Friday, October 02, 2015

Paul's Reflections 511 : Twenty-seventh Sunday Ordinary B. 4/10/15

The readings for mass reminds us that God made the whole world and everything in it. Sun, Moon, Stars, Sea, Earth, every animal and creature… and human beings too….
And it was all very GOOD…..
God made men and women as the crowning of God’s creation. 
In God’s image and likeness God created humans……  
 And God set us over the whole world to look after the wonderful, precious resources that God has given us….   Creation is sacred, Humans are sacred, so we must care for them with reverence, gentleness and concern…..  
 The readings also remind us that we must work together as equals… because all people are equal dignity and sacredness…..     men and women and children were all created equal to work together as co-operators in God’s plan….
 God welcomes and has a place for all people, men, women and children…  all equals…
 In Jesus time, women and children did not legally have equal status… they are in some ways not to have any rights…..     this sounds crazy to us today.. we know that all people are created equal in dignity ….. but in Jesus  time this wasn’t so….  But Jesus made it clear that men, women and children were equal in God’s sight and to be treated with respect, dignity and included in God’s family as equals and co-heirs to God’s Kingdom….
Today is also the 4th of October (St Francis’ feast Day). Although Sunday always overrides this feast day when the date lands on Sunday, it is fitting to think of this Saint , who is the patron name of our present Pope and the readings capture Saint Francis' care for all God's creation.    Francis was a great saint and he recognised that God was to be found in all things…  because God created all things….   God’s fingerprint, in a sense, could be sensed in all the things God had lovingly created……    so, we must treat creation with care and reverence… all creation sings out in praise to God, who created them all….The Gospel ultimately speaks of how men and women were created as equals and coworkers together in God's wonderful creation. And all mem women and children are one family in Christ and so we must act accordingly. 
 "Francis sought occasion to love God in everything.  He delighted in all the works of God's hands and from the vision of joy on earth his mind soared aloft to the life-giving source and cause of all.  In everything beautiful, he saw him who is beauty itself, and he followed his Beloved everywhere by his likeness imprinted on creation; of all creation he made a ladder by which he might mount up and embrace him who is all-desirable.  By the power of his extraordinary faith he tasted the Goodness which is the source of all in each and every created thing, as in so many rivulets.  He seemed to perceive a divine harmony in the interplay of powers and faculties given by God to his creatures and like the prophet David he exhorted them all to praise God." (--Major Life of St. Francis)
    "His attitude towards creation was simple and direct, as simple as the gaze of a dove; as he considered the universe, in his pure, spiritual vision, he referred every created thing to the Creator of all.  He saw God in everything, and loved and praised him in all creation.  By God's generosity and goodness, he possessed God in everything and everything in God.  The realization that everything comes from the same source made him call all created things -- no matter how insignificant -- his brothers and sisters, because they had the same origins as he." (--Minor Life of St. Francis)
I love this prayer: 
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Paul's Reflections 510 : Twenty-sixth Ordinary time. YEAR B.

Homily Twenty - sixth Sunday of the Year - B. 2015.

The readings speak of the fact that God’s Spirit blows where it wills and we cannot try to limit God’s action. God works in and through anyone God chooses. Eldad and Medad are two people in the First reading who receive the spirit of God even though they were not in the tent with the others. There was some consternation about that… should we stop them, because they did not receive the Holy Spirit in the same way that we did, and the way WE think they should have received it. God says, I will give the Spirit to whomsoever I choose and how and when I choose.  

Our job is not to limit God but to respond and cooperate with God wherever God’s action is found.  The names Eldad and Medad are rather interesting…   Eldad means ‘the one whom God has loved” and Medad means “love” or “waters of love.”  It could also be a reminder, that God’s love and God’s action flow freely and generously to everyone, without boundary or limitation. The waters of God's love flow whichever course God chooses and the Spirit of God blows wherever it wills. 
We are warned:  Do not be jealous of anyone who is doing God’s work. Do not make comparisons between yourself and your work of the Kingdom and someone else. There is enough work for the labourers of the Kingdom to occupy us all. Do not look at others and who they are or what are not doing.  Do your work diligently….   Everyone has a different part of the work of the Kingdom, (as we heard last week, making comparisons and being jealous and trying to monopolise God’s work… none of that is really the qualities to be found in the real Kingdom of God…)
St James is encouraging a healthy aversion to possessions and wealth, particularly if wealth and comfort is gained at the expense of others who are going without the necessities of life, and are who are in dire need…  and especially if the wealth is gained from dishonesty and unjustly ripping off others…  this will all come back to bite them, Saint James warns…
The gospel..  rather than talking about literally “cutting off” parts of the body, is really speaking metaphorically by means of a surgical idea that sometimes the integrity and health of the whole body needs to be preserved by amputating or removing a diseased part of the body….  So, this is really talking about the Community, the church, as the Body of Christ. This image refers to the members of the community… For all who are doing the work of the gospel, let them do it unobstructed; and cooperate with them in their work where possible…  Do not interfere with others’ work and do not dismay or overload them…..   But, if anyone is doing things that are opposite to the values of the gospel or disrupting the work of the Gospel, cut them off quickly…   Remove them so that they do not poison the community in its good work and rightly-ordered values…   This is quite challenging and sobering stuff…
The readings today are a great encouragement for ecumenical cooperation amongst people of other christian church denominations, and even broader cooperation with people who are of a non-Christian faith, or even those who do not believe in God at all but who practise the human values that do not contradict Jesus’ values and message in essence or effect.

Anyone who (even though they do not personally know of Jesus), but who nevertheless who holds Jesus’ values and who lives the principles and values of the gospel, is a friend of God and will be welcomed into God’s family.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Paul's Reflections 509 : Homily Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year B 20th September, 2015

Homily Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year B  20th September, 2015

I love the system of continuous readings that both our Churches and many other denominations have developed. The Lectionary cycle…. I think that it is a true genius that allows the Bible to come alive in our yearly journey…. The readings this weekend are challenging, but I love that too…. It would be easier for us to pick the readings we like…. To pick the texts that most speak to us and expound on them…. But perhaps if I were to do that, I would be sorely tempted to pass over those texts that challenge me, that move me out of my comfort zone… that are inviting me to be a disciple in the building up of Christ’s Kingdom, and not my watered-down vision of what I think the Kingdom of God should be…. By our journey through the continuous cycle of readings… we don’t choose the text…. It chooses us… and it reads our lives and God transforms them, reshaping us in God’s image, not in our own….

Having said that, I do find the Readings this weekend very challenging and very suitable…. I think if it wonderful that the readings upon which I preach has this sober warning from the letter of James (Chapter three, verse one) : “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, ….. because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictlyWe all stumble in many ways.” Point taken! I have always subscribed to the theory, that the preacher first preaches to himself, and then to others… for we are all in need of Jesus’s guidance, challenge and forgiveness.

