Father’s Weekly Message

Fr. Bob Writes – Epiphany Sunday, January 6, 2019

This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. a word which means “Appearing” or “Manifestation”. We often talk about having an “epiphany” moment, when something suddenly becomes clear to us as never before. The feast of the Epiphany, or “Manifestation” of Jesus to the visiting pagan Magi (a term which means astrologers) also “manifests” a truth, hitherto kept secret by God: “that is, the Gentiles (pagans) have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (from the second reading for this weekend) . Not only is it just the Jewish people who are part of God’s plan of salvation. That plan also now includes we who were “pagan” before our baptism into Jesus.

There are many practical ways in which the Feast of the Epiphany makes its point. It teaches us that in Christ there is no room for religious elitism. It may sound like a time-worn truth , but it still bears repeating: in God’s eyes all are equal. And we are not free to build roadblocks of any type. In the early church, this meant not only common worship attended by all but a common table as well. We do well to ask if we are carrying within ourselves any prejudices, conscious or otherwise, against certain types of people. This is not a textbook issue. It passes quickly from theory to practice. If we are to avoid further volatile civil situations, explosions of violence, or increased polarization, then Christians have to live according to the mind and heart of God, as “manifested” by Jesus, in his birth, life, death and resurrection. Jesus came to take away the sins of the world, not of just a certain segment of it. 

Today’s epistle from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says that we are all co-heirs, co-members, and co-partners. We are called to a classless society in a Christian sense. Each Epiphany reminds us that we still have a way to go. 

Fr. Bob Writes – December 16, 2018

Our gospel this Sunday once more highlights the role and ministry of John the Baptist in preparing the people of Israel for the coming of Jesus. Whether the people’s going out to the Jordan to see John was motivated by curiosity or faith, many of the people experienced conversion with a desire to live more in order with God’s will. Thus, we hear groups of tax collectors and soldiersasking what they should do to live more in accord with God’s will. All of usare asked to seek out and follow the general will of God for everyone. Yet eachperson, given his or her specific life situation, will have some specificaspects of God’s will to which he or she must be particularly attentive. Whatparticular things would John point out for you, were you to be there asking aswere those tax collectors and soldiers?

John makes clear that he is not the Messiah. He is the messenger announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah who will baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire”. While we relate that image specifically to the Pentecost event, the significance of the Holy Spirit and fire here is more generic. Fire is a symbol of purification or refining, representing the need for repentance and reform. Accepting the call to reform, the crowd has been asking John for clarification of specifically how to follow God’s will. Divine inspiration and guidance is the work of the Holy Spirit. In our Advent time of preparation, may we take that to heart, accepting the call to reform, orient our lives to God’s will more perfectly, and present ourselves as more perfect offerings in thanks to Jesus at his coming. 

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?