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The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

The Gospel readings for three Sundays, from the gospel of Matthew, were full of conflict between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders. In those gospel readings, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried several times to entrap Jesus, but he easily slipped their trap. In the gospel reading of today, Matt.23:1-36, Jesus turns to the crowds and his disciples addressing the spiritual failure of the scribes and Pharisees. He says that the scribes and Pharisees “sat on Moses’ seat”. Moses, of course, was the great lawgiver. Sitting on Moses’ seat means teaching by Moses’ authority—the highest authority available to a teacher of the law. Jesus acknowledges and tells his disciples “whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do”. That means that in spite of their personal failings, these scribes and Pharisees are stewards over a great spiritual treasure (the law), and Jesus wants his disciples to avail themselves of that treasure. This is in keeping with Jesus’ earlier statement, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Cf. Matt. 5:17). But he says further “but don’t do their works”. This is the point! The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees may be sound but their personal example is abominable. When it comes to teaching; nothing is as effective as a good example and nothing as corrosive as a bad example. There is always a problem of reconciling orthodoxy with practice. Teachers of faith have a special responsibility to be models of the behaviors and morals they teach. Their personal conduct should provide visible lessons. But the scribes and Pharisees fail to practice what they preach. Their lack of integrity undermines their work. They were so interested in personal honor and respect that they lost the vision of their call- to provide in “words and deeds” counsel on spiritual matters to people, who don’t have the opportunity to study the law day-and-night, who are often illiterate and who would not have access to the precious scrolls even if they could read. For people to see them and accord them respect, “they make their phylacteries broad; enlarge the fringes of their garments” The Phylacteries and the tassels refer to two aspects of Jewish traditions prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Phylacteries are small leather boxes containing one or more scrolls inscribed with passages of scripture that are placed on the left forearm and forehead. Tassels were worn on the corners of the garments. They serve as constant reminder of God’s law and commandments. The problem is not that they wear these things as demanded by the law, but that they seek personal honor for doing so. They wear especially large phylacteries and long tassels to draw attention to their scrupulous observance when they do not observe the inner contents of the Law. It is only external show without interior practice. The Phylacteries and tassels are like stained glass windows or icons intended to help people understand deeper spiritual things. Jesus’ warning against these things resonates with us today.

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa


Death and beyond

October 29, 2017

At the beginning of the month of November as the days are becoming shorter and nature seems to go to sleep the Church remembers those who have gone before us. Gone where? The feast of ll saints is an occasion to thank God for those great Christians throughout the centuries who have lived the Gospel in a radical way and also for all the wonderful people we have met in our lives and who have reflected to us something of the goodness and beauty of God. As we reflect about the “the last things”, let us begin by clarifying a misunderstanding. In the creed, which we pray at every Sunday mass we say that Jesus after his death and resurrection “descended into hell”. In the liturgical renewal after the Vatican Council this phrase was translated “He descended to the dead” as we also say in the German Mass text “Er stieg hinab in das Reich des Todes”. This is a more correct translation that reflects the world view of people in ancient, pre-scientific times. They imagined the earth to be like a house, the sky being the “roof” and it was the realm of the living. Above it was the realm of the god’s or for Christians the one God. And below it was a dark and unfriendly place where the dead dwelt. In Greek it is called hades, in Hebrew sheol. The second letter of St Peter speaks of “the spirits in prison” to whom Jesus “went to preach” (1 Pet 3:19). It is a way of saying that the saving power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is open to all, even the many generations that lived and died before him. Jesus died for all, for the whole of humanity, past, present and future. Death is a mystery. If you have ever been present when a person dies you will have felt that strange sensation how from one moment to the next what was a living person has become a lifeless matter. Where has the person gone? “Where is granny now?” children will ask their parents. It is a question that is hard to answer, because at death we leave the world of time and space. The best answer would be: Granny is with God. Like God, who is Spirit, is nowhere (cannot be fixed to a definite place) and at the same time everywhere. The dead are nowhere and yet everywhere, they are with us. The church speaks of three “places”: purgatory, heaven and hell. We imagine them to be places because we think of everything as being in a place. But in fact, purgatory, heaven and hell are not places, but ways of being. Poets and painters have depicted purgatory as a place of physical torture. But is means rather a process of purification. When we die we are not perfect. Yes, we do love God, but not yet with our whole heart, soul and mind, as the first and most important commandment tells us. Part of us is still selfish. But God is pure love. So, whatever is not love in us we will have to let go. That is a painful process, but it is a spiritual pain, a process that is meant to make us fit for heaven, capable of enjoying the fullness of life in the presence of God who is love. .

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke


God’s special justice

Called to a life of sincere honesty

October 1, 2017

A lady went to the post office to mail a Bible to an old friend. She wrote on the box the warning: “Fragile!” The postal clerk asked, “Is there anything breakable in here?” “Yes,” she replied. “It contains the Ten Commandments”. Sin is always a violation of God’s commandments. It practically means saying no to God. You and I have all been hurt by promises given and then broken. Some of us have been given sweet talk and words of love only to later discover that we were, in the name of love, only used. The two sons in the parable today disobeyed their father. The first son said ‘no’, but later decided to obey his father. The second son said ‘yes’, but did not do what his father told him to do. In effect, it was also a ‘no’. Both of them offended the father. The ‘yes’ of the second son, though it initially pleased the father, was rendered meaningless by his disobedience. The ‘no’ of the first son hurt the father, but his subsequent repentance and obedience made the father happy in the end. Ultimately, it is not the words that really matter, but the deed. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Many times, we have heard these phrases: “Talk is cheap, it’s actions that count.” “You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.” “Actions speak louder than words,” etc. In fact, there is no need for words when there are actions. So, when we do not do what we say, as in the case of the second son, our words lose credibility. And at that point it could be said of us that “our actions are too loud that people cannot hear our words.” The parable of Jesus this Sunday was intended for the religious leaders of Israel in his time, particularly the Pharisees. In their self-righteousness, they believed they were assured of entrance into heaven. But Jesus told them: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). They are the religious leaders who have clearly expressed their ‘yes’ to God. But based on their behavior and attitude, their hypocrisy and pride, their lack of concern for the people and their double-standard lifestyle, they have actually disobeyed God’s will and commands. They are like the second son in the parable. On the other hand, the tax collectors, prostitutes and other public sinners can be like the first son. They said ‘no’ to God, but eventually, they listened to the teachings of Jesus, and reformed their lives. This is what the prophet Ezekiel pointed out in the first reading: “But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they shall save their lives; since they turned away from all the sins they committed, he shall live; they shall not die” (Ezk. 18:27-28). Now, how do these affect us? What further lessons do we learn from these characters? The first son had no intention of working and then had the honesty of saying so to his father. He was wrong, but he was honest. The second son was the opposite. He said the convenient thing to his father knowing what his father wanted to hear, but he had no integrity. He was insincere because he had no intention of working even though he said he would. The questions I need to ask myself here are: How honest am I? What kind of promises do I make to people? What sorts of prayer do I offer? Sometimes, we can be so bizarre that in prayers we give God the words we think He wants to hear from us. It’s convenient for us. We go about deceiving ourselves when we speak them, feeling like we are pious and religious. On the surface, we feel righteous, but deep down we know full well that we are not going to follow through on those words with our deeds and actions. So we give God our Father in heaven nice sounding words, but never seem to get around to following through on them. Remember, God is never fooled. Now, between the two sons, which of them should we follow? The answer comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the second reading: we follow neither the first son, nor the second son. Rather, we follow the third son: the one who said “yes” and obeyed the will of the heavenly Father even unto death. He is Jesus Christ. So, Saint Paul exhorts us: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). The duties and responsibilities of Christian life are fulfilled not by talking but by doing, not by words but by action. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, someone told him: “ Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But Jesus looked around and asked, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said: “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt. 12:48-50). It is in doing and obeying God’s will that makes us true brothers and sisters of Jesus. Words do not mean anything when they are not accompanied by actions.

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa


God’s special justice

September 24, 2017

The labourers of the first hour in today’s parable grumble against the landlord, because they do not find his system of paying fair. We, too, at times grumble against God, because we find the way He deals with us at time grossly unjust. And we have good reason to grumble. Is it fair that one child is born with an IQ of 150 and the other child is struggling with a severe mental or physical handicap? One is born into a well-off family and will have a good education and favourable chances to make a career. The other grows up in the slums of a Megacity as a street child and will suffer from hunger and sickness most of his life. And what to think about the fact that often the unscrupulous and ruthless get super-rich and the honest and hard-working hardly earn a living? Not to mention the many made-mad injustices, the brutal oppression, unjust discrimination and economic exploitation in so many countries. Many are so scandalized by the apparent injustice of the world that they stop believing in such an unjust God. With the story of the workers in the vineyard Jesus gives us at least a partial answer and at the same time another way of thinking about God of whom the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading said, that “His thoughts are not our thoughts and our ways not His ways”. How then does our God act in this way? The landowner, representing God, spends the whole day seeking co-workers for his enterprise. He seems to need an unlimited number of workers. No unemployment in his kingdom. Anybody is welcome any time. In a way, God does the exact opposite of what modern managers do. They are often only interested in efficiency and productivity and try to pay their workers as little as possible and to squeeze as much as possible out of them. So, our God is all the time inviting us to work with him in the corner of his vineyard he has put us in. Do we hear his invitations? And then there is God’s extraordinary system of payment. He seems to be a radical socialist: same salary for everyone irrespective of the work done. In our economic system, we are supposed to get paid for performance. In theory, often not in reality. Or how can you justify that a CEO gets 100 times the salary of his secretary or that women are paid less than men? The landowner in the story gives every worker the same wage whether he or she has worked little or much. That seems grossly unfair if you only look at the work done by each person. But God’s criteria of reward is not the workers’ output, but rather his needs. All workers whether they started early or late have a family at home. The denarius, the wage for a day’s work, is just enough to provide the main meal in the evening. Those who don’t get it will go to bed hungry. So, the landowner gives to everyone what he needs to survive that day, his daily bread, the food for the day for which we pray in the Our Father. God’s justice is to give us according to our needs. The one who has received little at the start will receive what he needs, and so will the one who has received much. In the end, all God’s co-workers will receive not some material advantage, but something infinitely greater. God wants to give Himself to us and He is the total fulfilment of all our needs and desires. All who followed the invitation to work in God’s vineyard whatever corner he has worked in for whatever length of time will have “life to the full”.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


Forgiveness, the gift of love

September 17, 2017

The gospel is about forgiving. To forgive means to take the first, second and last steps toward bridging divisions. When I was living in France and in Belgium, the expression “se regarder en chiens de faïence” was used quite often. Chiens de faïence are dogs made of earthenware. They can be put at the entrance of a temple regarding each other and stay there for centuries without moving. Se regarder en chiens de faïence means: you look at each other without moving, maybe because of a conflict, because of an old quarrel… - and you do not move for months, years, decades, or, in the case of the earthenware temple dogs, for centuries. Let us come back to the gospel: the cutting edge of Jesus' teaching on love is that nothing is unforgivable nor should there be limits to for¬giveness. For¬giveness is often difficult and sometimes painful; but Jesus calls us to look beyond our own hurt to the other per¬son's healing; Jesus calls us to look beyond our own loss to the loss of relationship, to the weakening of community; Jesus calls us to look be¬yond our own pride to the dignity and goodness of those who wrong us. When it comes to God's forgive¬ness, well, it is not entirely unconditional: if we do not share it, we will lose it. We can only obtain mercy and forgive¬ness from God if we forgive our neighbors. We are at the beginning of the school year: are there practical implications of today's readings for you? For the parents, the teachers, the students? When you leave this church, I would like you to remind become as someone building a bridge.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Homily of 22nd Sunday in year A

September 3, 2017

To begin my reflection on the readings of today permit me to tell you a short story of what happened in Poland years ago, precisely in 1984 when Poland was still under Communist control. I just read the story in the internet and I found it a relevant anecdote to our Sunday readings. The Prime Minister then ordered the crosses removed from classroom walls. Catholic Bishops attacked the ban, which had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms. But one zealous Communist school administrator, the director of agricultural college Mietnow, took the crosses down from his seven lecture halls where they had hung since the school's founding in the twenties. Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had the crosses again taken down as well. The next day two-thirds of the school's six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, the streets with crucifixes held high, to a nearby Church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the Church. But the press was there as well, and pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without a cross."(http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/09/world/student-protest-swells-in-poland-return-of-crucifixes-is-demanded.html) I can as well say that there is no Christianity without the cross. The cross is more than a symbol we see hanging in our churches, decorating seasonal greeting cards or worn as jewelry. George Bennard in 1913 in his wonderful composition-„the old rugged cross“ called it „the emblem of suffering and shame”. On the cross he says, “The dearest and best was slain for a world of sinners.” George Bennard professes to cling firm to the old rugged cross and to exchange it for a crown at the end. For the first Christians the cross of Christ meant more, St. Paul called it a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 cor. 1:23) No one in the real sense of it would wish himself the cross, suffering or shame. In today's first reading we hear the lamentations of Jeremiah in the face of his sufferings for proclaiming the word of God. Jeremiad in literary sense means an elaborate and prolonged lamentation or tale of woe. Today's passage in the first reading could be described as the purest of jeremiads- a tale of woes. In it, Jeremiah accuses Yahweh of tricking him but it offers us a powerful description of someone suffering for obedience to his conscience. Jeremiah was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God's mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results of disobedience to God’s commandments. He is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ. In the gospel of today we heard the immediate reaction of Peter as Jesus mentioned the cross and suffering are necessary components of his messianic mission. I see Peter’s reaction as normal because no one would wish oneself suffering and shame, and no one would wish loved ones such. The quick rebuke of Jesus is very striking: “Get behind me Satan, you think like humans, not like God” bearing in mind the praise he received last in week’s reading after his profound confession of faith. Get behind we Satan sounds like the same rebuke to Satan in the wilderness but there is a difference between the two. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go." Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ's follower. This takes us to look at the meaning of “followership” or call it discipleship or better a word “apprenticeship” which Robert Barron used in his book “The strangest way”. There are three conditions led down in the gospel of today for Christian discipleship: a) Deny yourself- This implies evicting selfish thoughts and desires out of our hearts. This is like walking in the path of Jesus. St. Paul presents this path in his Letter to the Philippians. In Chapter two Paul writes: “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” One important aspect of denying ourselves is to constantly remind ourselves that all we have comes from God. Our successes or the good and privileged positions we may occupy in the society should inspire gratitude to God and service to humanity not pride and arrogance. b) Take up your cross: There is no life without some challenges. We all experience sufferings in different ways. As Christians, our personal sufferings become our share in the cross of Jesus. St. Paul describes his own sufferings as marks of Jesus’ passion and death. We are encouraged to take up our cross: 1) when we suffer by serving others, like taking care of sick loved ones or partners etc. 2) when we give ourselves -- our health, wealth, time and talents – to others until it hurts us, etc. c) Follow me: Following Jesus means that, as Disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus' commandment of love. In the second reading Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their Christian lives in such a way that they differ both from the Jews and from the pagans. St. Paul calls them to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in their worship of God. In order to do this, they must explicitly reject the behavior of the world around them and follow Jesus. Following Christ could be explained with the Latin expression: “Ubi dolor, Ubi Christus” (wherever there is suffering there is Christ) Jesus takes his place within the pains and sorrows of man. In the pastoral documents of Vatican II Gaudium et spes the church states that the “joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” The question we need to ask ourselves is: much empathy do we show in situations of suffering and pain. Do we see Christ in the faces of suffering humanity or do we sit and Judge them- that serves them right? There is much suffering in the world today. We see it on the faces of those who are forced by war to leave their home lands to other places, subjected to the rigorous process of being accepted as refugees in foreign lands. We see suffering on the faces of people who are displaced due to natural disasters, be it in Texas, Sierra Leone, Mumbai etc. we see sufferings on the faces of those who lost loved ones to terrorist’ attacks which happen often these days. We are called to empathize with those who suffer. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “I was sick you visited me, naked you clothed me, hungry and you fed me etc” (cf. Matt.25:36-40). This is the key that opens the door to the kingdom of God.

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa


The encounter with a woman from Canaan changes Jesus

August 20, 2017

I would like to concentrate on the woman presented in the Gospel we just heard (Mt 15,21-28). A Canaanite woman dares to approach Jesus. She is a woman and a Gentile (that means she is not Jewish). She has a sick daughter. Maybe she is a single parent. By the custom and practice of the time, she should not dare to approach Jesus. Culturally, she has no right to expect to share in the ministry of Jesus. Or even to profit from Jesus’ ministry. She should “remain invisible and say nothing.” There are two aspects in her approach to Jesus: On one level, the Canaanite woman is like many people in our world today. She is like all the women who are denied an equal place at the table. She represents those who are struggling to care for others. Often women struggle to care for their children, their family, their parents and often they do not have the means to do as they would like. She is like all parents who cannot get good health care for their children. She represents those who are left out because of their national or ethnic background. She reminds us of those of us who are intimidated by religious, political, or economic authority. On another level, the Canaanite woman reminds us of those who take the courage to speak up. There are those who speak up despite all the cultural messages to keep quiet and just accept their suffering. She models a woman who is willing to speak up to authority. She represents those who keep on speaking out for their own needs, for the needs of others. In a more political language, the Canaanite woman is one of those women who speak out for justice and basic human rights. She represents those who do not give up. So, on one level, the woman in our Gospel is a kind of underdog, left out, excluded; on the other level, she speaks out and does not give up. Jesus is touched by this amazing encounter. He praises her faith. Her daughter is cured. The experience of Jesus seems to point to the possibility of conversion and the possibility of help coming to those who are in need. Jesus is kind of converted; the encounter changes him. The Gospel inspires people who have the freedom and courage, to speak up and take action for their rights. The Gospel is about liberation and transformation. The woman speaks up. Her daughter is healed. Both she and Jesus are changed. Let us ask ourselves, if this woman represents something we would like to be or like to become…

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Real faith is involved with the issues of the world

August 13, 2017

Today's scriptures are centered on the experience of God and the invitation to believe. When we read the newspapers, we see worldwide crisis: the tension between the US and North Korea, between two men: president Trump and North Korean leader King Jong Un. We see the catastrophes in the Mediterranean - people dying of thirst or drowning in the Mediterranean. Fires in inhabited areas caused by humans, or caused by lack of rain. We suffer from climate change, negated by many factors. The situation in Venezuela, in Kenya – tensions, killings… The racist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. Could these events also be experiences of God, experiences of faith? Faith is not about finding the right formula for prayer, finding the right words and the liturgically correct celebration, but it is about living our faith. Our faith, our experience of God always has a social dimension. Faith is about our world. Our world with its social and economic situation challenges our faith. We are confronted with the existence of war and violence and terror. We witness the prevalence of injustice and poverty and conflict and struggle. We might experience a certain apathy about all these things. The sheer volume of issues and needs can feel like the storm in the Gospel (Mt 14,22-33), can be compared to the winds, the earthquake and the fire in the first reading (Kings 19,11-13). And as we come to know these Bible readings, we must put what happens in the world in relation to our faith. Often our goodness is demanded. This can rightly make us want to get away from it all, like Jesus who dismisses the crowd and goes off to pray. However, somehow in the midst of all the storms, God can be experienced. In the midst of all the storms, we can even grow in our faith, and we can move into action to do something. We might even "walk on water" for a little while. Getting away from it all can be a good thing. The wish to get away from it all is certainly legitimate – at certain times. Jesus in his prayer on the mountain reminds us of the need we have to get away, the need we have to connect with God, and the need to take care of our spirit as we struggle in the world that surrounds us … the world that demands action. If our reflection and prayer is rooted in real experience, then it is automatically critical. We all need time and resources to take care of ourselves; we need time and resources to nurture our life and our solidarity with God and others. Elijah (Kings 19) in his prayer on the mountain reminds us that our faith is not to be based on religious excitement or fireworks. We don't need the spectacular to find God. Getting fixated on special religious phenomena can keep us from finding God. Real faith is a much different thing. Real faith is involved with the issues of the world. It is something more than a "spiritual high." It involves humble service and solidarity with those in need. Real faith sometimes even involves feeling "great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart." This is how Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans in today’s second reading (Rom 9,1-5). Such solidarity can be empowering for us and for all those we are with. Then, we might experience anew, the God in the "tiny whispering sound" as Elijah describes it in the first reading. Let me finish with two questions and let us take some moments to reflect about them: Did you ever have a significant experience of God? Did this affect the way you live and treat others?

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Ask God for something which we can put at the service of others

July 30, 2017

The three scripture passages today seem to have a strong “counter-cultural” message. They challenge us to look at our world and The first reading (1st book of Kings 3:5.7-12): King Solomon, who was probably an historic figure, is presented as a wise ruler. Still today, his wisdom is proverbial. Solomon was the son of David and he became king although he was not the elder son of David. His mother and the prophet Nathan conspired to have Solomon made king. According to the Bible, he reigned for forty years – which does not necessarily mean “40 years” in our sense, but it means “for a very long time, for a generation”. Solomon’s reign was peaceful; he had the first temple in Jerusalem built. He modernized the kingdom. After his death, the kingdom split in two. In the center of the reading we find the sentence: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge, to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong - Please make me wise and teach me the difference between right and wrong. Then I will know how to rule your people.“ (1 Kings 3,9) This is typical for a wise person – he or she knows that everything is the fruit of this wisdom; there is no need to ask for power or material goods. In Solomon’s case, his focus is his people. “If you don't, there is no way I could rule this great nation of yours” he continues. God had said: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you“. This might recall the question where someone is asked: “Which three things would you take with you on a lonely island?” or “If you had three wishes what would you wish?” Maybe we would have our own answers to these questions. What I like in Solomon’s answer is his unselfishness. He does not ask anything for himself. He asks for something which he can put at the service of others. Would we also give a similar answer if we were asked? Or in relation to today’s Gospel (Mt 13,44-46) if asked what we would take with us on an island, would we take the “treasure from the field” or “the pearl” we heard of in the Gospel? Solomon was a king, a ruler. Let’s have a look at the rulers of today – in the US, in Europe, and elsewhere. Do we see personalities like Solomon? Do we see politicians and people in the economy put the common good before particular interests? Do we find politicians who are interested in “the big project of a just society”? If I speak of politics, I cannot ignore our Church and its leaders. Searching for power, promoting personal interests and the lobbying of different groups – they all play an important role. Can we still see the “pearl” the Gospel presents to us, the “treasure from the field”? Or is the pearl hidden behind ecclesial lobbies and particular interests within the Church? It is holiday time – so I would like to be brief and end with some questions: am I unselfish and uninterested enough to desire gifts or talents for me that can be put at the service of others? In today’s passage from the letter to the Romans Paul says: “God has always known who his chosen ones would be. God had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children.” (Rom 8 29) What is my relation to God? Do I try to become a brother, a sister to others? And finally: where do I invest my energies? Do I look for the “treasure in the field” or do I resign myself to be “thrown away with the bad fish” as the Gospel says (Mt 13 48)?

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 23, 2017

The pre-occupation of humanity has always been: “Why evil and sin and why its rapid growth and why does it spread?” “Why doesn’t God intervene? Why not separate the good ones from the bad ones? Destroy the evil and let the good prosper?” God’s response: • The good and the bad must live alongside one another. Thus – the patience of God. • Salvation is for the good and the bad but we must all work for it in solidarity with one another. • The good must help the bad to become better persons. While on their part, the bad should abandon their evil ways and turn to God in order to experience his love. Saint Paul reminds us: We are in need of God’s spirit; without which we are vulnerable to stumble and turn away from God. Therefore, the good must support the weak; while on their part the weak must work for their good. The Book of Wisdom tells us that “God is the God of all”. That is why God is patient to the weak and supportive to those who struggle to be good. God is lenient. We too must be kind and supportive and understanding. Ready to correct not be the judge. Remember Christ’s invitation: • “Be compassionate just as your father is compassionate. Do not judge and you will not be judged”. (Lk 6:37) • “Does this mean to be passive to evil and sins?” No! But rather, it is the duty of every Christian to reach out to those who do bad and evil with an attitude of winning them over to God”. It is an invitation to appreciate and to be “Good and merciful as your father in heaven is good”. (Lk 6:36) It is a process and a journey of life that we must strive for.

