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Super User

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Gracious and generous love

No doubt, many will find this Sunday’s Gospel difficult reading.

One of the great themes of Mark’s Gospel is that, in Jesus, all things are being restored to God’s original purpose. That gives us a bit of context for the words of Jesus.

Among Jewish scholars and rabbis of Jesus’ time there was often fierce debate about the grounds for divorce permitted by Jewish Law (Deuteronomy 24:1). As the Gospel recalls, a man could draw up a ‘writ of dismissal’, give it to his wife and they would be considered divorced. At least one line of thought allowed the husband to do this for almost any reason whatever. In a way, the writ was meant as a kind of protection for the woman lest she be accused of infidelity.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus, they already seem to be aware of his teaching about divorce and may be trying to trap him into saying something against Moses and the Law. Something they could use against him.

Jesus, however, talks not about the Law, but about God’s original intention for marriage using quotes from the Book of Genesis.

The words of Jesus make clear that marriage is part of God’s design for human beings. The rich imagery of the husband being so drawn to his wife that he leaves home and family and the two become ‘one body’ implies great love, warmth, intimacy and companionship. When God draws human beings together like this, man must not divide them.

Later, the disciples question Jesus about his teaching. It is important to understand that Jesus’ reply is about a situation in which one party in the marriage divorces the other in order to marry someone else. It is not talking about a person fleeing an abusive relationship or one which has failed for some other reason. So, it is important not to take these words of Jesus and use them as a judgement on those who have divorced, or who have remarried some time later.

It is also worth remembering that the Church itself has a process to assist people whose marriages fail, often enabling them to marry again.

The reply that Jesus gives recognises husband and wife as equal partners in marriage. No longer, according to Jesus, is it permissible for a husband to divorce his wife ‘because he finds something displeasing about her’ (Deut 24:1) and neither can the wife.

Jesus does the same thing in the following story about the little children. When people (probably their mothers) bring the little children to Jesus for a blessing, he disciples, acting as minders, shoo them away. Once again, the disciples have got things wrong, and Jesus rebukes them. They seem to have forgotten already Jesus’ teaching in last week’s Gospel about welcoming the little child.

Jesus astounds the disciples by insisting that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who welcome it like little children, who open-heartedly embrace the Kingdom as sheer gift from a gracious God. The Kingdom cannot be earned, or bought, or bargained for. It is ours for the taking. All we need is the conversion of heart to believe in a God who is so good and so gracious as to give us the Kingdom freely and without measure.

In both parts of the Gospel today, Jesus teaches that married women children and are not to be treated as possessions or objects, but with dignity and respect. As well as recalling God’s initial intention for marriage, Jesus also recalls God’s initial intention about the treatment of other people including those thought to be of lesser or no account.

The disciples need to learn that only those who receive the kingdom of God with the openness and receptivity of a child will be able to enter into the mystery of God’s gracious and generous love.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021 15:27

Lectio Divina: October

Father, you show your almighty power in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry towards the eternal life your promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021 13:17

Celebrating At Home - 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doing good in the name of Jesus

The disciples are on a steep learning curve as Jesus instructs them about what true discipleship is all about.

Last week, using a little child, Jesus tried to show them that real leadership is about putting aside our own needs for social status, self-importance, power and wealth and to give ourselves fully to the service of others.

But the disciples are slow learners. In this Sunday’s Gospel, when they report that they tried to stop someone casting out devils in Jesus’ name just because ‘he was not one of us’, they probably expected praise from Jesus. Instead, they got a rebuke.

True discipleship is not about holding the mystery of the Kingdom to our self, to dispense as we see fit, deciding who merits our love, concern and service, and who does not.

Both principal readings this weekend remind us that the mystery belongs to God who chooses and uses whomever God wills in the service of human beings and the kingdom. The true disciple needs to have the humility to see that he or she is simply one among many whom God has chosen. In the leadership of service there is no place for those who exult themselves or believe themselves to be holders of some privileged position with the power to control the mystery. And jealousy of others distorts God’s intentions and compromises our efforts.

In the second part of the Gospel Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention to the evil that may be found inside the Christian community. Bad example or exploitative behaviour can be a stumbling block to more vulnerable members of the community.

Such people stand in contrast to the ‘man who is not one of us’ but who is doing a good thing by using the name of Jesus to heal people – he is a ‘true’ but unknown disciple of Jesus. Those who claim to be true disciples may very well find themselves to be outsiders and excluded from the kingdom.

