Sunday, January 19, 2014

The birth of Christ - Stable and Signs,

We have all read many times that Our Lord was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, and we may have wondered exactly what these are. I post here an answer to some questions on the birth of Christ, which contains a number of very interesting observations from Pope Benedict.
 
I take advantage of the occasion to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and holy Christmas and a New Year filled with God’s blessings.

 

I have three questions on the birth of Christ.

1.    Why do we say he was born in a stable when the Bible doesn’t make any mention of this?

 

2.    What are swaddling clothes?

 

3.   And what exactly was the sign announced by the angel of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger?

 

 

The birth of Christ has a number of extraordinary aspects and your questions touch on some of these. The first is that the Son of God, the King of Kings, was born in such humble surroundings. Surely God in the flesh should have been born in a palace, a castle, or at least a dignified inn. And he should have been laid in a bed or a cot, not in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.

 

But God’s ways are not man’s ways, and God clearly wanted it to be that way in order to teach us something. From the humble circumstances of Christ’s birth we learn, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that “To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little” (CCC 526).
 
And from the poverty of the stable we learn that the possession of material wealth, with all its attending comforts, is not as important as the possession of God. Mary and Joseph, while poor in the material sense, were truly rich in having the very Son of God, the King of Kings, in their family.
 
A Stable?
Returning to your questions, why does Christian tradition, and even the Catechism, say that “Jesus was born in a humble stable” (CCC 525) when nowhere in the Scriptures do we find any explicit mention of it?
 
Indeed, St Matthew limits himself to saying that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea” and, significantly, when he tells of the arrival of the magi he says that “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:1, 10).
 
The reference to a house can be explained by the possibility that after the birth in a stable, Mary and Joseph were finally able to find a house in which they lived at least until the presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem forty days after his birth.
 
St Luke doesn’t mention a stable either but he does say that after Jesus’ birth Mary wrapped him in swaddling cloths “and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7).
 
Since a manger is a feeding trough for animals it has always been assumed that Jesus was born in some sort of stable.
 
The Manger
Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives, comments on the significance of the manger:
“The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves. This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life. Thus the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God” (p. 68).
We might add that the name Bethlehem means precisely “house of bread”.
 
Presence of Animals
But why do we associate the birth of Christ with the actual presence of animals, in particular an ox and an ass?
Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging that the Gospel makes no mention of animals, writes:
“But prayerful reflection, reading Old and New Testaments in the light of one another, filled this lacuna at a very early stage by pointing to Is 1:3: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand” (ibid., p. 69).
 
Swaddling Cloths
And what are swaddling cloths?
In ancient times, as often seen in icons of the nativity scene, the newborn child was customarily wrapped round and round with a narrow band of cloth like a mummy. It was thought this would help the limbs to grow straight.
Pope Benedict comments:
“The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim… The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar” (ibid., p. 68).
The swaddling cloths can be seen too as a reference to Christ’s kingship and his descent from King Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon, in the book of Wisdom, writes: “I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure” (Wis 7:4-6).
 
A Sign
Finally, why did the angel say to the shepherds, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12).
Certainly a baby lying in a manger would be a sign, since this was most uncommon.
But probably, since the angel mentioned the swaddling cloths specifically, this too must have been part of the sign.
 
So there is much symbolism and much to be learned from these simple aspects of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
 
 
 

Can You Spot Yourself at the Manger


 Scripture Luke 2:12

 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Comment: Can You Spot Yourself at the Manger

Of all the scripture passages that resist interpretation, the infancy narratives must lead the charge.

Somehow we manage to sidestep addressing why the obligatory donkey, ox and camels creep into the scene while they remain obstinately absent from the Gospels accounts. 

As for the number of wise ones, the place of birth and questions of whether there was any flight to Egypt, these are all swept aside as we decide where to place the drummer boy.

Yet maybe there is an invitation here to embrace the beauty and simplicity of the nativity scene. 

 

Which of the characters depicts us as we prepare for Christmas?

Are you a Joseph, feeling the weight of responsibility? 
    Perhaps you are bewildered by the way events have changed so dramatically during the year. Are you looking for security for those you serve, yet experiencing knock backs and closed doors? Have you settled for something other than what you hoped for despite good planning?

Do you feel like the humble donkey? 
    Have you patiently carried the precious gift of God’s community on a long journey this year? Have you finally arrived, feeling worn out yet at the same time fulfilled, knowing that soon your efforts will be rewarded? Maybe you are a bit like the ox, and circumstances have been thrust upon you.

