jesus after he had risen from the grave because her focus was on the empty tomb and on her own grief. It took only one word from the Master, when he called her by name, for Mary to recognize him.

Recognizing the Lord’s presence in our lives
Mary’s message to the disciples, I have seen the Lord, is the very essence of Christianity. It is not enough that every Christian know something about the Lord, but that each one of us know him personally and intimately. It is not enough to argue about him, but that we meet him. Through the power of his resurrection we can encounter the living Lord who loves us personally and shares his glory with us.

The Lord Jesus gives us “eyes of faith” to see the truth of his resurrection and his victory over sin and death (Ephesians 1:18). The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our hope – the hope that we will see God face to face and share in his everlasting glory and joy.

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Do you recognize the Lord’s presence with you, in his word, in the “breaking of the bread”, and in his church, the body of Christ?

“Lord Jesus, may I never fail to recognize your voice nor lose sight of your presence in your saving word.”

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus, by Gregory the Great (540-604 AD)

“Mary Magdalene, who had been a sinner in the city (rf. Luke 7:37), loved the Truth and so washed away with her tears the stains of wickedness (rf Luke 7:47). Her sins had kept her cold, but afterward she burned with an irresistible love.… We must consider this woman’s state of mind whose great force of love inflamed her. When even the disciples departed from the sepulcher, she did not depart. She looked for him whom she had not found.… But it is not enough for a lover to have looked once, because the force of love intensifies the effort of the search. She looked for him a first time and found nothing. She persevered in seeking, and that is why she found him. As her unfulfilled desires increased, they took possession of what they found (rf. Song of Solomon 3:1-4)… Holy desires, as I have told you before, increase by delay in their fulfillment. If delay causes them to fail, they were not desires.… This was Mary’s kind of love as she turned a second time to the sepulcher she had already looked into. Let us see the result of her search, which had been redoubled by the power of love. (excerpt from FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 25)

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Do Not Be Afraid
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Art: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, By Rembrandt

Jesus walks on water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888) — He said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

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She mistook him for the gardener — And he said to her, “Do not be afraid.”
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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22 JULY 2016, Friday, St. Mary Magdalene
PERSEVERING LOVE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ SG 3:1-4 or 2 COR 5:14-17; PS 62(63):2-6.8-9; JN 20: 1-2, 11-18  ]

How can we know God?  Most people want to know God through reason.  In the bible, it is clear that the way to know God is through faith rather than through reason.  It is the way of the heart, not the head.  The difficulty of arriving at the knowledge of God through the head is because our minds keep changing.  Reasoning has no end because our minds are always curious and searching for the fullness of truth which can only be arrived at when we find God.  The way to God is always through the heart.  But how can we have faith?  Faith comes through love.  We can place our faith in God only because of love.  Moses instructed the people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  (Dt 6:4f)

Indeed, this has always been the case of all those who have found God.  Very few have come to know God through an intellectual process.  The way of St Paul was that of love.  In his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”  (2 Cor 5:14)  All the disciples, including Mary Magdalene whose feast we celebrate today, followed the Lord because they were moved by His love for them.  This is true for all the saints and mystics.  Even St Thomas Aquinas abandoned his great project, the Summa Theologica, upon encountering God whilst celebrating Mass.  He refused to complete his works saying, “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.  I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”  His vision of heaven or of God cannot be compared to anything else, so that all things on earth appeared to be worthless to him.

Indeed, when we have fallen in love with God, everything changes.  This is what St Paul says again, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”  (2 Cor 5:16-17)  When we love, we see things and people differently.  We no longer see them as they are but we see them with the eyes of love.  Both the lover and the beloved are transformed by love.  All religions are based on faith, a personal encounter with the Lord or a mystical experience.  This explains why different people have different faiths, and why some do not have faith in any religion at all.   This is true in all human relationships.  When we fall in love with someone, we perceive the person with the eyes of love and that colours our judgment of the person.  We see beyond what the person is externally.

Mary Magdalene is the exemplar of a disciple who was deeply in love with the Lord. She had been delivered from the seven demons by Jesus.  Apparently, she was a wealthy lady.  From then on, she, with the other women, travelled with Jesus in his itinerant ministry.  They were ministering and taking care of Jesus and the disciples in the background.  Her love for Jesus could be seen in the way, she went to look for Jesus at the tomb early in the morning before all others.  She was with Jesus at the foot of the cross at His death.  All she wanted was to be with the Lord.  And so, upon discovering that the tomb was empty, she went to inform the disciples.  What was significant was that only John who went to the tomb, upon seeing the linen cloths that were left behind, believed that the Lord was risen.  Peter saw but could not make sense of it.  And so he went back still mystified.  However, the faithful Mary Magdalene stayed outside near the tomb weeping and waiting for Jesus.  She did not give up hope.

Mary Magdalene is for us an example of one who waits actively for her beloved to appear.  As the Song of Songs says of the bride who not only waits for her bridegroom but with expectant faith and hope, goes in search for him. “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City; in the streets and the squares. I will seek him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. The watchmen came upon me on their rounds in the City: ‘Have you seen him whom my heart loves?’ Scarcely had I passed them than I found him whom my heart loves.”

For those of us who have no experience of God’s love or find it difficult to allow God to love us, then we are called to follow the path of Mary Magdalene.  We must abandon the way of reason and take the path of love.  How can we empty our minds when we are so used to reasoning and proofs? 

We must be like Magdalene, be ready to keep on waiting patiently for the Lord.  But we do not simply just wait for Christ to appear. We need to search for Him. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Mt 7:7f)  Waiting for the Lord is necessary, just like Mary Magdalene who remained outside the tomb when the other disciples left after finding no one there.

Secondly, if we want to encounter Him, then we are called to be like Mary Magdalene whose desire for the Lord is beautifully expressed in the responsorial psalm.  “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.  My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory. For your love is better than life, my lips will speak your praise.”  By longing for the Lord, we increase our capacity to love Him even more so that when He appears, we can enjoy a deeper experience of His love.  The deeper the desire, the bigger the capacity to receive His love.  This explains why when the Lord appeared to Magdalene He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She replied, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”   This act of asking Magdalene is to strengthen and deepen her desire for Christ.

Thirdly, we need to wait till we hear Him calling us by name.  This was what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene.  “‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.”  Until we hear the Lord calling us by name, we will never know His love.  Before that when Jesus addressed her as woman, she was not able to recognize Jesus:  “’Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’” To hear the call of Jesus and to recognize Him requires that we are called by name, as the prophet Isaiah says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even if these may forget, I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before Me.”  (Isa 49:15f)  Those of us who have heard Him calling our names are set free and feel loved again. Only then are we convinced that He really loves us.

Finally, we must also avoid falling into the same mistake as Magdalene when she allowed her grief to blind her to the presence of Jesus.  Quite often our pains, hurts and resentments prevent us from looking for the Lord.  Like Mary Magdalene, we want to cling on to the past instead of allowing the new creation to work in us.  Jesus told Mary, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Mary Magdalene could not see the Risen Lord because she was looking for the Historical Jesus.  But Christ is a New Creation. We must look beyond ourselves to the Lord, to focus on Him rather than on ourselves.  In this way, we can then recognize the Lord coming into our lives in so many ways.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, March 29, 2016 — God has made him both Lord and Christ

March 28, 2016

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Lectionary: 262

Reading 1 ACTS 2:36-41

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the Jewish people,
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other Apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.

Responsorial Psalm PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 AND 22

R. (5b) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

AlleluiaPS 118:24

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.
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Art: Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Rembrandt c.1638 — “She thought it was the gardener.”
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Commentary on John 20:11-18 from Living Space

After going off to tell Peter and the other disciples about the empty tomb, it seems that Mary of Magdala went back there to grieve over her lost friend and master. She sees two angels sitting inside the tomb and asks where her Lord has been taken. When asked why she is weeping, she replies that her Lord has been “taken away” and she does not know where he has been put.