The graphic sayings are really an invitation for all would-be disciples to search their own hearts and to do the work of pruning away those things which stand in the way of being a true disciple.

Jesus shifts the emphasis from the good deeds of the outsider at the beginning of the reading, to the sinful actions of members of the community towards the end of the reading. Perhaps he is inviting the disciples, and us, to look at our own motivations and behaviour rather than to judge other people.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Becoming a child

Today’s readings continue last Sunday’s themes of Jesus as the ‘suffering servant’ and the nature of authentic discipleship.

On the road through Galilee Jesus continues to instruct the disciples that he will suffer and die and rise again, but the disciples seem very slow to understand and are too afraid to ask him about it. Perhaps it is an awful truth they just don’t want to face. Maybe they want Jesus to be a ‘warrior-king’, a liberator who would restore Israel to greatness and crush the Romans. Perhaps they have begun to think of themselves as princes and rulers in this new Israel.

Among themselves the disciples are not discussing the important things Jesus has told them about who he is and his destiny, but fighting about which of them was the greatest - who will be first in line to receive honour, power and glory in the kingdom of Jesus.

Using a little child as an example Jesus tells the disciples that real leadership is about service and giving without expecting anything in return.

It’s hard for us to grasp the power of what Jesus says and does here. In his time, unlike now, children had no social status or value at all. Until adulthood they were nobodies. To welcome a child would have required a person to put aside all their ideas of self-importance and adult status in order ‘to simply meet the child as an equal, as “child” to child.’ This is what Jesus is telling the disciples to do. Even more astonishing, Jesus goes on to identify both himself and God with the little child!

This is a direct challenge to the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ messiahship and to their notions about God. ‘Is God to be thought of as a kind of extraterrestial Ruler to whom nothing but fear and service is due? Or is the God revealed by Jesus a God whose primary gesture toward human beings is that of One who serves, One who comes among us in the guise of a child?’ Jesus’ unusual gesture of hugging a child in public expresses powerfully the preciousness of each and every human person in the sight of God, no matter how small, insignificant or young. We, too, are hugged by God in this moment.

Seeking glory is not the calling of the true disciple. Doing things in order to gain rewards is not the calling of the true disciple. Putting aside discrimination, status and power to proclaim God’s love, compassion, care, justice and forgiveness is.

Every Christian is called to this ministry of servant-leadership that is, to be leaders in the doing of service.

cf Byrne, Brendan, A Costly Freedom - A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Sydney, St Paul’s, 2008), pp 152-153

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Who am I?

All of us, at least to some extent, shape our identity and measure ourselves in response to the comments and ideas of others. From an early age we are taught how to speak, dress and act in order to be ‘acceptable’ to others. Usually this is a good thing, but sometimes it can go horribly wrong.

Celebrities, sports stars and young people can become so vulnerable to the expectations and reactions of the public, media and social media trolls that they end up with little identity of their own, or they develop a very distorted idea of their identity. Unfortunately, both these experiences have significant negative impacts on a person’s mental wellbeing.

This Sunday’s Gospel teaches us how to find our true identity.

Both the ‘people’ and Peter have ideas about who Jesus is. For the people he is John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets returned from the dead. For Peter, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. But what happens next reveals that Peter and Jesus have very different ideas about who this Messiah is.

Though Peter understands correctly that Jesus is the Messiah, he misunderstands the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. Perhaps he wanted a Messiah who was a great warrior-king, powerful and glorious. He can’t imagine that his Messiah would meet the kind of end that Jesus talks about.

Jesus calls Peter, ‘Satan’. If Peter is to learn the true identity of Jesus and come to think with God’s heart, he must ‘get behind’ (follow) Jesus.

Such followers are called to renounce their false identity (often defined by what we have, what we work at, our delusions) and to find their true identity as God’s beloved son or daughter through a life poured out in loving service of others (taking up his/her cross).

I often think that parents are the great examples of what all this means. They constantly have to go beyond themselves, their own needs, hopes and desires and sacrifice their time, energy and money to care for their children with love. In doing so, they often discover their very best selves.

In the Gospel, Jesus, the true Messiah, appears not as a glorious God-King but as the Suffering Servant of God about whom Isaiah speaks in the first reading. The way of discipleship is not about self-glory but about true service, and about discovering our true identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters.

