True Religion

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 13.

Mark 7;1-8,14-15,21-23

In England Christian institutions appear to be continually losing their way. In July 2021 an example in which a large flower arrangement was placed before the altar, and where once the sign IHS [Jesus our Saviour] might be featured, now had NHS displayed, in honour of the National Health Service, Britain’s new religion! The first Christians were put to death for refusing to bow down to the Emperor by burning incense on his altar. Today, genuflections which many of us used to reverence Christ in the Blessed Sacrament are the preferred political gesture of sportsmen and footballers and some religious leaders. What has happened to true religion?

Jesus in his day battled with true and false religion. He pointed out the difference between manmade rules which result in the neglect of the commandments of God bringing criticisms by Jewish religious authorities. His own disciples had been caught breaking the rules concerning ritual hand washing. This was a threat to the Pharisees. They had taken the 10 commandments and added over 300 further rules and regulations especially in matters of diet and washing. This made it really easy to accuse people of being law breakers. These rules of purification were not introduced for reasons of hygiene but to wash away the possibility of contamination with Gentiles. This produces division and aggression not unlike enforcement attitudes of overkill today! It is hard to believe that in Manchester it has been reported that two police armoured vehicles with officers in body armour arrived on two separate occasions at the home of a twelve year old girl to check that she had been self isolating after a Covid19 contacts.

Master of Sant’Apollinare, Ravenna
[Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Jesus was not against rules but rather about elevating man made rituals and regulations especially those regarding “clean and unclean” above the commandments of God, for then they become obstacles to harmony. He said, “There is nothing that goes into the mouth that defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth.” [Matthew 15,11+19] And, “whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach … those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man”. True religion must begin in the heart and soul not in the keeping of outward rituals. How easy it is for the well intentioned to become deluded and allow self righteousness to distort religion and morals. How easy to gang up with moral outrage and cast stones at those who are different. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone” is one of the clearest warnings Jesus ever gave towards self righteousness. These issues are the battleground that finally brings Jesus to trial and will also become the offenses levelled at the fledgling apostolic church in New Testament times.

This is not just an accusation against the Pharisees it has also been very much part of the internal conflicts of Christian history too with one group demonising others and dividing the household of God. Humanly speaking, it has always been hard not to fall into this trap of self delusion even in the first centuries when the commandments of God were known and respected. How much more dangerous today is this trap of self deception when the commandments of God are unknown and the idea of God abandoned and lost! This places a great obligation on Christians if they wish to live a true faith, to ensure that they know, teach and practice the authentic ways of Christ. To do this will require a far greater investment in an informed and disciplined life that is true to the mind of Christ that has been handed down to us. Without this commitment the church will continue to face even greater problems in distinguishing the divisive assertions of the secular culture and the wisdom of the Lord.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Choice

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time/ Trinity 12.

John 6,60–69

We never forget you have a choice. That is a popular, at the time, advertising slogan from a few years back. Did it work? Did it produce a healthy balance sheet? Apparently not, because the irony is that that particular company has long since disappeared – clearly too many people chose some other airline, for it was the long vanished British Caledonian. We never forget you have a choice.

Jesus never forgot that people had a choice – of course he was deeply pained by those who heard his message but then preferred to go their own way, but he did not water down his message to make it more readily acceptable, and that is a lesson that preachers have to learn, and re-learn over the years.

Today’s Gospel is a case in point. Jesus had been saying hard things to his disciples, and things that, humanly speaking, made no sense, all about being the bread of life: how could this young teacher say that he was bread, let alone the bread of life? It simply did not add up. Of course, with the benefit of two thousand years of Christian history, we should be able say beyond doubt that we know that Jesus feeds us on himself in the Blessed Sacrament, that this is not some mere commemoration of a dead hero, but an encounter with the Lord of life; indeed more than an encounter, for in the Eucharist Jesus shares his very life with us, to enable us to become more like him, and to continue his ministry in the world.

Jesus teaching his disciples – From a 1684 Arabic manuscript of the Gospels, copied in Egypt by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, CC BY-SA 3.0.