Then, as she turns round, there is Jesus before her but she does not recognise him. This is a common experience with those who meet Jesus after the resurrection. He is the same and he is not the same. In this transitional period they have to learn to recognise Jesus in unexpected forms and places and situations. He asks the same question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” A question we need to ask ourselves constantly. Like Mary, we may say we are looking for Jesus – but which Jesus?
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She thinks the person in front of her is the gardener. How often we jump to conclusions about people, about their character and personality and true identity! Maybe this man has taken Jesus away and knows where he is. It is also another lovely example of Johannine irony. First, that the one she took to be the gardener should know where Jesus was to be found. Second, it is John who tells us that the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (19:41). All the world’s pain and sorrow began with the sin of the Man and the Woman in a garden (Eden) and now new life also finds its beginnings in a garden. Mary was unwittingly right – Jesus is a Gardener, the one who produces life from the earth, and is the Word of his Father, the Gardener of Eden.
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Then Jesus speaks: “Mary!” Immediately she recognises his voice, the voice of her Master. It reminds us of the passage about Jesus the Shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name… the sheep follow him because they recognise his voice… I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:3-4,15).
Immediately she turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni”. This is a more formal address than just “Rabbi” and was often used when speaking to God. In which case, Mary’s exclamation is not unlike that of Thomas in the upper room – “My Lord and my God!” We should also note that earlier she had already turned to face Jesus so this turning is different. It is an interior turning from strangeness to recognition, from sadness to joy, from a sense of loss to a close bonding, from doubt to faith.
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With a mixture of joy and affection and partly out of fear of losing him again, she clings on to him tightly. But Jesus tells her to let him go, because “I have not ascended to the Father.” A sentence which may be better read as a rhetorical question: “Have I not ascended to my Father?” In John, the glorification of Jesus takes place on the cross at the moment of death.
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At that moment of triumph, Jesus is raised straight to the glory of the Father. In that sense, it is the glorified Jesus who now speaks with Mary not the Jesus she knew earlier. This Jesus cannot be clung to. In fact, there is no need. From now on “I am with you always.”
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The phrase “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” echoes a sentence in the Book of Ruth (1:16): “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The Father of Jesus now becomes the Father of his disciples as they are filled with the Spirit that is both in the Father and the Son. Thus they will be re-born (John 3:5) as God’s children and can be called “brothers” by Jesus.
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Mary – and all the others – have to learn that the Risen Jesus is different from the Jesus before the crucifixion. They have to let go of the earlier Jesus and learn to relate to the “new” Jesus in a very different way.
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So she is told to do what every Christian is supposed to do: go and tell the other disciples that she has seen the Lord and she shares with them what he has said to her. “I have seen the Lord.” She is not just passing on a doctrine but sharing an experience. That is what we are all called to do.
It is significant that it is a woman who is the first person in John’s gospel to see and to be spoken to by the Risen Jesus. Not only that, if she is the same person mentioned by Luke as one of Jesus’ women followers (Luke 8:2), she was formerly a deeply sinful woman from whom seven demons had been driven out. Often no one is closer to God than someone who has been converted from a sinful past. We think of people like St Augustine or St Ignatius Loyola. We remember the example of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:35-50). Of her Jesus said: “Seeing that she loved much, her many sins are forgiven. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:47).

So Mary, who (who with Mary, Jesus’ Mother, stood by the cross of Jesus to the very end – unlike the men disciples), is now rewarded by being the first to meet him risen and glorified. She is truly a beloved disciple.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1013g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore 
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29 MARCH 2016, Tuesday Within Easter Octave
COMING OUT OF OUR TOMB

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 2:36-41; JN 20:11-18 ]

Today is the second day of the Octave of Easter.   Are you resurrected yet?  Or are you still in the tomb?  If so, why is it that you are still hiding in the tomb when we are told that the Lord has removed the stone blocking you from coming out of the tomb?  Moreover, the morning star has set and the light of Christ is shining so brightly outside the tomb!

If we are still in the tomb, it could be because we are like Mary, who was not able to let go of the past.  She could not let go of the beautiful memories she had of Jesus who saved her from sin and from living a meaningless life.   She was still thinking of the Jesus of Nazareth whom she loved with all her heart.  She was clinging to the things of this world, to what is earthly.  At the same time, she could not forget the horrible sight and memories of Jesus who was scourged, mocked, ridiculed and crucified on the cross.  She must have been so heartbroken, not just at the death of Jesus but the tragic way He died; an ignominious and innocent death.

It is the same for us too.  We are like Mary who continued to cling to our past, the good old days when our children were with us at our side but now no more as they are now living their independent lives. Some of us are in bereavement over the loss of our loved ones; some are widowed and some of us are sickly.  Again, when we think of the good old days, we cannot but regret that the good times have passed, and now we are living lives of loneliness and pain.  Indeed, it is the tendency of those of us are who suffering to bemoan the nostalgic times and wish that we could relive them.

When we are not ready to move on to a new situation, we become misfits in society and in life.  Sadly, those who have suffered failures in relationship, who have been jilted or betrayed in marriage and friendship, are not willing to move on and would rather give up on relationships all together.  The failure to adapt and change is the cause of our misery.  When we continue to look to the good old days, reinforcing our pains and misery and wallowing in them, we cannot see the Risen Lord or even the angels that the Lord sends to us.  This was certainly what happened to Mary Magdalene.  We read that “still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she replied, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’”  She did not even see the angels or know that they were angels from God who had been sent to help her and console her with the Good News.   We, too, when we are absorbed in our pains and hurts, we cannot see the light in front of us and the angels God sends to us through our friends, colleagues, loved ones, the priests and especially the Word of God and the Eucharist.

For others, it is their sins that prevent them from seeing the new life.  They have not completely given up their sins.  St Paul reminds us of the need to get rid of the old yeast of sin so that we can be fresh dough.  (cf 1 Cor 5:7-8)  If we are not ready to give up our sins, such as anger, revenge, lust, envy, sloth, greed and gluttony, we cannot find life.  Without giving up the sins that we cling to, we remain slaves to all that is negative and destructive of our happiness and freedom.  No one who is under the bondage of the Evil One is free to be happy.  No one can sin and be truly happy because deep in his heart, he knows that he is not just cheating others but himself.  He would have no confidence to stand before God with a clear conscience.  (cf1 Jn 3:21)  So we must resolve to throw out all that remains of our pride and selfishness so that we can renew ourselves in the power of the Risen Lord.

St Peter made it clear to the Jews that they must repent and be baptized if they want to enter the Promised Land.  Peter answered, “You must repent and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.”  We must make a decision to turn away from our sins and what that binds us to the past.  That was what happened to Mary as well.  When her eyes were turned away from Jesus, she could not recognize Him, thinking that He was the gardener.  She said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.”  To be baptized means that we enter into the tomb of Jesus and rise up again, washed clean of our sins and our past; and put on the new garment, the new creation that we are called to be.  (cf Eph 2:10)

But we might say to ourselves, “we have no strength” to do it.  We want to come out of our tomb but we find ourselves powerless.  We want to forgive but we cannot.  We want to make ourselves useful but we are lazy and selfish.  We want to be generous but we are afraid to letting go of our wealth and possessions.  We want to serve but we are not willing to share our time and leisure with others.  We want to live a simpler life but the enticement of money, glory and power overwhelms us.  So we are trapped by our sins and the lack of the capacity to break free from our clutches, like the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.

