Reflection – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sausages in the letterbox: I recognised the voice on the end of the phone on Sunday night although I’ve only heard it twice before, the last time being in the…

Sausages in the letterbox:

I recognised the voice on the end of the phone on Sunday night although I’ve only heard it twice before, the last time being in the first Lockdown. He didn’t need potatoes this time, just some meat. He hadn’t eaten for several days as the soup kitchen timetable didn’t suit him and the student army wouldn’t deliver the meals from there. I checked the deepfreeze: sausages, mince and chicken drumsticks. He remarked that if he ate any more chicken he would turn into one! Could I check the sodium and saturated fat levels on the back of the packet of sausages as he had health issues? He could boil and then grill them. Would I wrap them and leave them in the letterbox? A gold card would ensure he could get to our place. I was concerned that if he failed to collect the sausages, a soggy package might greet a parishioner early on Monday morning when she put her hand in to leave a bag of knitting. Learning to knit she had encountered some problems that hopefully I could sort for her.

Faith and works belong together. We hear the voice of God and meet Jesus in many different ways, including a request for sausages and help with knitting.

Today marks the beginning of Social Justice Week, the second Sunday of the Season of Creation, and tomorrow, the beginning of te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. So many needs to listen to, so much to pray for and to pray about in relation to these three areas.  So many possible responses to the question Jesus asks Peter in today’s gospel, ‘Who do you say I am?’

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah begins by saying, ‘The Lord has opened my ear.’ i.e., ‘made me open to God.’ This openness, however, comes with great risks. The servant has learnt how to listen to God, how to be attentive to God, but because of this he has suffered much at the hands of those who oppose him. Nevertheless, he remains utterly convinced that God will be with him.

Peter, on the other hand, seems to have great trouble hearing what Jesus was trying to tell him – that Jesus was going to suffer and that being a disciple would involve suffering. The people at the time of Jesus were waiting for a messiah. But they had different understandings of who this messiah would be and what he would do. Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples, correctly recognised Jesus as the Messiah but he could not accept a messiah who was going to suffer. And we see how exasperated Jesus gets — Peter is supposed to follow Jesus but instead he tries to lead Jesus!

The question Jesus asks Peter, about who he thinks Jesus is, is the same question Jesus asks us today. (I’m sure Jesus doesn’t want us to respond, ‘Begotten not made’, ‘consubstantial with the father’!) If, like Peter, we profess that Jesus is the Messiah, then, according to the Letter of James, it’s not enough just to profess our faith – what we believe must be spelled out in our actions. Our faith must be a living, practical faith. Sausages in the letter box matter!  All the challenging issues raised by Social Justice Week, Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and the Season of Creation matter enormously! Huge behavioural changes are needed urgently by all of us if we wish to be authentic disciples of Jesus. We have to proclaim Jesus  by our words, AND follow him by our actions.

So, faith in Jesus has its demands. It’s more than saying, ‘You are the Messiah.’ It makes claims on us. Its implications are daunting. It means suffering! So, take some time this week to respond to Jesus’s question, ‘Who do you say I am? Perhaps his next question may be, ‘Sooooooo, what are you going to do about what you have just professed about me?’ Being a disciple is not for the faint hearted! As Isaac Watts wrote in that well-known hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: “Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my all’. We will celebrate the exaltation of that cross on Tuesday.

Hearing: Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Every morning I hear the very distinctive sound of a grey warbler coming from somewhere outside in a neighbour’s tree. I can never see it no matter how hard I look so I must rely on my ability to hear.

Today’s readings say a lot about hearing.

Because of his physical impairments the man in the gospel story had been in a permanent Lockdown, not just for three weeks!

In an oral culture like the one in which Jesus lived, being unable to hear put a person at a great disadvantage — hearing was everything! Why? Because one of the prayers at the heart of Judaism begins ‘Hear o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone’. Hearing symbolises being open to God. So, in restoring the man’s hearing, Jesus was restoring his openness to God as well as enabling him to participate more fully in the community. Both the first reading, in which the prophet Isaiah tells us that the blind see and the deaf hear, and the Gospel, then, have something to do with hearing.

The Season of Creation with this year’s theme, ‘A Home for All, Renewing the Oikos (household) of God’ invites us to listen to these readings through the perspective of our common home, God’s oikos. So, what is God’s word saying to us here in Wellington South, if we put that perspective front and centre?

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks about a time of restoration, of a renewed earth when everything will flourish. It’s hard for us, when we’ve had so much rain over recent months, to see water, as Isaiah suggests, as a life-giving blessing. We’ve seen it cause so much destruction and havoc of late that it’s hard to view it positively. As I prepared this reflection serious flooding was happening across parts of Auckland, and Westport is in the midst of a massive recovery programme. So, at present it’s quite difficult to imagine Isaiah’s deathly dryness – the scorched earth and the parched land. But as well as the desert flourishing and all life within it, Isaiah foretells that salvation and healing will come to people. In the prophet’s vision then all in God’s oikos will renewed and restored.

Just as Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man and restored his openness to God, it is Jesus who can open our ears to hear the word of God revealed to us through both the wonder and beauty of the created world, as well as through all the environmental and climate challenges we are currently facing. Pope Francis urges us to listen to the cry of the poor, and the cry of the earth. They are intimately connected as the current pandemic has demonstrated so clearly. Both the psalm and the reading from James remind us of the poor in our midst.