At the time, his hearers could have known none of this, and it is hardly surprising that some turned away. But Jesus did not dilute the message. He didn’t say “Perhaps I can make this a bit simpler” or “If this is hard, forget that I even said it.” No, Jesus proclaimed himself to be the heavenly food that his followers could not do without in their earthly pilgrimage. Obviously, we cannot know what his tone of voice was when he asked the twelve “Do you also wish to go away?” Was it aggressive? I think not – we see nothing of that in Our Lord. Challenging? Certainly. The twelve had to make their choice, and we know that they did, even if they did not fully understand. Sad? Yes, I think so, but the best things that life can offer are not always easy.

Materially speaking, we in the western world have never had so much choice in how we live our lives, and how we spend our money, but spiritually most of our contemporaries, by choosing not to follow Jesus, or else by choosing to water his teaching down to conform with their own prejudices or the spirit of the age are rejecting Jesus as though they had made a downright denial. We never forget you have a choice. I never forget that those who attend church week in and week out have a choice, and they choose to come because they know that the Lord summons them to dine at his table. In a sense we have to make that choice every day, for we can so easily fall back into the at best semi-Christian ways of the world. Yes, this most important of all choices is an ongoing task. We are called to choose: choose the way of Jesus, even if the world chooses otherwise, and continue to hold fast to Jesus’ teaching as it has come down to us, for as Peter rightly says, “to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Fr. Edward Bryant

Seen through Mary’s Eyes

Sunday of the Dormition – 15th August 2021

Luke 1,39-56

Poetry helps us to understand the Christian Faith. Let me use a short Hymn about Mary which, in sixteen lines, tells us what it would take many pages of prose to say.

The author, Bishop Thomas Ken [1637-1711], a writer of some of England’s most loved hymns. He lived in an age when ignorance replaced the Christian Faith, even by those ordained to believe and safeguard it. Ken was one of the seven Bishops who were held in the Tower of London by King James II, and was later deprived of his Diocese. So Ken was someone who believed that Truth matters.

From early times, Christians have differed about the importance they attach to Mary’s role in God’s Plan for the redemption of His world: some almost ignore it, whilst others, like us, believe her willing obedience was critical.

Paolo Veneziano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So we read Bishop Ken’s poem:

Her virgin eyes saw God incarnate born,
When she to Beth’lem came that happy morn;
How high her raptures then began to swell,
None but her own omniscient Son can tell”.

The first line states unequivocally that Jesus was, and is, God Incarnate, not just a “good man”, but both “Perfect God and Perfect Man”.

Bishop Ken continues by stressing the complete empathy (‘unity-of-spirit’) between Mother and Child. Only Jesus Himself, fully understands the bond of joy, sung by angels in heaven, as they beheld the Word made Flesh. Verse Two tells of the fatal mistake of Eve, the First Woman, who took the forbidden fruit:

As Eve when she her fontal sin reviewed,
Wept for herself and all she should include,
Blest Mary with man’s Saviour in embrace
Joyed for herself and for all human race.

As early as the 2nd century Saint Irenaeus saw Mary as The Second Eve – who helped to recapitulate the evil of Eve’s disobedience by her own obedience to God’s Word, in partnership with her Son, The Second Adam, in Whom God reconciled the world to Himself by that ‘One, True, Pure and Immortal Sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross’. This is the message of reconciliation which He entrusted us to share with others.

In Verse three, Bishop Ken takes another step. He says:

All Saints are by her Son’s dear influence blest,
She kept the very Fountain at her breast;
The Son adored and nursed by the sweet Maid
A thousand fold of love for love repaid.

It’s not just Mary, Jesus and the angels, who have reason to rejoice. We, as “Saints-in-the-Making” receive the means of grace and the hope of glory’. As Mary fed Jesus at her breast, we too can approach as close to Him as humanly possible and receive his Body and Blood

But even that is not the end of the story, for the fulfilment of joy for us, as for the Virgin Mary, lies beyond the grave as the last verse he says:

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son His Mother placed;
And here below, now she’s of heaven possessed.
All generations are to call her blest.