Fr. Vincent Karatunga


HOPING AGAINST ALL HOPE

July 16, 2017

In 1982 a small group of young people began to come together in the Nikolai-Church in the city of Leipzig to pray for peace and reflect and discuss about peace. Slowly, these regular peace prayers every Monday attracted others, even non-Christians. Over the years the meetings became more political. Prayers were followed by peaceful demonstrations. It became a movement and spread to other cities of Eastern Germany. Eventually what started as a small prayer group became a mass movement that brought down the Berlin wall in 1989. Those who started them had no idea what effects their action would have. But they continued it against growing resistance by the authorities. Eventually their prayers and dreams became a reality. These Monday Peace Prayers still go on today. What has this to do with the readings of today? In the story of the sower Jesus tells us his own life story. He is the sower who spreads the good seed of the word, his message that the kingdom of God is at hand. Some listen and forget it straightaway. Others seem interested for a while, but are too busy with other things. The few who remain get scared when the authorities turn against Jesus. Eventually, he asked even his closest friends: “Do you also want to go”? His mission seems a complete disaster. But then Jesus adds something surprising to his story. Although all seems lost he makes a tremendous act of faith: God will bring in his harvest 30, 60, 100-fold. He knows that God’s word cannot fail, as Isaiah said in the first reading, even when humanly speaking there is not a trace of hope left. Jesus will make this act of trust again at the end of his life. Hanging on the cross when all is definitely lost, Jesus entrusts life and his mission to His Father. We know that his hope was not disappointed. Paul lives in a similar spirit of unshakable hope in God’s promise. He meets a thousand obstacles in his mission. He is persecuted and put in prison, beaten up and almost stoned to death. He struggles with divisions in the Christian communities and is abandoned by his friends when it comes to his court trial. Yet, he stubbornly goes on preaching to everybody convinced that Jesus’ message will eventually bear fruit. Paul sees, in all the situations of chaos and confusion he lives through, the “birth pangs” of a God’s new creation. It is a hallmark of all truly great people that have brought about positive change, people like Mandela, Martin Luther King or this extraordinary young Pakistani girl Malala who was almost shot by the Taliban and goes on pushing the education of Muslim girls all over the world. They were convinced that they had a mission and they went on with it against all odds. Sometimes, we could get discouraged when we look around at the chaos, the violence and conflicts in today’s world, and where our leaders are at a loss as to how to get out of the mess. At times, we may face situations in our personal lives where we are completely lost and see no way out. The good news of today wants to assure us that God will succeed in the end, with our world, with the church and also with me. It may not be as I now wish or imagine. It will be a 100-times better than anything I can think of. We have good reason to stick to our hope when all human hope is gone. The day our doctor says, “There is nothing more I can do for you”, will be the very moment when our birth pangs will come to an end and we will at last be set free.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


A focus on wealth and money kills the spirit of God and the freedom we are promised

July 9, 2017

The three scripture passages today seem to have a strong “counter-cultural” message. They challenge us to look at our world and its values in a critical way. They invite us to move beyond greed and selfishness. They invite us to learn from others and they invite us to connect with others. I am sure this is a good topic for this Sunday: yesterday and the day before yesterday, the G20 summit took place in Hamburg where world leaders discussed about the future of our world. Some thoughts that might arise when we see the news about the G20 summit and when we parallelly read the biblical readings. Our culture seems to value power and control. However, the scripture passages today give us a different image of a savior: the savior they present comes with humility, “meek and riding on an ass”. Our societies are often overwhelmed with greed and large scale corporate abuse. In this context of our 21st century societies, the scriptures remind us of a different way of living, they remind us of virtues that are essential for a “simplicity of life” and for a “gentleness of spirit”. Wealth, control, and domination are not the central values of Jesus Christ. They cannot be the central values of the friends of Jesus Christ, they cannot be our central values. In a world that is choking on greenhouse gases, that is killing the life of the oceans, and that is over-consuming all kinds of resources, we are invited to respect our planet, we are invited to cherish the gifts we have been given - by living simply and responsibly. In a world filled with the weapons of war and spending on the ways of violence, the scriptures speak of a savior who banishes the horse, the chariot and the warrior’s bow – all means for war and violence. The scriptures certainly challenge our world and our world leaders which invest so many resources into fighting wars and procuring weapons for war. We live in a world where the international trade system and the world economy seem to disadvantage those who have little. In this world, we are reminded that “if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if you live by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” – or in a different translation: “We must not live to satisfy our desires. If we do, we will die. But we will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit we say “No” to our desires.” This is what Paul writes. “We will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit we say “No” to our desires.” A focus on wealth and money and control and domination will certainly “kill” the spirit of God, will certainly kill the freedom God wants to offer us, kills the “life in abundance” we are promised. The gospel reminds us that its counter-cultural message is a message of liberation. As we let go of all the craziness of our culture, we will find “rest” and finally really be alive. Then, when we are really alive, then justice and peace can truly take over, or in biblical terms: by our actions “the kingdom of God” comes nearer.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


The Holy Trinity is a model for a relationship of love and respect

June 11, 2017

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the wonder of relationships. Relationships exists even in God. From our vi-sion of God as Trinity - God as relational - we are reminded that we are "all connected" as a community of faith, hope and love. We want to form, we want to become a community that hopes to be one family, a community that brings rich and poor together, a community that works for justice in the world. We have been created with a desire for mutual and loving relationships. We are invited to work together in order to create healthy relationships between all of God’s people: relationships be-tween individuals and also between nations and groups, relationships of mutual respect and collaboration, relation-ships leading toward justice and peace. In some ways today's scriptures for Trinity Sunday are a story of discovery: the discovery of God, the discovery of who God is, what God is like and what God offers to us. 1st reading: [Exodus 34,4-6.8-9] On the mountain, Moses finds a God with whom he can converse in some way. Moses finds a God with whom it feels good to talk, a God with whom it feels good to walk together. Moses asks this God to journey with all the people. Again and again, in the scriptures we discover a God of relationships. God is more than “totally other”. We discover a God traveling with us and with the whole community. Our God is a social God -- a God who is concerned with our world and its people. 2nd reading [2 Corinthians 13,11-13] The second reading reminds us that the relationship that exists within God also mirrors the relationship that should exist within us as a human community. The relationship within God – we call it the “trinity” --is a relationship of mutuali-ty and support, a relationship of love and respect. And we are invited to imitate it. In the 1920s, a theologian even said that the Trinity is a model for democracy, that modern Western democracies would be impossible without the theological concept of trinity. I was impressed by this Erik Peterson (1890-1960). He also said that strict monotheism leads necessarily to dictatorship and tyranny and totalitarianism. Whereas all divine persons have the same dignity, the same love and the same power. Gospel [John 3,16-18] Jesus reminds us in the gospel that God travels with us not to condemn but to love – God travels with us to be of help to all of us. Our teaching about God and the great mystery of God is a social teaching. As God is a social be-ing, so are we. Any good theology of God has social implications. It calls us to social values. Our religious faith in-volves a community of mutual support and discovery. It involves a set of values that we share in common. Values that call us to share with each other. Therefore, we are concerned with the issues of the world and everyday life. We are concerned with justice and peace. As friends of Jesus, we focus on the common good, we do not want to ex-clude anybody. We have hope in the midst of all the problems and challenges of the world. In this way the Trinity is a model for how we live, of how we love, for how we change the world.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


ALL I HAVE IS YOURS

May 28, 2017

Prayer is an essential expression of our relationship with God. Today’s reading teaches us a lot about prayer. We see the apostles with Mary and other women disciples at prayer to ask for the coming of the promised Spirit. And we listen to the great prayer of Jesus at the last supper shortly before his passion and death. The readings put us the question what the place of prayer is in our own life. How much time and attention do we give to prayer? Jesus asked his friends to pray always. Only a few saints have reached such closeness to God. We should at least try to pray at important moments. The most important moment during the week is surely the Eucharist that we are about to celebrate. It is the great prayer of thanksgiving of the Church. As the priest lifts up to heaven the symbols of bread and wine, we bring ourselves and our lives before God in praise of the Lord, the God of all creation. There are at least three moments every day that naturally lend themselves to prayer. At the beginning of each day before the bustle of daily activities claims all our attention we could dedicate the day to God and ask His blessing. And the end of the day, when the TV is switched off, the kids are in bed and our brains begins to wind down we could pass our day in review, become aware of the little signs of God’s love and drift into sleep with a heart-felt “Thank you Lord.” And then there are the common meals, these sacred moments of sharing food and friendship. It is such a loss that table prayers have virtually vanished from Christian practise. They could be a moment during the day to remember that food does not come just from the supermarket, but in the last resort is gift of God’s creation for us. As we grow into a discipline to give to God key moments of the day, we might also find ourselves sometimes praying spontaneously at critical moments during the day: before an exam, when we have problems with a difficult person or seem stressed by the overload of work. Prayer thus becomes slowly a habit. The way we send spontaneously a photo or a whatsup message to friends about an interesting happening we naturally communicate with the One who promised to be always with us. We do not even have to type it in. A word about a special form of prayer one might call: prayer of discernment or prayer of decision. This is what the apostles did when Jesus was gone from them. They were in a difficult situation. Jesus had given them the mission to make the whole world his disciples and yet he had not left them with a work-programme how to go about it. He had simply told them to wait and to pray for the Spirit. One element in making wise decisions is to wait for the right moment. Jesus often said: My time has not yet come. In todays Gospel, he said at last: My hour has come. He waited for a sign from his Father. Mature decisions are like a ripe fruit that falls from the tree. When you pick it too early, it is still sour. When you wait for too long, it has started rotting. We have to learn to wait for God’s time. The other element in a decision-making process is prayer. It is not good to take decisions when we are emotionally upset. We need to wait that our heart is at peace. Prayer leads to peace. To make a good decision we have to gain inner freedom, a disposition where we put gently aside our natural preferences and become open to God’s will, whatever that entails. Then, we need to use our intelligence and weigh the reasons for and against each option. Finally, in prayer we put the decision we need to take before God and ask him to show us what He wants from us. God usually does not send us messages. The sign of the direction in which God calls us is a deep sense of inner peace.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


God’s love for us is made visible at every Eucharist

May 21, 2017

Everybody is rejoicing today, because it is your First Holy Communion Day – a very special day for the ten of you here in the first row. You have been waiting for receiving the Holy Communion like your parents and older siblings had done before you. You have prepared yourselves intensively. I am convinced your catechists were a good and reliable help for you on your way. Today, as every Sunday, we come together here in the All Saints church as a congregation, like a family, to take part in a meal: share a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. In just a few moments, the bread and wine we offer to God will be offered back to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We will be invited to eat at His table like His friends were invited to eat with Jesus 2000 years ago. Today marks the first time you will come and eat, yet hopefully it will not be the last time. As the years go by and you grow into a teenager and then adulthood, the Eucharist, this common meal, this Sunday gathering can become an essential part of your growth. The many challenges you will face require a strong faith in Jesus’ love and friendship for you. The food that Jesus gives us helps us grow strong in love of God, and in the love of others such as parents, siblings, teachers, relatives, and friends. The most important message that Jesus says to us through the Eucharist is that God loves us and cares for us – without condition! God will never abandon us. When we come to God’s house and eat at God’s table, God’s love for us is made visible time and again, at every Eucharist. God’s love is so strong and deep that God is ever faithful to our needs. As God loves you with an unlimited love, God desires you to love and help others. This is not always easy. Many times in school, we don’t feel like being kind or helping others. We may not feel well: the test didn’t turn out as well as we expected; someone has hurt us and we are angry; maybe we have even been punished unfairly; perhaps we just want someone to listen to our side of the story. Yet we can still love and help others. This friendship with Jesus, symbolized in the Body and Blood of Jesus, can give us the strength to be kind to others even when we don’t feel like it. When you look at the life of Jesus, you see that many times Jesus was tired and hurt by others, yet he continued to help those who were in need; Jesus was punished unfairly, yet he never sought hurting others in return. He wanted to forgive them and love them. We are asked to do the same, just like Jesus. Not only do we take notice today of you boys and girls who will receive their first Holy Communion. We take notice and give thanks for all your families and friends and your catechists who are with us this morning. We are truly God’s family nourished by God’s love in the Eucharist. Parents, you are entrusted with the sacred vocation of continually nourishing your son or daughter in God’s way. Today you are asked to dedicate yourselves again to this mission by your reception of the Eucharist. In the many trials of your life - think back and remember if you have been sustained by the Eucharist, where you have been sustained by your friendship to Jesus, to God. Think back and remember if you found a way to express your friendship with God? Maybe by participating in the Eucharist? Today you will receive the Eucharist with your child. The family is the ‘little church’ which is empowered to help build up the Kingdom of God. Finally, to all of you who are to receive your first Holy Commu¬nion, there are three words that I want you all to pray many times as you receive Jesus in the Eucharist today. They are the three words that sum up everything we do at Mass: “Thank you, Jesus” ... for giving us your life, and for continuing to give us your life in the Eucharist. I ask you all to say in your hearts as you make your first Holy Communion, “Thank you, Jesus.” When the excitement of the day is all over, and you've opened your cards and gifts, and had a party and packed your clothes away and when you climb into bed tonight, remember this morning, and tell Jesus you love Him, and ask Him to bless your Mom and Dad, your sisters and brothers, your Grandmothers and Grandfathers, your aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and teachers and catechists. And be assured: you are important to Jesus now and always: God loves you and so do all of us!

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Do not expect a solution to be decreed from above

May 14, 2017

The message the three scripture passages convey is a very modern one, “participation” in the Church is more important than the hierarchical structure. If our only contact with organized Christianity has been limited to a hierarchical structured Church, then we will find this message surprising and maybe difficult to appreciate. Our authors are not interested in encouraging us to look to a higher rung on the authority ladder in order to discover God's will in our lives. They are concerned with making certain each of us understands the dignity God has implanted in us, and this dignity is independent of any authority structure. The author of the 1st letter of St Peter (who is certainly not St Peter) addresses newly baptized Christians – and he can't be clearer: "You are God's chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. The text continues: “Once you were nobody. Now you are God's people” (1 Peter 2,9.10). We are to see each of us as members of the People of God, individuals whose call to minister to others is not mediated through a hierarchical structure. Such actions are rooted in God's spirit embedded in each of us. Let us have a look at the end of today’s passage from the gospel according to John. Here we see Jesus during his Last Supper discourse. And Jesus promises his followers something we often forget: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14,12). Our life of faith is not just a matter of remembering the terrific things Jesus accomplished during his earthly ministry 2000 years ago. Jesus presumes that anyone who dares imitate him would continue his ministry after his death and resurrection. Jesus trusts all of us not only to accomplish what he achieved, but to even go beyond what he himself was able to do. The only problem is that many of us have been led through the centuries to believe that such accomplishments are for "others”, are for saints or martyrs or popes or cardinals – but not for us. Maybe some of you still know an old saying concerning the catholic church, it says: “Our role in the church is simply to pray, pay, and obey.” That is where today's passage from the Acts of the Apostles comes in. Luke describes a problem in the early community in Jerusalem. Hellenist widows think they are being short-changed "in the daily distribution" of food, they think they were given less than the correct amount on food that was due to them. “Hellenist widows”, the text says. “Hellenist” in this context, refers to Jews living now in Jerusalem who are not natives of Israel. They have spent most of their lives outside the Holy Land but have settled down now in Jerusalem. Some of them probably do not even speak Aramaic - the language the "Hebrews" speak. By nature, such a situation in a community leads to misunderstandings. But the solution the Twelve, the twelve apostles offer is not as natural as the problem. One might have expected them to decide in this case – top-down. But no, they say: “Choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God's Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things.” (Acts 6,3) Notice the names of the seven: "Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism." There is not a single "Hebrew" name among these seven. Every name is Greek. They are Hellenists. This way, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is telling his community: "If there are problems among you, those who have the problems should solve the problems. Do not expect a solution to be decreed from above.” If each of us really is as important as Jesus - and our early Christian authors believe we are! - then our problems should always be solved from below, by those who have a Spirit which will help them in this process. As the Church, as a Church community like All Saints, we certainly still have a long way to go in the future - a long way before we get back to how it was "in the beginning" of our Christian communities.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Life in abundance

May 7, 2017

Two sentences of today’s gospel really got my attention: “Jesus told the people this story - but they did not understand what he was talking about” and “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest”, have life “abundantly”. Are we familiar with the image of the shepherd and of the sheep? Those who accompanied Jesus didn’t understand him, do we understand what Jesus wanted to say? It’s all about “life”, about food, about security – then, in the time of Jesus, the ideal image for life, food, security were the sheep and the shepherd: the sheep looking for food and for shelter, the shepherd protecting them from thieves and from wild animals. We certainly do have similar experiences, but in the 21st century we have other images, probably more complex and more varied. For us today, we may say that we as human beings are dependent from others when it comes to our lives. This interdependence is nothing new, but we speak of it in a different way than Jesus. Jesus promises us “life in abundance” – this is more than just more food, more security. When I studied “political economics”, I learnt about the “pig principle”: “more is better than less” – more goods, more money, more security, more food, people always want more… - maybe this is what makes our economies run. But, this is not what Jesus wants to offer, the life in abundance Jesus offers has to do with human relations, with our relation to him and with our relation to others. We depend upon others – and the bible text illustrates this when it speaks of the sheep, of the shepherd, of thieves and of people destroying what belongs to others. We depend upon others – so we have a responsibility for one another. We are responsible for the lives of others, for their dignity, for their welfare. Indeed, our Christian faith is political – because the main topic of politics is life, or at least should be “life in dignity” for all. As Christians, we can never take our distance from politics – and the Church as such is also always political. The text in the gospel of John is political. It deals with our responsibility for each other. But then there is also a religious dimension in this text. The religious leaders want to influence the life of others. They want to give to others the rules and directions and laws, and they judge others. And here Jesus opposes them fundamentally. Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”. Jesus is the one who offers the way to the Father, not the religious leaders. I would like to invite you to reflect about some questions the text puts to us as individuals and as a community. What responsibility do I, do we have for the lives of others, and how do I see my role: am I more like an open door or do I send others away? Am I a door for others towards life, a door to God – or am I like a thief: only taking, never giving? My longing for life, for life here in this world and for life beyond this world, what has this longing got to do with Jesus, with my faith? A part of the answer is what we do together in this Eucharist: share bread and wine, share Christ’s body and blood in this meal so as to become one body. Another part of the answer could be the hospitality reception after this Eucharist, could be the meal you will have at home – share what gives us life: bread and wine like in the Eucharist, any meal we take together. Unity in the community, in the family is certainly also a sign for this life we all long for, this life in abundance Jesus promises to all of us. Let us not forget this aspect of belonging to Jesus and his friends, of being sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus when we have lunch together today.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Emmaus – A Parable of Christian life

April 30, 2017

Two disciples are on the way to Emmaus. Luke mentions only one by name: Cleopas. Who was the other? Many Bible experts suggest that Luke invites the reader to see himself in the second anonymous disciple. So, let us listen to the story imagining that it is me who is walking with Jesus and Cleopas on the road, on the road of my life. The unknown stranger invites the downcast disciples to tell him what happened. He asks me to tell him what happens in my life. Do I do this? I probably think: He knows everything about me anyway. So why tell him? But Jesus apparently wants to hear it from me. Don’t I tell my marriage partner or my intimate friends what makes up the fabric of my life? Sharing experiences is a sign of trust. Why not share my life with the invisible companion with whom I have made a “covenant”, a pact of friendship in baptism? He expects me to be open him and tell him what makes me sad or glad, what are my plans and hopes, and also what are my failures, disappointments and pains. Jesus listens to Cleopas and to all his disciples with genuine interest and great patience. But he does not stop there. He explains to them why things happen using the scriptures. He gives a new meaning to events. We often cannot make sense of tragic events, just as the disciples could not understand what happened on Good Friday. Whenever we are hit by some disaster, we say: How could God allow this to happen? Why did it happen to me? What did I do wrong to deserve such treatment? At best, we quarrel with God, in the worst case we dismiss him from our heart because he has not fulfilled our expectations. Jesus does not give the disciples a long theological explanation about the meaning of suffering. He simply says: “The Christ had to suffer and so enter into his glory”. His suffering and death was a necessity. Suffering is not something outside of God’s plans, it is part of it. Why? Because something has to die in us, if we are to share God’s life. Our body has to die to be transformed into a glorious body. Jesus explains to the disciples the meaning of God’s plan through the scriptures. He Himself found the meaning of his own fate in the poems of the suffering servant of Yahweh in the prophet Isaja. It is the Word of God that makes sense of our lives, even the tough bits of it. A prayerful reading of scripture helps us to find an answer for our questions and a key to place the puzzling pieces of life into the larger context of God’s plan. The story of the disciples ends with an overwhelming moment of joy when they recognise the risen Jesus by the way he breaks the bread for them. By God’s grace we, too, may have experienced moments of deep joy in God’s presence. But such moments do not last. For the rest of our journey we have to open our hearts to the one who is always with us, listen to his word through the scriptures and so find the strength to carry on the journey.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


Empowered to forgive

April 23, 2017

In the Gospel today, Jesus repeatedly says the same words. When the disciples were gathered in fear and Jesus stood in their midst He said to them: “Peace be with you”. He showed them his hands and his side and the disciples rejoiced to see the Lord. Then Jesus said again “Peace be with you”. And again, when Thomas doubts the resurrection, Jesus lets himself be touched by Thomas and repeats “Peace be with you.” By repeating “Peace be with you” three times Jesus shows a special purpose: 1) Jesus is assuring them that they are forgiven for not living up to their promises to be with him. 2) Jesus is re-assuring them that he is still their friend, in spite of the denials and cowardly actions during his suffering. 3) To emphasize this after making peace with them, Jesus breathes his Spirit on them and makes them messengers of forgiveness to others. As recipients of mercy and compassion, they must now be instruments of the Risen Jesus’ mercy and compassion. 4) And since it is the first gift of Jesus after his resurrection, it indicates that peace and mercy be given priority in the relationship among his followers. On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, Jesus is telling us: Just as you are forgiven of your sins out of God’s mercy and compassion, so you also should be merciful and forgiving of the sins of others. Being able to forgive is the real test of love. Jesus is empowering us to forgive by breathing his Holy Spirit on us and saying “You should be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

Fr. Jun de Ocampo, SVD


Golgotha

April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday - all of a sudden, Jesus was a star. The cheering crowd, the Hosanna, the exultation and the expectations – Jesus was expected to be a political leader. A leader against the Romans. Vorschusslorbeeren – praise in advance, premature praise that was, because Jesus deceived them all. Or rather: they were mistaken in him. And their deception changed into anger and despair – Jesus was not up to their expectations. The “Hosanna” becomes “crucify him”. Is this only an event 2000 years ago? I think we also expect a lot from others, we put our hope in others, we praise their merits – and then comes deception. This is how we react towards others. But others also react towards us: They expect a lot from us, they praise us in advance, and then this praise becomes derision, contumely, this leads to abusive remarks if something goes wrong, if something goes a different way than expected by the others. Praise and acclamation are near to dispraise, frustration, deception and anger. These are experiences we make, just like Jesus made them during the week we call the Holy Week. The Stations of the Cross are images of our life, they reflect our experiences. The way to Golgotha is our way. But one thing is certain: after all the suffering and defeat and deception, after death itself, we are sure to celebrate the resurrection, we are sure to celebrate life. Amen.