Suddenly your community has encountered something holy at a time and in a way you could never have anticipated. 

Has it been a year of asking searching questions of yourself and others?

Like the wise ones, have you found yourself on a journey of discovery, searching for enlightenment? 
    Perhaps, at times you have taken the wrong advice, as when the wise ones turned to King Herod. Are you eager to share your gifts with the Lord? The innkeeper and Herod are both notably absent from the nativity scene.

Like the innkeeper, have we needed to shut the door, overcome by the amount of need out there? 
    Or have we shunted new initiatives into some back room, only to have them blossom without any real effort from ourselves? Have we locked Jesus away fearful of what he is calling to birth in our own heart? With King Herod, have we felt threatened by something new? Have we been guilty of stifling a fledgling dream because we perceive it may undermine our own agenda?

Have we confused the truth seekers, the wise ones, giving them mixed messages out of our own insecurity?

Are we a shepherd, transfixed with the wonder of what is happening in our midst? 
    Do we feel unworthy of all the attention or clumsy in our efforts to serve?

Or perhaps we are an angel, confidently sharing the Good News to all that we meet.

And then there is the Mary in us, patiently awaiting the birth of Christ who has already found a home in our heart. 
    Are we eager to bring forth the Word to our needy world, despite the darkness of our surrounds, the perceived inappropriateness of the setting? Do we live in joyful expectation, quietly confident that God’s promise will be fulfilled?

Perhaps we are a little of all these characters.
The star beckons, what will we find on our arrival?

Source: 11 December 2012 | Adult Faith News - Fr John Frauenfelder

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Prodigal Son

Scripture Luke 15:20-24


And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

Comment

The prodigal son came home empty-handed.
He had no trophies to show his father, no achievements with which to earn his praise, his welcome and his love.

He was a failure, worse – he was a sinner.

He deserved to be punished and he knew it.

Yet punishment was the last thing he needed. To punish him would be like pouring water on a dying fire.
What happened?

When his father saw his lost son coming towards him, his heart went out to him, and the next minute they were in each others arms.

It is an extraordinary experience to be loved in one’s sinfulness.
Such love is like a breeze to a dying fire, or rain to a parched ground.

Those who have experienced this kind of love know something about the heart of God.

Source: New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies by Flor McCarthy SDB

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son


Multiple commentary provided for this parable.
Insights divided into 4 parts

• Luke 15:1-3, 10-12
• Luke 15:12-16
• Luke 15:17-24
 Luke 15:25-32

PART 1

Scripture Luke 15:1-3, 10-12

[1] Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
[2] And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
[3] So he told them this parable:
[10] Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
[11] And he said, "There was a man who had two sons;
[12] and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them.

Comment

We are drawn into the story. Why should this be so?
I think it speaks so eloquently of who God is and how we get into right relationship to Him.

Who is God?
How do we get into a right relationship to Him?

It is important to attend to the opening lines of this passage.
We hear that tax collectors and sinners were drawing close to Jesus and that Pharisees and scribes were complaining about this.

Keep those two groups in mind.

Jesus had a magnetic power, especially for those who felt excluded from the love of God.
But He also stirred up resentment, precisely by the very graciousness of His style.
The parable is a portrait of Jesus and of these two groups.
In other words it is a portrait of Divine Love and two typical responses to it.
The response of the sinner and of the self righteously religious.

Lets look at the younger son, who symbolises the sinner.

The one in open rebellion against God. the younger son egregiously insults his father.
How? By demanding his inheritance immediately.
Maybe it doesn't strike us as so negative boy it would have struck a first century listener to the story.
In asking for his inheritance now, the son is basically telling his father "I wish you were dead".
You get your inheritance when the father dies, but to ask for it right now is basically to say I wish you were dead.
Can you hardly imagine a worse way to insult your father than that?

Well that father, oblivious to the insult, gives the son exactly what he wants.
The spiritual symbolism here is quite exact.

Many of us want the gifts of God.
We want existence, life , success, health, love but without a relationship to the giver.

We want those gifts but on our terms.
We want to make them our own possession.
That is why it is so powerful when the younger son says give me my share of the inheritance coming to me.
The Greek work for inheritance means" substance" in a more philosophical way, but it also means money.
The money that I can have and put in my pocket.
You see what he is doing - he is taking the gift of the father and turning it into his own possession.
Give me my share coming to me. Three times he says me, me, me.

