Waiting for the Spirit

Third Sunday in Advent (Year A) Dec. 12 (Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11)

When water is withdrawn from the land life virtually ceases. We have all seen the pictures of parched devastation in the countries of the sub-Sahara where creeping desert has reclaimed the land. Areas hit by drought in other countries yield only the withered remnants of fruit and grain. But the addition of even a small amount of water can make the desert areas come to life and bloom.

    Open our minds

    Second Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 5  (Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

    How can our messy world be cleaned up and set right? Some form of this question is uppermost in the minds of many people. We long for a world of justice, peace, harmony and compassion but it seems to elude us — many of our efforts not only fail but seem to make matters worse. That pesky and destructive thing called human nature is often the culprit. But there are no quick fixes and no divine figure is going to wave a wand and make the problems go away.

      Precious moments

      First Sunday of Advent (Year A) Nov. 28 (Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)

      Where do human beings meet God and receive divine revelation? According to the ancient worldview it was often on a mountaintop and here Isaiah describes one that is the highest. This can only mean a more powerful encounter with God and a more profound and transforming revelation. This calls for leaving the comfort of human culture and thought systems and making oneself vulnerable. Not only that, the ascent requires elevating thoughts, ideals and desires away from self and towards God.

        God is the only king we will ever need

        Christ the King (Year C) Nov. 21 (2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43)

        Sometimes wanting is better than having. The people of Israel had been governed by covenant and divine law since their liberation from Egypt. They had no real need for a central government or strong ruler. Councils, elders and a loose confederation of the 12 tribes were sufficient. In times of distress or attack, God designated and anointed a judge or military leader but this role was not hereditary — it expired with the death of the leader or the passing of the crisis. In a sense they saw themselves as ruled by God.

          Guidance and grace help us respond to life's challenges

          33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 14 (Malachi 4:1-2; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)

          The thought of the “arrogant and the evildoers” getting their comeuppance is a very appealing one. Most movies and books cater to this very human desire and when a film ends in ambiguity or even with evil triumphant we feel a sense of distress and unease. We want an orderly and tidy moral universe.

            God comes to me

            How do we cope with the pain of betrayal, especially when it comes from within, from family?

            Consider Jess, whose mother Kristen gave birth to her as a teenager. Kristen wanted an abortion but couldn’t get one; she’d slipped into a drug addiction that would last 20 years. She kept the child and raised her, with some help from her family and occasional help from the various men in her life, mostly fellow addicts. By the time she was 12, Jess had learned much about, shall we say, adult entertainment. She’s spent much of the rest of her life trying to distance herself from her upbringing, discover a healthy sexuality and find how to be in real relationships. Her anger against her mother is unabated; for her, betrayal and hurt came not from outside, but from within, from the one who should offer protection and comfort, support and nourishment. One of her biggest challenges is to learn to trust. By now, Jess knows how to cope, but she also needs to be healed.

              God will stand by those firm in faith

              32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 7 (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 7, 9-14; Psalm 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38)

              How much are we willing to suffer for our faith and our cherished beliefs? Brave talk is easy but it is not until faced with some fearsome choices that we discover what is inside of us.

              The Book of Maccabees was written during the second century BC at the time of the Jewish revolt against the oppression of the Antiochus Epiphanes, who was one of the Greek successors to Alexander the Great. This tyrant attempted to wipe out Jewish culture and religion replacing it with Greek culture. Jewish religious practices were forbidden and refusal to comply was punished by death.  

                God seeks salvation for all

                31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 31 (Wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

                Some people gaze at the stars and lose their faith — what are we in the context of infinity? Others, however, gaze at the same stars and experience what can only be called mystical illumination.

                  God is our ultimate judge

                  30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 24 (Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

                  Justice is often portrayed as a blindfolded figure holding a set of scales implying that justice is blind and even-handed.

                  Unfortunately, we know from experience that this is not always the case. We have seen notorious cases in which the perpetrator of a heinous crime wiggles through the net and walks away free thanks to a very expensive and high-powered defense team. Often justice depends far too much on where a person is situated in the social and economic scale and the influence of one’s personal connections.

                  On the other hand, many have been unjustly accused and convicted for lack of an effective spokesperson or defense. Even winning a judgment against a huge corporation can be an empty victory for they have the resources to drag the appeals’ process on forever. All of this can leave us with a sense of bitterness and cynicism and it was no different in the time in which Sirach was written.

                  The author assures us that we all stand before the judgment of one who cannot be bought, manipulated or influenced in any way. God is impartial — it does not matter who we are. God listens to and judges the unvarnished facts of the case according to the principles of divine justice. And the judgment that is given is always fair — no appeals necessary or allowed.

                  Will we see this justice in our own lifetime? Sometimes that is the case. People who are unjust and unkind to others sooner or later bring it down on their own heads — as the old saying goes, “what goes around comes around.” Cruel or unjust systems — political, economic or religious — ultimately sow the seeds of their own destruction. But even if justice is not given in this world we all eventually meet ourselves for human beings cannot cheat or trick God. It is important to live with a sense of moral purpose and to seek justice always, both for ourselves and others.

                  At the same time we must accept with serenity the fact that justice will not always unfold according to our preferred time and method.

                  The author of 2 Timothy, a follower of Paul, likens our spiritual journey to a race. The most important thing is not winning the race but finishing it. It is fidelity and commitment that is required rather than perfection. Paul was probably tempted to cut and run at times but as the passage says, he kept the faith. The crown of righteousness is a symbol for the “prize” given to those who keep trying regardless of difficulties, failures or mistakes. Our own culture does not value commitment or long-term fidelity as much as in the past — perhaps this is an antidote for our own “cut and run” attitude.

                  This wonderful story of the tax-collector and the Pharisee is as valid today as it was when it was written. It is not about Pharisees, it is about us and about all religious people. If the story were told today in a Christian setting nothing would change except the labels. The target is spiritual smugness and the conviction that one has arrived spiritually. The Pharisee in the story did not look deeply into himself — if he had done so, he would have realized that he despised in the tax collector what he feared most in himself. Being zealous and punctilious in obeying laws and rules does not create a just and loving person. The tax collector is one who is free of denial or illusions — he knows and feels his brokenness and desperate need for God. No excuses, no plea bargaining, no game playing, just a heartfelt plea for forgiveness.

                  This story has so much to teach us today, especially about the tendency to despise those of whom we do not approve. The debates that swirl around the issues of our day can scarcely be called debates for they lack the civility, decorum and respect that form the heart of the debating tradition.

                  Demonization and character assassination of those who think or act differently are the projection of our own inner darkness. St. Paul had it quite right with his insistence that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and stand in need of mercy and forgiveness.

                  A little humility and charity go a long, long way.

                    The true follower will persist in prayer

                    29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 17 (Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

                    The image that a military commander projects on the battlefield is often an important element in an army’s victory or defeat. Our own time has not lacked flamboyant generals: Patton, Montgomery, MacArthur and others have left indelible images on our historical and cultural memory. In the ancient world the general was often in the thick of the fighting, and his death or capture would often signal the defeat of his army as his demoralized troops lost heart and fled.

                      Beware falling into the judgment trap

                      “It’s hard getting to church in the city,” a man remarked. “By the time you’ve finished judging everybody you see on the subway, you’re not really in the frame of mind for church.”

                      Why is it so difficult for us to stop judging? Even becoming aware we’re doing it is a task-and-a-half. The subway man may be readier for church than most of us, since he at least sees that he’s judging.