5th Sunday B

4th February 2018

This first reading (Job 7:1-7) is a very brief extract from a poetic story of high literary quality and revealing theology. Our English language has adopted various phrases from it: by the skin of one’s teeth; multiply words without knowledge; miserable comforters. Its story was retold in a Pulitzer prize-winning book in 1950, and there is an inferior children’s version here. Job was a man with multiple woes and unsympathetic, inadequate comforters, who spoke quite forcefully to God about his plight and after a long and tortuous time still remaining faithful to God, found relief through visualizing the awesomeness and grandeur of God and His creation. We all have times of upset and perhaps a sense of injustice – but remember the end of the story, untold in this reading!

Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:16-23 passim) Paul has dealt with the question of Christians eating some of the food on sale in the marketplace that has been sacrificed to an idol of pagan belief. Some think that Christians should not eat this food, while others think that since there are no real gods other than their one God, there is nothing wrong with eating this meat. Paul agrees with the more liberal view but wants to promote the avoidance of upsetting those Christians who think eating this meat is wrong and hence recommends abstaining from this meat if it gives scandal to other believers and finishers chapter eight writing “if food offends my brother I will never eat meat again so as not to offend him.” But Paul knows that many of the community are liberal in this matter, and that they are aware that he, as a leading Christian in the church, not only is liberal minded but also ought to be an example of this more enlightened view and of the consequent freedom in what one eats. Because of this he now writes to them about restricting one’s own freedom for the sake of others since the good of the community is more important than anything. Paul now exemplifies his attitude with reference to the question of payment for himself as their preacher and pastor – he feels he must sacrifice himself for others.

After the synagogue sermon we read about last week Jesus and the first disciples go to the house of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29-39) where it seems they will be staying – an extended family. I always smile to myself when I read how Jesus finds Simon’s mother-in-law not well, so cures her and – almost seems, so that – she can then wait on them. This is obviously an anecdote from Peter himself that Mark has heard of. That evening Jesus frees a lot of people from various difficulties, but it is clear that He really wants to get back to the task of preaching about the kingdom. But notice also that Jesus needs a time of solitude to pray as though as to recharge his energies before he gets on with his task of preaching and freeing people from their demons. We all have some sort of demon that we need to be freed from and we need to follow his example of taking time with God before we get on with our ask in life.

4th Sunday 2018

28th January 2018

In the first read (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) , Moses relates the message that God will send a prophet to the people. This most probably meant at first that God would always send prophets to teach people God’s ways – to encourage, scold and challenge them. And there were in fact a series of prophets who were the mouth-pieces or spokes-persons of God, which is what the word prophet means (in the Greek προφητης). But later, perhaps following the yearning for a Messiah, this message from Moses may have been taken as an ideal Prophet who would speak God’s final words. Followers of Christ who came to realise that he was the very Word of God, took this as a foretelling of His coming. For us, as for all people across the ages, there is the problem of discerning the message of God to us, in general and to each of us individually in our different situations. Surely God’s message is in the Bible, but that needs interpreting, and the traditional teaching of the Christian Church plays a role in this. But in the end any individual application, comes from our own make-up, our circumstances and the myriads of people who communicate with us directly or indirectly. I think, that like a real parent, God wants us to heed all these and do the best we can – but we mustn’t harden our hearts or close our ears.

The second reading (1 Cor 7:32-35) follows on from last week’s. Paul is answering a number of questions that the Corinthians have raised with him, either by messenger or by letter. They had many questions they wanted their first evangeliser to sort out for them in their particular situation. Some Christian converts from Judaism promoted strict observance of the Jewish laws even for non-Jewish Christians, thinking that in this way they could deserve God’s love and grace. But this is mistaken because we know that God loves us gratuitously and we are not worthy of any reward from God. Some people in Corinth, perhaps in reaction to the immorality for which their city was notorious or the supposed imminence of the end of time, promoted celibacy even within marriage. Paul thought there was no harm in this but that it was not necessary. Paul knows that there is a difference between what he suggests and the genuine imperatives from the Lord for good Christian living.

Mark in the gospel (Mark 1:21-28) tells us of Jesus’ visit to the local synagogue where, as a visitor, he was invited to say some words. Jesus has confidence about any message of God for the people, because, as we now believe, He was the very Word of God incarnate into our humanity. The recipients of Mark’s preaching also had this belief, though perhaps only incipiently. In the story, the authority of the words of Jesus is recognised, interestingly even before His power over unclean spirits is exhibited. I notice that, in Mark’s gospel story, it is only the unclean spirit that actually recognises who Jesus is, and secondly, that there seems to be an aside, that the local leader of the synagogue and perhaps other teachers, don’t quite speak with the same personal confidence in what they say. We should be wary of thinking that we can earn God’s love (we have it anyway), and we should try to detect what God might be saying to us through the things and the people with whom we interact and the beliefs that we hold, and respond with confidence that we are doing the best we can. These are the ideas, perhaps, that we should take from the Word of God we hear each Sunday.