Scenes like this weekend’s gospel can be very sobering, because they can give the impression that the disciples often fell into the trap missing the basic point of Our Lord’s gospel teaching.

But we have to keep in mind that the gospels largely are a sneak peek into the formation and training that the disciples were getting from Jesus during his earthly ministry. Later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples were transformed and enlightened. They finally understood (at a new depth), the message and teaching of Jesus.

No longer were they wrangling and jockeying for the best places of honour. No longer were they squabbling over who was the greatest or what part of the work Jesus left for us to complete was their part, or what was the most lucrative part of the ministry.

We are very fortunate that the gospels are not merely the END result of all Jesus’ teachings, with all the rough bits polished off. We are very blessed that the gospels show us the journey of understanding and learning and change of vision that the disciples had to go through before they fully comprehended the message of Jesus. If we only got the final results, where the disciples were more fully enlightened, we would not have understood the long and challenging journey of discovery and conversion that we too, as disciples, must undergo.

We must let go of our old ways of thinking and embrace the new ways of the gospel. The “old ways” were about self-advantage, self-focus and ‘what can I get out of this for myself’. The new ways of the gospel are about self sacrificing service and consideration for others, and a mindset that puts oneself last and servant of all.

The first reading warns us about some challenging aspects of our own weaknesses and selfishness. It is tempting for us to want to ‘shoot the messenger.” This is what happened in the Old Testament days, and it is alive and well today too! The prophets pointed out the ways the people were not living up to God’s ways and what did the people do in response to their message? In the main, they did not immediately repent and begin to work on their weaknesses and their blind-spots, but rather typically they started trying to discredit the prophets and they often ignored and ridiculed the messenger and their message. On many occasions they killed the prophets rather than deal with the actual problem, the people’s wrongful ways and attitudes.

Do we ever see that tendency in ourselves in one way or another?… Can we look inside ourselves and become aware of a weakness or an area in our lives that needs growth and change, but instead of humbly beginning the work of asking God to transform these aspects and asking for God’s grace to remove these barriers and wrongdoings, we just fob off the message or blame the messenger. This would have to be one of THE most unhelpful and dangerous behaviours around. In a way, it is a self-defensive mechanism, (designed to protect us), but it ends up keeping us stuck in bad ways and repeated mistakes.

If we go into denial about the weaknesses we harbor, we are not being honest or open with ourselves. It is also denying our utter dependence on God’s mercy, love and grace, which slowly but surely changes us to be more like the disciples he calls us to be. God loves us despite our sinfulness, but God does not want us to stay stuck in the mud either!

God is offering us the grace to rise above our weaknesses, if we let him address our sinfulness – if we bravely and honestly face the truth of them!

In today’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus was teaching his disciples so intently that he was travelling through the region with a very low-profile… this instruction of his disciples was vital and pressing for his whole mission… He was re-teaching his disciples….. He was unravelling their old expectations and assumptions and replacing them with the proper vision…. They, along with virtually everyone else, had always assumed that the Messiah would be some powerful earthly warlord, who would bring vengeance upon the enemy and defeat all opposing forces, and establish an earthly Kingdom here and now, where those who followed him would all become earthly princes, ruling over the earth…. Jesus was instructing them that his Kingdom was not of this world, and that victory in the eyes of the world was not his goal and that his victory MUST occur through suffering and death on the cross, before he rose again…. This was a hard teaching and went against their expectations….. We can still find it very challenging today, that we cannot and should not avoid the cross in our lives…

The beauty of Jesus’ teaching is that – we gain a glimpse into the mind of God… and God’s values…. And they are stunning and great…. True greatness, (in God’s eyes), is loving, giving, self-emptying service. True Power and Kingship, is suffering love and service, even till every drop of energy, every drop of blood is spent…. 

The GREATEST act one can do, ….. and ….. a truly GREAT person is one who commits their live to loving SERVICE. A loving service that forgets itself and does not seek after its own satisfaction….

This is the nature of God: love, generosity, giving and service, (recognising others true needs, and recognising the true value and sacredness of every person, (and every living and created thing, formed by God’s hand)….and having recognised this sacredness… then giving them what they need because they are worth it.

But finally, to the gospel passage… this is so illustrative of our humanity.. and our lack of comprehension of the vision of God…..often so different from our own…

First of all… I was once taught… the only silly question is the one you don’t ask…. The disciples… and we can do this too, is it not so true, did not understand what Jesus was teaching…but it was easier for them to nod and look like they got it, but really they did not have a clue…. Jesus has the answers, and Jesus has the vision, we don’t have all the answers, and we as students can feel quite at ease in admitting to God, we don’t understand, we don’t get it.. please, Lord, instruct me.. help me to see things the way YOU see them…. And then, they show how much they miss the point, by squabbling amongst themselves about precedence and greatness…. And thank goodness our Lord sets them straight, (and us too!)… Ambitiousness and self-focus leads to conflict and wrangling and is nothing to do with the mission of Christ’s gospel… Get rid of it, he says.

Jesus gives us the example of a little child, who has no exalted aims for greatness. Jesus equates himself with the poor and humble ones of the world. In welcoming them we welcome him.”

James spells it out in the second reading:
“Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom … from above is essentially about working for peace, and shows itself in kindness, consideration of others, compassion, and results in good actions.
If we are on the right track, partiality or hypocrisy and endless wrangling and fights and disruptions would not be present. ….. holiness.. in God’s eyes is being a Peacemakers, not a stirrer or a agitator for one’s own desires and ambitions.” (James 3:16 - 4:3).

He says it really clearly: We would not have jealousy or wrangling if people had a self-sacrificing, serving, considerate approach to others, above our own self.

Jesus is the perfect example of this self-sacrificing approach. He could have claimed all authority and all privilege, but instead emptied himself completely in service and love and compassion for others. It is starkly and shockingly challenging.

Will we follow in the master’s footsteps or try to go in circles on our own?
It makes me ask myself…. How much of the conflict in our lives, how much of the inexplicable obstacles and barriers to our communication, to getting the things we should be getting done… How many are in some way due to the pride of self-interest or of spending my energy on self-promotion, ensuring that my place is established and that it is all really about me?…. Jesus reminds us all that this is not what he is on about at all!

Jesus lets go of everything in self-giving… and never insisted or got caught up in focusing on his rightful position in the scheme of things.. and what a difference it showed…

I can’t help thinking that that great quote, used in a political context…. But in some ways could be another way of putting what the disciples were being called to… /to paraphrase/…. “ask not what your church, your community, or God’s Kingdom can do for you…. But ask instead, what can I do for my church, my community, God’s Kingdom…”…..


