ABSOLUTES

Absolutes

by Lisa Fernandes

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes” as Benjamin Franklin said, referring humorously to secular absolute truths. In today’s readings, though, we hear about absolute truths according to God.

In the first, we hear the absolute that there is one God: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45.5)

In the second, we are told we have absolutely been chosen by God: “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you…” (1 Thessalonians 1.4)

When we get to the Gospel, the discussion about absolutes is not as clear; we have to think about the relationship between Christianity, secular government and society. Jesus avoids the trick but answers the question of the Herodians and Pharisees when they ask Him if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans.

The Pharisees thought that if He said yes, He would be betraying His people and collaborating with the enemy, Rome. The Herodians thought if He said no He would be a traitor to Rome. Instead, He said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (Matthew 22.21) Jesus gave them a truthful answer but one that isn’t a simple absolute yes or no, but requires reflection and acting with the right intentions.

What is Jesus saying? There has been a lot of scholarly discussion about this passage and many interpretations. I see it as acknowledgement that it is often a difficult line to walk between the secular and the spiritual but they are not separate; they complement each other. A good person will both pay taxes and follow God’s law.

It can sometimes be difficult to know what the right thing to do is, though, as there are many trying to persuade us, and many mistruths; we do not want to be tricked into doing wrong nor dissuaded from doing good.

While Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true”, we are not alone in discerning the right path to take as we have the help of God, our fellow parishioners, and the church community to help give us clarity.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
  • Psalm 96
  • Thessalonians 1.1-5ab
  • Matthew 22.15-21

Happy Feastday!

Happy Feastday!

by John Dalla Costa

Life-long Catholics who volunteer for the R.C.I.A. program at St. Basil’s usually feel that they receive so much more than they give. As catechumens and candidates make their journey towards Christ, we who accompany them inevitably see our faith with fresh eyes. Once the Easter Vigil draws near, the excitement becomes infectious, as the awe and glee of those about to receive the sacraments sweep us all into extraordinary wonder of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Today’s readings invite us to relish with quickened and grateful hearts the extraordinary banquet God so lovingly makes available to us each day. We often think that disbelief is the opposite of faith. But as we hear Jesus explain in the Gospel, the emptiness that most threatens our communion with God is taking God’s ever-overflowing generosity for granted.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called our attention to the “sin of indifference.” This complacency not only sanitizes God’s gifts and circumscribes God’s presence. It also deprives us of the deep joy from cherishing God’s mercy and love.

There is no easy answer to the distinction Jesus makes that: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” From the scriptures and lives of the saints we can surmise that, while many are called to listen to God’s Word, few become the chosen by heeding with full-hearts what is heard.

Many are called to partake of the body of Christ, yet few are chosen by then embodying Christ to the hungry, angry, wounded and wounding world. Many are called to experience God’s healing mercy, however few are chosen by making full use of their talents and gifts to spread forgiveness and peace.

Each of us have our own calling, and so each of us need to discern how we are to be chosen – through prayer, and in the needs of our families, friends, community, and church. This attentiveness to how we are special in our souls and capabilities is the cloak that earns us welcome in God’s feast, because it honours the One who invited us by not taking that-of-God within us for granted.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 25.6-10
  • Psalm 23
  • Philippians 4.12-14, 19-20
  • Matthew 22.1-14

FRUIT OF THE VINE

Fruit of the Vine by Michael Pirri

In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard the parable of the man with two sons, both of whom get sent out to work in the vineyard. Again, in the first reading and psalm today, we hear about the vineyard. This marks the third week in a row where we speak about the vineyard, though surely not the same vineyard. It’s important to note the use of real world imagery in these parables. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, it was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to mismanage their property. Christ’s use of the vineyard shows a profound understanding and disapproval of the socioeconomic conditions of His time.

The first reading paints a pretty grim view of humanity: The Lord of hosts tended his field and “planted it with choice vines […] he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. […] he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

I particularly enjoy the duality in the parable which we can draw: on one hand we are the farmer, angry that our good deeds do not yield their just reward; and yet we are also the vineyard, never living up to the potential God gives us. How can we reconcile not living up to our potential? What good deeds have we done that we feel we ought to be thanked for? Psalm 80 acknowledges our shortcomings and gives us a way of recognizing this struggle “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80.19).

In the Gospel, we could once again take the role of the landowner with high expectations for the harvest in the vineyard and the willingness to do what it takes to bring that harvest to fruition. And yet we are greeted with lack of respect and abuse rather than gratitude.

Upon greater reflection, you may see that we’re not the landowner at all — we’re the unruly tenants! We tend to the land and vineyard, and when others come to claim what they believe to be theirs, we feel the need to defend the fruits of our labour. If we are the unruly tenants then, as in the first reading, the Lord is the landowner. So we denied prophet after prophet, until finally His son was sent to us, and we acted no better.

