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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

 

We often meet God in human encounters

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015, Year C

In the gospel, we find two women, overwhelmed with joy, sharing their happiness. Mary and Elisabeth, both pregnant under unusual circumstances, were uncertain about the future of their children and families. Both were probably misunderstood by them but Mary and Elisabeth found comfort in understanding each other and understood that God was working in their lives. They knew that they were blessed in a very special way. – With whom could they share this faith experience? It is not easy to find someone with whom one can share one’s faith. Often, people who are closest to us – such as our partners, parents, children, good friends - have no antenna for faith experiences so it is difficult to speak to them about it. We all experience encounters where we can discuss anything, but very rarely our faith. We need someone who listens and understands and is ready to take care of this experience and often entrusts us with his or her own experiences.
The Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et spes (Joy and hope), says: „The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find echo in their hearts.” The pastoral constitution gave directions and directives for the Church service in today’s world. Vatican II took place 50 years ago. Did we put into practice what the council wanted to initiate? Are we, “followers of Christ”, open to the faith experiences of our fellow human beings? Do we offer spaces where one can speak about these experiences without being ridiculed? One thing is clear: when people share their lives, speak about their most intimate experiences, God is present. In a congregation where we share joy and hope, grief and anguish we can encounter God.
The reason why we address this issue at Christmas is that Christmas has become an ambiguous feast. On one hand, it is commercialized: the feelings, motives, mood and spirit of Christmas are exploited. On the other hand, this feast appeals to so many people: it expresses our longing for encounters, security and coziness that we are not able to offer each other. Christmas can fulfill this longing if we return to its original meaning and allow for closeness between people and look for and offer genuine encounters. This is what we can learn from Mary and Elisabeth: they share their joy and thank and praise God for everything they received from Him. Sharing our joy, thanking God and praising God for everything we have received – this is what we are invited to do. In this way we may receive the biggest and best Christmas present – one we cannot buy at any Christmas market: our thankfulness and joy about a God who is present in our world, in our lives, and keeps granting us his blessings.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

WHAT DO YOU SEEK: ONLY FUN OR REAL JOY?

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015, Year C

GAUDETE -the old Latin name “rejoice” given for the third Sunday of Advent- indicates the theme of today’s reading: Joy. “Rejoice, daughter of Zion”, sings prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul tells us: “I want you to be happy! For the Lord is near.” God wants us to be happy and full of joy. But are we really happy? Just look at the faces in the U-Bahn on a Monday morning. How many people start the week with a smile?
Why do we experience so little joy? Maybe one reason is that we confuse two things: fun and joy. There are two major differences: Fun is momentary; joy is lasting. You had a fun party, but how do you feel the morning after? Gamblers feel a great kick when the slot machine pours a heap of coins into their lap but then they lose it all and go home with a sad heart. Joy is a gift of the Spirit: even when life gets rough, when you are disappointed or get sick, deep down in your heart there remains a sense of serenity and joy. It is like the ocean. The waves of our emotions may go up or down, but the waters below remain undisturbed.
Joy comes from within; fun depends on things and people around us. If I am successful or receive recognition from others I get excited. But the moment someone criticises me, I get depressed. Joy is a state of mind in which I experience myself, the people around me, indeed the whole of creation as a constant personal gift from God. Sometimes fun people just put up a façade. You see a well-known artist dance and sing in ecstasy before thousands of fans and a few weeks later you read that he or she tried to commit suicide. Behind the outer mask of fun and excitement there was a heart without the joy of life.
The society in which we live does not help us discover the source of real joy. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements telling us: buy our product and you will be happy. We buy it, we may even be excited about it for a moment, but in the end the heart remains empty. We enter a vicious circle: short-lived excitement followed by a sense of emptiness, which we desperately try to fill with more things. “Desolation, sadness and anguish come from a complacent and covetous heart and the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasure”, Pope Francis tells.
In his encyclical Laudato Si he also gives us hints as to how we can recapture a sense of real joy. He advises us to learn to marvel at the wonders of creation and to be attentive to the small things of daily life as when we were children. It recommends that we be fully present to the person with us now and accept each moment as a precious gift from God. We could start by saying grace before meals and so become aware that our daily bread is God’s gift.
Will Christmas be a joyful feast for you? It won’t depend on the amount of presents or Christmas cards received or on a wonderful Christmas meal. Joy will dawn when you share simple things with others and take time to reflect on how good God has been to you all along.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

How we deal with others shows our participation in building the kingdom of Christ

Christ the King, November 22, 2015, Year B

When Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judaea, the Jewish officials brought a prisoner to him that he should condemn him to death. The prisoner had obviously been mistreated: his clothes were torn, his beard was untidy and traces of bruises on his face. Pilate looked at him and said: “They tell me you claim to be a king. Are you a king?” “Yes” – answered the prisoner, “you are right, I am a king.” It is Jesus who answers – but when Jesus says he is a king, he doesn’t speak in the political sense, about a king who governs a state with the help of an army. Jesus died to exorcize forever the temptation of reducing his gospel to one or the other political force of society. When Jesus says he is a king, he means a king in the mythical sense.
Today, we are marked by democracy and hardly understand what a king means. “This king” is the embodiment of a free, sovereign human being, master of his life. “This king” is wise and guarantees order for his people. He is the savior who restores peace and takes care of his people’s welfare. In this sense, Jesus is a king BUT he can also Jesus establish a kingdom where humans find protection, peace and salvation. Jesus can establish a kingdom where truth, justice and love reign, where the dignity of everyone is respected, where the king defends this dignity, and people find protection from mankind’s greatest enemy: destruction by death. We all desire that this kingdom prevails.
To recognize Jesus as a king means that we can refuse obedience to everything else that claims power over us: state, money, church. This “Christ the king” lived among us, so “we are his chosen people, we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, we are all priests and kings” (1 Petr 2:9). We can become like him: “God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29).
Today, we celebrate Christ the King and we are invited to feel what it means to have royal dignity, to be independent, true, free and sovereign, safe and self-confident – like a king or a queen. Someone who is free and sovereign can also be free for others, devote himself to and serve others. Someone who is really great and important, does not lose his greatness or importance by making himself small and humble. Someone who is not really a king or a queen needs to prove his or her greatness by judging others and making them look small. How we deal with others, shows how royal we are, shows our freedom and how we contribute to building Christ’s kingdom.
This kingdom is not something in the afterlife – it begins here and now. We are the founders of this kingdom. We serve a king who does not force us to do something we don’t want to, who makes himself small and humble and depend upon our willingness to collaborate. We serve a king who can do this because he has real dignity and greatness. So we are invited to become like him, become kings and queens like him.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

 

The Lord said: “I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction”
(Jer 29.11)

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 15, 2015, Year B

Our readings are rather apocalyptic – destruction, violence, the end of the days. The dictionary says: apocalyptic is “describing or expecting a time when very bad things will happen or the world will be destroyed.” What happened in Paris the day before yesterday gives us hint of how one must feel when this apocalyptic scenario arrives. Let us look at our texts and see if we can see what happened in Paris in their light. The bible is a book that consists of many books, it is more like a library. These books belong to different genres and employ different styles of writing to convey their message. The literary genre of today's first reading from Daniel and the third reading from Mark is apocalyptic, originating during a period of persecution and pain. The message of the writer of the book of Daniel is clear: just as Yahweh delivered the Chosen People back then, four centuries earlier, so Yahweh will take care of them now, even if that care might not be evident until those people step into eternity. It's significant that this passage contains the earliest biblical reference to heaven: "Some shall live forever ...". Mark's apocalyptic passage (Mark 13:24-32) seems to have been triggered by a general fear that persecutions soon to come for the followers of Jesus. Mark employs the commonly accepted idea of the end of the world to make clear that, no matter what, Jesus will be present, guiding and protecting "his chosen" from the distress others will experience. The friends and followers of Jesus should stop worrying about the unknown, painful future, the friends and followers of Jesus should put their trust and confidence in Jesus.
The apocalypse in Paris was brought about by humans, not by nature. So we may want to reflect on that human behavior, which seems to be contributing to a time “unsurpassed in distress.” We may want to:
- think about uncontrolled violence unfolding in various parts of our world – the day before yesterday in Paris, and also elsewhere: suicide bombings, the use of torture, political oppression, etc.
- pray about the “end of time,” reflect on the destruction caused by war / preparations for war.
- reflect on the apocalyptic implications of the many examples of human behavior gone wrong.
The readings today also point to hope in the midst of the problems we face. “Those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (is what we read in Daniel) and: “My words will not pass away” (is what we read in Mark). And the author of the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:11-14, 18) tells us: no matter what the future holds, the most important thing has already been taken care of. "Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God .... By one offering he has forever perfected those who are being sanctified." Think of what God has already done for us, and think of what we are expected to do because of what God has already done for us.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Our concern for the poor

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 8, 2015, Year B

This year, we remember the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vatican II Council which profoundly changed the Church’s life and liturgy. As it drew to a close in 1965, 40 bishops met at night in the Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome. In that holy place, they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitment as bishops to the ideals of the Council known as the Pact of the Catacombs. They pledged: “We will try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in terms of housing, food, means of transport... We will renounce the appearance and the substance of wealth forever... We will not possess any properties or other goods in our own names, nor will we have bank accounts or the like...” Later, some 500 fellow-bishops also signed the pledge.
This vision of a poor Church for the poor gave birth to the “theology of liberation” and the “option for the poor” made by the Church in Latin America during the continental bishops conference in Medellin in 1968. This has inspired Pope Francis to live in a simple hotel room, to shun luxurious limousines and to appeal constantly to all Christians “to hear the cry of the poor”.
The “Pact of the Catacombs” is a reflection of God’s deep concern for the poor expressed throughout the Bible and becomes concrete in Jesus’ life. In the Old Testament, there are three groups of people mentioned who had no rights and needed protection and compassion in a patriarchal society: strangers (refugees), widows and orphans. In the first reading, the prophet Elijah does not go to a rich man’s palace when famine struck the country but to a poor widow and helped her survive. In the Gospel, Jesus watches pilgrims coming with offerings to the temple’s gate. He is not impressed by the offerings of the wealthy who give from their surplus; his attention is on a poor widow who puts in her two small coins. For Jesus, it is worth more than all other gifts because “she gave all she had to live on.”
How can we live God’s option for the poor today? Who are the poor among us who need our attention, our care, our compassion? One obvious group are the refugees whose sheer numbers overwhelm us and yet appeal to our generosity. It is wonderful to see how many people have responded to that appeal. It is also great that our youths are preparing an initiative to help a group of refugee children especially during Christmas time. If we have the mind of Christ, we will be sensitive to the needs of people around us and always find ways to console and encourage them and care for their material and spiritual needs according to our possibilities.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

 

Communities are essential for the life the risen Jesus expects us to live

All Saints, November 1, 2015, Year B

To understand our gospels, we must consider that they were written two to three generations after Jesus’ historical ministry. Contrary to popular belief, they are not eyewitness notes. The four evangelists and the communities they addressed had the advantage of living and reflecting on the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst for 30 to 60 years. So when “Jesus’ gospel” encourages his followers to do something, they already had been doing it for some time. This particularly applies to Matthew’s passage about the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12a), which is actually a reflection on what the gospel community had experienced during this time. Jesus’ message was to reverse our value system which means to “repent”. When someone obeyed this command, he or she began to experience God or the risen Jesus working effectively amidst their daily lives. Also, he or she began to experience reality from a completely different perspective: what once brought sadness, now brings joy; what once brought death, now brings life. Poverty no longer brings only pain.
This new way of seeing the world makes us aware of God’s presence in everyone we meet and in everything we do. The only way to live a fulfilled, satisfied life is to hunger and thirst for those unique relationships with others which is wished by God. But why would anyone start down such a difficult road? 1 John 3:1-3 provides a motivation: we all want to eventually “be like God” and look at people and things through God’s eyes. We long to go beyond the limits this world imposes on us.
Revelation (Rev 7) reminds us that we are not “lone rangers”: we are not expected to develop this new lifestyle by ourselves. Many before us and around us have the same “seal of the living God on their foreheads.“ In our quest to experience God, we’re joined by a “great multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue which no one can count.“ This is why communities are essential elements of the life the risen Jesus expects us to live. The fact that the beatitudes are found in two gospels proves that they became part of the community experiences of second and third generation Christians. The communities of Matthew and Luke could reflect on the things they all had experienced in common when they wanted to be Jesus’ friends: they followed the dying Jesus and the risen Jesus. Those experiences united them at the deepest levels. Perhaps our problem is that we still look for these “things” to take place in the future instead of trying to experience and reflect on them right here and now.
cf. http://www.fosilonline.com/index.php?pagekey=roger

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Profile of a disciple

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 25, 2015, Year B

When Jesus asked Zebedee’s sons, James and John "What do you want me to do for you?,“ they demand a “seat of glory” next to Jesus. Jesus, however, strikes this request down. In the gospel passage (Mk 10:46-52) Jesus asks the same question to Bartimaeus, the beggar, but his answer is different; unlike the ambitious brothers, the blind beggar is a perfect disciple and "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus" when Jesus ‘called’ him.
Biblical "calls" are always special. Bartimaeus, not only comes instantly to Jesus, he also discards his cloak, probably his only possession. Nothing stops him from immediately answering Jesus' call. Bartimaeus' request is classic: "Master, I want to see!“ In contrast to the two brothers, Jesus doesn't tell him that his request is stupid. Our Christian prayer should always revolve around a sincere request to see. The ability to see what the risen Jesus is seeing makes us Christ’s friends and imitators. "Go your way," Jesus assures him, "your faith has saved you.“ It is not Jesus who "saves" Bartimaeus, it is his own faith. Faith that we share with Jesus removes our blindness. "Immediately, he received his sight and followed him on the way.“ The Greek word for disciple simply means a "go behind", someone who follows another. That's exactly what Bartimaeus does. True disciples always walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews (Hebr 5:1-6) reminds us how Jesus is related to God. Jesus took no "honor on himself.“ He did only what God called him to do and responded generously even though, like us, was "beset by weakness." Jeremiah (Jer 31:7-9) promises that Yahweh will one day bring the people of Israel home from their Assyrian Exile and clearly states why the Chosen People should follow such a God: "I, Yahwe, am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born."
People who follow Jesus in the Christian Scriptures or Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures follow someone who loves them. No biblical author wants us to suffer for suffering's sake. The Jesus in Mark’s gospel has something special which cannot be found in the other two texts – mainly because this faith in Jesus demands our participation. If we do not see individuals and situations with different, loving eyes, we are not really following Jesus. Our Christian faith never was intended to be a spectator’s sport.

Cf: http://evangelist.org/main.asp?ArticleID=21706&SectionID=3&SubSectionID=28

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Domination or service?

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 18, 2015, Year B

After elections the top politicians of the winning parties begin to jostle for the tops jobs. Who is becoming minister of what portfolio? The same kind of game we notice among the apostles in today’s gospel. They are with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem and expect that he will declare himself openly as the Messiah and put in place his “kingdom”. Of course, he will need people to run his government, and James and John want to make sure they become prime minister. The other ten apostles get very annoyed with these backroom manipulations because they have the same ambition.
One can admire the patience of Jesus with these childish power plays which simply demonstrate that his closest collaborators after three years of training have understood nothing of his teaching. Jesus with infinite patience explains to them once again very gently that their way of thinking is purely pagan, or one might say purely human. God’s ways are different. Jesus has identified himself with the “suffering servant” in the prophet Isaiah who “gives his live for the many.” He has come to serve and those who want to live with him must renounce their ambitions of domination and learn to become servants of each other.
What is my ambition in life? To dominate, to be on top of the rest, to control others... or to serve my fellow human beings with the gifts I have received from God?
Whenever people have an obsession of power they tend to create disaster and untold suffering. Dictators like Assad in Syria or more recently, the President of Burundi, ruin their country and push millions of people into misery simply because they cannot let go of their position of power. You could compile an endless list of rulers who have destroyed themselves and their country by clinging to power. There are a few examples of rulers who understood their position as being a service to their people. One of them was Saint Hedwig, the patron of our archdiocese of Berlin, who as queen of Silesia spent much of her time helping the poor.
Even in the Church we are not immune against ambitions of power. Pope Francis frequently warns bishops and priests against the temptation of clericalism and reminds them that their vocation is to be servants of God’s people at the table of the Word and the Eucharist.
Domination or service? That is also the crucial question which determines the quality of all human relationships. Friendship and marriage break when one partner tries to dominate the other. It is also the key issue for our All Saints community. The more people offer their various gifts and charisms in voluntary service for the different needs of the community the more it becomes alive and attractive.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

Jesus wanted to take his followers beyond the bare minimum of just getting into heaven

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 11, 2015, Year B

“Jesus of Nazareth came to earth to get us into heaven.” Many of us would probably subscribe to that. But if we believe this, we have to deal with today's gospel passage (Mark 10:17-30). In it, a man asks Jesus a simple question: "What do I have to do to get into heaven?" Jesus responds just as simply: "Keep the commandments." Then the man answers, "All these I have observed from my youth." Now Jesus could simply have said: "Don't worry! You're going to go to heaven." Jesus seems to presume that good Jews were already getting into heaven without his help because they kept the commandments. But it's clear that Jesus wanted to take his followers beyond this bare minimum of just getting into heaven. The ministry of Jesus did not revolve around getting people into heaven so much as helping people experience the "kingdom of God" long before their physical death. Jesus wanted to make them aware of God working effectively in their everyday lives, which is the one experience the young man in the gospel lacks.
Jesus’ goal is to help his followers focus on people and things they had barely noticed before Jesus came into their lives. But the young man in our gospel passage simply can't make people more important than his wealth – he is not open and not ready for a “change of his thinking”. So he walks away – “sad”. Jesus then uses the example of the camel and of the needle. We know that “camel” is not a correct translation, it should read “a strong thread” or something similar. But the image is clear – it is difficult to pass through the eye of the needle. Then the disciples to ask him: "Then who can be saved?" When they speak of “being saved”, they are not referring to getting into heaven. No, the disciples are referring to being saved right here and now by entering God's present kingdom. Thankfully, Jesus assures them that God can make the impossible possible. God can help anyone to change and focus on the things and people important to God. Or as Ignatius of Loyola said: “See the world through the eyes of God”.
The author of the book of Wisdom is certainly on the same path as Jesus (Wisdom 7:7-11). By "wisdom" this author means an ability to find patterns in the way God works in the world – or, with the words of Ignatius: “Discover God in all things”. Nothing, not wealth, health, or good looks, should stop the readers of the book of Wisdom from engaging in such a quest. "All good things together came to me in the company of wisdom, and countless riches at her hands" is the last verse of our passage. Poverty with wisdom is much more rewarding than wealth without wisdom.
But nothing sums up Jesus' teaching better than today's passage from the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12-13). The historical Jesus based his whole ministry on God's word. Jesus exercised no earthly power or authority. He simply delivered God's word. People either accepted or rejected it. Yet the word of God is "... living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." No matter how you grab hold of the word of God, it cuts you - for better or for worse. If we want to experience God working in our everyday life, Jesus tells us where to focus. But this focus he proposes could demand a complete change in our life's orientation. It is obvious that people who follow Jesus in this way will never be the majority of a community. And it is also obvious that there will be phases when someone is nearer to this ideal and phases when they are farther from it. And yet, everyone wants to get into heaven. But only a few are willing to pay the price of beginning heaven, of beginning the kingdom of God here on earth before they actually enter the so-called “pearly gates of heaven”.
cf http://www.fosilonline.com/pdf/roger/2012/karban_20121014_20121021.pdf

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 


Reflections

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 20, 2015, Year B

We heard in the reading Mark 9: Jesus announces again his suffering and death, as well as his resurrection. Much of this was both written down and certainly understood later on.
In contrast to the suffering of Jesus, who freely accepts his fate, the argument between the disciples is about the greatness and leadership amongst them.
In the third paragraph, Jesus places a child in the middle of the group of disciples. “Whoever welcome one such child in my name, welcomes me.” Many of us will think of the little Kurdish boy on the beach who drowned on his way to Europe. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Cardinal Marx of Munich has spoken eloquently about this: Christianity means looking after the weak. If we refuse refugees because we do not want Muslims or if we say we are Christians yet refuse them for that reason, things are very much amiss…and something is terribly wrong.
Christs announces his suffering, death and resurrection. *Pope John Paul II might have commented: look at the suffering in the world, see Christ as the one who suffered with us and for us, experience the Love of the Father, and join the Church in living with Christ. JP2 gave life to the Church, brought enthusiasm, instituted world youth days and made young people proud to be Catholics once again. He gathered many around him (around Christ) in the Church. *Pope Benedict is more academic, he might have commented on the person of Christ, his redeeming suffering and would point out how reasonable Christianity is to be understood and studied. *Pope Francis does not talk so much about Jesus or catechism. He acts like Jesus! He puts poor people, children and migrants in the center of attention.
Another approach – Christ says: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Europeans (like John Paul and Benedict) will stress the truth. Africans and Latin Americans will talk about life (like this Pope does). Asians however like the image of the Way, where we are all pilgrims – more a process than a collection of truths.
So Pope Francis talks less about Jesus, but he is acting more like Jesus. I think this is a great gift for our time and an invitation to do the same: give our attention our hearts and minds to people in need. This is what the Gospel asks.
The Christian message: it is not in vain – even when you fail in helping the poor, like Jesus failed on the Cross or feel alone, we have a Father in heaven who saves US. That is why we pray OUR Father because, as Church, we are in this together.

Jan Stuyt SJ, Brussels

 

Facing suffering in life

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 13, 2015, Year B

Jesus “set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem”, as Luke puts it in his Gospel, knowing full well the fate that was awaiting him there, namely suffering and death; knowing that he was the „suffering servant of Yahweh“ of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke in the first reading. When Peter tried to stop him, Jesus rebuked him almost violently. Jesus accepted suffering and invites us to do the same.
Suffering and pain come to us in all sorts of forms and shapes. Toothaches and terminal sickness, handicaps and old age, failing exams and losing a job, being mobbed and humiliated, experiencing broken promises and betrayal of trust. Every one of us gets his share of pain and suffering, some more than others. Jesus got the whole lot and with extreme intensity. The symbol of all suffering, physical, emotional, spiritual, is the cross. He accepted it “willingly”, as we say in the words of the consecration, and he invites us in turn “to take up our daily cross”, to “embrace it”, to accept it. And he warns us of “losing our lives”, wasting our life if we always run away from the cross.
Our first human reaction in the face of suffering and pain is the opposite. When I wake up with a migraine in the morning I look for a painkiller. When I feel depressed I seek relief from a therapist. When I feel abandoned by God, as Jesus did on the cross, I tend to give up on Him and stop praying. My first reaction is to run away from pain.
Over the years we have developed techniques to avoid pain. But some of these mechanisms are destructive, sometimes deadly. Drowning my problems in alcohol or other tranquilizers, be that drugs or uncommitted sex or a pie-in-the-sky type of religion, will eventually destroy me. If I want to live, I will eventually have to face my problems, my failures, my losses. I will have to embrace my cross.
One destructive technique of avoiding possible pain is not to commit myself to anything or anyone. There may be many reasons why young and not so young people avoid firm commitment in their relationships. Marriage is committing my life whole-heartedly to my partner. We may avoid such total commitment for different reasons, a bad example in my own family or among friends, economic disadvantage or simply lack of trust in the future when I look at today’s broken world. Not committing myself fully may also be a form of avoiding pain. The more I invest in a relationship, the greater the suffering when it fails. To minimise that possible pain we are tempted to say: Let us just try! When it works, so much the better; when we fail, it is just too bad. In the attempt to avoid pain we risk to lose, to waste our life. No commitment, no self-giving love – no fullness of life.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

The miracles show HOW God is, they are no PROOF of God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 6, 2015, Year B

Why do the four evangelists give so much space to miracles? What is the purpose of this? Should the miracles prove that Jesus is God? Many of us may believe this.
But you could also see it the other way! The other way means, that the early Christians be-lieved that Jesus, the carpenter from Capernaum, was God BEFORE they even heard the gospels! It seems to be a fact that by the time the gospels were composed, the divinity of Jesus was taken for granted. And this is fundamental: all our Christian Scriptures were directed to believers, not to unbelievers. They were not intended to convert, but to strengthen and teach believers. There is also the aspect that in the biblical world of two thousand years ago, working miracles was not necessarily a sign of divinity. A near-contemporary of Jesus, a certain Apollonius of Tyana, sup-posedly worked hundreds of "documented" miracles, yet never claimed to be a god.
So let us come back to our evangelists: They include miracles in their narratives to demon-strate what kind of a God Jesus is. Many of us grew up with catechisms. In catechisms you look up a word in the index and you get a catechism answer. You look up “attributes of God” – and you receive an answer in the book, you even receive a comprehensive list of God's characteris-tics. But with our catechisms we may forget one thing: the people who produced our Christian Scriptures had no catechisms. They had only their experiences of the risen Jesus who was present and working in their lives. And our writers wanted their readers to reflect upon the experiences with the risen Jesus. The question for them was: “How did Jesus change our lives?” When you answer this question “How did Jesus change our lives?”, then you can see what the divine Jesus is like.
That's why it shouldn't surprise us that in today's gospel (Mark 7:31-37), Mark invites to re-flect upon one fact: how Jesus, as God, both opens our ears and gives us the ability to speak. Those who first heard this passage were amazed that their faith in Jesus had enabled them to hear things they never heard before. They heard things they never had heard before, not because the sounds had not been hitting their ears, but because they didn't have the ability to distinguish those specific sounds from others. In all the noise around them they did not really hear. The risen Jesus had pronounced "Effata!" over each of them. Effata – get open! Open up! And because they now heard new things, they were also able to speak new things, things that almost no one around them spoke.
The letter of Saint James gives us an example of these new insights (James 2:1-5). In our pas-sage we see that each Christian had felt God's love in a special way through the presence of Jesus among them. And that is why they began to hear the cries of the poor in a way they had never heard before. The cries of the poor were always present, now they hear them. Once they discov-ered that they were all equal in Jesus, they knew they never again could discriminate. That is why James urges his community: "My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”or in a different translation: “If you have faith in our glo-rious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others.” Once our ears are open to new voices, we begin to act in new ways.
No wonder the early church loved to quote today's Isaiah reading (Isaiah 35:4-7a). The early church had experienced the very things that Isaiah had announced. Isaiah had assured his people what Yahweh would eventually bring about, that is: "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing." The people of Israel had stepped into a new world. It was like "streams (bursting) forth in the desert and rivers in the dry land." They were able to live like they had never lived before.
Jesus did not come just to get us into heaven. He came also to help us enjoy a life we couldn't imagine experiencing without his being in it, a life that will carry us into eternity with him. The miracles in the gospels are used by second and third generation Christians. By telling these mira-cles, those early Christians gave voice to the newness they had achieved in their Christ-filled lives. So those Christians wrote down miracles to express what the risen Jesus had changed in their lives.
I have invited you today to reflect on today’s readings. With this in mind, it would be interesting to compose some new miracles of today, of our personal gospel, miracles which mirror our experiences of Jesus changing our lives. We might come up with a few new miracles the evange-lists never thought of. Let us take some moments to reflect on those new miracles in our 21st cen-tury lives, miracles that show our experience of Jesus changing our lives.
cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/node/821

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

On the care for our common home

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 23, 2015, Year B

Rarely has a church document received so much public attention as the recent encyclical of Pope Francis dealing with one of the greatest challenges of our times: climate change and the destruction of the environment. The title of the letter is the opening words of St. Francis’ hymn to creation Laudato Si (Let it be praised).