That is why we must turn to Jesus. He has already removed that stone.  But now we need to get out of that tomb.  This also needs His help because we are still too crippled to come out by ourselves.  We can now see the light outside the cave shining into our tombs, but we are not able to climb out.  This was what Mary did when the Lord drew her towards Him.  “Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master.”   We need to hear the Lord speaking to us intimately and personally if we are to break free from our chains.  St Paul said it for himself when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

Only when we can come to the conviction that Christ loves us, we cannot be set free from our past and bondages.  That was what Jesus said to Mary after calling her name.  He said, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”   We cannot let go of our straws unless we have found the cross of life.  We cannot let go of worldly enjoyments unless we have tasted the joy of love, the peace of a clear conscience, the freedom of surrendering our lives to God as we give ourselves in love and service, not thinking about ourselves and our security but that of others.

So if we want the Lord to enter into our lives and lead us out of the tomb which is now opened, we need to be like Mary Magdalene, pondering the love of Jesus for us.  Only when we contemplate what the Lord has done for us, how much He has suffered innocently and died for our sins, will our hearts then be converted like that of the Jews.  It was only when they heard Peter’s discourse of how they killed and crucified the Lord and Messiah that “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’”  So we must open our hearts, our ears and our eyes in prayer and intimacy with the Lord.  When we realize how our sins continue to crucify the Lord even today and how we are hurting Him, because we are hurting ourselves and those whom He loves equally, then our hearts too will be cut to the quick and repent.  If we turn to the Lord and seek forgiveness, then St Peter says that we will receive the Holy Spirit who will then give us the resurrected life of Christ. With the Holy Spirit in us, the Father and the Son living in us, we are in Him as He is in us.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, February 26, 2016 — The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone — By the Lord has this been done

February 25, 2016

Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Lectionary: 234

Joseph of Egypt in the Book of Genesis

Reading 1 GN 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.One day, when his brothers had gone
to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this,
he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father.
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.

They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin
to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21

R. (5a) Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
When the LORD called down a famine on the land
and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
Joseph, sold as a slave.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
They had weighed him down with fetters,
and he was bound with chains,
Till his prediction came to pass
and the word of the LORD proved him true.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
The king sent and released him,
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house
and ruler of all his possessions.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.

Verse Before The GospelJN 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 MT 21:33-43, 45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it,
dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them,
thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes
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Therefore, I say to you,
the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

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Commentary on Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 from Living Space

We have here a parable spoken to the unbelieving chief priests and elders of the people.

It is the history of the Israelite people told in parable form. In fact, it is more of an allegory than a parable as each of the persons and incidents described point to real people and real events. Some scholars feel that what we have here is really an early Church document rather than something directly from Jesus. What seems more likely is that a parable spoken by Jesus has been modified in the light of later events.

The owner of the vineyard is clearly God. The vineyard is the house of Israel, where God’s people are to be found. The tenants of the vineyard are the people of God. The servants sent to collect the harvest are abused in various ways – beaten, killed, stoned.

The servants represent the prophets and other spokespersons sent by God to his people, many of whom were rejected, not listened to and even abused. Finally, the owner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son.” On the contrary, they saw that, if they got rid of the son, they could take over the whole vineyard for themselves. They could carry on without the owner.

So they seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. A clear reference to Jesus being crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.

And what will the king do then? Jesus asks. The leaders condemn themselves by answering the question: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end” as happened when the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed in 70 AD.

Instead, the vineyard is let out to new tenants – those Jews and Gentiles, the new people of God, who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone. “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (This is one of only two instances where Matthew uses the term ‘Kingdom of God’ rather than ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.) The Gentiles had for long been rejected as unbelievers and outsiders. Now, it is on them, together with those Jews who accepted Jesus, that the Kingdom will be built.

The Gospel ends by commenting that Jesus’ hearers understood his message perfectly but, because of Jesus’ popularity with the people, they could do nothing in retaliation for the moment.

Again and again it has happened in world history that fighters for truth and justice have been rejected, jailed, tortured and eventually found themselves the saviours of their people. Pavel in Czechoslovakia, Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King in the US, Gandhi in India.

Let us make sure that we are listening to the right people, the people who have the message of truth, love and justice and that we follow them. Jesus our Saviour still speaks through his followers.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1026g/

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Related:

 

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Hermitage Museum,Saint Petersburg
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The story of the Prodigal Son (Totally Forgiving Father) has become one of my favorites.
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Spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen traveled to St. Petersburg to sit before this painting for days: meditating and praying. In fact, he wrote an entire book on the meaning of this story and this painting. We highly recommend all of Henri Nouwen’s books, and maybe our favorite is:
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Nouwen teaches us to always remember that we are human beings with many flaws. Our lives do not always progress like the perfect symphony in our imagination. We need to learn from our mistakes but allow them to go away. We need to escape self punishment which can be the ruin of us!
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Related:
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Our lives have many facets. Some days we are the corner stone! Some days we aren’t!
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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26 FEBRUARY 2016, Friday, 2nd Week of Lent
THE MERCY OF GOD IN CARRYING OUT HIS PLANS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Gen 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

Most of us have ambitions and plans in life.  For those of us who are very ambitious and want to succeed in life or get what we want, we would use every means available at our disposal to achieve our goals.  Some would even use unscrupulous ways to get things our way.  This has always been the selfishness of human beings.  The scripture readings illustrate the basic instinct of human beings to protect their interests in the face of opposition, even if they have to use violent means.

In the first reading, the brothers of Joseph sought to kill him because of their jealousy over the favoritism practiced by their father, Jacob.  We can feel with them in their envy of being discriminated by their father.  No children want to be considered as second class in the family.   If they sense that their parents favour their other siblings over them, they would feel insecure and resentful.   Such practices by parents and superiors, which are so common in family life and in the office, breed competition, anger and even violence.  Human beings already are insecure because of their fallen nature.  But when they feel slighted or threatened, they cannot but instinctively seek to protect themselves.  So we should not be surprised that the brothers of Joseph sought to get rid of their competitor.

Of course Joseph and his father, Jacob, should not be exonerated.  They were the cause of such jealousy.  They were the ones that released the monster of envy lying latent in the heart of the brothers.  If Jacob were to keep his special love for Joseph to himself and not show it publicly, and if Joseph was more discreet and humble about the dreams of his future role as leader, then perhaps, the brothers may have been able to live peaceably with Joseph.  But they did not.  One demonstrated openly by bestowing favours and the other by his boasting and arrogance.  So why should we be surprised that the brothers would gang up against Joseph and hit at the heart of their father’s weakness by engineering and staging his disappearance?

So too, the political and religious leaders of Israel before and during the time of Jesus were indignant with the prophets sent by God calling them to repentance and justice.  They were annoyed by the prophets who challenged them in the way they ruled the people, especially when they practiced injustice and enriched themselves. They were intolerant of the prophets, one after another, as Jesus said in His parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard. “When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way.”

Leaders and those in authority, including parents, often forget that the vineyard does not belong to them.  “There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad.” Clearly, we are not the owners.  We are only the tenants and the stewards of the vineyard and those whom the Lord has entrusted to us to look after.  We are all called to be responsible leaders, parents and superiors.  Our task is to nurture and form them so that they could walk in the way of the Lord, living a righteous life of integrity and altruistic life of service, especially to the poor.  But unfortunately, like most leaders, instead of seeing ourselves as servants of God, we use our children, even our spouse and workers, for our own benefit and interests, not theirs.   Such irresponsible leadership, as Jesus remarked in the gospel, would ultimately destroy them.  He warned, “I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

What can we learn from today’s liturgy of the Word?  Firstly, we cannot but marvel as the divine wisdom of God.  Regardless of man’s sins and the evils he committed, God transcends all our sins.   No one can thwart the divine plans of God, not even our sins and not least Satan, who seems to have a hold over humanity in the world.  Nay, God is not only wise but He is omnipotent.  He will ensure that everything, good or evil, will cooperate for the greater good of the Kingdom of God.  He will use our sins for our growth and for the fulfillment of His plans for us.  Like the psalmist, we cannot but marvel at the wisdom and wonders of God.