Fr Paul W. Kelly

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Paul's Reflections 508 : homily 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

HOMILY.  BY PAUL KELLY. 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

A Dramatic series of events in today’s Gospel. “…  the way you think is not God’s way but human’s.”
The readings this weekend remind us again that if we truly want to know Jesus, and WHO he is, we need to understand what he DOES. Truly believing in Jesus will always lead to practical actions, particular behaviours and specific attitudes, just as the truth of Jesus’ identity led to wonderful (and often surprising and challenging) actions and attitudes from Our Lord himself.
Once Saint Peter correctly named WHO Jesus is, when Jesus asked his disciples “who do you say I Am?” – St Peter says, “you are the Christ”  (God’s anointed one, the Messiah).  Jesus immediately sets about teaching them what “being the Christ” will mean. And, this is what utterly shocked them, as it still challenges us today. Jesus, God’s own Son, the anointed one, the Christ, the one who will save the people – must suffer grievously, die and then rise again.  What an astounding thing!  It would be an understatement to say that St Peter and the apostles didn’t think that was the role of the Messiah when using the term.  They would have thought he was some king of warrior King who would banish the Romans and set up a new earthly Kingdom of God. Jesus was the HERO, and the Hero does not get mistreated and die a horrible, humiliating death, (not in most people’s books).[i]  But Jesus said, YOU must let go of those concepts and listen to my teaching of how the Christ really should be and how he must act. 
Also, just as importantly, Jesus shows us the priorities and values of God’s anointed -  he healed the sick, forgave sinners, welcomed outcasts, he looked for the lost. He invited all people to be part of God’s Kingdom. This was a “re-ordering” of values and priorities according to God’s values. And it was bound to cause a lot of anger and hatred from those who liked things just the way they were – because those people were benefitting from the present status quo (at the expense of a lot of others who were trapped in terrible situations, unable to get out). Jesus had to take on those opposing powers and resist them until they threw everything possible at him. He knew that they would try to kill him and succeed, and then, only then, would God’s victory over their evil be revealed in completeness..  Because you cannot bury God’s plans and priorities and you cannot silence God’s anointed one.  But Jesus had to crucify all the opposing powers by taking the poisonous fruits of their values and actions and defeating them on the cross. 
This was, most clearly, the narrow and troubled road, but it was the only true road that Jesus, and all who would follow him, must take.
“The Messiahship of Jesus is one of service, of suffering love and of self-giving love. There will be no triumph apart from the Cross. To be a disciple is to walk this same path of service, suffering and self-giving love.”[ii]
The readings this weekend bear a lot of deep reading and reflection. Take for example the astounding first reading:  From Isaiah, also proclaimed in Holy Week.  The Lord is my judge, not the court of human opinion or popularity. It does not even matter if others think I am (or am not) a faithful servant of God, all that matters is what God thinks, and God is faithful and just.  And moreso:  “The Lord comes to my help so that I am untouched by the insults.”  Notice this very important sentence;  God does not take away the insults and the wrongdoing and the troubles.. (neither does God desire these things, though),  but God does come to us to abide with us and support us, so that the shocks, tragedies and insults of this world that we endure because of our following of the narrow path, or because of the terrible things that come up on the journey of life, so that we can at all times be at peace endure through these things that we find we cannot change, in order to come through victorious at the other side.  God gives us the grace and peace and endurance to go through whatever may come. That is God’s greatest gift to us. It does not control the outer environment or stay the hand of those who use their freedom to be destructive, but it does give the power to oppose and defeat all the empty and hateful ways that contradict Jesus’ WAY. 

And finally, I love today’s second reading. It says things so clearly.  From Saint James:  if you say you follow Jesus but your actions and attitudes don’t SHOW that in practical ways, then faith is quite dead and useless.  It is like that modern day, witty statement:  “If Christianity was a crime, would they have enough evidence to convict you???”
Actually, you know what?  I think for most Christians, (here in this community and throughout the communities of the world)….   there would indeed be ample evidence of their faith, by their lives and actions. But most of it would never be proclaimed from the rooftops, let alone mentioned except for quietly…   because we need not prove it to anyone else but God, for these practical actions are not done to win popular admiration. But so many wonderful people daily do the most beautiful acts of kindness, love, forgiveness and practical charity for others ...... in big and small ways…   (Many of these acts of kindness and love are so natural, so automatic and so humble that most people never even hear of it, but they are being done. And thanks be to God for all the wonderful people, living their Christian values. Faith showing itself in practical action! 