Why is this document so important not only for Christians, but humanity as a whole?
• Climate change affects everybody already and will do so even more in the future.
That is why Pope Francis – like his predecessor John XXIII addresses it to ‘all people of good will.’ It is the No. 1 challenge for us today. The Pope writes: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day”. (25)
The Pope identifies central themes. I just want to touch on three of them.

1. The environmental destruction and the scandal of hunger and poverty have the same root cause. “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.” (48) It is the same limitless human greed, the insatiable hunt for maximum profits that hurts the poor and destroys nature. In the Pope’s language: We need “to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. (49)

2. We have to read the biblical story of creation in a new way.
With the aid of scientific discoveries and ever more efficient technologies we have for two centuries been extremely successful in fulfilling God’s command in the first chapter of the creation story: “to fill and subdue the earth” (Gen 1:28). We have forgotten to look at the second creation story where God put Adam (man) into the garden of Eden and tells him “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15) The Pope writes: “The Genesis account which grants man dominion” over the earth, has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible… The biblical texts tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world. “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.” (67) As God cares for all his creatures we need to learn to care for creation.

3. We have to learn to look at creation in a different way.
Pope Francis combines two insights that each creature is unique and has a value in itself and at the same time all creatures, human beings included, are all linked together and depend on each other. Here are some beautiful quotations from Laudato Si.
“In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God`s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” (76)

If you wish to read more, but do not have the time to go through the 200-page document, I will be happy to send you nine meditations of one page each on the major themes of Laudato Si with a short introduction and a few salient quotations. Just write to w.schonecke@gmx.de

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

Giving himself for the life of the world

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 16, 2015, Year B


At the end of chapter six in the Gospel of St. John his listeners are deeply shocked: “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” Many abandon Jesus and even his closest friends are tempted to pack up and go. But Jesus simply insists on his teaching: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
Eating human flesh seems crude language. It sounds almost like cannibalism. We have to understand that John’s Gospel “flesh” means “the whole human being marked by weakness and destined to die.” “The word became flesh” (Jo 1:14) wants to stress that Word of God took on mortal human nature and became fully human in every aspect.
Why does John use such a strong image? He was fighting a heresy in the early Church called docetism which overemphasized the divinity of Christ to the detriment of his humanity. Docists taught that Jesus’ body was not real, but only seemed or appeared like a body. Docetism emptied the mystery of the incarnation (God taking on in Jesus human nature; carnis = flesh) of its full meaning. To counter this false teaching John uses the word flesh to insist that Jesus became like us “in all things” including death.
The combined expression “flesh and blood (= life)” simply means the whole of the person. Giving his flesh and pouring out his blood signify the gift of his whole being to us. Jesus’ self-giving throughout his life and in his death was not just something spiritual, it is very real, rooted in daily living. He gives himself completely, body and spirit, he shares with us his humanity and his divinity, his whole self.
Self-giving is the fundamental principle of life. Jesus’ total self-giving expresses visibly who God is: self-giving love. The life of the Trinity consists in a constant mutual giving and receiving between the Father and Jesus in the Spirit of love. Creation is God continually pouring out of his love into a new reality outside himself, our world. The law of giving and receiving governs the whole process of evolution. Atoms “give themselves” to join and form molecules who join together to form living cells, and finally through their self-giving bring about nature’s infinite complexity. In plants and animals this “self-giving” is not conscious, it happens automatically. In human beings self-giving becomes a conscious act of freedom. We can give ourselves freely, we can also refuse to share and close in on ourselves. Then we make ourselves the center and instead of becoming life-giving for others, we reverse the flow of self-giving love and begin to use others for our own interests. This can happen in our relationships when we become possessive or exploitative. It is obvious in many economic activities when we take unfair advantage of the work of others to accumulate riches at their expense. It can happen in all political systems, when we use power to manipulate and enslave others people. In many ways we can betray our vocation to be life-givers.
All this could seem rather theoretical and theological. But living the law of self-giving has many practical implications. We could ask ourselves at the end of each day: what have I done today to enrich somebody’s life? It does not have to be some heroic deed. I can give life through a smile, an encouraging word, a helping hand, a kind gesture. In my own small way, in the “flesh” of my daily life, have I been like Jesus who gave his flesh for the life of humanity?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Are we willing to change directions when God’s breezy voice breaks into our lives?

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 9, 2015, Year B

As believers, as friends of Jesus we wish to follow him. For this we need strength and determination. Today’s first reading (I Kings 19:4-8) brings up a unique problem in our following of God, in our following of Jesus. Elijah discovers that God doesn’t always lead him along the most direct route. Sometimes God even changes his destination, his intention! Our I Kings passage actually provides us with just the middle of a three part narrative.
The whole account begins with a confrontation between the prophets of the fertility god Ba’al and Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Elijah wins the confrontation, he has his rivals put to death, then he must quickly run for his life when Queen Jezebel puts a contract out on him. Queen Jezebel is the patroness of the pagan prophets – they had been on her payroll.
Elijah travels – on foot – from Palestine’s northernmost point (Mt. Carmel) to its southernmost point (the Sinai). Many tourists do this tour – mainly in busses with air condition. Here, in the southernmost point of Israel, in the Sinai, today’s passage kicks in. Physically unable to go any further, Elijah actually asks God to kill him: “Take my life,” he pleads, “for I am no better than my fathers.“ Fortunately God ignores his request and twice sends an angel with “a cake baked on hot stones, and a jug of water”. In this way, God makes certain that the prophet has enough strength to “walk forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, to Horeb” which is Mt. Sinai in the South of Palestine.
The difficulty arises in the third part of the story. When Elijah finally reaches Mt. Sinai, God comes to him in a “gentle breeze” and God abruptly informs him that he is in the wrong place! Instead of preaching to the scorpions in the wilderness, God wants him in Syria - north of where he originally started his trek – setting up a mechanism to get rid of Jezebel. At first glance, this change in direction makes sense. All of us have had to make changes in the paths we have chosen in life. But there’s a unique problem with this change here in the story of Elijah: by twice sending an angel with food and water, God actually helped Elijah go in the wrong direction! Since the prophet couldn’t have made it to Sinai without God’s assistance, God is responsible for Elijah’s ending up in a place God didn’t want him to be.
The author who wrote Ephesians (Eph 4:30-5:2), a disciple of Paul, makes sense when he encourages his readers to get rid of “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling.” As Christians, as friends of Jesus who want to follow him, who want to be like him, we agree that we should be “kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving.“ Yet Elijah would remind us that true discipleship goes further than just creating peaceful, compassionate relationships with one another. It also includes developing a relationship with a God who sometimes messes with our spiritual GPS.
Jewish members of the community of John, the evangelist, had to deal with a parallel experience when they converted to Christianity (John 6:41-51). As good Jews they had been constantly encouraged to distinguish between the “sacred and the profane.“ We presume that through the centuries before Christ it was God who helped the Chosen People reach the point in their faith lives when that division between sacred and profane became an essential part of everyone and everything they encountered.
Yet now, as followers of the risen Jesus, they have discovered the most sacred of persons is actually in an individual whose “father and mother we know.” No dedicated Israelite could ever have anticipated that God would one day ask his followers to drastically change directions and realize that a carpenter from Capernaum had become the “bread of life” for all people.
Almost every biblical author encourages us to make visible, to live according to the distinct path God wishes each and every one of us to travel through life. Yet, Elijah’s Sinai experience also teaches us to keep our eyes and ears open, willing to change directions at any moment God’s breezy voice breaks into our lives.

cf. http://fosilonline.com/index.php?pagekey=roger#0809

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

THEY WANTED TO MAKE HIM KING, BUT HE WENT AWAY...

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2015, Year B

When you walk into a classroom of ten-year-old kids and ask who thinks himself capable of becoming the next president many fingers would go up. If you or me would be asked to step into the shoes of Frau Merkel or Mr. Obama, we would politely decline knowing only too well that we would not manage to run the government even for a single day.
Jesus in today’s Gospel is aware that after feeding the multitude, the people intend to make him king. He runs away and hides in the hills, not because he doubts his capacities as a leader nor because he is aware that the Roman army would very quickly annihilate him and his followers. No, Jesus refused to become a pawn in a political power game that utterly contradicted his own vision of leadership, kingship and authority. The people’s expectations of a Messiah-King were totally different from his. His kingdom was not of this world. He came to serve, not to be served and give his life for the many.
Jesus lived in tough times. A brutal Roman occupation army oppressed the land. Their own kings exploited the people by imposing endless taxes. Their religious leaders behaved more like politicians than spiritual leaders.
How to overcome this depressing situation? There were four very different answers given in Israel at the time. The community of Qumran went into the desert to live in a purely spiritual world, comparable to some esoteric movements today. The Zealots, like islamist terrorists, wanted to create a just world by killing the Romans, but in the end brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people. The Pharisees, a bit like today’s religious fundamentalists, believed that taking the Scriptures, especially the law, literally would save the world. Finally, the Sadducees compromised with the system to get their own advantages.
Jesus did not join any of these groups. He knew that neither a political revolution nor an escape into spiritual worlds nor an enforced morality could bring about real change. Only a change of mind and heart could achieve that, a change brought about not by force or coercion, but by kind invitation, authentic living example and loving care for each person. In this way he won over the Roman officer, Nicodemus the Pharisee and even Simon the Zealot who joined his team of twelve apostles.
That is the way Jesus invites us to change our chaotic world. Jesus’ revolution is a long patient process to be started anew in every generation, beginning in my own mind and heart.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Only by sharing with others do we unite others

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2015, Year B

The authors of last Sunday’s three readings have one thing in common: they are critical concerning the way “faith” was lived or abused by their contemporaries. Yes, the bible is a critical book – unfortunately, we often use the Bible to criticize others, to cut down other faiths and denominations. This is not unlike many extremists in the Muslim world who use the Koran to cut down other faiths. The bible is a critical book – but it is mainly self-critical: the biblical authors almost always took stylus to papyrus in order to criticize the way in which their own faith was being lived, the way in which their own faith was abused by the communities for whom they wrote. This is true of today’s three readings.
Our Jeremiah passage (Jer 23,1-6) is just one of many in which the prophet attacks the “shepherds” of Judaism: “shepherds” is a biblical term normally reserved for the country’s leaders. The leaders are both priests and kings – there was no concept of the separation of church and state in 6th century before Christ. So, Jeremiah includes both priests and kings in this condemnation. Yahweh’s complaint against these individuals is short and to the point: “They mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” This is a really important reproach: “They scatter the flock of my pasture”. The biblical authors – Hebrew and Christian, Old and New Testament - presume that authentic leaders should faithfully direct and go before the people down the path God has chosen the people to travel; a path that always has unity as its goal. No matter their diversity, God’s people are meant to be one people.
Unfortunately, toward the end of his ministry, Jeremiah had to give up all hope of ever changing the organized religion of his day and age. He only prayed that the future Babylonian destruction of organized religion would eventually lead to a rebirth of faith and the rise of a new, righteous king; a king who would reign and govern wisely, and do what is just and right in the land.
Though he certainly wasn’t a king, the first followers of Jesus believed he was the leader for whom the Chosen People had been waiting for centuries. The author who wrote the letter to the community in Ephesos (Eph 2,13-18) insists on the unifying characteristics of Jesus: “For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups” (vv. 14 and 15). If Jesus is not uniting us, Jesus cannot be “the Lord, our justice.” But already in the early Church, in the first and second century, some church leaders refused to imitate the style of leadership Jesus had shown.
Our evangelists rarely condemn anyone for rejecting authority. Their condemnations almost always are directed at those abusing their authority, as we hear in today’s gospel passage in Mark (Mark 6,30-34). “Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.“ The story is set in a “deserted place”. Here, Mark shows how Jesus provides an example of true Christian leadership. Jesus forces his reluctant followers to give the hungry crowd something to eat. In the bread miracle which follows - but is omitted from our lectionary - Jesus doesn’t feed the people, his disciples do. Jesus simply encourages the process, he blesses what “little” they have, then he gives it back to them to distribute to the crowds. Mark’s message is clear: Only by sharing with others do we unite others. True leaders provide opportunities for sharing.
I am curious to see how solidarity in Europe will work with the Greek people. I am curious to see the results of the different documents the pope has written, curious to see the effects of his travels, the last one to South America. The Church is not only the pope, we are also called by Mark’s message: Only by sharing with others do we unite others. I am sure we find enough opportunities to follow the example of Jesus in our daily lives, especially now during holiday time when we are often hosts or guests.

cf. http://fosilonline.com/index.php?pagekey=roger#0719

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Amos, a person thrown out of organized religion, was the messenger of God’s will

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2015, Year B

Even if you do not know the Bible too well, you will quickly discover that
a) prophets have problems with religious leaders and that b) religious leaders have problems with prophets.
Last Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Amos (7:12-15) describes a classic confrontation between the two, between the prophet and the religious leader. In the Bible, recognizing prophets and listening to prophets is the most acceptable way of finding out God’s will in one’s life. Religious and civil leaders often do not like what God has to say to his people. So, religious and civil leaders eventually developed a method to circumvent this process of listening to God’s word.
Kings and priests created a system of shrine and court prophets: Shrine and court prophets were people on the payroll of the kings and priests. Kings and priest regularly consulted these prophets to find out Yahweh’s will for them. These shrine and court prophets “ate at the table of the king or of the priest” – no wonder that their oracles almost always were what their employers wanted to hear.
That is part of the background for the Amaziah-Amos encounter. Bethel’s high priest Amaziah is trying to rid his shrine of its worst critic. Amos bothers him too much. Amos not only uncovered the religious superficiality of such holy places, he insisted its clientele stay away. Everyone, including Amaziah, heard Amos’ sarcastic command some chapters before: “Come to Bethel and sin!“
No wonder Amaziah, the priest, is so determined to rid Bethel of Amos. Amos is the biggest threat to him and to the shrine religion Amaziah personifies. That’s why Amos responds with the unbelievable statement, “I am no prophet!” It doesn’t mean what it implies. Amos is simply reminding Amaziah that he is not his prophet.
Do you remember the words of the reading: “The Lord (not Amaziah) took me from following the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel!” The most ridiculous part of Amaziah’s tirade is his proposal, “Earn your bread prophesying (in Judah)!“
One of the rules for distinguishing real prophets from false prophets revolves around the fact that real prophets never profit from prophesying. They never do it for money. Who in their right mind would pay someone like a prophet – that is, pay a prophet for telling them things they don’t want to hear, things they had stopped their own consciences from telling them? Over the years they had become deaf to their consciences. Prophets are known for their next-to-poverty lifestyles. Religious leaders who live a wealthy life will not dare tell us about God’s will; it would clash with their own behavior.
Let us come to the gospel according to Mark (6,7-13): Jesus, the prophet, naturally commands those who carry on his ministry to imitate his simple lifestyle. Only those who do will give credibility to the message they proclaim. “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts ... not (even) a second tunic.” Neither were they to shop around for goods or food in town. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave,” we might add: no matter how uncomfortable the bed or lousy the food.”
The disciple of Paul who wrote the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3,7) reminds his community where real wealth is to be found. The translation for the liturgy is: “In Jesus we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us” or in a different, more comprehensible translation: “God is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven.“ Those who bring that kind of treasure to the surface will truly understand God’s will, God’s plan for them.
Things really haven’t changed much over the last 2.700 years. When anyone claims to be God’s mouthpiece, there are a lot of questions to ask. In Amos’ case, it was the person thrown out of organized religion who actually gave us God’s will, not the representative of organized religion. This might help us to welcome men and women as prophets who are not in official churches and accept men and women as mouthpieces of God.
cf. http://evangelist.org/main.asp?ArticleID=21677&SectionID=3&SubSectionID=28

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Gratuitous service

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 21, 2015, Year B

The most extraordinary example of faithful service without expected any reward was for me the catechist Matthias. Wenn the Islamist government in Sudan throw out all missionaries in the country a young man decided to carry on the work of priest on his own. For 17 years he walked from village to village across his mountainous rural parish, prayed with the people, baptised the babies and instructed the children. He never received a penny for it, although the people helped him to live. Even most amazing was the fact that he was born blind. “How do you find your way?, I asked. “By the power of God”, was the only answer I could get out of him.
The Church and also our community live out of the selfless service of many people. Just look around. Some gifted people enrich our worship with music. Young Konrad is always the first mass service to turn up. Someone is preparing the after-mass-coffee. Some mothers are teaching the children (probably better than any priest could do it). Quietly in the background a team takes care of all financial and administrative matters so that I can do what I was ordained to do: breaking the bread of God’s word and eucharistic bread of Christ’s presence for you. And when at the end of mass we give all these wonderful people a token of gratitude and appreciation, ask yourself: What could be my contribution to the community?
The financial crisis of the Archdiocese of Berlin some years ago may have been a blessing in disguise. As much as we admire the great work done by paid professionals in Church institutions like Caritas or the diocesan administration, the more convincing witness to is God’s gratuitous love is a service done out of love without expecting a reward, like the incredible work parents do for their children or the patient daily care people give to their chronically sick old parents at home. They rarely get any recognition in today’s individualistic culture.
Just one warning to all our generous volunteers. Give your service with all the love and competence you have, but do not cling to it. Do not look at it as your property or privilege. I remember this elderly lady who had faithfully served as a competent lector at mass every single Sunday for over 20 years. One day the parish priest suggested to her to hand her ministry over to a younger person. She was devastated. She had identified so much with her ministry that to her the attempt to take it away from her felt like an assault on her life.
Pure christian service means not only to serve the community. In serving each other we serve the Lord whose body we are.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Most of us demand immediate results…

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 14, 2015, Year B


In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel speaks to us. Ezekiel speaks in poetic terms. He has God say: "I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.“ (Ez 17:22-24).
The prophet Ezekiel who writes this was rejected by most of his fellow Israelites. And he consoles himself with the conviction that this small branch will one day grow into a huge tree, a majestic cedar. What group of persons is this small branch? All those who actually listen to Ezekiel and carry out God's word. This small group of believers is what biblical prophets call the "remnant", the holy rest. Many prophets begin their prophetic ministry with high hopes for success. But all are eventually forced to admit that very few of the "faithful" are even interested in hearing the word of God. Very few of them want to listen to the message the prophets are commissioned to deliver. And even fewer are interested in carrying it out.
After a while most of the prophets are convinced that only a minute number will change their lives be-cause of the message of the prophets. So the prophets have no other choice but to develop low expecta-tions. When we look at the prophets, we see that Ezekiel's ministry is not centered upon familiarizing his people with a catechetical list of beliefs. Ezekiel’s task was to demand that his listeners live the kind of life that flows from those beliefs.
This is also true for Christians: We are invited to imitate the lifestyle of Jesus – there are many who call themselves Christians, who may even be baptized, but they have no intention to imitate Jesus. So are there too many people who call themselves Christians? Should we restrict the label “Christian” only to those who are truly 100% committed? Restrict the label to the “radical Christians” as we might call them?
As we hear in today's second reading, Paul knows it takes courage to "walk by faith, not by sight“ (2 Cor 5:7), it takes courage to “live by believing and not by seeing”. Yet Paul also knows we are eventually going to be judged only based on what we do "in the body" as he says in our reading. God looks on what we do during our lifetimes. A million good thoughts about faith do not equal one good action performed in faith. Christians are to imitate Jesus, not just think or talk about Jesus. We are gradually to become more and more like Jesus Christ – an idea very dear to Paul. What part of Jesus' life are we expected to imitate?
In today's gospel (Mk 4:26-34) it is the part which springs from Mark’s conviction that God is working effectively right here and now in our daily lives. Mark refers to that insight whenever he talks about the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven.” Real Christians need a lot of patience. Both of today's "king-dom parables" stress that dimension of faith: the patience of farmers planting fields or the patience of the farmers sowing mustard seeds. Eventually the things we sow in faith will grow. But it will take a long time before we notice any tangible results. Few people are willing to work a lifetime focused on a distant, better future that they cannot see, which they cannot enjoy, where they have no benefit. Most of us demand im-mediate results.
This leads me to think of our present Church and Vatican II. It's been two and a half generations since Vatican II began. Today only a faithful few still seem committed and engaged to carry out the reforms of Vatican II. Those who expected the council to bring instant results left years ago or are on the edge of leav-ing the Church. Instead of discouraging us, those who no longer come to the Church might do better to en-courage us not to give up too quickly – but also to be aware of the time it takes for some seeds to grow and to bear fruit. Those who have left the Church should be encouraging us to lead a life that imitates Jesus, a life that shows the commitment of the friends and family of Jesus.
Let us pray for pope Francis and for the newly appointed bishop of Berlin that they encourage us to imitate Jesus.
cf: Roger R. Karban: http://fosilonline.com/pdf/roger/2012/karban_20120610_20120617.pdf

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Trinity as Interrelationship in Love

Holy Trinity, May 31, 2015, Year B

We can encounter the three divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of them working for our Salvation. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sends us to go into the world and empowers us to make God known as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
What has been revealed about these three Divine Persons? God is first of all God in a Trinitarian Relationship and this relationship is based on love. St. John says in his letter: God is Love! (1 Jn 4:16) The nature of God is simply Love. He could not do or be otherwise than Love. “For God so loved the world that he sent his Son so that all who believe in Him, […] might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
There is one more thing very important to every Christian: God, whom we now call Holy Trinity, created us. And out of love He made us in “his own image and likeness”. But let us not be mistaken, it is not so much in physical appearance that we are images of and in the likeness of God; it is much more in our behavior and character. It is in the way that we relate to each other, in our relationship with others that we become his image and likeness. I am a Christian and remain a Christian only if my relationship with others is based on and motivated by love because this is how God created us. Each of us bears the image of this Trinitarian God. You have the making of a loving person with compassionate, kindhearted, considerate, forgiving and faithful love. Jesus said at the Last Supper before he died: By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn. 13:35).
If any person has been provoking, disturbing or tempting you not to become that loving person God wanted you to be, do not allow him or her to steal that love from your heart that God gave you at your birth. If someone hates you, does not forgive you or takes revenge, choose to remain a loving, kindhearted, forgiving person. If someone tries to steal your heart’s peace, still choose to remain a person of peace and love.
“The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.” This has been the priest’s greeting every time we begin our Mass for many years. Let us not take this greeting for granted. It contains all that we believe in in terms of the Holy Trinity: one in three, three in one, the God who is the God of love. For us Christians the most essential aspect of life is that we live what we believe in.

