08Sep 08 September, 2019. 23rd Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18

God gives us all the knowledge we need to be saved

For who can learn the counsel of God?
Or who can discern what the Lord wills?
For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,
and our designs are likely to fail;
for a perishable body weighs down the soul,
and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.
We can hardly guess at what is on earth,
and what is at hand we find with labour;
but who has traced out what is in the heavens?
Who has learned your counsel,
unless you have given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,
and people were taught what pleases you,
and were saved by wisdom.”

2nd Reading: Philemon 9ff

Paul appeals to a wealthy convert, for the runaway slave Onesimus

I would rather appeal to you (Philemon) on the basis of love-and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Jesus calls to self-renunciation with two short parables

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.


Half-hearted Christianity

Today’s gospel sets the homilist a real challenge. The listeners will not need explanation of Christ’s words about carrying the cross, but they will need some convincing of what he meant by “hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” – a teaching that seems to fly in the face of natural affection. One of the following experiences might help.

(I) A priest went to Taizé with a group of young people. Among the many tales he brought back was this. One evening as the English-language visitors gathered for a general meeting he was asked to reserve two seats beside him. After repeatedly telling others that those seats were occupied he finally gave in and told the next pair: “Yes, these seats are free. Take them away with you,” which they did. From that moment he had peace. Eventually his companions returned to find their places vacant but without seats. They had no bother finding seats for themselves and returning to their reserved places. Everybody was happy with this arrangement. Sometimes we are so concerned with holding on to what we might need that we fail to see other’s needs and our opportunity to help.

(2) Another afternoon at Taizé the whole group had planned an outing. The rain poured all that day and there were many glum faces looking out from the various tents. Making the most of things, they decided to come together for an extra session of prayer and discussion. This turned out to be the most memorable event of the whole trip. Learning to adjust to unfulfilled plans, waning strength, failing health and uncertain fortunes, is a key to happiness and contentment. We are not masters of all we possess, e.g., talents, health and even life itself.

(3) Again at Taizé, two of the group were deaf. Not being able to hear is a great handicap, a barrier to be overcome. These two could have missed so much of the experience at Taizé, the music, the bells, the prayers, the sincerity of the group discussions. However, for the whole week they were able to participate through the help of their friends who relayed everything to them through signs and lipreading. There was a modern miracle of the deaf hearing, and the others discovered so much about themselves in the process.

(4) Many of the saints discovered their true freedom in the practice of voluntary poverty. Francis of Assisi comes to mind as the example par excellence. By renouncing all earthly possessions he discovered how much he possessed and shared with all of God’s creatures. All the teaching of Jesus is marked by this same spirit of freedom. Like prayer, voluntary poverty is a gift to be savoured and treasured.

(5) One of the two parables in the gospel, found only in Luke, might provide the basis for a homily. Building a tower is not a useless exercise in vanity. It had a practical use in the vineyard. A modern parallel might be a grain silo or shed. It is ironic that Luke and Jesus pick an example of progressive investment in farming to illustrate a lesson on detachment from property. Obviously, they approve of the venture as it shows where half measures will not do. Half-hearted Christianity is not a profitable affair either.

How God Treats His Friends

The ways of God are mysterious, and our inability to understand them is in today’s reading from the book of Wisdom, and were we seriously to consider the message of the other two readings we should perhaps find ourselves asking the question, why should St Paul, after devoting most of his life to spreading the gospel of Christ, end up a prisoner in chains, with death by violence to follow. Or indeed, why should it be, as stated in the gospel reading, that in order to be a disciple of his Christ says we should carry a cross. Again and again, on our journey through life, we come up against the mystery of suffering, the mystery of the path of the cross which Christ calls us to tread.

One of the saints who suffered in many ways, and despite this led a most active life, not overcome by her troubles, was St Teresa of Avila, who founded the Discalced Carmelite Sisters. She was an extraordinary person, uniting sublime and mystical holiness with practical good sense and humour. On learning that her close associate, St John of the Cross, was imprisoned, and being punished as a renegade from the Carmelite Order, she wrote, “God has a terrible way of treating his friends, yet in truth he does them no wrong, since that was how he treated his own Son, Jesus Christ.” If Christ then, the devoted Son of God, had to suffer and die, we cannot expect to be treated any differently from our Master. And Jesus states this quite categorically. “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

Still, let’s not picture God as being one who takes an unholy delight in seeing his children suffer. If no earthly father worthy of the name would adopt such an attitude, then how much more so our heavenly Father, who sent his Son to show his love for us, to the extent of sacrificing himself for us. This raises the question, why did Christ, in compliance with the Father’s will, have to suffer? Indeed, why should any of us have to suffer? We can approach the problem differently by saying that all sufferings, especially those associated with death, are concrete evidence of the mystery of evil, our tendency to upset God’s purpose, in other words to commit sin. At the end of the creation story in Genesis (1:31), we are told that “God saw all he had made and indeed it was good.” We can therefore say that everything is truly good in so far as it serves God’s purpose. But here and now it is obvious that, both physically and morally, the world is not all good. The culprit is sin, which is not only the root of all evl, but tends to blind people’s awareness of this fact.