The refrain in the responsorial psalm says, “Remember the wonders the Lord has done.”  In the first place, we know that Jacob stole the birthright from Esau.  He was certainly no saint and yet God chose him to be the Father of the Chosen Race.  He was even given the name, Israel.   So too Joseph was no humble man.  He was boastful, arrogant and thought highly of himself.   This is true for all the leaders of Israel.  King David, the greatest of all kings in the history of Israel, had his faults, especially when he committed adultery and murder. The apostles too had their human frailties.  They were also jealous of each other and were fighting for position and power.  So let us be clear that God did not choose saints to lead His people or His Church.  He chose sinners whom He would give the grace to gradually grow in holiness and in faith through trials, errors, mistakes and challenges.

Indeed, such is the compassion and mercy of God.  This is what today’s readings wish to underscore.  If we marvel at God’s wisdom, we should marvel more at His mercy and patience on the ignorance of humanity.  The gospel illustrates the patience and forgiveness of God.  After sending all His servants, who were either rejected, thrashed, stoned or even killed, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to bring them to realization and forgiveness.  “’They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.’ So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”   God the Father, knowing that such would be the outcome, yet sought to prove His love for them by allowing Jesus to go through the passion and death in order to bring about something greater and more powerful than hatred and death.  By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father demonstrated that forgiveness, love and life in the final analysis can overcome the evil of humanity and the snares of Satan.

So today, instead of taking things into our own hands and using dishonest and unethical means to pursue success or get things done, we must be patient like God with sinners and broken people working with us or in our family.  Instead of cutting them off, we must, like Reuben and Judah, show some compassion to those who are hurting and seek to mediate and help others who are vindictive and violent to learn forgiveness and compassion.   The trouble is that people want success, they cannot stand failure.  They seek to have a good image and reputation.  They are concerned about what others say or think of them.  They want to put up a good show.  It is all due to pride, which leads to anger, impatience and intolerance.

But the way of the gospel is to walk the way of forgiving love and long suffering patience with those who are weak and sinful.   Like the prophets and the Lord Jesus, we must learn how to forgive and to see that all things are permitted for their good.  As St Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Again, he wrote, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?    Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?”  (Rom 11:33-35)  To trust in His wisdom and mercy is to surrender our lives and our loved ones into His divine plan.  We might not understand now but He will unfold His plans to us as He did for Israel and particularly Joseph.  He would be the one that God would use to build the nation of Israel.

The future belongs to God.  We cannot control the future but we have confidence in His wisdom and plans for us.  “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.  (Jer 29:  11-14)  Like Joseph who was sold for 20 silver pieces and had his coat taken away from him, but later made the leader of Egypt, so too Jesus, who similarly was sold by Judas for 30 silver pieces and had his coat taken by one of the soldiers, became the cause of the New Covenant.  We too must not be ungrateful to Christ who is the Son of God given to us so that we can find life.  Like Him, we must cooperate with the divine plan and leave the details of how our lives are to be unfolded to divine providence.   So with St Paul, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (Rom 5:7)

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, July 22, 2015 — Jesus is indeed the Gardener — Will we ask Mary Magdalene to help us know Jesus better?

July 21, 2015

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene
Lectionary: 397/603

Noli me tangere by Rembrandt

Art: Christ (as gardener) and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, by Rembrandt.

Reading 1 EX 16:1-5, 9-15

The children of Israel set out from Elim,
and came into the desert of Sin,
which is between Elim and Sinai,
on the fifteenth day of the second month
after their departure from the land of Egypt.
Here in the desert the whole assembly of the children of Israel
grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The children of Israel said to them,
“Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt,
as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
But you had to lead us into this desert
to make the whole community die of famine!”Then the LORD said to Moses,
“I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion;
thus will I test them,
to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they bring in,
let it be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole congregation
of the children of Israel:
Present yourselves before the LORD,
for he has heard your grumbling.”
When Aaron announced this to the whole assembly of the children of Israel,
they turned toward the desert, and lo,
the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud!
The LORD spoke to Moses and said,
“I have heard the grumbling of the children of Israel.
Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh,
and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread,
so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28

R. (24b) The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
They tempted God in their hearts
by demanding the food they craved.
Yes, they spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the desert?”
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Yet he commanded the skies above
and the doors of heaven he opened;
He rained manna upon them for food
and gave them heavenly bread.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Man ate the bread of angels,
food he sent them in abundance.
He stirred up the east wind in the heavens,
and by his power brought on the south wind.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
And he rained meat upon them like dust,
and, like the sand of the sea, winged fowl,
Which fell in the midst of their camp
round about their tents.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Tell us Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the glory of the risen Christ, I saw his empty tomb.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:1-2, 11-18

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.
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Saint Mary Magdalen – Commentary on Song of Songs 3:1-4a or 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Ps 62; John 20:1-2,11-18 From Living Space

The Gospel reading, from John, describes the encounter of Mary Magdalen with the Risen Jesus. We are told that Mary went to the tomb early on Sunday morning, “while it was still dark”. The darkness not only indicates that it was before sunrise but also expresses the feelings in Mary’s heart. She had lost her beloved Master and was in deep mourning for him. She saw that the large stone guarding the entrance to the tomb had been removed and was very upset. So she ran back to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have laid him.” The use of “we” suggests that there were, as the other gospels indicate, other women with Mary but they are not mentioned by John.

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Peter and the Beloved Disciple then run to the tomb to verify the women’s report. They see the empty tomb and the burial cloths but it is only the Beloved Disciple who sees the significance of their arrangement and believes that the women’s report that Jesus is risen is, in fact, true.

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They then go back to report to the larger group and Mary Magdalen is left alone outside the tomb, weeping. Still weeping, she looks into the tomb and sees two angels inside, one at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus had been. They ask her why she is weeping. The word “weeping” is used three times, indicating the depth of her grief. “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have put him.” It is not clear who the “they” might be.

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Just then, she turns round and sees Jesus there, except that she does not recognise him – a common feature of all the resurrection stories. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” he asks her. She thinks he must be the gardener. This was not surprising, as we had been told a little earlier (Jn 19:41) that Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. There is some Johannine irony here. At the very beginning, death had come to the human race in a garden, the Garden of Eden, where Adam and his wife and disobeyed Yahweh. Now, life is coming back in another garden. And, of course, Jesus is indeed the Gardener.

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It is then that Jesus addresses her: “Mary!” In speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus had said, “He calls his own sheep by name… The sheep follow him because they recognise his voice.” So here, Mary immediately recognises the voice of her Master; she knows that it is Jesus who is calling her. And she turns. But, just now, she had already turned to face him. This is a different turning – it is an interior turning to her Lord.

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Jesus then tells her to stop clinging to him. She thinks she is clinging to the Jesus she knew before. But this is the Risen Jesus already on the way to be united to his Father. From now on she will have to find him in a very different way, in her brothers and sisters. So, she is told to go and tell the other disciples that Jesus is on his way to the Father, to his God and their God.

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So Mary goes off to tell the disciples the exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!”

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In many ways, Mary Magdalen can be called a Beloved Disciple. No one shows a stronger love for Jesus than this woman who had been liberated from a seriously sinful life. She was there with Jesus’ Mother and some other women at the foot of the cross keeping vigil, while not one of the men disciples was to be seen. After Jesus was buried, she kept vigil by his tomb. Early on Sunday morning, she was there again when the tomb was discovered to be empty. After the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, she alone stayed on to mourn.

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In this gospel, she is the very first person to whom the Risen Jesus reveals himself. And she is the very first of his followers to announce the Resurrection of the Lord. This gives her a unique place in the Gospel story.

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There is a choice of two First Readings. The first is from the Song of Songs and expresses the lover’s distress at the loss of the one she loves and then her joy at finding him. “I sought him whom my heart loves but I did not find him… The watchmen came upon me… Have you seen him whom my heart loves?” Just then, she comes across him: “I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves. I took hold of him and would not let him go…”

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The similarity with the Gospel story is very close.

