From The Connections:
‘My Monastery Is a Minivan’
When asked our religion, most of us would describe ourselves as “Catholic” or “Christian.” But we would tend to back away from daring to call ourselves “disciple” or “follower.” That description rightly belongs to the great heroes of our faith: the apostles and holy men and women of the Gospel, the saints and martyrs, the Francises of Assisi, the Mother Teresas, the Thomas Mertons, the Dorothy Days, the Albert Schweitzers. Our lives are too ordinary, our professions too worldly to dare imagine that we are doing the work of the Gospel Jesus.
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
I want to begin by telling you about a little girl, most likely 12, possibly 13 years old, who took on a mighty empire and won. The little girl was named Agnes. At least that is the name she is remembered by. Agnes means lamb. She was like a little lamb. Agnes was a child of a noble family in ancient Rome, and lived around the year 300 AD. She was a Christian in the last decades of Rome’s persecution of the Christians. At that time, more and more members of the empire were becoming Christian including the noble families and even members of the royal household. The Emperor Diocletian decided to put an end to these Christians once and for all with one of the worst of all the persecutions of Christianity. Anyone caught being a Christian would lose all their possessions and be given the option of renouncing Christ or being put to death.
Although a little girl, Agnes was not about to give up Jesus Christ. To complicate matters further, Agnes had caught the eye of the son of the Prefect Sempronius. The prefect agreed that when Agnes grew up she would make a fine wife for his son. So he called Agnes to his court and offered her gifts if she would give up Christ and marry his son. Agnes refused saying that she was a Christian and would not marry a pagan. For this, she was condemned to death, but Roman law said that a virgin could not be killed. Sempronius thought he could solve this dilemma by forcing Agnes to work in a place of sin. She was taken there in a public display of Roman terror and pagan lust. But somehow, through God, Agnes was protected from the brutes who attempted to attack her. She continued to refuse to give up Jesus Christ; so the Romans ignored their own laws and killed her.
Agnes is a witness and a martyr to Jesus Christ both by sacrificing her life for the Lord and by defending her own virginity. Her death sickened many throughout Rome and ended up being one of the final blows to the pagan empire. Others would die after her, but within 20 years of her death, Christianity would first be allowed in the empire, and then become the religion of the empire. Agnes won. Diocletian lost. The twelve year old won. The burly soldiers lost. Jesus won. The devil lost. St. Agnes is so loved in Rome that there are two major Churches dedicated to her–St. Agnes Outside the Walls over the catacombs where she was buried and St. Agnes in Agony located on the Piazza Navona at the place where she died. Most visitors to Rome have seen this Church located right across from Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. Last Tuesday the universal Church celebrated the Feast of St. Agnes. Her name is also mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer. Not bad notoriety for a twelve year old who lived seventeen hundred years ago.
The story of Agnes’ brief life on earth but continual life in heaven reminds us that God delivers us from the forces of sin. The forces of darkness tried to destroy Agnes. She must have been terrified at the ways that evil plotted to attack her. But she trusted in God and God sent her joy. He sent her His Son. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard that the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali had suffered the results of their sins. But God made it all right. He brought light to their darkness. He gave them joy and rejoicing. He sent them, He sent us, His Son.
Anguish has taken wing. The darkness is dispelled. And the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. And Jesus preaches to us, and teaches us and tells us the reason for our joy, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
This Sunday we begin the series of readings for the liturgical time called in our tradition “Ordinary Time”. Ordinary Time actually began last week, but the church spends an extra Sunday celebrating the spirit of Christmas.
Today’s passage then belongs to the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. It is a very significant time. John has been arrested and Jesus decides he must make his move. He is self-confident, determined; he knows what he is about – a role model for us all in our different vocations and also for the church in the world today.
– Verse 12: St Matthew makes a clear link between John the Baptist’s arrest and Jesus’ decision to begin his ministry. The end of one time of hope becomes the beginning of a new and more glorious time.
– Verses 12 to 16: Jesus was entering into a prophetic tradition. He was different – indeed, he was unique – but not totally new. We too, as individuals and as a community, are both unique and rooted in a tradition.