But see this will never work spiritually.

Source: Fr Robert Barron www.wordonfire.org


In effect, the father impoverishes himself.
Notably, the son has not told his father what he is going to do with it.
Ostensibly, one could think that the son was looking to simply take responsibility of the family’s goods he would one day receive.
(Though, given the fact that son has basically declared the death of his father, his next actions are not at all surprising).
Yet, instead of sticking around and managing the family estate he has been entrusted with, he takes off with it!

Dr Michael Barber

PART 2

Scripture Luke 15:12-16

and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.

Comment

These gifts come from a giver. They come from a transcendent source. When we wander away from that source, refusing to acknowledge the source, the gifts dry up.

The divine life only exists in gift form. God is the one who gives and that is precisely why the younger son wanders into a distant country (the cora macra) but in the Greek it means the great emptiness. That is exactly where you wander when you wander away from the source.

We hear that he squandered his wealth.
You see, the goods that you have from God when they are divorced from any relationship to the source they will dry up.
That is basic principle of spiritual physics.

When you grab the gifts from God, when you divorce them from the source, they will dry up.

Next we read, a severe famine struck that country. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him out to tend the swine.
What an insult for a Jew by the way. He longed to eat his fill on the pods on which the swine fed. In other words he become himself a pig.
But no one gave him anything.
How beautiful.

He is in the Cora Macra - the great empty place. More to it, a famine breaks out.
That is spiritual language about how we dry up and become lifeless when divorced from God.
In fact we become less than human.
One of the keys friends, is that little line at the end of this section – “but no one gave him anything”.

What land has he wandered into?

The land of calculation, of contract, of tit for tat.
I'll give you something, you give me something back.

But it is not the land of graciousness, of gratuitousness. Ahh that is where his father lives. That is his fathers country.

Source: Fr Robert Barron www.wordonfire.org


Not only does he abandon the family, he squanders what he received from his father on debauchery - i.e., “loose living” (Luke 15:13) and harlots (Luke 15:30).
It is interesting that here sexual immorality is linked with the lack of responsibility to family, but here we need to resist an interesting tangent.

Ultimately, the son finds himself without any money in a foreign land.
To make matters, there’s a famine.
He ends up with nothing.

He joins himself to one of the citizens of the country he is in (Luke 15:15) and ends up feeding his swine (Luke 15:16) - which were of course known as unclean animals (Lev 11:7; Deut 14:8; 1 Macc 1:47; b. B. Qam. 82b).

Even the food of the pigs looks good to him (cf. Luke 15:16).
The man has, in a sense, been reduced to the level of the swine - he is among them, one of the “unclean”.

By working for a foreigner, who in all likelihood does not honor the Sabbath command given to Israel, he is essentially completely cut off from his God, his family and reduced to servitude.
It is important to point out that when the famine comes “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).

In fact, the only person who ever gave him anything was his father - the very person he has rejected.

The son opted for the people in this distant land over him, but now that he has run out of money, they have kicked him to the side of the road - or at least, to serve alongside the pigs.

Source: Dr Michael Barber

http://www.salvationhistory.com/blog/the_prodigal_son_new_life_sacramental_imagery/



PART 3

Scripture Luke 15:17-24

But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

Comment (3 insights)

The Father is not a blood-thirsty tyrant whose wrath is appeased by the suffering of Jesus.

He is the loving Father in the story of the Prodigal Son who respects his son’s freedom too much to force him to stay, or to send a posse after him once his sins led him to the brink of despair.

The Prodigal Son walked away in arrogance. He would himself have to travel the road back in humility.

Adam, Eve and all of us walked away in pride. We, their sons and daughters, would have to walk back in humility.
Trouble was, we couldn’t, so deeply had we been wounded by sin.
So God became man and walked the road for us, though it turned out to be the way of the cross.

Perfect humility.
Perfect love.
Perfect suffering.

Relentless and undeterred by every conceivable stumbling block and snare that hell could put in its way.
That is what redeemed us and paid the debt of our sins.

Source: Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio


At this point we hear that the man “comes to himself” (eis heauton erchosthai). Here Jesus uses an idiom that is found in non-biblical literature. The phrase here does not quite mean “repentance”. In sum, the man has simply “come to his senses” by realizing that his fathers’ servants are better treated than he is.