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The alternative First Reading is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. “The love of Christ drives us forward,” says Paul. It was this love that drove Mary Magdalen. And it speaks of a new relationship with Christ: “From now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.” This was what Mary Magdalen had to learn. She could no longer cling to the Christ she had known earlier.

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The Christ we know now is to be found in every person and in every experience of our life. It is there that he is to love and served. We will ask Mary Magdalen to help us know Jesus better.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/f0722a/

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Rembrandt’s portrait of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene invites us to reconsider Jesus as the gardener.

The gardener receives little attention on Easter because we conclude that it’s a case of mistaken identity. We excuse Mary for “supposing him to be the gardener” because she is overwhelmed by grief and is greatly distressed that his lifeless body is missing from the tomb. Then Jesus calls her by name, and she cries out “Rabbouni!” as she recognizes him (John 20:15-16).

There is good reason we overlook the “gardener” and focus on Jesus’ true identity as the Risen Christ.

However, Rembrandt’s portrait doesn’t allow us to dismiss this gardener. If this is a before-she-recognizes-him picture, why didn’t Rembrandt also paint an after-she-recognizes-him portrait? There’s no mistaking it. See, Jesus is wearing a wide-brim hat and holding a shovel in his right hand. Christ is risen, and he is the gardener.

Granted, Jesus never said, “I am the Master Gardener.” But drawing from his teachings and parables, he is obviously well versed in gardening. Even if he never placed a seed in soil, pulled a weed or picked a vegetable, it’s indisputable that he is Master over the garden where he was laid to rest.

This garden near Golgotha is a contrast from Eden, the first garden. Adam and Eve failed to trust God and were ordered to leave. The Master Gardener gives us eyes to see that soul and soil, humanity and non-humanity, are redeemed. Life’s abundance flourishes through him.

http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=7884

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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PASSIONATE LOVE FOR THE LORD

SCRIPTURE READINGS:  SONG 3:1-4 OR 2 COR 5:14-17; JN 20: 1-2, 11-18

Do you truly love the Lord?  What kind of love relationship do you have with Him?  Is your love for Him, tepid, lukewarm or passionate?   How often do you think of Him?  Does your life revolve around Him? Do you yearn for Him as you would yearn for someone whom you love deeply?  For those of us who only have a lackadaisical love for the Lord, He is unlikely to be consciously felt or even thought of, much less yearned for.   At most, we try to ritually remember Him briefly at prayers in the morning and just before we sleep. Such a compartmentalized relationship with God cannot be love.

Why do we not have a passionate love for Christ?  It is because we love with our minds rather than with our hearts.  We may find Him, His teachings, and His values fascinating, but our hearts are unmoved. Furthermore,we delude ourselves into believing that we love Him just because we are able to produce fruits of love in our service to the Church, our generosity to the poor and our devotion to spiritual exercises.  The irony is that such intended acts of love for God can be means of consolation to make us feel good about ourselves, to justify ourselves before Him and to receive appreciation from others.

The truth is that if we love God at all, our love must be a passionate love.   Such a passionate love of course does not exclude knowledge of the one we love, or the works of love.  On the contrary, these must be included otherwise it would be a deficient love. However, mere intellectual faith or good actions if not prompted by a passionate love for Him would be deprived of power and efficacy.  Emotions and especially feelings are part of the whole experience of love.

This is where Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today, can teach us how to love passionately.  In fact, this is where she stands out from the rest of the disciples and apostles.  Her passionate love for Jesus is brought out in the scripture readings.  What better way to express her love for Christ than for the Church to permit the use of the Book of the Song of Songs to evoke in us the sentiments of Mary Magdalene in her love for Christ. Like a lover in search of her beloved in the Song of Songs, Mary Magdalene went in search of Christ on Easter Sunday morning.

So what kind of love could be appropriately classified as passionate love?  It must firstly be a love of intimacy.  Mary was intimately in union with Jesus.  Her whole life was focused on loving Jesus.  She lived for Jesus and her life was consecrated to Him and for His service.  The gospel tells us that she and the other women followed Jesus in His ministry and attended to His needs out of their own resources.

Secondly, it must a yearning love.  Mary was always thinking of Jesus.  The first reading describes this kind of love: “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City; in the streets and the squares I will seek him whom my heart loves.”  When we love someone, we will always yearn for the presence of that person, desiring to spend all our time with him or her, being one in mind and heart.  So too, when we are in love with God, we would also long to be with Him at all times.

Thirdly, it must be a love of passion.  This must however be rightly understood.  The love of passion must be distinguished in two ways, namely, feelings and suffering.  Mary Magdalene did not simply have a sentimental love for Jesus.  She expressed her love by her desire to suffer with Jesus. The gospel recounted her faithful and courageous love for Him when she stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of our Lord and St John, whilst the others abandoned Him.  So her passionate love was beyond feelings. She was ready to suffer the shame of the cross with Jesus, even remaining behind with the women to complete His burial by anointing His Body on Easter morning.  Such a love gave her the grace to be the first to see the Risen Lord, even before the apostles.

Fourthly, her passionate love is demonstrated in her evangelical outlook as well.  She did not keep Jesus for herself.  Her love for Jesus was not a selfish and self-centered love.  On the contrary, she wanted to share Jesus with as many as possible.  Not only did she help Jesus in His earthly ministry, but after encountering the Risen Lord, she went to announce to the apostles even though they were slow in believing.  So much so the Byzantine Liturgy celebrates Mary Magdalene as “the apostle to the Apostles.”  She taught us that the basis of apostleship and discipleship is rooted in a passionate love for Him.

Yet there is a warning as well.  We must be careful not to reduce love into mere sentimentalism.  This is where Jesus reminded her when He said,   “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Love must bring about a real change in our lives.  It must be a transforming love. This was certainly the case for Mary Magdalene.  She was transformed by Christ’s love, for she had seven demons cast out from her (Mk 16:9).  Rightly, the words of St Paul applies to her when he wrote, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”

What then is the foundation of such a passionate love?  In the optional reading of today’s mass taken from 2 Cor 5:14, St Paul shares the source of his zealous ministry.  He wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us.”   If Paul too was passionate about Christ and the gospel, it was because of the love of Christ he experienced just as Mary Magdalene did.  Truly, we must first be loved by Christ before we can find the passion to love likewise.   Only with this love was St Paul able to say, “when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”

It is true that a passionate love entails the mind, heart and action.  Isn’t this what is commanded in the scriptures and affirmed by Jesus when He said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”?  But it is significant that such a love begins with the heart (affective love), then the mind (intellectual faith) which is then expressed in actions (strength).  Thus, St Teresa of Avila says, “Prayer is to think less and love more.”

So have you fallen in love with Jesus?  Do you want the liberating, healing and empowering experience of His love?  We can have the experience of encountering the Risen Lord only if we make ourselves available to Him.  Unfortunately, like Mary Magdalene, we allow our sorrows; pains and fears to hinder us from recognizing His presence.  We dare not take the risk like Mary Magdalene to seek Jesus, even if it were at the tomb.  In the Church, there are many avenues; programs and retreats that offer you a personal experience of the love of Jesus.  But are you receptive and courageous enough to seize the opportunity to open your heart to His love?  He is our beloved, waiting for us to respond to His love.

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JESUS THE GARDENER                                                             

By Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd,  the King of Kings,  our Lord and Savior. He is the Messiah,  the Way, the Truth and the Life.  These are among the many important names and titles we give to Jesus Christ.  There is one more worth reflecting upon especially as Christians move to Holy Week and Easter,  the most solemn week of the Church Year, namely Jesus the Gardener.