St Matthew also stresses the significance of Jesus’s choice to start in Galilee. Galilee was situated at the extremes of the Holy Land; it was therefore a symbol of Jesus’s vocation to bring God “to the ends of the earth.”
– Verse 17 is the formula used in all the synoptic gospels to summarise the content of Jesus’ teaching. It comprises three statements, and it is best to start with the third.
– “It is close at hand”. Je sus is aware that this is a moment of ggrace. When we enter into God’s work we always have the sense that we are “called”, part of a movement that is greater than us, and that we are merely God’s instruments. As we saw recently, Joh the Baptist experienced a similar awe when he began to preach.
– “The kingdom of heaven” is St Matthew’s version of the more common “kingdom of God”, reminding us that the Jews were reluctant to use the name of God. This biblical expression means God’s plan for the world – “the world as it would be if God were in charge.” The Old Testament spelled out God’s plan in detail, for example in the Genesis description of creation before the fall; in Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:19-25; in Amos 9:11-15. God’s kingdom has two characteristics: harmony and abundance.
– “Repent”. Jesus knows he is calling for a revolution in thinking. The sure sign that we understand God’s kingdom is that we are – and encourage others to be – dissatisfied with the status quo.
We celebrate people who “begin their preaching with this message.” Nowadays many of them are not members of our church and do not even share our Christian faith, but they challenge us, both as individuals and as a church.
“Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order will continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration.” Aung San Sun Kyi, Myanmar, leader
Lord, we remember with gratitude the great liberation movements
which have been your blessing for our time:
– the declaration of human rights,
– the affirmation of women’s dignity and right to equal treatment,
– the struggle for independence in former colonies,
– sharing of gifts between different churches, religions and faiths,
– the breakdown of all forms of racial discrimination,
– the recognition of the rights of children.
All these movements arose at a time when their leaders were imprisoned
in one way or another, but new life emerged in unexpected places.
It was like when John the Baptist was arrested and Jesus returned to Galilee
and began preaching that a new era of grace was at hand.
Lord, we remember turning points in our lives
– we started working with the poor;
– we joined a religious community;
– we entered public life.
A path we had followed previously was leading nowhere,
and we knew we had to move to a new place,
not to Nazareth, the place where we were comfortable,
but to a border country,
so that people who lived in darkness would see a great light,
and on those who dwelt in the land and shadow of death
light would dawn.
“Inter-religious dialogue has taken on new and immediate urgency in the present historical circumstances.” Pope John Paul II
Lord, we thank you that the church today has decided, like Jesus,
to go and settle in the border country,
between races and religions, on the far side of the Jordan,
where the nations meet.
Lord, we pray today for those who are feeling lost
– rejected by family and friends,
– overwhelmed by remorse,
– having failed an important examination.
We pray that some Jesus may go and sit with them,
so that the prophecy of Isaiah may be fulfilled,
and they who now live in darkness will see a great light,
and on them who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light will dawn.
“By sharing in the cross of the Salvadoreans, the church becomes Salvadorean and credible.” Jon Sobrino
Lord, we thank you that, in many countries,
the church, like Jesus, has left centre-stage and gone back to the margins,
settling where people live in darkness and in the shadow of death.
“I have to teach my people that together we can build the people’s church, a true church.
Not just a hierarchy or a building, but a real change inside people.”
that your kingdom is within our grasp
and we must change our values.
Introduction to the Celebration
Gathering around the Lord’s table each week we celebrate the fact that we are the People of God, his chosen ones, those whom he has called to be his hands and voice within the creation. To help us live this life we listen each week to the Word of God giving us a glimpse of the world God intends for us, and challenging us to live up to our calling, and each week we are strengthened with the food of life to enable us to be disciples. Today we hear the story of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry: he came proclaiming the good news; he came healing the sick; he came and called people by name to be his followers. If we wanted to think of the life of Jesus in a sound-bite, it would be these tasks: proclaiming, healing, calling.
Now, let us reflect in silence on who we are, why we have gathered, and ask pardon for our failures as children of God.
