Reflection Sunday 9 October

Readings: Psalm 98; Luke 17:11-19

Am I open to the saving power of God?

What does that mean? I might conjure an idea in my mind of something ‘big and flashy’ with a puff of smoke. The reality of being saved for most people is more mundane, even painful. Today’s responsorial psalm reminds us of God’s saving power. What might that look like in my life?

As others before me have said, one way of understanding salvation consists of being saved from myself – my addictions, my obsessions, my petty jealousies, my selfishness, my ego that must be regularly stroked. It seems to me that if we think about that for a few minutes being saved from myself is hard, it’s challenging. We normally rely on our old ways, old habits. It’s not called a comfort zone for nothing! So, am I serious about doing the work to be the best version of myself?

This brings us to the Gospel. Jesus cures 10 lepers. The one who returns to give thanks is the outsider, the person typecast as the ‘bad guy’. So if I have done some of the hard work of saving myself from my smugness, selfishness and obsessions, do I give thanks to God, knowing that it is all grace, including the journey? Or do I lapse and fall into pride, saying to myself – look at what I have done? 

Better to rely on the wisdom of Paul (2 Cor 12:10) that it is precisely because of my failings that I should rejoice as they are the moments to accept God’s transforming grace into my life.

Reflection Sunday 2 October

Readings: Psalm 95:1-9; 2 Tim 1:6-8;13-14; Luke 17:5-10

This week’s readings highlight the problem of both keeping and living our faith. While the number will vary depending upon our age, we have each had people in our lives who have encouraged, shared and supported us in faith – parents, teachers, friends, priests, fellow parishioners. Such encouragement and support might have been in the substance of faith or it may have taken the form of lived witness. All such activity is part of God at work in the world, what the apostle Paul refers to as ‘en theos’, in God. So when the responsorial psalm reminds us: ‘if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts’ – this includes the variety of people in our lives who are encouraging and supporting us in our faith. Am I open? Am I listening? Will I act?

Like the disciples, we can ask God to ‘increase our faith’. But what am I doing to encourage my faith? Do I regularly engage in prayer and the sacraments? If being a disciple of Jesus was a crime, would there be enough evidence in my behaviour to convict me? Am I compassionate and loving to people around me? Do I care for those in need – the lost and vulnerable? Do I work for justice even if it means standing up to those in power?

What is our reward? Salvation in this world and the next – for those we help and ourselves. In all this, we are simply living our faith. This is what we choose to do. It is no big deal. And thus the closing line of today’s Gospel: ‘we have done what we were obliged to do.’

Reflection Sunday 25 September

Readings: Amos 6:4-7; Ps 146: 7-10; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

For a very long time there has been a school of thought that suggested that it doesn’t really matter what we do here on Earth – it is all about life in the world to come. I am not suggesting that there is no resurrection nor that this is the only life we get. Rather it is about realised eschatology – what we do now matters deeply – for us and everyone around us who are other children of God.

Each of this week’s readings speak of the importance of working for ‘justice for the oppressed’ and ‘food for the hungry’. In doing so we respect their dignity as others who are created in the image and likeness of God. Salvation is often thought of as being something for eternal life. When we care for those in need, when we build right relationships, we’re bringing salvation. Yes, a form of salvation for others – but also for ourselves. We’re saving ourselves from greed and jealousy and selfishness by acting like God in whose image we are all made.

As today’s Gospel teaches us, this is not a new message. It has been given to us by Moses, the prophets, as well as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Precisely because we can be greedy, jealous and selfish, we need to hear this message of acting for mutual salvation again and again and again. Sometimes the message sticks. We see it in pockets, in communities, here and there. Such communities are a beacon for others.

May we listen to today’s readings, live them and shine a light for others to follow.

Reflection Sunday 18 September

Readings: Amos 8:4-7; Ps 113:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

In today’s Gospel it says, you cannot ‘serve two masters….you cannot serve God and money’. But humans have tried…and continue to do so. Or maybe we really only serve money and pretend to serve God? So much of human existence wants to nudge us towards ‘going higher’; equating ‘having more’ with ‘being more’.

The first reading, from the prophet Amos, shows that grasping is not new. When we think no one is watching us and our greed, God is. Also greed does not just affect the person being greedy – it affects those who are not able to get what they need. This is amplified when there are worldwide systems that reward those who already have, further marginalising those who do not.

As the responsorial psalm tells us, God is not just watching, God ‘lifts up the poor’. How? By touching our hearts.

Rather than a relentless focus on possessions, we do well to listen to St Oscar Romero: ‘strive not to have more, but to be more’. The restlessness and need to strive that humans can feel is better channelled into making the most of our God-given talents. If we are more concerned about the rights of others being promoted; if we are more concerned about our relationships with others, there lies our salvation, in community. In that way we will bring God’s reign closer.