Bishop Ken has taken us from Earth to Heaven, and back to Earth again in just sixteen lines. Because that simple but virtuous teenager in Nazareth accepted God’s transformation of her into the Mother of God, she is now with her Son in Heaven. But our destiny is no less extraordinary than Mary’s.

If (like Mary) we say to God, “I am your servant, O God: do with me according to Your Will”, then we shall also discover those unspeakable joys which God ‘has prepared for those who unfeignedly love Him’– and in which Jesus, Mary, and the Heavenly Host already participate.

Fr, Francis Gardom

The Food of Life

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 10.

John 6,41-51

Wholefood

The Christian Gospel is called good news because it reveals to us a God whose nature is “absolute love” revealed in Jesus the complete God and complete Man. However difficult this is, it is at the heart of Christianity and required whenever we reflect on a gospel passage. The two natures of Jesus come together in the passage for this week. The human side of Jesus is easily visible in compassion, feeding the multitude, healing and binding the wounds of the sick, teaching kindness towards neighbours, justice and truth in human interaction, for without these it is not possible to live a godly life. But it is not the whole story! What then is a Godly life?

Spiritual Starvation

Jesus came to bring each individual into a relationship with the invisible yet essential divinity of God whom he called “my Father”. It is not difficult to see around us the absence of God, and the result of human lives separated from transcendence. What Solzhenitsyn in 1978 called the “death of the soul” meaning an existence placing too much hope in politics and social reforms only to find that a living at the purely bodily and mental levels renders life deprived and incomplete. Many of the consequences are all around us in mindless and hateful behaviour. More research is also revealing high levels of narcissistic and sociopathic behaviour in many places including the corporate and business world, resulting in fear, loneliness and much that causes life to flounder. It is high time to take into account the consequences of living in a culture that has banished God and the spiritual life is starved.

This is the reason God became man, to grasp the spiritual life experienced at the level of the eternal soul and to move beyond the preoccupation with the self. A healthy soul energises the will to balance body, mind, and psyche. We feed the body, educate the mind; we know the need for psychological health yet neglect the coordinating soul that drives the will.

Feeding the Multitude, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna
[Unknown author, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The Food of Life

With this in mind we reflect on the unique feeding of five thousand and the teaching Our Lord draws out. The crowds were looking for material satisfaction and a national leader with a political agenda rather than the presence of God. Jesus must introduce the other world, explaining that the divine cannot be revealed solely in human and worldly terms; that the presence of God is unveiled only when the human is reduced to silence and the soul opened to the need for transcendence. “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things”? [John 3,12]. These words are said after Jesus witnessed the bickering crowd who had witnessed the multiplication of the barley loaves and fishes, and who were then gossiping together saying, “whose son is he any way? He is just the carpenter from Nazareth! Now Jesus reaches the heart of it all; “Truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life – I am the bread of life.” Nothing is more important to us than food of course but “man cannot live by bread alone” so we are to pray “give us this day our daily bread” by which we mean our communion with Christ the one who is from God and through whom we encounter the mystery and divinity of the life-giving God which is the food for the soul. “Just as an acorn has a thirst to be an oak tree”, said Thomas Merton, so the Christian longs for the wholeness for which he is made, becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Mystery or Mystification?

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 9.

John 6,24-35

One of the most tiresome things for me about some of the sects that turn up on the doorstep is that they have no sense of mystery. And science has in some ways done a pretty similar job for the world in general – although it has a mission to understand, and explain, all too often it seems to be explaining away rather than explaining. Some of course, would also point the finger at the new or not so new now, liturgies of the churches, which, they would claim, have brought God down to our level by their use of kitchen sink English, and have taken the mystery out of worship. And yes, it can be a problem. For, after all, Christianity is about mystery – not mystery in the sense of mystification or brain-teasers, but mystery in the sense that in our faith we are confronted with all manner of things which we cannot fully grasp, and yet which have great power to speak to our inward depths and move us.