Ironically, Saint Paul is the New Testament writer who has given so much to the Christian world about the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross….   It was such a scandal and stumbling block for the early church that the Messiah, God the Son, the chosen one, could be allowed to die in what looked like abandonment and failure in the eyes of the world and even in the eyes of many of his followers….   
It is ironic that St Paul should reflect so much on Christ’s DEATH because he only ever met the RISEN lord!  Paul never met the Jesus who walked on the earth and preached the good news. Paul only came on the scene and encountered Jesus whilst Paul was travelling along the road to Damascus and it was there that God said… “Why are you persecuting me?,”  and Paul realised then, that the only person he was persecuting was this person he thought was a dead leader and his followers… Only then did he realise that he was on the wrong track.  This leader, who had died, was alive and risen as they had said he was, and that in persecuting his followers, he was persecuting Christ, his Lord and God.
But, if St Paul found it challenging to understand the meaning of Christ’s Cross…  it explains why those apostles who walked with Jesus on earth and listened to his teaching… found it even more difficult to comprehend Jesus teaching in this gospel today….  WHY should God’s chosen one have to suffer… HOW CAN it be that he MUST die????...  HOW can this be any kind of victory???  How will it achieve Anything???? 
Jesus wants to make it clear to all who are following him….  (as if to say…)  …“I am not the one who is making false promises of success…..  It is the liars and false prophets who promise wealth, money, gold, earthly kingship, success, health and happiness in this life…..  I am not offering this to you… I am offering you the way of the Cross….  The path of suffering, self-forgetting love and service… even to death…..     Be under NO misapprehension about what following Christ means….”  But also, trust that this path will gain the vindication, the stamp of approval from God the Father… // It is the right way.
Jesus asks the question “who do you say I am”   right at the halfway point of Mark’s Gospel… it is THE HIGHPOINT of the whole gospel……///  He asks this question just outside a town that has monuments to the Roman Emperor, regarded by the pagans as like a god…..  and at the foot of the hills where the source of the Jordan River comes from…. The same River in which Jesus was baptised… and the river associated with the people being led into the promised land, under God’s guiding hand……….  Peter had rightly worked out WHO JESUS IS>>>>>////that Jesus was the Christ….  A word which means, anointed one…  Messiah….God’s Chosen King….   But the reason Jesus silences him as soon as he says it, and rebukes him when he mistakes what to do next… is that Jesus now has to set about carefully teaching them….RE-educating them into the RIGHT understanding of what God’s messiah means… It is NOT an earthly King… it is NOT a revolutionary who will bring war and retribution upon the Romans…..  it is NOT one who is offering earthly success… in the eyes of the world…. And this goes against the common expectations and understandings of the time…. And it’s going to be hard to get those mistaken concepts out of their heads….. and who would want to follow someone who only promises the CROSS…..  but its only those who believe that, who can trust that this path leads to the TRUTH.. and to LIFE to the FULL….but it requires that leap of faith and perseverance… and suffering…
Jesus calls us to follow him and not try to lead him; ….// St Peter tried to LEAD Jesus in today’s gospel……and Jesus quickly set his straight….//. It is possible to believe in WHO Jesus is… but…then spend our time trying to water down his message…//  and to try and take the challenging edges off it//…..   Jesus wants us to acknowledge the presence of the cross in our life… and in the lives of every person …  //not  denying the cross…, not avoiding it…not pretending that life is capable of being lived without the crosses that each of us, (uniquely) must live…..// 
Jesus wasn’t desiring suffering…// he wasn’t demanding the cross for its own sake…//….  he wasn’t welcoming difficulty in his life, any more than he would wish us to suffer…(he did go about healing people and assisting them) // but being faithful to the truth of the gospel’s values means burdens and suffering //.  Jesus knew that each person has their own cross to bear….  For each of us there are some things that cannot be avoided…  and so we are invited to live with these crosses in ways that are loving, giving, hopeful, and which shows grace and gentleness throughout//  allowing God to transform the crosses into means of life and love… … // to try and avoid the cross in our life… is to live dishonestly…… //
It is a hard concept to pin down….  Naturally we are meant to do everything to heal, to help and reduce other’s burdens….  But there are some burdens that if we try to avoid them, it would mean selling out on values that really matter…// or it would mean not really living fully/…….. it would mean… not paying the price for justice, forgiveness and support for those in practical need. And for all of us, eventually, there will be one definitive cross that each of us cannot escape, at different times and in ways not of our choosing.
Ultimately, the teaching of Jesus about the cross is actually a lesson in hope….  Jesus is giving us the best message we could hope to know….   No matter what happens in life… even if everything goes pear-shaped and doesn’t seem to be ending well…..   Our Lord is calling us to put our trust in him, that the difficult journeys that we all are called to take through life will eventually be vindicated with resurrection and eternal life in Christ….  And that gives us all the strength we need to endure whatever comes…  following the example of Jesus.. who goes ahead of us through it all…
St Paul Sunday Missal. 2009. Paper edition.

Celebrating the Gospels. Gaynell Cronin

The Summit. Archdiocese of Melbourne. Vol 39. Number 3, Aug, 2012.
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Friday, September 04, 2015

Paul's Reflections 507 : homily 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. B.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. B.     

 Isaiah 35:4-7a.  God has the power to save, turning every kind of want into abundance.
·         Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 God keeps faith, offering food, protection, guidance, and justice.
·         James 2:1-5 If we show partiality to the rich and powerful, it is because we hope to gain something.
·         Mark 7:31-37 A man who is unable to hear or speak is liberated by the command of Jesus.

Thank goodness for the letter of Saint James…  It is such a wonderful, practical instruction that remains so very relevant today, as it did back at the time of its original writing….
Faith and discipleship in Christ, has very practical implications.    And following Jesus means a radical transformation of attitude, behaviour and vision…..   We are called to be people who see beyond appearances….  And do not settle on the worldly standards of value, but to be trained to see the world as God sees it…. And to see the true value of people and of things around us….with the standards of Christ’s gospel…. Which looks into the heart of the person, not the outward appearances….  That goes to the true Spirit of the law, and not just the letter…..  that values the doing of Jesus’ words more than the mere saying…..

This is why Jesus calls us to constantly pray…..  to spend our time meditating on the Scriptures and pondering their meaning…..   /   This is why  we are called to gather in community, and not try and go it alone on our faith community…. To be supported and challenged by the teachings of the faith community as it journeys towards the fullness of Jesus’ Kingdom….

Jesus, by healing the man in today’s Gospel, is clearly being connected to God, who is the one who brings life, healing and openness to his people……   Jesus says to the man, as he heals him… “BE OPEN”…. And he says to each one of us too…. “BE OPEN!”….
“Be OPEN”  
to my new way of seeing in the world….  Be open to listening to God’s ways in our lives….. “
We could quite profitably spend a long, long time reflecting on the implications of the message in James’ letter, our second reading today….  Do not make distinctions!….   Do not judge by outwards appearances!…. The ordinary, worldly standard of judging by wealth or status is not applicable in the Kingdom!… In fact, if any preference is to be given; it is to the poor, the needy, the outcast, the widow, the orphan, the sinner, the one who is most struggling…….   
No wonder Jesus gives us such wonderful gifts to use along our long journey with him….  Because he knows that this path is the “path less travelled.’  It is not the easy or simple path of life……  It is a difficult, but very fulfilling and true path…
We are human. We sometimes get things wrong… We sometimes judge people by appearances./ We do not always love all others as we should.  We do not always treat all people like a friend would. Sadly, we admit that we can be partial in our dealings with others and sometimes show partiality towards some others at the expense of the rest. We can make mistakes. And so God gives us the gift of forgiveness, to help us start again. God helps us grow in grace to become the people of the gospel that Jesus calls us to be.  It is not an easy path and Jesus knows that and allows for it…
Everyone who has been confirmed has been given special sacramental gifts from God:  
These are gifts of discernment, openness, strength and understanding…    These are gifts to help us know what God’s message is and gifts that give us the strength to live it. God strengthens us and teaches us to live the gospel even if the world around us makes fun of us or makes it hard to live these values because these values are not the same as many of the world’s ordinary values. Many of the values and ways of Christ’s Gospel do not always make sense in the popularist world we live in.  A world that likes to ridicule what it does not understand and which sometimes tries to shame those whose values challenge them.
May we always be open to the path less travelled…. And make a special focus in our lives to ensuring our actions reflect the new and different values Jesus came to give us… and died to save us with…

In the Gospel, the description of the physical journey taken by Jesus, is a long, long one, and geographically it is a bit odd!  It is a bit like saying..  “Jesus went from Brisbane, heading for Maryborough, via Kingaroy!”  This was not (in any sense) a short-cut. This journey was purposeful, slow and isolated in many areas.[i]
It is fairly clear that Jesus was taking this slow, steady journey to go out of his way to meet people who were often forgotten, and also it was a slow journey to take lots of quality time to be with his disciples at some length, and to slowly but surely teach them and reveal to them HIS radical and true vision of the Kingdom of God, which was very different from what they expected using purely human expectations and values.
The big message from this weekend’s gospel is that God has no favourites. God is just and fair and impartial. God loves all that he has created and God loves each and every one of his sons and daughters equally and completely.

