Fr. Bob Writes – March 8, 2020. Second Sunday of Lent.

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.” 

Most people, even in our modern age, don’t move very far from the place where they were raised.  There is a certain security in having family nearby and living in familiar territory.  Such was even more the case for many peoples in ancient times who sought to live under the protection of their gods which were often associated with territories.  Still, people were on the go even in ancient times.  Armies marched to war in foreign countries.  Merchants travelled extensively.  Nomads and shepherds moved from place to place seeking greener pastures.  In such instances, people often had household gods symbolized by statues which they brought with them for personal protection.

Abram (before he became “Abraham”) was one of those nomad peoples, used to travelling from place to place.  What makes this journey in our first reading this weekend different is that Abram does it at the behest of Yahweh, a god unknown to him beforehand.  God seems to have appeared to him “out of the blue” and invited him to go on this journey to an unknown land, and Abram goes as he is directed.  He is placing his belief and trust in this unknown god who has appeared to him, making these incredible promises of blessings, especially with regards to a multitude of posterity.  What is significant is that Abram puts his faith and trust in Yahweh for this, even though he is already 75 years of age, and his wife Sarah is only a few years younger, and well beyond the prospect of becoming pregnant. 

This story relates to the gospel for this weekend, the gospel of the transfiguration of Jesus, in the acceptance of God’s guidance into the unknown paths of life which lie ahead of us.  We are given this story of the transfiguration every Lent on the second weekend, to remind us that, no matter what befalls us, we can rest assured that Christ is Lord, and totally in control of our circumstances.  We are invited during Lent to make the same journey of faith and trust in Jesus, that Abram makes in Yahweh.

Fr. Bob Writes – March 1, 2020. First Weekend of Lent

Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil …”

Fr Denny Dempsey writes:  “Temptations to satisfy one’s physical hungers and desires, to acquire possessions and power, to be acclaimed and admired… such are the basic groups of the temptations that test every person. But were they really temptations in Jesus’ case?

Let’s look at a couple of dimensions of temptations.  We might call the first the “invitation” of the temptation being placed before us.  That is certainly present with the offers Satan presents Jesus.  The second dimension is feeling a certain attraction to what is offered.  Being human, Jesus did experience an attraction to the temptations, but his resistance was extremely strong based on both his divine identity as well as the discipline and dedication he lived each day and in particular through extended times of prayer.  Jesus had just completed a forty-day retreat.  Our resistance to temptation is stronger when we dedicate ourselves to God and immerse ourselves in prayer. 

Are temptations always toward something morally wrong?  We generally consider temptation in such a context, but we could also speak of being “tempted” to do a good deed, to give money to someone in need, to take a job that brings less income but makes a greater impact on society.  Bottom line… temptation is a test in which we must choose between options.  We pray that God not lead us into tests we are incapable of passing, but tests become opportunities to choose and do God’s will, to prove the strength of our convictions.”

Happy Lent to all our parishioners!!

Fr. Bob Writes – February 9, 16 and 23, 2020

You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5: 13). Although in the middle of an Ottawa winter, we might think first of salt as an agent for melting ice on roads and sidewalks, its primary historical uses have been as a preservative and for flavoring food.  Anyone who has ever been on a salt-free diet knows how tasteless things can be without salt.  Although we now have a bank of other preservatives, salt was essential in past ages to keep meat for a long period of time.  In the Old Testament, God made an inviolable covenant, literally a “covenant of salt” with Aaron and his descendants (Numbers 18:19).  It is believed that eating a bit of salt together was a sign of agreement by the parties in any covenant. 