Fr. Jun Ocampo SVD

 

The Spirit of discernment favors unity in diversity

Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015, Year B

Pentecost is the feast of the Church. The first disciples, male and female, were shaken by the Holy Spirit. For the young community of the friends of Jesus this was a confirmation that they were on the right way. Confirmation in the sense of “sacrament”, but also in the sense of “proof and evidence”. A confirmation of what they were experiencing and doing. A confirmation that gave joy and energy and dynamics to what they were doing.
Joy and energy and dynamics cannot be confined behind closed doors, they need the open space. Although sometimes silent moments are also necessary to recharge joy and energy and dynamics. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church;
Pentecost links the Church to a mission: “Go out and make God’s spirit visible and touchable among your fellow human beings!” Make God’s spirit visible by loving yourselves, by loving your neighbor, by loving God, and by loving your enemy. This mission is to develop a dynamics, energy, an enthusiasm so that faith and trust in God can spread among all people and among all peoples.
Whoever leaves a room with locked doors, whoever leaves his or her comfort zones becomes vulnerable and even assailable. So discernment is necessary – and discernment is a gift of the Spirit: to discern between the Spirit that comes from God and the spirit that does not come from God. And this means that the Spirit that comes from God helps us dealing with plurality, with diversity, the Spirit that comes from God helps us to avoid simplification and uniformization and indoctrination. The Spirit that comes from God helps us to live uni-ty in diversity – in the Church, in our families, in our states and societies.
If we look at our Church, our families, our states and societies – what spirit do we see at work? The spirit that fa-vors unity in diversity or the sprit that favors uniformity? To remain open for discernment is not an easy task. It is easier to rely on prejudices; it is easier to judge by generalizing, it is easier to apply general verdicts than to be open to change oneself, to be open to adjust oneself to what happens.
Discernment starts by saying “no” to what has been taught for centuries, what has been indoctrinated for decades. Discernment starts with the courage to speak up, to speak up against hypocrisy also in our own Church. Discernment starts with the courage to think for yourself and to put oneself in the position of others and to speak the language of the other so that we can understand each other. Pentecost did not bring one language, one uniform and standardized language for all – no, each and everyone could hear the others in his or her own language.
The Holy Spirit taught the friends of Jesus to speak the language of the other, to speak in such a way that the other can understand, the Holy Spirit taught the friends of Jesus to leave their narrowness, to conquer fear by the help of God. Pentecost is the coronation of Easter, it helps us cope with diversity and it helps us avoid simplifications and tendencies towards uniformization.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

…the most inclusive people on this earth

7th Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015, Year B

I wonder if we all understand the distinction between a biblical “disciple”, an “apostle” and “The Twelve”? I think we need to understand this distinction in order to understand today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1,15-7.20-26).In the Christian Scriptures, a disciple is any-one - man or woman - who follows Jesus. Luke, in Acts 9,36, even employs the feminine of the Greek word - maqh,tria instead of the male maqhth.j. An apostle - avpo,stoloj - is a disciple sent out on a specific mission. Paul of Tarsus often refers to himself as an apostle – and Paul never saw the historical Jesus. The Twelve - oi` dw,deka -are unique. They seem to be the twelve men - probably apostles - whom the historical Jesus chose to accompany him during his preaching ministry in Palestine.
Any Jew, hearing the number 12, automatically thinks of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every one of them, every Jewish person belongs to one of those 12 tribes. Originally the twelve were the twelve sons of Jacob. Some of these sons and their descendants became patriarchs, important lead-ers of tribes who gave us Judaism. Some of the names you may know: Reuben, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin. By the way: Jacob had these 12 sons from 4 different wives…
Scholars believe that Jesus employed “the Twelve” as a sign, as a symbol. A symbol to say what? Jesus was convinced that he was sent to preach to all Jews. The reform of the Jewish faith Jesus preached was meant for all Jews, not only for those who belonged to the two prestigious tribes of his day and age – to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were the elite.
No, for Jesus the people in his audiences who were from the less important tribes of Naphtali or Dan were just as important as a priest or descendant of David. “The Twelve” were a clear sym-bol of the inclusivity Jesus preached and practiced. Jesus did not want to exclude anyone! What about women, you may ask. Well, historically, there couldn't be any women among the Twelve because the Twelve represented Jacob's twelve sons. Had there been – let’s say - six men and six women, all symbolism would have gone out the window. Because the evangelists include different names in the three lists of the Twelve, we presume the "group" was more important than its individ-ual members.
The symbol of the group of the Twelve made the evangelists neglect the correct names of the Twelve. Of course, the Twelve only make sense when you are dealing with Jews. That seems to be why John, the last evangelist, never names them – in his gospel they always appear as a group. By the end of the first century, John seems to have given up on trying to convert Jews. The Gentile Christians of pagan origin - for whom John wrote - would not have appreciated or understood the inclusivity of the twelve tribe symbolism. For this they did not understand enough of the Jewish faith.
But on the other hand, this symbolism of the Twelve seems to be important for another Evan-gelist, for Luke: in the Acts of the Apostles he wants to get the number back to twelve before the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's arrival will not only give them the ability to reach out to all people – we speak of the gift of tongues, the Spirit’s arrival will also operate from the premise that this new, spirit-filled community is a gathering of equals.
The author of the first letter of John couldn't agree more. For this author the Spirit brings a great leveling and homogenizing force. The Spirit brings this force that makes people equal and this force arises first from the love God has for us, then from the love we have for God and those around us. "God is love," the author of I John writes, "and those who remain in love remain in God and God in them.“ There can be no exclusivity when love is involved.
Notice how Jesus in John’s gospel prays for his community during the Last Supper. Jesus presumes they are a unique group of people, just as he, Jesus, is unique. His passion for unity logi-cally comes to the fore. "Holy Father," Jesus prays, "keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.“ If they are to carry on his ministry, they must re-flect his way of thinking, his attitude towards the world, towards humanity. And this mindset of Jesus was a mindset which not only bugged and disturbed many around him, it eventually led to his death. "I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world."
As followers and friends of Jesus, we should reflect the priorities of Jesus; we should care about the "things" about which Jesus was deeply concerned. Among other things, we should be the most inclusive people on this earth. It is up to each and every one of us to consider the social and political implications of this statement.
cf: Roger Vermalen Karban: fosilonline.com/pdf/roger/2012/karban_20120517_20120520.pdf

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Jesus is the child of God par excellence

4th Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015, Year B

Today’s reading from the first letter of St John (1 John 3:1-2) contains one of the most important and best-known lines in Scripture. We read: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when God comes we will be like God, as a result of seeing God as God really is”.
Just what does it mean to be “to be like God”?
As God’s children now, and having a promise of being more like God in the future, what can we expect? What should we be striving to become? I presume that no one here has a precise idea of what such divine similarity entails, what it means to be like God.
To help us, today’s two other readings might provide us with some hints. Both Luke in the Acts of the apostles and John the Evangelist take for granted one thing: that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s child par excellence. So by reflecting on the special titles Luke and John give to that special child, to Jesus, we might understand something of what is expected of us as God’s children.
In our Acts passage (Acts 4:8-12), the apostle Peter defends his cure of the crippled beggar. How does he defend himself? He tells his accusers that he is simply continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ the Nazorean.
Often we think that salvation only revolves around someday getting to heaven. Yes, this is a significant part of biblical salvation, but it’s only a part. Our Christian authors in the Bible presumed Jesus is saving us right here and now, long before we enter the pearly heavenly gates. Jesus is saving us right here and now. In our passage, Peter, as someone who imitates the risen Jesus, saves the beggar here and now. Peter saves the beggar by releasing him from the paralysis that completely controls his life. As friends of Jesus, we are committed to becoming saving co-workers with Jesus who is God’s child.
How can we do this? It is by committing ourselves to helping remove the paralysis of others, the paralysis which stops people from being the individuals God wishes them to be. If Jesus is a savior in those situations, then we must also try to be saviors in parallel situations. Today we are more conscious than in the past of types of paralysis that go far beyond the physical. We know that psychological paralysis is often more painful and debilitating than bodily paralysis.
People may have caused pain in our lives. This may lead to a pain and a paralysis in their lives. One way of helping them overcome this paralysis might be to forgive them, removing their paralysis. Our unwillingness to forgive might be the cause of their paralysis. A saving word or a welcoming smile of acceptance from us can often break the chains that tie people down.
Perhaps that’s why the consoling image of Jesus the good shepherd (John 10:11-18) quickly became so popular among his early followers. The image of the good shepherd frequently appears in the writings of the early “Fathers,” and often is depicted in catacombs in many cities of the Roman Empire. John’s Jesus assures us that we are following someone who not only knows us, but is willing to lay down his life for us.
Yet we should never overlook that part of today’s gospel which speaks about Jesus being constantly on the outlook for “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.“ Though we find great security in being part of a specific Christian community, like here in All Saints, there should always be certain unease in that security.
There are always those “out there” who would give anything to be part of our flock. A big piece of their salvation right here and now could revolve around our welcoming them into our communities right here and now, even if it costs us something.
It sounds great to hear ourselves called children of God, yes, but that title comes with certain implications.

cf. http://www.fosilonline.com/index.php?pagekey=roger [Fourth Sunday of Easter B]

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

The first step for finding the risen Jesus in one another: to forgive one another

3rd Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015, Year B

We just heard the gospel according to Luke (Luke 24:35-48). The author tries hard to demonstrate that the risen Jesus is present in the lives of the disciples, in the lives of the friends of Jesus, in our lives. This presence isn’t just an invention of our imagination. When we compare texts from the earliest Christian communities, we see how they describe this presence of the risen Jesus. And these different communities had different experiences of the risen Jesus in their lives. The risen Jesus in Luke’s gospel and in his “Acts of the Apostles” makes two Easter Sunday appearances in situations that have something to do with food. This is significant, I think.

(1) Jesus makes himself known to his two “runaway” disciples at the inn in Emmaus during “the breaking of bread” and
(2) in today’s passage in Luke, Jesus proves he is not a ghost by eating a piece of baked fish.

In Luke’s day and age, proof that someone was real and not a ghost revolved around eating something. Whatever ghosts ate would simply fall through their apparent bodies and end up on the floor. They don’t have “flesh and bones” as the risen Jesus has.
But there seems to be a deeper reason for Luke using the context of meals to present the appearances of Jesus. Luke presumes the first Christians most frequently experienced the risen Jesus during those instances in which they also broke bread. The first Christians experienced the risen Jesus when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It wasn’t just the fact that they discovered this new creation, the risen Christ in the bread and wine – as we believe when we celebrate the Eucharist.
No, they discovered the risen Christ, they experienced the risen Jesus in a very visible and tangible way in those who participated in the meal. Finding the risen Jesus in one another – that became the trademark, and the test, of true Christian faith. Discovering the risen Christ in those around us can be a messy process. People’s personalities will always be a stumbling block that makes this discovery difficult. Like ourselves, the people we meet are not perfect. Not to mention that some might actually be sinners! Perhaps that is why forgiveness is a constant theme in our Christian biblical writings.
In today’s Acts passage, Peter even forgives those who crucified Jesus (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19). Peter in the Acts is convinced the people of Jerusalem “...didn’t want Jesus freed - this holy, righteous one. Instead they demanded the release of a murderer.” But Peter also presumes they “...acted out of ignorance.”, ‘”what they did to Jesus was done in ignorance”. Even those who killed “the author of life” can be forgiven.
The author of the First Letter of John encourages the members of his community not to sin (1 John 2:1-5a). Yet at the same time, he takes for granted they will not always be able to follow his advice. That’s why he brings up “the Advocate with the Father” which each of us has: “if we sin, there is someone to plead for us before the Father.” The risen Jesus is “expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Expiation is a word we hardly understand. A translation could be: “Jesus is the forgiveness for our sins, and not only ours but all the world’s.”
If Jesus has already died for everyone, why do we make the sinfulness of others an obstacle when we want to experience the risen Jesus in those others? If Jesus is alive among us, Jesus is alive in real people, not only in those who are just an invention of our imagination.
A closing thought: is it possible that our determination to forgive one another might be the first step in discovering Jesus in one another?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

A New Chance

2nd Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015, Year B

When we read the Easter apparitions of the risen Jesus, we note two striking features. First, the way Jesus makes his disciples aware that he is alive and with them. For everyone, he chooses a personal approach according to their different personalities. With Mary of Magdala, calling her by name is enough to make her recognize her beloved master. Peter and his fellow fishermen experience a second miraculous catch similar to the one that happened at the first encounter with Jesus to make them realize “It is the Lord.” Thomas, in today’s Gospel, is given a stronger sign. He, the intellectual, who tends to live in his head, needs the physical touch of Christ’s body to bring him to his senses.
Still today, the risen Lord deals with each of us in a personal way. He respects and communicates with us as unique creatures of God according to our individual biological, psychological and spiritual DNA. What is the way the risen Lord makes me aware of his presence in my life?
The second impressive feature of the Easter stories is the way Jesus deals with the total failure of all his closest friends in the moment of crisis. They all ran away in panic and Peter, the usually overly self-confident leader of the group, even denied meeting Jesus. After three years of intense training, they fail the moral test. Any company would have dismissed such apprentices as unsuitable for leadership positions. What does Jesus do? He does not mention the disaster of the past days with even one word. He simply gives the disarming greeting “Peace be with you!” - three times in today’s Gospel. What happened in the past does not seem to interest him. And he reinstates them in their mission.
In this attitude Jesus reveals to us who God is and how God deals with us. Just as in the parable of the “prodigal son,” the Father is not interested in the failures and betrayals of past life. Like the Father in Jesus’ story who reinstates the son to his former position, God gives us another chance to start again. As Jesus did with his apostles, the risen Lord sends us back to our mission – in spite of our weakness and failures.
How do we deal with the long list of our own moral failures, our small and big betrayals of the truth and of trustworthiness, of friendship and faithfulness, of our own deepest religious and moral convictions? And even more difficult, how do we deal with the failures of our family members and intimate friends, of colleagues and authorities toward us? Can we overlook those words or insults that deeply hurt us, the lies and calumnies people spread about us, and even our traumatic experiences of abuse and injustice? Do we keep scratching our wounds of the past or can we, looking at the example of the risen Christ, leave the hurts and pains of the past behind us and give ourselves and others a new chance?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

To die as Jesus dies means to give ourselves for and to others

Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, Year B

Resurrection – we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Is the resurrection simply an historical event, an event that put God's seal of approval on the ministry and teachings of Jesus? If we treat Jesus' resur-rection like this, we probably don't understand the significance of today's celebration, we don’t un-derstand what resurrection means.
It's easy to confuse resurrection with resuscitation. As a chaplain, I work in a hospital nearby. There, resuscitation happens quite often – the clinic has a reanimation center. Simply spoken: we presume someone dies, and then comes back to life with the help of the doctors. But the resuscitated indi-vidual is still basically the same person he or she was before they died.
We also have stories about resuscitation in the New Testament: for instance, Jesus tells Mr. and Mrs. Jairus to give their twelve-year-old resuscitated daughter something to eat (in Mark 5). We take for granted that if the girl liked pepperoni pizzas before she died, her parents would pop a pepperoni pizza in the oven for her now that she was alive again. That is resuscitation – Wiederbelebung in German.
Resurrection is quite different. Technically, Jesus is the only person in the gospels who rises from the dead. As Saint Paul put it, when one rises one becomes a "new creation.“ St Paul once reminded the Christian community in Galatia that, unlike the historical Jesus, the risen Jesus isn't Jew or Gentile, isn’t slave or free, isn’t man or woman. The risen Jesus is a completely unique person, and our expe-riences of this unique person are just as unique.
Perhaps that's why, in today's Acts passage (Acts 10:34a, 37-43), Luke has Peter tell the about-to-be-baptized Cornelius: "This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.“ Somehow Peter and his friends have had an experience of the risen Jesus - an experience that those who don't believe in the risen Jesus have never had. Only after they have en-countered this new creation can they preach the good news of the presence of the risen Jesus to oth-ers. In order to experience the risen Jesus alive in our midst, we have to have faith that the risen Je-sus is in our midst. Is this a paradox?
The author of John's gospel (John 20:1-9) presumes such faith isn't necessarily an instant phenomenon. That this faith takes longer to appear for some than for others. In today's gospel text, for instance, we see Mary of Magdala: after discovering the tomb is empty, she simply believes it's a sign some-one has stolen the body of Jesus. Peter and the Beloved Disciple, on the other hand, seem immedi-ately to conclude that the lack of a body means that Jesus is risen from the dead. One experience doesn't fit all.
Yet, the writer of the letter to the Christian community in Colossae (Colossians 3:1-4) makes a state-ment about the resurrection with which all early Christians would agree: "Since you became alive again, when Christ arose from the dead, now set your sights on the rich treasures and joys of heav-en... You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God“ Only those who die with Christ experience Christ alive. The risen Jesus doesn't just unexpectedly walk into our living room one day and announce, "Here I am!“ As Chris-tians we presume that the risen Jesus is always here among us, working effectively in our daily lives.
But Christ's presence only becomes evident, when we die as he died: that means when we give our-selves for and to others. On this day of all days, on this Easter Sunday, we should not only be commemorating what happened to Jesus on Easter Sunday morning 2000 years ago. We should also be commemorating what happens to us when we join him in becoming like him, far beyond just Easter Sunday morning.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

What the Palms Tell Us

Palm Sunday – March 29, 2015, Year B

It’s our practice to bring home the palms and hang them in significant places in our home. Many place the palms in the crucifix, over the head of Jesus. The ashes the priest places on our forehead on Ash Wednesday are the ashes gathered from the burnt palms of the Palm Sunday of last year. As the priest traces the sign of the cross on your forehead, he tells you, “Remember that you were dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
These palms we are holding today remind us of three truths.

Christian Message:
1. They remind us of HUMAN CHANGEABILITY.
Years before Christ, palms were used as signs of triumph and victory, much like what people do today with flags when a head of state visits. Up to the time of Jesus, they didn’t have flags.
Last Sunday, when Jesus raised Lazarus back to life, people started to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of Israel. So when Jesus entered Jerusalem, people waved palms to welcome Jesus as the long expected Messiah from the line of David as prophesied. They were all singing in triumphant jubilation “Hosanna!” Hosanna is the Hebrew for “Save us now!” (Deliver us now!)
We all know of course, that those same people raising their palms and shouting in joy “Hosanna!” would turn on Him a few days later, raising their hands and pointing at Jesus, shouting “Crucify him!”
The palms remind us of Human Changeability. There were people we idolized in the past, now they are forgotten. Today’s hero can become tomorrow’s villain. Your best friend today can be your worst enemy tomorrow. The person you most trusted can betray you tomorrow.
That is human changeability. We have Judas, trusted by Jesus as the treasurer of the community, tried to earn more money by betraying his Master. And there is Peter who was appointed by Jesus to be the head of the apostles, out of fear he denied that he knew Jesus three times. And where were the rest of the apostles when Jesus was finally arrested, they all went into hiding. Even Pilate who declared Jesus a “just man”, gave way to social pressure just to protect his career.


2. The palms place US WITHIN the Passion Story.
The characters of the Passion are not people of 2,000 years ago, long gone, nor are they creatures from outer space. They are US – they are each one of us. We can identify with one of those holding palms singing “Hosanna” and later on crying “Crucify him”. We can also identify ourselves with Judas, or Peter, or Pilate or any of the apostles.
The friends of Jesus who became his accusers and enemies, are US. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” We would be singing that repeatedly when we pray the Stations of the Cross, to remind ourselves that Yes, we were there when they crucified our Lord.
That’s also the reason why we have the long narrative of the Suffering and Death of Jesus, to help us feel our presence until Calvary. And on Good Friday, it will even be the longer version of John’s Passion Gospel, in such a way that we feel we are present at Calvary. Yes, we were there, each one of us was there.
Each of the characters in the Gospel, are each one of us. We declare ourselves friends and disciples and apostles of Jesus, but how often by our behavior do we turn into enemies of Jesus, or give un-Christian treatment to all those whom Jesus calls his brothers and sisters.

3. The palms remind us of CHRIST’S LOVE.
Despite what all these people did to Him, Jesus died for all of them. And this is what we should also learn from the palms we are holding now. Despite all the sins in our life that make us enemies of Jesus, Jesus died for all of us. Jesus died for each of us. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom5:8).
His love, His truth, His forgiveness, His grace are the foundations on which we can rely. Despite our failures and sinfulness, in Him we can rise up and begin anew. We may be spiritually dead even in this life, in Him we can rise to new life. We may be hopelessly inconsistent and changeable with the way we live our Christian life, but his Love for us will never change.

Conclusion:
Take the palms home today and keep them. They should now and then remind us the three truths:
1) of our human changeability from friends to enemies of Jesus;
2) of our own sins and failures that caused him to suffer and die; and
3) of Christ's redeeming and victorious love which alone can make us healed, whole and strong again.
We celebrate Holy Week not only to remind us of sin, but also to assure each of us that Easter will come.

Fr Jun Ocampo SVD


Challenges

4th Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2015, Year B

If I remember right English was first used in the Mass in England and Wales on the First Sunday of Advent 1965. Now if a “referendum” had been held among the Catholics in, say, the summer of that year, about whether they wanted the mass to be in English, I am pretty sure the majority would have said “No”. Why? Nobody likes change; we prefer to go on “as usual”. The idea of mass in English was too much of a challenge; the Vatican Council had only just finished; we had not realised the tremendous changes this would bring to our lives as Catholics.

In today’s gospel it would seem that most of the Pharisees could not accept Jesus’ healing powers. They were convinced that because the man had been born blind, he must be a sinner; they wanted to maintain the “status quo” – let’s keep things as they are. They were unable to rise to the challenge that Christ brought with his teaching and healing – the Good News.

What does this mean for us? To be a Christian means to be dedicated to Jesus Christ; and Christ challenges us to change every day of our lives; we will never be able to say that we have arrived at a point where we don’t need to change any more.

In our evening prayer each day it is suggested that we “examine our consciences” which usually means that we ask ourselves what we have done wrong during the day. Instead of doing that, how about asking ourselves what challenges the Lord has sent us that day, and how we responded to them. Did we act on them, or did we refuse to change?

Remember that when a challenge comes the Lord will always give us the grace to respond to that challenge; we have no need to be afraid.

Fr Joe Duggan SJ.

 

Lent priorities

3rd Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015, Year B

Our age is noted for a revival of the medieval tradition of going on pilgrimages. The travel section of many daily newspapers contains advertisements for Lourdes, Fatima, Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago di Compostella as holy places and religious shrines that are worth a visit.
Frequently on returning from hallowed places, people are heard to remark how the sacredness of the experience was somehow reduced by the commercialism you meet in those places. You have only to visit Lourdes for the first time to be appalled by the sight of Our Lady’s image being marketed on all sorts of souvenirs.
The scene of today’s gospel has a similar setting. It is the celebration of the Jewish Passover, which is the most important religious feast and the city of Jerusalem is full to capacity with visitors wanting to take part in the festival. The pious custom for those on pilgrimage was to go to the temple, their visible sign of God’s presence on earth, and make an offering of doves, sheep and cattle as a ritual sacrifice to fulfill the law. The sellers were entitled to be in the temple area as they provided the necessary service for worshippers. Pilgrims offering sacrifice needed a ready supply of animals and birds. As only the “temple money” could be used on the temple precincts, moneychangers were needed to exchange people’s money into temple coins.
Observing the scene, Jesus saw that things were not right and was angry at what was taking place. Somewhere along the way traders had lost sight of providing a service for the convenience of temple worshippers. Their hearts had lost interest in the sacred and were removed from the things of God. They were consumed with greed. What was uppermost in their minds was making money and gaining financial advantage from their privileged position by taking unjust advantage of innocent pilgrims.
All this was being done in the name of religion while the hunger for true worship was not being satisfied. In an extraordinary outburst of anger, Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables and cleared the traders out of the temple. This caused the “Jews” – leaders – to openly confront him and demand an explanation to justify his outrageous behavior. After all, the temple was the place where the heavens and the earth met and the place of encounter with God. Christ’s statement about destroying the temple and rebuilding it within three days goes completely over the heads of those listening and only makes sense to the apostles after his resurrection.
Each one of us is a sanctuary of the living God, housing the law of His love within our very hearts. If everyone we meet is a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, we cannot confine God to a particular place or time, to something the human mind can conceive and control. We worship God not just in church on a Sunday morning, but by behaving well and treating each other kindly. The Gospel challenges us to ask where God is to be found in our lives and what type of home we have made for him. Is it a sacred place, where He is honored and loved? Are we comfortable with Jesus, our guest? Maybe we have grown careless, limiting our worship of God to Sunday mornings in a church building and for the rest of the week are caught up in the worship of false gods in the marketplace! Unknown to ourselves our hearts can become so cluttered up with all types of distractions that we are blind to the needs of those around us.
Lent provides us with an opportunity to take time out from our busy schedules and reflect on what is of central importance in occupying our hearts and minds. It urges us to clarify our priorities and to bring Gospel values into our everyday lives.
We can forget that our happiness and peace of mind depend upon keeping God in the picture and making him a power in our lives by pursuing meaningful and worthwhile goals.
We may have to ask Christ to cleanse our inner selves as he did the temple. Going through a process of purification will be painful and will have to be faced with honesty, humility and love. However, if we are to grow into the beautiful temples that God created us to be, we need to be open to new experiences of the divine in new times and places.