The great characteristic of God is his complete impartiality

This message is not only in the Gospels and the epistles of the Paul and James and so on, but also, this is very much an ancient understanding that can be found in the Old Testament too. God is impartial and completely even-handed in his dealings with all the people.

For…. In the Law it was written, "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour" (Lev.19:15). There is a necessary emphasis here. A person may be unjust because of the snobbery, which fawns to the rich; and may be equally unjust because of the opposite snobbery which glorifies the poor. "The Lord," said Ben Sirach, "is judge and the Lord is fair and does not show partiality." (Sir.35:12).

The Old and New Testaments unite in condemning any displays of partiality of judgment or f
avouritism of treatment, which comes from giving undue weight to a person’s social standing, wealth or worldly influence, or their ability to benefit the person who is giving the  favouritism. And it is a fault which could tempt all. "The rich and the poor meet together," says Proverbs, "the Lord is the maker of them all" (Prov.22:2). "It is not meet," says Ben Sirach, "to despise the poor person that has understanding; neither is it fitting to magnify a sinful person that is rich" (Sir.10:23). It is good for us to remember that it is just as much partiality to fawn and be servile to the popular opinion or mob mentalities as it is to pander to a tyrant.

In the early years of the church, it would have been a real change of mindset for Christians when they gathered together as one group, because when they met in church the very rich and the very poor and, (even more interesting), the master and the slave would have sit down as equals in God’s house

 A slave who became a Christian would have a new independence; he would no longer cringe at his master's power, punishment would cease to terrorize him and he would meet his master clad in a new standing. He would have a new honesty. That would make him a better worker, but it would also mean he could no longer be his master's instrument in dodgy practices and petty dishonesty as once he might have been. He would have a new sense of worship; and on the Lord's Day he would insist on leaving work aside in order that he might worship with the people of God. There would be ample opportunity for a master to be challenged by this newfound equality and change or roles..

Even though we no longer have slaves and masters in this country, (although other countries still do and it is shocking that this is still the case!), we ought not to make the big mistake that James’ warning is not just as much for us too: Our attitudes and actions are being challenged too. …  
We too can fall into the trap of making distinctions, judging by appearances, being partial and biased and having

The name we use is “Christian”…   We are disciples who are followers of Christ, and yet, being followers of Christ requires the long, slow journey of changed attitudes and actions… and a new mind, (where Christ’s thinking and values replaces our old earthly values).   In many ways it is a lifelong journey, and along the way, we stumble, as we fall back into attitudes and
behaviours that are not the ways of Jesus, and are really nothing more than the ways of the world around us…  

We have to be so vigilant, and so much on our guard against these traps, these contradictions, these hypocrisies. Any contradictions of our own
behaviour as Christians are things which non-Christians (even though they may not share our beliefs) are often very quick to notice and point out. Non-Christians often claim that any perceived inconsistency in our behaviour, (as compared with the message of the Gospel), is a real barrier to our credibility.  Saint James in the second reading would agree! 
There are so many ways, big and small, where we can (often unwittingly and without realising!) contradict the radical message and values of Jesus…   

I mean, (to quote an example I have heard in many a parish communities over the years), it is quite possible to listen to the readings, and hear how Saint James teaches us that our faith must be more than words, and be challenged to watch out for partiality and distinctions. We can then celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist, and then we can walk outside the church and find out how a parishioner walked up to a visitor and said to them “you are sitting in MY seat, you will have to move!!”     Ah!!!!   I think Saint James would definitely have something to say about that!!  

And we have probably all heard of situations (in business, in government, in clubs, in church communities, and so on.. ), where an important decision is needed to be made, and a person or persons boldly intimates to the decision-maker that they expect preferential treatment because of some perceived moral debt that that are holding over others, but which would require the decision maker to violate partiality, engage in irrelevant considerations and make a decision that is not the best.  It is actually breathtaking to see the number of occasions that rather subtle but obvious examples of favoritism or partiality is expected by others, for an outcome that would not be the best outcome except for those who think they are owed greater consideration that would be due to others.  Saint James says that kind of stuff has nothing to do with the gospel.  It is also the slow and subtle start of a form of cronyism, favouritism and corruption that (in secular society as well as in religious communities) would be absolutely poisonous.  Any sense of entitlement or partiality can really derail a community. It would certainly move it further away from the gospel model. What is sad is that despite this, it can happen more than one would expect or desire and it is hard to understand how those who indulge in this attitude could truly think that this is what the gospel of Jesus is all about.  It can be quite disheartening. Which is why we must all be on our guard against it.   

Saint James reminds us in very sobering terms….  That the words   “after all I have done for you!!”  or “you owe it to me”….. or “I deserve this,”  and sentences similar to that, are words that ought never be used as a reproach on a true Christian’s lips, for the use of these ideas implies some expectation of “payback,” or of a demand for partiality, and also indicates that one’s actions and motives were not the unselfish service of God and God’s mission that they appeared at the time, but rather a calculated personal “storing up of credits,” which appear to be rady to be claimed back at some later (opportune) time.  It is hard to know exactly what this kind of thinking is. It might be the way of the world, but one thing is for sure: it is clearly not the Way of Jesus according to the Gospel.