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Come out from the narrowness of your grave (John 11)

April 2, 2017

You may remember last week’s gospel. A blind man was healed and the disciples of Jesus ask: “Why was he blind?” Or more general: “Why is there illness, suffering and invalidity?” Jesus did not give an answer. He announced that God loved all his children. Today, this question is continued: “Why is there death? Why does God let people like Lazarus die? Why are we subject to dying and death?” Jesus was moved by the death of his friend Lazarus. The gospel says that Jesus was “distressed and deeply troubled” and “he was crying” - it is seldom that the gospels speak about such feelings when they speak of Jesus. Let us recall what we see each day on TV or on the internet. Isn’t it a bit like a “danse macabre”, a death dance when we look at Syria, Afghanistan, Eastern Ukraine…. and when we see how these parts of our world are made uninhabitable. A “danse macabre” consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave. The “danses macabres” were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. When we look at the world as it is, as a European, I cannot avoid recalling Chernobyl 31 years ago, and the threat the Belgian nuclear power station Tihange near the border between Belgium and Germany poses today. When we look at our world, we see and recall catastrophes that touch our lives and the lives of millions of people. When we look at the map of our world, we see and recall so many refugees dying in the Mediterranean and the causes of their flight. Manmade catastrophes – there are also “natural” catastrophes: we hear about the mudslide and flooding in Columbia that caused 250 casualties. For the man-made catastrophes, isn’t it often pure greed, greed for quick money that leads to a wrong parsimony or thriftiness where the safety of people and the sustainability of industries are totally neglected? Greed on the individual level – when you think of human traffickers, greed on the collective level – when you think of industries that do not care at all about sustainability. Greed that neglects the future, neglects human life and life as such. The gospel does not speak of this – what the gospel says is: Life will triumph over death”. Can we believe this when we see these abominable and horrible pictures on TV, on the internet, in the newspapers? Let us come back to the gospel: What use is there in bringing Lazarus back to life? Jesus brought him back to life for some years – for it is sure: Lazarus was again subject to death. Lazarus suffered and was now brought back to a life where he would still be suffering, where he still would be subject to death. Was it really his desire to come back to a life like this? Here the gospel tells us something very important about Jesus: Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall live even if they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And Jesus also says: “I am the way and the truth and the life”. When we reread the gospel text, then we find a very consoling word. Jesus says “Lazarus, come out. Come out from the narrowness of your grave. Come out, Lazarus, there are no more ties around your hands and your feet, you no longer are subject to the conditions of a dead body. Lazarus, something new can begin for you!” As we heard in the first reading: “I am now going to open your graves; I shall raise you from your graves, my people, I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live. I, the LORD, have spoken!" Resurrection is not something in the far future, resurrection begins here and now. But resurrection presupposes trust in God, trust in the future, trust in others, trust in ourselves. Trust in spite of all we see in this world: violence and brutality and greed, and in spite of the “stench”, of the putrid smell of the world we sometimes cannot avoid. Every day we have the chance to unbind the ties of death, the chance to break the “rigor mortis” of our lives, the chance to lead a life in the spirit of Jesus. Lead a life in the spirit of Jesus means to lead a life that is marked by the power of love to God, to the others, to our enemies and to ourselves. Let us help each other that we be able to lead this life and to spread it wherever we are.cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/march-27-2011-third-sunday-lent

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Getting to know Jesus

March 26, 2017

The Sunday readings of Year A are meant especially for the catechumens who prepare themselves to be baptised during the Easter vigil. We are blessed to have such catechumens in our community. The reading, especially the Gospel texts, want to help them to understand more deeply who this Jesus to whom they will commit their lives in Baptism really is. Both the Gospel of the Samaritan woman last Sunday and today’s Gospel about the man born blind whom Jesus enables to see again show us three stages of entering the mystery of Jesus. The initial spark is an admiration for Jesus as an extraordinary human being. His fearlessness, his inner freedom toward everybody, his deep insight and wisdom. The Samaritan woman is amazed, because he told her all she did. The blind man sees Jesus first as the most extraordinary healer. “Nobody ever healed a man born blind.” In the course of the stories there is a second level of understanding of who Jesus is. Both the Samarian woman and the man born blind recognise: Jesus is a prophet, someone who speaks and acts in the name of God. He does not just give personal opinions, he “speaks with authority”. He has a new vision of God and of religion to offer. He speaks about God as his true father, he shows a boundless compassion towards suffering and marginalised people, he proposes a new vision of a new society built on solidarity and brotherhood. “No one has ever spoken like him”, people will say. Jesus then takes the initiative to reveal himself as the Messiah, as the one sent by God. The Samaritan women mentions the Messiah will teach them everything. Jesus ‘answers to her as also to the man born blind: “I am he.” In the Gospel of St. John, the word “I am…” refers to the revelation of God’s name to Moses in the burning bush: “I am who I am.” In Jesus God reveals himself. The way Jesus leads these two people to discover gradually who he truly is, also poses to each one of us the question: Who is Jesus for me? Where do I stand in my relationship to him? Relationships are not static. They either grow and or diminish. If we were born into a believing and praying family, God was selfevident for me as a child. As I became an adult I rightly questioned the faith of my parents. I struggled to reconcile faith with reason, the biblical vision of creation with the scientific theory of evolution, the call of the Gospel to live like Jesus a life of compassion and selfless love with the pressures to conform to the values of secular society to seek pleasure, riches and power. Who is Jesus for me today? What place has he in my life? If I am given the grace to experience in Jesus the presence of God in my life, I will feel the urge like the blind man to “fall down and worship” and like the Samaritan women want to tell others about it.cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/march-27-2011-third-sunday-lent

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


Jesus sees something in us that we rarely see in ourselves: God's presence

March 19, 2017

Every biblical author has unique characteristics in his or her writings which distinguish them from other writers; traits which surface even when their compositions are intermingled with other writings. Today's Exodus passage provides a classic example. The Bible's first five books – called the Torah - are made up of at least four distinct sources. But even as "amateurs" we can pick out the work of one specific writer: when we read passages, which describe the forty-year wilderness experience of the people of Israel, then we read a text written by the so called “Yahwistic writer” – because he or she uses the word “Yahweh” when he or she speaks of God. He or she… - yes, it seems that some biblical scholars think that the author might have been a woman. The recently freed Hebrew slaves are griping, complaining, or grumbling about the mess they find themselves in in the wilderness – they are really in a difficult situation in the middle of the desert. When we hear the people of Israel described like this, we know the story is from the Yahwistic source. This author often addressed a problem with which many of us can identify today. What is this problem? Given a choice, we would perhaps prefer living during a different, more significant period of history – and not live in this often monotonous and sometimes boring time we experience today. Especially if we are people of faith, we would perhaps like to have participated in such events as the Exodus. Or maybe we would like to have been one of those fortunate individuals sitting at Jesus' Last Supper table or those on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Having this wish, we pretend: “Yes, our faith would certainly be stronger and more committed if we would actually experience such "saving" events like the Exodus and experience someone like Jesus.” This desire to experience outstanding events with God seems to be behind the Yahwistic author's frequent mention of Israelite griping, complaining and grumbling during the Exodus. The author tried to show one thing: it takes just as much faith to notice God present and working in the lives of the Exodus community as it does to notice and experience God in our present lives. God could be experienced in the 13th century before Christ at the time of the historical exodus. God could be experienced in the 10th century before Christ when the author wrote about the Exodus and God can be experienced now, in the 21st century. In the Yahwistic author's community in the 10th century BC, there were certainly people who began to excuse their lack of faith on time and place. Then we can imagine that the author of our Exodus text would look them in the eye and reply: "Let me tell you about some things that happened during the Exodus three hundred years ago." Today’s passage is particular: it is significant that what people are complaining about - water - is actually as close as the rocks that are all around them. The very thing hiding the water, the rocks, contain the water. Yahweh was just as much in the midst of 10th century BC Jews when the author wrote the text, as Yahweh was in the midst of the complaining 13th century Jews in the desert when the Exodus happened. In both situations, God's presence could only be brought to the surface by people of faith. In many ways, John's Jesus is working on the same level as the writer of our Old Testament story, whom we call the “Yahwistic theologian”. The very thing the Samaritan woman is willing to spend time and effort to acquire, Jesus offers for free. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him and her a spring of water welling up to eternal life". No wonder the somewhat confused woman responds: "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." The evangelist is teaching his community that what we most desire - life, symbolized by water - Jesus freely offers us. It is right in front of us, but we never notice it; just like the water Moses made come out from the rock. As usual, Paul provides some of the best insights on the subject. We not only find it difficult to notice God around us, we don't even notice God in us. Listen again to those well-known words: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us – God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful”. Obviously, Jesus saw something in us that we rarely see in ourselves: God's presence. Even in our sinful selves, that presence makes us more than worthy to be "died for." The "biblical trick" is not to pray that God enter our lives, but to pray that we discover how, when, and where God is already in our lives. We priests are supposed to say "God be with you!" during the Eucharist. This is biblically incorrect - it should be "God is with you!" – if we priests would say “God is with you” more often, maybe there would be a lot less griping, complaining and grumbling in the Church. cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/march-27-2011-third-sunday-lent

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


Homily of the first Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2017

Lenten season is the forty-day period before Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. This is to give special preference to the Triduum (mass of the Lord's Supper, Good Friday and Easter Virgil). The Easter Virgil this year will be a special celebration for us in the English-Speaking Mission because we shall baptize our seven catechumens who have been preparing assiduously to receive the Sacrament of baptism. Two among them attend Mass and other programs regularly in our community, All Saints. May we continue to pray for them. One of the practices in Lent is Fasting. Both the Bible and the unbroken tradition of Christian living testify that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. Fasting is not a recent invention. St Basil says it is as old as humanity itself. He says the law of fasting was prescribed in Paradise. It was the first commandment that Adam received: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”. Through the words, “you shall not eat” St. Basil says the law of fasting and abstinence is laid down. The story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was presented to us in the first reading. We see how dramatic and catastrophic the encounter with the devil in the Garden was. The name devil, “diabolos”, reveals him and his ways and what he stands for: Muddling up everything, causing disorder and havoc, twister and master of fake-news or architect of alternative facts. The simple antidote against his wiles was obedience to the instruction: “Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”. The disobedience of this simple instruction led to the fall of man. It is fascinating to see how paradigmatic the account of the fall in Genesis is to every actual sin that we human beings commit. The effect is that we lose the relationship we have with God, a relationship that is based on trust and simple obedience. Fasting especially during Lent is a very effective instrument to restore our relationship with God and our obedience to his commandments. The gospel reading presents us with the temptations of Jesus. The location of this temptation is the desert. Already the ancient people of Israel made the experience that the road to the Promised Land led through the desert, a frightening experience. But trust and obedience were demanded of them. It was surely not by chance that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert before he should begin his public ministry. Pope Benedict XVI pointed out something common to all three temptations of Christ in the desert. At the heart of all the temptations he said is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives. In place of God, bread, power, pride, insatiable desire for possessions take the position of more serious matters. Archbishop Koch explains: “Man the Maker’ is the common creed of our culture” That means man becomes the maker and the architect of happiness and good. Often he says we want to achieve by ourselves what only the Almighty can do. Instead of committing ourselves to the task of cooperating with his Spirit in this world, we endeavor to put ourselves in his place. Through fasting and abstinence, we seek to reconcile again with God. Fasting is not limited to food. Rather, it is about giving God the primary place that he deserves in our lives. It is about submitting to his will and obeying his commands. It is also about recognizing that only God is the sumum bonum - the ultimate good, as St. Thomas Aquinas will call him. What are you giving up for Lent? This is a question many of us may have received since Ash Wednesday. Pope Francis reacts to this question thus: "If you want to change your body, perhaps alcohol and candy is the way to go. But if you want to change your heart, a harder fast is needed. This narrow road is gritty, but it isn't sterile. It will make room in ourselves to experience a love that can make us whole and set us free." This Love is beyond all material pleasures.

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa


To speak encouraging words should be a reflex action for us

February 26, 2017

Let us concentrate on the few lines of our first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The people of Israel were in exile. They had every reason to feel abandoned by their God. Their dream was to go back to their home country. This is where our passage starts: “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me”. Here comes the very beautiful idea of Isaiah – he has God answer this lamentation. God answers with a question: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” Of course, no mother can do this. And Isaiah lets God continue, saying: “Even should she forget, I will never forget you”. And the next verse, which is not included in today’s reading, says: “See, I have written your name on my hand, you are ever before me”. Isn’t this wonderful and consoling knowledge: even in times of despair, of feeling abandoned, of feeling harassed and mobbed, there is someone who does not forget me, who has my name written on his hand, who has my face always before him. Someone – and not something! This is one of the most tender passages of the whole Bible. The bond between God and human beings is like the bond between a mother and her child. God is compared to a mother. God reassures his people that even if a mother could forget her own child, God will never forget any of his creation. Those who believe in God's word also believe in God's love. One of the greatest hurts a person can suffer is to be forgotten and ignored by his own community. Isaiah tells the people how God remembers them, protects them, supports them and takes care of them. This assertion is especially significant in the Old Testament. In the Book of Isaiah, it is presented in the form of a “parent-child relationship” between God and Israel. The Bible is full of words and scenes like this one – words of tenderness and love and intimacy. Words and scenes that build up a person, that make people stand up. Jesus is good at doing this. Let us think of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. For Jesus, he is not only a tax collector and a collaborator of the Roman occupation forces, but for Jesus he has a name, he is a son of Abraham – and Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus. It is this point of view, this regard of Jesus that changes the life of Zacchaeus to the better. Up to now, the hands of Zacchaeus had been grabbing money, now they open to spend it and share. Jesus was good at making people stand upright – but speaking words of comfort, words that make people stand up, that build up are not a privilege or a task of God or of Jesus. We are invited to speak these words to one another. And I am sure we have had the experience that words that build up are stronger than words that destroy. And there are so many chances to say words that build up – in the family, in our work places, with our friends - or to ourselves. To speak encouraging words that inspire trust in oneself should be a reflex action, should be an attitude we always have. Destroying words that make others feel bad should be erased from our vocabulary. Encouraging words are words that inspire trust in oneself, but also words that show appreciation, that endorse others, that show our respect for the other person. Why not say more often: “Well done”, “I liked it”, “I enjoyed it”? And of course, this can end in saying: “I like what you do”, “I like you” or even “I love you”. A well-known saying, at least in German, is: "Das Wort, das du brauchst, kannst du dir nicht selber sagen." – “The word you need you cannot say to yourself”. It must be said to you by someone else – by God, if we are believers, and by any other person. Let us become messengers of these good, encouraging, life-giving words: “The word you need you cannot say to yourself, the word we need we cannot say to ourselves”.

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


You are friends of Jesus because you put people in the center of your activities

February 12, 2017

It is scouts Sunday – so I would like to center my homily around the fact that as scouts you have to make choices: the choice to become a scout, the choice to act like a scout. Christian faith is a relation to Jesus, to the person of Jesus, not to a building, a temple, a statue, laws – no: a relation to a human person. And real people are always subject to change. Both in Jesus and Yahweh, we are called to follow someone who puts people at the center of their existence. And as you know, in a friendship we try to be near to someone, try to keep the friendship alive, we try to be trustworthy in this relation to a friend. And if we want to be loyal to someone, this is our free choice. Freedom – most of our actions have nothing to do with freedom: they are habits, or we do things because we fear the negative consequences if we do the opposite, or we do something because it corresponds to the image we have of ourselves or it corresponds to the image we want to give others of ourselves. We rarely do anything which is totally free. The author of Sirach already reminded his readers that their Jewish faith revolves around making free choices. “God has set before us,” he writes, “fire and water ...life and death, good and evil, whatever we choose shall be given us.” We have at least some control over our lives. Concerning this topic, Paul reminds this Christian community that it is not the easiest thing in the world to find out what God really wants us to do. Obviously not everyone who claims to know God’s mind actually knows it – neither religious nor political leaders. According to the Apostle, the “rulers of this age” often have no clue, have no idea of God’s will. Unlike the risen Jesus, these leaders are often leading us away from God’s “mysterious, hidden wisdom.” That’s why it is essential for us as friends of Jesus to be open to his Spirit. Matthew is dealing with a community of Jewish origin, they believed that they understood God’s mind long before they came in contact with Jesus. But that encounter with Jesus turned everything upside down. For the former Jews, the relation to the law of Moses was of utmost importance. That seems to be behind Jesus’ assurance, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets.” There was nothing wrong with what the community members did before they encountered Jesus, before they became friends of Jesus; Jesus is simply taking them to a new level. Jesus is concerned not with the afterlife, but with the here and now of entering “the kingdom of heaven”, With experiencing God working effectively in their daily, maybe boring and unexciting lives. To achieve this, they have to freely choose to go beyond the 613 Laws of Moses. Modern moral theologians often remind us that God will eventually judge us only on the things we freely chose to do. Whatever we did out of force or fear – like going to Mass on Sunday because our parents gave us no other choice – will play no role in our eternal future. The historical Jesus, and the risen Jesus certainly wants us to make free choices. Choices which will not only get us into heaven one day, but will even now enable us to experience the heaven that is already around us. We just have to open our eyes and ears. It is scouts’ Sunday – when I read your Scout Law, I see so many things a scout should do: among other things, a scout should be helpful, friendly, courteous and kind. I am convinced that Jesus would count you among his friends, because as scouts you also put people at the center of your activities like Jesus did. You, the scouts and guides here in this Church, you may be young, but you are never too young to make a positive impact in the world. Remember to keep your spirit directed to the good and to always be courteous and friendly to others. In doing this out of your free will, you will find plenty of opportunities, as boy scouts and girl scouts, to make this world a better place. cf: www.dignityusa.org/bots

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


You are the salt of the earth

February 5, 2017

We distinguish people according to the color of their skin, according to their age, their sex, their for-mation, their social position, their achievements, their political opinion: people come in very different ways. From time to time we may encounter someone who impresses us, not because he or she is white or young or male or female, because he or she is wealthy or sportive or hasThe gospel reading today is continuation of the teaching of the Beatitudes. Jesus uses the now familiar metaphors of salt and light, and a city set on a mountain, to describe the life of discipleship, that is to say the characteristics that should be found in the lives of his followers. I will concentrate on the metaphor of salt in today's gospel. In ancient times, lack of salt could drastically affect the health of entire populations. Trade in salt was very important, and salt was as valuable as gold, enough to be used as currency in some areas. Our word salary comes from it. Salt is a biological necessity of human life. Most of our food already has salt added, but if you are in the habit of baking your own bread, or cooking your own food, it's immediately and disastrously obvious if you forget to add salt. Salt was used in Jesus' time for flavoring, as a preservative, and as a healing agent. In calling us salt of the earth, He offers us a challenge and consolation not less timely in our day than in Jesus’ own. Let's us consider just three qualities of salt that may open our eyes to why He called us the salt of the earth. The first is simply that salt is salt. It has a unique identity. And if salt is to add any savor to the world, it must retain its own properties. As salt of the earth, it seems that we are called to mix with the world, but never to be assimilated to it. One of the problems of Christianity in modern times is the problem of identity. It is like Jesus telling Christians to be Christians. That sounds like tautology, but it is to say do not lose your unique Identity as Christians in the world. This does not mean isolation from the world but a proper and balanced engagement with the world without losing your unique identity as Christians. Retaining our unique identity does not mean to retreat from an engagement with the culture, as if it taints us by our very association with it. Authentic Christian life, or authentic discipleship is not one disengaged from the “concrete milieu” of the times. No! it rather means active engagement, in a way that the Good News which Christianity proclaims permeates into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new. The second quality is that salt gives taste. This salt power is a hidden power. It seems that Christ proposes the image of salt precisely because of the disproportion between its appearance and its effect. to the sense of sight, salt hardly even registers, it dissolves almost instantly in routine kitchen use. To the sense of taste however, salt makes all the difference. Salt belongs to that family of images with which Jesus reminds us that the true measure of spiritual progress is often hidden from our eyes. The Kingdom of God is like the salt, not the meal; like the leaven, not the loaf; like the mustard seed, not the tree in which the birds make their nests. The third and final quality of salt is that it causes hunger and thirst. The Church used to draw attention to this feature of salt in the rite of baptism used before Vatican II. There, the priest would pinch salt in the mouth of the baby to be baptized. He would then pray, after this first taste of salt, let his [or her] hunger for heavenly nourishment not be prolonged but soon be satisfied. This “heavenly nourishment” was an allusion, of course, to the Eucharist, to the true food and true drink that Christ wants to give us all. This should give us pause. Am I salt of the earth in this sense too? Does my life and witness make others hunger and thirst for God? We exhibit the preservative quality of salt when we stand by the truth and refuse to compromise our faith in moral questions, when we refuse to submit to the dictatorship of moral relativism. We are the salt of the earth when we refuse to pursue short sighted and selfish motives at the cost of common good and the truth. We are salt of the earth when we show commitment to social justice. Some of the activities that this commitment leads us to are given more concrete expression as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, console those who mourn, and so on. When we do these things as a community of faith then we are indeed acting not only as salt but as light to the world, when our light of faith glows in this form we are then as a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden..

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa, PhD


Sense of reality - sense of potentiality

January 29, 2017

We distinguish people according to the color of their skin, according to their age, their sex, their for-mation, their social position, their achievements, their political opinion: people come in very different ways. From time to time we may encounter someone who impresses us, not because he or she is white or young or male or female, because he or she is wealthy or sportive or has a university degree. No, just someone who makes an impression on us. Who are these people? In today’s gospel, Jesus shows us people who may make an impression on us. Jesus presents people as models for us: those who are poor, who mourn and grieve, who manage to live their lives without violence, who seek to make the world a more just place. People who ask for God, who can wait for God. People who know that God can fulfill their hopes. Jesus speaks well of those who are humble and merciful, who make peace, who suffer because of their wish that everyone be treated right. This is how the friends of Jesus ought to be: humble, merciful, promoting peace, and working for a more just world. Our faith marks our lives – at least our faith should mark our lives. So, if we believe in a God who is merciful, sincere and just, we cannot be unmerciful, insincere and unjust. Faith finds its expres-sion in our lives, in the lives of people who believe in God. We are certainly people with a sense of reality – otherwise we would not be fit for our modern socie-ties. We do need this sense of reality, but I think people with faith also need a sense of potentiality: potenti-ality – I looked it up in several dictionaries – and I came to like this word: “latent or inherent capacity or ability for growth, fulfilment”; “state of being not yet evident or active”; “an aptitude that may be developed”; my definition would be: “a sense of what is possible, what is desirable, what we can aspire to.” As believers, we do not only see what the world is like now, but we also see what the world could be like, what the world should be like. So, we do thirst for justice, we want everyone to be treated right. We do see the possibilities, the potentiality for change and we aspire to it. In our eyes, the future is not determined and fixed and finished and automatic like a machine. We do not capitulate in front of the future. As believ-ers, we can leave out-trodden ways – without being mere dreamers. As believers, we see hope and future and open horizons where others don’t. As believers, we see the potentiality of our world – and we try to follow and live up to what Jesus says about his friends: we do not use violence, we are merciful, we have a pure heart, we promote peace and justice. At least this is the wish, the vision Jesus has for his friends. People with a sense of reality and at the same time people with a sense of potentiality – this is what we should be or become. In the light of faith, we can see the potentiality of our world. And we know our world embedded in God’s hands. This leads me to the words of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. In a book called “Igna-tian workout”, an American theologian [Tim Muldoon] formulated a thought of Ignatius in modern words: “With regard to any project, we must put ourselves in God’s hands as if our success depended on Him, but with regard to choosing the means and doing the work, we must labor as if everything depended on us.” Isn’t this the good mix between the sense of reality and the sense of potentiality? Choose the means we need to make the world a more just world, or at least a less unjust world with our sense of reality. And at the same time admit that it is God who created everything, who holds the world in his hands, who inspires us this sense of potentiality when we see the world through the eyes of God.

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


As Christians, we are called to follow a person, not an institution.