Fr Clemens Pfaff

 

 

Covenants make our life a more fulfilling experience

1st Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015, Year B

Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures revolve around covenants. Covenants are at the heart of our relationships with God and one another. Usually we call the two main parts of the Bible the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament”. But at times we refer to those two biblical collections as the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant.” Basically, a covenant is a contract between at least two people; it is an agreement that not only provides the parties with certain benefits, but also sets out specific responsibilities. Probably many of you have read articles about the new Greek government and the fear that they will not respect the contracts Greece has concluded. Pacta sunt servanda – if a government, if a partner does not respect these contracts, we are in trouble.
Benefits and responsibilities: we can easily surface both these elements in the covenant we most frequently enter into today: marriage. I know it is difficult for me to speak of marriage – being unmarried. But when I look at my parents, and families I know, there is one main reason to enter into such an agreement: and this is because such an agreement, marriage, makes our life a more fulfilling experience. Our biblical authors were convinced that was also true of the various biblical covenants they narrated. People’s lives were always changed and made more interesting and fulfilling whenever they concluded a covenant with Yahweh. People’s lives were always changed and made more interesting and fulfilling whenever they covenanted with the risen Jesus.
Today’s Genesis reading (9:8-15) provides us with the first of Yahweh’s biblical covenants: a post-flood contract with all human beings. “I solemnly promise never to send another flood to kill all living creatures and destroy the earth (v 11.)" For marriage, a wedding ring is an outward sign that someone accepts the responsibilities of a marriage covenant. For the covenant between Yahweh and humankind, the rainbow becomes a sign that Yahweh is committed to carrying out his – or her? - responsibilities to every living creature on earth. Other covenants followed, especially the agreement between Abraham and Yahweh in Genesis 15, and the covenant between Yahweh and all the Israelites which took place on Mt. Sinai immediately after the Exodus.
Though we presume Jesus, as a good Jew, was committed to carrying out all the responsibilities which these covenants contained, we also presume that through his lifetime he had signed on to another covenant with Yahweh to which he was committed: an agreement to show, to bring to light that God was working effectively in the daily life of Jesus. This seems to be what Jesus means when in today’s Gospel he proclaims, “The kingdom of God is at hand! The kingdom of God is near“ (Mark 1:12-15). Jesus is convinced we don’t have to speak magic words, to say more prayers, to participate in another Eucharist in order to experience God’s effective presence in everything we do, in everyone we encounter. God’s already there.
The phrase "kingdom of God" does not refer to the place we plan to inhabit after our physical death. It refers to God working effectively in our lives right here and now. We have just one responsibility: to “repent.“ We are not going to experience God in people we meet and in places we find ourselves in unless we first accept the way Jesus sees the world. This is the meaning of repentance.
What Jesus thought important, we must think important; what Jesus moved to the periphery of his life, we must move to the periphery of our lives. There’s no other way to experience God’s presence. The remainder of the Gospel simply demonstrates the way Jesus sees the world, demonstrates his value system – and in this way outlines how we are to change. In Jesus’ covenant with God, people are more important than rules and regulations; one’s wealth and talents are to be used to help others, not ourselves. And Jesus became so one with all those around him that he eventually made their sins his sins. During the Last Supper, he demands that his followers agree to that same covenant by drinking from the Eucharistic cup; the Eucharist is an outward sign for this covenant between Jesus and God extended to the friends of Jesus.
Today’s passage from the 1st letter of St Peter (3:18-22) refers to another sign of our acceptance of this new agreement: baptism. Baptism by immersion was a meaningful sign for the first followers of Jesus. As the author of I Peter puts it, baptism is more than just "a removal of dirt from the body.“ It's an entrance into a whole new life.
Just as the original flood survivors in the book of Genesis (9:8-15) entered into a new relationship with Yahweh, so we who have "survived" the waters of baptism enter a new relationship with God. It is less necessary to worry about how we get into heaven; it is more necessary to spend more time concentrating on how to bring God’s will for our world to the surface here and now, and to put God’s will for our world into practice here and now.
A different way to renew that covenant is by receiving bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist. These outward signs are essentials of a covenant faith – a faith that needs to be shown and lived.
cf: https://www.dignityusa.org/breath/february-22-2015-first-sunday-lent

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Casting out Evil Spirits

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 8, 2015, Year B

The Gospel of today describes a normal day in the life of Jesus. He is busy till late evening, yet he finds time to communicate with his “Abba”. What does he do all day long? Mark highlights three activities: teaching, healing and casting out evil spirits. All three have something to do with liberation - setting people free.
With his teaching Jesus liberates people from illusions, false ideas and destructive theologies and ideologies, e.g. the illusion that the accumulation of money and possessions brings happiness, so common in our society. Jesus says: On the contrary, it is giving and sharing that brings joy. Or he fights the paralysing idea that God acts like a policeman, trying to catch us doing something wrong. No, says Jesus, God is like a father who is only happy when his children feel at home with him.
Jesus also frees people from sickness and the despair that can come to people like Job who suffer from chronic illness and sometimes fall into a depression. Jesus gives them healing and hope.
For us, probably the strangest thing Jesus does is that he casts out evil spirits. How can we, people who think scientifically, understand this phenomenon of spirit-possession? There are very rare cases of people who are truly held prisoner by an evil spirit and need an exorcism. There is also the phenomenon of Satanism, people who hand themselves over to the devil. But many of the cases of devil possession in the Gospels look more like cases of mental or/and spiritual disorder. From these, too, Jesus wants to set people free.
This is not as extraordinary as it might seem. In many cultures in Africa [editor’s note: the author was active as a missionary in Africa for many years], when someone falls sick, the first question asked is “Who among the living or the spirits of dead is responsible?”. People first look not for a physical, but for a spiritual cause. In some Pentecostal churches, Christians interpret ordinary headaches or backaches as the work of the devil and seek deliverance through an exorcism. In the time of Jesus people had a similar mentality.
Do we have evil spirits who need to be thrown out of our lives? Perhaps we may be obsessed by certain false ideas or destructive ideologies. Jihadists are totally convinced that unbelievers have to be eliminated from the face of the earth. Political and religious ideologies have had a similarly destructive power in our own times, suggesting evil “powers and principalities” beyond simply human wickedness.
We could also look at our own dependencies and addictions. Alcohol, drug dependency or gambling are extreme examples, but we all have areas in our lives where we are not really free, where, in the words of St. Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15). And Paul asks: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” His answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Jesus can deliver us from our hidden chains. When we admit our own powerlessness and put our full trust in him, he can make us truly free, sometimes in wonderful ways.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr


 

 

God invites us to follow a living person, Jesus, not a system or a program

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 25, 2015, Year B

Do you recall the Gospel scene (Mark 1,14-20) of Jesus calling the first four disciples? Maybe you think that Jesus is calling his first four priests. Maybe you think that the fishermen's response to Jesus' call is the response to a call to priesthood. Maybe you think that the primary work of priests is to catch people like fish and eventually lead them triumphantly into heaven.
But no! The biblical Jesus called no one to be a priest. Jesus is calling the first four Christians, not his first four priests. It is essential to remember that the historical Jesus created no religious institutions as we know them. He was driven to form consciences, not found churches. Jesus only said: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of human beings.”
In other words, “People, not fish, will now be at the center of your lives.“ There are no specific implications to this call, except for making people more important than the occupation the four had at that time. Nothing or no one is to be more important than their fellow human beings. The four are to begin their discipleship by adopting the value system of the one who calls them. The value system of Jesus is simple: he wants people to be at the center of the lives of his friends, of this disciples. This is a call on which any follower of Jesus can and must reflect. All of us have received this call.
The four leave the security of their jobs and family attachments for the sake of a person – not for an ideal vision of a better world or a new system of action - but for a real live person. It’s clear from today’s passage that we Christians are also expected to follow a real person: the risen Jesus. God always invites us to follow a person, not a system or a program, but a living person. Unpredictable things happen when one gives oneself to a person instead of a theological system. Once one says "Yes!“ to God, things will never be the same; the unexpected will be the expected.
The author of Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) emphatically agrees with this aspect of Mark's theology concerning calls from God, calls from Yahweh. Biblical calls always revolve around following a person, not dogmas or rules and regulations, not even a set plan of action. That creates problems for a lot of people. It certainly creates a huge problem for Jonah. This prophet has a real problem following Yahweh as a person. Almost every living being in the book eventually repents: the storm-tossed sailors, the residents of Nineveh and their animals - even Yahweh! The book's only unrepentant individual is Jonah.
And the prophet is furious because Yahweh doesn't carry through on his promise to destroy the city and its inhabitants. Jonah is still angry when the book ends. Jonah reminds God that he was sent to preach destruction, not repentance. Yahweh is not calling on these Assyrians to repent; he is simply warning them not to make plans for a longer future, because in a little over a month they’re going to be wiped out. But then, to everyone’s surprise – especially Jonah’s – the unpredictable happens: the whole city, from the king to the animals, repents. Then something even more unpredictable happens: Yahweh repents! “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them: he did not carry it out.” Nothing can be more disturbing to a prophet than discovering that, after he or she has delivered God’s word, God decides to change that word. Jonah has an image of God in the back of his mind, an image he expects God to live up to.
When we claim to be followers of God, are we following a picture of God we’ve imagined in our minds, or the actual person? Jonah was committed to a concept of God, he was not committed to the person of God. A teacher of bible studies once said: "God doesn't have to be faithful to God's word, as long as God is faithful to God's people“ (Hans Walter Wolff). Real people are always subject to change, especially when people around them change.
Both in Jesus and Yahweh, we're called to follow a person who puts people at the center of their existence. Those who have enough courage to imitate such a person will certainly turn the world upside-down. Who among us hasn’t changed our word about something when circumstances or people changed in ways which made our word counterproductive, who among us hasn’t changed our word about something when our word actually caused an effect at odds with that which we originally intended? No wonder we’re tempted to create an unchangeable image of the God we follow. If God doesn’t change then neither do we have to change.
… and it seems that we often don’t want to change the way we live, the way we pray, the way we see God…
God always invites us to follow a person, not a system or a program, but a living person. And real people are always subject to change. Both in Jesus and Yahweh, we're called to follow a person who puts people at the center of their existence.
It is Scouts Sunday – when I read your Scout Law, I see so many things a Scout should do, a Scout should be: among other things you are to 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.
cf:www.dignityusa.org/breath/january-22-2012-third-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 18, 2015, Year B

To speak about the Christian vision of the body and of sexuality in a culture that has set aside all sexual taboos and commercialized the human body is not easy. Neither was it easy for Paul to speak about the dignity of the body and abuse of sexuality to the Christian community at Corinth. As a port city, Corinth had loose moral standards as it served the sexual needs of the seamen after weeks on the high seas. Yet, Paul had the courage to tell the Corinthians some revolutionary ideas: your body is not your property; it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Don’t abuse your body in fornication; use it for the glory of God.
The way Christians have related to the body has been ambiguous throughout the history of Christianity. Early on, it became tainted by a philosophy that considered the body and all material things as evil, and only the spiritual as worth striving for (a heresy called Manichaeism). Even great theologians like St. Augustine had a rather negative view of human sexuality. In the 19th century, it came up again in the form of Jansenism and led to an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual.
The biblical vision of the human body is quite different. On the first page of the Bible, God looks at Adam and the whole of creation and “found it very good”. What a marvellous work of art the human body is - we understand this even better today as science tells us about the incredible complexity of the human brain or the capacity of the body to repair itself through the immune system. What lifted the human body to yet a higher dignity is the mystery we just celebrated at Christmas: in Jesus, God took on a mortal human body (“became flesh” in biblical language), thereby giving the human body a divine dignity.
For all its beauty and dignity, the body with its strong instincts and passions can also enslave our spirit. We can easily become addicted to overeating, excessive drinking, obsessive sex, fixed ideas and so many other chains that destroy our freedom. Paul is concerned that we should remain free: “You were called to freedom, brothers… only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). Our culture entices us in a thousand ways to seek instant gratification. “Just do it”, says an advertisement. Don’t think whether it is good or bad, helpful or destructive… You want it, just do it! The Christian tradition has always thought it necessary to practice some form of asceticism, self-denial and sacrifice, so that we remain master in our own house.
In today’s reading Paul goes even further. It is the Holy Spirit of God, not just our own spirit, who should be owner and master of the temple of our body. And when the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love, becomes alive in us, he starts a revolution and changes our vision. Naturally, we see ourselves at the center of things and use everything else, including people, for our own interest. The Spirit changes the focus: from Me to the Other. In my relationships, also my sexual relationships, I no longer seek self-gratification, but I begin to be concerned with the good of the other person, how to please my partner. Instead of wanting to get things, I desire to give things. In other words, the Spirit inspires me to have the mind of Jesus who “went around doing good” and in the end freely gave up his body, his life, himself for us.
This is what we celebrate every time we come to Mass. The priest lifts up the host and repeats the words of Christ “This is my body given up for you.” When we receive Christ’s body into our own body in Communion, it is to enable us to use our body, our strength, our energy, our talents in the service of our brothers and sisters for the glory of God.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

“On the one hand it is like this, but on the other hand it is like that...”
(THE BAPTISM OF JESUS)


The Baptirm of the Lord, January 11, 2015, Year B

We celebrate Gabriel’s unique encounter with Mary on the feast of the annunciation, on March 25th. Joseph is invited in a dream to leave his home and flee with Mary and the child to Egypt. Given our Christian background, we see why Mary and Joseph need to be informed about their role in salvation (Mark 1:7-11). But we cannot understand why Jesus would need an annunciation. If Jesus doesn’t know what his role in salvation history is, we are in trouble.
Christian faith as it is practiced in the Church comes from a Greek thinking mindset: we analyze people and situations to reach an either/or conclusion: yes or no, good or bad... However, the authors of our sacred books lived in the Semitic world: they synthesize, look at people and situations from every possible angle, and bring different aspects of a person to the surface, which are sometimes contradictory. “It is like this on the one hand, but it is like that on the other...” When our authors finally finished thinking, they always sum up their conclusions in a “both/and” statement and give differing theological opinions about the same person or situation. But we want yes or no, true or false.
Against this backdrop it is interesting to ask: at what point in his existence did Jesus become God and understand that he is the Son of God? The answer varies: Paul believes that this happened at the resurrection; John the Evangelist is convinced that Jesus was God from all eternity. Mark says that Jesus became aware that he was God’s son at his baptism – or the Father made him aware of this. This may be the reason why Mark does not speak about Jesus’ birth and childhood. Mark probably didn’t believe Jesus was God during that part of his life. God’s voice at the baptism proclaims, “You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.”
With the baptism, John the Baptist wanted to signal that someone was determined to give himself or herself completely to God. When Jesus accepted this intention of John’s, it became a turning point in his life. According to Mark’s theology, in his total giving of himself to God, Jesus discovers who he is and accepts his role in God’s plan of salvation. Luke says (Acts 10:34-38) that Jesus’ public ministry began only after the baptism. We can be sure that this baptism triggered something in Jesus that wasn’t there before and he is now determined to be God’s special servant.
Some of us might wonder what God has in mind for us. Perhaps we have to give ourselves over more completely to the risen Jesus. Jesus would say: “Take that step!” We surely will discover lots of “both/and’s” in our lives. In this coming year, let us be more attentive to our lives, and let us reflect more about this - “it is like this on the one hand, but it is like that on the other...”. We certainly will find richness in our lives that we can offer to God and our fellow human beings.
cf. https://www.dignityusa.org/breath/january-11-2015-baptism-jesus

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


 

Cohesion within the Holy Family is challenging

The Holy Family, December 28, 2014, Year B

Christmas is the family's feast. We give presents to express our love and appreciation to someone, but sometimes only because we feel obliged to. We spend time with people we love and who are important to us. The Sunday after Christmas is the feast of the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and Jesus are the center of our attention. Why do we call them the “Holy Family”?
The first question is: are they a family? Is the notion of a family restricted to biological parenthood, or does it include partnership in and a network of relations? In this broader definition, the quality of the relations is what matters – and Joseph, Mary and Jesus were indeed a family. Why do we call them “Holy” Family? Are they holy because they fled their country, or because Joseph stayed with Mary in spite of the unclear origin of her child? Was Jesus Mary’s only son or did she have children with her husband Joseph? The term Holy Family has something to do with the quality of their relations. The relation between Joseph and Mary underwent a deep crisis: …unclear origin of the child, flight to a foreign country, material hardship and deprivation, persecution of the child, uncertain future. And yet, their relation to each other and God matured through this long crisis and they listened to what God told them. Obviously, they needed time to recognize their child as the fruit of God’s Spirit and His messenger for the salvation of humankind. The quality of the relations within the Holy Family is extraordinary both at human and religious level. They become increasingly aware that God is the center of their family, which keeps them together and gives them strength to withstand all the pressures from within and without.
We can ask ourselves: what quality do our relations within our families, with our friends, colleagues and at All Saints have? The key is how God links me to my family, my friends and All Saints’ members. Is God the focus of my relations and do I see others as an image of God? The cohesion and solidarity within the Holy Family is challenging. In times of crisis, would I be able to remain true to myself and to the people I have been entrusted with? Would my bonds really grow and mature as those of Mary and Joseph did? This is one of the challenging messages of Christmas which invites us to identify the power that breathes life and quality into our relations.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Great Joy and deep sadness

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014

„I bring you good news of great joy... a saviour has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord“. The birth of a child is always a great joy. That at the end of a difficult journey for the pregnant mother she holds a healthy baby in her arms, was surely reason enough for Mary and Joseph to be full of gratitude and joy. It let them forget the dirt and discomfort of the stable. The spontaneous joy about their first-born son was multiplied when they were told who this child was: Christ, the Anointed one, the Messiah. For us today it is hardly possible to imagine a pious Jew’s deep emotions evoked by the thought of the Messiah. Most of Israel’s history was marked by corrupt and godless kings, invasions and occupation by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and finally the Romans. What gave Israel the strength to endure endless humiliation and misery was the hope that God would one day break the chain of disasters and give to his people a just king who would enable them to live at last in peace. And now the incredible news that raised great expectations: the Messiah is there. The angel added one word that gave his message yet another unbelievable dimension. The child is said to be Christ, the Lord. Lord, Kyrios is the Name of God. In this child God Himself came in human form. He came not only to set Israel free but He saved humanity through this child.
We have been trying to grasp the meaning of this event for 2000 years. God, whom we always thought as someone far away is now among us not as a passing visitor, but he stays with us. Our fear of an almighty God who comes to pass judgement melts in front of this helpless child. To believe this mystery which surpasses all our imagination is the source of the true joy of Christmas, a joy that does not depend on moods and emotions. ”With Jesus Christ comes always joy”, writes Pope Francis in his letter The joy of the Gospel.
The Christmas story is not only one of joy, it is also overshadowed by deep sadness. Luke expresses it in the symbolic phrase: “There was no room for them in the inn.” John’s Gospel is more explicit: “His own people did not receive him.” The Messiah comes and nobody is interested. God comes to his own children, but they do not want Him and throw Him out of his own house. It is an on-going story. The history of the western world in the last two centuries is the story of God being pushed gradually out of public life. It is called secularization. To speak of him in public or display symbols of faith is no more tolerated. Recently a Berlin district changed ‘Christmas Market’ to ‘Winter Market’. The last traces that remind people of God’s presence in their lives are suppressed.
The Christmas story is not so much about what others did or do. It asks me how much room I give to Jesus, the Christ and Lord in my own inn, in my heart. Christmas promises great joy to anyone who receives him in faith and gives him a great welcome in his life.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

Sit back and reflect on the good things God has done for us

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014, Year B

We often want to “do good things for God” such as make the world a better place and imitate the example of Jesus or of people who live as good Christians. At times, it’s also correct to sit back and reflect on what good things God has done for us, even before we start doing good things for God. King David discovers this aspect of faith in a powerful way (II Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16). He intends to build Yahweh a house; but Yahweh plans to build David and his family a house by promising him a dynasty. “Yahweh spoke to Nathan and said, Go tell my servant David, Thus says Yahweh: Should you build me a house to dwell in? ... Yahweh reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I shall raise up an heir for you ... . Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” Quite a turnabout!
Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary is the classic story where God works in the life of ordinary human beings (Luke 1:26-38). Annunciations can be found in the Holy Scripture and help us understand the importance of events. Not only does this message provide us with the meaning of Mary’s unique pregnancy, it also helps us understand our own uniqueness. Gabriel greets Mary: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you”. No wonder that Mary is “troubled”, we would also be surprised if someone greeted us as like this. The angel quickly adds the details of the virgin’s pregnancy, always stressing what God and the Holy Spirit will do for her.
Mary is only expected to acknowledge and accept what the angel proclaims: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” What Luke says about Mary, he also says about us. He wants us to acknowledge that God and the Spirit are working in us in order to bring Jesus into the world. This may be one of Christmas’s messages: we are those who bring Jesus into the world. At times, it’s OK to sit back and reflect on what good things God has done for us, even before we start doing good things for God.

https://www.dignityusa.org/breath/december-21-2008-fourth-sunday-advent

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 


 

Who are you?

Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014, Year B

This is perhaps the hardest question of all, almost impossible to answer. John the Baptist begins to answer it by saying who he is NOT. Not the Messiah, the Christ, whom the people of Israel expect so eagerly. Not Elijah who was supposed to come back before the Messiah. Neither was he “the prophet like me” that Moses foretold in the famous passage of Deuteronomy 18:15. John, the Evangelists sums it up: John the Baptist “was not the light, he only gave witness to the light.”
What do we say, when someone asks us, who we are? Usually we begin by giving our name which does not really say much about us. We may add the country or town we come from, then speak of our profession, our family status, the stations of our life. Yet, none of all this would get anywhere near the reality of who I am, but simply scratch the surface. In the last resort every person is a mystery. Even couples happily married for years often say: I don’t really know my partner. I know his/her ideas, reactions, habits, but I don’t really know him/her. We remain a mystery to others and ourselves.
Maybe John’s remark “he was not the light, only gave witness to the light” could bring us nearer to the truth about ourselves. I am not a light in my own right; I am only a reflection of another light, of God’s light. There is something of God’s light in me, a tiny spark of the divine. If God is the fullness light, I only reflect one colour of the spectrum, one wavelength of the infinite range. My true identity is not something of my own making. It is a pure gift, a share in God’s infinite light.
If we are a reflection of God’s light, we will come to know who we are only by turning to the source of light. We see of the moon only the side turned to the sun, the rest remains dark. We have to turn a solar panel to the sun to get electricity. We have to direct the satellite dish towards the satellite to get a signal. We have to turn the attention of our mind and heart towards God to become aware of His light in us. This is what we call prayer: turning our attention to the mystery of God.
This is not easy. Our attention is captured by a thousand things. Whenever we try to pray, the home movie in our heads starts. How can we focus on God? We first have to “prepare the way for the Lord”, as John the Baptist tells us: by slowing down, gently pushing aside distractions, becoming gradually empty. Some things may be helpful: e.g. simply repeating with each breath a “mantra”, a verse of a psalm or the “Jesus prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me), or reading a bible passage very slowly (paying attention to each word) and prayerfully (as if God were speaking to me right now).
Advent, though the busiest time of the year, invites us to start again setting aside some time, perhaps just before going to sleep, to turn to the light within us.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 


Be Spiritually Awake

First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, Year B

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris, on a nonstop flight of over 33 hours. To prepare himself for this ordeal, he often refused to go to bed. Jesus says to his disciples, "Be watchful! Be alert! Remain awake." He did not mean for the disciples to remain awake like Lindbergh. Jesus left them for an unknown period of time and gave tasks and responsibilities. He said: "Watch therefore, you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at dawn, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping."
What Jesus means today is that we should be "spirituality awake". He wakes us our thought that there is something far greater: living in the light of eternity. Life is a gift, but it also a responsibility. The way we live in this life will determine whether we will inherit eternal life in the Lord's Kingdom. For a Christian to remain spirituality awake in this life means to be able to recognize the Lord and be willing to receive him at any time. Recognition is crucial because he does not always come in easily recognizable ways. When he came as a human baby at Bethlehem or as a needy and disadvantaged person, people did not recognize him. Christ comes into our lives in the form of ordinary people and events. It will be useless for us to recognize him on the Last Day if we have not recognized and served him every day. At the Last Judgment, the condemned regret that they didn't recognize him.
What does recognizing and serving Christ day by day mean?
• It means seeing Jesus in every person we encounter. This comes easily when we like that person and when we don’t, it is hard. Try to see Jesus in that person and in Jesus' name you can even forgive him.
• Jesus comes into our lives not only through the joyful events, but also through the pains, sorrows, or crisis. See Jesus on the cross as helping you and working a great blessing for you. Choose to be happy. Jesus is with you.
There will always be many opportunities for people through wChrist to come to you. But you can only recognize Christ's coming into your life, when you are spiritually awake. Staying spiritually awake is about more than just crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It's about crossing this life into eternity.

Fr. Jun Ocampo SVD

 

Why can't we again become what we once were?

November 23, 2014 Christ the King, Year A

We often hear: “the Church is not a democracy”! But in church history, we find something different. Pope Leo the Great in the 5th century said: "The one who governs all must be chosen by all." Matthew (15:31-46) has important implications in this respect. When Christianity appeared, people lived in hierarchical societies but Christianity insisted on the equality and dignity of all its members. The first Christian communities were attractive and people often converted to this new religion because of the importance given to each individual when he or she committed themselves to imitating Jesus and became the communities’ equal members and part of Jesus’ family.
Long before Jesus, the classic Hebrew prophets also criticized cruel and heartless political and religious leaders. The prophet Ezekiel (Ez 34, 11-12, 15-17) promises to their victims: “I promise to take care of them and keep them safe, to look for those that are lost and bring back the ones that wander off, to bandage those that are hurt and protect the ones that are weak. Because I am a shepherd who does what is right.” Paul carries God's promise to care for all one step further (1 Cor 15, 20-26, 28). He reminds the Corinthians that whatever happened to the risen Jesus will happen to them. If Jesus died, they will die; if Jesus rose, they will rise. "For just as in Adam all die so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. But we must each wait our turn. Christ was the first to be raised to life, and his people will be raised to life when he returns." The end result is that "God will be all in all! God will rule completely over all." Matthew (Mt 25,31-46) presents us Jesus as someone who is concerned that his followers recognize his presence, especially in those most in need: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me!"
We usually have little pity for the "goats" who "go off to eternal punishment" because they refuse to see the risen Jesus in the needy. Our inability to do what Jesus expects of all Christians might be the biggest "need" we Catholics have here and today. “The first Christian communities were attractive because of the importance given to each individual.” Why can't we again become what we once were?

cf https://www.dignityusa.org/breath/novemeber-20-2011-feast-christ-king (sic!)

