Father’s Weekly Message

Fr. Bob Writes – April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Psalm 22:1)

This poignant, excruciating cry from the responsorial psalm for this Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday is echoed by Jesus from the cross during the narration of the Passion during the same liturgy.

Perhaps there are some amongst us, faithful believers, who are nonetheless seeing this present coronavirus, as a sign that God has indeed “forsaken” or abandoned us.  Are we being punished for our sins, and the sins of all the world?  Such thoughts can plague us as we hear, day by day of an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, and deaths, including priests, doctors and nurses. 

We need to remember that, in Jewish liturgy, to proclaim the first line of a psalm, meant to proclaim the whole psalm.  Psalm 2 does begin with a sobering declaration: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It does go on to speak of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual agonies undergone by the psalmist: “My hands and feet have shriveled /I can count all my bones” and “all who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they shake their heads’ and “they divide my clothes among themselves and for my clothing they cast lots.”  But the psalm itself concludes with a mighty declaration of trust and faith in God: “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you /glorify him, stand in awe of him!”

All the readings during this Sunday’s liturgy, which is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, speak of how suffering and death lead to resurrection and triumph.  This is the God-intended, Scripture-ordained, path for God’s Anointed One, His Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We cannot hope to emulate Christ and be His faithful disciple, if we are unwilling to take up our own cross, which may be the fear and uncertainty we are feeling right now in the midst of the coronavirus, or even suffering the symptoms of the virus ourselves.  The pangs of doubt, of anxiety, the sufferings attendant on not being able to get to Mass or even enter our parish church to pray, all of these are the stuff of sacrifice and surrender, the things we hand over to God and ask him to join with the sufferings of his beloved Son, Jesus, fulfilling St Paul’s own words from his letter to Colossians: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” 

This is the path all the saints followed, in imitation of Jesus, the path by which they ascended to holiness, the path by which you and I, too, are called to follow. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?  Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

I wish you a blessed and spiritually fruitful Holy Week!!

Fr. Bob Writes – March 29, 2020

‘And Jesus wept’ This verse, the shortest in all the gospels, is found in our gospel passage from John 11 this weekend, Jesus weeps as he sees all the mourners around the tomb of his good friend, Lazarus, who had died four days ago.  Jesus deliberately kept away from visiting Lazarus as he was dying, even though Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, had pleaded with him to come and save their brother from dying.  This was in part due to the political situation, with many of the authorities on the look-out for Jesus, to arrest him.  But it was also due to the fact that Jesus wanted to prove to everyone that nothing, not even death, was stronger than He.  He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he was confident in his power to save, yet he also wept at the tomb of his good friend, to show us that death is a part of life, and must be accepted, but it also is not the end of life.  As the first Preface for the Dead in our Eucharistic Prayers for Mass declares: “Lord, for your faithful, life is changed, not ended.”|

Changed, not ended.  Jesus is greater than death, greater than sickness, and, yes, greater than the coronavirus.  This is a time for us, not to run away through fear from the virus, but to stand up to it, and pray to the Lord, for him to overcome this epidemic, believing that he can even raise people from the dead.  Even though we are in lock-down mode right now, there is nothing stopping us going into prayers of intercession and spiritual warfare, agreeing to pray together at a certain time and day the rosary, or the Divine Mercy, or whatever, even if we have to be in our own homes while we are doing it.  The Bible, the Word of God, is a “living power for those who believe” and we can, and should, declare it aloud during our prayer times, especially Scriptures like Psalm 91, which speak of the protection of God, or 2 Corinthians 20, which speaks of the victory of the people of God over an overwhelming enemy, because “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (v.15) , or Acts 4: 23-31, where the early Church prays to God for deliverance and boldness against the forces seeking to destroy them, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with all boldness” (v. 31).

We are not “in the flesh,” i.e. weak and helpless human beings, but we “are in the Spirit” because “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” as our second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans this weekend tells us.  Let us start to agree together in prayer, to lift up our voices in a united prophetic declaration, as illustrated in our first reading this weekend from the prophet Ezekiel.  Let us call upon God to “open our graves” of fear, and discouragement and despair and raise us up as people of faith and trust in God, and boldness through the power of the Spirit.”  Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, as he declares to Martha in our gospel today, before challenging her  “Do you believe this?”

Do you believe this, brothers and sisters, do I?

Fr. Bob Writes – March 22, 2020

“Not as man sees; does God see, because man sees the outward appearance, but God looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16).

As the apostles in the gospel today think the blind man lacks God’s favour due to his malady, so Samuel judges God’s favour based on physical appearance.  Young Samuel had been placed in the service of the Lord under the priest Eli at the sanctuary in Shiloh. 1 Samuel 3 recounts how he learned to listen to the voice of God. “Speak Lord your servant is listening.”

In today’s first reading, as Samuel is to select the next king of Israel and Judah, he does what we often do…neglects to ask God’s guidance, trusting in his instincts to guide his decision-making process, thus judging “as man sees.”  Before Samuel acts, God quickly corrects him to see as God sees. looking not at the appearance but into the heart. Samuel was operating under some stress at the time. Saul, whom he had anointed, was still king.  If news got out that Samuel was anointing a replacement without the king’s knowledge, the prophet’s life would be on the line.

We, too, make some of our worst decisions under stress, forgetting to consult God.  The present coronavirus epidemic is a case in point.  How many decisions have we been making in the current climate, based on panic, anxiety, selfishness, distrust of God?  May God catch our attention as quickly as he did Samuel’s when, under whatever stresses that may affect us, we forget to consult God for the decisions we must make in life. 

Fr. Bob Writes – March 15, 2020 – Third Sunday of Lent

O Deus Ego Amo Te

O God, I love thee, I love thee –

Not out of hope of heaven for me

Nor fearing not to love and be

In the everlasting burning.

Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me

Didst reach thine arms out dying, 

For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,

Mocked and marred countenance,

Sorrows passing number,

Sweat and care and cumber,

Yea, and death, and this for me,

And thou couldst see me sinning:

Then I, why should I not love thee,

Jesu, so much in love with me?

Not for heaven’s sake ; not to be

Out of hell by loving thee;

Not for any gains I see;

But just the way that thou didst me

I do love and I will love thee ;

What must I love thee, Lord, for then ?

For being my king and God. Amen.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

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.