28Feb 28 Feb. Third Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15

God sees the misery of his people in Egypt and will free them, through Moses

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12

We must persevere, in order to be saved

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

The Lord of the vineyard offers us ample chance to bear fruit

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”


Audio Commentary on today’s Gospel

“Give it one more year.”    Along with his online notes (http://www.tarsus.ie/resources/2016/Lent3C16.pdf) Fr Kieran O’Mahony has provided an audio file of today’s Gospel on SoundCloud. Just click the link to play the file:  https://soundcloud.com/user-679942596/lent3c16.

Kieran has also made an app for smartphones and tablets, to carry his weekly Gospel commentary. Details of this, next week.

A waste of space

The 19th century German chancellor, Bismarck, once compared the Irish unfavourably to the Dutch: “If Ireland were settled by the Dutch,” he said, “it would be the bread-basket of Europe, while if Holland was settled by the Irish, it would be drowned in the sea.” We can certainly reply that the Irish have other gifts which enhance the quality of life, like sociability and humour, that are perhaps not as prominent among the Dutch (or indeed among Bismarck’s compatriots.) But when it comes to industry, we have sometimes tended to lag behind. When travelling in Europe, one sees the countryside intensively cultivated. Apart from the high mountains there is hardly an inch of ground left fallow; everywhere you see the land growing maize, wheat, corn and other crops. It’s the same in places like the Ruhr valley, where factory towers stand out among large fields of corn, like ships in the ocean. So much of our countryside is wild and uncultivated, large tracts of which seem untouched by human hand. It seems ironic that a people who fought so passionately for the land should neglect so much of it. Such thoughts can make the parable of the barren fig tree into a parable of our lives. All of us have been given a patch of ground in the Lord’s vineyard, where we are expected to produce fruit. Each one’s patch is different, often yielding different fruit. Many choose to rear families. Some also run businesses or contribute to the running of them or work at different levels in institutions. Nowadays a large percentage is engaged in what are called the “caring professions,” working in education, medicine, the social services, religion, as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, priests and in similar fields. And if we are to bear fruit in our lives, the crop has to come largely from those fields.

It is a salutary thing to take stock of our personal plot, to see what our returns are like. A farmer likes to take a stroll through his land on a summer’s evening, after the day’s work is done. And there, leaning up against a farmyard gate, he casts his eye over the growing crops and the grazing animals, thinking about what he has done and what remains to be done to ensure a good harvest. So it should be with us. We may take stock of the quality of our family life, of our involvement or lack of it in our community, of our commitment to our jobs and our colleagues, over and above the statutory requirement. We all find a niche for our selves in this world where we become entrenched. We feel we’ve earned our place. But we have to go on earning our place.

Otherwise, like the barren fig-tree, there’s a danger that we are only “taking up the ground.” There are few of us who would not admit, if we are humbly honest, that maybe someone else could do a better job than us. None of us is indispensable. Not even Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, with his enormous contribution to the creation of modern, industrial Germany. The power of Germany would have come into being without him and possibly without such horrendous consequences to the Germans and the rest of the world. Like the barren fig tree, we are all given many chances to bear fruit. Let today’s gospel be one of them.

Jesus invites us to think

Some unknown people communicate to Jesus the news about the horrible slaughter of some Galileans in the holy precincts of the Temple. The perpetrator has been Pilate once again. What’s most horrifying is that those men’s blood has been mixed with the blood of the animals that were being offered to God.

We don’t know why they approach Jesus. Do they want him to express solidarity with the victims? Do they want him to explain what horrible sin they could have committed to merit such a shameful death? And if they haven’t sinned, why has God permitted such a sacrilegious death in God’s own temple?

Jesus responds by remembering another dramatic event that took place in Jerusalem: the death of eighteen people crushed by the fall of a tower in the wall near the pool of Siloam. Now then, Jesus makes the same affirmation about both events: the victims weren’t any more sinners than anyone else. And he finishes his intervention with the same warning: «Unless you repent you will all perish as they did».

Jesus’ answer makes us stop and think. More than anything, he rejects the traditional belief that misfortunes are God’s punishment. Jesus doesn’t think in terms of a «judicial» God who goes about punishing God’s sons and daughters, meting out here and there sickness, accidents, misfortunes, as a response to their sins.

Later on, he changes the perspective of the question. He doesn’t settle on theoretical elaborations about the ultimate cause of the misfortunes, talking about the victims’ guilt or God’s will. He turns their attention toward those who are around them and he confronts them with their own selves: they must hear in these happenings God’s call to conversion and to a change of life.

We still find ourselves stunned by the tragic earthquake in Haiti. How to read this tragedy from Jesus’ attitude? Certainly what’s most important isn’t asking ourselves where God is, but where are we? The question that can help us move forward toward conversion isn’t «why does God permit this horrible misfortune», but «how is it that we allow so many human beings to live in misery, so defenseless in the face of nature’s power».

We won’t find our crucified God by settling accounts with a faraway divinity, but by identifying ourselves with the victims. We won’t find such a God by protesting God’s indifference or negating his existence, but by working together in hundreds of ways to mitigate the suffering in Haiti and in the whole world. Then, maybe, we will sense among the lights and the shadows that God is in the victims, defending God’s eternal dignity, and in those who fight against evil, encouraging God’s battle. (José Antonio Pagola)

Our kind of spirituality

If we browse through the magazines in any doctor’s or dentist’s waiting-room, we will probably come across an article on spirituality. Lately too, the lists of best-sellers often include works related to the human spirit or soul. People are no longer satisfied with material things only. Spirituality has become quite a big thing in our time. In their search for satisfaction and self-fulfilment people look for meaning and value beyond the material and the physical.