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

God gives us the talents to do good in the world

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 9, 2014, Year A

The scriptures challenge us to put our values in order, to focus on the important things and to take risks trusting in the generous power given to us by God. Proverbs (31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) offer the image of a wife who cares for her family and the poor. This reading can misinterpret a women’s role and limit it to “domestic work.” The proper way, however, to read this scripture is in the value of a person, not in superficial standards of beauty or fashion, but in the quality of life, the loving character of human relationships and in the concern shown to others: “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.”
Matthew (25:14-30) reminds us of the possibilities that can unfold when God’s gifts are properly used. God has given us talents and when we make our efforts, great things can happen. In the parable, those who invest in what they have been given, have success and only the one who is paralyzed by fear fails.
We live in a world that has abundant resources but just distribution is the challenge. God invites us to a responsible sharing of abundance. Hunger and injustice can come to an end if we use what has been given to us by God efficiently. Studies show the unequal distribution of wealth. The top 1% controls a huge percentage of our wealth and has an inordinate proportion of income. People at the bottom get increasingly less and those in the middle are not well. God invites us to responsibly share our income and to commitment to the common good and justice.
We can deplete the earth’s resources, pollute the environment, and keep producing greenhouse gases that change the climate. But God invites us to use our gifts and talents for the common good so that all people can enjoy the rewards of responsible development. Abundance, fruitfulness and goodness are possible. People of all nations can share in development and injustice can come to an end. We need to use well what we have been given by God.

cf educationforjustice.org/resources/thirty-third-sunday-ordinary-time-november-13-2011

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


You are the Temple of God and the Spirit of God Dwells in You

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 9, 2014, Year A

For 300 years, Christians did not pray or break bread in churches but did so in their homes. Roman Emperor Constantine, after recognizing Christianity as an official religion, built the first church in Rome: the Lateran Basilica. Today we remember the dedication of “the mother of all churches”.
The Lateran Basilica, not St. Peter, is the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, the Pope. Since, Christians have built many churches, often being the biggest and most beautiful buildings in town with stained-glass windows, art and a tall tower pointing to heaven. They were meant to serve as a meeting place for the Christian community and as a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem. Churches are a reminder in the business of daily life that we are destined for a more wonderful world.
We build churches out of stones and bricks to honor God, but God builds a Church out of living stones: people. “You are God’s building,” Paul tells the Corinthians. The community of believers is the Church and it does not matter whether they pray in a home, a grass hut or a cathedral, as long as they are spiritually alive and have Jesus as the cornerstone of their community. Without a shared living faith in Jesus, the Christian community would be merely a social club or a human organization.
This is illustrated in a powerful scene in Zeffirelli’s film Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus dies on the cross in the company of Mary and “the disciple”, the camera moves over an empty temple which is normally crowded with people bringing offerings and priests sacrificing animals. The presence of God has moved from a splendid building of the Temple to Jesus who became the new temple. Jesus Christ, dead and risen, becomes the meeting point with God. In the Gospel we heard how he predicted this. “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” His listeners thought of the building, but the Evangelist John comments, “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”
The body of Christ, dead and risen, is the new temple. In him the fullness of God dwells. In him we encounter God. And if we believe in him we, too, share in the gift of His Spirit. We, too, became a temple of God. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth. This is the foundation of human dignity. Not our intellectual or physical gifts, not our social status, not our achievements give us our identity and our dignity. It is the fact that God has given us His Spirit to dwell in our hearts and so made us a temple of God. “God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.” If we believe this, we know who we are and no longer depend on what others say or think about us.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

World Mission Sunday

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 26, 2014, Year A

Mission Sunday reminds us of Jesus’ mandate to go the world and bring the Good News to all nations. But how can we evangelize our world today as Pope Francis keeps urging us? Let me illustrate three elements from the way Christianity spread in a country I know well: Uganda.
What persuaded people in Uganda to become Christians? The examples of the first missionaries. People watched these strangers very closely and saw that they were men of prayer. They got up early before sunrise to pray together. They were also deeply impressed by the way they cared for the sick making no distinction between people. If we wish to evangelize our secularized society in Germany, we must become people of prayer, putting God first in our lives. And we must show love and concern especially for the uncared for. In other words, we must live in a radical, uncompromising manner the commandment to love God and neighbor.
The first missionaries who came to Uganda had only a few years to spread the Gospel before political trouble made them flee to a neighboring country leaving behind a community of about 80 Christians, most of them catechumens. When they could return years later they found that the number of Christians had increased tenfold. Without the help of priests or religious these young Ugandan Christians had spoken about the new faith in Jesus to their friends and families and enkindled the fire of faith in others. The Catholic faith in Africa was spread not so much by missionaries, but rather by ordinary lay people. The New Evangelization of which the Pope speaks and which is so needed in Europe will have to be the work of lay people who radiate the joy of the Good News in their own families, neighborhood and workplace unreachable by priests.
After 10 years, persecution broke out in Uganda and dozens of Christians chose to die rather than deny their faith in Christ. 22 of them were canonized by the Church 50 years ago. The “blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians”, as St. Irenäus said of the early martyrs. Throughout history, the church grew under persecution. Never has there been such a widespread persecution of Christians as today, especially in Muslim countries. Even in Europe, where we enjoy religious freedom, it can take great courage to stand up for one’s faith when it means that you are ridiculed or disadvantaged. Do we have the courage of the early Christians in Uganda and other “mission” countries who are ready to suffer and die for Christ?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Were these the good old times when Christian values
were the only values a state admitted?

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 19, 2014, Year A

"Give the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor and give God what belongs to God" (Mt 22, 21). Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is unambiguous as his words do not state specifics about Christian participation in civic life. Matthew’s entire passage mentions two extremes from the state’s side. One of them is a political system which would assimilate the Church through favor in order to absorb her. It is a political system which would instrumentalize the Church, faith and believers with the state’s duties; we know systems like these. The other extreme is a political system that would exclude the church by force; we also know systems like these.
The Church must avoid the temptation to demand to give God what is Caesar's. We know theocratic states where religion dominates society and they are hardly good for people. We only need to think of the so-called “Islamic State”... And even if Christian churches do not want a theocratic state where the Christian faith is the state religion, certain nostalgia is still present about the good old times where Christian values were the only values admitted. We can think of the synod on the family in Rome that just ended: aren’t there “synod fathers” who regret that the Church no longer decides what is good and what is wrong in our daily lives?
"Is it lawful to pay tax to the Emperor or not?" This is an explosive question. Parts of the Jewish population bitterly resented any taxation by the Romans. If Jesus refuses the tribute to Caesar, he sides with the violent anti-Roman revolutionaries. But if he authorizes the tribute to Caesar, he would be on the occupiers’ side. Jesus eludes the trap. "Give Caesar what is Caesar's, but give God what is God's!" The expression “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians, 2:11) denies Caesar's claims to absolute divine power for any Christian.
In his encyclical “Populorum Progressio” blessed (since October 18th 2014) Pope Paul VI wrote in 1967: “Founded to build the kingdom of heaven on earth rather than to acquire temporal power, the Church openly avows that the two powers Church and State are distinct from one another; that each is supreme in its own sphere of competency. But since the Church does dwell among people, she has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel”. Let us take some moments to reflect on our participation as Christians in the political life of our nations, cities and communities.

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ

The need for adaptability of faith and religion

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 12, 2014, Year A

The Philippi community wanted to help Paul financially in his ministry (Philippians, 4:12-14.19-20). Paul assured them: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances, I also know how to live in abundance....” Adaptation to changing circumstances distinguished early Christianity. Jesus did not give his followers a detailed handbook on how to build the Church; he only left them with the example of his death and resurrection. Jesus commanded for them to continue his ministry and trusted their adaptability. His followers changed the language of Jesus from Aramaic into Greek because many converts didn’t speak Aramaic. Thus they weren’t limited by time, cul-ture or geography. As long as they were faithful to his teachings, Jesus presumed his followers would know how to “read the signs of the times” and keep, omit or change as necessary.
But we Christians don’t have a monopoly – many of God’s followers were gifted with this adaptive outlook long before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah sees a beautiful future in which “Yahweh will de-stroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:6-10) and this also applied to non-Jews. Isaiah even offers the faith to the Assyrians who were just about to annihilate his own people. Jesus is worried about individuals who do not take advantage of the opportunities God sends (Matthew, 22:1-14). His parable of the refused wedding invitation was probably part of his basic “programmatic speech” in which Matthew summed up the situation he faced daily. Many of his listeners did not regard God’s invitation to reform as an opportunity for new faith experiences, they were simply developing ex-cuses to continue their “status quo”.
John XXIII told the Vatican II bishops that he didn’t call the council to repeat what they already believed, but to explore what the Church could gain from what was going on outside the Church. It is still too early to see the effect pope Francis will have on the Church. We have heard about the family synod in Rome. Will those gathered there accept God’s invitation to reform as an opportunity for new faith experiences? Will they read the signs of the times? Adaptation to changing circumstances distinguished early Christianity. What about in the 21st century Church?

Cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/october-12-2008-twenty-eighth-sunday-year

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

An Important Synod

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 28, 2014, Year A

On October 5th the synod on the family will open in Rome. It may become an important event in the life of the Catholic Church for two reasons. It can redefine the way the world’s bishops in union with the Pope give guidance to the Church on pastoral issues and at the same time bring greater clarity into some thorny questions concerning sexuality, marriage and family life.
We have had many synods since Vatican II. But so far they were merely consultative, i.e. they suggested some ideas to the Pope which he could use or discard at his own discretion. It seems that Pope Francis intends to make the bishops’ synod an instrument of “collegiality”, i.e. Pope and bishops exercising their authority together. For centuries synods were the common method to decide on important issues in the Church and they still are in the Orthodox and the Anglican churches. If the governance of the Catholic Church were exercised less through the Vatican administration, as is the case today, and more directly by the college of bishops in union with the Pope, this could have a great impact of ecumenical relationships with other churches.
In preparation for the Synod on the family, Pope Francis asked for a consultation not only of bishops’ conferences, but also of the laity, Christians who are the most concerned with family life as they are living it every day. The consultation showed very clearly one thing: the Church’s teaching and the life of most ordinary Christians are far apart in a number of important points. As those who took the trouble of answering the lengthy questionnaire are likely not to be lapsed, but practicing Catholics, their opinion has to be taken seriously. The synod will have to analyze the reasons and propose ways how the gap can be narrowed. There are in particular three areas where most Catholics no longer follow the Church’s teaching: birth control, sex before marriage, and divorce and remarriage.
The synod faces a formidable task. On the one hand, the Church cannot change what is Christ’s clear teaching. The word of God is not a matter of opinion. On the other hand, if so many serious Christians no longer see the teaching of the Church as reasonable and relevant, something is wrong somewhere. Is it merely that they have succumbed to the “Zeitgeist”, the spirit of the world? Is it that the conditions of life have change so drastically that some rules of old do not make sense any longer in the modern world? Has the Church failed to communicate Christ’s message to a new world culture?
The synod fathers and mothers will have to make a serious spiritual discernment. For that they need our prayers. So Pope Francis has asked the whole Church to pray this week for the upcoming synod. When we think back how God’s spirit inspired the bishops at the Second Vatican Council and how the Spirit inspired time and again the college of cardinals to elect unexpected, but outstanding Popes we have good reason to believe that the same Spirit will help the synod with propositions that are both faithful to the Gospel and relevant to the life of today’s married people and Christian families.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Unfair Rule Changes?

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 21, 2014, Year A

Unless we know something about the community for whom Matthew writes, today's gospel makes little sense (Matthew 20:1-16a). We might reflect about the injustice of the unequal pay, we might reflect about the arbitrariness of the landowner, about the workers who have no rights, about the necessity of a basic income for all – no matter if they work or not… But no, Matthew was not writing about workers' rights, about injustice, about basic income. Matthew composed his gospel for the second and third generation of Jews who had become Christians. By the time Matthew writes in the late 70s of the first century, an unforeseen phenomenon is playing out. The church had begun almost 50 years before as a completely Jewish religious movement. But now this new church was nearing a point at which Jews were becoming a minority in their own movement. Gentiles, non-Jews, were always welcome in Christianity. But Jesus was originally regarded simply as a reformer of Judaism, not as the founder of a new way to encounter God.
So these non-Jewish converts, these Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus, they were expected to embrace Judaism and its 613 laws. Only then could they begin going down the road of imitating Jesus' death and resurrection. They first had to become Jews.
This practice continued only into the late 40s of the first century. From then on, liberals like Paul of Tarsus began baptizing Gentiles without insisting they first convert to Judaism and its laws. Of course the Christians who had been Gentiles appreciated this 180 degree turnabout in church discipline. But lots of Christians of Jewish origin had problems with it. These Christians of Jewish origin had borne "the day's burden and the heat," they had submitted to circumcision and had accepted the responsibility of keeping those all-pervasive regulations of their Jewish faith. In their minds, this newfangled, this modern way of bringing Gentiles into the faith was clearly unjust.
That's when Matthew's Jesus comes on the scene with today’s story. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who pays each of his workers the same amount of money. The same amount to all even though some worked over twelve hours while others worked just one or two! When confronted over his blatantly unjust wage scale, the employer reminds his workers he did nothing illegal or unjust: he paid the amount each laborer had agreed upon. The laborers could only challenge his generosity, not his breach of contract.
In other words, Christians of Jewish origin who still were obliged to follow the laws of Moses were not being treated unjustly by God. As Jews, they had made that commitment at the foot of mount Sinai 1,200 years before. God simply was demonstrating God's generosity by not demanding the same commitment from Gentiles.
At its core, this message, though distasteful and unpleasant to some, is fundamental to our faith: God rarely works in “black or white”, in “either – or” patterns. And more disturbing, God never fits into a "one size fits all" theology. A word I heard in German: “Theologie aus einem Guss”, “Pastoral aus einem Guss”. This contradicts the fundamental truth of our faith: „Unity in diversity“, not „uniformity“.
Let us have a look at our first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 55:6-4). Isaiah discovered this aspect of divine behavior more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus. The same God who is as close to us as our breath, at times can be as far away from us "as the heavens are above the earth." Like all people of faith, the prophet frequently encountered a God who is immanent and transcendent at the same time, a God who is very near to us and at the same time a reality beyond our observable universe. Some of what God does fits into our puny little minds; a lot of it doesn't.
No wonder Paul struggles with his personal living and dying in our Philippians pericope (Philippians 1:20-24, 27a). From his earlier letters we know a lot about Paul. When Paul first began to follow the risen Jesus, he presumed the Parousia, the second coming of the Lord, was just around the corner. But as the years went on and Jesus’ Second Coming was delayed, Paul was forced to ask the questions we find in our second reading. At some point, someone seems to have changed the rules of the game – no second coming in sight...
This is a great occasion to reflect on how our own understanding of God has changed since we first learned about God when we were still children. I presume that there are some aspects in this change we like, and that there are other aspects in this change that create problems because they make us leave the comfort zones of our childhood faith.

http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/september-18-2011-twenty-fifth-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

The Exaltation of the Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 2014, Year A

According to tradition, Empress Helen found the true cross of our Lord in Jerusalem on September 14th in 320. Her Son, Emperor Constantine, had the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built on this spot. It was consecrated with a great celebration and September 14th became the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, or Exaltation of the Cross, meaning holding up the cross. There are good reasons to celebrate such a feast today.
First: The cross is the sign of Jesus’ death. One day, we will also have to cope with our death. Looking at the cross, we discover that attempts to suppress death are an attack on life. It is through death that life gains depth, uniqueness and irrevocability. Holding up the cross means to live with contradictions by reflecting on Christ’s death: salvation on the cross and life in death.
Second: The cross is a symbol of freedom. God gives us freedom to decide to be for or against him. We begin to understand that suffering is the price for freedom. In human experience, he who suffers has compassion and love for God. Holding up the cross as a symbol of freedom means that God’s love for mankind can be found in the cross. We’ll learn to live with the contradiction that a man nailed to the cross redeems me and the one laid on the cross helps me rise. God cares about me and is full of compassion.
Finally: The cross is a sign of protest. We are redeemed and liberated from this world's reality. The cross “calls me up" against suffering, injustice and evil. This freedom given as a free gift allows us to live as the one lived who died on the cross, by obstructing the intrigues of the powerful, by protesting against those that cause suffering. Holding up the cross as a sign of protest means that I speak up for those who are being laid down on the cross and mistreated.
Even if the cross remains a mystery, it accompanies us through life. Even if living up to its challenge is difficult, we might realize that the cross is the biggest plus in our life. It is an asset because it shows a perspective beyond all failure and defeat.

Fr Clemens Pfaff

 

Copernican Revolution of the Hearts

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 31, 2014, Year A

In the 16th century, there lived a man named Nikolaus Copernicus who was a great Polish astronomer and mathematician. At this time, everybody believed that the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth and that the earth was the center of the universe. But one day, Copernicus declared the opposite: “The sun is the center of the universe, and the earth and the moon revolve around the sun.” Many thought he was joking and some considered him crazy. Today everybody believes that the earth revolves around the sun. We call this the “Copernican Revolution”.
Like Copernicus, Jesus often stated the opposite of how people thought at that time. Let us call it the Copernican Revolution of the Hearts. He said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” This is one of the most difficult sayings of Jesus: Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself. Jesus is simply saying that one should invert the process of our mentality: from SELF to God. That is what is meant by “denying yourself”. Empty the selfish purposes from your heart. This is the Copernican Revolution of the Hearts.
If we look at our lives, many of the things we do mostly revolve around the ME or MYSELF: it is the self that comes first – self-oriented and self-serving: my purpose, my objective, my needs, wants, desires, and wishes; my vision, my dream, my agenda, my projects, my activities. Just look at Facebook, what do they post – a selfie!
St. James tells us: “Where selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every foul practice. . . . Where do wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” Start thinking less in terms of yourself and your personal interests and more in terms of God. What would Jesus do in such a situation, how would Jesus react to such people? You are the one now who revolves around Jesus.
One way to describe my point is an incident where an LKW needs to pass through an underpass. However, there is a little problem: the truck is a few centimeters too high to get. Everybody contributes with a solution that does not work until a man from a vulcanizing shop stops by and takes a stick and lets air out from the tires and the truck is able to pass through.
This is how the Copernican Revolution of the Hearts works. Deflate yourself of self-seeking interests. No wonder when Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all,” he took a child and placed him in their midst.

Fr. Jun Ocampo SVD

 

 

One of the papacy’s most important tasks: bringing the prophets in the Church to the surface

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 24, 2014, Year A

The implications of the Romans passage are astounding (Romans 11:33-36). Let us listen again to Paul’s praise of God’s “wisdom and knowledge”: “Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does? Has anyone known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice? Has anyone loaned something to the Lord that must be repaid?” If that’s true, then we who claim to be God’s friends have a huge task: to constantly apply God’s inscrutable wisdom and unsearchable knowledge to whatever happens in our everyday life. How can we accomplish this?
One thing is evident from our Isaiah passage (Isaiah 22:19-23): God is intimately interested in whatever happens in our daily life. God is interested in our daily life even to the point of arranging for a change in political power. If God is concerned about everything, then God is concerned about everything – no exceptions. But how do we make God’s concerns our concerns?
Let us have a look at Matthew 16:13-20: Matthew’s purpose in composing this story is to stress Peter’s faith in the risen Jesus. Matthew’s purpose is not to stress Peter’s prerogative as the first infallible pope. It’s that faith of people like Peter on which the Christian community is built. The objective of the evangelist is this faith of Peter, not the person of Peter, and surely not the idea that Peter was to become the 1st pope. From the gospel we know that even Peter can make gross mistakes. Not only by denying Jesus on Good Friday, but by supporting members in the young Church who are against baptizing non-Jews. Here Peter was clearly on the wrong side – Paul had an important conflict with him.
So the quest to know God’s will is a constant task for anyone who dares to follow God, who calls himself or herself a friend of God. There’s no one person, no one institution, no one situation who has a monopoly on God’s will. The authors of our sacred scriptures presume that our minds and hearts must always be open to bring God’s will to the surface – bring God’s will to the surface even in situations, institutions, and persons in which we have never noticed it before.
The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles said about the Roman-Catholic Church: “Had there been a Holy Office in the early church, we would have just one gospel: Mark. But in our history books we would have reference to three notorious early Christian heretics named Matthew, Luke and John.”
Why did Avery Dulles say this? The power of the Church, the so-called Magisterium, had been discussed at the council. And many of the leaders in Rome had wanted to expand this central power of the Roman Church. So Avery Dulles wanted to make one thing clear: if we want to identify God’s will in our lives, we can no longer rely just on papal decrees or conciliar statements. This is what the council’s documents show.
Both the earliest church and the biblical Jews presumed the usual way to surface God’s will was to listen to the community’s prophets. Prophets – those special individuals, men and women, whom God inspires to be our conscience, to provide us with the future implications of our present actions. These are the people who consistently challenge us to return to the beginnings of our faith, who are able to cut through centuries of institutional addenda and recreate God’s original plan for God’s people.
Now let me come to another Jesuit: Pope Francis has this intention to get everyone’s input into the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family. I think that this is certainly a step toward that broader sense of Magisterium, a broader notion of “the teaching of the Church”. Perhaps one of the papacy’s most important tasks isn’t always to tell us God’s will, but to bring the prophets in the Church to the surface – prophets whom God has inspired to do just that.

http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/august-24-2014-twenty-first-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

To Live is to Learn

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 17, 2014, Year A

We usually read about scandals in the boulevard press, not in the Bible. But the Gospel can easily scandalize us. We know Jesus as someone who is welcoming to everyone, who invites the marginalized people to his table and does not exclude anyone from his company. The way Jesus treats the Canaanite woman is very unusual, to say the least. The poor woman pleads with him for her sick daughter but Jesus rudely refuses to help her. His final remark comparing the Israelites to the children of God’s household and the pagans to dogs is definitely offensive.
Scripture scholars have been struggling with this passage. Was Jesus only pretending to turn her down in order to test her faith? Or was he in the beginning of his ministry truly convinced that his mission was limited to the people of Israel? If so, he then saw himself in line with the prophets whose vocation was to bring the people back to the abandoned Yahwe as John the Baptist had done. Maybe it took Jesus time to realize that his mission was not only to Israel but the whole of humanity. And the extraordinary faith of this pagan Canaanite woman opened his eyes to recognize that gentiles, non-Jews, were also called to the kingdom of God.
Human life, from the day we are born until we die, is one long learning process. To be human is to learn, to adapt to new situations, to understand oneself, the world around us and the ways of God ever more deeply. If Jesus was truly human, gaining new insights and growing in wisdom were also a part of his life. He did not know everything from the start. He had to learn.
The Gospels point to such moments when Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding. As a teenager, during his first pilgrimage to the temple and again during his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus had a mystical experience of God being so intimate and close that he spoke of Him as his true “Abba”, Father. Pagans who had greater faith than his own disciples astonished him and made him realize that they, too, were loved by his “Abba” and called to share God’s life.
Jesus is a model for us in his openness to recognize new realities, to see God’s Spirit at work in unexpected ways. There was a time when we thought that only Catholics would go to heaven till one day we met men and women of great faith, who were Protestants. And we realized that they were maybe nearer to the Spirit of Christ than we were ourselves. With the horrors committed by Muslim fanatics in the Middle East, we may be inclined to look at all Muslims as dangerous and violent, unless we meet Muslims who radiate great goodness and holiness. Are we – like Jesus – ready to see God at work where we did not expect him and accept that God is so much greater than our heart?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Crossing to the Other Side

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 10, 2014, Year A

Sometimes geography can help to a better understanding of biblical texts. “Jesus made the disciples head to the other side.” He had to force them because they were deathly scared to leave their familiar surroundings and cross the lake of Galilee. Why? Because the people living on the other side were pagans, people with a different culture, a different language, a different religion or none at all; in other words people who were considered dangerous and despicable.
The Gospel of the storm on the lake is in the first place not a description of a nature miracle, it rather tells the story of the mission of the early church. Jesus had left his close collaborators an impossible mission: to go and spread his message “to the ends of the world.” They were not at all qualified for such an undertaking. As fishermen they had little education and no financial resources and still less experience of the great world of the Romans. Moreover, Jesus had not left them any precise instructions how to go about it, he had only vaguely promised them the help of “his Spirit.” And no sooner had they started their mission that a storm of opposition rose against them. Their leaders were put in prison or killed; the community scattered all over the place; fierce internal disputes about the place of the pagans divided the church. Hardly had the boat of the young church ventured into open waters, it nearly sank. No wonder the apostles were scared.
And where was Jesus? More often than not, he seemed to be absent leaving them struggling on their own. But then the apostles had another experience. In spite of fierce opposition, open persecution by the authorities and internal divisions, the church miraculously grew stronger and stronger. Many people became interested in the message. Small communities of believers sprang up in many places. After all Jesus seemed to be with them and proved stronger than contrary winds.
We are called to continue Jesus’ mission today, to go out of our cozy community to the margins of our secular society, as Pope Francis continually challenges us to do. And we, like the disciples, are scared. We fear the scorn and ridicule when we admit our love to our church in spite of its many defects or when we humbly but boldly take positions which are at odds with the norms of the current culture. We are even more scared watching the waves of religious intolerance and violence suddenly springing up in many places. We are people of little faith. The Gospel wants to encourage us to trust that all storms can eventually be overcome if only we keep Jesus in the boat.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

The Kingdom of God means: God is working in our lives right here and now.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 20, 2014, Year A

One of the most misunderstood gospel terms is the phrase "kingdom of God" or “kingdom of heaven." It's a very significant concept. Jesus begins his public ministry with the proclamation, "The kingdom of God is close at hand!" To misunderstand the kingdom of God is to misunderstand the ministry of the historical Jesus. So is this kingdom of heaven something we expect after our physical death? No, this kingdom does not refer to the life we are expecting to experience after our physical death. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he describes God working in our lives right here and now.
The earthly ministry of Jesus revolves around two things: making people aware of God's ac-tions and demonstrating the different facets of that kingdom. In teaching about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus frequently employs parables. He employs parables to help his followers see the reality of their lives in ways most people never notice.
In today's kingdom parable, Jesus reminds us that God doesn't just single out the good to work with (Mt 13:24-30). God does not single out the good to work with, no!, God's presence is to be made visible in a "mixed world" - a world inhabited by both wheat and weeds – this is our world.
So Jesus wants us to produce a zealous effort to make God’s kingdom perfect on earth? No! when we look back in history, those zealous efforts always led to fanaticism – Christian fanati-cism… Jesus warns that a too zealous effort to make God's kingdom perfect on earth will result in lots of good people being torn out with those we consider to be bad weeds. When we are too zealous, we tear good people out together with those we consider bad weeds… Jesus assures us: God will eventually take care of that part of the kingdom's work. Our job is to keep planting the wheat.
Jesus thinks it is important to remind us that the kingdom is God's, not ours. When we at-tempt to take over the kingdom of God it ceases to produce the results God intends. This seems to be why both the author of Wisdom and Paul stress our own human limitations.
The Wisdom writer puts God acting in our lives in the center of his message (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19). God is acting in our lives in spite of all the obstacles we place in God's path. We read: "God, you do what is right because you have the strength to do so, and your great power makes you merciful to everyone. When anyone doubts your strength, you show how strong you are, and you correct anyone who understands and still doubts” (16f). Instead of expecting us to be judges, God has a different job description for us: "God by the things you have done you have taught your people that a person who is righteous must also be kind" (19).
Let us have a look at St Paul (Romans 8:26-27): Does Paul think that only strong-willed, judgmental people can proclaim God’s presence in the world? No, certainly not! Who are the pro-claimers of God's presence in our world for Paul? He writes: "The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness - the Spirit comes to help us, weak as we are" (26a). The Apostle continues: "For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. - When we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words" (26b). True disciples have to admit they are not even certain themselves what to pray for. Without the Spirit's guidance they would probably be praying for things which are against God's will.
Getting back to the wheat and weeds in the story Jesus tells in the gospel, how can we then be comfortable judging the actions of others? Only "the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will - All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God's people" (27).
Are we conscious what we do when we tear out weeds? When we tear out weeds impeding us from what we conceive of as our clear path of growth? Then we might actually put an end to God's plan of growth. We can transfer this easily to Christian communities: When we tear out weeds impeding us from what we conceive of as our clear path of growth, then we might actually put an end to God's plan of growth.
cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/july-20-2008-sixteenth-sunday-year