January 22, 2017

I don’t know in what kind of Catholic community you grew up in. Where I grew up, in the most southern part of Bavaria, today’s gospel was the gospel about Jesus’ call of the first apostles, but it was also the gospel about Jesus’ call to his first four priests. And now, with some decades of distance, it is clear to me that nothing could be further from the theology that Matthew is trying to convey in his gospel. When Matthew composed his gospel – in the mid to late 70s of the first century – the priesthood as we know it today simply didn’t exist. All gospel “calls” by Jesus are simply calls to be a Christian, to be a friend of Jesus, calls to imitate him, to be aware the we are sons and daughters of God, that we are brothers and sisters. These calls certainly are not addressed to a specific group of people who exercise one particular ministry in the community. On the contrary, these calls are addressed to every reader of the gospels. That's why it is essential to look carefully at each element of today's call in the gospel. Because it is also addressed to us! First, these initial disciples are called to follow a person, not an institution. They are not called to follow an institution with particular sets of rules or regulations or even some philosophic or theological concepts. And these initial disciples have no idea where this person Jesus is leading them. They are just to “come after” him, wherever and whatever that entails. All they know is that people, not fish, will now be the most important element in their lives. There is no delay, no looking back. They immediately leave their boats, nets, even their father, a nd “follow him.” Jesus’ call marks a new beginning of their lives. Their response to Jesus’ call is the concrete “repentance” he demands of all his followers: a total change of their value systems. A total change of their value systems – strong words… What I mean is that they open themselves for God working effectively in their lives - around them and among them. Or in a different expression: they will eventually experience the “kingdom of heaven” in their lives by opening themselves to God’s presence and God’s working in their lives. One way to experience God is to make people, not things, the focus of our lives. This is what Jesus teaches his friends, his followers. Not a call to priesthood, but a call to openness is what Matthew describes. To come back to the beginning of this homily: Matthew did not want to show Jesus calling the first priests, he wanted to show Jesus calling his first friends, his first followers, the first Christians. We, like Jesus' first four disciples, are called to make people the focus of our lives, not things or laws or institutions. And this call is still addressed to us – every day, time and again. cf https://www.dignityusa.org/bots/january-22nd-2017-third-sunday-year

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ


WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

January 15, 2017

The remarkable film “I, Daniel Blake” tells the story of a hardworking carpenter who after a heart attack is no longer able to work. The attempt to get his social welfare benefits proves to be an endless heart-renting battle against a merciless bureaucracy. Only a second heart attack saves this kind, honest man from ending up on the street. Since I saw that film I look at the homeless with different eyes, realising that I too, with a bit of bad luck, could be one of them. Even more precarious than people who lose their job and fall through the social net are migrants and refugees who lose all they have and find themselves in a foreign country trying to find their way in a foreign culture among often hostile or indifferent neighbours. The hardest hit among them are the children. In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis appeals to us to be especially concerned about refugee children who often are not only traumatised but also abused and exploited. The coming of a million refugees and migrants in 2015 has caused a social and political earthquake. Many Germans have responded with great generosity and openness. But there is an increasing part of the population that reacts with fear and even hatred to the foreigner. What causes that fear which we might feel ourselves at times? I think that there are two reasons. The images of endless streams of men, women and children walking along roads and railway lines or reaching our shores in make-shift rubber boats gives the impression that they will keep coming for ever. You get the feeling of being drowned by these unending waves of human beings. The other reason is the realisation that most of them are Muslims and while most of them are peaceful persons who simply seek security and a place to live in peace, there is an increasing upsurge of young Muslims who interpret the Koran as a mandate to conquer the world and eliminate all other religions and cultures. Both fears are real, even if sometimes they are exaggerated. The crucial question is how we react to them. There are two levels of action to be taken. One is political. The challenge is to strike a balance between the legitimate need to maintain security and public order and the duty of the state to protect its citizens on one side, and our human and Christian duty to assist people in need and respect their rights. We can only pray for our politicians for the wisdom to maintain that delicate balance. If we lose it, we risk to lose our humanity and become a selfish, a hard-hearted people and to destroy the core values on which our open, democratic society is built. At a personal level the great challenge is to overcome our innate fear of strangers, to reach out to them and to listen to their story. As I experienced watching the film about Daniel Blake and changing my view about homeless people, it is by meeting refugees and listening to their story that we realise that they are human beings like ourselves. If we should allow our hearts to be poisoned by fear and hatred, we betray the central message of the Gospel, and find in the end that there is in our hearts no more room neither for our neighbour in need nor for God.

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr


Epiphany 2017: God works through men and women of all religions

January 8, 2017

We find the story of the magi only in Matthew. Mark, Luke and John write their gospels for Christians who had not been in the Jewish religion before, for the so-called Gentiles. Also, Paul in his letters writes for these Christians coming from the Gentiles. Only Matthew writes for Christians who had been in the Jewish religion before. And to them the story of the three magi must have been like a sledgehammer. Why? When we face things and person who are beyond us, then we naturally try to restrict these things and persons so that we can handle them. We put a safety frame around them. We put them into patterns of behavior with which we are comfortable. God's relationship with us certainly falls into that restricted category – it is difficult for us to handle this relationship. Many Christians, for instance, believe God works only through and on behalf of Christians. And I presume many Muslims and Hindus fall into the same trap – for Muslim God only works through Muslims, for Hindus God only works through Hindus. There's no doubt many Jews at the time of Matthew were also guilty of restricting God's actions to their specific religion. For Jews God only works through Jews. This was certainly also true for some Jews who had committed themselves to imitating Jesus. Let us go back to the reading from the prophet Isaiah. He is one of the classic Jewish prophets who tried to expand the vision of the Chosen People to include non-Jews in Yahweh's plan of salvation: “Nations and kings will come to the light of your dawning day” (Is 60,3). In other words, "If you live your Jewish faith correctly, even non-Jews will be compelled by your example to give themselves over to Yahweh." Not only that. When Isaiah wrote this, Jerusalem and its temple are nothing but a pile of rubble. And nevertheless, the prophet believes those enlightened Gentiles will provide the means to be a mighty nation for Israel. “Treasures from across the sea and the wealth of nations will be brought to you” (Is 60,5-6). Yet, the presupposition is, such Yahweh-oriented Gentiles will eventually convert to Judaism. So, when in the Old Testament the non-Jewish Gentiles were supposed to convert to Judaism, does this mean that the non-Jewish followers of Jesus also were supposed to convert to Judaism first? Indeed: At first, non-Jews who were interested in Christ were expected to convert to Judaism before they could imitate the risen Jesus. Only after the men were circumcised and both men and women committed themselves to keeping the 613 Mosaic laws could they become Christians. But in the running of the decades, it became clear that this was not how the Holy Spirit was guiding them. In the case of Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus the Holy Spirit did not demand of them to become members of the Jewish religion first. Eventually a different point of view won the day. Paul and Matthew and many other members of the Christian community argued that Gentiles, as Gentiles, could be followers of Jesus. Paul in today’s reading to the community in Ephesus states: “Because of Christ Jesus, the good news has given the Gentiles a share in the promises that God gave to the Jews. God has also let the Gentiles be part of the same body.” (Eph 3,5) So: One no longer must be a Jew in order to be a Christian. And that's where Matthew's magi come in. They are uncircumcised, pagan, Gentile astrologers who travel many, many, miles to discover "the newborn king of the Jews." The Magi travel many miles, while Herod and his Jewish Scripture knowledgeable court refuse to go the relative short distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to find the child. Not only that, the magi reach their destination by following a star: a practice forbidden to Jews under pain of death! Matthew's message is clear: God works through people and means which some in his community would restrict God from working. Those who correctly follow Jesus must constantly go beyond such limits in order to discover God working in their everyday lives. Cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/january-8-2012-epiphany

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


Homily on the New Year 2017

January 1, 2017

All across the world the standard way of marking the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year is for people to set off fireworks, tearing apart the night sky with a blaze of light and an explosion of noise. The origin of this tradition is from a primitive pagan Roman culture. The Romans believed that the turning of the year was a vulnerable moment, a changeover that had to be watched carefully lest witches, ghosts and demons slip through the gap between the years and get up to all kinds of mischief. The antidote, they believed, was to make as much noise as possible, to scare away any wandering demon, ghost or witch, who might think of trying to slip through that gap. Strange as it may sound, this tradition has survived to the modern times Another tradition on New Year are new year resolutions. For weight watchers after series of failed attempts, this may be a time to begin again with a firm resolve to lose weight. Some other people may resolve to get more organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life to the fullest, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, spend more time with family, pray more, go to Mass twice or more in a week, do something special with your family every week; etc. One thing about these resolutions is that often they may be difficult to keep till the end of the year. Another traditional thing on New Year is the traditional greeting of the New Year: Happy New Year! This is a wonderful thing to do but it would be a mistake, of course, to expect perfect happiness in any year in this life. The innate, insatiable drive we all have for perfect happiness can only be satisfied in the next life. It would also be a mistake also to identify happiness with pleasure. Pleasure and happiness are not synonyms. They are not one and the same thing. In fact, pleasure can be the cause of very great unhappiness. It would be a mistake also to think that happiness consists in amassing possessions. Unfortunately, we begin by possessing things and end up with things possessing us. It is the desire, the craving for things we do not have that causes so much unhappiness. We are supposed to love people and use things. In our affluent society, we turn that around and love things and use people to get the things we love. When we look into the cave in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born we may understand what true happiness consists of. Look into the cave. There is none of those things in which we seek happiness. There are no riches, no fame, no power, no conveniences, no pleasure, nothing but an empty, cold cave on the outskirts of town. We see there the new born baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph filled with wonder, amazement and joy on this first day of the New Year not only do we observe the three traditions mentioned above but let us ask for the grace to know Jesus more intimately, love him more ardently and follow him more closely so that this may be a truly Happy New Year! I The triple blessings mentioned in the first reading of today's liturgy (Num.6:24-26): "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” were entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. It is a triple blessing filled with light, radiating from the repetition of the name of God, the Lord, and from the image of his face. In fact, in order to be blessed, we have to stand in God’s presence, take his Name upon us and remain in the cone of light that issues from his Face, in a space lit up by his gaze, diffusing grace and peace. Let us seek the Face of God continuously this new year and he will continually fill our lives this year with his grace and peace.

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa, PhD


Christmas Day 2016

December 25, 2016

We celebrate a very special Christmas in Berlin this year: the terror attack on the Christmas market confronted us here in Berlin with something that is everyday life elsewhere in the world. Extremists kill innocent people, bring death to whole cities, destroy certainties about how human beings can live together. And they make love of neighbor, they make charity look like helpless weakness – weakness that can be exploited. The message of Christmas: “Peace be on earth” – in the eyes of extremists this makes no sense. They want the contrary of peace – they want terror – and be it in the name of religion. So, what to preach on this Christmas morning? About the night that appears in “holy night” – we are all living experiences of “night, darkness” when we see our world. I read a very touching text written by the protestant bishop of Berlin. He quotes Jürgen Moltmann, a well know protestant theologian. Moltmann spoke about the “things ahead of us”. And he uses two terms for the things ahead of us: “future” and “advent”. Future – this is what we can calculate, our predictions, prognoses, extrapolated experiences. We know how many people there will be on this planet in 30 years, we know how many skilled workers a country needs to survive, we know the consequences of the international migrations of today. This we know – and we may fear it, we may become depressed because of this future that threatens us. But when it comes to things to come, Moltmann also speaks of “Advent”. Advent is the time ahead we cannot plan, the time ahead that is given to us as a gift. A gift that may bring changes, surprises, a gift that may bring dead branches of a tree to life. Christmas always is preceded by Advent. Advent is this attitude of expecting to be surprised. Isn’t it a surprise that in the manger shepherds and kings meet. Social underdogs like the shepherds meet the magi with their gifts. What unites them? What is common to them? It is the fact that they are amazed about this child. From this new born a power emanates that the shepherds and the magi call “divine” although this new born child is lying there defenseless. From this new born child shines forth the right of every human being to live a life in dignity. From this new born child shines forth the dignity of every human being no matter where he or she is born, if he or she is rich or poor, black or white… God becomes one of us so that we be able to see what hope every human life carries. So, this is the message of Christmas for me: Humanity is promised to all. Practiced humanity, Menschlichkeit, Mitmenschlichkeit…. This “future” is not yet at hand – we know this when we watch TV, read the newspapers or listen to victims of war and violence and terrorism…. But this “future” is not impossible if together we fight for it, if together we await it actively, if together we work for it with everything we can, if together we prepare this future. Christmas is not a sort of cultural program of our Christian occident. Christmas is not a feast where we forget the world around us. A feast where we see the world in an idyllic way. No, we need both: we need to know the future with all the available facts and knowledge and science, but we also need this trust in the Advent of God, trust in the things to come that are a gift of God. Christmas confronts our own personal and social calculations about our future with God’s promises. This message is not “post-truth” (post-faktisch as we say in German) – no, it is rather pre-truth. This message speaks of trust in the things to come. If we are open to see the image of God in every human being, then we shall be able to find ways to peace we had never dreamed of before. (Cf http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/die-weihnachtsbotschaft-und-der-terror-friede-auf-erden-gilt-mehr-denn-je/19169164.html)

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


Jesus‘ God-given name – My true name

December 18, 2016 - Fourth Sunday in Advent

When parents are expecting a child, one topic of discussion sooner or later will be: what name shall we give our child? How did you pick the names of your children: a name from a list on a website or from the bible or a name of a saint or a personality you admire? There are many ways of giving names. In some African cultures it could be the name of a grandfather, a name to remember an event when the child was born or a name to thank God for the gift of a child, like “God is creator” or ”God is the giver of life”. Mary and Joseph did not have that problem. They received the name of the child in Mary’s womb directly from God. In today’s Gospel, the angel tells Joseph two names: Jesus and Emmanuel, the name also mentioned in the first reading. This name Emmanuel defines who Jesus is: "God with us". The rest of the Gospel will spell out that in Jesus God has become visible to us. He teaches with the authority and heals with the power of God. And he will constantly remind his disciples that they have no reason to be afraid because “I am with you… till the end of time.” The name Emmanuel expresses his true identity. The name Jesus that is more familiar to us indicates his mission, the purpose for which he has come. Jesus means: “God saves.” He was sent by his father not to condemn the world, but to save it. John the Baptist was convinced the Messiah would come to save the “just” by destroying all sinners and establish a reign of justice. When Jesus acted differently and befriended sinners, he could not make any sense of it. Jesus remained faithful to his mission till the very end, when he prayed for his enemies and forgave the criminals crucified together with him. Perhaps the word “save” or “Saviour” sounds unfamiliar to many people today. We could rather say: Jesus came to liberate us, to set us free from sins, from sickness of soul, mind and body and finally from death. When, in the bible, God himself gives a name or changes a person’s name, it always indicates a new mission. We have not chosen our name. It was given to us by our parents. But if we had the possibility to give ourselves a name that indicates what our mission in life is, what we would like to be and to achieve, what name would you give yourself? That question is not easy to answer. Life is a long and sometimes painful process to discover who we truly are, what gifts God has put into us, and what is the task God has entrusted to us in the world. We never finish discovering something new in ourselves and in the people around us. Human beings remain always a mystery. But one day, we will understand fully who we truly are. St. Paul expresses it in his dense language when he writes in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Now we know ourselves only very superficially and vaguely. But the day of death when the limitations of our bodies and the limits of time and space fall away, we shall know God and through him ourselves fully, the way He knows everything about us now. Then He will give each one of us a new name that expresses fully who we truly are. “I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17)

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr


The risen Jesus is counting on us to bring about his new world

December 4, 2016 - Second Sunday in Advent

We Christians speak of Jesus as the Messiah. Do we know what we mean when we use the word Messiah? Wikipedia says: “A messiah is a savior or liberator of a group of people, most commonly in the Abrahamic religions.” It means “the anointed one”, this could be a king, a priest, a prophet…In Greek this becomes “Christos”. It seems that also for the Jews, this word Mashiach was not very clear. There are many messianic pictures in the Hebrew Scriptures, none of which completely mirrors Jesus as Messiah. Each generation of Jews had their idea of a messiah, a messiah who would eventually save them, who would bring them liberation from oppression and their unjust living conditions. The concepts of this messiah differed from generation to generation. As their needs changed, so did their idea of a Messiah, of a savior change. Contrary to common belief, there is no one consistent picture of a messiah in the Jewish world of 2000 years ago, as there is none in the Jewish world of today. Isaiah, for instance, in today's passage (Isaiah 11:1-10) conceives of the Messiah in terms of a king from the family of David. Like his regal ancestor, this new king will be "a sprout from the stump of Jesse." But this new king will differ greatly from some of the kings the prophet had recently encountered. We are in the 8th century before Christ. Because this new king is open to Yahweh's spirit, this new king will create a world in which natural enemies will become friends. This new king will make certain that "the earth shall be filled with knowledge of Yahweh", that is: filled with the experience of Yahweh, the experience of God. Paul writes a letter to the Christian community in Rome. He believes that Jesus will eventually create the end results that Isaiah expects of a royal Messiah (Romans 15:4-9). But Paul brings in an element that the prophet Isaiah seems to ignore: the community. Unlike Isaiah's Messiah, the risen Jesus isn't going to bring about this new world all by himself. He is counting on us to play an essential role in the creation of this new world. As Paul reminds the Christian community in Rome, it is up to us to "think in harmony with one another." Among other things that means we have to "welcome one another as Christ welcomes us." And during Paul's ministry, Jewish Christians had a big problem welcoming one specific group. For the Jewish Christians welcoming the Gentiles, the non-Jews, was a big challenge. Gentiles, people different from the Jews, people coming from different backgrounds, people with different traditions – to welcome them was a real challenge to the Jewish Christians. Already Isaiah envisioned non-Jews seeking out Yahweh – he had this wonderful vision that they all celebrate a feast together in Jerusalem. Now Paul envisions Jewish Christians taking the first step and seeking out Gentiles as equal partners in the salvation Jesus offers. Only when all God's people relate correctly with one another will God's peace become a reality. In order to be authentic imitators of Jesus, we all must accept the other as equal – no matter what their background is. That seems to be part of the "good fruit" which John the Baptizer expected all God's people to produce (Matthew 3:1-12). True followers of Jesus long ago came to understand that their Messiah was only part of the show. They and their relations with others were the rest of the show. Both Paul and Matthew paint a picture of an ideal world. But they are convinced that the special person destined to usher in that longed-for era isn’t going to bring it about alone. It will only come when we have the courage to live our lives as Jesus of Nazareth lived his. No wonder St. Augustine always handed the Eucharistic bread to people with the reminder: "Receive what you are: the Body of Christ, the Messiah."

cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/december-8-2013-second-sunday-advent


The opportunity of Advent

November 27, 2016 - First Sunday in Advent

We have again reached the threshold of a new liturgical year. The new liturgical year begins with the time of Advent, the preparation for Christmas. It's a time of transition – from something old towards something new. Transitions are always uncertain and demanding times – we just have to look at Washington D.C. and the transition that takes place there. Times where the old things are no longer valid and where the new things are not yet known. Transitions are giving you a feeling of uncertainty, of ambiguity, of hesitation. But we are not forced to remain passive; we can make use of times of transition so that they help us on our way, so that they bear fruit for our lives and for the lives of others. Advent is one of these times – it prepares a breakthrough from darkness to light, from emptiness to life. Those coming weeks are marked by liturgies with very beautiful biblical texts. They invite us to believe in God who is the lover of life, they invite us to celebrate God's promise of life for us. The first reading we just heard from the prophet Isaiah speaks of our longing for life, for “shalom”, for this harmony between the creation and its creator. How do we prepare ourselves for Christmas? In former centuries, people knew how to fill these times of preparation with fasting, praying and good deeds. We kind of have lost this link between the big feast and the inner preparation it requires. The outer, the commercial preparation took the place of the inner preparation. And we are in danger of living what the gospel describes (Matthew 24, 37-44). We are so busy with our own plans, we are trusting in our own efforts, so that we forget our link to God that penetrates our whole life. We are no longer vigilant for God's presence in our world, in our life. The gospel speaks with strong images: the image of being abandoned, of being left behind, of being dumped, and the image of being accepted, of being invited to take part in something big that God offers us. We long to be accepted, to be taken along. And the gospel says that it is not what we do that makes us accepted and loved, but that it is our inner attitude that makes us accepted and loved by God: an attitude marked by loving attentiveness, looking for God, feeling God in our life and in the lives of others. Advent is rich with symbols that can help us to find a new direction for our lives: - the symbolism of light in the darkness of winter. This light brings us comfort and warmth, a cozy atmosphere in which we can think and reflect like in front of an open fireplace; Advent is a time of waiting or better: a time of expecting, a time where we can interrupt our routines so as to be open for the new things that may come; Advent is a time where we can ask ourselves: what does it mean for my life that God becomes one of us? This may change my life and its structures; this may change my relation to God, to others, to myself; Advent has the symbol of the way – we are invited to make ourselves on the way. To make an effort to leave our comfort zones, to leave the well-trodden ways, to try new ways, new ways towards God, towards the others, towards ourselves. Advent is an opportunity – a chance to interrupt, to try something new, to risk something. This is the message of Advent for me: we can break our routine, we can break the circles, the often-vicious circles in which we find ourselves, we can find healing of our inner enslavement and dependence – if we open ourselves for what Advent prepares: the fact that God becomes one of us. The ground on which and upon which we live may be hardened and impermeable – Advent might open it, might offer the chance that this infertile ground offers new life again – for us and for those we love.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


What Kind of King is Jesus?