Uriel1022, CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

So what does it mean when we hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel “I am the bread of life”? After all, at the most basic, literal level, Jesus is not bread, he is flesh and bones. Here is mystery indeed. And in typical St John fashion, we are to look not just for one single meaning, but for different layers of meaning – St John is very strong on mystery. At one level, those who view Jesus through the eyes of faith can say “Yes, this is true for me. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus holds the key to the meaning of life, Jesus teaches me how to live, Jesus nourishes and sustains me in a hundred and one different ways.” That is the testimony of faith.

But at yet another level, this is also a statement about the bread of Eucharist. It does make me cross when people say that they do not believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine of Communion, particularly people who claim to sit under the authority of scripture, who yet deny that Jesus meant it when he said at the Last Supper “This is my body, this is my blood.” Where is their sense of mystery, I ask myself. I am not pretending that I understand this mystery, but I am saying I believe it is true, because it is a word of the Lord, and I am frankly incredulous that one, now dead but in his day notorious, Bishop of Birmingham sent a consecrated host for chemical analysis and was triumphant when the result came back and showed no chemical difference from an unconsecrated wafer. This is blasphemy, bishop or no bishop, for he was denying the truth of mystery, and a faith without mystery is not a true and authentic Christianity.

But what of now? After all, we cannot go to Israel and seek out the Lord, and sit at his feet and be nourished by him. No, but through his Spirit, we can have free access to him here and now – we can meet him in his word in the Scriptures, we can meet him in one another, and in the poor and needy of this world, we can meet him in the Eucharist. In these turbulent times, the need to be nourished by Jesus the Bread of Life has never been more pressing. And though it may be yet more mystery, I believe it to be true, that the Lord Jesus comes out of distant Palestine to meet us where we are and feed us. But for that to happen, he requires one thing of us, that we will say yes to him, and make room, no, more than room, the central place in our hearts for him.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Treasures in Heaven

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 8.

John 6,1-21

Most radio or TV stations in June 2021 put forward the message that “the vaccine will save us and life can return to normal after Covid 19”. Certainly we can only hope that people will not suffer from such a terrible infection and that our hospitals will not be overwhelmed unable to assist other critical needs. But being saved has overtones that we should use sparingly. This is a message that salvation and well being takes place only in material and physical terms, because this is the age God has no relevance. For some, this all seems a very shallow and unfulfilling goal and there must be more to human fulfilment than travel, sunbathing, socialising at the pub and whatever else take your fancy. These things have their place but as Jesus said “do not labour for the food that perishes but for the food that endures eternally”. [John 6,27] Christians call Jesus Christ “Our Saviour” because he offers a treasure beyond the temporal struggles of personal satisfaction. This is the deeper teaching behind the feeding of the multitude, drawn out by St. John in an episode many feel they have heard many times and know only too well.

© Guillaume Piolle [Wikimedia Commons]

Meeting people whose potential never materialises or who have settled for the lowest level of happiness and fulfilment and whose expectation of life declines as they increasingly become locked into themselves is a very sad experience. If only they could know that Christians call Jesus “Saviour” because he said of himself “I am the way, the truth and the life”. [John 14,6] Indeed he said so many things that direct us to this deeper life to be had by feeding the human soul as well as the mind and body.

The message at the heart of the feeding of the five thousand was so important in mind of the early church that it is recorded in all four Gospels, because it contains important truths about the relationship between Christ and the figures and festivals of the Old Testament. Although it is an event teaching at many different levels, in St. John’s gospel it is even more than a miraculous satisfying of a crowd, it is a “Sign” for all who are seeking nourishment of more than hunger of the body but are aware also of a starvation of the soul. This deeper feeding is drawn out by St. John in the remaining part of Chapter 6 in a discourse that follows the feeding of the crowds. Jesus describes himself to his disciples as the bread of life that nourishes and does not fail us because it comes directly from God, “a treasure from heaven” not gained through our own human effort. It is a direct relationship with the divine itself.

One of the great challenges facing Christianity today is to convey the idea that when humanity neglects the soul, it is on a course of self destruction. We hear the appeals of Sir David Attenborough that the environment is in crisis and the earth is losing more of its species, and to be sure he and his fellow advocates may be correct, but they do not go on to mention the equally chilling prospect of the extinction of the human soul with its ability to discern transcendence. For living only in a material existence hoping for permanent happiness, when God is dethroned, may result in a hell, a “dark night of the soul in which there is nothing beneath the surface of life and even the agnosticism of science and politics is itself an illusion.