So far, so good! But not all agree on what is meaningful and valuable in life. For some, being spiritual is focussed on a sense of harmony with all living things, and openness to the great power upholding our intricate universe. For others it includes meditation and stretching exercises, for the sake of inner peace and relaxation, and for the sake of greater physical and mental energy. For some it is mixed up with trances or alleged messages from outer space or from dead friends and relatives; it can involve crystal balls and tarot cards.
In some searches for the spiritual there is a concentration on the ‘self ‘ rather than on the ‘Other‘ or ‘the others‘. They have little or no awareness at all of such people in need as the poor and the suffering. In other searches for the spiritual there is little sense of the reality of evil. Everything in the garden is rosy. Everything is viewed through rose-coloured glasses. Such spiritualities seem either selfish and inward-looking, or an escape from reality and a flight into fantasy.

But there’s another kind of spirituality, Christian spirituality, which you and I have been trying to live. It is based on the conviction that a meaningful life is all about relationships. In relation to ourselves we know that God doesn’t make junk. So we value ourselves and respect our own dignity, we work on becoming better persons, knowing that God is patient with us, and hasn’t finished with us yet. In relation to other people, we look for the good in them, and deal with them with acceptance, trust, affection and care. In relation to God we treat God as our origin, the ultimate source of our existence. We treat God too as the one who sustains us through all the ups and downs of life. And we treat God as our final destiny, the one who is waiting to take us into his embrace at the end of our lives on earth.

For us life is both personal and interpersonal. God is much more than the great Architect, who designed this amazing universe, and much more than the great Clockmaker, who keeps it ticking over. No! God is Father, Mother, Friend, and Love Itself with a capital ‘L‘. We hear God speaking to us, and we speak back to God. Thoughts and words of praise and thanksgiving! Thoughts and words of love and self-offering! We converse with God as familiarly as friends talk with one another, as intimately as a wife speaks with her husband, or as children chat with their parents.

So today we hear God say (directly to Moses, and indirectly to us): I am the God of your ancestors, the God of your fathers and mothers. ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers.  . . . I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.’ In response to this powerful assurance that God cares when people suffer,  we are invited to answer, The Lord is kind and merciful.

Our conversation with God goes on in this Mass we are celebrating together. In a few moments we will be declaring in the Creed all God has done for us and for our people down through the ages. In our Prayer of the Faithful, we will speak words of trust and petition. In our Eucharistic Prayer, we will start with words of joyful praise and thanksgiving, and go on to words of petition for a variety of people both living and dead.
In short, our spirituality as Christians is intensely personal and interpersonal. We sense that our God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We cannot stop ourselves from reaching out to the love and goodness which is God. In fact we cannot even understand ourselves or describe ourselves, except in relation to God. So much so, that we are convinced that God enters into the very definition of who we are as human beings. We find deep meaning and value in a personal and community relationship with a personal God, a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God we meet in our readings from scripture. This is our kind of spirituality. (Brian Gleeson cp)

Fertilize your faith

Death stares us in the face almost every hour. Somewhere in the world apart from natural deaths, there’s either death by natural calamity, terrorist attack, ethnic brutalities, murder for gain, disease, epidemic, famine or accidents. Death keeps no calendar, but death is certain for us. People who you think would live long die suddenly and those you think wouldn’t live long, stretch life to a century.

Our reactions to someone’s death can be either ‘he/they deserved to die’ or a sympathetic ‘it should not have happened.’ Some judgmental people told Jesus how some Galileans died, victims of Pilate’s anger; but instead of explaining this, Jesus quips about victims of the collapse of the tower of Siloam. Jesus actually questions their attitude of being judgmental of others and less judgmental of themselves. He asks “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” He goes on to speak of repentance with the parable of the fruitless tree.

When you hear the word ‘repentance’ the word ‘sin’ comes to mind almost instantly. Real repentance is actually a reflection over an unfruitful living. Jesus’ words “Repent or you will perish” meshes with what the philosopher Socrates [supposedly] said at his trial after he chose death rather than exile: “The un-examined life is not worth living.”

To the Christian, the parable of the fruitless fig tree should imply being Christian only by name but not bearing witness to Jesus’ teaching. The lesson is not so much about doing wrong but more about not doing what right and expected of us. It is about being actively his disciple. The fig tree that lived three full years and bore no fruit is like a Christian just going on living and bearing no fruit. It is like a dead man walking. We are dead when we don’t witness.

Saint Francis of Assisi once invited a young friar to go with him into town to preach. Francis and the young friar spent all day walking through marketplaces, side streets and fields. When the day’s journey was done, on their return, the young friar looked very disappointed and said “I thought we were going to preach today?” Francis replied, “Son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!” Saint Francis’ idea of witnessing can be understood in his words “Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary, use words.” To him witnessing wasn’t merely a person who said some words out of the Bible from time to time but one who lives out the words of the Bible each day.

Last Sunday’s Gospel was about the Transfiguration. Being Christian doesn’t imply camping on the mountain-top; you’ve got to come down to ground level and there manifest the glory of God. A man once testified in one of Evangelist Dwight Moody’s (1837-1899) prayer meetings that he had lived “on the Mount of Transfiguration” for five years. Moody bluntly asked him “How many souls did you lead to Christ last year?.” The man replied with much hesitation “I don’t know.” Moody persisted “Have you saved any?” Quite uneasy, the man said “I don’t think I have.” “Well,” said Moody, “we don’t want that kind of mountaintop experience. When a man gets so high that he can’t reach down to poor sinners, there is something wrong.”

The man in the Gospel asking “Sir, leave it alone (the fig tree) for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it” is a call to fertilize our faith and ensure we live up to our Christian calling. Have we examined our lives sufficiently? Are we fertilizing our faith enough to bear fruit? (from Adolf Washington, Bangalore)

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