People in Jesus’ time did not buy granulated salt as we do today.  There were abundant natural deposits in the Jordan River Valley, especially around the Dead Sea where it was harvested by letting the salt-rich waters of the Sea into shallow pools. The pools were then closed off. The water evaporated under the hot sun, leaving a deposit of salt.  When the salt was removed, some sand and other particles adhered to it.  People bought salt in small blocks which were kept in cloth bags and placed in the kettle as water boiled.  When the right amount of salt for the desired seasoning had dissolved in the water, the bag was removed. Eventually the salt in the bag was depleted, leaving only the impurities which were emptied out on the street on the way to the market for another chunk of salt. 

Was Jesus saying, by his remark above, that Israel, which was supposed to be “salt” to the earth, had lost its “saltiness,” its ability to edify others, by its rejection of himself as Messiah, and that the responsibility of being “salt to the earth” now belonged to the “new Israel,” the Church, that is, you and me?  In that case, how are you and I doing in bringing new life and hope to the world, by our words and deeds in the name of Jesus?

Fr. Bob Writes – February 2, 2020 – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of “The Presentation of the Lord.”  We commemorate the event when Jesus is brought into the Temple in Jerusalem for his dedication to the Lord God, and meets the priest, Simeon.  The priest of the Old Covenant meets the priest of the New Covenant and recognizes that his time has come to depart and leave the way open for Jesus to inaugurate the New Covenant, by the offering of himself, the Lamb of God, on the altar of the cross.

The first reading today comes from the prophet Malachi.  His name in Hebrew means “my messenger” and is the actual word in the Hebrew text here in Malachi 3:1.  It is believed to be a pseudonym rather than the author’s real name.  The work was composed as a reproach against the priests and rulers of the Jewish people for their poor leadership around 445 B.C. during the period of restoration following the Babylonian captivity (587 B.C. to 517 B.C.).

Malachi refers to a “refining” process that the people of Israel, especially the priests, will have to undergo when the Messiah, “the Messenger of the Covenant” comes to His temple.  In the refining process, metals are subjected to high temperatures which burns off or separates out the impurities. Malachi asserts that the sons of Levi, the Jewish priestly class, needed refining before their sacrifice would be pure and pleasing to God.  It is understandable that the author would want to protect himself from repercussions from the priests and rulers whom he reproached for abuses and religious indifference, and prefer to remain anonymous and, therefore, write under a pseudonym.  

Malachi’s writings helped set the stage for the religious renewal and reconstruction of the temple which would take place a few years later under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and pointed to a new age of renewal, a time to be ushered in by the return of the prophet Elijah, interpreted by Christians as being fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist.  Because of this connection to John the Baptist, the book of Malachi is placed in the bible as the last book of the Old Testament.

Fr. Bob Writes – January 26, 2020

The call of the disciples in our gospel story this Sunday, and their immediate response, indicates the decisiveness connected with conversion and the totality of the disciples’ adherence to Christ in leaving all behind, even to the point of severing family ties.  The leave-taking is done for positive reasons, the desire of a greater good.

 We are being shown that, when it comes to commitment to Christ, we cannot operate from a “Jesus plus” viewpoint: Jesus plus my family , Jesus plus my spouse, Jesus plus my job, or my house, or my bank account, etc etc.  Jesus must come first, last and always. He must have first place in our hearts and in our affections.  Our desire for a “nice life,” adhering to all the many things or persons who provide “comfort” in our lives, is a great barrier to us experiencing the assurance that comes from total discipleship to Jesus.  It is Jesus who will tell us, a little later on in the gospel of Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and everything else will be given to us as well” (Matthew 6:25).  “Everything else” refers to “everything else that we need” not necessarily that we “want.”  Jesus is telling us that we will not lack for support and provision, if we commit ourselves totally to Christ.

What are the “false comforts” in my life that prevent me cleaving totally to Jesus? Who or what do I cling to, to provide me with assurance, instead of trusting totally in Jesus?

Fr. Bob Writes – January 19, 2020

The second reading for today’s Mass ties in closely with the overall theme of election, or calling:  initiated in the servant, fulfilled in Jesus, and continued in every Christian and the church as a whole.  This election results in our forgiveness and is also the source of our mission.  The servant theme is also continued in the church’s ministry.  We are all “called to be saints” as St Paul affirms in his letter to the Corinthian church, in other words to live lives of holiness and godliness, because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, as a result of our baptism. 

