Father’s Weekly Message

Fr Bob Writes – December 9, 2018

A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6)

Our Gospel this Sunday focuses on the person of John the Baptist and his important role in preparing the Jewish people for the coming of Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah and Savior. In the opening verses of our gospel, Luke provides a historical setting for John’s mission and gives him a great deal of print in his gospel. This not only demonstrates the importance of John as a precursor to Jesus, but also indicates the influence of his ministry. Paul, for whom Luke functioned as secretary, encountered many people during his missionary journeys who had received the baptism of John but did not yet know about Jesus. Paul needed to be very sensitive to their faith, to build on their relationship to John while leading them onward to Jesus Christ. John is given a very significant role in Luke’s gospel, but always in juxtaposition to Jesus whose mother was declared even more blessed than the mother of John, whose birth was even more miraculous, and who pointed his immediate disciples toward Jesus.

John received his call in the desert. Rather than wandering like a hermit in the desert since leaving home in his early teen years, John most likely lived at Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea with a religious community called the Essenes. They practiced a form of ritual baptism as a sign of purification and dedicated themselves to studying and copying the Hebrew scriptures. The community had established itself at Qumran to get away from the influences of the world. John was unique among the members of the community in receiving a call to go out to that surrounding world with the message of repentance.

During the Jewish uprising around 70 AD, the Essenes placed the many scrolls from their library in large clay jars which they hid in nearby caves for safekeeping as they evacuated the site to hold out against the Roman army at Masada, a bit further south along the Dead Sea. All the members of the community died at Masada. No one returned to Qumran, and the jars of scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were not discovered until the 1940s. From texts found among those scrolls is found indication that the Essenes used the same passage from Isaiah quoted about John, in today’s gospel, (Isaiah 40:3-5) to explain the existence of their community in the desert at Qumran.

This Advent, what are you doing to “prepare the way ” for the coming of Jesus?

(with thanks to Fr Denny Dempsey)

Fr. Bob Writes – November 25, Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This Sunday, the last of the current church year, is the feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. All the readings, and the psalm, show the false, limited kingdoms of the world confronting the eternal, true kingdom of God and being defeated.

In our gospel, Jesus, the true king of kings, confronts Pontius Pilate, representative of the most powerful kingdom on earth at the time, the Roman Empire.  In Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, four languages are spoken at different times in the dialogue. Aramaic and Hebrew, the two common languages of Jesus and his followers, are the most frequently spoken. There is also Greek, the language of the common person throughout the Roman Empire, employed in conversations of Pilate with his soldiers and other non-Jews. In our gospel’s conversation between Jesus and Pilate, however, regarding Jesus’ kingship, Pilate addresses Jesus in Latin, a language which at the time was spoken only by the elite of the Roman world, the educated and royal class. Jesus’ response in perfect Latin was one way Pilate was given to recognize kingly qualities in Jesus.

Pilate is clearly baffled. Here is a king and a kingdom he has had no experience in dealing with, and he does not know how to respond. His terse remark to Jesus “What is truth?” shows that he lacks the ability to converse with Jesus on the level of his supernatural kingdom. However, he recognizes that Jesus poses no political threat to the Roman Empire and wants to set him free, but the chief priests and elders of the Jews refuse to let that happen and force Pilate into executing Jesus.  However, Pilate has the last laugh on them. He has written on the signboard above Jesus’ cross, which sets out the reasons why the crucified is being executed, the words “The King of the Jews”. When the chief priests protest at this designation of Jesus, Pilate tersely responds: “What I have written, I have written”.

What leads you and me to recognize Jesus as King and to place ourselves under the authority of Christ the King?