Evil entered the world because stubborn human beings opposed the will of God. “Through one man, sin came into the world,” St Paul says, “and through sin death. And so death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned” (Rom 5:12). But, he adds, our Saviour Christ Jesus, abolished death and gained life and immortality, because of his utter and absolute dedication to the will of the Father. “If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Note Paul does not say if you believe in your mind, but if you believe in your heart. The heart we associate with emotions, love, trust, confidence. These are the things which give rise to faith, and not intellectual arguments. After the example of Christ we are called to abandon ourselves to the will of God, to take up our daily cross, and to identify with Christ suffering.

Jesus accepted all the evil that the sinful will of mankind imposed on him. There is nothing to suggest that Jesus WANTED suffering. On the contrary, his prayer in Gethsemane was, “Father if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me” (Mt 26:39). But in this mortal world it is impossible, even for the just and virtuous person, to avoid suffering. When Paul begged God three times to cure him of his mysterious ailment, the answer he got was, “My grace is all you need; for my power is strongest when you are weak” (2 Cor 12:9f). How well Paul learned this lesson is clear later when he he wrote: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, and in my body to do what I can to make up what has still to be undergone for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Responsible planning

The parables of Jesus are many, but his teaching remains the same: anyone who begins an important project without knowing if he has the means and energy for the task, risks ending up with a mess on his hands. No farmer starts building a guard-tower for his vineyard, without first calculating what the job requires. If the project remains unfinished, he will  look ridiculous to his neighbours. No ruler will go to war against a powerful enemy, without first calculating the chances of final victory.

At first glance, this seems to recommend a prudence and caution far from the boldness he ordinarily asks from his followers. But that is not really the message of those  comparisons. The mission he gives his followers is so important that nobody should commit to it without discernment. Jesus calls for a mature reflection.The two protagonists of the parables should sit down to reflect. We need to sit ourselves down and gather our thoughts, reflect together and decide on the path to follow. We need more listening of the Gospel together, to discover God’s call today, to awaken charisms, and cultivate a renewed style of following Jesus.

In our times we are living through major socio-cultural change. We cannot spread faith in this new phase of our world, without knowing it well and understanding it from within. What access to the Gospel can we offer, if we despise or ignore the thinking, feelings and language of our own times? We cannot respond to today’s challenges with yesterday’s strategies.

It is reckless to act without reflection. We’d be exposing ourselves to frustration, ridicule or even disaster. According to the parable, the «unfinished tower» brought mockery on its builder. Remember the thoughtful language used by Jesus, inviting his disciples to be «leaven» in the midst of the people, or a pinch of «salt» that give new flavour to people’s lives.  (from J. A. Pagola)

Pleanáil Stuama

Is amaideach brú ar aghaidh gan bóthar cinnte a bheith leagtha amach againn, seachas san is frustrachas, magadh nó tubaiste a bheidh i ndán dúinn.  Maidir leis an fháithscéal faoin “túr gan críoch”  níor mhol an saothar an fear.  Cuimhnigh ar theagasc Íosa, agus É ag gríosadh a dheisceabail bheith mar ‘spreagadh’ i measc na ndaoine,  nó blúire “salainn” a mhéadódh a saol.

Birthday of Our Lady

We remember the birthdays of people who are important in our lives. We also remember the birthday, those who are significant for our faith life. The central person in terms of our faith life as Christians is, of course, Jesus, and we remember his birthday on Christmas day. Next to Jesus, Mary is the most central person for the faith life of many Christians, and it is only fitting that the church remembers her birthday.

It is impossible to know when exactly Mary was born, but September 8 is traditionally when the church celebrates Mary’s birthday. When we wish someone a happy birthday we are also giving thanks for that person’s whole life. Today we give thanks for Mary’s birth and life. While today’s Gospel reports the birth of Jesus, rather than the birth of Mary, we celebrate Mary’s birth and life precisely because she became the mother of the Saviour. She is the one through whom we receive Emmanuel, God-with-us. Mary doesn’t offer us herself; she offers us her Son. She holds out her Son to us. She would gladly make her own the words of John the Baptist that “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” The best way to honour Mary is to receive the Son of God whom she offers to us. We aim to become, like herself, people who, in the words of Luke’s gospel, “hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

4 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    “Remember the thoughtful language used by Jesus, inviting his disciples to be «leaven» in the midst of the people, or a pinch of «salt» that give new flavour to people’s lives” (from J. A. Pagola)

    A disciple in the ancient biblical world actively imitated both the life and teaching of the master. It was a deliberate apprenticeship which made the fully formed disciple a living copy of the master. True faith induces humility, as a holy heart is a humble heart, because to walk in humility (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself) is to walk, His ‘Way’ of Truth/love, before our Father in heaven.