We so easily forget that our election carries with it a real sense of responsibility.  Our call signifies a consecration or sacredness before the Lord.  It also means that we have been forgiven.  Yet the Christian life is not restricted to the sanctuary.  The servant in our first reading today was missioned, as was Jesus.  St Paul, in our second reading, identifies himself as an apostle, i.e. one who is sent.  The same is true of us, sent to the neighbourhood, the workplace, the town or the city.  We are called to bring a deep commitment to Christian values to spread the good news of Christ’s love for all his people.  Like John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading from St John, we are called to point to Jesus as the Son of God, the one who came to bring true life, eternal life, supernatural life, into the world. 

Fr. Bob Writes – January 12, 2020

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  In the Eastern-Rite churches, they celebrate three events together on this day: the Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus, and the changing of water into wine (from the second chapter of John’s gospel).  Unlike in the Western Church the Roman Catholic Church, who separate out these three occasions in chronological order, the Eastern Church telescope them together, because from a theological perspective, they are all “revelation” or “epiphany ” moments in the life of Jesus, manifesting his true nature and identity and role.

In the Baptism narrative, all three persons of the Trinity are present here.  The opening of the heavens recall the plea of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 1:  “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…”  Israel, traumatized by their seventy years of exile and newly restored to their own country, which bears the scars of defeat, devastation and destruction, cry out to God for his help, restoration and healing.  That plea is finally answered by God at the baptism of his beloved Son, who declares that Jesus will be the one through whom this restoration and healing will take place.  So the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism is a word of testimony to his Son for all people to hear. 

How much was Jesus aware of his divine nature and identity?  Did he know it before his baptism, or was it only revealed to him at that time?  There has been a lot of theological discussion among scripture scholars about when Jesus knew of his divine identity.  Perhaps, as an adopted child may only discover this fact and his true identity after many years, so for Jesus this self-awareness only came about gradually.  We are told that Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), rather than possessing it in fullness as he would have if retaining all the divine attributes, which he did at his incarnation (cf Philippians 2: 6-7).  The gospel writers do not go into the psychology of Jesus.  They focus on the truth that Jesus was the Son of God from the beginning, regardless of when he knew of his divine identity.  In the person of Jesus, the Son received from the Father only what he needed to complete his ministry … as he needed it … no more, no less – the same for each one of us.

Since the gifts of the Holy Spirit comprise the gifts of discernment, it is logical that when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, it was a very empowering, and not just merely symbolic, moment, gifting him for his upcoming ministry as the “suffering servant” of the Lord.

Fr. Bob Writes – January 5, 2020

Fr Bob writes:  We begin our post-Christmas journey, looking back to the birth of Jesus and forward to his time of public ministry on earth, leading to the events of his Passion, Death and Resurrection, which will bring about the salvation already announced in his birth “To you a Savior is born” (Luke 2).

Now we follow closely the footsteps of Jesus as he goes about the villages of Galilee, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, raising the dead, cleansing the leper, preaching good news to the poor, just as the prophets of the Old Testament predicted he would do.  Watching him closely, we learn how we are supposed to behave as followers of Jesus.  Our words and actions are not meant to divide, discourage our condemn, but unite, inspire and heal. 

The members of my community of Lift Jesus Higher have enshrined those thoughts into a helpful slogan: BULUCU RAPATA.  It stands for the way we should behave towards one another: Build Up, Lift Up, Cheer Up, and the way we should behave towards God: Rejoice Always, Pray Always, Thank Always .

Maybe as a New Year resolution, you might think of adopting this slogan as your own, as you follow Jesus in his ministry in the gospel of Matthew throughout the year ahead?

Happy New Year to all our parishioners!