Fr. Bob Writes – November 18, 2018

Fr Bob writes: Our first reading this Sunday, from the book of Daniel, introduces us to a type of writing called “apocalyptic,” a word that means ‘unveiling” or “revealing.”  The book of Revelation (also called “Apocalypse”) in the New Testament is another example, as is the gospel text this Sunday.  It is a genre of literature pointing ahead to the “Day of the Lord” and consummation of history, when God would definitively intervene in world affairs to bring about his final purposes for his people and the world.  It was usually written to strengthen and comfort the faithful in times of adversity with the promises of God’s prophetic word.

The imagery used by Jesus in the gospel, of “sun and moon darkening and stars falling from the sky” would be familiar to Jewish people regarding a future time of tribulation culminating in victory for God’s people and need not be taken with absolute literalness.  The idea of some sort of a cosmic upheaval is what is being aimed at in this kind of imagery.  Some Christians have made determination of the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming or Day of the Lord at the end of time a central focus of their theology, even making precise predictions.  Some have even convinced their followers to sell everything and wait at a designated place for a day that came and passed, causing them to lose both credibility and friends at the same time.  One remembers the furore some years ago around a certain Professor Campion who confidently predicted the end of the world, based on a mathematical reading of biblical predictions, then changed the date when his original prediction came and went without incident, and when his revised date still found the world carrying on as usual, promptly disappeared from public view, with many of his followers left financially stranded.

That Jesus will come again, we profess every time we say the Creed.  When is a mystery not even the Son was given to know.  We do best focusing less on determining the exact timing than on being prepared at all times … prepared to stand strong with Jesus no matter what problems or catastrophes beset us.

Father Bob Writes – November 11, 2018

In our gospel this weekend, we read about the poor widow’s donation of two small coins.  During the week of the Passover, upwards of 10,000 pilgrims came through the temple of Jerusalem.  For some, it was the visit of a lifetime.  Some brought sizeable contributions from relatives and Jewish communities as far away as Spain to the west and Persia to the east.

The annual operation of the temple depended on these Passover contributions which probably brought in the equivalent of millions of dollars.  During the Passover at the temple, priests positioned themselves by the collections boxes and blew trumpets when a sizeable donation was placed in the coffers.  Today the phrase “to blow one’s own trumpet” refers to a person who boasts of their own achievements.  To be sure, the poor widow’s contribution received no fanfare or notice from anyone … except Jesus.  The evangelist Mark deliberately draws our attention to the fact that the widow put in both coins, to remind us of the fact that she could have held back one coin for herself, but chose not to, trusting that God would provide, as the responsorial psalm today reminds us, God “upholds the widow and the orphan.”

Fr Bob Writes – November 4, 2018

“Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God the Lord alone!”

This verse from our first reading this Sunday comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  It is called the “Shema” and is the centrepiece of daily Jewish worship, as well-known and central as the Lord’s Prayer is to Christians. It begins with a call to pay special attention: “Hear, O Israel!”  The actual Hebrew text uses the name of God YAHWEH which is never to be spoken out loud by Jewish people due to reverence for God.  Therefore, in the many times that the divine name appears in this text it is replaced by the word “Lord, (This is similar to the tradition many Catholics still follow of bowing their heads at the spoken name of “Jesus”).  It is included in the written text, however, to emphasize the deep personal character of the relationship with God to which the Jewish people are called in this passage.  The statement that the Lord is “our” God enhances that personal relationship.  The Jewish people are to enjoy both the benefits and the responsibilities of an exclusive and especially intimate relationship with Yahweh.

It is many years now since I first heard that Jesus wanted to have a personal relationship with me.  At that time, the idea was extremely novel and entrancing.  I could not imagine that Jesus would want to have any kind of relationship with me.  I thought that he was “up there” in the heavens, oblivious to what was happening in my life “down here.”  These days, the idea of having a “personal relationship” with Jesus is not so novel.  Recent Popes have spoken about it as central to what it means to be a Christian.  Still, for many Catholics, it is a strange and somewhat troubling idea to get their minds (and hearts) around.