He therefore comes up with a plan.
He will go back and beg his father to take him back, not as a son but as one of his hired hands.

We should note this dichotomy between sonship and servanthood, because, as we shall see, it is key in the story.
The son realizes that he has renounced his sonship.
But even the servants of his father are better than he is in his present state.

You Can Go Home Again
He thus comes up with a good spiel, which he hopes will allow him to return to his father’s house. He plans to go to his father and say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18–19). He sets off for home.
His father, however, sees his son “while he was yet at a distance” (Luke 15:20).

It seems the father has been looking off into the horizon.
The sense one gets is that he was looking, just waiting, to see his son return.
One is reminded of the story in Tobit: “Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son. And she caught sight of him coming, and said to his father, ‘Behold, your son is coming, and so is the man who went with him!’” (Tob 11:5–6).

His father’s joy at seeing his son returning is immediately apparent. His acceptance of his son precedes his son’s request for reconciliation - a reminder that we do not need to somehow impress our heavenly Father in order to turn his attention towards us. God is always waiting for us to return to him - He loves us far more than we could ever ask him to love us!

In fact, the son isn’t even able to complete the carefully rehearsed speech he has prepared for his father. He says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Yet before he can finish the last lines of his prepared speech (i.e., “treat me as one of your hired servants”), his father exclaims, “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:22–24).

The son is not welcomed back into the family because of his own clever speech - in fact, the father takes him back even before he can fully get through it.
This is a reminder that salvation is a grace. As St. Paul says, “. . . no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Source: Dr Michael Barber


Having hit bottom, he decides to return home. And so it goes, and this is good news with many sinners.
Maybe many people listening (reading) this right now are finding them in this place.
You think you have entered the high life but divorced from God you have dried up.
Maybe you have been down that road for a long time, the path of self indulgence.

Perhaps you have reached bottom like the prodigal son.

Talk to anybody who is in a serious addition to sex, money, drugs, power and that is exactly the land where they have wandered into and they will inevitably hit bottom.

Notice too please, the young man has to decide to return.
God is love, right through. God is gracious love, that's true but this God, because He is gracious love always respects our freedom.
You see without freedom our lives wouldn't really be ours.
God doesn't want puppets. He wants friends.
It is decisive. It is absolutely indispensable in this process.

You have got to muster the freedom, the courage, the energy to turn back.
But here is the thing.
Grace floods in, the moment this happens.

Because all this time the father has been waiting and watching and the moment he sees his son he runs.

How embarrassing that was. An older man in this Jewish culture would sit. People would come to him. For the old man to run was embarrassing.

So our God full of grace. He embraces this young man.
He puts a ring on his finger and a robe on him.
God is lavishing his love.
He wants to bring us back into the circle of His grace and this grace is above all joyful.
It involves celebration.

"I have come to bring you joy and that your joy might be complete" That is what Jesus says and that is the attitude of the Father.
He gives and gives and gives.
All he wants if for us to receive that grace and then become ourselves a conduit of it.

That is what God wants.

Source: Fr Robert Barron www.wordonfire.org


PART 4

Scripture Luke 15:25-32


"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"


Comment

Now we get to the older son. Upon hearing that his brother has returned, the elder son refuses to go into the feast and welcome his brother back. His speech to his father is revealing: “‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’” (Luke 15:29–30).

Notice that elder son describes his relationship with his father in terms of a servant—he, in effect, does not relate to him as a son but as a slave. He “serves”, and “obeys his father’s commandments”. Moreover, the reason for his service is not love but self-interest; he resents his father for not giving him anything. In a sense, the elder son, like the younger son, renounces his sonship for slavery.

He even refuses to identify his brother as his brother (i.e., “this son of yours”) - he cuts himself off from the family. He does not want to feast with his family but with “my friends”.

The father however refuses to cut his son off― ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Just as the father is eager to reconcile with the younger brother, so too he continues to reach out in love to his other son, reminding him of his place in his house.

The elder son may cease to identify himself as a member of the family; the father, however, never ceases to call him “son”.

Source: Dr Michael Barber
http://www.salvationhistory.com/blog/the_prodigal_son_new_life_sacramental_imagery/


But as the party gets underway, the older brother we hear is out in the field.

Remember now the two audiences that Jesus is addressing.
This brother represents the scribes and the Pharisees.
He has stayed, in one sense, close to the father. He is not like his brother who demanded his inheritance now.