2. Jesus is the one who announces the gospel in the town of Capernaum, in the countryside, in the synagogues, all through Galilee. His call is for people to change, change ways of living with one another, change the way we think about the world, others, self. And know that God is close to us, loving and caring: ‘The kingdom is at hand.’
3. The corning of Jesus brings forgiveness, healing, renewal, and wholeness. He calls on us to change lives and minds, and he brings us God’s pardon. He invites us to a new life and he empowers us to set out to live that new life. The God who is close is the God who is gentle and forgiving.
4. He gathers around him, calling each person by name, a people. We are no longer isolated individuals but part of his new people. We change, start over, and seek to follow him as part of the community who has heard his call and received forgiveness through him.
5. We often forget how these gospel pictures can show us the essential dynamics of being a Christian in clear, strong images – and such is the case today – so let the images speak clearly and do not cloud them with many words.
Central to repentance is genuine sorrow for our sins. Authentic sorrow is an outward manifestation of the inner journey of conversion. Unfortunately, however, we use the word ‘sorry’ so often and so carelessly that our sincerity is questionable. What, then, does it really mean to say ‘I am sorry’?
To be sorry means to be sorrowful or saddened. Saying that we are sorry for having caused offence and hurt acknowledges that we are saddened because of the wrong that we have done and the hurt that we have caused.
Significantly, we are saddened not only because we have offended God or hurt another person but also because we have diminished our own dignity as people made in the image and likeness of God.
If we have no sense of the harm that we have caused when we say that we are sorry, or if we have no intention of changing our behaviour in the future, then our sorrow is insincere because it is incomplete. We cannot claim to be motivated and guided by God’s will if we are not repentant disciples.
When we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation sincerely, by confessing our sins and being sorry for them, we demonstrate that we are humble and repentant. We express sorrow for Our sins, knowing that God forgives us as we are absolved from Our sins. God also gives us the grace and strength to resist temptation and avoid sin. Then our sorrow turns into joy.
Are there any occasions when we are saddened by what we have said or done to another person? Is it easy for us to say ‘Sorry’, or is it difficult for us to do? Valuing and appreciating forgiveness requires sorrow. We have the opportunity of celebrating God’s forgiveness sacramentally by going to confession and acknowledging our sorrow.
Repentance is central to our lives as Jesus’ disciples. Therefore, let our prayer be: Lord God, teach us to be repentant. Encourage us to change our minds and to soften our hardened hearts whenever we offend you and hurt other people. May we realise that, in doing so, we also diminish our own dignity. Help us always, through repentance, to return to your love by changing the direction of our lives and being faithful to your Son’s teaching.
From the Connections:
In Jesus’ time, Galilee was the most populated and productive region of Palestine. The great roads of the world passed through Galilee, making it a strategic target for invasion. White-sailed ships crept up the Mediterranean coast from Alexandria and caravans traveled through the region from Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Galilee, unlike the rest of Palestine, had an international perspective, in touch with many non-Jewish ideas and influences. Josephus, the Roman historian, wrote of the people of Galilee: “They were fond of innovation and, by nature, disposed to change and delighted in sedition . . . The Galileans were never destitute of courage . . . They were ever more anxious for honor than for gain.”
In a few lines, Matthew sketches a new beginning in human history: the arrest of John and the end of the First Testament; the beginning of a New Testament in the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in Galilee and the call of the first disciples from their fishing nets along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ beginning his public ministry in Galilee is, for Matthew, the fulfillment of an ancient oracle concerning the Messiah: that, through the darkness of Galilee’s Assyrian captivity, the “great light” of their deliverance will appear (Reading 1).
Jesus calls his disciples of every time and place to be “fishers” of men and women, to use whatever “nets” we possess, in whatever oceans and seas we find ourselves, to catch the falling, rescue the endangered, gather in the lost and forgotten.
Christ is the light that illuminates our minds and souls with a new vision of the human condition: in the light of Christ, we are able to recognize one another as brothers and sisters, children of the same God; in the light of Christ, we realize our own need for healing and forgiveness and are then able to bring such transformation into our lives and the lives of others.