November 20, 2016

In most countries kings are part of history but nobody wants them back. The first settlers in America fled to the “New World” because kings persecuted them in their home country. Germans do not have fond memories of Kaiser Wilhelm, a pompous and power seeking monarch who was co-responsible for the First World War. Since their revolution the French are staunch defenders of republic rule. The British are those who still have an emotional attachment to their royal house. Should we then modernise the notion of kingship and call Jesus our President. That hardly makes sense. The readings of today’s liturgy lead us step by step into a totally different vision of what we mean when we call Jesus our king and Lord. The first reading recalls the anointing of David as king over Israel who became the greatest leader of his people. His successors proved a rather poor lot: power-hungry, oppressive men, making deadly political alliances. Most of them were also godless people, not in the least interested in the covenant with Yahweh, the God of Israel. Small wonder that the people of Israel longed for the return of the golden age of David. They dreamt of a Messiah coming from the house of David who would return Israel to its former glory. When they witnessed the extra-ordinary powers of Jesus, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding a huge crowd of hungry people, the hope dawned that he might be the Messiah and they wanted to make him their king. But Jesus refused any kind of political kingship and went his way. It is also quite possible that Judas was motivated by a similar idea when he decided to betray Jesus. He wanted to put him in a situation where at last he was forced to use his powers and start of political liberation movement. When Jesus refused any form of violence, Judas despaired. Jesus refused to conform to people’s expectations for a new king. What kind of king then did he want to be? We find the answer in two instances of the story of his passion and death. The first moment of revelation of Jesus’ view of kingship is the confrontation with his judge: the military governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate. He wanted to intimidate Jesus by reminding him that he has power of life and death. Jesus’ answer: You have no power at all over me, because my kingdom is not of this world. We associate kingship with power and authority, with control and domination over others. Jesus’ vision is totally different from what anybody can imagine. In the final revelation of Jesus’ kingship, we see him nailed to a cross like the worst criminal between two other convicted criminals and above his head a sign: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, both a cruel mockery and a profound truth. He seems totally powerless, unable even to move. And yet, in him is an incredible power, the power of love, a love so pure, so strong that remains untouched by any hatred, any cruelty, any suffering, an even by death. Jesus is the “King of love on Calvary”, as we sang in the beginning of mass. This transforming power of love and mercy changed the heart of one of the criminals who wants to become part of that kingdom of Jesus, that place where only love rules. He dies in peace in the hope of paradise. The other refuses that offers. Like the leaders of Israel wants Jesus to come down from the cross to prove his power as a political messiah. He dies in despair. Till to today people cheer political or religious Messiah-leaders who promise to bring about a better world by force and violence. Are we ready to accept a king whose only weapon is love?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr


Eternal life – totally different and nevertheless a continuation

November 6, 2016

Do you see the link between the first reading from the Old Testament and the gospel? It is evidently the fact that the two readings speak of "seven brothers". But there is a second aspect: the authors of both readings belief in an afterlife. As Christians, we believe in a life beyond this one - and we often presume that all the biblical authors did also. Yes, our Christian authors do – of course they do as they have experienced the risen Jesus. But only a few of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, of the Old Testament do believe in an afterlife. Such a concept doesn’t enter Jewish thought until a little over 100 years before Jesus’ birth. For instance, nowhere in the Torah – in the Bible's first five books – does anyone refer to an afterlife as we know it. This led Christian theologians to a somewhat bizarre idea: They said that “the gates of heaven were closed” after Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree. These early Christian theologians did not realize that concepts of “heaven” only evolved centuries after the two Genesis creation myths were composed. And these theologians presumed that the sacred Torah writers didn’t mention “heaven” because people couldn’t get into heaven. Then, in the century before Jesus’ birth, Pharisees began to develop a new idea: They said that those who formed a relationship with Yahweh in this life would carry and deepen that relationship into the next life. But in spite of this, a large number of Jews still maintained that this life on earth was the only life we would ever experience. And so, Jesus had little to offer to anyone who was determined to live in the past - like the Sadducees. The question of the Sadducees is logical: "In the resurrection whose wife will she be?" – the widow of seven brothers… Jesus first responds to the question of the Sadducees by assuring them that eternal life won't be an eternal extension of this life. Those who attain that existence, that eternal life, that “afterlife” "neither marry nor are given in marriage." We are dealing with something we have yet to experience in the way we will experience it. For this new experience, I found a good illustration when I prepared this homily: Just as our existence outside of the mother’s womb is dramatically different from our existence as a fetus inside the womb, so heaven will be dramatically different from this earthly existence. So, this was the first answer: eternal life won't be an eternal extension of this life. The second part of the answer: Jesus knew that the Bible of the Sadducees comprises only the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). This is the reason Jesus argues from one of these five books. And Jesus refers to Exodus 3 - Moses encounters Yahweh in a burning bush. And he focuses on how God identifies himself as God. God says: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Jesus uses a tricky, rhetorical argumentation: if those three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not still alive when Yahweh talks to Moses, then Yahweh would say, "I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" – but God says: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And the scene with Moses happened 500 years after the death of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, this is the argumentation of Jesus: there must be a heaven if, at the time of Moses, these three pillars of Judaism continue to relate to God. Very philosophical? Maybe! But Jesus' key argument comes at the end: "God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." God's true followers continually grow in their understanding and experience of what it means to be alive in God. Jesus presumes this evolution is an essential part of faith. Jesus adds another dimension to our life in God: our dying and rising makes us one with him not only in heaven, but also now here on this earth. Jesus is "directing our hearts" in both of these experiences – in the afterlife and in the life, here on earth. We sometimes say we are expected to learn new ways to die with Jesus, to commit ourselves to others, to take up hardships. But we are also expected to constantly invent and find new ways to live with Jesus, to live the fullness of life, to live a life in abundance, to enjoy our life here on earth.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


God, the Lover of Life

October 30, 2016

I would like to concentrate today on the first reading from the book of Wisdom. It is the youngest book of the Old Testament, written in the first century before Christ. The Jewish people, the people of Israel was living in the whole known world, but they already suffered certain kinds of persecution in spite of the guarantees they had received from Rome. Rome was ruling over the world around the Mediterranean and guaranteed religious freedom, but there were always movements that objected to religious freedom and tried to make everybody believe the same things they believed. Those who believed or celebrated or lived differently were a nuisance and were not well looked upon. Often they were silenced. It is in this context that the author of our book writes down what he believes. He writes down how he sees the world with the eyes of his faith, how he sees the relation of God to his creation, how he sees and evaluates the world around him, and he writes down how he sees himself in this world. A very touching book – because everything the author writes down he brings before God.…To bring one’s life before God. I am not sure that our religions and denominations and faith communities see this as a priority in their service. Often it is the formal fulfillment of rules that is the priority. Let us look again at our text: For me, some of these lines are the most beautiful lines in the Bible: “You love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made” or in a different translation: “You love everything that exists; you do not despise anything that you have made.” The author does not make a distinction between good people and bad people, between right and wrong. Everything in this world is loved by God, every human being, every animal, the whole of creation and what human beings make of their lives. Everything (and everybody)!… No, the author does not judge! He does not say “This is good” - “This is bad”, “This is sin” - “This is not sin”, “This one believes in the right way” - “This one believes in a wrong way”. The author of the book of Wisdom does not judge. How relevant this is for us today! Because we do judge, we do put people down, we do reduce people’s value by telling them that they are deficient and sinful and unworthy. I am sorry that religion often betrayed people by telling them that they were unworthy. Religion betrayed people by refusing them happiness and freedom and the possibility of living their lives in peace with God, in peace with others, in peace with themselves. And here our author says: “You love everything that exists; you do not despise anything that you have made.” And he continues: “You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” or in a different translation: “You have allowed everything to exist, O Lord, because it is yours, and you love every living thing. Your immortal spirit is in every one of them.” God’s spirit is in everything that is – isn’t this enormous and terrific? God’s spirit is in you and in me, in people we like and in people we do not like, in people near to us and in people far away, in people we understand and in people we do not understand or we do not want to understand. In all of them is God’s spirit. God’s spirit is in the whole of creation. “Think big” is a motto that comes to my mind: the author “thinks big” of God just as God “thinks big” of us. God wants our happiness and does not want us to feel small and inferior and bad. God is the friend of life – and as a friend of life he wants us to live in happiness. So now the story in our gospel with Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19,1-10) receives a new aspect in its meaning for us: Jesus sees Zacchaeus on his tree and Jesus offers a new beginning to the life of Zacchaeus. Jesus offers a new chance to Zacchaeus through his presence, through his respect and love. This is the way God deals with our mistakes or: – if you prefer the religious jargon – this is the way God deals with our sins. This is the God I would like to believe in, this is the God I would like to talk of and live with and celebrate.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 23, 2016

Last week's readings zeroed in on the relationship expected of all people of faith with God. A life based on faith demands we relate with God, not try to control him/her. Today's gospel passage outlines the first step in building and maintaining such a relationship: honesty. No two people could be further apart on a 1st century CE Palestinian religious scale than a Pharisee and a tax collector. The former was akin to a “super-Jew,” spending his life studying, teaching and keeping the 613 Laws of Moses. Everything he did revolved around those Sinai regulations. Scanning his temple competition, he could logically say, “I'm not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” The latter, on the other hand, really didn't give much thought to those Mosaic precepts. As a collector of taxes, he centered his life on a different value system. He would have daily done things forbidden to main stream Jews. The money he so faithfully amassed went not to his fellow Jews, but to his country's enemies: The Romans. A traitor to his people, he helped keep their oppressors in power. And he usually acquired those taxes by “immoral” means: extortion, blackmail and strong arm tactics. He not only was hated by everyone, but because of his profession, he constantly was at odds with the very regulations the Pharisee esteemed. Though tax collectors weren't forbidden under pain of death, like Samaritans, to enter the temple precincts, his presence in that sacred space would have surprised other worshipers. “What's someone like that doing in a place like this? There goes the neighborhood!” Yet Jesus praises this religious scoundrel at the same time he brushes aside the religious perfectionist. Out of the two, the tax collector alone leaves “justified:” doing what Yahweh wants him to do, simply being honest about himself. His only prayer is, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Unlike the Pharisee he doesn't compare himself with anyone else. He just zeros in on his own moral condition. If all valid relationships revolve around giving ourselves to others, they can only work when we begin the process by being honest about who it is who's actually doing the giving. Yet we “fake it” so often during our encounters with others, that we also fall into that same trap when we're really trying to build relationships with significant others. Luke's Jesus reminds us that faking it with God in a no-no. God simply expects us to tell him/her who we really are. That's a given. Sirach, in our first reading, encourages us not to worry: God treats everyone with total impartiality. Yahweh is a God of justice: A God of relationships. He gives everyone an even break. If our relationship isn't working, it can only be because we're holding back from giving our true selves to God, often because of something embarrassing in that true self. The unknown author of II Timothy has no problem conveying his insights into Paul's personality, even when they suggest some of the Apostle's weaknesses. Though he's writing about a larger than life figure, he doesn't hesitate to get down to the nitty gritty. Paul certainly wasn't the kind of individual who appealed to everyone. “At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.” Some of us would also pause before stepping forward to defend such a radical person of faith. Paul wasn't perfect. Perhaps that's why he, like us, constantly falls back on his relationship with the risen Jesus: the one person who presumes we're not perfect, and is grateful whenever we admit it.

Fosilonline.com Roger Vermalen Karban

Christians are called to unceasing vigilance

October 16, 2016

Jesus sets before us a parable sketched from life (Luke 18,1-8). A persistent widow importunes an uncooperative judge until she obtains satisfaction. From this account, let us not conclude that the way to pray to God is to bore him to death or to drive him crazy. Only the Gentiles imagine that they will succeed in getting an answer by dint of words. This gospel demonstrates in a remarkable way the danger of interpreting parables as allegory. In an allegory, every element has another dimension of meaning. A parable works as a whole to make a single point or to raise a disturbing question. In this parable it would be a mistake to equate God with the judge. It would be even more of a mistake to equate the woman's obstinate pleading with a superstitious attempt to pry an answer from God. Jesus' parable is set under the heading of persevering prayer. It calls Christians to unceasing vigilance. Prayer is less an act which forces God's hand, but much more one which opens us to the always available gifts of God.

virc.at/pdf/english/C/C_29_e.pdf

We are the descendants of the ten lepers

October 9, 2016

I would like to talk about the experience Jesus makes with the ten lepers (Luke 17,11-19). Usually the text is presented in a way that the one leper who comes back to Jesus understands Jesus, thanks Jesus, is the only one really healed. The other nine are unthankful and do not understand anything. I don’t like this way of presenting the story. Why? Because Jesus does not put people down. Jesus never puts people down. So I would like to point to a different topic: ten lepers come to Jesus, the ten are healed, but only one remains with Jesus. Nine to one – this relation is still valid – generously calculated. I speak of the part of the population still remaining with the traditional Church and its message. Only ten percent may share the religious nearness to Jesus by continuing to go to church. But all the lepers have been touched, have been healed by Jesus. So, the ten are not so different from each other. They all have been healed, but only one re-mains with Jesus. It is the difference in reaction to the healing that makes them different. So many studies show that religiosity does no longer have this close link to the church, to the community of believers. To be far from the Church does not mean to be far from religiosity. The ways to experience God’s nearness do not necessarily lead through the church doors. Those who come to church on Sunday, like you, they live a special form of religiosity, marked by the commun-ion of the Church, marked by the wish to experience God’s nearness in the space of a church build-ing, of a church community. But there are many other forms where people are experiencing the nearness of God. The Church is seen as just one of these places. What does this mean for the Church? One way of dealing with the phenomenon is to continue as usual. Tradition, dogmas, doc-trine, neither looking to the right nor to the left, not perceiving the world that surrounds the Church – continue as usual. Then the Church, then we as a community may become a ghetto, a ghetto in which people with the same ideas and ideals gather, a ghetto on the edge of society. To find ten percent of the population here in this realm seems already a lot. So, the first way is to continue as usual. The second way would be to be totally open to everything we see in the modern world, to limit ourselves to the realm of giving good advices of how to succeed in life and in its crises. But here the Christian message would lose its specificity. The Church would not be more than a giver of good advices like so many other gurus. Thus – on one hand you find church leaders worried about what Rome says, worried abut correct liturgies, worried about the quality and the catholicity of the men and women coming to church – I mean catholicity in the sense of being conform to catholic rules and orders and requests and demands. A church occupied with herself, forgetting what happens around her. On the other hand you would find committed Christians asking themselves: “How do we go down well, how can we be well received? How to have fuller churches and how to have attractive events? How to produce and trigger good articles about the church in the news?” This is a real dilemma – a dilemma that keeps the church alive. The tension is a fruitful tension if the two sides approach each other, if ideas and visions are shared. In this process, there is not one side in the possession of the full truth. Not one side has a monopoly for salvation. The ten lepers make it clear: The story is not about the one single follower of Jesus and the nine renegades. No. They have all been touched and healed. But each one of them has his or her own way of dealing with it. It was the task of Jesus to handle this, Jesus had to live with this. It is our task to-day to handle this same phenomenon – we who are following Jesus, we who are the descendants of the ten lepers

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Faith has nothing to do with performance

October 2, 2016

“Servants don't deserve special thanks for doing what they are supposed to do. And that's how it should be with you. When you've done all you should, then say: “ Jesus says this to the apostles, to his closest friends (Luke 17,5-10). Does he want to tell them: “You are good for slavish services; you are supposed to sacrifice your-self?” Does Jesus want to say that there is a better afterlife for them if they have a good perfor-mance in this life? I know that time and again this text has been used, has been misused to keep people down in the Church, to claim self-sacrifice and slavish services with the promise of a better afterlife. This is not what Jesus wants to do. He talks to his friends, to the apostles: they have given up eve-rything – so are they entitled to claim anything from God? This is certainly what the then main-stream of the Jewish religion thought: “We make a deal with God, we perform well and God grants us a good life. I give something to God and God rewards me.” Faith becomes performance. And Jesus makes it clear: “No, you have no right on which you can insist when dealing with God. You have no claims when it comes to God’s gifts to you. Faith is not a performance for which you can claim anything from God.” Jesus brings a different image of God: the loving father, the good shepherd – a God of uncondi-tional love. God gives more abundantly than we can imagine – and he gives perhaps more abun-dantly to those who - in faith - “perform” less than we. This we sometimes do not understand; this is sometimes quite hard to accept for us. Jesus also shows us a danger in this master-slave-relation. If I perform better than someone else, then I may begin to feel superior to the other person, then I may begin to feel like a master over others. This contradicts the fundamental message of the Bible that all human beings are equal, have the same dignity, the same value as sons and daughters of God, as images of God. If we make ourselves or others slaves of this performance thinking, then we take away the dignity of others, then we try to squeeze God’s infinite and unconditional love into human norms and rules. God does not want spiritual athleticism – God invites us to collaborate in his creation, invites us to take responsibility, to hand over to others what we received from God. All this, knowing that for our life we depend upon God and his love. This reminds me of a sentence by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. The content is: “Put all your trust in God without ever forgetting co-operation in his creation. This co-operation is precisely what your trust in God requires. But in your activity be profoundly aware that only God is powerful.” Or: “When in action, never rely on your own contribution; when trusting, always realize that you are a collaborator co-operating with God." Or in the original words of Ignatius: “Trust in God, as if the whole course of events depends on you and not on God, but fully implement your plans as if nothing needs to be done by you, but only by God.” Difficult to understand? Try to meditate this sentence a bit – “chew it”, I am sure you can get some profit out of it.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Lazarus – God helps

September 25, 2016

Isn’t today’s gospel frightening (Luke 16,19-37)? The description of the afterlife is quite comfortable for Lazarus, but it is horrible for the other one, the rich person. We may not be among the very rich, but nevertheless we may fear that we might endure the same fate as the rich person in the gospel. Fear… - fear never brings freedom. Fear does not really incite us to change our lives. Did Jesus really want to inspire fear by talking about the otherworldly reward or the otherworldly punishment? Was talking about the afterlife his objective? I do not think so: Jesus has the human being in mind, not a theory about the afterlife. The first who comes to our mind is Lazarus. He has a name. The name means “God helps”. His everyday life is ruled by illness and need and misery and hunger. He cannot even reach the “the scraps that fell from the rich man's table”. The rich person has no name. He does not even act in a malicious manner – he just does not notice Lazarus and his needs. The rich man is focused on his comfortable life. He has no eye and no ear to what happens around him. He has no eye and no ear for the human beings in his neighborhood. And this is the point where Jesus starts his story: Lazarus has a name: “God helps”, and God is concerned with Lazarus. God is concerned with Lazarus who lies in front of the door, whose body is covered with sores, and who has less value than a dog. God is concerned with exactly this Lazarus, this “underdog”. And this is the message of today’s gospel for me: Do see Lazarus! Do see him in spite of all our activities and business! Do see him in spite of all our prejudices, in spite of all our limitations! Our limitations show us that we cannot help every person who needs our help. But let us see them and not forget them in spite of our festivities and parties – festivities and parties are OK, they are not bad. Let us see the needs of others in spite of our love of life, our lust for life. Let us become attentive – other persons need our attentiveness; maybe we ourselves need their attentiveness for ourselves, and we need to be attentive to our own needs. As Christians we have the possibility and invitation to be open for changes, we have the possibility to practice a helping community. A helping community believes that our attentiveness gives change a chance. Then we do experience God as the one who sees us with loving attentiveness just like he sees Lazarus.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER Ground Zero Memorial, New York Friday, 25 September 2015

September 11, 2016

I feel many different emotions standing here at Ground Zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction. Here grief is palpable. The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only violence, hatred and revenge. A mindset which can only cause pain, suffering, destruction and tears. The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present. This is a place where we shed tears, we weep out of a sense of helplessness in the face of injustice, murder, and the failure to settle conflicts through dialogue. Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good. This flowing water reminds us of yesterday’s tears, but also of all the tears still being shed today. A few moments ago I met some of the families of the fallen first responders. Meeting them made me see once again how acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely ma-terial. They always have a face, a concrete story, names. In those family members, we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven. At the same time, those family members showed me the other face of this attack, the other face of their grief: the power of love and remembrance. A remembrance that does not leave us empty and withdrawn. The name of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints. We can see them, we can touch them, and we can never forget them. Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw. In the depths of pain and suffering, you also witnessed the heights of generosity and service. Hands reached out, lives were given. In a metropolis which might seem impersonal, faceless, lonely, you demonstrated the powerful solidarity born of mutual support, love and self-sacrifice. No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics. It was all about solidarity, meeting immediate needs, brotherhood. It was about being brothers and sisters. New York City firemen walked into the crumbling towers, with no concern for their own wellbeing. Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved. This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division. In this place of sorrow and remembrance I am filled with hope, as I have the opportunity to join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can experience a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity. Together we are called to say “no” to every attempt to impose uniformity and “yes” to a diversity accepted and reconciled. This can only happen if we uproot from our hearts all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment. We know that that is only possible as a gift from heaven. Here, in this place of remembrance, I would ask everyone together, each in his or her own way, to spend a moment in silence and prayer. Let us implore from on high the gift of commitment to the cause of peace. Peace in our homes, our families, our schools and our communities. Peace in all those places where war never seems to end. Peace for those faces which have known nothing but pain. Peace throughout this world which God has given us as the home of all and a home for all. Simply PEACE. Let us pray in silence. (a moment of silence) In this way, the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day be forgotten. Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150925_usa-ground-zero.html

THOSE COMING TO US FROM EAST AND WEST

August 21, 2016

As they slowly settle down in our country some refugees begin to show interest in Christianity. Most of them are coming from cultures and religions where life is regulated in every detail by tribal and religious traditions. To encounter our European way of life where personal freedom is given a large space, (maybe too large a space) is for them both frightening and fascinating. For all of us, locals and strangers, this encounter is a tremendous chance. Human beings grow and develop through encounter with others. If we stay always with the same people, we remain the same, we are not challenged to change. But when a child meets other children in the nursery it begins to change, not necessarily for the better. You come to mass here at All Saints because in our English liturgy you experience something you don’t find in German parishes. We only have to look at European culture to realise how much we owe to the encounter with other cultures. We took our school-system from the Babylonians, religious symbols from the Egyptians, our philosophy from the Greek, the legal system from Romans and the way we think about God and relate to God is heavily influenced by the Jewish scriptures. In comparison, many cultures of Africa remained for a long time relatively steady and stagnant because the interior of the continent remained isolated from the rest of the world. The importance of meeting people from other cultures and religions we also see in the bible. The major breakthrough in their experience of God happened when the people of Israel were in exile in Egypt and in Babylon. Those were traumatic experiences when their familiar world crumbled. But out of that painful experience the prophets developed a deeper and richer vision of God from which we still draw today inspiration. Nothing has changed Germany and the rest of Europe so much as the arrival of a million refugees last year. The event provoked the best and the worst in people. There were those who were frightened by the arrival of so many stranger who were different in many ways: religion, language, dress, food, family traditions... They reacted out of fear turned into hatred because they did not take the trouble to know them. I bet that hardly any PEGIDA protester ever talked to a Muslim. The unknown always scares us. There are also those who recognise the great chance of this forced migration for us as much as for them. Does our culture which has lost interest in religion not need to be challenged by people who take God seriously? Does the way Muslims pray and fast and witness their faith in public not challenge us Christians who often have become lukewarm and fearful? And do they not need to be freed from the heavy load of a life governed by the law to experience the freedom of God’s children that Christ brought? The challenge is not to proselytise each other but to share our riches with one another and so grow into a deeper understanding of God, our faith and ourselves.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

Nineteeth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 7, 2016

Practically nothing in Scripture was written by eyewitness – not even our gospels. Only after years, or even decades of reflecting on God's actions in their lives did our sacred authors eventually compose the writings that make up our Sacred Scriptures. Though many of the people involved in their narratives seemed to understand the implications of those divine actions as they were actually taking place, scholars constantly remind us that such insights most probably didn't become part of their faith lives until far down the road. Even today we often catch ourselves saying, “I didn't notice it at the time, but . . . .” One need only Google Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons' famous “Invisible Gorilla” experiment to see how easy it is to miss things that happen right before our eyes. The two professors demonstrated that our eyes normally see only what our minds program them to see. If we're not expecting it, we usually don't see it. On a practical level, experts tell us that's why motorcycles are so frequently involved in highway accidents. Drivers of cars are geared to see other cars, not motorcycles. (Based on that insight, yard signs have recently appeared in our area encouraging us to “Watch Out for Motorcycles!') On a Scriptural level, that also seems why we have today's three liturgical readings. Our sacred authors are concerned that we not only discover what happened to them, but that we also be prepared to discover those same things and events happening in our own lives. If we're not prepared to have them take place, we'll rarely notice them taking place. Our Wisdom author is convinced that only those enslaved Israelites who were anticipating Yahweh to destroy their foes actually interpreted the Exodus correctly. Historically, according to the Exodus author, the majority of Jews in Egypt argued against Moses. What turned out to be the greatest saving event in Jewish history started as a huge aggravation. Especially the Torah's Yahwistic author reminds us of the people's constant “griping.” They'd have been more content eating watermelon as slaves along the Nile than crossing the Reed Sea as free people. What a chosen few saw, most ignored. The author of Hebrews wants to make certain such blindness never happens to Jesus' followers. So he constantly hammers away at Abraham and Sarah's faith. Presuming they're the first Jews, they don't have Yahweh's track record to fall back on. Only their faith helps them see Yahweh's hand in the daily events of their life. They didn't emigrate from Ur to Canaan, for instance, simply to acquire more food in a foreign land, but because Yahweh had a unique plan for them and their descendants. Likewise, they didn't engage in intimate relations because of any physical attraction but because that was an essential part of God providing them with an heir. Our sacred authors are convinced that faith enables us to notice what others ignore. That seems to be why Luke's Jesus wants us to be certain about where our “treasure” is located. Those who consistently “sell their belongings and give alms” will also be the ones who are consistently prepared to notice the risen Jesus present in their lives. Those who focus on caring for the needs of others will also be focusing on experiencing God's kingdom in their midst. The historical Jesus presumed his followers would see what he chose to see during his earthly ministry. That was the only way they would be his faithful and prudent stewards. Perhaps it would be more faith effective to replace some of our elaborate church decorations with simple yard signs reading, “Watch For God Working In Your Lives!”

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Calm down and be Merry

Eighteeth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 31, 2016

All three of today’s readings warn of the futility of the “vain” pursuit of wealth and celebrity. We just heard in the gospel how Jesus told a parable: "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. And the man said to himself: “What should I do? I have not room enough to store all the harvest." Jesus does not tell us what the people say in this village, he does not tell the rumors about this rich man. No, Jesus listens to this man. The rich man calculates and decides to build a new barn. Economically, this is the right decision. But then Jesus gives an insight into the man’s innermost feelings, the man says to himself: “Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” This is touching – isn’t this something we all wish – after hard labor, after many deceptions and failures: “Sit down, eat, drink and be merry”… In Jesus’ point of view this insight may have come a bit too late for the rich man: the rich man had calculated for too long, he had lived for his numbers and his business and his planning for too long. That is why Jesus has God say: “You fool! You will die this very night”. “Take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” - I say that this insight, this wish, this vision has come too late for the rich man. Wouldn’t it be a good idea just to do NOW what the rich man says: “Take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” We do live with good and bad experiences, we do suffer from failures and losses, we do encounter difficulties in our lives – this is true. But couldn’t we take the time to enjoy our lives – now, during the holidays this should not be too difficult. And during the year we may take some evenings just to enjoy our lives, to relax, to be with others, to leave the problems of our daily lives behind, take a new breath, make a new beginning. Just take time to be human beings. Thus what is said in the letter to the Philippians may become true for us: Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (New American Bible) or, in a different translation: If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (New Living Translation).