He is not like his brother who wandered far away but his attitude reveals that he is very far away indeed spiritually from his father. He might be close to him physically but he hasn't gotten him at all.

He broods with anger and resentment at the party thrown for this wasteful brother of his.
So just as the father went out to meet the younger boy, so he goes out to meet the elder.
Listen to older brother speak. It gives away the whole game.

Look, all these years I have served you and not once did I disobey your orders.
See how little he understands his father. Slaving and obeying are not the responses of one who has fallen in love.

He has not caught the fathers effervescent generosity but rather he construes their relationship as one of contract and calculation, slaving, working, obeying.

This is the religious person who is no fun at all. This is the puritan. The censorious critic. The self righteous Pharisee.
The one who is always sensitive to the illegitimate rewards other people are getting. The one who calculates and measures and weighs. That is the older brother.

Listen now to the father.

My son, you are here with me always. everything I have is yours.
There is the language of grace. If only the brother can hear it. Take the gifts I want you to have. Let them surge through you and become gifts for others and then you would be ready to join in the celebration.

Friends, here is the question - a good Lenten question:
Which brother are you?
Let this story wash over you. Move into the dynamics of the story.

Identify where you are spiritually.
Are you ready to enter in to the rhythm of grace?
Are you ready to respond to this Father who wants nothing more than for you to be fully alive?
If you are you have become a saint.

God bless you.



Source: Fr Robert Barron www.wordonfire.org



Reflection - The scandal of grace

Many of us, if we are honest, will admit to a feeling of empathy with the elder brother of the prodigal son (Lk 15). Here he is, the dutiful son, working hard year after year, doing all his father asks without complaint. "I never once disobeyed you." And for what? His renegade brother turns up after 'swallowing up your property with prostitutes', and is he punished? Not a bit of it. The red carpet is put out, the fatted calf killed and a huge party put on for him. 'Yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends,' he bitterly accuses his father.

In Rembrandt's painting, the elder brother stands with his back to his father. You see his anger, even rage, in his stiff posture, his stern unsmiling look. No way could he join in the 'Welcome back' celebrations for this blackguard of a brother.

His bitterness rises like bile and the image of the good and dutiful son cracks as resentment pours out of him. The unfairness of it. He has worked so hard all these years, sweated his life out, managed the property - and for what? When 'your son'- not, note, 'my brother'- returns after his fun and games, you, our father, welcome him with open arms.

With shocking clarity we see the joyless spirit of this responsible man. Yes, he did his duty, he was the 'good' son, helping his father. And all the while, unknown perhaps even to himself, he harboured a seething resentment. How dare his feckless brother come back, even to be a servant! But worst of all, how could his father open his arms to this wretch of a son? His anger boiled over and now, maybe for the first time, he disobeyed him and refused to join in the celebration, refused to share in the joy of his father.

"He welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Lk 12:2). This complaint of the upright scribes and Pharisees, dutiful keepers of the law, is what triggered off the story of the two sons and their father. The scandal of grace. The scandal of really, warmly, welcoming the sinner. No accusations. No pound of flesh. No punishment. 'Quick!' the father says to the servants. Quick. Don't delay. Don't judge. Quick - make him feel at home. Celebrate.

If we feel for the elder son is it because of an unwanted suspicion that under our veneer of goodness lurks a similar pharisaic persona? Little things give us away; our lack of joy, for example when a colleague gets the promotion we felt was our due. The way we smart when others don't appreciate all we do for them. The resentment that rises up when another is the life and soul of the party while we are left slaving in the kitchen. Whinging and whining, even though it is hidden under our 'lovely' smile, we shrivel and our hearts turn to stone.

Let us take a good look at the elder son this Lent. All the years he lived with this wonderful father and yet did not know him. Are we, with all our years of 'goodness' any better? How well do we know the Father? How well do we know Jesus, the beloved Son who will lead us to him? Can we believe the Father when he tells us, 'All that is mine is yours'? Will we believe him today?

Source: Sister Redempta Twomey is a Columban Sister living in Ireland

http://www.columban.org.au/publications/the_far_east/2009/the-far-east-march-2009/reflection-the-scandal-of-grace.html

Thursday, January 24, 2013

All Religions Are NOT the Same – part 3

Scripture John 18:38

Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" ……

Comment

What do you say to people who say "all religions are equal" or "one is not any more true than the other"?
"all religions are equal and all that matters is are you spiritual"

This is how I approach it.

