Father’s Weekly Message

Fr Bob Writes – September 17, 2017

Our Gospel today gives a clear self-explanatory presentation of the Christian teaching on forgiveness.  Beginning with God’s treatment of us, Jesus makes an appeal for a similar Spirit of mercy among his followers.  To Peter’s question of how often forgiveness should be extended, Jesus responds that it should be without limit.  Seven is a perfect number; it’s multiples express the incalculable, seventy-seven times pointing to forgiveness that cannot be limited to a certain number of times.

The figure owed by the slave to the king is deliberately fantastic, amounting to the equivalent of $9 million, as opposed to the mere $200 owed to the slave by his fellow slave.  The former is the recipient of pardon for hugely more than he is owed, therefore his spirit should be magnanimous because of his own experience.  The implication for us as Christians is clear.  Given the fact that we have already received God’s forgiveness through baptism and countless other moments in life, we are in a unique position to offer that same spirit to others.  Are there people we are holding back from forgiving, demanding judgement by God on them, while we ask mercy from God for ourselves?

Fr Bob Writes – August 27, 2017

“Simon Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” 

In this sentence, quoted from our gospel this weekend, Peter expresses the full Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus.  It is important that it is Peter who states it, on behalf of the other apostles, because Peter will then be declared by Jesus to be “the Rock on which I will build my church.”  Jesus thereby declares what will be the fundamental role of every successor of Peter, whom we call the Pope, until the end of time.  We don’t necessarily look for great revelations from our popes, or great teachings, not even that they be models of extreme holiness. But what we require them to be is firm upholders of the Church’s belief that Jesus is indeed “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.

So Peter is not commended for his intelligence or acute perception but, rather, his attention to God the Father.  This indicates that Peter sought the guidance of God in prayer, the most important quality which Jesus wanted in the person to whom he would entrust the leadership of his church.  A short while later, however, (Matthew 16:22), Peter will take Jesus aside and try to convince him that suffering and death are not necessary to complete his mission.  Jesus knows otherwise and calls Peter a “satan” or adversary.  Peter was capable of discerning the will of God in prayer, but had plenty of times when he neglected to pray and listened more to human reasoning.  Which side of Peter do we most often show in our own lives?

Fr Bob Writes – August 20, 2017

The story of the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in this Sunday’s gospel at first looks as if Jesus is being misogynistic and racist.  But a closer look reveals that Jesus is being anything but.

Jesus has come to this place on the northernmost borders of Israel for some quiet retreat time with his apostles.  The woman crashes in uninvited into his personal space, and is shouting and demanding that Jesus responds to her need immediately.  She is being rude, albeit obviously desperate.  Jesus knows that he cannot respond to any and every demand on his time.  He is human, after all, and needs downtime, like all of us.  He has to set personal boundaries, again like all of us, to make sure he is not totally worn out all the time.  He also believes that the first step in evangelizing the world is to evangelize his own people, the Jews, who have been prepared for millenia to receive the Messiah.  Thus Jesus says, in answer to the disciples request to send the woman away, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”  It is for his disciples after his ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to go out and evangelize the world (cf Acts 1:8).

The disciples want Jesus to give the woman what she wants and send her away; she is being a nuisance.  But Jesus will not be dismissive.  He wants to take the measure of this woman.  So he gives her audience, and meets her in a personal, face-to-face way, and allows her to stretch his boundaries in this particular case.  He is touched by her reverence when she comes into his presence, kneeling before him and simply pleading “Lord help me.”

Modern history indicates all too well the animosities which exist among people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.  It was no difference in Jesus’ time.  Jews and Canaanites didn’t get along any better than Jews and Samaritans.  “Dogs!” they would call them.  Jesus makes reference to the derogatory term in his dealings with the woman.  Here we must go beyond the mere written word to imagine the way in which Jesus spoke the word.  The woman must have sensed from Jesus’ tone that he was not putting her down but inviting her to a bit of verbal sparring.  She understood and gave Jesus a great comeback statement.  Jesus, who in earlier conversations quoted in the gospels enjoyed such verbal interaction, applauded the woman’s persistence, wit and faith by healing her daughter.

Fr Bob Writes – August 13, 2017

The dramatic story told in our gospel this weekend of Jesus walking on the water towards the apostles struggling to stay afloat in their boat, and of Peter’s attempts to walk on water like Jesus, have some important theological and spiritual points to make.

Firstly, the boat represents the church wherein the apostles conduct their mission, a church beset by persecution, opposition and apostasy, symbolized by storm and night.  The stormy sea is symbolic in biblical writings of chaotic evil over which God triumphs (cf Psalm 77:17; 107:25-30).  In the midst of turmoil, it is clearly the abiding presence of Christ that saves.  His Lordship over nature and human beings is underscored in various ways.  He walks on the water (ps 77:19), he identifies himself as “I am (he),” the same self-identification used by God to Moses in the scene of the burning bush (cf Exodus 3:14), Peter addresses him as “Lord,” a biblical term for God, and pleads for salvation, which only God can deliver.