3rd Sunday B

21st January 2018

The Biblical story of Jonah and the whale is a fascinating story with many sub-plots and deeper meanings within it, dealt with very well on the website of the American Catholic Bishops’ Conference. We, unfortunately, only have a very short extract (3:1-5,10) from the whole story. Jonah, whose name means dove and indicates peace, is told by God a second time to deliver His message to the Ninevites. He must go and preach God’s anger to the wicked people of Nineveh, a huge city east of Israel and the capital of their longtime enemies. He had been told this before but tried to avoid both God and doing as asked – that’s the bit about the storm at sea and the whale. This time Jonah obeys this request from God and these enemies of Israel repent, for every single one of them believes in God (whom Jonah thought was just the God of Israel). With this show of repentance and the people giving up their evil ways, God has mercy on them. Even just this small bit of the story has something to say to you and me – listen, discern and heed!

In the Second Reading (1 Cor 7:29-31 ) written about the year 50 AD we detect how Paul thought then that the time was very soon for the final fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ – for the end of the world as we know it. But in later parts of his writings and other parts of the New Testament the delay in this actually coming about had made the early Christians think otherwise. However, the passage holds for us the message of the urgency of preparation for our fulfilling of our part in God’s plan for us. Not for us the abandonment of normal human activity but rather full engagement with our role in life in accord with the will of God in so far as we can discern it. But the rate of change we experience in technology and in the international situation does remind us that the world as we know it is continually coming to an end. Again the change in understanding God’s ways with humanity which this passage in the context of the New Testament indicates, must teach us to be cautious about any certainty we feel in respect of God’s plans for our world and for each of us at this time; before the mystery of God we must have due humility!

The Gospel (Mark 1:14-20)  tells us of the end of the work of John the Baptist and the beginning of the public mission of Jesus in Galilee. Mark is emphasising that not only are the two people and their roles different, but that when Jesus started his preaching and teaching, the work of the Baptist was over. Then we read of the call of the first few disciples. It was only last Sunday that we heard an alternative version of this story. We need to be aware that a gospel is not the same as a plain history. The word gospel means good news, and the evangelists are trying to communicate to their audiences, and through this Word of God, He is trying to communicate with us something of what our life should be like as a follower of Jesus. So, unlike John’s version which we heard last week, the other gospels emphasise the immediacy and the completeness of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ call. Of course there is an historical basis for it – Jesus did have special followers – but the good news for us is that we too are called and should respond at once and wholeheartedly! Mark probably heard the call described by Peter when preaching to potential converts. Now Mark speaks to us.

2nd Sunday Cycle B

14th Jan 2018

The two Books of Samuel are classified in the Old Testament as History. History written then had the aim of influencing its readers morally, religiously or politically. The information included may have come from ‘historical’ annals, old folk tales and favourite stories which had something to say to all people. Our reading today is such a story; it has a message about how we might pick up on what God is wanting us to do with our lives. It has the homely setting of an old father-like figure and a young boy who related to him as to a grandfather; it has the characteristic pattern of threesome repetition; it is clearly set in a religious context (the Temple) and it has the engaging feature of misunderstanding prior to getting things right. It is an account of God’s call of the prophet Samuel. It is from such accounts that Fr. Daniel L. Schutte, S.J. took the refrain and used it as the chorus when he composed that now well-known hymn about our own renewed commitment to recognise God around us, His call to us and our positive response to it.

The second reading (2nd Reading – 1 Cor 6:13-20 passim) does not seem to fit in well with the other readings for today except that it illustrates the difficulty we might have in discerning exactly what is for us the right thing to do and what we should not be doing. Paul is writing to the Corinthians about a specific problem. His preaching has told these Gentile converts that now they are Christians they are not bound by any laws (Paul has in mind particularly the Jewish Law). He probably spoke most powerfully about this freedom, because he had been a strict Jew himself up until he became a Christian, but also because some of the Jewish converts thought the Gentile Christians ought to be bound by the Jewish laws. But in the morally loose city of Corinth, some of the Gentile Christians might have taken this to include freedom in sexual practices. Paul has to modify his revolutionary teaching; the freedom doesn’t extend to this; it affected the eating of food sacrificed to idols which Jews wouldn’t do, but, Paul thinks that is permissible, since the stomach is just an organ of the body; but our bodies as a whole are ourselves and are the shrine of the Holy Spirit and should not be defiled by inappropriate sexual behaviour. This is a good illustration for us of how the rules we have in our religion are derived from our beliefs about God, about ourselves and about the relationship we have with God which we know through Jesus Christ.

The gospel (John 1:35-42) passage can easily be taken to be a charming and believable narrative about John, Jesus and the first disciples, but in John’s gospel particularly, there are usually deeper meanings within the text. With no infancy narrative in his gospel the first public presentation of Jesus is made in this passage by the Baptist to two of his disciples, with the words used in catholic liturgy announcing communion: “behold the lamb of God!” The reply with a depth of inner meaning uses the word ‘follow’ as to walk behind and also as to be a disciple of. Jesus then asks “what do you want?” the words used by a priest when someone presents to be baptized and a question always challenging us. Notice also the query where Christ is to be found and the welcome “Come and see.” The call of the first disciples in the other gospels is while they are fishing (which they seem to abandon immediately), but here Simon Peter is called by his brother who first followed Christ. This all leaves us with questions about our own relationship with Christ which we need to regularly consider.