JESUS THE GARDENER

Where does this come from, what does it mean?  We go back to the first Easter Sunday. The place  is the Garden of the Resurrection.   Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb. She sees it empty and weeps. Two angels try to console here. As she explains her reason for weeping, she turns and sees Jesus, but she does not recognize him. Mary “supposed he was the gardener” (John 20:15).  Weeping, she explains that she is seeking the body of Jesus. Then “Jesus said to her ‘Mary’! (20:16) From the sound of his voice,  she immediately recognizes  that it is Jesus.

The artist  Albrecht Durer captures that scene in his etching entitled “Christ as Gardener”. Jesus  wears the cap of a gardener at work, and  carries a shovel, about to go to work.  Is it not fitting that Jesus risen in glory appears to Mary  as the gardener in the Garden of the Resurrection?

Jesus is the Gardener By Albrecht Durer, 1511 woodcut

THE GARDEN IN THE SCRIPTURES.    To picture and see Jesus as the Gardener very much agrees with the whole of the Scriptures.   In the book of Genesis,  God creates the Garden of Eden, and creates Adam and Eve to care for it. “The Lord God took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden to till and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15).  But that  garden is not only a garden place for Adam and Eve, but for God too!  After their fall,  Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden” (Gen. 3:8).   Then, however, because of their sin,  Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden.

But God did not abandon his children.  In the Old Testament, he sends the patriarchs and prophets, the kings and judges to admonish, correct and  gather the people of Israel to be His people, the faithful remnant.  Eventually in the fullness of time,  God the Father sends his own Son to redeem and save his people.  Jesus, born of Mary,  goes about doing good, healing and teaching, gathering a new community of disciples. At the end of his public ministry,  Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem  the place where he will be rejected, suffer, die and rise.   Every year now,  during the forty days of Lent, Christians accompany Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem – to the place of suffering and the place of new life.

GARDEN OF SUFFERING.   For Catholics, Lent ends in the afternoon of Holy Thursday when the  Sacred Triduum, the three most holy days of the year, begins.  Then  the Garden reappears once again. After the Last Supper, the Paschal Meal on  Holy Thursday with his disciples,   Jesus proceeds to the Garden of Gethsemane.  As the gospel of John explains “After this discourse, Jesus went out with his disciples across the  Kidron Valley.  There was a garden there, and he and his disciples entered it (Jn. 18:1).  John adds that it was familiar, “because Jesus had often met there with his disciples” (Jn. 18: 2).  He prays there in great agony. He courageously commits himself to do the Father’s will, even to death.  Later, in that garden, the soldiers capture Jesus and his imprisonment and trial follows.

On Good Friday there is another garden.  On that day Christians recall how  Jesus  is condemned  to death and carries his cross to Golgotha.  John the evangelist again notes the garden: “In the place where he had been crucified, there was a garden” (Jn. 19:41).  The place of death is a garden place. There Jesus dies into his Father’s hands.

GARDEN OF THE RESURRECTION.  But the story does not end there. Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb in that garden.  On the third day,  Easter Sunday,  that place becomes the Garden of the Resurrection.  Jesus breaks the bonds of death and begins to appear to his followers. First of all, he appears to Mary Magdalene and the women, those who had been most faithful to Jesus,  remaining with him as he died on the cross.

As  the Gospel of John tells the story, and as the artist Durer pictures it,   Jesus very fittingly and beautifully appears to Mary Magdalene as the Gardener.  The garden is the place where the glory of God is revealed.  Gardens are places of new and recurrent life,  where plants, flowers, shrubs, vegetables come to life, spring time after spring time. The gardener is the one who oversees and does his part so the cycle of life reoccurs. The gardener  plants and prunes,  digs, fertilizes and waters so that trees and plants  bear fruit, fruit in abundance.

So just as  God walked in the original Garden of Eden, so now again the Son of God, who is the Resurrection and the Life, appears in the Garden of the Resurrection as the gardener himself!   Jesus shares this new life with Mary. Jesus instructs her: “Do not cling to me…Rather go to my brothers and tell them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God!” (John 20:17).  Mary Magdalene, truly the first Christian because to be a Christian means to believe that Jesus is Risen Lord, must go to tell this good news to others.  She goes out to tell the Good News of resurrection,  good news that bears fruit that will last.

HEAVEN, THE GARDEN OF GOD.     The work of Jesus the gardener continues now.   United with him,  Christians like Mary go forth to witness to the resurrection and to bear fruit.   The goal of our labor is that all of God’s people will one day be reunited in the kingdom of heaven, which again the Scripture describes as God’s garden.

The Book of Revelation describes heaven as the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city with mighty walls and ornate gates.  The lamp or light in it is Jesus Christ the Lamb (Rev. 21). It also speaks of  heaven as a garden,  with the “river of life-giving water… which flowed down the middle of the streets. On either side of the river grew the trees of life” (Rev. 22:1-2).

Earlier in the book of Revelation,  we hear  the words  to the Church of Ephesus:   “Let him who has ears heed the Spirit’s word to the churches! I will see to it that the victor eats from the  tree of life which grows in the garden of God” (Rev. 2:7).  Yes, heaven is “the garden of God!”  We pray that at the end, the circle will be complete. From the  tree of life in the garden of Eden,  with Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden of the Resurrection, we continue on the journey to  the  tree of life in the kingdom of  heaven, the new Eden, God’s everlasting garden.

The challenge now is to follow, to cooperate with Jesus Christ, so beautifully depicted as the gardener.  We strive to  follow  the path of Jesus, from the garden of Gethsemane, with its struggle and suffering, its commitment to the will of the Father,  through the path of the cross to the new life that begins in the garden of the resurrection. Our hope is that all humankind will be re-united in the Garden of Paradise.   On the cross Jesus promised Paradise to the good thief:   “I assure you: this day you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).   The word “paradise” is simply is another word for garden, an enclosed and planned space of life and growth.  Our hope is that  at the end of our days, Jesus will say those same words to us and to all God’s children, so that we can all be together in the God’s garden in  heaven.

Related:

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(And be obedient to God and the Doctor!)

 (MED-IT-ATION not MED-IC-ATION)

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Over and over again in the scripture we see the words “do not be afraid.” God expects us to know and believe that he has our back!
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This little “anti-anxiety” prayer was a part of every Catholic Mass for centuries:
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Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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Another anti-anxiety prayer is this one:
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Related:
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Praise Jesus for St. Teresa of Ávila who gave us one of the simplest and finest prayers, “Let Nothing Disturb You” –
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Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
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Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
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Teresa of Avila
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Related:
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, June 21, 2015 — Meeting Fear, Vulnerability, and Powerlessness with Christ

June 20, 2015

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 95

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt

Reading 1 JB 38:1, 8-11

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!
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Responsorial Psalm PS 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31

R. (1b) Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
They who sailed the sea in ships,
trading on the deep waters,
These saw the works of the LORD
and his wonders in the abyss.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
His command raised up a storm wind
which tossed its waves on high.
They mounted up to heaven; they sank to the depths;
their hearts melted away in their plight.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
They cried to the LORD in their distress;
from their straits he rescued them,
He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze,
and the billows of the sea were stilled.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
They rejoiced that they were calmed,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his kindness
and his wondrous deeds to the children of men.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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Reading 2 2 COR 5:14-17

Brothers and sisters:
The love of Christ impels us,
once we have come to the conviction that one died for all;
therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all,
so that those who live might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died and was raised.Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh;
even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh,
yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

Alleluia LK 7:16

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

Gospel MK 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

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Commentary on Job 38:1,8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41 From Living Space

THERE SEEM to be two lessons being taught in today’s readings.

During these Sundays we are reading from Mark’s gospel. In his gospel he brings the reader through a process by which the real identity of Jesus is gradually revealed.