These are just a couple of  glaring examples… but in different ways,  big and small,  we can all be tempted to trade-in the message and vision for Jesus and swap it for a pale, watered-down, self-serving imitation of Christianity.  Jesus is inviting us to BE OPENED to his ways, and his values and his vision. He also offers to heal us of spiritual barriers that prevent us from seeing and hearing the truth of our own values and motives and the truth of how close to (or far from) Jesus’ true values and vision they really are. 
No wonder the people were exceedingly astonished at what Jesus was doing…….    “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  The book of Genesis asks……   and even at the annunciation to Mary (of the extraordinary things that God was doing in her life and planning for all humanity…), …..   The Angel reminds us…  “Nothing is impossible for God….”.
Having said …. “All things are possible for God,” us humans have an amazing capacity for assuming that there is only one was of achieving something… and that is in the way that WE imagine !! …..  but God has consistently shown (throughout history) that thoughts  like that are quite misleading. ..
It is my belief that God achieves the impossible, by means of the improbable and the unexpected……
I truly believe God receives and answers our prayers……    always…
but….   sometimes, sadly, the answer to our heartfelt prayers is “NO”……   (Why??? …  we may not know ever know “why” in this lifetime…..    because understanding some things requires the ‘big picture’ to everything, which we humble humans acknowledge we do not possess). …….   Other times God answers the need underlying the prayer, but the result may be almost unrecognizable compared to what we were asking or thought we were asking…..
For example…in this Gospel…  this weekend… Jesus heals the man who could not hear… he gives him back his hearing……. God still achieves this today…in ways that go beyond the literal understanding…..
For example…..   I was reading a reflection from someone named Bill writing from another parish in Australia,  he writes about how God’s grace allowed him and his family to cross a language barrier….but at the end of the day they still could not speak the other language……..  he writes…………. “my family hosted a total of thirty-five overseas students. Some stayed for only a few weeks, others for up to two years. Mostly we enjoyed their company, though sometimes we missed our privacy. Language was often a major problem. Our first student was from Japan. She arrived with a dictionary and loads of enthusiasm. Word by word we managed to communicate. After that they came with various levels of English. We would sit around the dining-room table and try to teach them some of our culture, our language and our history. We know they appreciated good food. My wife saw to that. They smiled with pleasure when they saw the meals. They also enjoyed camping, boating and many other activities. There was one language that was universal, no matter what country they came from. It broke down barriers and eased their apprehension. That language was laughter. I still have memories of three students, my two teenage children and my wife and I laughing at my daughter’s antics as she mimicked things from cartoons and elsewhere. Laughter sounds the same in all cultures.
 (So, in this instance, God’s gracious inspiration allowed that family to hear each other, but God gave them this gift of understanding I ways more subtle than merely giving them a magical translation machine……. and so their insight into the beauty and complexity of life was rich… )
One final example…. I remember… quite a few years ago now…….I was run off my feet one week in Murgon parish… with enormous distances to travel… and so many things happening….  I recall praying to God for a bit of quiet time for at least the rest of the weekend…  It had been just so hectic…. One thing after another…..…  that next Sunday….  when I was out at the church of Durong…   80 or so kilometers north west of Murgon….  I was finishing up mass…  It had been an exhausting  week… I was just so tired and still had an hour to drive home… when, overexcited by the thought that I just had to put the mass things in the boot of my car and then I was off home…. and I could put my feet up when I got home…..   when “CLICK”……….I locked my keys in the boot as I put all the mass equipment in there and closed it…   As soon as I did it (actually just as I was doing it) I realized I was making a terrible mistake…. and in that instant.. I realized it was a complete disaster….    of all the places to lock my keys in the car… this was not any ordinary place……   It is an hour from anywhere…..   I was now stuck an hour away from any RACQ assistance.. There goes the afternoon.. I had just added (with one annoying click) another three hours driving to my day……. 
It got worse…  the quickest solution…but not the easiest….would be to borrow another parishioners four wheel drive and drive back to Murgon… get my spare keys and then drive the hour back here and then drive home again… It was madness. So much for my prayer for peace and quite. But, you know, it was a mysterious answer!! I never wanted or asked for such a bizarre thing to happen,  but in hindsight, that little adventure, albeit unwanted and inconvenient,  ended up being a wonderful afternoon. Just wonderful. I remember it fondly, some thirteen years later. And after we had decided what would be done, my frustration and annoyance at myself was gone. I entered into the moment………..I enjoyed talking with a few people in depth through this unexpected turn of events……….. Borrowing someone’s four wheel drive…. rattling down the highway in someone else’s car…. it was amazing…..    listening to another radio station….   stopping off for lunch with a couple of parishioners…..enjoying the fun… and even getting a relaxing nap in for an hour or so before I headed back all ready to return with my keys…….and planning my return trip……    it ended up being the most excellent mixture of extra time for talking and reflecting……in the middle of this craziness, I found a kind of calm peacefulness… it also gave me a chance to reflect upon the way I was entering into the busyness….   since it was my own absent-mindedness in the midst of busyness that had led to this situation……..It ended up being, believe it or not……  a time I enjoyed… (and like any writer….. as I drove back I thought… I am going to write about this… and except for how I felt when it happened… I will look back and laugh at this…….)…….though I do hope I never lock my keys in the boot again…  with these modern cars… it is the only place you could lock your keys in…. and trust me to go and do it!!!……    I am not saying, of course, that every big or small disaster can be described as a hidden blessing…. sadly some things that happen are just disasters…. although I still believe God is at work (even then) trying to bring life out of disasters…(working against the odds to transform situations into places of grace…. …the catch is that  I do not believe that God SENDS these as trials……but rather, God does respond constantly, in gracious and effective ways,  to bring healing in these times…..…..
In this incident, in any case,  I felt God was answering my prayer but in totally unexpected and unwanted way….. and giving me an invitation to see things in a different way…..  perhaps its why the quote from Mary Mackillop resonates with me so much when I read her words that say  “Many things that seemed unaccountable worries have proved indeed to be hidden blessings”…..    In a way I find hard to put into words, that is so often true…..
God allows all people to listen… to receive and to perceive….….but God knows that the more faithfully one listens to the voice within, where God’s Spirit resides. the better one hears what is happening outside. And the authoritativeness of the voice which speaks from the truth one finds inside….is hard to deny………
 I certainly find myself adding to the chorus of voices which say of Jesus…..  He does all things well…. he manages to transform the most trying of situations … passing through the bitter valley…..and in his wake…..making it a place of springs……..  
+++ +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
·         FR. PAUL W. KELLY
·         Italic quotes from: William Barclay – the Daily Study Bible,  on James 2, and Mark. THE WESTMINSTER PRESS, PHILADELPHIA. Revised Edition. 1976.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Paul's Reflections 506 : Homily Twenty second Sunday of the Year B 30th August, 2015

Homily Twenty second Sunday of the Year B  30th August, 2015

Deuteronomy 4:1-2.6-8       Observe God's law
James 1:17-18.21-22.27      Word planted in you
Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23       Listen and understand

This weekend’s readings take a very practical angle on the meaning of our discipleship. We are called to take special care to be just, honest, and charitable toward everyone. What a different tone the world would take if everyone took this angle.

As Christians, the proper application of our religious beliefs leads to very important practical consequences for our lives and actions. The readings this weekend send a powerful message: What is the point of calling ourselves “followers and servants of God” (in other words: “Christians”), unless our practical actions reflect the justice, charity, forgiveness and loving/practical acts of kindness that God asks us to show to one-another.
“True and untarnished religion is acting justly, helping the poor, the widow, the orphan and helping those who are most in need.”
Jesus warns his critics that if their religion goes no further than compulsively observing outward actions and stylized symbolic rituals whilst (at the same time) not living the message of practical love, kindness and fairness (which these rituals represent and symbolise attempt to foster within us), then it is really nothing more than a false (and hollow) practise of “religion”. 

“The value of a person’s good works is not based on their number and excellence but on the love of God which prompts the person to do these things.” as Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) so ably points out. “Love, justice and charity are the more key indicators of an authentic discipleship that mere outward observances of one’s rituals. Ideally, the two go together and reinforce and nurture each-other.” 

I had often understood the first reading to mean, you must observe each and every law and commandment that God gives (which is certainly true), but a closer inspection of this text shows that there is more to be found here….. “You must add nothing to what I command you, …….” That is, you must not ADD to God’s laws. 