I always marvel at Peter’s request to come to Jesus across the water.  If I had been in his position when Jesus identified himself, I would have asked Jesus to come over to the boat instead.  The story is much better, however, as Peter must go through the turbulence to get to Jesus.  The force of the storm does not immediately abate. As long as Peter keeps his focus on Jesus, however, he does okay.  When he turns his focus again to the storm, he begins to sink.  Given that the storm represents, among other things,  the problems we face in life, we too will sink if we let the storm hold our focus.  As I shared in my homily last Sunday, our faith and hope must be “centred” on Jesus.  May we keep our eyes fixed on him as we pass through the storms of life.

Fr Bob Writes – August 6, 2017

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty …” (2 Peter 1:16-17)

Many people today consider the events recounted in the gospels about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be no more than “cleverly devised myths” written down centuries after the events themselves.  But Peter makes it clear that he was an actual eye-witness of the event of the Transfiguration of Jesus, which is celebrated at this weekend’s Mass.

The gospel writers themselves took great pains to ensure they give us an accurate accounting of Jesus’ words and actions.  St Luke, at the beginning of the gospel that bears his name writes: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you.” (Luke 1 : 1-3).  Even though Luke does not claim to be an eyewitness of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus himself, he nonetheless, as a faithful historian, checks out the facts he is putting down by making a careful investigation of these facts, talking to people who had been actual eyewitnesses or knew people who had been eyewitnesses.  It is clear, for instance, from the events of the Annunciation, Visitation, Birth of Jesus, Presentation of Jesus and Finding of Jesus in the Temple recorded only in Luke’s gospel, that Luke must have interviewed Mary, Jesus’ own mother herself.

We know that there were many false accounts of Jesus’ life, written up in the early years of the Church, but because of the presence of eyewitnesses to Jesus still living, they were quickly discredited.  Modern investigators like to seize on these spurious writings, such as The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, or The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and claim they are authentic accounts, which the Church has tried to bury.  But in fact, the Church knew them to be false from the very beginning, and that is why they find no place in the current canon of Holy Scripture.

The books of Scripture, Old and New Testament, our Bible, have stood the test of time and are held to be the inspired word of God himself (cf The Document on Divine Revelation from Vatican II).  God has ensured that we have an unbroken testimony to the facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection stretching back to the time of Jesus himself.  ‘So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.  You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (from second reading this Sunday).

Fr Bob Writes – July 30, 2017

“Give me an understanding heart …” (1 Kings 3:8)

Because Solomon asked for the gift of wisdom to serve God and his people, God granted him wisdom and understanding.  These gifts are among those listed in Is 11:2 and known as “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”  With whatever gifts we are entrusted by God…discernment, intelligence, personal talents, wealth, position…they are not given to us as personal possessions.  We receive them not as owners but as stewards.

It is extremely tempting, however, to lose the perspective of being stewards and begin to consider our gifts as personal possessions.  This can be a recipe for disaster as one’s gifts can become twisted into instruments for self-aggrandizement to the detriment of those who should be the beneficiaries of our gifts.  Take Solomon, for example.  Enamored of his wisdom, he turned a deaf ear to God’s guidance through the prophet Nathan (1 Kings 11).  Solomon believed he was wise enough to form a better plan than what the prophet offered.  He was not to marry outside of his own Jewish faith, but Solomon thought it wise to form alliances with other countries… alliances cemented by marriage.  In the process, Solomon married many a non-Jewish woman and then further offended God by building temples to their gods in the hills surrounding Jerusalem.  At the end of his life, Solomon was rejected both by God and the people he ruled.

Thank God for the gifts you have received.  Remember they are entrusted to you as a steward, not as the owner, and you will share in greater blessings.

Fr Bob Writes – July 23, 2017

Fr Bob writes: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings…” (Romans 8:26)

“Have you ever wanted to express some powerful emotion in your heart but just couldn’t find the words to do so?  Think on the many times you have expressed joy, sorrow, frustration or other emotions without words, bypassing the mental process of formulating thoughts into meaningful  words and phrases?  Hugs, tears, laughter, shouts, cheers, sobs and groans expressed what was within your heart far more effectively than words could ever do.

It is said that, during times of private prayer, Pope John Paul II could often be heard emitting low groans.  Whatever he was placing before God at the time, he was bypassing words and letting the Spirit bring his prayer directly before the Lord.  St Paul describes such communications in today’s second reading as “inexpressible groanings.”  It is from the heart rather than the intellect that the most profound prayers proceed. Often wordless, they are emotive expressions which other people may not understand but God understands perfectly.”

(thanks to Fr Denny Dempsey for the above comments)