Crossing the lake
In today’s passage he tells his disciples to cross over in a boat to the opposite shore of the Lake of Galilee. (In John’s gospel this scene follows immediately on the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd got very excited and wanted to make Jesus their king. In case the disciples might have got similar ideas themselves, Jesus packs them off in their boat where they soon come face to face with real life.) They get into the boat and, we are told, there were some other boats accompanying them. (This seems to have some significance for the second part of the teaching.) The Gospel also says they left the crowd behind them. The crowds frequently gather around Jesus but they are not really numbered among his followers. They listen to him, they marvel at his miracles but they are at the most only potential followers. They are never really with him. To which group do I belong: the inner circle committed to being with Jesus or just a hanger-on seeing what I can pick up for myself?

A threatening storm
As they made their way across the lake, a storm suddenly blew up. It is said that the Lake of Galilee is notorious for these sudden storms. Large waves were breaking over the boat and filling it with water. Naturally, the disciples were very afraid and thought their boat was going to sink. But, through it all, Jesus was fast asleep at the back of the boat, apparently either oblivious or totally uncaring about their situation. In a panic, they wake him up: “Master, do you not care? We are going down!” Jesus wakes, rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: “Quiet now! Be calm!” The wind dropped and all was perfectly calm again. Then it was their turn to be scolded. “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” And now they were even more afraid as they gaped at him in awe and wonder: “Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him.”

I the Lord of sea and sky
They know that it is only God who can control the wind and the sea and the other elements. That is the theme of the First Reading, taken from the Book of Job.

Listen to God speak to Job in majestic words:

Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb, when I wrapped it in a robe of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bands; when I marked the bounds it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate? Come thus far, I said, and no farther; here your proud waves shall break.

We have here the awe of the ancients before the power of the sea and an acknowledgement that God is Creator and Lord of the sea and the waters. The Responsorial Psalm echoes the fear of sailors in those times in their frail sailing boats before wind and wave:

Some sailed to the sea in ships… These have seen the Lord’s deeds, the wonder he does in the deep.

Men of faith had no difficulty seeing the power of God in power of wind and wave. The words are perfectly applicable to the disciples in the boat. “Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him?” They begin to put two and two together. Only God has power over the seas but Jesus has exercised exactly that power before their eyes.

Let us hear some more:

For he spoke; he summoned the gale,  tossing the waves of the sea up to heaven and back into the deep; their soul melted away in their distress.

Was that storm a mere accident? Was it both started and stopped by the same person so that the disciples could learn an important lesson about Jesus?

Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress.  He stilled the storm to a whisper;
all the waves of the sea were hushed.

And finally,

They rejoiced because of the calm and he led them to the haven they desired.

But wait! Now, it is Jesus who is doing all this! There can only be one possible explanation. Jesus has the power of God; Jesus has the nature of God. No wonder they are filled with awe and fear of the man in front of them. The mystery of Jesus’ identity is gradually being unfolded before their eyes.

Image of the Church in the world
However, our Gospel today seems to contain another teaching as well. We can read the story as a kind of parable or allegory of the Church and especially of the early Church but also of the Church in many places in our own time. We can see the boat, here and in other parts of the Gospel, as symbolising the Church. And in fact, as was mentioned above, there are a number of boats, representing the different churches or church communities in different places. Each one has to deal with its problems in its own way. In one boat are the disciples of Jesus and Jesus is with them. The water all around them represents the world. The Church then was like a small, fragile boat in a huge and often hostile world. Sometimes storms broke out and threatened the boat-Church. The early – and also the subsequent – Church suffered many persecutions and movements determined to wipe it out.

Where is Jesus?
And, in such confused and frightening situations these small church communities must have been tempted to ask: where is Jesus? He seemed to be so far away; he seemed to be asleep; he did not seem to care what was happening to them. Nevertheless, their communities continued to exist. In their prayers they realised that Jesus was still with them. And then they began to experience an inner peace. They came to realise that the storm was not in the sea but in their own fears and anxieties. The peace, too, was in their own hearts. Because the world around them was still the same, it had not changed, it continued to persecute and oppress them. It was they themselves who had changed and had regained their confidence and trust in Jesus’ care for them.

The peace only he can give
Perhaps we at this time in our lives or in our society are experiencing some kind of fear or anxiety. Maybe we see some threats looming on our horizon. We badly need the peace of Jesus.Very often we have no control over the political and social developments of our society; we have little or no control over what other people are doing. But, no matter what we are experiencing, we can – with the help of Jesus – find peace. It is the peace which only he can give. And it is a peace which no person and no thing can take away from us.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/OB121/

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Homily From The Abbot
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

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Most of us don’t think about anyone having the capacity to change the weather or to control the physical environment simply by thinking about it or praying about it. Most of us are very much caught up in the scientific was of our present age. We can understand the surprise of the followers of Jesus when Jesus was able to control the storm and stop any danger.

These followers in the Gospel of Mark are Jewish people and would have immediately recognized that the person who could control nature must be God or at least a person very close to God. We who don’t come from that culture would immediately seek some other explanation of what was happening. It could have been simply a coincidence. It could mean that the weather was already changing and the person recognized that. It could mean that the person had some unusual insight. But it certainly would not mean, for most of us, that the person was God.

The readings today are given to us to make us think about God and about the role of God in our personal life and in the life of the world. The first reading, from the Book of Job, states clearly that God creates all things and creates the weather as well as the physical universe. Those who understand and accept the Book of Job as the Word of God will be able to understand the Gospel more easily than someone who does not believe and really doubts even the existence of a God.

The second reading is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians and states that for those who believe in Jesus as the Christ, as the Savior, all has changed and our understanding of the world will be very different from the person who does not believe. At one level, this is really apparent. If we believe in God, we are different from those who do not believe. If we believe that Jesus is God, we are even more difference from those who do not accept this reality.

The Gospel, today from Mark, is very clear when it questions us: Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey? If we accept the Gospel account that the wind and the sea obeyed Jesus, then we must answer this question. If we reject that the wind and the sea obeyed Jesus, then we are left without faith and without any belief that this Jesus has any special role.

My sisters and brothers, what do you believe? Let us walk with the Lord Jesus and know that He is God.

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Homily from Fr. Robert Barron (includes video):
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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DEALING WITH THE STORMS IN OUR LIVES

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Job 38:1, 8-11; Ps 106:23-26,28-32; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

All of us have to go through the storms of life.  In the gospel, we read of the disciples who were battling the storm when they were in the boat.  The storm referred to in the gospel is not just our own personal trials in life but of the Church as well.  The boat that Jesus and the disciples were in is but a symbol of the primitive Church under siege during the apostolic time.   Today, as Catholics, individually or as Church, we are also under attack on all sides by detractors and those who are opposed to the gospel.  On top of all these, we also have to handle our own spiritual struggles as we deal with life’s challenges, whether at family, work, church or in our personal growth.

How do we deal with the storms of life?  Firstly, we are told that often storms are unpredictable, as was the case with the disciples in the gospel.  Quite often, we are not prepared for it.  Every day, there will be challenging situations to grapple with – bad news about our work or health or our loved ones.   Quite often, we feel helpless in dealing with the problems at hand.

Secondly, no matter how experienced we are, we might not be able to handle the storms.   Most of us can handle professional matters well but we fail miserably when it comes to our personal matters, especially in relationships.  Matters of the heart cannot be resolved by logic alone.   That is why top professionals who are very successful in their careers are the greatest failures in their personal and family life.

Thirdly, some storms in life cannot be explained away.  This was the case of Job in the first reading.  He was struggling through the belief in his days that sinners were punished, and therefore if one suffered, it was because of some personal sin he or she has committed.  But Job was a holy and just man.   He knew he was innocent and he could not accept the judgement of his friends and loved ones that he sinned against the Lord and was therefore punished.  In other words, he was confused at the justice or apparent injustice of God.  Indeed, many of us labour under this principle that the just will always be rewarded and the evil are punished.  Yet, often, we see evil people doing well in life and the good suffer.  The consequence is anger and disappointment at the lack of justice in God.