I respond by asking "do you agree there is a difference between 2+2=4 and 2+2=6?"
Do you agree there is a difference there?
Yes, one is right and one is wrong
Or at least you gotta acknowledge that they both can't be right.

Put it real simple .

If you look at Islam, in Sura (or Surah) 5 of the Koran, it says Jesus Christ is not the Son of God
We go to the Bible and the Bible says "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."

They both can't be right and they both can't be wrong.
One of them has got to be right.
Either He is or He isn't.

The point is "It is absurd to say that faiths that present absolute polar opposites (to each other) concerning the truth (can both be right).

Buddhism says there is no God, there is no (atma) soul.
We say there is a God and there is a soul.
Hindu's also believe there is a soul and the Buddhists don't
Guess what - they both can't be right.

We can go down the list.
Judaism denies Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
We acknowledge He is

What we have to do is get beyond the nonsense like that, using simple terms and then what I like to do is turn the discussion to Jesus.

Because if you are going to be a serious student of religion you cannot avoid Jesus Christ.
(Even if someone makes a flippand comment like "all religions are the same - my comment)

Think about it.
The Hindus acknowledge Him as one of the 125,000 avatars.
Muslims acknowledge Him as number 4 of the 5 Great Prophets
Jews acknowledge that He claimed to be the Messiah. In the Talmud they even acknowledge He performed miracles.
They acknowledge Jesus as a historical person.

In Christianity of course, we claim Him to be God.
We need to examine this man Jesus Christ who changed the world.

He is literally the centre of time for us in the West.
You need to examine this man.

and when you do, as CS Lewis said it in his great book Mere Christianity, although I don't agree with the concept of mere Christianity, he makes a lot of great points.

And the thing about Jesus Christ is this, from a historical perspective Jesus Christ really did live.
The life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a matter of history. It is a historical fact.

We have more evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ than any other event in all of antiquity. In fact, I argue all other events of antiquity combined.

It is attested to not just in the Gospels but by extra-biblical non Christian sources.
Read Pliny the Younger and Tacitus - both Roman historians
Josephus, a Jewish historian.
Suetonius.
You have so many different examples of non Christians.

I mentioned the Talmud.
Even the Jewish folk who didn't believe in Him acknowledge that he did miracles.
They claim He did it by the power of the devil both in the Biblical text and in the Talmud.
But folks when you examine the miracles of what Jesus did they can't be explained.

Source: Tim Staples - Are all religions equal,  Catholic Answers - www.catholic.com

All Religions Are NOT the Same – part 2

Scripture Colossians 1:15-17

[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
[16] for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
[17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Comment

Unless we talk about God, the spiritual life doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I addressed in my talk last week especially the critiques of God that are going on now in the popular culture and I offered three classical arguments for God’s existence.

Ok.
In the wake of that talk you might say “Well good, I think there’s a God, I believe in God”.

Now what is the next step?
“So what?”

At the heart of our tradition is the deep conviction that God did not remain in aloof transcendence but rather God spoke a Word.

He did it first by forming a people, Israel.
To the priests, prophets, kings and patriarchs of Israel God spoke in varied and fragmentary ways, His Word.

And then, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, in the fullness of time God gathered His whole word and spoke it entirely in this one Israelite, Yeshua from Nazareth. By the way, there is all the poetry, all the strangeness and drama of Christianity in that little phrase – God, the ground of being, the necessary reality, God who is the source of all the intelligibility of the world, the God I spoke of last week became one of us in this very particular first century Israelite - Yeshua from Nazareth.

There’s the Christian faith – the Word became flesh. St Paul says Jesus is the icon of the invisible God.
What’s God like?
What does God want?
How does God speak?
Look to Jesus.

Jesus is a portrait of Yahweh sprung to life (N T Wright)
That is why he is indispensible and central to spirituality.

How do we live in relation to God?
How do we respond to God’s word?
What is God’s word?
What is God’s intention?
The answer to all those questions is - Yeshua from Nazareth, this icon of the invisible God.
(to be continued)

Scripture Matt 7:28-29
[28] And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,
[29] for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Comment - All Religions Are NOT the Same – pt 2

A lot of scholarship in the last 200 years has domesticated Jesus and rendered him relatively easy to understand.