After some time, a pediatric oncologist came in and outlined a plan to treat the child. The minister was relieved, of course — but he realized that he had nothing to give this family that mattered. Feeling useless, he decided then and there to leave the ministry and do something more important with his life.
Later that night, her parents asked the minister for a favor. “We’re exhausted. Caroline won’t stop crying. Could you hold her for a little while so we can step out and take a break?”
The minister took Caroline in his arms and rocked her. She cried, and the minister cried, and then having expended all her energy, she drifted off to sleep. The minister kept rocking little Caroline until her parents returned, relieved to see their child at peace. They placed Caroline gently in her crib, and the minister said his goodbyes.
As he stepped into the cold night air, he realized that he would not leave the ministry after all, that all his preparing for ordination and ministry was for this very night: to rock a very sick child to sleep, to offer her and her family whatever little hope he had, to simply love this family in God’s name.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
This passage from Isaiah was written to give hope to the Israelites in spite of the depressing situation that confronted them. The people were in bondage and Isaiah speaks of their release from bondage and the troubles that don’t seem to end. The surrounding kingdoms oppressed them but Isaiah assures them that deliverance is at hand. They can rest assured of God’s help: the darkness in their lives will give way to light; pain to joy; and yokes and rods of slavery will be done away with.
Lead Kindly Light
A young man who later became a Cardinal was returning by sea from Italy to his native England. While the boat was detained in Sicily, young Newman fell ill and nearly died. During his convalescence, he wrote these words: “Lead kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,” because he believed that the prophecy of Isaiah had come true: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light.” We too have our hours of darkness. The death of a lifelong spouse, an unexpected rejection by a loved one, a smashed dream of business success or the loss of good health can throw us into temporary darkness. But in these tragic moments true believers have in the past seen the light of Christ, a light that illumines the shadows of our hearts with the radiance of his splendour, guiding us to travel safely over the tempestuous sea of life.
Vima Dasan in ‘His Word Lives’
In today’s gospel Matthew begins the mission of Jesus Christ to show that Jesus took over the preaching of John the Baptist after he had been arrested and preached the call to repentance, because the Kingdom of God was close at hand. Jesus showed by his preaching and by his deeds that he brought healing, pardon and freedom to those who were in bondage. The call to repentance is not so much about doing penance but turning towards God, so that we might see His goodness and experience his mercy. Normally light is something that we welcome, but sometimes we are afraid of what the light might reveal. The latter part of today’s gospel speaks of Jesus calling disciples to follow him. He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets and he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Later he saw another pair of brothers, James and John sons of Zebedee who were in their boat and he called them and leaving their boat they followed him. Jesus has not stopped calling people. Jesus went about preaching and healing people and we are called to do the same. We will accomplish this mission in the measure that we let the light of Christ shine brightly in our lives.
The Light in the Darkness
A woman invited a priest to bless her house. As he performed the blessing, she escorted him around the house. He noticed that everything was immaculate, banisters polished, beds neatly made, not a thing out of place, not a cobweb or speck of dust in sight. He sprinkled every room with holy water, and they prayed as they went along. Even the two fat cats asleep on the sofa were not spared. He splashed them with water, and one of them jumped up. So the blessing disturbed something in this neat and orderly house. They blessed the living room, the ‘den’, the kitchen, the laundry room, the bath room, the bedrooms. As it happened they finished up at the top of the stairs that led down into the basement. Seeing the priest hesitate there the woman said, “Oh you wouldn’t want to go down there.” So they left it at that. But afterwards he wondered why she had refused to take him to that part of the house that most needed a blessing. Was it that she didn’t want to embarrass him by taking him down there? Or was it that she didn’t want to embarrass herself by letting him see all the junk piled down there? -How typical this is. The parts of ourselves and of our society which most need to be redeemed are the parts we tend to hide. For this reason, we don’t want the light to shine into the dark areas of our lives and of our society. Instead we try to cover them up and hide them away. Yet the dark areas are the ones that have most need of the light.
Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies
“The Light she lit is still burning!”