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

God's word is the most powerful force our faith has to offer

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 13, 2014, Year A

When we look at today’s reading from Saint Paul to the Christian community in Rome, we see that he begins by making a statement of faith: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. Or in a different translation: “I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us.” (Rm 8,18) Paul brings a challenge to our attention with which all people of faith must deal: How do we know the things we hope for in faith will eventually happen one day?
Isaiah and Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew give the same basic answer to this question, even though they were active more than 500 years apart.
Paul employs the image of a woman in labor to convey his point : "We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth. The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children. This means that our bodies will also be set free. And this hope is what saves us." (Rm 8 22-24)
The question Paul rises is: What is the basis of our hope? Or: How do we know the things we hope for in faith will eventually happen one day?
Isaiah and Jesus direct our attention to the same answer: this basis of our hope is God's word.
Let us have a look at Isaiah: Isaiah is active during the darkest hour of the Chosen People - the Babylonian Exile 2500 years ago. Then, a large percentage of Jews were confined in Babylon; this exile was a safeguard against any revolt against their foreign conquerors. For them, for the people in exile, there's no hope for release, no chance to return to the Promised Land.
But then this unnamed, unexpected prophet comes on the scene, promising their time of punishment is now over. This prophet encourages them to pack their bags and get the road between Israel and Babylon in shape. He proclaimed: Your hated exile is over.
Sounds great, but how can the people in exile be certain this longed for day is just around the corner? Isaiah has just one answer: We've got Yahweh's word on it! If Yahweh says it, it happens, no matter the obstacles. That's where today's passage from Isaiah comes in. The prophet perfectly summarizes the force of that word: "Rain and snow fall from the sky. But they don't return without watering the earth that produces seeds to plant and grain to eat. That's how it is with my words. They don't return to me without doing everything I send them to do.” (Is 55 10-11)
Nothing and no one can stop God's word from having the effect God intends.
If we take the verses of the gospel which we just heard (Mt 13 1-9), Jesus completely agrees with Isaiah. Matthew leaves out the question which seems to have provoked Jesus' famous parable about sowing seed. Most probably someone came up one day and asked Jesus why he was wasting his time doing all that preaching: "You're wasting your time! A month from now over half your crowd won't remember even one thing you said; a year from now only one or two will have changed anything in their lives because of what you said." It was then that Jesus points to a farmer broadcasting seed. Jesus reminds his well-meaning friend that if just a little bit of seed takes root it will produce "fruit, a hundred, or sixty or thirty fold." If just one or two people change their lives because of the word he is preaching, it will make all his wasted effort worthwhile.
Jesus, like Isaiah and Paul, was amazed at the power of the word he proclaimed. Do we not also proclaim God’s word in a world, where few seem concerned with this word? I am convinced: Though God's word is easy to ignore, it is the most powerful force our faith has to offer.
cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/july-13-2008-fifteenth-sunday-year

Wolfgang Felber SJ

Jubilee Reflections

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 6, 2014

1. As I celebrate my golden jubilee of priesthood with you, I want to tell you about three events which made me understand more deeply what Christian faith is all about. Event one:
When I arrived in my first parish in Uganda in 1964, I was not only overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. What impressed me most was the sense of solidarity of the people there. They would carry their sick for hours over the volcanic mountains to the mission hospital and at least two would stay with the patients to cook and care for them and sleep on the cement floor under their bed at night. What is my message as a missionary to people who seemed to be more Christian than anything I had seen at home? My question turned into a crisis of vocation. My question was answered when a few months later travelling with a teacher on a motorcycle we found a woman near the bush path lying in the grass with a cut on her head, covered in blood and uncon-scious. I did not know what to do and went to greet the people living nearby and asked them whether they had seen the woman on the path. “Yes, they said, when we came out this morning she was there.” “But why did you not take her to the hospital?” I asked. Their short answer remains still engraved in my memory: “S’uwacu!” they answered. “She is not one of us.” At this moment I knew what my message was. You do not have to tell people in Africa about the existence of God or about solidarity. Africa’s problem is tribalism. What they need is to extend their solidarity beyond the limits of family and clan to everybody and learn that all others are equally God’s children and therefore their brothers and sisters for whom they are responsible. This is a challenge for all of us. We all tend to reserve our love and solidarity to family, friends and interest groups. It is a continuous struggle to expand the horizon of our charity and responsibility to include those nobody cares about. Pope Francis keeps reminding us “to go to the margins.”

2. Priests usually make a “retreat” every year. For a week they withdraw to a quiet place to pray and meditate the word of God under the guidance of a “retreat master.” I was looking forward to such a retreat when I received a letter from my religious superior not to make but to preach that retreat as he had to undergo an urgent operation and was not able to come. I was furious but as mobile phones and e-mails did not exist at the time, I could not even refuse the request. On a sunny Sunday I set out on the 150 km journey. After a short time in the middle of a forest the mid-dle of the road was blocked by a huge rock. I turned round and tried another route only to be faced with a landslide. Working for hours, some local people managed to clear the road enough for me to get through. It looked as if some evil spirit was trying to discourage me. Then in the twilight of the evening I saw a branch across the road and beyond it a huge gaping hole where there used to be a bridge. The rainy season had been particularly heavy and floods had carried the bridge away. Taking yet another detour, I finally reached the retreat house around midnight on my last drop of gas. In the morning I met my confreres, read the letter to them and told them that I had prepared nothing. We would come together once a day. If I had to say anything, I would say it. For the rest they should pray on their own. When at the end of the retreat one of them told me that this had been the best retreat in his life, I knew it was not my merit. On this occasion and many others af-terwards I experienced the truth of Jesus’ promise: “Do not worry what to say. It will be given you.”
Yes, God provides, not only for our spiritual needs, but also for our material needs. In 1994 some ten thousand refugees from Ruanda arrived in Nairobi. As they were illegal, they did not get any support from anybody. We started a small program for them without any means and almost mi-raculously we always received what we just needed. We can trust God to give us “our daily bread”, i.e. what we truly need for today: no more, no less.

3. In 1990 the leadership of the Missionaries of Africa, popularly known as “White Fathers”, decided to open up a new parish in Southern Sudan and sent me there to explore the needs and possibilities. It was to be the most adventurous journey of my missionary life. What remains unforgettable was the encounter with Matthias, an old catechist we greeted on the road as I traveled with one of my confreres to an abandoned parish to celebrate Christmas. The story of Matthias is extraordinary. In 1972 the government of Sudan chased away all foreign missionaries; only a handful of local priests remained in the country. Most parishes were without a priest. Matthias, then a young man, said to himself: our priest has gone; someone must carry on his work. And so for some 20 years he walked across the mountain range from village to village, baptizing children, praying with the Christian communities and encouraging them to live a Christian life – without receiving any salary. And what is most extraordinary: Matthias is completely blind. After Christmas Mass I asked Matthias: How do you manage to move around these rocks? “With the power of God!”, was his only answer.
We are approaching a similar situation in our own archdiocese of Berlin: most parishes will no longer have the permanent presence of a priest. Whether our church will stay alive and able to continue her mission will depend on us: whether people like Matthias will pick up the challenge and be ready to offer their gifts and service to their communities. Christianity in Africa spreads mainly through the witness of lay Christians and the devoted voluntary work of catechists. Here, too, only committed lay Christians can pass on the faith to the next generation and be witnesses of the Gospel in our secular society.

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

 

Unity of the Church – the Body of Christ

Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 2014, Year A

Today we celebrate a united feast of two great Apostles: St. Peter and St. Paul. Knowing the background of these two apostles, one will wonder why we celebrate them together. Paul never met Jesus in person, and he was not among the original twelve Apostles either. Paul was a late-comer. He calls himself the 13th Apostle, and the least of all the Apostles. After Pentecost, when the newly born Church started to increase in believers, Paul (then Saul) persecuted the first Christians. After Paul’s conversion to Christianity, Peter and Paul could not agree on some issues and practices. They had even conflicts, so what is the point of a united feast?
Peter proclaimed his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-19). In reply Jesus makes this declaration to Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus says my “Church”, not my “churches”. He wanted only ONE Church, not a multiplicity of independent churches. In fact before He died, Jesus prayed: “That they may be ONE”. Jesus did not think of a divided church. Referring to Satan, He even said: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Jesus did not have in mind churches fighting against each other. After his conversion, Paul became a very zealous preacher who established new communities of believers among people who had never heard of Jesus. As it often happens with new members and groups, misunderstandings and conflicts may occur which may lead to splits and divisions. Here lies the great heroism of Peter and Paul. Both of them were charismatic leaders with many followers. If they had allowed their followers to be loyal only to them, there could have been a multiplication of churches: one of Peter another of Paul. However, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, they reconciled and formed one Church of Christ, just the way our Lord Jesus wanted it.
This “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church” to which we now all belong was the fruit of the reconciliation, collaboration and unity in Christ of these two great pillars of the Church. The Church of Christ needs the rock of Peter’s institutional leadership as well as the vitality of Paul’s charismatic vision.
Disunity among Christians is a scandal that weakens the Christian message to the world. How can Christian churches preach Christ’s message of love and unity, forgiveness and reconciliation when they themselves are in disunity, unable to forgive and reconcile?
By celebrating these two great apostles in one united feast, the Church invites us to look beyond our individual differences, personal needs, pride and grievances that could trigger splitting and disunity. Let us all discover a deeper level of unity and collaboration among ourselves for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian unity, like the unity of Peter and Paul, is not a unity of uniformity, but a unity in diversity. And in this kind of unity, there is strength.

Fr. Jun de Ocampo SVD

The greatest gesture of all

Corpus Christi, June 22, 2014, Year A

Gestures can speak louder than words. When Chancellor Willy Brandt during his visit to Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970 instead of standing as protocol would have had it went down on his knees this gesture said: the German people admit responsibility and ask for pardon for the terrible crimes committed against the Jewish and Polish people by Nazi Germany. This gesture was the turning point in the reconciliation process between Poland and Germany.
Pope Francis has great charisma for such gestures. During his recent visit to Israel he stopped unexpectedly at the eight-meter wall of Bethlehem and touching the wall with his hands prayed in silence. This image went around the world. His hands said: this wall has to be torn down. This prayerful face said: It cannot be done with violence.
The simplest and most significant gesture in the entire history was what Jesus did at the farewell meal just before his death: he took a piece of bread, broke it and gave it to his friends. We still remember and repeat this after two thousand years. In this common daily act of breaking the bread he summoned up the meaning of his whole life: giving life to others. We break or cut bread and then put it in our own mouth. He breaks the bread and shares it out, first to the crowd at the multiplication of bread and later to his friends at the last supper. That is what his life is all about: giving his life so that others may live.
Jesus adds a word to give full meaning to the gesture: this is my body, this is me, this is my life given for you. And he adds another similar gesture: sharing out the cup with wine saying this is my blood poured out for you. Separating body and blood signifies death. With this double gesture he explains the meaning not only of his life but also of his death. He makes the violent death inflicted on him by his own people a free, personal act, a sacrifice. “Nobody takes my life, I lay it down of my own accord.” (Jo 10:18)
If we as Christians are called to follow Jesus, self-giving means our daily life and the key to the meaning of suffering and dying. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39). Breaking loose from our own ego, no longer clinging to our self-interest is more than we are able to do. This is why Jesus invites us to his table, to “eat his body given for us and drink his blood shed for us”. It is only when we receive and accept him, his body and blood, his whole self, his life into our hearts, that he can empower us to join him in his act of giving life to others. The Eucharist is not optional, not an extra, not a privilege. Without him and his power of self-giving entering us, we cannot have “life to the full”, neither now nor beyond death because living means giving.

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

The Trinity is a model for how we live, how we love, how we change the world

Most Holy Trinity, June 15, 2014, Year A

When we hear the dogma of "three persons in one God," we forget that God didn't appear to the participants of the Council of Nicea in 325 and proclaim this precise formula. That concept had been fermenting in the consciousness of Christians for almost 300 years. They had not read those words in a catechism and repeated them on the council floor. Had our faith ancestors been content to repeat only "catechism concepts" of God, we would not be celebrating today's feast of the Trinity. No, our ancestors in faith 1700 years ago simply had experienced God working in their lives on those three different levels. One way to put their experience into a simple phrase is to say: Our God is a social God.
On the mountain, Moses (Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9) finds a God with whom he can communicate in some way. He asks this God to journey with all the people. Again and again, we discover a God of relationship in the scriptures. 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.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 reminds us that the relationship within God also mirrors the relationship that should exist within us as a human community: mutuality and support, love and respect. Paul first gives God the title of "God of love and peace," then applies different attributes to the Father, Son and Spirit: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with all of you." These are individual dimensions of God which the risen Jesus brings to the surface in his followers’ lives, they are parts of God's personality which Jesus helps us discover.
Jesus reminds us in John 3:15-18 that God travels with us not to condemn but to love – to be of help to all of us. As God is a social being, so we are. Any good theology of God has social implications. It calls us to social values. Our religious faith involves a community of mutual support and discovery, and a set of values that we share. We are concerned with the issues of the world and everyday life, with justice and peace. We focus on the common good. We see God in all people and in all of creation. We have a special concern for the poor. We have hope in the midst of all the problems and challenges of the world.
As Christians, we reject any spirituality that disconnects us from these concerns for the world. In this way the Trinity is a model for how we live, how we love, and how we change the world.

cf: https://educationforjustice.org/resources/lectionary-reflections-trinity-sunday-june-15-2014

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

 

“Either-or” approaches are not Catholic

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014, Year A

The Catholic theologian Charles Curran wrote: "The Catholic approach to theology is characterized by ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’." The Vatican II council fundamentally changed the Church’s “either-or” approach 50 years ago by replacing the strictly vertical hierarchy with the “both-and” approach. This emphasized that all members of the Church are "people of God" and the Church was encouraged to look and act horizontally. The Acts of the Apostles give a good example. Greek widows are experiencing difficulties with Aramaic-speaking food distributors (Acts 6:1-7): they fear to be disadvantaged in the daily food distribution. The Twelve appoint seven new distributors – all Greek. The problem was not solved by imposing a solution "from above", but by a horizontal approach: letting those who had the problem solve the problem.
The faith in the importance of everyone in the community was later reinforced by the first letter of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:4-9). "You are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." Jesus provides us with an even more confidence-building image (John 14:1-12). During his Last Supper discourse, he amazed all around the table with the promise: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father." According to John’s theology, we all become priests by baptism and are committed to carrying on Christ’s ministry. The formula at baptism says: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.“ All baptized Christians share in Christ's priestly, kingly, and prophetic responsibilities. Jesus promises that we will do "greater" things than he accomplished: 60 years after his death and resurrection his followers took his ministry far beyond Palestine’s confines. Today we are not only carrying on his ministry, but we are expanding it to much larger areas than at the Last Supper. A hierarchy alone could never have accomplished such a feat. The both-and approach enables us to be true to the first Christians’ message.
Jesus said: ”In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. At the time of voting for the European parliament, the European Union’s motto “unity in diversity” must also be true for the Church, the family of Christ.

cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/may-22-2011-fifth-sunday-easter

Wolfgang Felber SJ

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you

Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014, Year A

Today is a Sunday marked by two themes: Firstly, we are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The late Pope John Paul II instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter in 2000. He did so because in the Bible it was on that day that Christ appeared to the Apostles and granted them the power to forgive sins. This is today’s gospel we just heard (John 20,19-31).
And secondly, today we are celebrating the canonization of two Popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.
Some of you may remember the moment Pope John Paul II appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of his election back in October 1978. The new pope captured the imagination and hearts of people around the world and he especially captivated the hearts of the youth. He set the tone of his entire pontificate in his first homily by exhorting us to “Open wide the doors for Christ” and “Be not afraid!” The new Saint John Paul embodied these words until his death in 2005. For many Christians he created a vision of meaning whose foundation is Jesus Christ. John Paul II is a model of self-sacrifice and suffering.
Then we are also celebrating the canonization of Pope John XXIII today. The new Saint John XXIII began his papacy in October 1958. A time when the whole world was changing dramatically. The Pope announced the Second Vatican Council to the crowd in January 1959. And it began three and a half years later, in October 1962. It was the Council that changed the Catholic Church and the world by “opening the windows of the Church and letting fresh air in.” However, Pope John XXIII did not live to see the completion of the Council in 1965. He had died of stomach cancer in 1963.
The Pope was passionate about the equality of the human person. His famous statement summed this up: “We were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike.” John XXIII promoted the dignity of employment, the care and stability for the aged, disabled and those suffering loss. He reminded us that it is up to humanity to steer the course of history and to “prepare a glorious future.” He said we have to do it together, and we have to do it with God.
Today’s Gospel reading in John focuses on the strength of God’s Mercy. It is often cited as the Scriptural foundation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus breathes on the Apostles and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus is sending the Apostles out to forgive sins, to be a sign of the Peace of Christ to all people. The Catholic Church maintains there is also a social aspect to sin. Sin not only separates us from our relationship with God, but it also separates us from our relationship with other people and the Church. When we sin, we sin against God and against our community. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus provides us with a way of being reconciled to God and to those we have hurt in our community.
The new Saint Pope John Paul was insistent in speaking about sin in a broader context: he pointed to economic and political structures in the world that have exploited the poor and needy. He wanted us to know about the grace available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can be changed, and so that we can change our world environment.
Sometimes people might think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in terms of a criminal trial. They picture God as the judge, the priest as God’s lawyer and the sinner as being on trial. They may think the penance the sinner receives is punishment for the offense committed. This idea is completely off the mark.
What Jesus does for us in confession reminds me of a homily of Pope Francis some weeks ago where he speaks of God’s mercy. Pope Francis compares the mercy of God to the rising sun that fills everything it touches with light: the light of love. He says:
“God does not forgive with a decree, but with a caress, caressing our wounds from sin. And thus Jesus becomes the Confessor: He does not humiliate, Jesus doesn’t say: ‘What have you done, tell me! And when did you do it? How did you do it? And who did you do it with?’ No! Instead Jesus says, ‘Go, go and from now on, sin no more.’ The mercy of God is great, and the mercy of Jesus is great. Forgiving us, caressing us!”.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus announces to us that our sins are forgiven and that we are loved by God. We hear the voice of Christ, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.” This is what Jesus does. This is His gift of reconciliation. In summary, Jesus appears to the apostles and says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This Peace, the reconciliation is the Easter gift from our Risen Lord. Jesus wants to give us a very generous gift, the gift of His Mercy, the gift of His love, of His reconciliation and of His peace.

cf http://www.stnicholasparish.ca/archivesdownloads.cfm

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

All Alone against the Rest

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, April 13, 2014, Year A

We read the Bible not to know about the past but to know more about God and ourselves. The Bible is like a mirror that reveals something about our most inner self. When the branches are blessed on Palm Sunday, we hear about the people of Jerusalem acclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. Later in the Passion, we hear the very same people shout repeatedly: "Crucify him!" During the liturgy, we are invited to take part in shouting those terrible words. Rightly so – we are easily swayed and manipulated: Today falling in love, tomorrow falling out of love; today enthusiastic and committed, tomorrow tired and listless. And we are influenced by peer pressure and the opinion of others, so keen to be politically correct. Yes, that is how we are.
In the film Dead Poets Society, the teacher asks his class to walk around the compound in his own way. Very quickly groups form and within minutes the whole class has formed a group marching in the same step. It is so much easier to move with the crowd than to swim against the stream. The people in Jerusalem are manipulated by a few who convince them to turn against him and shout in unison: "Crucify him!" There are a few women who are not infected by the mass hysteria and stay with him under the cross. Jesus stands alone, abandoned by his family, betrayed by his friends, rejected by the authorities, trusting in God alone. Nothing can sway him from the mission. He remains faithful to the inner voice of the Spirit and so changes the world. Do I have the inner strength to follow the voice of my conscience and be witness to my convictions even when everyone around me thinks differently?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Spiritual blindness

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 30, 2014, Year A

Jesus healed a blind man; the Pharisees, instead of rejoicing, turned the event into a controversy by choosing to look at Jesus through colored eyeglasses: “This man is not from God, in fact he is a sinner.” But the blind man saw differently: “How could he be a sinner, he cured me” but he was insulted by the Pharisees: ”You were born blind and brought up in sin – and you are trying to lecture on us?”
We may be like the Pharisees – wearing colored eyeglasses – having our eyes open, but walking in darkness. There are times when we judge good acts of others wrongly because we are locked in our own preconceived views about them. If they behave differently, we criticize them instead of seeing the good in them. We may view them as opponents, enemies or competitors instead of well-meaning people with whom we can relate or work with. When we are in their presence, we feel threatened and distracted due to our human differences in character, personalities, looks and likes which can ruin our relationships.
Each of us is created in God's image – this is the only fundamental aspect that can conceal these differences. Even the person you dislike the most is an "image and likeness of God." God loves that person in the same way he loves you. Jesus died for us so God can forgive and have mercy on us. When we fail to realize God’s image and likeness in those people, we are no better than the Pharisees who misjudged Jesus and the blind man. This is a Spiritual Blindness and it is a far greater tragedy than having been born blind.
The blind man received two cures. The first cure was physical when he regained his sight. The second cure was when he recognized Jesus as a prophet and Lord with a deeper understanding of faith: from sight to insight. From a blind beggar, he transformed into a disciple who witnessed Jesus. We all need the second cure: moving from sight to insight and having our faith transform us into disciples of Christ.
Today, may we all receive the healing of our spiritual blindness from Jesus. May we see God’s image and likeness in our brothers and sisters and see the goodness in others. May we recognize Jesus’ forgiveness through the absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. May we recognize the Lord Jesus Christ among us in the host of bread raised in Consecration and receive Him as food and source of strength so that we may be ready to witness for Him in our life.

Fr Jun Ocampo SVD

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

Third Sunday of Lent, March 23, 2014, Year
A

The Hebrew slaves just liberated are griping, complaining, or grumbling about their wilderness predicament (Exodus 17:3-7). This narrative comes from a “Yahwistic writer”: he or she uses the word “Yahwe” to refer to God. When we hear the people of Israel described like this, we see a problem with which many of us can identify today.
Given a choice, we would perhaps prefer living during a different, more significant period of history and not in this often monotonous and sometimes boring time we experience today. We would perhaps like to experience the Exodus, participate in the Last Supper or walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We pretend: our faith would certainly be stronger and more committed if we would actually experience such "saving" events and people like Jesus. This desire seems to be behind the Yahwistic author's frequent mentioning Israelites complaining during the Exodus. He or she tried to show that it took just as much faith to notice God working in the lives of the Exodus community as in our present lives.
It is significant that what people are griping about – water – is actually as close as the rocks hiding it. Yahweh was just as much present in the 13th or 10th century BC century as today. In all situations, God's presence could only be brought to the surface by people of faith. In many ways, John's Jesus is working at the same level as the Yahwistic theologian (John 4:5-42). The very thing the Samaritan woman is willing to spend time and effort to acquire is offered by Jesus 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" (John 4,13-14). 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 to 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 (Romans 5:1-2, 5-8). 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” (Rom 5:8). 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 during the Eucharist: "God be with you!" This is biblically incorrect – it should be "God is with you!" If we priests would say more often “God is with you”, 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

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Life’s peaks and plains

Second Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014, Year A

Newspapers show every day charts of the movements of the stock market with lines going up or down or just remaining level. If we would try to depict the movements of our lives in such a diagram we might find a similar pattern: long years when life just flows without much excitement or major upheavals; then sudden crashes when sickness, unemployment or broken relationships throw us into darkness and despair; but hopefully also a few peak moments when someone’s love and friendship, a sight of utter beauty or a deep insight trigger overwhelming joy and profound peace in us and seem to lift us out of this world to experience an inkling of God’s loving presence.
Jesus’ life seems to follow the same kind of pattern. 30 years of uneventful village life in Nazareth with the daily work of a carpenter punctuated by some traumatic events. In early childhood his family has a narrow escape from Herod’s death squads. The end of his life is marked by his decision to go to Jerusalem with fatal consequences. But Jesus is sustained by three experiences of God as his loving “Abba”, first as a 12-year old during his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem, then at the moment of his baptism and today on the peak of mount Tabor when the Father confirms him in his mission and allows him and the three disciples to have a glimpse of the resurrection to come. It is this assurance that his “Abba” is with him that gives Jesus the courage to go through show-trials and torture and accept the agony and shame of a criminal’s death on the cross. The certainty of God’s love gives him the strength to forgive when he is rejected by his people, betrayed by his friends and in the end seemingly abandoned by his “Abba”.
What does all this teach us? Spiritual “highs” such as the vision of the transfigured Christ do not last, even if we, like Peter, want them to go on forever. We are as wrong as young couples who believe that their honeymoon will last for life. From any spiritual peak experience we will have to come down to the level of daily life and at times we are invited to walk with Him to Jerusalem. The spiritual experiences are to give us strength for times of trials and darkness so that we can carry on trusting God even when we no longer feel His presence.