However, what separates the Christian God from the so-called “gods” of ancient times, or in this modern era, is that this God of ours has actively entered into our human history at key moments to inaugurate just such a personal encounter.  Our God wants to be known, wants us to seek after him, with the promise that he will allow us to “find” him and enjoy a personal relationship with him (cf Jeremiah 29: 11- 14).  The question for us, however, is: Am I willing to seek after such a personal relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit?  If you want to know more about this, can I encourage you to come along to our Alpha course on Sunday nights?

Fr Bob Writes – October 28, 2018

“They go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing

They come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves” (Psalm 126)

These lines from our responsorial psalm this Sunday speak about the fruitfulness of suffering properly embraced. Joy and suffering are often linked in the New Testament. Fr Jeffrey Kirby, STD explains the spiritual logic behind this seeming paradox:

“In choosing to be happy, we must accept suffering. Some believe that suffering destroys our chance of happiness, but when it’s accepted in the right spirit, suffering purifies and intensifies happiness. We’re all willing to suffer for what we love; a priest is willing to accept hardship for his parish, spouses for one another, parents for their children, leaders for those in their charge, and good citizens for the causes of justice and peace.

It may be difficult to hear, but suffering is a prerequisite to happiness in a fallen world. We must be willing to suffer, to truly die to ourselves, our passions, our self-centredness, our sense of justice, our desire for comfort and ease, and our perception of what the world should be in order to truly find and live in the kingdom of happiness. Properly understood, suffering can be an enduring teacher, a tempered comforter, and a source of perseverance along the way to happiness.

Our human experience provides us with a full panorama of examples that convey this truth. Think about:

 * The husband and father who is terminally ill, suffering from his medical treatments and knowing that he will leave his family soon, and yet is joyful because he knows that he has today with his family, that heaven is real, and that he has the opportunity to show his children how to live and die with grace.

 * The single mother who works two jobs, suffers from standing on her feet throughout the day, barely makes ends meet, has no support, and yet is joyful because she’s doing it all for her kids.

 * The husband  who has to work each night to support his family but prays hard for the energy and will he needs to not only provide for his family but be there for them as well, and finds happiness knowing his labours are a necessary part of life but don’t have to rob him of family joys

 * The young adult who loses friends and becomes an outcast because he chooses not to partake in certain thrills and frivolities, and yet is happy; because of the knowledge that his good choices will bring about true friends in the future.

 * And you …what is your experience? What has overtaken your soul and robbed you of your happiness?

 (Kingdom of Happiness, pp.xxi- xxii)

Fr. Bob Writes – October 18, 2018

I have always believed that we Catholics should keep the image of Christ crucified on our crucifixes in our churches.  Our Protestant brethren prefer that our crosses remain empty of such a corpus, or that the image on the cross should be of Christ risen and triumphant in glowing robes.

We need to remember that the cross of Christ transcends all time and place, that it is through the suffering and death of Jesus that we are saved, justified and reconciled with God.  To move too quickly from the image of a bloody, broken image of Christ on the cross to an image of him in glory, is to run the danger of minimalizing his suffering, and thereby of minimalizing the consequences of sin and the incredible depth of love shown by Christ in submitting to being “crushed with pain.”

Our first reading this Sunday takes us to the harrowing description of the “Suffering Servant” who willingly offers himself on our behalf as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, while allowing that, through his suffering, he will see glory and resurrection and exaltation.  We want to run to the picture of glory and triumph, while bypassing the picture of suffering.  It cannot be done.  It was not so for Jesus, nor will it be necessarily for us.  We want to sit on the right hand of Jesus in glory, like James and John request in our gospel today.  However, this requires us first to “drink the cup” and be “baptized with the baptism” of suffering of Jesus.  As St Thomas of Aquinas reminds us, many people want to sit at table with Christ at the banquet, but not many want to stand with him at the cross.  Do we want a nice, comfortable life above all, or are we ready to follow the naked, poor Christ to the cross?