But the true Saviour, whose name is blasphemed, ridiculed and whose wisdom rejected still warns, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. or where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matthew 6,19]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Hallmarks of Rabbi Jesus

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 7.

Mark 6,30–34

This Gospel passage is a great contrast with the death banquet of King Herod in the Palace during which John the Baptist was murdered [Mark 6:17-29]. The Gospel however introduces the the banquet of life promoted by Jesus with the hungry people of Galilee in the desert [Mark 6:30-44]. The passage presents only the introduction to the multiplication of the loaves and describes the teaching of Jesus.

Murillo, Bartolome Esteban; The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes [Public Domain]

Rabbi Jesus welcomes the disciples when they first joined Him and told Him all they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away to some lonely place by yourselves and rest for a while.”  These verses show how Jesus formed His disciples. He was not concerned only with the content of the preaching, but also with rest for the disciples. He invited them to go to a lonely place so as to be able to rest and review what they had done.

Rabbi Jesus welcomes the people when they noticed that He had gone to the other side of the lake, and followed Him on foot, to the other shore. So as He stepped ashore He saw a large crowd, and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and He began to teach them at some length. Jesus was sad, seeing that crowd were like sheep without a shepherd. He forgets about His own rest and begins to teach them. In becoming aware that the people have no guide, Jesus began to be their shepherd, to teach with the ideas of Psalm [23:1:3-5]. “The Lord is my Shepherd! I lack nothing. In grassy meadows He lets me lie. By tranquil streams He leads me to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits His name. Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for You are at my side. Your staff and Your crook are there to soothe me. You prepare a table for me in the sight of my enemies.”

Although Jesus needed to rest with His disciples, the desire to respond to the needs of the people impels Him to leave rest aside. Something similar happens when He meets the Samaritan woman [John 4:31-32]. The disciples went to get some food. When they returned they said to Jesus, “Master, eat something!” but He answers, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The desire to react to the needs of the people always leads Him to forget His own hunger responding to the people who look to Him. Then He can eat. “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me and to complete His work [John 4:34].

Then Jesus began to teach them many things. The people were impressed: A new teaching! He taught them with authority! It was unlike that of the scribes! Teaching was what Jesus did the most and Mark tells us another fifteen times this is what He usually did [Mark 10:1].

Jesus was a welcoming Rabbi who wanted the good of the people. This goodness and love came from His words formed part of the content. They were His temperament. A good content without goodness and kindness would be like milk poured on the floor. Jesus’ teaching manifested itself in a thousand ways. Jesus accepts as disciples not only men, but also women. He does not only teach in the synagogue, but also in any place where there were people to listen to Him: in houses, on the shore, on the mountain, on the plain, in the boat, in the desert. It was not the relationship of pupil-teacher, but of disciple to Master. The professor teaches and the pupil is with him during the time of the class. The Master gives witness and the disciple live with Him 24 hours a day. It is more difficult to be a Master than a teacher!

We are not pupils of Jesus, we are His disciples! The teaching of Jesus was a communication that came from the abundance of His heart in the most varied forms: He makes clear the misunderstanding of the return of Elijah [Mark 9:9-13], He uses parables that invites people to think and to participate [Mark 4:33], Our Gospels reveal Christ the Rabbi who witnessed what He Himself lived, revealing His love! “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” [Matt 11:28-30].

Fr. Nathan Williams

MARCHONS! MARCHONS!   (The Marseillaise)

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 6.

Mark 6,7-13

“An army marches on its stomach” – It was the Corsican adventurer and sometime emperor of France and hate figure for the English, one Napoleon Bonaparte, who said that. He was the one who insisted on being crowned in St Peter’s Rome by the Pope, and when the Pope was a bit slow off the mark, grabbed the crown and put it on his own head. However, the meaning of that self-evident truth can be easily misunderstood. Napoleon did not mean that he was going to ensure that an endless caravan of supply carts laden down with the offerings of the best Parisian restaurants was going to cater to the whims of the French Army. No, what Napoleon meant was that the French army was expected to live off the land, as it went along. And if the land they marched through was barren, the troops could starve, as on the famous retreat from Moscow. It was a strategy that could bring great success, but it was also high risk.