It is clear from the Gospel that by the time of Jesus, people had indeed been adding to God’s law and loading people down with unnecessary burdens and difficult observances that for most people were impractical and frankly impossible to achieve. So, living in God’s favour became something exclusive, for the lucky minority… The large majority of people were too busy with the messy demands of everyday life to be able to keep all the rules and rituals that were now being lumped on them if they were to be considered righteous and good. “Holiness” and “peace” became rare commodities, which were now well beyond the reach of most people. This could never have been God’s plan.  
Also, the keeping of the commandments of the Lord your God was in order to “demonstrate wisdom and understanding.” ((Deuteronomy 4:1-2. 6-8) . this starts to make things clearer: The whole point of the law was that God gave it to the people as a help to their welfare and growth and so that people could deeply reflect the values and priorities of God.

I particularly like scripture passages that expressly NAME the virtues and qualities of Christian life.. You can feel a tangible energy and desire for those virtues.. It is clear that these qualities resonate in our very soul…..

The psalm this weekend, goes on to explain in detail:
How the “just” will live in the presence of the Lord.
The just will live in the presence of the Lord BY…….

- Walking in the ways of blamelessness,
- Acting with justice
- Speaking honestly
- Avoiding wrong
- Not gossiping or slandering others
- Honouring the Lord.
- Keeping promises
- Not “ripping-off” people
- Not allowing oneself to be “bought off” from their principles.
The second Reading (James 1:17-18. 21-22. 27) confirms this practical advice: and we should always aim to “do what the word tells us, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” It is a reminder that we can easily deceive ourselves about our motives and intentions, but we should be on guard against such self-justifications that can happen so often. The true test of “pure, unspoilt religion,” is the practical actions of “coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. (There are many values in the world that are not consistent with the gospel).

Finally, in the gospel, Jesus warns us about people who “honour God with only lip-service, and all the while their hearts are actually far from God.” Jesus asks us to look inside ourselves and see the things that will distort our faithfulness to God: Unfaithfulness, lust, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. These are the inner movements of the heart and they must be crowded out by the positive values and virtues of God: faithfulness, purity, reverence, respect, detachment from material things, love, honesty, appreciation, affirmation, self-sacrifice, and so on. The virtues of the gospel build us up and crowd out anything that is inconsistent with the gospel.

Christianity is not primarily a set of doctrines and Laws…. Christianity is about a Person, and relationship to that person – Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God….. 
All the law and the prophets and all of the Bible… (Old and New Testament)…. Are not an end in themselves, but allow us to encounter God, and particularly encounter the Person of Jesus Christ… Christ IS the Gospel…. The Gospel is not a book it is a person, God the Son, Jesus Christ. He himself is the Message of God…  The law of God is not a thing it is a person: Christ. He IS the Law. He is THE WORD of God… and he is the last word on everything…… // Christianity is therefore only secondarily about what he says… but rather, first and foremost, what Jesus says is an expression of WHO he is, and his values and his nature… His relationship with the Father and his invitation for us to be part of that inner life of God is the essence……….. 
Christianity is a relationship not a concept or a philosophy or merely a set of rules…. And whenever it is turned into mere concepts or merely a set of rules or philosophies, it gets disconnected unless it CONNECTS us to the person and values… of Jesus. This is not to say that there are no rules and doctrines in Christianity. They certainly are. But they all serve to point us to Christ who is the one Rule, the one Word.
Jesus was struggling against legalism in today’s gospel…. The lawmakers and law keepers seemed to be more interested in what people could not do, rather than focusing on what they should or could be doing in response to life’s real problems. It would be equivalent to a peron saying: “ I have kept all ten commandment. Wherever it said.. “thou shalt not”… I “didst not!!”… That is all very well, God might reply, but  “also, you actually did not Do anything else either!!!! ”  -   Surely our Christian faith is also about positive action as well as refraining from negative acts… 
Whilst it IS true that the ten commandments features a list of some do’s and quite a lot of don’ts, Jesus’ point in the gospel this weekend makes it clear that the sins which he has reserved most criticism for are for “things done,” not merely things “avoided”……
The law makers in Jesus time focused too much on appearances….. on outward actions, whilst ignoring the inner realities of their attitudes and hypocrisy….. Focusing more on what one should refrain from doing rather than encouraging inner growth and nurturing constructive attitudes and loving responses towards others…….There is a certain safety in refraining from doing things, and avoiding things………

It is possible to make sure we never get hurt or hurt others by avoiding any meaningful engagement with them…….

We might be able to prevent getting disappointed by others. If we do not want a complicated life, we could try to achieve this by refusing to love but this would defeat the call of the Gospel. The final criticism of the law of Jesus’ time is that it had become an end in itself…..the law did not seem to exist for humans.. but the law had become an end in itself for humans to observe.

Jesus corrected the error…. It is possible to go through life seeming righteous and appearing to observe the letter of the law, but at the cost of never risking anything and never getting one’s hands dirty and by never really doing anything bad or good.

In response to that, Jesus is shown risking everything and giving everything to honestly address genuine human need.

Fr Paul W. Kelly

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Paul's Reflections 505 : Homily 23rd August, 2015 - Twenty-first Sunday of the Year B

Homily 23rd August, 2015  -  Twenty-first Sunday of the Year B

Joshua 24:1-2.15-18          One God or other gods?
Ephesians 5:21-32              Body of Christ
John 6:60-69                   Holy One of God

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I would like to point out again that in the first reading, the people are faced with a decisive question:   Will you keep following the Lord, or will you go after other priorities and values and false gods.   The response of the people is very telling: ‘We have
 no intention of deserting the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery, who worked those great wonders before our eyes andpreserved us all along the way
This is yet another example of the people REMEMBERING.  The people are calling to mind, in a very clear way, the blessings and graces of the past.  If we DO NOT keep remembering the gifts of the past, we will almost certainly fall by the wayside.  We MUST keep thanking God and remembering the countless blessings and graces that God has already given us along our life journey.  Then, we too, can say to the Lord, We have no intention of deserting the Lord who has done so much to support and accompany us along the way.
And this leads us to (as the psalm says) …. “ bless the Lord at all times,  his praise always on my lips”
the second reading is jarring and challenging to modern ears, but one line that makes sense of this all is this:  “….for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body - and we are its living parts.”  This text of the second reading is meant to be understood as acknowledging the equality and dignity of man and woman and encouraging people to put eacother first, the way one would treat one’s own very self. !!!!
the Gospel affirms Jesus as the source of all inspiration and grace.  In the midst of very challenging new concepts and ideas, that really challenge the would-be disciple and follower of Jesus, there is this simple reply:  “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’   This foundational belief in Jesus as out source of eternal life and of truth, allows us to keep trusting, keep believing and keep going deeper into our heart and soul so that we will truly follow Jesus even in times of challenge and newness and of confusion.
It is also interesting to note, that…
“Even after this, these same followers denied knowing Jesus and betrayed Him in various ways.  The most important reality is to know that Jesus always will invite us to follow Him again, even when we turn against Him.  Our hearts must be open to conversion, as were the hearts of those disciples who left Him and yet returned to follow Him once more.
Always we come back to the reality that we must choose to serve God or be against Him.  We must choose to follow Jesus Christ or be against Him.
There is no middle ground except for repentance once more.  God has sent His Son to redeem us and to share the divine life with us.  We must seek to respond to the invitation of God.  Even if we have gone away from the Lord Jesus, He still invites us to return.  Let us not be afraid of turning back to the Lord if we have left Him.  If we have remained faithful, let us strive to love Him even more. 
In this life, we must constantly keep our faith alive.  This requires of us a daily effort to live in the Word of the Lord, to let that Word form us and to allow the Word to convert all within us that is not yet completely given over to the Lord. This means, prayer, reflection on the scriptures and openness to the formation and challenges of Our Lord’s words of eternal life, that challenge and impel us ever more forward, out of our comfort zones.
Let us walk in the ways of our God (A)