    “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you”

    For professed Christians not to do so, would imply, as yet, that we do not have the full light of Christ within us as

    “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness”

    So we need be very, very careful, especially in our own assumed relationship with God and our fellow man, as we need to see true discipleship, not mere words; we see this discipleship in St Mother Teresa, who overcame hostility from Hinduism etc. As initially, when she went out into the streets of Calcutta, she had to confront hostility in creating a centre for the destitute, but the ‘gentleness (Humility) of her witness, was accepted, because her witness was ‘authentic’.

    She approached the goodness within men’s hearts, encouraging them, in words to the effect of ‘be good Hindus’, understanding that the Truth (The divine spark) resides in all men’s hearts, waiting to be nourished and they responded positively. So In this lived reality (Discipleship) these words by the Master would be applicable…

    “Whoever gives to one of these little (Humble) ones even a cup of cold water because he is a ‘disciple’, truly, I say to you he shall not lose his reward”

    “Because he is a disciple” one gives (Water) in humility, a sincere acknowledgement of goodness/Truth, reflecting the indwelling Divine spark within the heart/soul, now ignited in the giver and waiting to be further enkindled by the Holy Spirit. As…. “ other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice”

    Through the eyes of faith, we come to see, as God wants (Wills) us to see, that is, that every other, is made in the image of God.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Seamus Ahearne

    God’s love letter this weekend:

    A state of chassis:
    The world is in a state of chassis! Boris and Trump are right hooflers. Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Brexit has created utter chaos. (Vide Matthew Parris, Times 7th September). The UK Parliament doesn’t know where it is going. The voters on the EU (Referendum) didn’t have a clue of the consequences. There are many other crazy situations in our world today.

    Climb that mountain:
    I like the Reading from Wisdom. It reminds me of Job 38. Many of us have big heads and very small minds. We get stuck in our own views and own opinions. We need to take our heads to the top of a mountain to see the scenery of life. God gets kicked aside in our world these days. Many simply haven’t time for God. Or don’t bother to make it.

    We know so little:
    If only we all stopped and looked. We are truly very small. We know so little. We don’t understood very much. We can be ever so arrogant and stupid. The gist of the Reading then is: You lot are so foolish in regard in many things that are obvious around you; how could you grasp the mind of God? This is a very fair question.

    Can’t read or write but knows things:
    Those of us present at 10.30 Mass last Sunday were talking on how and where we found God. Eventually one fellow burst into speech. He said that he had a caller to his home who was a Born Again Christian. Our man said that his relationship with God wasn’t in the head but in the heart. He looked out. He saw the water. He saw the ‘wind.’ He saw the mountains. He saw the bushes. He saw the birds. He saw people. He saw what friendship is and what love is. God is everywhere. ‘The Word of God’ speaks loud and clear. How could anyone miss it? That fellow was Francie. He can’t read or write but he can see!

    Plan ahead:
    Jesus (in the Gospel) has us building a house or even fighting Kerry. Christ tells us – be prepared. Nothing just happens. Toughen up. Be responsible. Plan. You have to do some searching. You have to open eyes and hearts and minds and imaginations or else you will miss the passing whispers of God. The challenge is then: Be humble. Be sensible. Realise how little you know and how much you can learn if you are open minded. A message for all of us.

    Artistic expression:
    I was at Nuala’s funeral yesterday in Portlaw. She was a dear friend. The symbols that summed up her life were: The Open Fire. The Open Door: The Open Table: The Open laughter: The Open box of tinfoil. She was hospitable; generous and warm. She had to be very strong to give herself away as she did. She was extraordinary. She was an artist in living. She lived an expansive Eucharist. Her brother Fergus Lyons is a wonderful artist with paints and canvas. She did it in her own way with her life.
    Seamus Ahearne osa

  3. Paddy Ferry

    Seamus, I read not just Matthew Parris this morning but every other article too ( of which there were many) re Boris in the Times and the Guardian as I waited for my car to be serviced. I wanted to judge where informed opinion is on the chaos of the last week and judging by the contempt in which he is now held, I cannot see him surviving. And now, just 5 minutes ago, the breaking news that Amber Rudd has resigned from the cabinet–“she cannot stand by while loyal Conservatives are expelled ….” I wondered how long it would take for good people like Amber to go.

    And speaking of the presence of God, how we will miss Joe.(not Johnston)
    Tonight, we are –Ireland is –no.1 in the rugby world, for the first time ever !!

  4. Paddy Ferry

    This is the link to Matthew Parris’ piece in yesterday’s Times.


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