Though Napoleon probably wouldn’t have recognised it, the self same policy had been adopted by parts of the church in the Middle Ages. As far back as the thirteenth century, Franciscan and Dominican friars often took to the road, living off what people would give them, and responding quickly to requests for help from local bishops. And in the campaigns of these friars, Francis and Dominic themselves showed the way by example – often sleeping rough, begging for food and drink, eating whatever was put before them.

These friars, following the example of Christ and the apostles, despite their high-risk strategy, were never let down. As they served the high king of heaven, his protection as they travelled on – on campaign, as it were – never dried up. And also I am sure that they were helped by the fact that the believing millions in Europe would have know instinctively that in helping them they were in some way helping Christ himself. 

And what prompted them to adopt this approach, when so many powerful men in the church in the Middle Ages had totally forgotten that the Son of Man had had nowhere to lay His head, and enjoyed lives of great self-indulgence? The answer lies in passages in the Gospels such as this one from St Mark. What we see Jesus doing is part of a larger strategy. In fact, as St Paul tells us, the strategy was laid down by God from the beginning, as a predetermined plan. And as an aside, behind these verses lies a truth that many today ignore or do not or choose not to acknowledge: Jesus’ choosing of twelve male apostles is a deliberate way of showing that His aim is to re-found the people of God, as once the twelve tribes of Israel were called by God.

This passage shows Jesus the Lord, like a commanding officer, but a commanding officer like none other, giving his troops their marching orders. These men, however, carry no weapons of war; they are to be, like Jesus Himself, themselves the message, both by what they are and by what they say. The apostles are to move quickly, and to move on swiftly where their preaching is not welcome. This creates a sense of the urgency of Christ’s message. The kingdom of heaven is close at hand; the time is now. And here, even before the resurrection, we see the two main weapons that Christ gives the Church – the word of God and the sacraments, both of them signs of His continued love for the church and His abiding presence with it. So, the apostles are to preach the Word, and, in a sacramental act, to anoint with oil those who are sick.

(C) Magne V. Kristiansen – www.adfontes.no

Obviously we need care in applying Christ’s strategy to our own time and our own situations. And yet, awe inspiring though it is, remember that, like the apostles, we have each been chosen from all eternity, to be co-workers in God’s plan of redemption; by virtue of our baptism we are enlisted as Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants in order to advance His campaign. It took great faith and courage for the apostles to do what Christ told them, but do it they did, and we too can ask for and be given that same faith and courage, the same resolve to carry out our Master’s will.

Fr. Edward Bryant

 

The Kingdom of Caesar

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 5.

Mark 6,1-13

The season of Pentecost is a time to reflect on word’s of Jesus for today, to gain a greater self understanding of “being church”. Jesus tells his friends that a “prophet is without honour” even among his countrymen and relatives. This remark comes after his teaching around Galilee and after performing numerous healings, including taking his inner group of disciples into the home of a leading member of the synagogue to restore the daughter to life. The crowds were amazed yet at the same time some were outraged. The outrage would grow and grow over the course of time urged on by religious enemies.

This saying that “a prophet is without honour” was no doubt well known at the time, for outrage had been the reaction to many of the great Hebrew Prophets including John the Baptist. All had suffered at the hands of secular and religious leaders. This was important for the twelve disciples to know as they are about to undertake their first training mission. [Mark 6,7 ff]

Moissac, Jeremiah [Cancre, CC BY-SA 4.0]

The Lord saw himself as fulfilling the prophet’s mission because they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak the “Word of God”. The great Prophets were not primarily foretelling the future or interpreting dreams and signs. Those who predicted in that way were “the Seers” and were often called upon to do so in the Old Testament by people of power. The great prophets were highly tuned to the ways of God inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth, whatever the consequences, entirely from the perspective of God rather than the political and social entitlements of mankind. They were totally committed, whatever the price, to obey and speak out. This kind of prophet has always caused outrage and fierce opposition from those in authority who like Caesar had the power to arrest, imprison and put to death. This continues to this day, so that the Lord’s remarks “the prophet is without honour” are highly important for us who witness right now!