Reflection Sunday 11 September

Reflection Sunday 11 September

Reading: Luke 15:1-32

Today’s Gospel has spoken to me in a special way since I became a father. At that moment, I understood unconditional love in a more immediate, visceral way instead of it being some kind of intellectual exercise. Part of the wisdom of the parable (called the Prodigal Son but better called the Loving Father) is using the analogy of parental love to help us to understand God’s love for us. Parables also have the ‘hook in the tail’ that challenges or overturns our thinking. Thus the character of the ‘good son’ challenges our thinking about what he should be entitled to. I’m sure many of us can see ourselves as the ‘good child’, doing the right things. But as was originally observed in the Book of Proverbs with nuances from John Henry Newman and others – goodness is its own reward. Another factor to consider is what is the basis of this goodness: duty or love? If we do what is right out of duty, this is the mindset that ‘keeps score’ and is not far from legalism, meritocracy and entitlement. Rather, if we do the right thing out of love, there is freedom there. When we act with love, we spread God around.

This rich parable has many lessons. It can also provide us with a choice: will I act with duty? Or will I act with love and compassion? We can think the choice is clear – until we examine our own lives.

Reflection Sunday 4 September

Readings: Luke 14: 25-33

The focus of this week’s Gospel is at the heart of the clarity of Clare and Francis of Assisi: have no possessions. The logic of the Gospel is that, ultimately, we do not own our possessions, our possessions can own us. The possessions can be a burden on our hearts and souls and can prevent us from seeing life as it truly is. Not having possessions can give a person a radical freedom. Such freedom allows a person to work for others, knowing that our salvation comes in community; that we are each members of the body of Christ. In this time of greater ecological awareness, we also need to acknowledge that more possessions means more resources and a greater burden on this planet that we were gifted by God.

‘Have no possessions’ is at odds with the ‘wisdom of the world’ – then and now. Such an injunction has been ignored by many in the church over the centuries, reminding of the phrase: ‘honoured more in the breach than in the observance’.

While Clare, Francis and many others over the centuries have opted for the literal (and radical) interpretation of this passage, what might a more metaphorical observance look like? What we have can be shared; what we have can be used in our work/ministry; what we have can free us for relationships; what we have can help us to see those in need; we have can allow us to act for justice. We can each make choices to build community. The way of Francis and Clare ensures the Gospel is lived. For the rest of us mere mortals, may we do enough to be on the journey.

Reflection Sunday 28 August

Readings: Sir 3:17-29; Luke 14:7-14

Today’s first reading and Gospel emphasise the importance of humility. Humility is the polar opposite of the game of ‘looking good’ – a game that continues to be played to this day. A humble person is not one who doesn’t know their worth. Rather, a humble person is one who knows their worth but isn’t so insecure that they need to trumpet their presence.

While humility has benefits for the person, it also has benefits for those in need. If I am humble and not puffed up, I am more likely to see and act upon the difficulties that others around me face. In that way we will be able to do as Jesus asks in the Gospel, making a place at the table for those who are poor, crippled, lame or blind. If such a list were to be written today, it would include those on the margins today such as refugees, First Nations people and those who are gender diverse.

We are all created in the image and likeness of God. We all deserve a seat at the table. It is up to those of us who are privileged to do all we can to ensure that happens – beginning with not standing in the way of the last, the lost and the least.

Grace concealed?

Corellas screeching,

fly across the languid Yarra.

City skyline

framed by cloud

and riverside greenery.

Early morning rower

continues to practice.

This everyday scene is

the grace of another day.

Reflection Sunday 21 August

Readings: Heb 12:5-13; Luke 13:22-30

Today’s readings remind us that being a disciple of Jesus has its challenges. Faith may not come easily at times and like in the second reading we can feel like we are being ‘disciplined’. The reality is that we each have selfish urges that need to be kept in check e.g. ‘Look at me doing the right thing. Aren’t I good?’ Other parts of our behaviour can be thought of as useless appendages that need to drop off. One way of thinking of salvation is being saved from ourselves – saved from our shortcomings that hinder our relationships and hold us back from being the best version of ourselves.

We know that this path is not an easy one – as the readings attest. Within the Gospel is the theme of the great overturning: ‘some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last’. As humans we think we know what is going on, when in reality, life can be filled with myriad games of status. In that way the person who is focused on doing what is right, being in right relationship with others, they are closer to God’s reign than someone who is ‘climbing the greasy pole’. Therein lies part of the wisdom contained in the Gospel: ‘some are last who will be first’.

Reflection Sunday 14 August

Readings: Luke 12:49-53

Living a life of faith can be challenging. There are plenty of distractions: Am I working hard enough? Do I look good in what I’m wearing? Do I have the latest gadget? So we each have a choice: follow God or ‘go with the flow’. 

It is easy to categorise Jesus as the person who preached peace and love. There is plenty of scriptural evidence to support this contention. Today’s Gospel shows that he is not so easily pigeon-holed. The Gospel gives us a glimpse into prophetic Jesus. Jesus who acknowledges that following him is a challenge and that following him will divide opinion – including opinion in the same home. Meek, mild Jesus upsets nor offends anyone – the one who comforts the afflicted. 

Then, as now, there existed structural injustice including those who did very well out of the status quo. Ensuring there is justice for those afflicted requires passion – and something like ‘the fire’ to which Jesus refers in today’s Gospel. So prophetic Jesus ‘afflicts the comfortable’ – challenging the status quo. In so doing, division is created between those who wish to follow Jesus and those who follow the very human instinct of not wanting things to change.

What will my choice be?