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Imagine how this world would be if each of us imitates the life of Jesus

First Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2014, Year A

In Genesis Adam's and Eve's “eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked.” (Gen 3, 7). Some verses prior it says that “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2, 25). What happens between these two verses is what theology calls the original sin which brings a drastic psychological change into their everyday life.
Traditionally, original sin was seen as a mark on one’s soul passed down to our children. Evolution theory was a fact as early as 60 years ago – the point is that no longer ONE pair but several people in several places may have been the first ones to be called humans. This new concept required a major adjustment to the traditional way of treating original sin. The Church invites us to regard original sin not so much as a mark on our individual souls but as the sinful environment our ancestors bequeathed upon us which makes it impossible for us not to commit one’s original sin. We are born into the context of original sin and embedded in a sinful world.
The man and woman in Genesis are just as naked after their sin but they are forced to look at their nakedness from a different perspective. What was once normal, is now an embarrassment. Matthew is convinced that only Jesus can reverse this process and lets Jesus’ ministry begin with the story of temptations. Jesus refuses to give in to temptations. No-one was in that wilderness except for Jesus and Satan and Matthew presumes Jesus experienced temptations in the same way we do in life – with the inclination to feed our material needs and ignore the essential aspects of life at no matter the cost.
We fear that others give in to those temptations. We would certainly be more relaxed and open in our relations with others if we didn’t have to worry about them taking advantage of us.
Those who think they can’t have an effect on the world we live in haven’t read Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome (5:12-19). Speaking about the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul states: “Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all” (Rom 5:18) or “Adam’s sin brought punishment to all, but Christ’s righteousness makes men right with God, so that they can live” or “One sin of Adam brought the punishment of death to all people. But in the same way, Christ did something so good that it makes all people right with God. And that brings them true life“ (different translations).
We should not forget that Paul presumes that the followers of Jesus have become images of Christ. Christians are supposed to imitate Christ in their everyday life. Imagine the world centuries from now if we each imitate the life of Jesus: let us attempt to create this world.

cf: http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/march-13-2011-first-sunday-lent

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

Jesus demands more

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 16, 2014, Year A

We welcome our scouts to our Eucharistic celebration today. A good scout follows the Scout Law and the ten Scout Laws which are expressed in a non-religious language but are based on the Ten Commandments. These are the fundamental requirements for a good life and a peaceful society. In the Gospel, Jesus quotes some of these basic moral rules but gives them a new and far more radical meaning. Our “righteousness” must be much more than external morality. Its model and measure is God Himself.
Let us look at three examples given in the Gospel and compare them with the Scout Law.
1. Jesus quotes the “ancestors”, the moral tradition of humanity, which says: you must not kill. Have we fulfilled the commandment just because we have not murdered anybody? No, says Jesus, you must not only refrain from harming people physically in their body, but also from hurting them in their soul and their feelings. Stop mobbing people, killing their reputation by spreading rumors about them, inflicting pain by insults and verbal aggression. Be a friend to all, be courteous, says the Scout Law.
2. We find happiness mainly in loving relationships and most of all in a loving family where we feel accepted as we are always welcome. People who were humiliated and brutalized in their childhood at home tend to become violent and destructive later in life. The commandment: Do not commit adultery wants to protect the love between wife and husband because betraying that love kills the family and causes endless pain to all concerned as children from broken homes can tell. Jesus goes even further. All sin, all unfaithfulness begins in the heart with selfish desires. The heart is the true battlefield. The Scout Law says: A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.
3. Not to keep an oath, a solemn promise made to God, is a serious breach of trust. Jesus wants his followers to be always trustworthy whatever they say, to be like God who can always be trusted to keep His promises. Moreover, mutual trust is the foundation of any true friendship. Telling lies, not keeping one’s word is the surest recipe to kill love and friendship. So it is right that the first Scout Law says: A Scout’s honor is to be trusted.

Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

The lamp which gives light to all

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 9, 2014, Year A

If Pope Francis has demonstrated anything in his first year of leadership, it is the conviction that no Christian is exempt from trying to imitate the life of Jesus and his dealings with people, authorities and enemies. We, Catholics, are traditionally indulgent and lenient towards some of our leaders when it comes to their lavish life style such as the bishop of Limburg. In Matthew, Jesus forbids his followers to accept honorary titles or "places of honor." We often presume that the leaders' function is to tell us what to do instead of demonstrating how to do it. Pope Francis is turning this often widely-accepted unchristian leadership model upside down.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds his friends of how essential they are in spreading the message of dying and rising. "You are the salt of the earth ... a city set on a mountain ...a lamp which gives light to all in the house." Only when people experience our good deeds do they "glorify your heavenly Father." It isn't in what we say, it is in what we do. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 2:1-5): "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…” Paul showed Jesus' dying and rising in the way he lived his own life: "When I talked with you or preached, ... I simply let God's Spirit show his power.“ As a good Jew, one of the ways Paul demonstrated the "mystery" preached was by following the command of Yahweh in Isaiah (58:7-10): "Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own," (words quoted by Jesus), remove "oppression, false accusation and malicious speech” from their midst – thus you become a "lamp which gives light to all".
This longed-for transformation from darkness to light will happen only when we stop talking and start acting. That is why Pope Francis has been like a breath of fresh air. He, like Jesus, Paul and Isaiah, wants to lead by example. His words have strength because of his life style. If he can do what he does in his position, then, no matter our position, we can follow suit. There is a saying: "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Let us keep this in mind.

cf: http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/february-9-2014-fifth-sunday-year

Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

The joy of the Gospel

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2014, Year A

No Church document, since the Second Vatican Council, has touched me so much as Pope Francis‘ Apostolic Letter Evangelii Gaudium. It is nothing less than a blueprint of the Church of tomorrow. Unlike many other Vatican documents it is written in a simple language that also lay people can understand it. It is not just about reorganizing or restructuring the Church as an institution, but takes us back to the roots of our faith: to the person of Jesus, his challenging message, the central mission of the Church and all her members to bring that good news of great joy to the world.
Evangelii Gaudium takes also a critical look at the world which badly needs the message of the Gospel. Pope Francis speaks of our present economic system as one that kills. Instead of serving the true needs of human beings, it forces people to serve the demands of financial markets. It does not only exploit people, it excludes many from a dignified life. Christians must struggle so the common good and the dignity of people can take a central place in political and economic thinking.
Pope Francis also sees the Church as turned toward herself and urges all Christians to move out and evangelize wherever they live and work. Following the example of Jesus, he wants us to reach out especially to the poor and the weak. Would that not be a key question for parish councils and all groups to find out where the poor are in their own contexts and how their lives can be improved?
In the opening paragraphs the Pope speaks to each one of us. He sees many Christians “caught up in their own interests and concerns”, in “the desolation and anger born of a complacent yet covetous heart” and in “the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures”. That is not where real happiness is to be found. Francis invites us to break out of the prison of our own selves to the needs of others in order to find the source of true joy. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” Let us experience that joy and share it with others!

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2014, Year A

This phrase may be understood as a summary of our faith. What is the sin of the world? My interpretation: the sin is for us not to believe in that there is a purpose for this world. For many, the world makes no sense – we witness many catastrophes, man-made and natural ones, so we ask, "How can God permit this?” Jesus claims that the world does make sense: it is becoming the kingdom of God when we all – brothers and sisters – love one another.
How does Jesus take away the sin of the world? He shows the true meaning through his life and actions. He loves the poor and the outcast and tells them that the kingdom of God is nearer to them than to those with influence and power. Jesus believes in the meaning of the world even when facing a mortal danger. He is hated by the authorities, nevertheless, he shows and gives the world meaning.
But is Jesus really able to take away the sin of the world? Don't we still suffer from this sin? Would it not be more correct to say that Jesus is taken away by the sin of the world? Jesus dies like so many other martyrs. Don't the unnecessary deaths of Socrates, Gandhi or Martin Luther King prove that it would be more “realistic” to think of oneself and to not bother about others? How does Jesus differ from these martyrs? They are all killed, however, only Jesus' death provides proof about the belief that the world has a meaning. Jesus shows that someone who fails and is put to death can still have an accomplished life. Many people believe in Jesus and in his message of the kingdom of God, and try to implement this project of God to his world. The catastrophes, atrocities and wars show that it is up to us to work for the purpose of the world and that brotherhood overcomes death. We live in a world full of meaning and it is our task to make this world more humane, compassionate and closer to God’s purpose.

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

God says to all of us, “You are my beloved child.”

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 12, 2014, Year A

It is John who baptizes Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). What is being revealed to us today? It is more than a religious ritual or an obligation. If we use our faith, we see many things. As God proclaims Jesus to be the “beloved,” we hear God affirming the same reality to all human creatures. There is dignity in every human person – it is at the core of our faith. Every human is beloved to God. We are all sisters and brothers made in his image and likeness. In baptism, we welcome someone into the community and we celebrate solidarity among its members. Jesus is in solidarity with all those who have come forward for baptism. In our baptism we see solidarity between all people in God as we face the challenges of our world.
Jesus is “what was promised by Isaiah”; Jesus is “bringing justice to the nations”. The images of Isaiah have social and political implications for life today. We see a commitment of shared values and ways of living. As Isaiah prophesizes (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7), this Spirit of Jesus is a spirit that is not even “breaking a bruised reed.” In his baptism, we are challenged to review our values, our ways of living and to recommit ourselves to a radical love for one another, especially for the poor.
The message of the scriptures is for all the nations. This is affirmed in each of the first two readings. Isaiah writes: “I have called you for the victory of justice… a light for the nations.” In Acts, we read: “I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-38). We are called into a community to work together for a better world. It is time to be brothers and sisters in a very practical way. The challenge of the scriptures is to make the promises of Isaiah and the commitment of Jesus real today. The challenge is to put our baptism into practice. We are called into action for and with all our brothers and sisters because we are all “beloved children of God”.
Cf https://educationforjustice.org/resources/lectionary-reflections-feast-baptism-lord-jan-12-2014

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

The Family – an Intimate Community of Love and Life

The Holy Family, December 29, 2013 A

It's no coincidence that the Church chose the Sunday right after the birth of Jesus as the feast of the Holy Family. The Church wants us all to focus on the family. The Holy Family has been depicted in many ways: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saintly dressed, looking so serene and relaxed, Jesus obediently helping Joseph in his carpentry work, and Mary nearby spinning some thread. They give us the impression that the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for 30 years in Nazareth was a very peaceful and problemlos one.
The Gospel however tells us otherwise. Joseph and Mary faced serious crises when they were fleeing from Herod to Egypt and finally brought Jesus to Nazareth. Even the circumstances of Jesus’s birth: Mary's was pregnant, not by Joseph but by some mysterious cause, Joseph had to travel with Mary to Bethlehem, and Mary delivered the Baby in the most uncomfortable conditions. They were poor and had to survive struggling with their special problems. They could be just like any of today’s families. A school teacher once shared her experience about her students who were asked to write a letter to Santa Claus. Many asked for toys, money, or for their parents’ health. But a little girl wrote the loneliest letter: "Dear Santa, don't bother to come. We don't celebrate Christmas at home ...." How many of us do not celebrate Christmas because there is no peace at home, they are never together, someone just died, or seriously ill, or causes problems? Or they have no home at all, as the tens of thousands of survivors of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Our culture has become less and less supportive of the family. Our time is consumed by the media. The number of activities, the demand by our jobs and the drive to earn more money pulls families apart. Migration, which affects many of us, has split up many families.
The Church wants us to direct our attention toward the family. The family still remains the place where we can develop our self-esteem, our attitude towards God, we pray and live our faith. This is where the Church is powerfully formed, we learn our lessons about responsibility, self-reliance, self-control and getting along with others. And most of all where we feel being really loved and accepted. Paul writes: "Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And above all these, put on LOVE that is the bond of perfection.” (Col. 3:17ff). Even in an imperfect family or in a family with only one parent, love can be real and people can grow in love and faith. Therefore my Christmas prayer and blessing is that you experience the greatest gift of all – LOVE within YOUR family.

Fr. Jun de Ocampo SVD

 

A gratuitous gift

Christmas Mindnight Mass, December 24, 2013 A

Every year before Christmas television shows the classic movie „Little Lord Fauntleroy”. It is the story of snobbish, cynical, selfish old English aristocrat who is gradually transformed by the affection and irresistible charm of his grandchild and heir Cedric. The boy is not turned off by the impossible character of the old Lord, ignores his arrogance and idiosyncrasies. He just loves him as he is and so turns him slowly round. The little Lord is a fitting initiation into the mystery of Christmas; God entering the life of a self-centered humanity and transforming it gradually through the gratuitous gift of a child, His own Son.
Hopefully we have all met one day the transforming power of genuine love. It is the stuff of countless movies and of the greatest works of world literature: goodness overcoming evil, love proving stronger than selfishness, an innocent child redeeming a rotten world. The book of wisdom saw the Word of God coming down in the silence of the night as a fierce warrior (Wis. 18:15); instead God the Word came in the form of a defenseless, powerless child. The Baby of Bethlehem shatters all our images of a mighty, revengeful God who comes to reestablish law and order in the world by wiping out the wicked. It is an image still very much alive in the minds of Christian, Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, and maybe in our own heads. At Christmas God’s messenger gives the shepherds a completely different indication how to find Him: “This is a sign for you: you shall find an infant…” It was a child that began to change humanity. A child is a pure, gracious, gratuitous gift, not a product of our own making. By coming to us as a child God says to us: Do not be afraid of me, I love you – just love me, take me into your arms. Become a child like me.
The great mystic Meister Eckhard writes: What does the birth in Bethlehem profit me, if it does not happen in me? God’s gratuitous gift in Jesus is the invitation to make our lives a gratuitous, selfless gift to others. Gratuitous love and service is what transforms ourselves and our relationships, and will eventually also transform our Church and our society…just as young Cedric transformed his old cynical, selfish Grandpa.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

We spend too much time trying to surface predictions of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures. We should spend more time surfacing the risen Jesus in our everyday lives.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2013 A

Some of you may be familiar with the word Exegesis – I looked it up on Wikipedia, the definition is: “Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. It includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience.” So far Wikipedia.
So Exegesis takes place when we take out of the text what the original author intended us to take out of it. We work at understanding the background against which the author writes and the questions he or she is trying to answer. But on the other hand, readers of the Bible often ignore the intentions of the sacred author, they put their own preconceived ideas and thoughts into a biblical text and then excitedly they proclaim, "Look what we found!"
This contradicts the principles of exegesis!
One of the biblical texts where Christian authors ignore these principles is today's Isaiah passage (7:10-14). As we hear in our gospel passage in Matthew (1:18-24), followers of Jesus eventually took Isaiah's words to king Ahaz and gave them a new meaning. A meaning neither the prophet Isaiah nor king Ahaz would have originally understood.
Matthew explains the unique conception of Jesus by a simple statement: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, when means God is with us.'" So he quotes the prophet Isaiah to make him say something that is important for Matthew. A classic case where ideas are put into a biblical text that the author never intended. Now Matthew can proclaim: “Look what I found!”
Where is the problem?
First, there is the Hebrew word "almah". We Christians like to translate it as "virgin." But it describes not only a woman who has yet to experience sexual intimacy. It more frequently is employed to characterize a woman of childbearing age who has not yet given birth to a child. Scripture scholars agree that the latter is meant here. Not a “virgin”, but a young woman.
Second, in the context, Ahaz is being forced to make a decision which will affect not only him but his immediate family. Ahaz needed an immediate sign; not one that would take over 700 years to be fulfilled. A sign that says that his dynasty will continue. He and his family probably will be massacred if he chooses the wrong option. It's a decision he should have made yesterday. Why would anyone think he has over 700 years to wait for a sign?
Third, the “almah”, the young woman here, could only be Mrs. Ahaz, the wife of king Ahaz. Isaiah interprets her pregnancy as a sign that Yahweh is not going to permit the king's family to be wiped out. His dynasty will continue.
Fourth, the son to be born, Hezekiah, will eventually turn out to be a far better king than his father ever was. Having him on the throne was like having “El”, like having “God” with us, so the name Emmanuel would be justified for the king’s son Hezekiah.
Putting Jesus and Mary into our Isaiah passage would be contrary to the principles of exegesis. Our faith in Jesus as God and our belief in the circumstances of his virginal conception developed only after his death and resurrection. We find annunciations by an angel in Luke and in Matthew. In Luke to Mary and in Matthew to Joseph. During the lifetime of Jesus, before the gospels were written, no one could have imagined that Jesus had divine prerogatives. Only after his resurrection this became clear.
For example when Paul tells the Romans (1:1-7): "(God) established Jesus as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through the resurrection from the dead." Biblical annunciations are almost always literary devices, they are tools, methods. They are employed by the authors to let their readers in on the deeper meaning of the events they are narrating. Contemporaries of Jesus had a very difficult time recognizing who he actually was. For us post-resurrection disciples today it is easier to recognize who Jesus was, who Jesus is.
Perhaps we spend too much time trying to surface predictions of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps we should spend more time surfacing the risen Jesus in our everyday lives. Perhaps we should give ourselves not only over to correctly interpret Scripture, but also to correctly interpreting the world around us. If we don't make visible the risen Jesus in all we do and experience, we are not taking out of this world what God originally put into it. This is our task – make visible the risen Jesus in all we do and experience.
http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/december-22-2013-fourth-sunday-advent

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

Which Way to a Better World?

Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2013 A

With rare exception throughout the history of humanity the law of the jungle, the right of the strongest, prevails between people. The weaker is dominated by the stronger power, Tibet by China, Ukraine by Russia, the developing but the industrialised countries. Ancient Israel was a small, poor country and so constantly crushed between the surrounding superpowers of Egypt in the south and a succession of empires to the East: the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and finally the Romans. Rarely were they truly free. But throughout their history they kept an unshakeable hope that one day they would be free under a just king, the Messiah.
When John the Baptist announced the day had come and the Messiah was already among them, expectations ran high. Soon they would be rid of this arrogant, brutal Roman occupying army, of their despotic kings who made their lives unbearable through exorbitant taxes. At last poor people would live in a just and peaceful world.
His message of the arrival of the Messiah got John the Baptist quickly into prison. But when Jesus started his messianic ministry, nothing of what John had announced happened. No recruitment of a guerrilla army, no revolt against the local kings, no revolution against the landlords. So John and the rest of the people were deeply disappointed by Jesus who had chosen a different road to change the world into God’s kingdom. He invited people, not to fight against oppressors, but to start a new kind of community where all would not accumulate, but share their resources, where people would care for the sick and the handicapped; where authority would not mean domination but service. A world of freedom and justice would not fall from heaven, but be build by us with God’s help.
Are we not often disappointed by God, like John? We all long for a just and peaceful world and would like God to eliminate from the surface of the earth all those dictators who sacrifice their people to power, those terrorists who slaughter the innocent, those super-rich who exploit the poor without scruples. But God does not do it. He invites us to make our contribution for a better world, maybe by changing our consumer habits, by sharing with others what we do not really need, by challenging politician to put the common good above personal or party interests.
Africa’s great hero, Nelson Mandela, is an encouraging example. Faced with the most unjust system of apartheid he had a vision of a free South Africa where people of all races could live in peace and dignity. He stubbornly fought and suffered for his ideal and changed the world for the better. What is my contribution for a more just and peaceful world?

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

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

Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013 A

We, Christians, speak of Jesus as the Messiah, "the annointed one", “a savior or liberator of a group of people, most commonly in the Abrahamic religions” (Wikipedia) or “Christos” in Greek. Each generation of Jews had their own idea of a liberating Messiah.
For Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-10), the Messiah is a descendant of King David who will be "a sprout from the stump of Jesse" and will be open to Yahweh's spirit creating a world in which natural enemies become friends.
Paul believes that Jesus will fulfill Isaiah's expectations of a royal Messiah (Romans 15:4-9). But Paul brings in an element which the prophet seems to ignore: community. Unlike Isaiah's Messiah, the risen Jesus isn't going to bring about the new world by himself. He counts on us to play an essential role. Paul reminds the Christian community in Rome that it is up to us to "think in harmony with one another" and to "welcome one another as Christ welcomes us." During Paul's ministry, Jewish Christians had the great challenge of welcoming Gentiles. Paul envisions Jewish Christians taking the first step and seeking Gentiles as equal partners in the salvation offered by Jesus; only then will God's peace become reality.

We must accept the other as an equal, no matter their background in order to become imitators of Jesus. This is the "good fruit" John the Baptist expected from all of God's people (Matthew 3:1-12). Jesus’ true followers realized that the Messiah and their relations to others were equally as crucial. Both Paul and Matthew are convinced that the special person destined to usher the longed-for era isn’t going to do so alone. This will only happen when we have the courage to live our lives as Jesus of Nazareth lived his life. No wonder St. Augustine always reminded those who received the Eucharistic bread, "Receive what you are: the Body of Christ, the Messiah."

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

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

The only leader Christian leaders can compare themselves to is Jesus

Christ the King, November 24, 2013 C

What do we associate with Christ the King? A king in biblical times represented authority; the way a pope is elected and governs is a kind of monarchy. The Christian Scriptures deal with authority and require for Christian leadership to be like Jesus. In “King of the Jews” Jesus’ cross prompts the attack by the Jewish rulers (Luke 23:35-43). The idea of royalty was: if Jesus is a king, he should look after himself and come down from the cross. Yet, Luke's Jesus is more concerned with the fate of others. It is only in Luke’s gospel where Jesus heals the man's ear, speaks sympathetically to the women in mourning, looks at Peter after his denial and forgives those who crucify him.
King David (2 Samuel 5:1-3) was king of the southern half of Palestine – Judah. The elders of the northern tribes of Israel asked him to unite all twelve tribes into one nation under his leadership. David's ability to bring people together was his best feature. Do today’s political, economic and Church leaders bring people together or do create conflicts?
Paul’s disciple (Colossians 1:12-20) discovers the same characteristic in the risen Jesus. “God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son, God wanted all perfection to be found in him…. So that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.” To be part of the person who unites us is the strongest possible unity. Mark gives us the clearest picture of Christian leadership in chapter 10 of his gospel. Here Jesus attacks James and John for their insistence of being given the "glory seats” one day. He clarifies the heart of his authority: "The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.” Christian leaders are unique for they can only compare themselves to Jesus.
As Jesus redefined the notion of “king”, Pope Francis redefines the papacy daily. Though the title remains, the reality behind “king” and “pope” is constantly changing. This unexpected development shows that the Church is still full of surprises. Let us pray that we be strong enough to sustain those in our hierarchy who open the Church and who take Jesus as a model for their way of exercising power.

cf. http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/november-24-2013-christ-king

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

Let us not waste time with speculating about the end of the world

Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 17, 2013 C

The end of the world – some picture it as a vengeful, merciless, destructive event. When earth and its inhabitants are decimated, only the just will enter the realm of eternal, heavenly joy. However, this is not the Christian vision! A vindictive and cruel divine personality can only be found in the book of Revelation, which is difficult for us to understand.
In Luke (21:5-19) Jesus talks about “things (which) are about to happen,” “wars and insurrections,” he warns that “nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom.” We’ll have to endure “powerful earthquakes, famine and plagues”, “awesome sights and mighty signs (coming) from the sky.” But for Luke these events are to be looked upon as “natural” phenomena. Jesus does not say that these phenomena are sent by God and for Christians to believe that these are prerequisites for Jesus’ arrival. Luke instructs his readers to live their normal lives until their natural deaths without expecting Jesus’ Parousia (second coming or the end of the world). Luke’s gospel directs our eyes away from heaven to everyday events where Jesus’ disciples find his presence, even under persecution.
In the second letter to the Thessalonians (3:7-12), this view is reinforced. The letter concentrates on the most down to earth events in the community. Readers are reminded that Paul worked even while evangelizing others while others refuse to work and are “conducting themselves... in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.” The things which people are concerned with in Thessaloniki and in the 21st century are more important than wasting time to identify Jesus’ Second Coming. It is more important to imitate the historical Jesus: love your neighbors, live in non-violence and focus on earthly life rather at a distant heaven. Jesus wants us to work for a better today.

cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/november-14-2010-twenty-third-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

For God All Are Alive

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 10, 2013 C

In the second century before Christ the Jewish people went through a terrible culture shock, not unlike the cultural revolution of today. They were forced by a certain King Antioch to abandon their religious traditions and to accept the norms of dominant Greek culture with its language, philosophy and hedonistic life style. Most young people went for the new, but some refused, often paying for it with their lives, as we heard in the first reading from the book of Maccabees. What gave these heroic Jews the courage to resist was their hope that God would give them a new life. These Jewish martyrs were the beginning of a religious movement: the Pharisees who were faithful to the law and lived in the hope of life after death.
But in Jesus’s time there were also “liberal” Jews, called Sadducees, who thought that all this talk about resurrection was simply a human projection, a form of wishful thinking; not unlike the many agnostics of our time. Some cynical Sadducees tried to ridicule the belief in a resurrection with a funny story we heard in the Gospel. Jesus’s answer was: You do not know what you are talking about. You simply project your own experience unto the world of God. If you could only see reality from God’s view, you would understand that “for God all are alive”. Our distinction between the living and the dead does not exist for God. We could ask ourselves how we see our dead. As the Sadducees did or as Jesus did? Are they truly alive for us?
Jesus also gives us some hints how life after may be like. He says: The living “dead” will be “like angels” and they will be “sons and daughters of God”. It will not simply be a prolongation of life here. It will be totally different.
Yet, we have to use images from our own experience to imagine it. One of the most beautiful ideas is given in a letter of Pope Benedict XVI on hope. He first asks whether we really want to live eternally the life we live now and concludes that in the end it may become “monotonous and ultimately unbearable.” But this is not what God has in store for us. Benedict suggests to imagine life after death… “like a moment of supreme satisfaction…; like plunging into an ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – the before and after – no longer exists…; like plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

 