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


To pray is to ask God to make us open to his will

Seventeeth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24, 2016

Martha and Mary – we know this bible passage – and it often causes indignation and resentment be-cause of the apparent injustice Martha has to endure. How can Jesus dare to question her work and effort? Martha means it well with Jesus – just as we mean it well with the persons for whom we care, the persons that are entrusted to us. Martha is so occupied with caring for Jesus, that sheIn today's reading from Luke's Gospel (Luke 11: 1-13), the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. You may have remarked that Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer is shorter and more concise than Mat¬thew's version. Is this a problem? What was there real prayer Jesus taught? Well, what is important to grasp is not the words of the prayer, but the attitude of prayer Jesus teaches. So it does not matter which WORDS he actually used or taught. And here I find one of my favorite topics when it comes to prayer: To pray is not to impose our will on God but to ask God to make us open to his will. In other words, we pray not to change God's mind but for God to change ours. You may remember that I quoted Soren Kierkegaard here with his saying: Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays. We do not manip-ulate God when we pray, we open ourselves to what God calls us to. Authentic prayer, as taught by Jesus and contained in the Lord's Prayer, has three elements: - The first: we acknowledge the goodness and love of God: Jesus teaches us to call God "Father." God is not the cos¬mic tyrant out of whom gifts have to be extracted by imploring him, by sacrificing things and animals, by humiliating ourselves. No! God is the loving eternal Parent, Father or Mother, who delights in providing for the needs of the children. - The second element of authentic prayer is: we should ask that we may do God's will: Prayer worthy of God asks for the grace to do the work God calls us to do. This can be to grant for-giveness, to be open for reconciliation, to do justice; in other words to become the people God calls us to become. We are brothers and sisters under our heavenly Father, our heavenly Mother. - The third element of authentic prayer is that we express our hope in the providence of God: The providence of God… a friend will aid a friend, parents will provide for their children. Yes, we come before God knowing that God will hear our prayers and give us all and more than we need. Just like friends, just like parents. Even if it seems as if our prayers are unanswered, we live with the confident faith that God is always present to us. You may remember my homily about prayers of Jesus that had not been answered. And Jesus did not despair. Today's first reading (Genesis 18:20-32) is a humorous and entertaining example of east-ern bargaining at its best. The good and faithful Abraham barters with God to spare the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, God reveals himself to be a God of limitless forgiveness and mercy. And that is the whole point of this story: God needs not to be bartered with – Got has the limitless forgiveness and mercy. In today's brief second reading (Colossians 2: 12-14), Paul also speaks of the forgiveness of God. And Paul speaks of the promise of the resurrection won for us by Christ on the cross. Res-urrection not in the sense that there will be something better after our death, but resurrection in the sense of “life in abundance” – not only in heaven, but already here on earth. We are gathered here on a Sunday, in a church, we are gathered to celebrate together. Some-times one may have the impression that we have managed to confine God and religious "stuff” to a Sunday morning time slot. Sometimes one may have the impression that we have jealously shield-ed the home, work and play di¬mensions of our lives from any intrusion of the spiritual. Yes, as a religion, we have established socially acceptable vehicles and formulas for "acknowledging" God: for example our Sunday Eucharists. Real prayer, however, transcends those boundaries we have set, transcends those formulas we have committed to memory but not necessarily to practice. These formulas are important, our written prayers and rites and documents and doctrine are neces-sary, this is for sure. But prayer is a constant state of awareness of God's presence in every moment, every chal-lenge, every decision of our lives. Find God in all things – as Ignatius of Loyola said. Find God’s traces everywhere in our lives. The Jesus of the Gospel calls us to become men and women of prayer. Men and women of prayer embrace the “spirit and attitude of prayer” that constantly dis-cerns and celebrates God's presence in all things. In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us more than a prayer text - he teaches us the attitude neces-sary for authentic prayer. In many of our prayers we ask God to come around to doing our will; but true prayer is to discover God's will for us. We often approach prayer as if we are trying to wring gifts from an unwilling God; in fact, we come before a God who knows our needs better than we do ourselves. True prayer is to imitate the compassion of Christ with us, with humankind. True prayer raises our hearts and voices in a cry for forgive¬ness, for reconciliation, for healing. A cry for mer-cy for our world. Prayer, as Teresa of Avila taught her sisters, "is the con¬formity of our will to the will of God." And remember what Kierkegaard said: Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Martha and Mary within us

Sixteeth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 17, 2016

Martha and Mary – we know this bible passage – and it often causes indignation and resentment be-cause of the apparent injustice Martha has to endure. How can Jesus dare to question her work and effort? Martha means it well with Jesus – just as we mean it well with the persons for whom we care, the persons that are entrusted to us. Martha is so occupied with caring for Jesus, that she does not even think of asking Jesus if he needs her care. She does not ask if what she does corresponds to what Jesus needs. Do we not also take care of others, plan for others, decide for others, act for others without asking them? It is tempting to think you know what others need. This reduces the other to what we assess him or her. In the center of the action is the one who helps, while the other becomes an object of a “good deed”. The other is degraded to an object. This should not be the case. Before doing something for someone, I must perceive the other person and his or her needs. I must perceive this beyond all expectations I have and beyond all selfish interests I have. True love of neighbor does not impose good deeds on someone – good deeds that might be unsuitable or inappropriate. So if we depend upon the appreciation of our work – then something is wrong. If we do a good deed and we wait for a positive reaction – then something is wrong. Because then the good deed only reflects my own needs, and I do not act in order to help others for themselves. Martha is a good example for this: "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me." For Martha it is absolutely clear: who works a lot is right – and she wants Jesus to confirm this. But Jesus acts differently: He proves the other sister right, Mary who just sits and listens. He says: “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it-- and I won't take it away from her." So Jesus invites us to look at life from a different perspective. Martha and Mary – aren’t they two sides within all of us? Both are necessary, none of them is more important than the other. Mary without Martha – this would be pious circling around ourselves without see-ing the needs of the world around us. Martha without Mary – this would be actionism: you have to prove yourself by working and by doing and by achieving. Here love of neighbor may easily miss its point of put-ting the other in the center. Maybe in most of us, Martha is better developed – the need to do something you can present is very strong. When we try to be silent, try just to sit, just to listen what God wants to say, what our life wants to say, what others want to say then there is this voice saying: “Wouldn’t it be better to do the most urgent things, to carry out more important things, to take care of this and that? Don’t sit around doing nothing!” We are in summer, most of us have holidays – wouldn’t this be a good time to act a bit like Mary, to sit down, to listen, to see the world around us, to get in touch with ourselves, in touch with those we love? To be silent. Maybe we shall encounter resistance within us, we shall encounter an emptiness, an inner restless-ness… Restlessness and resistances are important. They show that there is so much that comes between us and Jesus. They show that the balance between Martha and Mary within us is not in place. Restlessness and resistances show us that we might change our ways, that we might give our lives a different orientation. And I assure you that you may well enjoy some moments of deep inner calmness and peace. In these moments you may experience the deep truth of our story: It is enough to be before God and to let him look at us. We do not need to do anything to deserve God’s love – God’s love is just there – because God loved us into life.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

The human being always comes first

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 10, 2016

I like it when Jesus meets people. In the second part of our Gospel (Luke 9,51-62), Jesus meets three persons – very different persons. Let us have a look at the text: the first one says: “I will follow you wher-ever you go.” This person, a man or a woman, is enthusiastic about Jesus. He or she wanWe all know this story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus invents this story to tell something very profound to his listeners. What is it about? The starting point is the question of the expert in religious law: "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?" The expert gives an answer that we all know: “You must love the Lord your God and you must love your neighbor as yourself.” To us, this is not surprising, but for the colleagues of this expert in the time of Jesus this was extraordinary. Luke makes the man say that there is a link between love of God and love of neighbor. This was not linked for the pious Jews at that time – love of God and love of neighbor were independent from each other. Luke makes the man say “And who is my neighbor?” so as to show the new point of view of Jesus: the human person is in the center; the human person is the place where you meet God because God himself became one of us. Luke wants us no longer to look into the skies, but to look at our world as it is. Luke says: Jesus wants you to find God not only in the temple, in the cult, but to find God in your neighbor, in other human beings. This is where you find your God! Luke illustrates this somewhat idealistic idea by the story of the man who fell among the robbers. This story is a kind of program for a Christian life as it should be. And it is a pure provocation for the listeners of Luke’s gospel. Luke presents three persons – they all show their attitude towards other human beings. They show their attitude towards people in need by their action. Two of them in a way that makes us shiver – they turn away. The message of Jesus is clear: If you are looking for God honestly, if you want to love God, you can never avoid the human person beside you. For Jesus, the love of neighbor is at least as important as the law-abidance the pious Jews proclaimed. Certainly, we know that Jesus does have clear ideas about the relation to God, what we are supposed to do and to avoid. But the human being always comes first. This is the point of the story of the Good Samaritan. The relation to God for a Christian can only succeed via the human person. And this has marked the Christian culture. This is the measure for our message. Our credibility as the Church of Jesus depends upon it. There must not be any prejudices towards the human beings in this world from the side of the Church. There must not be any fear of contact with the human beings of our world. The Church needs to meet people at eye level. The Church often pretends to know the people of our time thoroughly because the Church pretends to have eternal truths about humanity. This is not enough. Humanity develops, our society develops, our knowledge develops – so the Church needs to be in contact with the world in order to get to know it. The message of Jesus needs to have something to do with the people of our time. The liturgy we celebrate needs to have something to do with the life of the people. I am happy that here in All Saints we have a structure that allows so much participation, that allows all of us to get together and celebrate together – here in the church, but also in the community hall. This is what I read in today’s gospel: Jesus puts the human being in the center of our faith. And: We need to open our eyes to the needs of others; they are the privileged way to God for us.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Jesus meets people differently

Thirteeth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 26, 2016

I like it when Jesus meets people. In the second part of our Gospel (Luke 9,51-62), Jesus meets three persons – very different persons. Let us have a look at the text: the first one says: “I will follow you wher-ever you go.” This person, a man or a woman, is enthusiastic about Jesus. He or she wants to give everything to follow Jesus. The second person says: “Let me go first and bury my father”. Jesus ac-tively asks this person, but this person is clinging to everything he or she experiences as normal, as unquestionable. And he or she is prepared to pro-tect this “comfort zone” where nothing should come and disturb, there is no room for surprises. This is the meaning of the word Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their dead” – there is no life without leaving behind things you are used to, there is no life without risking something. And the third person says: “I will follow you, but first let me say fare-well to my family at home”. This is someone who hesitates, who thinks about everything in depth and who wants to keep everything in his or her hand. Three very different persons. Do you recognize yourselves in one of these? The reaction of Jesus is different for everyone of the three, the reac-tion of Jesus is always very personal. Remember the first one – the enthusiast. Jesus brings this person back to reality. Living and wandering with Jesus, proclaim his good news, is not easy, to follow Jesus is not always only happiness. And Jesus is realist enough to make this clear to those who have a wrong idea of what it means to be on Jesus’ side. Now remember the second one – the one who clings to his “comfort zone”, who tries to avoid surprises and hates risks. Here Jesus encourages to take the chance of the moment, to accept the invitation Jesus offers. And the third one – the one who hesitates. Jesus challenges this person directly. “Don’t look back. Go your way with me, now!” Jesus would talk to each of us here in a similar way. Did I say “Jesus WOULD” do this? I should say: “Jesus talks to each of us here in a similar way.” This is my conviction – for Jesus we are partners, we are friends, he talks to us, we have a name and Jesus knows all our names – and he invites us to be his friends. Let us keep some silence and ask ourselves: Who am I in the eyes of Jesus, what would he tell me, what does he tell me now? Can I trust him, do I want to trust him? Am I sure that Jesus is my friend?

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

“All of you are one in Christ Jesus“

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 19, 2016

It is good that we can celebrate together. That we are gathered here after the killings in Orlando, after the assassination of Jo Cox in Great Britain, the murder of two French police agents in Magnanville near Paris. People hate each other, for various reasons: political, racial reasons, because of the sexual orientation of a person, because of their cultural background. In the reading we just heard, St Paul describes the Christians, the friends of Jesus as totally different from these men and women filled with hatred (Gal 3,26-29). So I would like to concentrate on the letter to the Galatians. "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" - liberty, equality, fraternity: this was the motto of the French Revolution in 1789. These terms depend upon each other. The concept of equality is the fruit of the period of En¬lighten-ment, but it has its roots also in the Bible. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks about equality: “There are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus“. Something new had come into being: the common faith and the life in one Christian community was meant to abolish hierarchical orders. Each and every one in this community is wished and created by God. All have the same dignity before God. We Christians are convinced that God is a friend of life and that God wants the happiness of all. All are invited to reach the fulfillment of our lives, to become what and who each and every one is meant to be. We are convinced that all human beings have been drawn nearer to God through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We say we are redeemed: we do not need to seek redemption ourselves, but redemption is offered to us. Paul says: “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.“ This is not something very spiritual, but something very concrete: we form the body of Christ here in our world, and we belong to this body by our baptism. We are linked to Christ, and we are also linked to each other. So within the Christian community we are equal. Does this mean that those who are not within the Church are less equal? What about Jews and the so-called pagans? It is absolutely clear that they also can reach the fulfillment of their lives. And what is true for us Christians is true also for them: they can reach the fulfillment of their lives not out of their own effort, but because God wants it, because God loves all human beings with the same love. And the measure for us all is to be found in Matthew: “What you did to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” This is what Jesus says – independently if the action or the omission is put in a relation to Jesus. In history, the Christian teaching on equality abstained for too long from a political claim. It concentrated on individual admonitions for living together in small communities, in families. Equality before the law was achieved only after centuries of political struggle – often against the Churches. American and French constitutional law from the 18th century led to the formulation of the equality of men and women, and to the inadmissibility of discrimination because of one's sex, one's race, one's origin, one's language, one's faith, one's sexual orientation, one's political views etc. Now these social and political developments influence in their turn the way the Church and the faithful see themselves. The concept of equality is an example how biblical and Christian values migrate into the historical and social evolution. There they grow and mature – and there they are rediscovered one day as originally biblical and Christian. That the official Church is not immediately willing to welcome this concept of equality is a fact, a fact that makes many of us sad. But on the other hand this biblical origin of equality allows the church to address its message not only to Catholics or to Christians, but explicitly to “all men and women of good will“. "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" - liberty, equality, fraternity - let us not forget their biblical meaning and let us implement them wherever we live and work.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Women as evangelisers

June 12th, 2016

It is fortunate that we have four different Gospels, because each Gospel shows us a different Aspect of Jesus. This year we read the Gospel of Luke who was a doctor by profession and thus acquainted with human suffering – very appropriate for the celebration of the year of God’s mercy. He saw in Jesus the visible expression of God’s love for the sick and the suffering, the poor and the sinners. Another characteristic of Luke Gospel is the place and role he gives to women. Both aspects come out in today’s Gospel in which Luke proves himself again a wonderful story-teller. They key persons are a very religious man, a Pharisee, and a woman who has a bad reputation in town. Who proves to be the better person in the end? It is not the Pharisee who invited Jesus only to put him to the test and treated him with contempt. It is the sinful woman. The Pharisee with his rational, legal mind but he does not understand the message of Jesus. The woman experienced Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness and expresses her deep gratitude and love in a very personal way. Luke then add a little footnote in which he mentions a number of other women, among them Mary from Magdala, who also express their love and commitment to Jesus in a very practical way. They act as a kind of logistic team and support him and his disciples materially and financially. How could the community around Jesus for three years moving from village to village without these women keeping them going very discreetly. It is still like that in the Church today. Is it not most of the time the women who prepare the after mass coffee, bring biscuits and clean up the kitchen... But it would be a mistake to think that Luke sees the place of women mainly in the kitchen. He put them at the same level as the men by adding very often after a story about a man a similar story about a woman. When the parents bring the child Jesus to the temple there is the old man Simeon who receives them and makes a prophecy about Jesus and his mother. Luke immediately adds the story of prophetess Hannah who also praises God for the birth of the Messiah and tells everybody else about the event. When Luke tells the story of the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep he adds the parable of a woman who lost a coin and turns the house upside down till she finds it. God in the search for lost humanity is depicted both as man and as woman. Even more dramatic is the role of the women disciples in the Easter story. While the men are totally paralysed after the shock of Good Friday and unable to do anything, the women do what needs to be done. They go to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus. It is they who understand first that Jesus is risen and alive and become messengers of the Good News. They become apostles of the resurrection and it will take the Twelve quite some time to catch up the women apostles. In the first generation of Christians the women were evangelisers, messengers of the Gospel, a ministry that got lost later on. Pope Francis would obviously like to give women a bigger scope and a greater responsibility in the mission of the Church. In his gentle and patient manner he just constituted a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early church. What a blessing it would be for the Church if women could also preach. Already now they do most of work in passing on the message as mothers to their children and often also catechists to the youth. The Pope also gave recent a small, but significant sign how much he appreciates the evangelising work of women. He elevated the liturgical commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene to the level of a feast equal to the feasts of the apostles. Luke will surely be happy with that.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 5, 2016

Though we have four biblical accounts of Paul's conversion, today's Galatians contains the only one actually written by Paul himself. The other three - sometimes contradictory - accounts in Acts were all composed by Luke. Like almost all Scripture, this Galatians passage is triggered by problems. The reason the Apostle recalls the event is because some in the Christian community were questioning his work with Gentiles. They didn't object to his converting non-Jews to the faith of Jesus as long as he first converted them to Judaism, something Paul not only thought unnecessary, but also – as we'll see in a couple of weeks – totally against basic faith in the risen Jesus, who isn't a Jew or a Gentile. What's interesting is that Paul is convinced his call to evangelize Gentiles came as an essential part of his encounter with the risen Jesus years before on the road to Damascus. He isn't downplaying the historical Jesus' Jewishness because, as some of his critics claimed, he'd been a “bad” Jew himself. On the contrary, he's able to boast, “I (once) persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” He's the most unlikely person to hold the opinions he now holds. At one point in his life he could have been regarded as a “super Jew.” “(I) progressed in Judaism,” he writes, “beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions;” the very traditions he's now claiming Gentile Christians don't have to keep. Paul answers his critics' objection that he hasn't received permission from the church's leaders to do what he's doing in two ways. First, he doesn't need their permission. He received his Gentile ministry directly from the risen Jesus. Second, he eventually did check with the Jerusalem leaders, and they had no objections to how he was evangelizing Gentiles. Though we're not certain what exactly happened on the road to Damascus, whatever Paul's encounter with the risen Jesus consisted in, it not only changed his life, it created a whole new life for him. He began to live something he never lived before. His entire value system was turned upside down. No wonder Jesus' followers enjoyed narrating stories of Jesus resuscitating people from the dead. In some sense they were narrating stories which described their own experiences. The gospel resuscitation stories differ from the narrative of Elijah resuscitating the widow of Zarephath's son in our I Kings reading. Probably none of the sacred author's readers identified with the boy the prophet brought back to life. This event was simply proof the word Elijah proclaimed was actually Yahweh's word. But when Jesus resuscitates Lazarus, Jairus' daughter and the widow of Nain's son, the readers, because of their own experiences of coming to life in Jesus, logically zero in on the resuscitated persons. They, like the chosen three, have also been brought back to life. Back in the 70s, when Ray Moody and Elizabeth Kübler Ross studied people who had died and been resuscitated, they discovered that the life these people received was somewhat different from the lives they lived before. For instance, they were more interested in relating to others than they had been before their deaths. Paul certainly demonstrated that dimension in his unexpected relating to Gentiles, a people he seems to have just tolerated before his life-giving encounter with the risen Jesus. But these resuscitated individuals also shared another characteristic: they no longer had any fear of dying. In some sense, they'd already been there and done that. Perhaps some of our fear of dying comes from our lack of dying as other Christ’s right here and now

Fosilonline.com

Roger Vermalen Karban

Become What You Receive, Receive What You Are – The Body of Christ

Corpus Christi , May 29, 2016

In some moments, we will bring bread and wine to the altar. And Jesus Christ will be present when we commemorate his words: “This is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me.” We see bread and wine and we know that this bread, that this wine is different from the rest of our daily food products. We see bread and wine transformed into the presence of Christ – and we re-ceive this bread, this wine – we eat and drink. This is what we call “communion” - a sign, an ex-pression of a relationship between me and Jesus, between us and Jesus. For 2000 years this small piece of bread has been nourishing people. There are those yearning for love, those crying for justice, those dreaming of a world without weapons and without malice, those searching for God, those asking for the meaning of their lives, those looking for a spiritual home in the church of Jesus Christ. To all these men and women and children Jesus says: “I am the bread for your hunger, the bread for your longing and for your questions. With me and together with me you will find life that never ends. Through me you will become yourself bread for others.” Time and again, Jesus shared meals with people, he ate bread with them. By his sharing of the bread, his disciples recognized him after Easter. This sharing of the simple bread with Jesus brought them something they had missed so much: this sharing of bread brought them life, future, hope, courage to persevere, brought them faith in the presence of Jesus. And we continue to share this same meal; we continue to eat this same bread. It is no recompense for the fact that we are so good and that we go to church so often. This bread is given to us for free, because we are appreciated in the eyes of God, because God wants us to satisfy our hunger. We can find this in the letter of Pope Francis “Evangelii Gaudium”, the Joy of the Gospel from the year 2013: The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, the doors of the sacra¬ments should not be closed for simply any reason. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. Frequent¬ly, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its fa¬cilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. This meal, this Eucharist is no ‘recompense for the fact that we are so good and that we go to church so often. This bread is given to us for free, because we are appreciated in the eyes of God, because God wants us to satisfy our hunger. God wants us to satisfy our hunger for life, future, hope, courage and faith with this bread and not with all other kinds of things. We receive this bread so that we live, and we are invited to hand it over, to share it so that others may live. To us all Jesus says: “Take and eat”. Jesus says this to all of us, to the whole humankind, he excludes no one; everyone should be able to eat enough, to satisfy his or her hunger. Then what St Augustine says becomes true: “Become what you receive, receive what you are – the body of Christ” The All Saints community is part of this body of Christ – we are invited to share the bread we receive so that others may live. “Become what you receive, receive what you are – the body of Christ”

Evangelii Gaudium 47 The Joy of the Gospel 2013

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

“Keep it relational!”

The Most Holy Trinity, May 22, 2016

At the end of their formation, Jesuits do what we call ”tertianship”, usually nine or ten months abroad. It is a kind of “third year” of the novitiate, that’s where the name comes from: tertianship, third year. I did mine in Australia – and the Jesuit father who accompanied my group had one sentence that did remain with me: “Keep it relational”. Whatever you do, whatever you think, keep it relational, relational to yourself, to others, to God.
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. God is Trinity. God is relational. And we are like God: we are all connected as a community of faith, hope and love, we want to be a community of justice and peace, a community that hopes to be one family, a community that brings rich and poor together. The Spirit of God is part of that community.
Let us have a look at the three readings we just heard:
The Book of Wisdom includes two themes which I really like: The first is: the Spirit of God was present in creation from the very beginning: The Wisdom of God cries out aloud (chapter 8): “22 From the beginning, I was with the Lord. I was there before he began 23 to create the earth. At the very first, the Lord gave life to me. 30 I was right beside the Lord, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day, and I was happy at his side. 31 I was pleased with his world and pleased with its people. “ The sacred and secular are connected. There is no separate space only for the sacred. In other words, God is found to be intimately connected to the world. We can find God in creation and we hear God’s call to respect creation. Ignatius of Loyola said: “Find God in all things”.
The second theme is: God takes “special delight in the human race”, God is pleased with the human race (Prov 8,31) or in other words, every human person has a special dignity and goodness. The wisdom of God says: “I was at play everywhere in his world, delighting to be with the sons and daughters of men.”
The Letter to the Romans reminds us that this presence and action of the God in our world is a source of hope. The world is fundamentally good, we read: “1 By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. 2 Christ has also introduced us to God's undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. “ (Rom 5,1)
The gospel according to John reminds us not to forget that it is the very Spirit of God that will guide us through all the complexity of our life. The Spirit that is with us is the same spirit that creates, redeems and sanctifies. The Spirit is present in the challenges of our human life. John writes (chapter 16): “13 The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn't speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen.“

From all of this, it follows that as friends of Jesus
- We are concerned with the issues of the world and everyday life.
- We are concerned with justice and peace and we have hope in the midst of all the challenges and problems of the world.
- We are concerned about any political and economic power that excludes the poor.
- We are concerned about the protection of the environment.
- We are concerned about those philosophies and attitudes that see people simply as consumers.
- We are concerned about domestic violence, the violence in the Holy Land, the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, any violations of human rights, and all forms of violence.
- We are concerned about any spirituality that disconnects us from the concerns of the world.