As disciples of Jesus we try to live our lives as a real service to our brothers and sisters in the world.

But it’s not possible to do that until and unless we realise our true identity and call as God’s own people.

Then we become a source of love, mercy, hope, compassion, justice, truth, concern and Christian action as servants of God and each other. That is DOING the Gospel.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Loosening the ligaments

Because of COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions many experience a sense of isolation. Even with the benefits of modern technology and social media we can still feel cut off from those dear to us, unable to leave our homes, go to work, meet up with friends. We share something of the experience of man in this Sunday’s Gospel. He cannot hear, and cannot speak properly. Living in the ancient world that must have been a profoundly isolating, frightening and frustrating experience for him.

The people ask Jesus to lay a hand on the man. There were many travelling healers at that time, so the people’s request does not imply that they know who Jesus really is, only perhaps his reputation as a healer.

Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd, puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches his tongue with spittle. Both are deeply intimate gestures and somewhat confronting. I wonder what it must have been like to be that man. How much did he understand about what Jesus was doing?

Being deaf, did he even know what the crowd had asked Jesus to do for him?

Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs and says ‘Ephphatha,’ – ‘Be opened!’ All at once the man can hear and speak clearly. The man’s social isolation is ended. Now he can enter fully into relationship with other people. The man rejoices, the people rejoice and, even though Jesus asks them not to, they tell the story everywhere.

In telling this story Mark seems to suggest that without the intimate, healing touch of Jesus we remain deaf both to the voice of God and the cries of others, and unable to enter fully into relationship with either. We remain closed and crippled within ourselves, unable to hear the Word of God or pass it on to others. But once touched by the power and spirit of Jesus we are opened to the Word made flesh and God’s vision for human life. Our inner ligaments, the things that once choked the Life within us, begin to be loosened and we begin to speak clearly of God’s loving concern for all humanity in every word and action.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Washing hearts, not hands

This weekend we resume reading from St Mark’s Gospel. This Sunday’s episode is about ritual purity verses purity of heart. The Pharisees were a group of especially observant Jews. They took ritual observance very seriously. These observant Pharisees and some scribes criticise the disciples for ‘not following the tradition of the elders’ by not washing their hands before eating.

This passage is not about good hygiene but about a ritual practice. By the time of Jesus the Pharisees wanted to extend the laws of ritual purity, which applied only to priests, to all the people. Jesus accuses them of substituting the law of God with mere human regulations.

The second point that Jesus makes is that it is not what goes into a person from outside which makes them unclean, but what they harbour in their hearts and minds.

We, too, can fall into the trap of thinking that our ritual practices (going to Mass, saying the Rosary, etc) are all that is necessary to be good followers of Jesus.

Some Christians seem to think that ritual practice is about being at rights with God; almost like ‘paying God off ’. That having been done, they are free to do what they like in their actions towards other human beings.

The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel today challenges both those views.

It is the reform of our hearts, not our ritual practices, which needs attention and is most important in living out the vocation God has given us. If the goodness of God is not seen through us, where can it be seen?

Jesus reminds his listeners that evil does not come from the outside, but from within. According to Jesus, being at rights with God is not achieved through ritual practice but through inner conversion to the mind and heart of God.

Real religion, according to the Jesus tradition, is not about ritual practise but about how we treat each other.

It’s our hearts, not our hands, which need washing.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

Lord, who shall we go to

The affirmation of faith in God by the people in the first reading from the Old Testament book of Joshua is echoed by Peter’s affirmation of faith in Jesus in the Gospel. Joshua says: It’s decision time. Who will be your God? The people answer: We remember what God has done for us. We have no intention of deserting the Lord our God - unlike some of the followers of Jesus in the Gospel.

Our excursion into the ‘Bread of Life’ passages of Chapter 6 of Saint John’s Gospel comes to an end today.

Over the last four Sundays, St John has taken us on a journey of discovering Jesus as the living Word of God who nourishes and strengthens us on our journey; as the living bread who gives his very self (flesh and blood) for the life of the world; and, today, as the bread of faith. Those who share the bread of faith are those who have chosen to believe in Jesus and follow him.

Only by drawing life from Jesus can one be drawn into the life of God. We feed on Jesus so that he becomes part of us and his life continues to grow in us and our life becomes caught up in his. That life draws us into communion with the life of God. We become sharers in that life, our awareness of which is nourished and strengthened as we eat and drink.