You know:
“He is one philosopher among many”,
“He is like many of the other religious founders”
“He is a religious genius”
”Ethical example”

Ok, that makes him easier to understand, I’ll grant you, but it misses the heart of the Gospel.
At the heart of the Gospel is the presentation of a very strange figure.
Connected to this is the “re- Judaizing” of Jesus.
I want to Re-Judaizer Jesus and put him against that very rich, very Jewish background.

How did Paul describe him?
Yeshua Meshiach – Jesus the Messiah, in Paul’s Greek that becomes Iesous Christos – Jesus Christ
Jesus is the anointed one, the long awaited Messiah.

What did that mean for a first century Jew?
What did Peter and Paul and James and John, Jews all, what did they mean when they said he is the Messiah?
What do you find at the heart of all four Gospels?
What do you find implicit or explicit in the whole of the New Testament?

That Jesus spoke and acted in the very person of God.

That is what’s distinctive about him.
That is what’s strange and disturbing about him.

We think at times “that people way back then they believed that God becomes human. I guess they could understand that, we find it very hard.”
No. They found it just as hard as we do.

But the Gospels insist upon it over and over again.

Some examples chosen almost at random.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“You have heard it said love your friends and hate your enemies, but I say love your enemies”.

Ok, the content of that statement is breathtaking enough, but that’s not what they found most disturbing.
It is what he said first.
“You have heard it said …”
You have heard it said, where?
In the Torah.
Well the Torah, that is the Word of God.
That is the Word God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai.
There was no higher authority for a first century Jew than the Torah.

Rabbi’s, if they claimed authority, they took it from the Rabbi that taught them and the Rabbi who taught him etc going all the way back to Moses and the Torah. There was no higher authority.

And so when this Rabbi from Nazareth who says “You have heard it said in the Torah, but I say”, he is claiming authority over the Torah.
Who could do that except the one who is himself the author of the Torah.

Jesus said:
“You have greater than the Temple here”
That would have thrown them for a loop.

For Jews of Jesus time that was the greatest place they could possibly imagine and the best thing they had ever seen.
It was the dwelling place of God.
It was the centre and focus of the entire Israelite nation.
Here is this nobody Rabbi from Nazareth who says “you have got greater than the Temple here”
What is he saying?
“I am the privileged dwelling place of Yahweh”
He is declaring a lordship over the Temple.
(to be continued)

Scripture Matt 16:15

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Comment

Jesus didn’t ask “What do people think of my teaching?” or “What impression am I making?”.
Reasonable enough questions.

He asked “Who do people say that I am?”

It would be hard to imagine another great religious founder asking such a question.

• The Buddha wouldn’t focus on himself, and I say it to his credit. He would say “There is a way I’ve discovered and I want you to know it”.
• Mohammed wouldn’t focus on himself, he would say “There is a revelation I have received and I want you to know it”.
• Confucious wouldn’t say it’s about me, he would say “There is a path that I’ve found and I want you to know it”.

Then there is Jesus who asks “Who do you say that I am?”

The whole Gospel really hinges on this point.

Jesus identity personally is what it is about, because throughout the Gospels He consistently speaks and acts in the very person of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew (10:37), Jesus says “Unless you love me more than your father or mother you are not worthy of me”.

You might imagine a religious teacher or religious founder saying unless you love God more than your mother and father, more than your very life or maybe unless you love my teaching more than your mother and father, but to say unless you love me than the highest goods in the world?

What if I were to say to you today “Unless you love me more than your mother and father, more than your very life, you are not worthy of me.” Well you would have me removed from the room wouldn’t you. You would call security.

Who could say that except the one who is in his own person the highest good.

How about this?

“Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away”.

Suppose I grab one of my books on display and held it up and said “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away”. Well you would think I had lost my mind and gone right around the bend.

Who could say it consistently and coherently except the one who is himself the eternal word of God.

Here is another one.
“They stand looking up at the Temple” For Jews of Jesus time that was the greatest place they could possibly imagine and the best thing they had ever seen. It was the dwelling place of God.

Jesus says “You have greater than the Temple here”
That would have thrown them for a loop.
The Temple was the footstool of God. It was where God dwelt on Earth.
It was the centre and focus of the entire Israelite nation.
Here is this nobody Rabbi from Nazareth who says “you have got greater than the Temple here”
What is he saying?
“I am the privileged dwelling place of Yahweh”

Jesus says to the paralyzed man “My son, your sins are forgiven” Right away the bystanders say “who does this man think he is, only God can forgive sins”

Now here’s the point.