There are still prophets today throughout the world ready to speak in truth about “the dangers of spiritual blindness” and the inherently ungodly and egocentric Kingdom of Caesar that is even destroying Christianity from within. This has been going on for some time even before Karl Marx when another German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in 1835 wrote “politics is now our religion”. This was part of an enlightenment that has been advancing the idea that life can be lived without reference to a God given creation. A philosophy centered on the self and individual happiness. George Orwell saw the coming of this Gnostic obsession with economics alone which he correctly said, would create the death of objective truth.

Today aggressively hateful rejection of Christ is everywhere and western countries are no exception. In the USA we read of Catholic priests being told by frightened Bishops to resign their parishes for upholding tradition. Recently, London’s famous Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, the home of public free speech, no longer protects Christian speakers who are arrested by the police for being offensive rather than the abusive mob of violent and threatening hooligans. A teacher and a church school chaplain have been fired for preaching tolerance and freedom of speech. Schools are becoming a battleground reports Christian Concern. These events are now commonplace in a society of anti Christian ideologies who are intent on silencing Christ’s teaching of the kingdom of God. All Christians are now called to be prophets without honour, proclaiming that the true infrastructure of life is the relationship between humanity and the living God. He who reminds us of the response to God’s prophets also says, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake; rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven”.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

“Signs and Wonders”

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time / Trinity 4.

Mark 5,21-43

The two words “Signs” and “Wonders” often occur together, but mean rather different things. A Sign directs people towards what they are looking for: maybe an historic building, or a panoramic view. It exists to guide people away from itself, but towards the real Wonder.

‘Wonder’ describes our feeling when suddenly confronted by a panorama of mountains, lakes and majestic buildings – which words like ‘awesome’ or ‘breath-taking’ fail to describe adequately.

The two miracles in today’s Gospel were both Signs and Wonders. We should behold every miracle with Wonder – because that’s what ‘miracle’ means. But we should equally use our minds and imaginations to learn what Lessons Jesus intended us, like their first beholders, to draw from them.

Lesson One: Whenever Jesus detected the slightest vestige of Faith in His power to heal and save, on the part of those who came, or brought others for Him to ‘make whole’, a Miracle became more likely to be the outcome. Sometimes “He could do no miracle because of their unbelief”. He flatly refused to oblige those Scribes and Pharisees who ‘asked Him for a Sign or Wonder’ in order to gratify their curiosity. But it was just as often the faith of those who brought sick people to Him, rather than the faith of the victim which made the critical difference.

The healing of a bleeding woman, Rome, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. [Unknown author, Public domain][

We know that the woman had such Faith. “If I can only touch his clothing, I shall be healed”, she said to herself. Jairus, when he learnt that his daughter was dead was told by Jesus to “have faith, not fear”.

Lesson Two: Sign posts, as we have seen, have only a single job to do. They are put there to point away from themselves and towards their desired object. But Wonders demand a great deal more of us than Signposts. Like signposts, they rightly demand our immediate attention. But unlike a signpost which points away from itself, a Wonder just goes on demanding our attention.

Such is the power of Wonder that we return to that panorama time and time again. We take others to see it. We’d like to explore the city, meet its citizens, and enter its buildings, to learn about its history. Does that sound remarkably like Evangelism? Well, it ought to – because that’s what it is!

As Christians, we have been allowed a glimpse of Eternity and the City of God in all its Wonder. However most of us are still at the ‘Panorama/Wonder’ stage, though we have followed all the signposts dutifully. So how about taking our pilgrimage a stage further? That will, of course, mean leaving our much-loved Panorama Point which it has taken us a lifetime to reach, and going on a long downhill journey which can be just as demanding as uphill – or even more so!

But of this we can be sure: that the Panorama will not be lost by leaving it. New Visions of our Destination, much clearer ones, will continually open up before our eyes the closer we get to it!

Fr. Francis Gardom

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