This meditation from John is about how Jesus is still present and a source of faith and nourishment in the life of the post-resurrection Christian community. The ‘real presence’ of Jesus lives on in the community. That presence is perceived by faith and received as living Word, food and drink, nourishing disciples in their journey to be the ‘real presence’ of Jesus in the world, the everlasting sign of God’s love for all.

At Eucharist we gather in communion with each other, with Jesus the Word, with Jesus the Bread and Wine. We are doing in a sacramental way what Jesus is doing in a real way within us. The Eucharist is teaching us how to live our lives as Christian disciples: how to be in communion with God and each other through our communion with Jesus.

What we physically eat and drink become us. Food changes and transforms cells, blood, muscle, tissue and organs. The purpose of Christian life is for us to become Christ. Having faith, being nourished by him changes and transforms us into his body and blood for the life of the world. We become the real presence of Jesus in the world today.

Connections to the Eucharist

The words of the Gospels of these five Sundays parallel our experience of celebrating the Eucharist. There are three ‘holy communions’ at mass, not one. There is the communion of believers, as the people of Christ gather to celebrate the Eucharist; the communion of the Word when we listen together to the Scriptures; and the communion of the Bread and Wine when we eat and drink together. These communions are holy because, through Christ, God and human beings are in communion with one another and God is at work nourishing, healing, redeeming and forming the face of his Son within us – so that we may be the living presence of Christ in the world today. Feasting on Christ in Word and Sacrament, we too, are called to nourish and strengthen each other on our journey to God.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

My soul glorifies the Lord

The Assumption is a great feast of hope! In the scripture and related writings for this feast, we learn that God’s plan is that we, like Mary, are destined to share the same glory of heaven, through Christ’s resurrection.

The second reading of today’s feast says: Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep…Just as all people die in Adam, so all people will be brought to life in Christ… All made possible by God’s great love for us.

The Gospel is the story of the joy-filled meeting between the pregnant cousins, Mary and Elizabeth. Filled with the Holy Spirit Elizabeth recognises Mary as ‘the mother of my Lord’ and the child in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, dances for joy. Elizabeth feels honoured by this visit ‘from the mother of my Lord’ and proclaims Mary blessed because she believed that the promise made to her by the Lord in the Annunciation story would be fulfilled.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth is an outpouring of joy and belief, shared with Elizabeth, but also with us, even in the 21st century. Mary rejoices that this ‘great thing’ that has happened to her, an ordinary, humble person, is a gift from God.

Responding to the reign of God’s grace in her, Mary proclaims God as the Holy One embracing her part within of God’s outreach to the human family. She rejoices in God’s power which brings justice to the poor and mercy for the faithful.

The Carmelite martyr, Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881–1942), says that we too can be like Mary: The Lord also sends his angel to us ... we too must accept God in our hearts and carry him in our hearts, nourish him and make him grow in us so that he is born of us and lives with us as the God-with-us, Emmanuel.

May we breathe the Word of God into every moment of life.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

The living bread that nourishes life

At the end of last week’s Gospel, Jesus said: I am the bread of life, those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never thirst. In other words, Jesus feeds us with the living bread

of God’s word, which is himself. But this word can only be received by those who believe, that is, who are in relationship with Jesus. The first step is to recognise where Jesus comes from (God).

In a great example of unbelief the Jewish authorities reject Jesus at the beginning of this week’s Gospel because they know where he comes from and therefore he cannot be ‘from heaven’.

Once again they are unable to read the face of God in Jesus. They think they know exactly who Jesus is - we know his father and mother. And their focus remains firmly fixed on the bread they ate, not the person who provided it.

Jesus tells them to stop complaining and insists that only those drawn by God can believe in him. Jesus insists again that God draws people to belief in him. One cannot be taught by God apart from hearing and believing the word of Jesus. And those who believe have eternal life.

Jesus again insists that he is the Bread of Life. Referring to his earlier conversation with the crowd in last week’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who ate the manna in the desert are dead; and those who eat the bread of life he is offering will live. Life comes from being in relationship (in communion) with Jesus.

The Gospel concludes with Jesus once again stating that he is indeed the living bread which has come down from heaven. Those who eat this bread will live for ever. The bread that Jesus will give is his own flesh offered on the altar of the cross for the life of the world and given in prophetic sign at the Last Supper.

If we enter into communion with Jesus we can become the living bread through whom God continues to feed his people with wisdom, compassion, hope, forgiveness and love.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

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