Mother Teresa gives us a beautiful example of a man who was brought out of darkness into the light. One day in Melbourne, Australia, she visited a poor man whom nobody knew existed. The room in which he was living was in a terrible state of untidiness and neglect. There was no light in the room. The man hardly ever opened the blinds He hadn’t had a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, saying, “Leave it alone. It’s all right as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. Under a pile of rubbish, she found a beautiful oil lamp but it was covered with dirt. She cleaned and polished it. Then she asked him, “How come you never light the lamp?” “Why should I light it?” he replied. “No one ever comes to see me. I never see anybody.” “Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice I’ll light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s nuns began to visit him on a regular basis. Things gradually improved for him. Then one day he said to the nuns, “Sisters, I’ll be able to manage on my own from now on. But do me a favour. Tell that first sister, who came to see me, that the light she lit in my life is still burning.”
Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies
The Arrival of the Light
Some Alpine valleys are so deep that the rays of the sun do not reach them at all for days or even weeks in the middle of winter. A priest who ministered in one of these valleys tells the following story. One day in the depths of winter he was in the classroom of the local school chatting with the children, who hadn’t seen the sun for nine days. Then all of a sudden a ray of sunshine shone into the classroom. On seeing it the children climbed and cheered and shouted for sheer joy. It showed that even though the sun may not touch the skin it can still warm the soul. This little incident shows how light is the source of great joy. For sick people the night is usually the hardest time of all. Matthew compares the arrival of Jesus on the scene to the coming of a great light to the people who had been living in deep darkness. Jesus described his mission in simple terms when he said: “I am the light of the world!” We still walk in the bright light Jesus brought into the world. By living in it, we become a source of light to others, a lamp for our steps and a light for their paths.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’
The Heart of the Enlightened
The devotee knelt to be initiated into discipleship. The guru whispered the sacred mantra into his ear, warning him not to reveal it to anyone. “What will happen if I do?” asked the devotee. Said the guru, “Anyone you reveal the mantra to will be liberated from the bondage of ignorance and suffering, but you yourself will be excluded from discipleship and suffer damnation.” No sooner had he heard those words, the devotee rushed to the market place, collected a large crowd around him, and whispered the sacred mantra for all to hear. The disciples later reported this to the guru and demanded that the man be expelled from the monastery for his disobedience. The guru smiled and said, “He has no need of anything I can teach. His action has shown him to be a guru in his own right.”
Anthony De mellow in ‘The Heart of the Enlightened’
In one of the finest films ever made, The Old Man and the Sea, Spencer Tracy plays the lead role of an aging fisherman. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel the movie depicts man’s struggle against insurmountable odds. As the Old Man, Spencer Tracy battles for hours to catch a great fish, only to have it attacked by sharks as he tows it towards shore. He says: “Man is not made for defeat. Man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” Today’s gospel begins with the story of some other fishermen. The fishermen are Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and two other brothers, James and John. Walking along the shore, Jesus calls them to leave their fishing nets. They immediately abandon their nets and follow him. Why should Jesus choose fishermen as his disciples? It certainly wasn’t for their educational background or their training in Scripture. No, the disciples were probably chosen because they were like the Old Man in Hemingway’s story. Not pious, but good men deep down. Not easily discouraged, but patient and persevering. Not self-indulgent, but hard working. And like the Old Man, they would come to know that through their experience with Jesus, that “man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” Although we may not be fishermen like the first disciples. We too are called by Jesus to live for him, not just earn a livelihood. We are invited to leave behind our old securities and launch out with him onto a larger sea in life. To be fishers of men and women is more than a metaphor. It is a mission from, through and in Christ.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
Sometimes it is difficult to hear in church because the agnostics are so terrible.
The Pope lives in a vacuum.
The Fifth Commandment is "Humor your father and mother."
Storge = family love.
III. The Kairos Moment of Inspiration
A Job vs. A Ministry
... If you'll do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other
activities, it's a job. If you're committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it's a ministry.
... It's hard to get excited about a job. It's almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.
A Problem of Presentation
Turning Toward the Light
From Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:
(Elias Dias in Divine Stories for Families; quoted by Fr. Botelho).