Our concerns are as big as the world. God is Trinity. God is relational. So are we.
With the Creator, we respect the creation.
With our Redeemer, we work together to heal divisions and promote a more just, a more humane world.
With the Spirit, we are committed to the way of peace and nonviolence in order to change our world.
This is our faith in the Trinity – and don’t forget: “Keep it relational!”

https://educationforjustice.org/resources/lectionary-reflections-trinity-sunday-c-may-26-2013

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

GOD’S SPIRIT TRANSFORMING CHAOS INTO A NEW CREATION

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 15th, 2016

“In the opening verses of the bible we read: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the earth and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1:2) The Hebrew word “Tohuwabohu” (formless and empty) could also be translated as “chaos and desolation”. So the world started in a state of chaos and desolation. But then something surprising is said: in that original chaos the Spirit of God is already present and creates out of chaos in a long and of painful process the cosmos, our universe governed by laws and finely tuned forces, and strikes our senses by its harmonious order and breath-taking beauty. Scientists call this process evolution; the bible sees in it God’s Spirit at work. Three chapter further on another Spirit appears on the scene, a Spirit of destruction, a spirit whose whole aims is to undo the order and harmony of God’s creation and turn it back to chaos and confusion. The bible calls that Spirit Satan in Greek “diabolos”, the one who tears things apart. This “diabolos” is remarkably successful. In a series of symbolic stories the bible describes how that evil spirit manages to pull away the human race from its creator (Gen 3) which has disastrous consequences. Violence enters family relationships (Cain and Abel, Gen 4); the harmony between man and nature is disrupted (the Flood, Gen 7); finally, the whole of human family end up in confusion (the tower of Babel, Gen 11). These are not stories of what actually happened in the past, but symbolic descriptions of the state the world is in. But the story of humanity does not end in chaos. God’s never gives up and begins a new creation in the person of Jesus. The Spirit who raises him out of the total chaos of death into new life is poured out on Pentecost on all who believe in him. Pentecost is beginning of a new creation, the birth of a new people, the Church. Pentecost tells us: Be sure that God’s Spirit is already present in any chaos, in the chaos of our own lives, in the chaos of today’s world, when familiar order of things seems to be breaking up everywhere, in the sometimes chaotic developments that are transforming the Church. There is no darkness so dark that will not be penetrated by God’s light. There is no situation so confused that it will not eventually be cleared up by God’s Spirit. God’s creative Spirit will always prove strongest than the powers of death and destruction. The first creation took billions of years to be where it is today. The new creation, too, is a slow process and it is already work in our own hearts. If we open our hearts to the Spirit, the light of the Spirit will gradually lead us into the fullness of truth and the Spirit of love transform our hearts and through us renew the face of the earth. Let us trust in the creative power of the Spirit!

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

It is imperative that we pray in order to change ourselves

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8th, 2016

“Do you suppose that Stephen cared much who was collecting coats when he was murdered? Or when he lat-er found out that the story of his death in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 7,5-60) would also provide the intro-duction to the now-famous St. Paul? We know the full story—now. But Stephen could not have known, and perhaps could not have cared less. Stephen, like all of us, is caught in only a single moment of time. Stephen could not have known that the coat-check man at his murder was soon to become famous. Single moments of time have a way of doing that; single moments often hide as much as they reveal. But every human being is caught in the present—even our brother Jesus; he is human, just like us in all things save sin. And there is a sobering revelation in his story from today's gospel too (John 17,20-26). Jesus prayed for unity– and we really do not see that his prayer was being answered. The next time we are tempted to despair when we think our prayers are not being answered, let us think of Jesus in today's gospel. Jesus faces the same fate as we do — because of time. This section of John's gospel is known as the "High Priestly Prayer." It is perhaps the bluntest and most emotional petition Jesus addresses to his Father. Some might say this prayer is all he really ever asked for him-self: that his followers might be one, that they might be a single communion, that they might be a loving com-munity. Jesus prayed that they might become open and unafraid of differences; that they might not just tolerate a rich tapestry of diversity, but that they embrace fearlessly the entire spectrum of the rainbow. In short Jesus prayed that they might be an honest reflection of reality: all are God's children. I repeat: Jesus prayed that we might become open and unafraid of differences; that we might not just tolerate a rich tapestry of diversity, but that we embrace fearlessly the entire spectrum of the rainbow. In short Jesus prayed that we might be an honest reflection of reality: all are God's children. Jesus prays so earnestly, so solemnly, and all we have 2000 years later is this: this fractured Church, this tormented world! And you think that your prayers don't get answered! Stephen, the first martyr for the sake of Jesus, his first witness has to wait in time like us all. And so does Jesus: he has to wait in time like us all. Clearly the prayer of Jesus has not yet been answered. And it is now our challenge as his living body to make it true. But only time will tell! I am reminded of one of the wise sayings attributed to the great Athenian statesman and general, Pericles (5th century before Christ): "Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time. " Because we never really know, do we? Let this day's liturgy be a reminder that prayer does not solve all problems. It has not done so for centuries. Prayer alone will not make us a more accepting and open church; prayer alone will not reconfigure an Archdio-cese like Berlin; prayer alone will not stop the destruction and inhumanity of war. It never has; it probably nev-er will! So why bother? If prayer does not change God's mind, change God's plans, change God's reign, what's the point? Maybe you remember me preaching already about prayer, I had quoted Søren Kierkegaard then (1813-1855). Søren Kierkegaard said best what I just tried to say: "Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays." It is imperative that we pray in order to change ourselves. God's eyes and limbs are now ours. And countless people, like Stephen, continue to be murdered — literally and figuratively — while too many of us collect coats and hats at the door – like Paul in our Acts of the Apostles passage. Time has not yet disclosed which of us might be the next St. Paul. But our church and our world still wait, in time — they wait for us. Yes, my appeal would be at the end of this sermon: Pray hard for unity and peace. And then: “Just do it!”, go ahead. Everything finally does now depend on us—even the outcome of Jesus' own prayer. So, let our final prayer be like the prayer at the end of the Book of Revelation. For what else could we pos-sibly want? Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Be with us—in us—again. Today and Always, in this time and in all time. Amen!

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

How do we know what the Holy Spirit wants us to do, and why is it important that we know?

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1st, 2016

The answer to the last question is given in today's gospel pericope. It's clear from our Christian Scriptures that the historical Jesus was deeply concerned his ministry be carried on after his death and resurrection. The earliest account of the Lord's Supper in I Corinthians 11 leaves no doubt about the issue, especially when it comes to sharing Jesus' cup. But Jesus' ministry only comes alive when it's lived and carried out in the real world. It's not just an abstract ideal somewhere up in the sky. If it's not embedded in our everyday lives, it's not Jesus' ministry. That's the problem: how do we know what Jesus practically wants us to do in our everyday lives? He certainly didn't give his followers a step by step journal outlining what he expected. He simply gave them the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit which would not only “remind” us of the things he told his original disciples, but would also “teach” us. From what Jesus says two chapters later, the teaching entails things the historical Jesus never got around to sharing with his followers. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” If carrying on the risen Jesus' ministry consisted only in repeating what the historical Jesus said and did, we wouldn't need the Holy Spirit. According to Luke in today's Acts passage, the early Christian community discovered this very quickly. As we heard last weekend, the church in Antioch began to convert Gentiles to the faith without first converting them to Judaism. Though they were at peace in doing this, “some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers and sisters, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.'” It seems the Holy Spirit was telling Christians in Jerusalem something different from what he/she was telling Christians in Antioch. What's a Christian to do? The historical Jesus never dealt with that issue. A huge part of chapter 15 has been omitted from our liturgical selection, but the essentials are still there: the concerned parties call a meeting of the “whole church.” No one person makes such an important decision. The group's final statement, eventually sent to Antioch, begins, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us . . . .” This isn't the first time in Acts that the Holy Spirit is equated with the Christian community. In chapter 5's Ananias and Sapphira pericope – a passage which, for obvious reasons, is never proclaimed during a Eucharist – we find the same belief. “Why,” Peter demands to know, “did Ananias lie to the Holy Spirit?” Obviously the condemned man lied only to the Jerusalem Christian community. Yet Luke equates that group of people with the Holy Spirit. Our Christian sacred authors not only put their bets on the Holy Spirit to keep us in touch with the things Jesus wishes to us do, they also presume the best place to surface that Spirit is to surface what the Body of Christ is thinking. If we, along with the author of Revelation, really believe the “Lord God almighty” is present among us, we must also admit all of us are more than just passive individuals in a huge church. No wonder Pope Francis, as an essential part of his reforms, constantly insists the institutional church set up structures whereby the hierarchy can consult with everyone in the community. Nice to have a pope who knows his Acts of the Apostles.

cf: www.fosilonline.com

The message individuals like Paul transmit always comes from a certain specific community

Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016

“Do you remember all the names of the Christian communities we just heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apos-tles (Acts 14:21-27)? The message Paul and the others in his group transmit always comes from a certain specific community. Many of us have yet to recognize the importance of these local communities in the early church. Certain-ly, there are individuals who stand out. But the local communities which helped form and sustain those individuals often fade into the background, are almost forgotten. That is why today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is so significant. There is no way to ignore the com-munity which gave birth to the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas. Wherever Paul and Barnabas went, they always introduced themselves as representatives of the church at Antioch. That community, the church at Antioch, sent them out and paid their bills. And it was to that community that Paul and Barnabas eventually returned. The news they brought back to Antioch seems to have pleased everyone. In the last sentence of our reading we hear that through their evangelization “God ...had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” We know from other chapters in the Acts of the Apostles that the Antioch community was one of the first Christian churches to take the step of baptizing non-Jews. And this was an ultra-liberal step – unexpected, controver-sial, not unanimous. We know that this progressive Antioch community prompted Barnabas to travel to Tarsus and to encourage the newly-converted Saul to return with him to Antioch. Saul was a “Hellenist” Jew, that means he had grown up in a non-Jewish culture, he spoke Greek and he knew how to relate to Gentiles, to non-Jews. Saul was per-fect for carrying on a ministry among the non -Jews. Of course not every Christian community agreed with the practice in Antioch to baptize Gentiles, non -Jews, without first converting them to Judaism. We shall see this in later passages of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul would have to fight that battle literally until the day he died. The early church certainly had more variety “community to community” than we have today. Certainly each community dedicated itself to carrying out Jesus’ gospel command to “have love for one another.” But each community devel-oped and showed that love in different ways. It is like with couples: each couple must create its own path, its own way of loving one another. Love demands they do so. That is also the reason why no two Christian communities are exactly alike. Because each community exists in order to show love to one another, each will do that in a different way. That’s also why we have four gospels. Since each gospel springs from a different community, it is impossible to have just one single gospel. The author of Revelation often speaks about “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1-5a). If God is really dwelling among us and helping us show love to those around us, we shall always be new and creative. I insisted on the importance of different communities, they enrich each other – and I insist on unity in diversity. Today almost every diocese is closing and combining parishes. The Berlin diocese has the process “Wo Glaube Raum gewinnt”, “New spaces for our faith”. And there we have a real challenge. Church by church, we are getting rid of each parish’s unique theology, the special way in which its members have loved one another. This process is disturbing. But it might be one way the risen Jesus proposes us. We need to re-flect on how our own community demonstrates that it is one of a kind love, caring for one another. A love that shows that we are Christians (the last words of today’s gospel, John 13,35), “and they’ll know that we are Christians by our love”, as the song says (Missalette N° 587).

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Finding my place in God’s plan

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016

“What do I want to do with my life?” This is a question young people are faced with at the end of their time at school. It is a hard question to answer because nobody can really know what our world will look like 20 years from now. Professional councillors may test you to find out what you are good at and you may have some expectations and hopes to help you in your choice of a profession. But is this good enough to know what your true vocation is? To discover my vocation means to find out what God has created me for. What is His intention for my life? Every person is unique and has not only a biological DNA, but also a spiritual DNA, a unique way to relate to God, to people, to the world around them. Nobody can ever replace you as a person. Searching for my vocation means to look for my true identity, for my place in God’s plan. How can I find my vocation? There is no single way to go about it. For some, it may come as an instant insight in a split second like for Paul on the road to Damascus. For most it is a long search and a gradual discovery. Some questions may help us on the road to self-discovery. “What is the deepest desire of my heart?” is such a question. This desire refers not simply to my wishes like the wishes children write to Father Christmas or the answers people give in opinion polls like having good health, a happy family, a well-paid job… These are external circumstances of life that may be favourable or not. They are not your vocation. St. Francis of Assisi, for example, lived a deeply fulfilled life although he broke with his family, was in poor health and chose a life of poverty. But he lived in harmony with God, with everybody around him and with God’s creation. The realisation of a vocation often starts with a sense of dissatisfaction. You may have been successful in life and yet there remains this nagging sense of being unfulfilled. Is this really all there is to life? Am I going to live like this for the next 50 years? You feel a deep desire for something more, which you often can’t even put into words. Many find their vocation when they allow themselves to be personally confronted with some grave injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. could no longer stomach the revolting discrimination suffered by coloured people in his country. He had to do something about it. His namesake Martin Luther could no longer accept some scandalous abuses in the Church. He knew it was a call from God to invest his life in the reform of the Church (even if that went wrong at one point.) Many find their vocation when they are profoundly touched by the person of Jesus or by his word. St. Francis Xavier heard one day the word: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but loose his soul.” It changed his life and he became one of the greatest missionaries. The people who listened to Jesus said: “Nobody has ever spoken like this man.” A word all of sudden reveals to me what my true desire and my vocation is. To find our vocation we need moments of silence, of reflection on our experiences, of prayer

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

We most notice the presence of Jesus in the most common parts of our working lives

Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016

All biblical scholars are convinced that John's gospel once ended in chapter 20. Today's passage is from chapter 21: an addition to his original gospel. There are certainly reasons for the fact that someone tacked one more chapter onto the first 20. Again, most of these biblical scholars defend the idea that today's story of Jesus' appearing to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias comes from one of the oldest early Christian traditions. They say that this story of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus predates those found in Matthew and Luke, and predate even those in the preceding chapter 20.

John, the evangelist, connects this story in chapter 21 to the preceding on by words like "again" and "third time". If you remove these words from today’s gospel, it appears that the friends of Jesus returned to Galilee after their disastrous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They returned there because they didn’t know anything about his resurrection, the friends of Jesus sat around for some time. They recalled their time with Jesus and constantly brought up their disappointment that things hadn't turned out the way they had planned. Eventually Peter makes the difficult decision to go back to work. As we know, Peter and most of Jesus' disciples fished for a living.

Joined by six other followers of Jesus, "they went off and got into the boat" – says the gospel. Soon they are completely absorbed in their work – and they are frustrated by their lack of success. This is when they notice Jesus; he is "standing on the shore" says our text. They are unable to be certain it is really Jesus; they have problems recognizing him. John, the evangelist, may tell us that the friends of Jesus are experiencing the "new creation" of the risen Jesus, not the old historical Jesus they had known as their friend. John makes certain that his readers don't miss this point – Jesus is a new creation. Then, John has Jesus invite the startled fisherman to share a meal with him. Share a meal – this is the place and action in which those same readers 2000 years ago most frequently experienced the risen Jesus.

Let us imagine the friends of Jesus – they had lost a dear friend, a master, a teacher. They mourn, and in the beginning of this phase to "go back to work" does not seem appropriate. In the beginning of the mourning, we may feel that by returning to what we did while that special person was alive, we are saying something like: "See, even without you I can still do what I used to do when we were together. You weren't as important to me as you thought. You're dead."

This is the first phase, it may paralyze us, but then the next phase must come. We finally must go back to work. Only if we go back to work, we can experience that our deceased loved one is present in our everyday life in a new and meaningful way. The deceased person in present in our everyday life in a new and meaningful way… John, the evangelist was a good psychologist it seems. John was convinced that it is in the most common parts of our working lives that we most notice the presence of Jesus.

You remember the reading from the book of revelation we just heard? There, the author of this book is granted visions of angels surrounding Jesus on his heavenly throne. The author of this book hears all creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea sing the praises of Jesus. Yet, for most of us, that is never going to happen. Neither will we ever have an opportunity, like the apostles in today's passage of the Acts of the Apostles, to dramatically proclaim the message and person of Jesus in the face of great opposition.

Most of us will simply spend our lives of faith doing those ordinary things all people are expected to do. Yet, because we - like Peter - deeply love Jesus, we will constantly be aware of those little and big "calls" which Jesus - time and again - extends to all his friends.

To summarize what I tried to say: You need to admit that your loved one is really dead. Then you return to your daily work. And then you will actually experience that person alive in a new way in everything you do. “Experience this person alive in everything you do” - even if that person happens to be Jesus of Nazareth.                  cf: www.fosilonline.com - Roger Vermalen Karban

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Peace instead of fear

Second Sunday of Easter, April 3, 2016

The Gospel of last Sunday brought us back to a stage when the disciples have not yet come to the full realisation that Jesus, whom they saw crucified, dead and buried, is now alive, that he is risen. We see them huddled together in a room with the doors firmly locked “ for fear of the Jews”. At any moment they dread to be arrested as accomplices of the dangerous subversive who had been executed on Golgotha the previous Friday. And then, all of a sudden, the Jesus they presumed dead is standing among them. “Peace be with you!” he says. It can be taken as a blessing or as a statement of a fact – “With my presence among you there comes deep inner peace.” The same peace that comes when Jesus calms the surrounding storms in the gospel stories. And there is also for them an unutterable joy “when they saw the Lord”. But it is not just to be a happy reunion. There is work to be done, the work that Jesus began and which they are to continue. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” They are being given a mission. The word ‘mission’ comes from the Latin word ‘to send’ (mittere, missio). All followers of Jesus have a mission, are missionaries. He breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In John’s Gospel this is the Pentecost experience when the Holy Spirit comes down on the disciples. What Jesus does is reminiscent of the Creation story when God “breathed” over the waters and brought life and order into the chaos. He “breathed” again and Adam, the human being made into the image of God, comes into existence. Now, Jesus “breathes” the Spirit of his Way, of his Truth and Life, making of them “new human beings”, full of the Spirit of the Father and Jesus. The very empowering authority of Jesus is transferred to them: “Whose sins you shall forgive… whose sins you shall retain…” When they act together in the name of Jesus, they have his authority. And, above all, their task is to “forgive sin”, that is, to bring about a deep reconciliation between people and God and among people themselves, to make all one in Him. “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.” We are not just talking here about “confession”, instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, although its roots can be traced to here. Forgiving sin is much more than a juridical act of declaring sins no longer held against someone. It involves the healing of wounds and division between God and people and between people as brothers and sisters in one family based on truth, love and justice. That is the work of the Kingdom. That is the work of every Christian community and every member in it. Commentary from Living Faith on www.sacredspace.ie

Mary Magdalene turns around and experiences Easter

Easter Sunday the resurrection of the Lord, March 27, 2016

Do you think the people in Brussels celebrate the resurrection as they have done last year? For them the loss of their loved ones must be similar to what the friends of Jesus must have felt when he was taken away from them, killed on a cross by foreign soldiers. Mary Magdalene was one of those who suffered from the loss of Jesus. I would like to invite you to accompany Mary Magdalene in her loneliness. Easter morning: Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb – alone. She should not be alone – not on a day like this. Not now in this moment of pain, of grief and mourning. Try to imagine what feelings Mary has – she recalls past events, disappointments, and she recalls hopes that are gone, that are buried in this tomb in front of her. She is alone, left alone, abandoned. For her everything is night and dark and cold – even if this morning near Jerusalem might be sunny and warm: for her it is night and dark and cold. Disappointments, buried hopes, abandon… Or maybe her head is simply empty – she does not really perceive anything. Until the moment when she sees that the stone of the tomb has been taken away – the tomb where she and friends had buried the body of Jesus some days ago. The tomb stone had been taken away: the very stone that marks the border between the dead ones and the living ones, between death and life – taken away. The very stone that is marking the end of life – taken away. The very stone that puts a heavy burden on so many hearts – taken away. Mary remains outside of the tomb, she only looks into the empty tomb. “Where have they put the dead body of Jesus?” She looks around, she turns around. Was there a noise in her back? She sees the gardener and recognizes Jesus. I would like to insist upon this fact that Mary Magdalene “turns around”. She does something, she is active. Easter is when I turn around. If I do not turn around and if I only see the tomb and if I only see death, then the risen Lord, then life can never meet me, then I can never meet life. Mary Magdalene turns around and faces life. Death has no more power over her heart, over her thoughts. She is free. She changes the direction of her sight, of her thoughts. Nothing is the same for her. Because she turns around she can see things new, she can see new life. This is Easter – turn away our eyes from the tomb stone, from the empty tomb, turn around so that we meet the living Jesus, so that we meet life, new life. There is no use in scrutinizing the stone – the stone will never tell us about life. But if I turn around, then there is no stone, then there is Jesus waiting for me with his new life, with new life for me. We had wanted to accompany Mary Magdalene, she shouldn’t be alone – but in fact it is Mary Magdalene who took us with her. It is her who brought us to the garden with the tomb and the gardener. It is her who showed us that in turning around we can meet life. Meet life in Jesus who has overcome death. We can meet Jesus who has made our fears and guilt and resignation disappear. In him we meet a new creation. And Mary Magdalene was to bring this message to the disciples – the male disciples who did not know much, who did not understand much – certainly less than Mary Magdalene. She was to bring this message of life made new to the disciples, to us. We shared some moments with Mary Magdalene and with her feelings. They may tell us more about Easter than many words. I hope and pray that the people in Brussels who lost their loved ones dare to turn round to see the new life that is coming, the new life that consoles and comforts them. This feast of Easter tells us and all those mourning that what happened to Jesus will happen to us too. We too will rise one day with him and experience new life, life we receive, life we transmit, life we are thankful for. Easter is not only concerned with recalling the resurrection of Jesus or its impact on the first disciples, but Easter is also concerned with the meaning of this event for our own lives and for our faith. The crucifixion 2000 years ago was a historical event; the resurrection is a faith event; a faith event that takes place in our lives – today and at every moment of our lives. We are invited to receive this life giving gift from God and to transmit it to our world as a message of hope. (John 20:1-9)