Persevering in Prayer

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 20, 2013 C

It is a powerful picture: Israel engaged in battle. As long as Moses lifts his arms up in prayer, they have the upper hand; when he stops praying they are defeated. Prayer seems to be the life-line between God and his people. The story reflects Israel’s experience throughout history. When they remain in a covenant-relationship with Yahweh, they have peace and prosperity. When they forget their God and go their own way, the result is moral decay, internal divisions and political disasters. We may well wonder whether our present-day wellness-religion which tends to center not on God but on Self will succeed.
For Jesus, a faithful Israelite, prayer was the constant life-line to his “Abba”. Luke often shows us Jesus in deep prayer: in the early morning before dawn and sometimes throughout the night, before important decisions and in times of trial. His constant conversation with his Father seems the source of his wisdom, the inspiration of his preaching and the root of his mysterious healing-power. Abba always answers his prayer. Well, not always. Although he prays repeatedly from the bottom of his heart almost in despair “to let this chalice pass”, the Father seems silent all through his agony until his last loud cry: “Why have you abandoned me?” God’s answer is the resurrection. He did not give what Jesus asked, he gave something infinitely greater.
What is our experience with prayer? Most of us find it difficult! Maybe we have even given up to pray. We prayed and were disappointed. So we dropped prayer and turned to more practical solutions: doctors for sickness, therapists for depression, pills against stress… But our deepest longings remain unanswered: we want to be free and are so conditioned; we crave to be loved and people only care for themselves; we want to be able to love and forgive, and we just can’t. Maybe at the end of the road a desire for God and for prayer emerges.
But then it is so hard to pray. When we try, a thousand ideas and images crowd our mind. The Gospel invites us to go on chasing them like the widow keeps going after the unjust judge. Or we may find that our day is too busy as it was for Jesus. He prayed early in the morning and late at night. Let’s try it: when we wake up to look at the day ahead, dedicate it to the Lord and ask him to stay with you. And before sleep, to go over the day, its events and encounters and simply say thank you, Lord and place the day and all our life into His hands.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

The word of God is not chained (2 Tim 2:9)

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 13, 2013 C

Some principles of our faith can change and have changed but others cannot. After being healed, Naaman makes a bizarre request: “two mule-loads of earth" (2 Kings 5:14-17). This request comes from a period in which people thought Yahweh was only the territorial God of Israel. Other gods take over once you leave the Promised Land. Naaman now believes in Yahweh, but is returning to Damascus in Syria. “How will I offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to Yahweh?" His solution is to take two mule-loads of dirt from Israel to Damascus. There he will spread it around his property, thus creating a small annex of Israel in Syria and permitting Yahweh to hear and answer the prayers of the former leper. Only a few centuries later, Isaiah is exiled in Babylon and he understands Yahweh's presence beyond the Promised Land's confines. This was a tremendous shift in Jewish theology: God is present everywhere.
On the other hand, another theological aspect of 2 Kings hasn't changed – or shouldn't have changed. Elisha, the prophet, refuses Naaman's gift after the healing. His stubborn refusal springs from a biblical conviction: a payment for performing a holy act would mean that the human agent accomplished the sacred act and not God. Thus the person through whom God worked made it clear that God was at work and not the person. Though this no-pay-for-sacred-acts belief has never changed, we Christians have created all sorts of loopholes permitting us to bypass it. Elisha warns us that any linkage between money and the sacred is forbidden.
Luke reminds us of another dimension of faith which never changes: gratitude (Luke 17:11-19). Only the heretical Samaritan returns to thank Jesus for curing his leprosy, the other nine disappear. The second letter to Timothy states that Jesus always remains the same for Christians (2 Timothy 2:8-13). "If we die with him, we shall live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him." Dying and rising with Jesus is at the heart of our faith. During the first centuries Jesus' followers employed only a cross adorned with jewels instead of Jesus' crucified body. The cross represents death; the jewels, life. Those who imitate Jesus' dying and rising become one with Him. Though certain aspects of our faith can't be changed, they can be forgotten, but fortunately not completely. The second letter to Timothy states: "The word of God is not chained." Perhaps some of our church leaders or we should use bolt cutters to unchain God’s word.

http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/october-14-2007-twenty-eighth-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

 

 

The rich and the poor

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 29, 2013 C

The story of Lazarus and the rich man reflects the current issue of poverty and social justice. There is a perpetual conflict between the rich and poor. The rich disregard and often exploit the poor for their own interests. The poor are often seen as a threat to the prosperity and security of the rich. On the other hand, the poor have ambitions of becoming rich or at least they yearn to live a decent and fulfilling life. There is a struggle for material and financial resources, which seem limited and fleeting. Eventually, only a few rich control the world‘s resources while the majority wallows in poverty. One asks: how can be social justice achieved through equal distribution of resources? Who is willing to stand up for the poor and help them in their dire needs?
The gospel provides a consolation for those who are needy and abandoned. God will provide for the victims of injustice and those who are suffering due to others’ greed and selfishness. The gospel is good news for the poor but bad news for the rich, who live a luxurious life at the expense of others. However, the gospel is clearly not romanticizing poverty. Starvation and distress are conditions which should be overcome. It is false to make a virtue out of deficiency. One needs to distinguish between poverty and the poor. The former must be eradicated. The latter must be elevated. Pope Francis reminds us of this challenge when he says: ”The church should be a church for the poor.“
This Christian call for shared social responsibility and appeal for generosity may be difficult in our times when the financial and Euro-crisis is not yet over, when unemployment is still high, and a decent living does not happen automatically, even if one is living in Germany. Nevertheless, a small gesture of goodness and generosity can still work wonders. We are asked to look beyond the confines of our daily preoccupations and concerns. Jesus is in our midst, especially among the poor. Let us bridge the gap between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in need.

Fr. Simon Boiser SVD

 

Money is a ruthless ruler that has ways of enslaving us

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 22, 2013 C


Amos (Am 8:4-7) condemns the practice by dealers of working the market in order to obtain wealth at the expense of the poor who were regarded as a commodity worth no more than a pair of sandals. He denounces the unscrupulous traders for their false piety because they regard religious holidays and the Sabbath as wasted opportunities for doing business and engaging in fraudulent financial activities. Speaking frankly and critically, he makes the point that religion and greed are miles apart. God is deceived by their dishonest business practices and will punish them for their behavior.
The message of Amos is still relevant today as we are too part of a society which is organized not for the welfare of ordinary citizens, but as a part of a huge global economy. We live in a free enterprise system where everything is geared towards maximum profit. The one and only aim of our society seems to be making more money and people are measured by their spending power. The rich get richer at the expense of the impoverishment of the majority. More wealth is going to a fewer number of people at the increased poverty of others.
Luke (16:1-13) makes the point that we are stewards of creation and everything we have that is given to us is on loan and for safekeeping. In a world of limited resources, we cannot afford to squander our environment. We must live responsibly; use only what we need and share what we can. It is a greatest controversy that in the midst of plenty, people are dying of hunger, condemned to illiteracy, lacking basic medical care and homelessness. Poverty is so widespread that we are overwhelmed and rendered powerless by the problem. Nevertheless, each of us can make a difference and we have a duty to do what we can to improve the life of at least a few.
One of the worst features of our society is the great emphasis it gives to wealth. Even those who are not rich tend to make a God of wealth. We think that money can solve our problems and guarantee a life of ease and comfort. Yes, we need money to keep a roof over our heads and to fight poverty, but money is a ruthless ruler that has ways of enslaving us. It leaves little room in our heart for prayer and exercise in Christian charity.
By imitating Jesus, who spent his life serving the poor, sick and neglected, we are saving the treasures for heaven.

Fr. Clemens Pfaff

 

 

The prodigal son

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 15, 2013 C

This is probably one of the greatest Gospels ever written. As I read it, I begin to feel sympathy for the younger son. Wasn't leaving home the right thing for him to do? After all, the Bible states that a man must leave father and mother… (cf. Gen 2:24) and psychologists tell us that a youngster must leave his parents in order to become an adult person and to learn how to stand on his or her own feet. In former times, young men would travel through Europe after their professional training before settling down and still today, youngsters sometimes visit foreign land or do a year of service overseas after graduating from high school.
So, yes, in some ways the son did the right thing by seeking and testing his freedom.
However, he also does a very wicked thing: he asks his father for his share of the inheritance while he is still alive which is perceived as a death wish. Moreover, he believes in freedom without consequences and ends up in total dependence on alcohol and sex. He also misunderstands his father and sees him as a tyrant oppressing his freedom when in fact his father respects his freedom and lets him go in spite of his insolence knowing full well that his boy will make a mess of his life.
How many of us have been brought up with this same false image of God and see religion as an opposition to personal freedom? If I want to live a self-determined life, there can be no room for God; it's either him or me. There can be no place for my freedom in his overwhelming presence. The lost son understands his father only when he finds himself in his arms. No blame, no questions about the past, no demand to repay the wasted family fortune. All his guilt, his utter failures are gone and simply put aside. For the first time in his life, the son feels truly free with his father.
When we meditate about Jesus’ parable, we better understand the words that are said during Mass before communion: Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is like the young man's father – he takes away our failings and sins and sets us free. If we believe this, we can celebrate the Eucharist in the same joy as the lost son at his father's feast.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

All our decisions should result from our reflection
on what it means to share the faith of Jesus

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8, 2013 C

The letter to Philemon is by far the shortest and most personal of Paul’s seven authen-tic letters. Yet it conveys a message which goes to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Philemon is a wealthy convert of Paul; Onesimus is his runaway slave. Not only did Onesimus escape, he seems to have destroyed some of Philemon’s property in the process. Then he compounds an already bad situation by finding Paul and asking the Apostle to let him be his personal servant. The letter demonstrates how Paul handles this tricky set of circum-stances.
Slavery for us today is an appalling institution. It is now officially banned in all states, although it is still practiced, even in civilized regions like Europe. What would we do in a case like the case of Philemon and his slave Onesimus? Probably we would phone Philemon. We would demand to know how, as a disciple of Jesus, he could actually own another human being. And we would inform him we were going to do our best to free this hapless individual from his clutches.
There’s just one problem to our solution: Christian morality had yet to evolve that far during Paul’s ministry. Paul insists that owners treat their slaves humanely. But he is still far from the moral point most Christians would reach over the next 1700 years. That is: 1700 years after Paul’s letter, Christians finally called for slavery’s abolition.
The method Paul employs to address this problematic situation is interesting. It would turn out to be one of the reasons behind today’s Christian rejection of slavery. Paul is certainly laying the groundwork for those who believed all slavery should be abolished.
As we know from his other letters, Paul insists on the notion of “freedom”. Paul was “taken” by the experience of freedom which comes when anyone gives himself or herself over to the faith of Jesus. Such freedom enabled Christians to break through many restrictions: restrictions which enslave people to their everyday human customs, traditions, and practices.
We clearly hear about that human enslavement in today’s first reading from the book of wisdom. We read (Wisdom 9:13-18b): “The corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” In other words, our human condition provides few occasions for freedom.
Yet, the situation changes for followers of Jesus. Luke’s Jesus promises his followers that, by imitating him, they’ll be free enough to make life-changing decisions. In today’s gos-pel passage (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus presumes his followers will make a deliberate choice to follow or not follow him. He presumes that his followers freely accept the consequences of carrying his cross - especially consequences that revolve around our relations with the people closest to us. We’re just as free in these relations as someone choosing to build or not build a tower, fight a war or sue for peace.
When we know about Paul’s quest for freedom, then we can better appreciate his solu-tion to the problematic situation in which Onesimus, the slave, brings him. Paul simply de-mands each party make a free decision in the matter. He creates a situation in which both the recipient and the carrier of the letter can freely do something.
How does he manage this? One normal thing is that Paul sends his letter to Philemon. In the letter he requests that Philemon freely relinquishes his rights over Onesimus. This is normal, but a second thing now is that Paul entrusts the letter to Onesimus! Imagine: The run-away slave freely returns to the scene of his crime. There he has to deliver a letter asking a slave owner to freely release the slave who’s standing directly in front of him. The slave – Onesimus - is freely asking his master Philemon for his freedom. Onesimus runs a risk: If he is free enough to put himself back into Philemon's hands, will Philemon freely hand him over to Paul? We presume Philemon did - else this letter wouldn't have been saved and would not be read today.
For Christians, such free and freeing actions don't happen by accident. They don’t happen on the spur of the moment. They result from people reflecting deep and long on what it means to share the faith of Jesus. I encourage you to do this: reflect on what it means for you to share the faith of Jesus, to be a friend of Jesus.
cf http://www.dignityusa.org/breath/september-5-2010-twenty-third-sunday-year

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


Faith is about putting people on fire

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2013 C

In the gospel we just heard, Jesus speaks about the fire he has come to bring on earth (Luke 12,49-53). Fire has many implications: it gives warmth, it purifies metal, we need it for cooking, it sheds light. Isn’t it true that good religion is about being on fire?
Yes, good religion is about putting people on fire – on fire about life and love and service. Good religion is about setting people free. Religious faith should be something that is exciting and energizing, not something that puts us to sleep or limits our freedom. Religious faith – as I see it - puts us on fire and sets us free. It involves risks and sometimes even causes tension and division – Jesus is very clear about this.
This is also true for the message that Jeremiah (Jer 38,4-6;8-10) proclaims: In the first reading we see that his message is supported by some and attacked by others. His own person is attacked by some and yet saved by others. Some people throw him into the cistern; others get him out. The message Jeremiah has to deliver causes division.
The message of Jesus also causes division. Not all are able to accept it – even within the same family. We also may struggle with it and resist it from time to time. Ultimately, it should lead us to freedom and life. Ultimately, we should end up on fire even in the midst of opposition. The message has power. It is worth the risk.
Good religion does not put people to sleep. Rather, good religion wakes people up and helps them be on fire. People become aware of life, aware of others, aware of God, aware of the poor, aware of unjust situations, aware of the challenges, aware of the possibilities, aware of a new vision – people may see the world through the eyes of God. Good religion leads people to awareness, and puts them on fire – on fire with love, filled with life, energized for service and solidarity. Religion must not be an empty ritual.
Our religion, our faith, our relation to Jesus thus calls us to get into action
-to work for a less unjust world,
- to serve the poor and all who are in need,
- to be aware of the struggles of the world,
- to work for the liberation of the oppressed,
- to relax in a deep trust in God,
- to include all people in our circle of community,
- to be a light to the world in the midst of darkness,
- to set people free,
- to be on fire with faith, hope, and love.
This calls to mind the words of Pope Francis at the recent World Youth Day in Brazil: “Young people, please: don’t put yourselves at the tail end of history. Be active members! Go on the offensive! Play down the field, build a better world, a world of brothers and sisters, a world of justice, of love, of peace, of fraternity, of solidarity. Play always on the offensive!”
Pope Francis does not only address young people, but all of us.

Cf. https://educationforjustice.org/resources/lectionary-reflections-twentieth-sunday-ordinary-time-c-august-18-2013

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ


Called to be Responsible Stewards

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2013 C

In various stories Jesus compares our human and our Christian vocation with the responsibility of a manager who has to administer the property of the land-owner. Or He speaks of a king who delegates his power before going on a journey, or in today’s Gospel of a steward who is put in charge of the household of the absence of his master. In various ways Jesus reminds us of the basic arrangement made at the beginning of creation on the first pages of the bible. The first story of creation (Gen. 1) describes it as God building and decorating a dream house, in the second (Gen. 2) He plants a beautiful garden. Then the creator God hands over his creation to humanity to care for it and develop it. With one proviso: Don’t play God! Respect the intention of the owner! The rest of human history is a unilateral declaration of independence, the attempt to throw the owner, the master out of his own property. This is more than evident in today’s culture which proposes the ideal of total freedom, personal autonomy, unlimited self-determination. A higher authority to submit my decisions to? No, thank you! Let no one tell me what I should do.
As Christians, we too, enjoy a vast space of freedom and creativity. As God’s children we receive a share in God’s freedom and creative energy. But if we are conscious that we are care takers not masters, before taking decisions we stop for a moment and ask the boss what He thinks about it. That’s what Sunday mass is about: Listen attentively what the master has to say. That is what prayer is about: linking our small and big decisions with God’s plan for his creation. This has immediate practical consequences.
A small example: I have run out of coffee. In the supermarket there is ordinary coffee on special offer and but also fair trade coffee costing two Euro more. When I ask myself why the prize is so much cheaper and realise that the coffee pickers in Brazil were not paid a fair wage it becomes clear which option is more in line with God’s intention for his world who wants everybody to share in His gifts.
There is an even more important issue to think about. We are stewards and caretakers of God’s creation, his household, his “oikos”. Yet, our consumer life style and our whole economic system is ruthlessly exploiting the limited resources of our planet and destroying the very ecosystems on which our life and the life of future generations depend. We very much resemble the bad steward in today’s example who uses all the nice food in the store for a personal party instead of giving it out to his fellow-servants as he was told. And on top he beats them up when they complain. It is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time to learn how to become good stewards of God’s creation.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

 

Hospitality

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, 2013 C

In summer, many of us go on vacation. Some visit relatives and friends and become guests in their home. Others receive them as guests. Being a host is not always easy. One has to organize many things for the visit, so that everything will run smoothly. Sometimes one is so engrossed with the preparation that one spends less time with the guests.
This Sunday's gospel tells the story of Jesus visiting his close friends Martha and Mary. The former is busy preparing the meals when Jesus arrives. The later sits by Jesus’ side and chats with him. Martha reprimands her sister by telling Jesus that she should help her. But Jesus replied, Mary had chosen the better part.
The German word for hospitality is "Gastfreundschaft". It is an explicit term which reveals how to treat our guests: like our friends. This means not as a burden or a fulfillment of duty. We are happy on their arrival and enjoy their presence rather that start worrying if everything is perfect. We listen to their stories and spend time in their company rather than be upset on how they disturb our normal schedules.
In our Christian life, it is important to strike a balance between activity and receptivity. Love is not only about giving to others but also about allowing to receive from others. It is like breathing. We cannot keep on exhaling. We also need to inhale and be strengthened. Sometimes we tend to be one-sided and do everything ourselves. We don't allow others to contribute to us.
There are two sides of Christian love: charity and contemplation. But prayer and contemplation has priority. We allow God to touch our hearts before we can touch the hearts of others. We learn first from Jesus how to live a good life pleasing to God. Contemplation renews our energy and Christian commitment. Sometimes we are too busy with our "good work" that they have become routine and mindless. That may not be "good" for our spiritual development in the long run. When Jesus wants to enter our lives, how do we welcome him? May we both contemplate on his words of wisdom and put them into action.

Fr Simon Boiser


Why we pass by on the other side

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 14, 2013 C

The road to Jericho passes through a rocky desert, a notorious hiding place for criminals. Every so often pilgrims or traders on their way to or from Jerusalem are held up and robbed, as happened that day. A priest and later on also a Levite come to the spot, see the half-dead man “and pass by on the opposite side.” Why? Why do we so often pass by on the other side when we meet human misery?
Maybe the priest is on his way home, in a hurry, anxious to see his wife and children in Jericho after spending many days on duty in the temple of Jerusalem. To stop and help would take too much time. Moreover, the gangsters are probably still around, waiting behind a rock for the next victim. Better leave the danger zone as fast as possible.
What can I do, anyway, the Levite may say to himself. I have no means of transport. This man needs a doctor. If I help him, I may do more harm than good. Moreover, he looks like dead and touching a dead body would make me unclean, me, a man of God.
We have many reasons for passing by on the safe side and leaving our responsibility to others. After all there is the Caritas, the Red Cross, the district social worker to deal with such cases. These professional helpers are more competent than me. But do our excuses really pass the test in the eyes of Jesus, who is the good Samaritan?
Life does not often present us with situations as dramatic as that on the road to Jericho. The challenges come mostly in miniature form. How do I deal with the beggar in the U-Bahn? Do I have the courage to take the side of the colleague who is mobbed by everybody in the office? At a party do I join the lonely person in the corner or the group that seems to have so much fun?
Pope Francis invites the Church, me, our community “to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery”, the side of the road where we find the poor, the wounded, the victims. With his first journey this week to the refugees in Lampedusa, he demonstrated what he meant.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke M.Afr.

 

 

Christian discipleship builds our character and purifies our faith.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 30, 2013 C

Freddie Roach thought his vocation would be to become a famous boxer. He fought but lost many times and left the boxing business disgruntled. When he returned to boxing, he discovered his vocation was not as a boxer, but as a trainer; so instead of wanting to become the greatest boxer, he allowed others to become great. Today, he is one of the greatest American boxing trainers of his generation.
Being a Christian disciple means allowing Jesus to become greater than you. It means following the path he has set for us and to sacrifice and break conventions in order to discover one's inner vocation. It also means decisiveness. Self-doubt belongs to the faith process but when a life decision is made, it must be followed consistently and resolutely. At times, one has to sacrifice family and social expectations in order for it to remain true and loyal to Christ's call.
Most of us see Jesus as a buddy-buddy companion who is always patient and never contradicting. We seldom see him as a strict teacher who has his own rules and demands something from us. Luke's gospel depicts this rare image of Jesus. To follow him as his disciple, is not as easy as buying a movie ticket. His requirements may mean giving up family and loved ones. This might sound inhuman and unmerciful but it is the cost of discipleship. There are no shortcuts and cheap discounts. Going against the current is difficult and strenuous. But Jesus asks us to trust and give ourselves in the process. Christian discipleship builds our character and, more importantly, purifies our faith.

Fr. Simon Boiser SVD

The suffering of Jesus is connected with the suffering of the world and of humanity

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 23, 2013 C

Paul writes that for the followers of Jesus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female” (Galatians 3, 26-29). We might reflect on discrimination and prejudice, the treatment of women, racism, tensions between various religious or ethnic groups, and the way we exclude people who are different from ourselves.
Jesus predicts his rejection, suffering and death (Luke 9, 18-24). “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We might reflect on the challenge of following Jesus in our contemporary world. The world’s values and concerns are not always those of Jesus. Our culture seems to value possession and wealth over the needs of people, military and political power over nonviolent love, personal welfare and security over the needs of the poor. With Jesus we too may experience rejection and suffering.
The suffering of Jesus is connected with the suffering of the world and its people, especially the poor and powerless, the people of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, Haiti and the Congo, the homeless and refugees, those who are denied human rights. It is connected with the lives of those who experience racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, and with the suffering of our planet due to overuse and exploitation.
As Jesus speaks of his rejection and suffering, we are called into a deeper awareness of life, a deeper desire to work for an end to injustice and suffering, a deep solidarity with God and solidarity with each other.

Fr Wolfgang Felber SJ
https://educationforjustice.org/resources/lectionary-reflections-twelfth-sunday-ordinary-time-c-june-23-2013

 

Gestures of Love

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 16, 2013 C

Just imagine that the scene in the Gospel would happen today after Mass in the hall. As we are sipping our coffee, a woman whose dresses and make-up clearly show how she earns her living, walks in, embraces the priest with tears in her eyes and kisses his feet. The community would be deeply scandalized; all kinds of rumors would begin to go round. As priest I would be deeply embarrassed and turn red in the face with shame and anger. How does Jesus react? He allows the woman to express her love in her own way. What an extraordinary sovereign inner freedom undisturbed by what the law says or what people might think.
Can we receive such gestures of gratuitous love and affection from others, from God? Yet, this is the core of the good news: that God loves us first before we have done anything, and God keeps loving and forgiving us if even we chose not to pay any attention to Him and live our lives without Him. In fact we are unable to love others if we have not made the experience of being loved in the first place. Children who do not get enough love often are unable to give love.
The readings illustrate the point with the story of two people who make the experience of being loved and forgiven. King David could not resist the attraction of a beautiful woman. To get her he arranges to have her husband killed. The prophet Nathan tells him God’s judgment: David will die. The talion law: a life for a life. But then God forgives him, He gives David back his life, and for the rest of his life David will sing God’s merciful love in the psalms which we still pray today.
The woman in the Gospel has been used and abused by men and treated as dirt. In Jesus she meets a man who treats her with respect and makes her realize that God still loves her and forgives her. She is so overwhelmed that she expresses her gratitude with a crazy gesture.
How much love is there in our lives? Are we still creative enough to show others signs of our appreciation? They need not be the wild dramatic outburst of the woman in the Gospel. They can be little gestures, small surprises, gratuitous gifts that keep a relationship alive and feed a friendship. And it is the occasional spontaneous prayer and the small sacrifice that keep our relationship to God on fire.

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr

 

Miracles

Corpus Christi, June 2, 2013 C


The first miracle: Crowds gathered to listen Jesus speak about the kingdom of God in the thousands. They were interested in knowing more about the creator of heaven and earth, religious behavior, forgiveness of sins, love and overcoming difficulties. The same miracle happens today: thousands gather in temples, mosques and churches because they know and feel a connection with God and their divine origin.
The second miracle: Many people were healed by Jesus who showed them that they were not lost! Perhaps you sometimes feel at a loss when you make mistakes or someone tells you that you are useless. He said: Whatever you do, whoever you are, the pope, a prostitute, a policeman or a murderer, you are a daughter or son of God. Maybe you are not able to believe in God and his love, but Jesus believes in you and your ability to love.
The third miracle: Jesus, the son of God does not clap his hands saying: Now, by my power – here is enough bread and fish for everyone! He asks: What do you have? They said: Nothing, only five loaves and two fish. He gave thanks to God and may have said: Oh my God, they say and believe: We cannot do anything, we cannot solve any tiny problem. Or he might have prayed: Show them a wonderful miracle; if we start sharing what we have, if we do what we can, it will be the beginning of the kingdom of God.
Someone may be extremely busy: I only have an hour and a quarter to pray every week. I only have two hours a week to do sport. Is it nothing? Jesus says: Say “thank you” to God. Use the hour and a quarter to pray. Use the two hours to exercise your body and your life will be changed!
How did the miracle happen? People may have seen Jesus praying. They saw the five loaves and two fish and were impressed: Hello! I can do the same! I have no fish and bread, but a basket of fruits. Another offers: I have a bottle of wine. Yet another: I also have one. Looking at Jesus' hope, love and courage, they all began to share what they had. You may say: It is not a miracle of Jesus if all people share what they have. I would answer: It is one of Jesus’ most wonderful miracles if all people who are interested in God shared what they have with people in need!

Fr. Ludger Hillebrand SJ.

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