Straining for Sabbath amidst the demands of phones and computers

A comedian recently quipped that today's information technologies have effectively rendered a number of things obsolete, most notably phone-books and human courtesy. That's also true for human rest.

Today's information technologies (the internet, email, software programs like Facebook, mobile phones, IPhones, pocket computers, and the like) have made us the most informed, efficient, and communicative people ever. We now have the capability, all day, every day, of accessing world events, world news, whole libraries of information, and detailed accounts of what our families and friends are doing at any moment. That's the positive side of the equation.

Less wonderful is what this is doing to our lives, how it is changing our expectations, and robbing us of the simple capacity to stop, shut off the machines, and rest. As we get wrapped up more and more in mobile phones, texting, email, Facebook, and the internet in general, we are beginning to live with the expectation that we must be attentive all the time to everything that's happening in the world and within the lives of our families and friends. The spoken and unspoken expectation is that we be available always - and so too others. We used to send each other notes and letters and expect a reply within days, weeks, or months. Now the expectation for a reply is minutes or hours, and we feel impatient with others when this expectation is not met and guilty inside of ourselves when we can't meet it.

    We will never be abandoned nor forsaken by God

    Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 27 (Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34)

    All God-language is metaphorical and symbolic, for God cannot be described or contained within any word or concept. In the Gospels Jesus routinely employs similes, metaphors and symbols, using everyday images to give hints and suggestions of the nature of God’s Kingdom. Symbolic modes of speech are useful for sketching the divine in very broad terms.

      Jesus commands us to share our love with all

      Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 20 (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)

      What does it mean to be holy? People often toss the word around carelessly but when pressed to define the term they are at a loss. In the Old Testament the term meant that which is set apart — something special and undefiled.

      The Book of Leviticus — certainly not everyone’s favourite book of the Bible — contains some very interesting and challenging commands in its Holiness Code. The passage tells us that holiness is one of the defining descriptions of God. God is holy and God commands the Israelites to be the same. This holiness is manifested in behaviour and attitudes that differ from the typically human and the text is quick to elaborate. Hatred is out, as is the bearing of grudges and the taking of revenge. That alone signals a huge modification of ordinary human behaviour and if practised would result in a very different world. But then comes the big one: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. It should sound familiar for Jesus quotes this passage in the Gospels as part of the greatest commandment.

        Christ allows us to witness joy

        How many times have you heard “My Favourite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and other songs from The Sound of Music? Probably too many. Wonderful tunes, but so familiar they’re hard to hear.

        Their delightfulness was renewed for me by my niece Clare. She knows the songs and the actions that accompany them by heart. She loves to sing along — during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” she echoes in top voice, “older and WISER!” When the children sing the good-bye song, she waves and bows, with flourish great and smile wide.  

        Clare was born with Down Syndrome, in a culture which finds this chromosomal condition so unacceptable that some 90 per cent of babies known to have it in North America are aborted. She has suffered from the prejudice. But she has not forgotten how to revel in the joys of music and dance.

          God's commandments give us guidance in living a good life

          Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 13 (Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)

          “It’s not my fault!” Humans are experts at placing blame everywhere but where it belongs. When they do stupid or wicked things it is far easier to find something or someone to blame than to accept responsibility.

          But Sirach will have none of this. His work is part of an Old Testament theological tradition scholars call the “two-ways” spirituality. People are presented with two ways — one leads to life and happiness, the other to destruction and death. On Ash Wednesday we begin Lent with a two-ways passage from Deuteronomy. We are always urged to choose the first but sadly, as our world attests, many choose the latter. People blame society, their circumstances, other people, genetics or even God. But Sirach is clear: we always have a choice. All of these other influences are certainly present and they can sometimes be very powerful, but in the end nothing can trump the human will.

            Light will flow from an awakened heart

            Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Feb. 6 (Isaiah 58:6-10; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16)

            What makes a people, society or nation holy or spiritual? For many it is the visible signs of religiosity: crucifixes, churches and places of worship, liturgical celebrations and a privileged place for religious symbols and practices. There is a certain security and comfort in these traditions but often they amount to little more than identity markers and signs of belonging.

            Isaiah — as many of the other prophets — questions the manner in which they are used. He makes it crystal clear that the worship of God is properly expressed in justice and compassionate action. He calls for the zealous removal of all forms of economic, social and political bondage that enslaves people. In addition to that he insists on active and hands-on forms of compassion: sharing with the poor and hungry, even to the point of inconvenience and personal sacrifice. Probably the most difficult command is removing the “pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil” — both are things we love to do, especially if we are convinced we are right or morally and spiritually superior.

              Our worth comes from God

              Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 30 (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

              Most people would not view being poor as something desirable but a misfortune to be avoided at all costs. We do not see any particular virtue in having an empty bank account. But the poor — the anawim — are praised in the Old Testament for they are especially close to God and enjoy His favour.

              In this context poverty has a far broader definition than mere lack of wealth. The anawim are cut off from the usual avenues of power in society, disenfranchised, and find themselves with only God as their defender and protector. Part of their isolation stems from their refusal to “play the game” by engaging in the cold and crafty machinations of the power struggles that surround them or the culture of lies and deceit that often accompanies it.

                Catching souls for God

                Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 23 (Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

                Walking in darkness and thirsting for a great light take on a special meaning during the long winter months. The many coloured lights of the Christmas season are but one attempt to roll back the gloom and compensate for the long hours of darkness.

                Thoughts of spring and long summer days are helpful during these months. But there is another kind of darkness: the sense of hopelessness and gloom that occur after a great disaster or tragedy. We can think of wars and natural disasters of our own time. Darkness and the absence of hope are often the daily bread of those whose homes, cities, families and lives have been devastated. Although light, hope and joy are in short supply they top everyone’s wish list.

                  In communion with Christian brethren

                  One day recently, a friend was wrestling with the meaning of communion. He’d heard a homily delineating the proper way to receive the host so as to avoid dropping it. All very practical. But, my friend asked, is that all there is to say? Doesn’t communion mean more to us than rubrics?

                    Take away the sin of the world

                    Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 16 (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)

                    What does it mean to be a servant? The word has been tarnished a bit in our own time for it conjures up the images of class and privilege. But in the spiritual sense being a servant means nothing more (or less) than doing the will of God consistently.

                    The mysterious and nameless Servant that Isaiah portrays is one who has been marked out for this mission from the moment he was conceived. He is addressed as “Israel” in a couple of instances, signifying that his actions and the fate of Israel are inextricably bound. His job is overwhelming: He is to restore and renew the people of Israel, who have been broken and spiritually compromised by the long exile in Babylon. But his mission goes far beyond that. In Isaiah the vision of a universal mission for Israel begins to unfold. Israel’s call from God is on behalf of all humanity. The servant is the model and paradigm for all who seek to love and serve God. It defined the life and ministry of Jesus and it should define the life of all who claim to follow Him. One’s response in faith to God’s call goes far beyond “getting saved” or going to heaven — it is a commitment for service to the world and to humanity. True religion is about service and compassion. Being a servant of God finds its finest expression in being a person for others.

                      God will reward us in His good plan

                      Epiphany (Year A) Jan. 2 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

                      Singing a song of hope and a bright future is very difficult when all of the visible evidence paints a different picture. Incredulity and ridicule are often the rewards for the prophetic individual who dares to swim against the current.