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

A striking absence

The 5th Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2016

St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended that when reading or meditating on a biblical text we should imagine that we are there right on the spot watching what is happening. So let’s put ourselves into the scene we have heard in the Gospel. What do we see? On one side the group of Pharisees and scribes shouting for blood, on the other Jesus with his apostles, in the middle the woman caught in the act of adultery. Does anything strike you? In this public court all are men. The attorneys, the accusers, are men. All the witnesses are men. The judges would be men if they had not dragged the woman before Jesus, also a man, but a different man. Suppose they were all women - it would be very different. They would have immediately noticed that there is someone missing: the man who sinned with her. The second offender got away with it simply because he was a man. Looking at this picture I cannot help noticing the similarities with today’s world. In so many cultures women still have little or no rights. They cannot inherit, cannot do anything without the permission of their husbands and their witness counts less than that of men. In our western societies there has been enormous progress in giving women the same rights and opportunities as men. Yet, in Germany, women still earn on average 22% less than men for the same work. That in our country, proud to be governed by the rule of law, an estimated 10.000 to 30.000 trafficked women are forced into prostitution … this cries to high heaven. So we, too, still have a long way to go. In the Church for centuries women were absent in the sanctuary and in any leadership positions. We are happy to see girls as altar servants and women readers. In our community about half of those who carry responsibilities are women. But we, too, have an even longer way to go. If there is one place where women play a vital role it is the family. Yet, at the synod on the family last year there were only 30 women among the 315 participants. So there is room for improvement. The issue is not so much the thorny question of women ordination, but rather the question what role the laity and particularly women play in the decision-making processes in the Church. Let us return to the scene of the Gospel. Apart from the striking absence of women, we notice quickly that this public court was set up not to do justice, but as a trap to catch Jesus in a dilemma. If he said: “Stone the woman!” he would contradict his message of God’s mercy and lose credibility. If he said: “Don’t!” he could be accused of going against the Law of Moses, which for Israel was a kind of constitution. Jesus tears the whole setup of injustice and hypocrisy to pieces and reveals the truth with one single sentence: “Let those among you without any sin throw the first stone.” There is nobody. Maybe what he wrote in the sand helped to convince them that Jesus knew the shameful secrets of their lives. The delicate way in which Jesus exposed the sins of the accusers is also striking. The Pharisees had put the woman “in full view” of the crowd. Not so Jesus. He does not humiliate or condemn anyone, neither the accusers nor the woman. Just a gentle: “Do not sin anyone.” Start a new life! If we understand the gentleness, the delicacy, the love Jesus display towards sinners, why are we so afraid or ashamed to approach him with our own burden of failures and sins?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

The parable of the Prodigal Son

The 4th Sunday of Lent, March 6, 2016

The parable of the Prodigal Son is only found in Luke 15. It belongs to the three parables that Jesus used to answer the grumblings of Pharisees and the religious leaders that he was associating with sinners and collectors.(Lk.15:12) The first of this triad of parables is the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and the second is parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). These two parables are quite short and similar to one another. They could be seen as an introduction to the third parable-“the parable of the prodigal son”. The structure of these parables revolves around three common elements: something is lost, it is sought and found. The end of it is that the seeker and his friends rejoice and celebrate. This act of rejoicing and celebrating is compared to the joy in heaven over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:7, 10). The central message here is that: a lost sinner who lives a very sinful life can and will be accepted by God through repentance. There is no limit to God’s mercy. His mercy endures forever and triumphs over sin at the end. In the structure of this story of the prodigal son we could see how depraved the prodigal son is. He asked his father for his inheritance early, essentially implying that he wishes his father was dead (Lk. 15:12). Such a request would dishonor the father, and would sever the son from the family, as well as from the community at large. Sin is simply a separation. This is why he took his share and left to a far country. He separated himself from his father, his family and community. One commentator describing this in modern terms says “one might say that he was essentially kicking his father out of the driver’s seat and taking control of the wheel.” He was acting on his own will, in rebellion against the moral and spiritual leadership of his father. At the end he realizes the foolishness of his decisions and the gravity of the sin against his father and Heaven (v. 17). He decided to returns to his father to confess his sin and repent. He humbled himself enough to be his father’s servant (v. 19). The level of transformation that he had undergone is shown in his change of words. At the beginning he said to his father “Father…give me” (v.12). When he came back he said to his father “Father… make me”. (v. 17). This is a sign of total submission to the will of his father, who has the best plan for his children. His father was filled with joy at the return of his son and started to celebrate. This joy and celebration were resented by the older son who refused to rejoice and celebrate with his father at the return of his brother. This could be compared to the resentment of the Pharisees, who resent Jesus’ rejoicing over the lost/sinners who come to Him. Reexamining the attitude of the Self-Righteous Brother In examining the attitude of the self-righteous brother it is important to closely look at the relationship between the two brothers. Notice the words, “this son of yours” (v. 30). The older brother did not see himself in relationship with the younger, but saw them both in the terms of his perception of their relationship to the father in these words “this son of yours” This makes one ponder the question, “Which brother is really lost?” This is typical of the Pharisees who explicitly claim that they are “not like” sinners. (cf. Luke 18:9-14) This alienation from “sinners” was frequently a point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees. This older brother in the parable may be compared to those who imagine themselves to be close to God because of their external conformity to the law yet neither loves his follow man nor values the love of the father for his fellow man. Such people are not only far from God, but are also far from others. The prodigal son represents, alternatively, a person lost in sin, and a person receiving grace through repentance. The father represents God, giving his son the freedom to choose to sin, but seeking his return and welcoming him as a son when repentance is demonstrated. Let us at this period of lent continue to seek a living and dynamic relationship with God through repentance and to our fellow man through concrete works of mercy and reconciliation.

Fr. Sylvester Ajunwa, Ph.D.

 

 

To look at the world does not change the world, but it changes the one who looks at the world

Third Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2016, Year C

I would like to reread the bible passages we just heard. When you look at the first reading (Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15), you are confronted with one of the most important texts of the Bible: God is THE ONE WHO IS, YAHWE…, who is present for his people, who cares for his people. One aspect of this text is important for me: I do not believe that the bush was set on fire just the moment when Moses got close. I believe that the bush had been set on fire a long time before – the bush was always burning. My point is: no one, except Moses, had ever looked carefully enough at the bush to actually see its fire. I do not want to discuss if it was a kind of illusion: when you look to the bush, the sun might have produced this illusion. This is not important. Important for me is that Moses sees something others did not see. To say the least, Moses was different from others around him, he looked at the world differently In the gospel (Luke 13:1-9), the historical Jesus also expected his followers to be different. That is why he constantly calls upon them to "repent." That is what he does in today’s gospel: “Repent!” The Greek word metanoia (μετάνοια) repent - means more than just "I'm sorry I did it; I'll never do it again." In the Bible, in the New Testament, it refers to a 180-degree change in one's value system: What I once thought im-portant, I now see as insignificant. What I once judged unimportant, I've now put at the center of my life. Jesus, the carpenter for Galilee, demanded that the first step in imitating him was to adopt his value system: to see people and things as he saw them. Among all the evangelists, Luke seems to have regarded repentance as a gradual process. That seems to be why he made a huge part of his gospel a journey narrative. Just as his Jesus constantly is on the road to Jerusalem, where he dies and rises, so the followers, the friends of Jesus, are on their own roads to Jerusalem. Jerusalem as that place and time in their lives where they likewise die and rise with Jesus, where they like-wise become new men and women with new perceptions of the world around them. No doubt Luke enjoyed telling the story of the patient gardener. Like that unbearing fig tree, a lot of the original readers of Luke also needed to be cultivated and fertilized so they would experience a metanoia in the future. Luke is the one evangelist who constantly stresses and underlines God's mercy. “God’s mercy”: is it an accident that his gospel is one proclaimed during this "Year of Mercy?” Unlike most religious teachers, Jesus wasn't overly concerned with just providing people with new information to store in their brains. His goal was to change the way his disciples, his friends saw the world. His goal was to change the brains of his disciples so that they were able to interpret the information already before their eyes – like Moses: he saw something that was always there. But he was the first to see the bush burning. And Jesus wanted to prepare his friends for what things would come: they should be able to anal-yses their world, to see the world as Jesus would have seen it. I still like the sentence Ignatius of Loyola once coined, he invites us to “see the world through the eyes of God.” And you need a certain training to see the world around you, to distinguish between what is important and what is not so important. Paul treats that problem in our I Corinthians (I Cor 10:1-6, 10-12) passage: Nothing was more significant in the history of Judaism than the Exodus from Egypt. Yet as Paul notes, the majority of those who experienced that unique act of salvation never seemed to have appreciated its significance. The people of Israel had not appreciated, had not seen the importance of the Exodus, they had not seen that their God had intervened in their favor. Just as some of Paul’s readers don't seem to be appreciating the significant things and people in their lives. "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" – this is what Paul writes. Acquiring the value system of Jesus is a lifelong process. We never reach a point and time when our repentance no longer needs to evolve. Moses only encountered Yahweh because only Moses had the proper frame of mind which enabled him to come face to face with the God of his ancestors. Of course, this particular frame of mind of Moses had consequences: Moses, having seen the burning bush, having been so near to his God, received some heavy responsibilities. I would say that the value system of Moses was changed by this encounter. And when one's value system changes, one's responsibilities also change: looking on the world around us with this new value system, we begin to see needs and opportunities most people around us ignore. We simply look at people and situations with new eyes. Maybe, more and more, with “the eyes of God”. Perhaps that “responsibility thing”, that challenge to change our way of living, is the reason some of us walk by a lot of bushes in the course of our lives. Because we know that we would have to change our lives, we prefer to never notice the fire burning in the middle of the bushes along our ways. One last thought: Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, has a famous sentence: “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays” or “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Couldn’t we say the same about our way of seeing the world: “To look at the world does not change the world, but it changes the one who looks at the world”. So I invite you to open your eyes, your ears to see the world, to listen to the world, to see the burning bushes along your way, and to let yourself be changed by what you see. Cf. Roger Vermalen Karban on http://www.fosilonline.com

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Peaks of light – Valleys of Darkness

Second Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2016, Year C

Life is not a straight line. We all experience ups and downs, times of tranquillity and moments of doubt and darkness, peaks of light and valleys of doubt and darkness. This is true also for the life of Jesus, as he was fully human “in all things but sin”, as the letter to the Hebrews says. The Gospels mention three spiritual “peak” moments when Jesus experienced very strongly the presence and intimate closeness of His Father, His “Abba”. The first occurred at the age of twelve, for a Jewish kid the turning point from childhood and being counted as an adult. During his first pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, he was so deeply touched by God that he wanted to stay in the house of his Father and forgot all about his parents. Even today the time of transition from childhood to adulthood is often marked not only by deep questioning and crisis but also by profound insights and experiences of the divine. The second moment was Jesus’ baptism. He “saw the heaven opened” i.e. he communicated directly with God and “the Spirit came to rest on him” to empower him for his mission. The transfiguration on mount Tabor is the third time Jesus is drawn so closely to God that even his body is transformed and he experiences a foretaste of the resurrection. What is common to all three moments of enlightenment is that they do not last. Jesus comes down from the mountain and enters a time of testing, a spiritual crisis. After the baptism he is “lead by the Spirit” into the desert, the place of hardship and the territory of evil spirits. At a moment of hunger, weakness and exhaustion the devil tries to pull Jesus away from his true mission. He lures him with the same kind of temptations that are also at work in our own times and often make us silence the voice of our conscience and abandon our values: the possibility of a life of leisure and pleasure, the insidious desire to seek popularity and fame and give in to peer pressure, and the abuse of power which makes instrumentalise other people for our own interests instead of serving them. Jesus resists and Satan “left him to return at the appointed time” which is the time of his suffering and death. But before he enters his last temptation the Father gives Jesus on mount Tabor this extraordinary moment of tasting something of the glory that awaits him. In the strength of this experience Jesus hangs on to trust God’s word even when all abandon him and even his “Abba” seems absent. During Lent we could take some time to recall the peak moments of our life when we had an experience of God’s presence, of his peace, of his light. This gives the strength to stand firm when doubt and darkness seem to overwhelm us. What happens in the life of Jesus and in our personal lives is also a pattern of the history of humankind. There are times of peace, prosperity and progress and there are times when the order of the world is shaken. After two world wars with some 100 million dead we had the extraordinary privilege to live through 70 years of relative peace, at least in the Western world. Now our world seems to slide into a period of uncertainty and conflict. Jesus’ experience and maybe also our own assure us that God is always at work and eventually turns evil into good.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Temptations are unavoidable, but: “Be faithful to the Gospel”

First Sunday of Lent, February 14, 2016, Year C

The Gospel Reading today is the familiar story of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Let’s situate this story in the life and ministry of Jesus. Having been baptized in the Jordan River, and joined by public sin-ners in a very public place, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested! Notice it was ‘the Spirit’ which impelled Jesus to go into the desert. In doing so, Jesus was identifying with the people of Israel, he was identifying with his people: they too had been led into the desert by the flame of the Angel of the Lord, and they remained in the desert for a long time after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt; the people of Israel, too, were tested, and within that testing time, they were invited into the Covenant between God and the people of Israel on Mt Sinai. That great event of salvation had left a permanent mark upon the corporate mind of God’s people, upon the mind of the people of Israel. Jesus is as well being tested as he is being empowered by the Spirit. The spirit enabled him to refute the devil’s temptations. And Jesus did this in favor of a life orientation of unconditional loving service. These temptations were not just applicable to Jesus, they are the temptations that have always harassed humanity… Here they are: The pursuit of accumulating material things, the pursuit of power, and the pursuit of avoiding responsibility. These temptations were knocked back by Jesus, but they came back to haunt Him many times during His life time, in various shapes and sizes. The same happens to us, doesn’t it? Jesus was nurtured by that special relationship with the Lord God, his Father, during the time of testing. Let’s not forget that Jesus was like us in all things, but sin! Let us recall the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. 1.“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.” Jesus replied: “Man does not live on bread alone.” This 1st Temptation is to only satisfy our hunger with the help of material things – but there is a different hunger, an inner hunger we cannot satisfy with the help of material things. The risk here is greed – we want more and more. But we still remain hungry if we exclude everything we cannot see, we cannot buy, we cannot control, we cannot consume. 2. “I will give you all this power and the glory of these Kingdoms… worship me, and it shall be yours.” Jesus replied: “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.” This 2nd Temptation is: power as a life focus – power is neutral, yes, it can be used for good and for bad things. But if you look for power for the sake of power because it attracts you, it makes you important, it gives you prestige, then you are a slave of power. Power can be used for the service of others – this is the service God expects from us: “ You must wor-ship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.” 3. “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down for here, for Scripture says, He will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you, and again: They will hold you up on their hands in case your hurt your foot against a stone.” Jesus replied:” You must not put the Lord your God to the test”. This is the 3rd Temptation: avoiding responsibility as a life focus – “Risk your life! You have the chance to become famous! For this you can risk your life!” ”You must not put the Lord your God to the test” - if you need to risk your life, then risk it for a good purpose, risk it while helping others. So we have the three temptations: the pursuit of accumulating material things, the pursuit of power, and the pursuit of avoiding responsibility. Jesus rejected all these temptations in favor of a life orientation of unconditional service and love. Jesus truly identifies himself with all humanity, with each and every one of us. The desert experience was a time of assessment: it is a fact of life that good will always be tested by evil. There is not a saint in Heaven, or a truly great person on earth who has not, or does not attract some vicious slander, or find their paths strewn with ob-stacles. Jesus joins that group in today’s Gospel – Jesus joins us in this Gospel. As we enter into the spirit of Lent, let us check out the direction and quality of our lives. How do we deal with temptation? Do we make room for God’s Spirit, to bring to the surface in ourselves, the holiness that lies deep within? Some days ago we celebrated ash Wednesday – and there we heard a Lenten reminder of our fragility. May this Lenten reminder stay close to us: “Remember, you are but dust, and unto dust you shall return; turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel”.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 


 

Get up and try again!

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 7, 2016

The scripture presents us with three prominent characters: Isaiah, Paul and Peter. The three were confronted with the grandeur, the goodness and holiness of God. They felt humbled and became keenly aware of their unworthiness. When one comes closer to God one suddenly sees with new clarity the depth of one’s sins, just as we can see stains on an apparently clear window when the sun’s bright rays hit it. But the good news is that God’s mercy is always greater than our sins. Not only does He forgive our sins, he restores us to a state of holiness.
The gospel reading describes an interesting story of Peter and his friends who were fishermen. They went to the Lake of Gennesaret to fish. They worked hard the whole night without catching one single fish. I can imagine the frustration, the disappointment and the resignation in their eyes. At daybreak, Jesus came to the lake and borrowed one of their boats to preach to the people. After preaching, he asked Peter “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch (Duc in altum!)” (Lk. 5:6). And Peter replied to him, “Lord we have toiled the whole night but could not catch anything but at your command, at your word I will cast out the nets once again.” He did and caught a great number of fish so that their nets were tearing. What a miracle!
Our lives are always full of success stories and failures. We always desire to succeed in all things. Unfortunately, we don’t always succeed in all we do. We are often confronted with the painful reality of failures. The first enemy we have to face after failures is our ego. As soon as things start going wrong, our defense mechanisms kick in, tempting us to do what we can to save face. For example, we may adopt any one of several attitudes like denial, chasing our losses or hedonic editing. Denial refers to the difficulty of admitting that we have made mistakes and trying to put it right. Chasing our losses denotes an unwillingness to draw a line under a decision or action we regret, leading us to cause more damage. Hedonic editing, in turn, describes our efforts to convince ourselves that the mistake doesn’t matter – we try bundling our losses with our gains or finding some way to interpret our failures as successes.
In many cases, too many people turn to resignation and frustration. That was the case of Peter. Jesus arrives at this point of resignation. His word is: don’t give up, get up and try again – Duc in altum, lower the nets again in deep water. If you are at the point of resignation or frustration today because of failed dreams, failed projects, disappointments in your work place, your family and friends, or relationships after you may have invested so much time and energy, Jesus says to you today: Stand up; don’t give up, lower the nets again for a catch! Don’t try to predict whether your next attempt will actually sink or swim. Just cast the nets into wider and deeper water, at the command of the Lord. You always can begin anew. Always view the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm and look forward to the future with faith and confidence in God.

Fr. Sylvester Ajunwa, Ph.D.

 

 

Good habits – reading the Bible

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 24, 2016, Year C

The Gospel says that Jesus “went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath”. That means every Sabbath, like a faithful Jew, He would go to their village synagogue to attend the Sabbath ‘Gottesdienst’ (services). Jesus must have been reading the Scriptures regularly because he was familiar with it. As the Gospel tells us, He himself unrolled the scroll and knew where to look for the passage he wanted to read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. That text was His vision for his mission. His life was based on this text, it was the purpose of His life that regulated everything he did and said. That text was his destiny.
Do you also have a verse or lines in the Bible that you know by heart? Verses which you love to hear and read and repeat? A text you love so much that you know where to find it in the Bible, which book, which chapter and verse? A text that gives meaning and direction to your life, consoles you when you are in difficulties, makes you strong when facing challenges and gives you confidence and peace in your life?
When Jesus was tempted three times in the desert, He contradicted every temptation by a text from the Scriptures. If Jesus needed that, how much more do we need it - we, his disciples. We need the Bible, the Word of God, for our everyday life.
Do you read the Bible every day? “I am too busy”, you might say. But look how you spend your day: there is always a part of your day which you spend on something that you do habitually: watching television, checking Facebook, browsing in the internet, playing computer games, chatting on your cell phone. How often do you do this in a day? Are these the habits that make you “busy”?
Change your habits! If you want to have a better year than last year, change your habits. Good habits create good character and a good character creates a wonderful destiny. Your character is the sum total of your habits.
We are living in a world of modern technology and fast changes. TV, the internet, smartphones and all sorts of electronic gadgets have introduced new habits into our lives, and more often than not, they are not good habits. Can you turn off your TV, set aside your smartphone, so you can sit together, eat and pray together as a family? Can you postpone answering a text while you are talking with your family? Can you delay opening your computer or TV, so you can first greet your family when you arrive home and have more time to spend with them? Modern technology is designed to be our slave, but, instead, we have become enslaved to it. The media says we are consumers – but in reality, we have been consumed.
Let us develop the habit of regularly reading the Bible. Make it your daily habit this year to read a few lines of the Bible. It does not matter if it is only two or three minutes a day, as long as you do it habitually, regularly, automatically, without having to think and decide. If you are a family, make it a family habit. The children may not totally understand it, but if they see you doing it habitually, they will learn to like it. You will discover so many benefits as soon as you get into the habit of reading the Bible – more than you can think of or imagine – because good habits create good character and a good character creates a wonderful destiny. For you, it will be your eternal destiny.

Fr Jun de Ocampo

 

Will you stick with the water or go for the wine?

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 17, 2016, Year C

The way St. John writes his Gospel is different from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the so-called synoptics. All Gospels present us with several miracles of Jesus, but only John calls the miracles “signs”. For him all extraordinary acts of Jesus are simply signs of another greater reality God wants to give us.
For example, Jesus feeds the five thousand people in the desert who are excited because they had a good meal free of charge. Immediately, John points out that this bread is only a sign of another “bread from heaven” that Jesus wants to give us: the gift of his body and blood – the gift of his whole self. Or take the miracle of Jesus curing a blind man in the temple. All of a sudden the man can see Jesus for the first time as well as the world around him. Later, they meet again and Jesus asks him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man? ...You have seen him now!” The man begins to see him with eyes of faith, as the Messiah.
Similarly, Jesus changes water into wine, enough wine to get the whole party drunk. He changes something ordinary into an extraordinarily precious wine. In the end John explains: “Jesus manifested his glory and his disciples began to believe in Him.” The signs say who God is and what God wants to do with us and for us, namely to change our poor human reality into something new, something greater, something divine. Whenever God touches us and begins to change us into his children, it is like drinking a really good wine. It fills overwhelming joy without the morning-after headache.
Jesus performed this first sign in the context of a marriage feast. He wants to change life and marriage from a purely human relationship into a sign and an experience of God’s faithful love for us, or, as St. Paul writes, of Christ’s love for the church. Paul talks of marriage as a profound mystery which “refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32).
This may seem to us a lot of pious talk with little relevance to the strains and stresses of family life today of which the bishops talked during the recent synod on the family. We have only to think of the refugees, many of whom live among us far away from their families, or of the couples who see each other only on weekends because of today’s working conditions. And yet, when married people give each other the promise to love and honor each other in good and bad times, they promise something only God can do: to love unconditionally.
But yet, this is precisely what humans most desire: unconditional love not because of looks, health, wealth or success, but for their own sake, for who they are. True love always entails an element of eternity as millions of love songs in every culture testify. Who will trust a partner who promises love till the end of the year? Unconditional love is also what every child wants and needs: a stable family and loving, reliable relationships. And when a relationship meant for life breaks for whatever reason, it involves a lot of pain and hurt for children and parents.
A commitment to another person always involves a risk, a risk we can take when we put our trust in a faithful God. But if we do not have the courage to take the risk of a definite commitment, we stay at the level of the changing waters of human love and miss out on the wine of God’s unconditional faithful love. Do we want to stick with the water or dare we go for the wine?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

What does it take to understand the uniqueness of God’s call in our lives?

The Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2016, Year C

Annunciations are common in the Bible: Gabriel announces to Mary that she will give birth to Jesus, the son of God. An angel announces to her husband Joseph who the child is. Then later we have the annunciation during the transfiguration: “this is my beloved son”. And when John baptized Jesus, there was a voice announcing who Jesus was. Biblical annunciations are literary devices, we do not have to take them literally. They are created by the authors to emphasize the meaning of the events. These stories help us understand the beliefs and theologies of our biblical writers.
Without annunciations we can assume that biblical personalities lived lives similar to ours. They would often ask why God placed them in particular situations. To make sense of a life, it usually takes a whole life. What is true for us, is also true for Jesus. It would seem that the historical Jesus originally conceived of himself simply as a disciple of John the Baptist. Yet John was arrested and became a martyr, so Jesus could no longer be John’s disciple. He took over John’s ministry, and became greater than his mentor.
The bible says that no one around Jesus and John would have realized the superiority of Jesus to John when the baptism took place. The view that Jesus was greater than John only came much later: John was “only” the messenger, the precursor announcing Jesus. This superiority of Jesus to John was eventually solidified by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luke obviously inserted late first-century theology into a passage which speaks about events that took place 40 or 50 years before he wrote his gospel.
The passage from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) is a classic example: Isaiah begins to understand the uniqueness of his call only around the end of his ministry. Though he is certain that he is a prophet, it takes him a lifetime to realize how different he is from other prophets. He does not attack his contemporaries like most of his prophetic predecessors. Eventually he understands that even non-Jews will benefit from his ministry. It took a long time for Isaiah to discover the uniqueness of his call to be a prophet.
Is it possible that it also took time for the historical Jesus to discover his own uniqueness? I am convinced that this is the case! As we only “gradually” discover who we are, so did Jesus. Strange things happen when we begin to understand annunciations as literary devices. If we do so, we might actually be able to identify ourselves with certain individuals we had never dared to do before. If we see annunciations as a literary device, we might identify even with Jesus of Nazareth. Then a voice tells us: “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased”.

cf: www.fosilonline.com (Roger Vermalen Karban)

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

   

 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

   
     
         
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