Fourthly, in our storms we often feel that God does not care.   He seems to be asleep, like a retired architect of the universe.  That was how the disciples felt.  “Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.”  And so “they woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’”  Do you not care?  This is the question utmost in our minds when we are struggling in life.  If He does not care, then we take things into our own hands.  If we cannot rely on God, then we better rely on ourselves.   Why should we bother with such a God who does not care about our lives anyway?

But the truth is that He DOES care!  This is the centrality of today’s scripture readings.  He cares!  He loves us!  He is watching over us!   Even when we cannot see Him at work in our lives!  This is the testimony of millions who have been helped by God.  The psalmist testified, “Some sailed to the sea in ships to trade on the mighty waters.  These men have seen the Lord’s deeds, the wonders he does in the deep. For he spoke; he summoned the gale, tossing the waves of the sea up to heaven and back into the deep; their souls melted away in their distress.”

In truth, God is in charge of our lives.  He has power over nature and over us.  Even when we don’t understand how He is providing for us, we need to trust in His divine providence and wisdom.  This is the hard lesson that Job learnt from his trials.  He was challenging God with all his questions.  But instead of answering his questions, the Lord answered by asking him instead.  He said: “Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb, when I wrapped it in a robe of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bands; when I marked the bounds it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate? Come thus far, I said, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.”  If we cannot understand the natural order and the creative power of the universe and the plan of God, how can we understand the moral order and His divine providence for us all in this world?  In truth, we are ignorant!

For this reason, like Job in all humility, we must surrender everything to the Lord in faith.  He has His reasons that we do not know, at least not now.  All that is asked of us is to trust Him.  Let God be God. We need to be patient and cling to God’s assurance of love.  He will know when to help us.  With Christ, there will be calmness.  It seems that He does not care but He is in control.  “And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again.”  Indeed, all we need is faith in Him and in His love.  In the storms we cannot see because we are blinded by fears, anxieties and ignorance.   So only faith is needed to be able to see clearly and regain our confidence.  Once we have faith in Him, we will experience calmness in the storm.  This was what Jesus said to His perplexed disciples, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?”

This is perhaps, the most important question we need to answer, “How is it that you have no faith?” How do we find faith in Jesus? We need to search ourselves as the disciples did, “They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’”  Our faith is dependent on whether we know Jesus or not.  We can only trust those who we know.  Trust presupposes confidence in the person.  Ultimately, it boils down to this question:  Who is Jesus to us?  Is He truly God?  If He were not, then we have reason to continue to be fearful.  But if Jesus were God and He is the One steering our boat and our ship, then we should feel secure that we are in good hands.

Do we know who He is?  St Paul knew who Jesus was and hence he was not afraid of storms and persecutions.  He had encountered His gracious love and mercy.  He had seen how many times, the Lord rescued him from his enemies.  But that did not mean that he was spared the trials of being persecuted, whipped, imprisoned, hungry, cold and pain.  The Lord was with him and he was able to overcome and transcend all oppositions, including the hostility of his enemies.   His confidence rested on his personal experience of the undeserving love he received from Christ.  Thus, he wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”

Indeed, if we have experienced Christ’s love, then love destroys all fear.  St John tells us “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:15-20)  So long as we know He loves us, we can ride the storms of life. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Rom 8:37-39)

And the truth is that Christ has died for us all!  “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? “ (Rom 8:31f)  On this basis, we must judge all things from the perspective of God’s love for us in Christ.  This is what St Paul urges us, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.”  We are a new creation, therefore, we must not read situations from eyes of fear which blind us!  We must read with the eyes of Christ, of faith in His love.

With Christ, we can overcome all things, even death!  With Christ, God will once again speak to us through the storms.  “From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer.”  We will discover how wonderful that God is that through the storms of life, we discover not just about ourselves but the beauty of this God.  So in all our trials, we must turn to the Lord in earnest prayer and we will be heard.  “Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed. They rejoiced because of the calm and he led them to the haven they desired.” With the psalmist, we can then say, “They rejoiced because of the calm and he led them to the haven they desired. Let them thank the Lord for his love, for the wonders he does for men.”

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This is not just a story about the weather and a boat trip. It is a story about life. It’s a story about faith. It’s a story about fear. Wherever you find one of those you will find all three. They cannot be separated.

Sometimes the sea of life is rough. The wind is strong. The waves are high. The boat is taking on water and sinking. We all know what that is like. Each of us could tell a storm story. Some of our stories will begin with a phone call, a doctor’s visit, or news we did not want to hear. Some of them will start with the choices we have made, our mistakes, and our sins. Other stories will tell about the difficulty of relationships, hopes and plans that fell apart, or the struggle to grow up and find our way. Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise. Other storms build and brew as we watch.

Storms happen. Storms of loss and sorrow. Storms of suffering. Storms of confusion. Storms of failure. Storms of loneliness. Storms of disappointment and regret. Storms of depression. Storms of uncertainty and second guessing, Storms of thoughts and voices.

Regardless of when or how they arise storms are about changing conditions. Life is overwhelming and out of control. Things don’t go our way. Circumstances seem too much for us to handle. Order gives way to chaos. We are sinking. The water is deep and the new shore is a distant horizon.

The disciples are quick to make the storm about Jesus. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” We’ve probably all echoed their words in the storms of our lives. “Do something. Fix it. Make it better.” In the midst of the storm Jesus seems absent, passive, uncaring. How can he sleep at a time like this? Sleeping Jesus is not what they or we want.

Sleeping Jesus, however, is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples. He is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, blown by the same wind, beaten by the same waves.  Hi response, however, is different. While disciples fret and worry he sleeps. The disciples want busyness and activity. Jesus sleeps in peace and stillness. His sleep reveals that the greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves, and water around us – the circumstances in which we find ourselves – but within us. The real storm, the more threatening storm is always the one that churns and rages within us.

That interior storm is the one that blows us off course, beats against our faith, and threatens to drown us. Fear, vulnerability, and powerlessness blow within us. The sense of abandonment, the unknown, judgment and criticism of ourselves and others are the waves that pound us. Too often anger, isolation, cynicism, or denial become our shelter from the storm.

“Peace! Be still!” Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea. Jesus isn’t changing the weather as much as inviting the disciples to change. He’s speaking to the wind and the waves within them. The disciples have been pointing to what is going on outside them. Jesus now points to what is going on inside them. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Jesus’ words are more about us than the circumstances of our lives, the storms we meet. Storms happen. Faith, more faith, better faith, stronger faith, the right kind of faith do not eliminate the storms of our lives. Faith does not change the storm. It changes us. Faith does not take us around the storm but through the storm. Faith allows us to see and know that Jesus is there with us. Faith is what allows us to be still, to be peaceful, in the midst of the storm. It means we do not have to interiorize the storm.

The Spirit of God blows through and within us more mightily than the winds of any storm. The power of God is stronger than any wave that beats against us. The love of God is deeper than any water that threatens to drown us. In every storm Jesus is present and his response is always the same, “Peace! Be still!”

In every storm there are choices to be made. Will we interiorize the storm or Jesus’ peace? Do we put our faith in the power of the storm or in the power of God in Christ?

 http://interruptingthesilence.com/2012/06/26/peaceful-storms-a-sermon-on-mark-435-41-proper-7b/
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Here again we see a version of those most oft repeated words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!!”
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This time Jesus asks his followers, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” — Two distinct but interrelated questions.
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Often this line is translated, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” — An accusation followed by a question.
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Either way, Jesus is telling us to persevere in our faith. Our faith is not just a “fair weather friend.” Real faith is storm tested. And certainly we all have gone through some storms in life and many potentially lurk ahead.  But not to worry, “Ye of MUCH GREAT Faith.” With God we can survive anything.
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This little prayer was a part of every Catholic Mass for centuries:
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Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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Above: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross, by Giovanni Francesco Guercino

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