7th Jan 2018

Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, seems to have had an epiphany, that is, a revelation of something about God, of His relationship with Abraham’s descendants: they will be blest and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through them (Gen 12:1-3).  It was the prophets who regularly tried to re-awaken this epiphany, revealing as accurately as they could what God wants for His creatures.  At the time of our first reading, the Jews are probably just back in Jerusalem after suffering exile in Babylon and looking at the dilapidated city and Temple, they need a ‘bright star’ to lift their spirits; so we read from the prophet’s poem encouraging them to realise what can be – to see the work of God in their surroundings – which he interprets as best as he can, speaking of the wealth of nations coming to them as gifts from around the world, from Midian, Ephah and Sheba.  The responsorial psalm is appropriate to this idea as well.

What we think we know of God is always inadequate – the revelation (epiphany) is always in need of improvement and correction.  So it is that many of the Jews in the first few decades after Christ could not accept His attitude to sinners and non-Jews; and even some of those who became Christians thought that non-Jews would need to accept the rules of Judaism in order to become Christians.  But Paul had seen that the will of God was different, mysteriously extending God’s love and forgiveness to all who would have it; this was the distinctive revelation of Christ; Paul had the grace of receiving this epiphany of something more about the purpose of God for the world.  Paul wrote that pagans have the same privilege, and even invents a new word to try to express this mystery, namely, they are (συνσωμα) ‘part of the same body with’ the Jews in Christ.  And this welcome message for us is in our second reading!

The gospel is the story of the magi, the wise men from the east, following their star to find Jesus; it is about this that we chiefly use the word Epiphany.  The magi, like us, have to find their way towards the mystery of God’s great closeness to us humans through Jesus who is both human and Divine.  And we, like the wise men, will have to learn from others, others who know something of the Scriptures.  There are many celebrities and famous people we may be tempted to try to emulate, but we must find the right star for us; we must be wary of  those with unsuitable motives; we must have our dream and stay close to that Jesus who is our ruler and gentle inspiration.  And as we move towards this perfect example of what it is to be human, we must bring our gifts and talents – we all have something to give.  So the gospel story is about the revelation of God to us, about how we understand it and how we are to respond as best we can – a story of great depth, beauty and personal significance

The Holy Family

31st December 2017

The first reading from Genesis tells us something about the relationship between Abraham and God. The reading is made up of two separate parts of this story (from chapters 15 and 21); you notice that in the first part he is called Abram, meaning great father, and in the second part, Abraham, father of many. Names and name changes were quite significant in that culture; also the inheritance of position and dignity went from father to son, and if there was no son to any of his wives then it went through one of the maidservants’ sons used by the father. Although Abram is childless, God promises that he will have many descendants. Part of the story omitted is where God promises that Abram will have a son by his wife, Sarah, although she appears to be too old – she actually laughed at the thought. But God’s plans come to be, and Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah; God can bring about what seems to us to be impossible, but co-operating with Him will achieve remarkable results.

From the Letter to the Hebrews,(see here scroll down) the second reading tells us something about faith. The writer believes that “to have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 GNB) – to believe in what seems impossible. He illustrates this with reference to various Old Testament characters, like Abel and Noah (whose story of the flood you will be aware of), but he is most interested in Abraham, the great ancestor of the chosen people. We hear reference to that most alarming account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a human offering, of Abraham going ahead with this until at the last moment an angel stops the process and offers a ram instead (seeGenesis 22). While the writer of Hebrews takes this as an example of faith, the gospel writers might well have some of the story in mind when they tell of the Son of God, led up a hill and sacrificed on the wood of the cross. The way stories are developed and used to make different point, it may well be that this was preserved to illustrate that God does not want human sacrifice (seeDeuteronomy 12:31) which some of the neighbouring tribes practiced and the Israelites might have been tempted to do. But this second reading for us is about accepting what God wants of us and going ahead boldly to do it.

In the gospel  (Luke 2:22-40), we read how the parents of Jesus take him at the appropriate time to the temple to be dedicated to God. Notice that this service of presentation and dedication fulfills the Jewish law and at the time of the writing of this story the Christians believe that it is Jesus Who fulfills the Law and that in Him the glory of God is revealed. The words of Simeon are significant for us, as they were for Mary. He is a character between the Old and the New testaments and his words resound with allusions (see here) to the events and words of the prophets in the Jewish Scriptures especially; but they might also be applied to the Christian era when he addresses Mary directly. She too is a character at the junction of the old and the new eras; Simeon refers to the troubles and the blessings in the long history of his people as well as to the sorrow in the life of Mary, but also, perhaps, to the conversion of individuals to Christianity by Baptism as the sink into the water to die to the old self and rise out of it into new life with Jesus dying and rising. But we need to experience this pattern in our own lives and as we try to live more and more as Christians should we will have our own falls and uplifts.

Christmas at St. Marys

This Christmas we will have

Christmas Eve Midnight Mass with carols starting at 11.40pm

Christmas Day Mass 9.30am

Everyone is very welcome to join us!