So perhaps we have to allow Jesus to put spittle on us. We have to allow him to unblock our ears so that we can hear the voice of our common home, the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. We need be cured of our deafness towards both. The friends of the deaf man brought him to Jesus who then took him away from the crowd. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, faith comes from a personal encounter with Jesus.

Let’s take a moment during these days of Lockdown to stand with the deaf man somewhere in the outdoors and allow Jesus to unblock our ears, to put his fingers in our ears, to touch  our tongue with his spittle so we can hear God’s voice speaking — perhaps shouting — to us through the environment, that with our commitment there might be a restored and renewed home for all people, all creatures and all species of the earth.

Sr Elizabeth Julian RSM
Catholic Parish of Wellington South

Thinking about the Rules: Readings for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scan in! Wear a mask! Keep two metres apart! Stay in your bubble! Wash your hands! Self isolate! Rules and regulations! What for? To keep us alive.

In the first reading Moses encourages the Israelites to obey the Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments. Why? So that they would all have life and enter the Promised Land. God had heard their cry and wanted to free them from slavery in Egypt. The Ten Commandments, which as a nine-year old I learnt to sing (I may sing a couple), give us a picture of a God of justice. The Israelites had to respect both God and other people and other people’s property. In that way they would all have life. By keeping the Law they would impress other nations who would be amazed at their wisdom. Moses reminds the people of the remarkable closeness of their God. What a beautiful relationship they must have had! Being close to God’s heart was so important.

In the second reading we are urged to do more that just hear the word of God which has been planted in us — we have to do something about it, we must bear fruit. What does that fruit look like? In biblical times it meant helping the most vulnerable in society: the widows, the orphans, the stranger.  Who are the most vulnerable in our neighbourhood at the moment? The Soup Kitchen is calling for donations of food or garden produce as it tries to cater for at least 250 people in need every day. So, we have to do something practical about God’s law of life for all.

However, sometimes conforming to the law too rigidly can restrict life rather than enhance it.

Sometimes in our families, in our society, in our church or even in our own life, we can maintain customary practices without really understanding them, or asking why we continue to do what we do when times have changed so much. Do we ever stop to think: Is this life-giving? Is there a better way? Does anything need to change in order for us to experience the newness that the Spirit brings? In terms of the institutional church, the upcoming synod should provide a good opportunity to evaluate certain customs and traditions to see if they foster life for all and not just some.

In the gospel, Jesus criticises those who insist on a very strict observance of simple customs, for example, elaborate purification rituals (remember, this was pre Covid times!) which really began as a way to protect the Law, but which became to be seen as just as important as the Law itself. But Jesus wasn’t having any of it!  Once again it is the heart that is important. He reminds the people of this important truth by quoting Isaiah. ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ God’s heartbeat was no longer their heartbeat. That is, they weren’t practising what they preached. Jesus chides them for putting aside the commandment of God and clinging to human traditions.

So whatever we do, all our actions, must be informed by the right disposition or motivation of our hearts, hearts steeped in God’s life-giving Law. All our actions must spring from there. That way we can be sure that we won’t be guilty of the somewhat mind-boggling sins of fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride or folly! Rather, our love for God will be visible in our compassionate concern for our neighbour and the most vulnerable among and around us as we move into Level 3.

Sr Elizabeth Julian RSM
Catholic Parish of Wellington South

Looking Three Ways: Reflection for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Victor Frankel was a famous survivor of Nazi concentration camps during WWII. He was an Austrian psychiatrist who said that prisoners who lost faith in the future were doomed. In order to survive, in order find meaning, they had to look up, to look around and to look back. Three tasks. So, in order to get through our current national crisis, we too need to look up, to look around and to look back.

Finding ways to come together to pray in this time of lockdown is looking up, that is, turning to our belief system, turning to our triune God, placing all our confidence and all our trust in this God to sustain us at this difficult, stressful and unsettling time.

We can look around for others who may need help, who may need a listening ear. We can provide this help through a phone call, an email, perhaps an offer to do grocery shopping for an elderly neighbour, checking on those who live alone, volunteering to help with food distribution at St Vincent de Paul’s, etc.  Perhaps we can call those grieving at the moment. We can also check on our priests and make sure they are doing okay. So, we are looking up and we can look around.

The third task, looking back means learning the lessons of history. We can look back to the first Lockdown and recall what worked what didn’t work in terms of our faith communities. In my parish, a liturgy on Zoom is the result of that. Some of us wanted to come together to pray as a community. We missed one another; we missed praying and singing together, we missed our cup of tea together. Having said that, I’m aware that Fr John O’Connor, the director of the National Liturgy Office encouraged Catholics this week to worship by themselves in their own way at home.

Looking back can also help us understand that being human always involves struggle and challenge. It’s never plain sailing.  Last Sunday we heard Joshua give this challenge to the struggling Israelites: choose either the God of the Exodus, the God who had led them through the desert, or choose their old pagan gods. The people promised that of course they would serve God. When we look back at their history, we see that they often failed. Maybe we too have to proclaim that, indeed, ‘We will serve the Lord,’ fully aware that we will often fail.

In the letter to the Ephesians we were urged to love one another as Christ loves, to treat everyone with equal dignity, to take care of one another. Looking back can encourage us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

We heard Jesus in the Gospel ask his struggling disciples if they want to continue to choose him. Peter has the right answer: ‘Lord to whom should we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We believe. We know you are the Holy One of God.’ Is that our answer today? When we look up, look around, look back, what do Jesus’ words of eternal life call us to do in homes, in our bubbles today?

Sr Elizabeth Julian RSM
Catholic Parish of Wellington South