In response to Our Lord’s words in the gospel.  “Many of Jesus’ disciples said: ‘This word is hard’. The Greek word used in the original text of this Gospel means ‘the words of Jesus were hard to Accept, not hard to understand !!

The people listening to Jesus KNEW EXACTLY what Jesus MEANT by his speech, they were simply having a very difficult time accepting this message and its challenges for them.

That puts an interesting ‘extra spin’ on the reaction to Jesus.

Our Lord KNEW that his teaching was quite challenging and difficult. He was inviting anyone who chose to follow him to make a full, active and committed CHOICE, and not just happen to follow him around because he cured people and miraculously provided them with bread on a couple of occasions.  HIS was is spirit and life, but it is also the WAY OF THE CROSS, and would require a complete transformation of heart and mind....

True, Jesus was clearly saying that unless you eat his body and blood in Eucharist, you cannot have his life in you.  But the biggest challenge for the people who were casually following him was, 1. Jesus was making the claim that he was THE full embodiment of the very ‘life of God’ and he was asking those who followed him to accept this, and submit to him as the absolute authority of God. Some were not prepared to do that.  2. Jesus was saying that following him meant the highest standard of moral life, of accepting and taking into one’s life and actions, the values and practices of the Kingdom of God, the values of the Gospel...

People stopped following Jesus NOT because they were having intellectual difficulty comprehending the meaning of his teaching, but rather, because he was challenging their lives and it was requiring a change of vision and action that they were not prepared to make.  They refused to follow him because they found his message too challenging for them.

Jesus goes on to say something else really key, that puts a new perspective on our lives and actions... he says  .. “the life-giving power is ‘Spirit’ , the flesh gives no help....  It iss important to make a really clear distinction here....

Jesus was using words that indicate that he was NOT saying the BODY is bad and useless and the Spirit is all good.... Not at all...  In fact,  the incarnation (God becoming human)  and the resurrection and ascension of the Lord into heaven, shows us that the Body is sacred and holy and is intended to be glorified by God in Heaven.   So, rather, Jesus was saying there is a distinction between the Spiritual and the earthly, base aspects of our lives... The Spirit gives life and meaning and significance to our actions...   SO, for Jesus... it is not so much what we do, but the Spirit with which we do it.   “the real value of something actually is found in the aim and intention”   .. 
For example, “if I eat only for the sake of eating and not for the intention of keeping myself nourished and healthy so that I have the energy to live my life in service of God and others, then the flesh is at work and the Spirit is not engaging me.   If I exercise, merely for the sake of exercise or to build myself up,  as opposed to the Spirit of keeping myself fit so that I can care for the body God gave me and be able to do the work God wants of my life... then the Spirit it misplaced...  “the things of the flesh gain their value from the Spirit in which they are done”.

Jesus tells us, HIS WORDS ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE. Jesus gives our lives meaning. Only Jesus can tell us what life is really about and put the meaning and Spirit into what we do and who we are. Christ alone can give us our true purpose and meaning and the power to work out that vocation in our daily lives, and gain the strength to resist the constant opposition that can come from around us and even from within us, the opposition of contrary values and philosphies of life that do not give true life and lasting  meaning.
I constantly wonder to myself... some of the things that worry us and bring us down... surely many of these things could be transformed I let go of the worldly interpretation of things and see things with the different eyes that God sees and values things in.....

I don’t mean to be utterly negative about our modern society... and its values... but i must say there are some strong values and philosophies that are so dominant and so powerful in our society that if one accepts them, it can make one’s life miserable......  it can send one down a path of constant futility,...  i speak for example of our wider societies ‘cult of beauty’.....  ‘the cult of slim-ness’.... the ‘cult of exercise’.... Again, there is nothing wrong with us taking care of the resources we have, including our bodies,... but again last night i was watching a show about celebrities and diets and how they are forced to do all these drastic diets to get thin for a movie role or a premiere... and how the tabloids comment on the weight and looks of a person and happily splash a photo of some star without makeup or their hair all messed up..... I had to turn it off in disgust... are we not ruly sick of this shallow concept of the meaning and value of a person.....   //..     And those reality shows.. Remember those ones that show people behaving badly whilst travelling on airlines....  (which is just about people getting upset that they have been delayed, refused entry or some such thing) ...... Again I switched off the tv the other day when an ad came on....  ‘why have two rival boxers been booked onto the same flight’///why???....because the public cannot get enough of manipulated tension and "aggro'; to give the show ratings.. that’s why... ‘  //  It would not be deemed "much of a show" if it was a quiet day at the office...//

Even the value of the person....  it does not take much to see that if you scratch the surface there is a powerful value system in our society saying.. ‘my value is in my job alone.....  my true value is all about my ability to be able to do things.....  my value is in what I own and where I stand on the ladder of society....’   
Jesus says that this is NOT where our true value lies at ALL.....   But his words are too hard for many and they refuse to follow...

Jesus, thank goodness, does not water down his teaching in order to keep those who are turning away. In fact, he steps up the strength of his message even more. He will not back down.   And thankfully, he turns to his disciples and says... ‘Are you going to leave too?”  and St Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit replies bravely and truthfully...  “where else could we go... there is nowhere else to go....YOU have the words of everlasting life.”  YOU have the truth Lord, why would we turn away from true meaning....  no matter how challenging....
Lord, help us to keep following your ways, and Lord, help us to reject all that is contrary to your values.....   May your life and your Gospel transform our hearts, minds and bodies...

[From reflection by Paul Kelly,

Daily Study Bible. Johns Gospel. William Barclay. also,