Jesus compels a choice the way no other religious founder does.
Either you are with me or you are against me.
You see why, if he is who he say he is then we have to give our whole life to him.

If he is God then he must be the centre of our lives!

If he is not who he says he is then he is not a good man, he is a dangerous misguided fanatic.

Jesus, more than any other figure, more than any other religious founder, compels us to make a choice.

Source: Fr Robert Barron
“Who is Jesus and what makes him unique”
And Spirituality2of5 -Who is Jesus Christ and How Do We Find Life in Him.mp3

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

All Religions Are NOT the Same - Part 1

Scripture John 14:16-20


[16] And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever,
[17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
[18] "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.
[19] Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.
[20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.


Comment – All Religions Are NOT the Same – pt 1

Christianity Is Christ

The founder of no other religion is absolutely essential for that religion in the same way the Christ is essential for Christianity.

It is true that the founder was necessary for the founding, but the believer in a particular religion does not enter into the same kind of an encounter that a Christian enters into with Christ.

It is the personal relationship to him which is decisive.

Christ therefore occupies a different place in Christian than Buddha does in Buddhism, than Confucius in Confucianism, Muhammad in Islam, and even Moses in Judaism.

When you come to Christ, Christianity demands the personal intimate bond.

We have to be one with him, one with him in such a way that we cannot in any way claim to be Christian unless we reflect the person, the mind, the will, the heart, and the humanity of Christ.

Source: Through The Year With Fulton Sheen

Monday, September 17, 2012

Surrender!

Scripture - Mark 14:35-36


And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Comment - Surrender!

Surrender!
Don’t you hate that word?
You should if it means I’m defeated and I give up.

Surrender for a Christian means I am laying down my life for other people.
That is our whole relationship with God.

To lay down our life and love for Him who laid down His life and love for me.
We have got the God of the universe.
If someone says “I am not willing to lay down my life for Jesus”, I think are you stupid?

You are going to die.
We all are.

You can be dust forever
OR
You can surrender to the God of the universe.

When you surrender to Him, He surrenders to you.

Everything you ever wanted or desired, He is the one who created it.
So with God you have everything.
Without God you have nothing.

Source: Surrender! The Life Changing Power of Doing God's Will by Fr Larry Richards.
Text transcribed from his guest appearance on Life on the Rock www.ewtn.com

God Loves You

Scripture:


2 Tim 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Proverbs 13:4
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Comment

God made you strong to protect the weak.

Think of a coach.
“OK, Coach, what do you want me to do?”

If the coach said:

“I like you just the way you are. Just show up at practice, sit there for 45 minutes and have good thoughts about the game”, you’d say “What sort of coach are you?”

You want a coach to challenge you to be the best and say things like:
“Be at practice everyday”
“Miss practice and you won’t play in the game”
“Do this, this and this”
“Any whinging that you don’t want to do it, then get off the field”

But when it comes to Church, we might hear “God loves you just the way you are”.

God loves us the way we are, but He challenges us to not stay there. He wants us to be the best.

We respond best when we are challenged to be the best we can be.

You can give more!

Source: Surrender! The Life Changing Power of Doing God's Will by Fr Larry Richards.

Text transcribed from his guest appearance on Life on the Rock www.ewtn.com

Eat My Flesh

Scripture John 6


51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

52 The Jews quarrelled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?"

60 20 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"

63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh 22 is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"

Comment

The pronouncement of Jesus being the bread of life, is a critical moment and a turning point in his public mission.

Jesus challenged his listeners by saying that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

That shocking statement was intended, “to disenchant the crowds and especially to push his disciples to make a choice.

In truth many among them, from then, chose to no longer follow him.”

Pope Benedict


Today’s Gospel reading, from the conclusion of John 6, records how dissent from the teachings of Jesus took place in the very first century.

This, revealingly, is the only instance in the Gospels of disciples leaving Jesus over a matter of doctrine.

There is little doubt that St. John, in describing that tense scene, also had in mind Christians of the mid and late first century who struggled to accept the shocking words of the Lord.

It is sometimes tempting to think of the early Christians as a homogenous group of loyal heroes and willing martyrs.

But they, like those of us living in the twenty-first century, struggled with doubts, fears, and temptations.

Fr. James T. O’Connor

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2012/08/doctrine-dissent-and-the-eucharist.html