I think the best understanding of the readings today falls somewhere between the two interpretations. The focus, I believe, is to recognize that we are to give thanks for that which is given to us, and to claim each day as an opportunity to do better, realizing all of the things God gives to us.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 5.1-7

Psalm 80

Philippians 4.6-9

Matthew 21.33-43

TESTING MIND AND HEART

TESTING MIND AND HEART

by Lucinda M. Vardey

The readings for this Sunday turn what our cultures consider normal or usual to the obscure ways of God, always a mystery to our human reasoning.

We are told by Isaiah to seek God while God may be found: from the psalm that God’s presence is near, in fact as close to us as a heartbeat. Yet, God’s thoughts are not ours. Paul declares dying to be a necessary gain in order to live life true to the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches us that it is no good using our human logic to decipher God’s ways. The hardest work we will ever attempt in our spiritual life includes giving up trying to work God out, dying to our separate agendas and plans, so that we may experience the amazing power that is unleashed through practicing what Jesus preached.

At a recent Mass in a small town in Umbria, Italy, the priest called the Gospel the “Wisdom of Love.” Love speaks more clearly in mystery. It is through our hearts that we can more naturally place Jesus at the centre of our lives, making familiar our place at the last so he can be first in everything.

In her excellent book Radical Gratitude Mary Jo Leddy wrote that finding happiness by truly believing that Jesus meant what he said, required a turning away from the economies of consumption, gain, competition and rewards, towards one of gratitude and gift. Gratitude develops the grace of hope and trust in the everlasting goodness of God, acceptance of the wisdom of God in each situation, and receptivity to being surprised by God’s generosity.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 55.6-9

Psalm 145

Philippians 1.20-24, 27

Matthew 20.1-16

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

by Lisa Fernandes

“To err is human, to forgive divine” as Alexander Pope wrote. Today’s readings capture this difficult path we all have to travel. We want to be forgiven our human transgressions, as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. As in the first reading: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong that is done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28.2)

Today’s Gospel reading tells us more about forgiveness. The parable is about a slave whose debt is forgiven by his king but who does not “pay it forward” and show forgiveness to a fellow slave who is indebted to him but instead tortures him, and thus warns us: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35)

The difficulty of forgiveness is shown when Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough to forgive his brother or sister and: “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.22)

Seven is a significant number in the Bible usually related to completeness and perfection (God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and earth, and seven pairs of clean animals went on the ark etc…) so this is not a literal counting but a lesson about the limitlessness of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, the number seven was more associated with revenge: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ ”(Genesis 4.15) while the New Testament has a contrasting emphasis on forgiveness.

God forgives us unconditionally; how can we aspire to do the same with others? We can start small. If someone cuts you off on the road, instead of road rage forgive them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if someone doesn’t hold the door for you, give them a pass. Every week in Mass when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are role models both religious and secular, such as Nelson Mandela who forgave and reconciled with those who had kept him captive.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”.

Sundays Readings:

Sirach 27.30-28.7

Psalm 103

Romans 14.7-9

Matthew 18.21-35

NAVIGATING CONFLICT

NAVIGATING CONFLICT

by Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell

Anyone that knows me well knows that I am not comfortable with confrontation and conflict. But I know that I am not alone; the self-help section of Indigo assures me of this. In our Gospel today it appears that Jesus Christ himself was quite aware that managing conflict requires a “How To” lesson and a pep talk. Jesus provides His disciples with directives on conflict resolution, and how in general, conflict between two individuals comes to affect the entire community.

If a resolution does not occur between two people in private, then witnesses must be made present to aid in the resolution process. If the wrongdoer still refuses to listen, then the ordeal must be taken to the heads of the Church. Finally, if it is clear that the individual will not acknowledge their misconduct, they are to treated “as a gentile and a tax collector”.

However, we listen to the words of Jesus reiterated in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” To resolve any conflict, we must be able to call on that very simple commandment. It does not mean we want to become friends with this person or that we have any desire to associate with them once the conflict has reached its end. It does mean, however, that we recognize the basic human desire to be listened to and understood, and that we are willing to, in turn, provide that to the one who has harmed us. It takes immense courage and strength; it is not always easy, but it is worth it.

At the end of the Gospel, Jesus offers one last piece of advice that brings us back to the Letter to the Romans. He says, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” I find these words most encouraging. Yes, sometimes we struggle to resolve conflict. But, if two people enter a conflict and still recognize the goodness within one another, and desire a resolution, then God is present. God will provide the courage to do the hard work all relationships require.

God our Father, who knows our deepest desires: give strength and courage to those experiencing conflict throughout the world to approach their neighbour with love, understanding and a willingness to reconcile.

Sundays Readings:

Ezekiel 33.7-9

Psalm 95

Romans 13.8-10

Matthew 18.15-20

A House for All Peoples

A HOUSE FOR ALL PEOPLES

By Father Morgan V. Rice, CSB

The first reading from Isaiah ends with the Lord’s saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). The psalm echoes that notion of all people offering prayer to God in the response, “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!” (67:3). Would that not be a beautiful experience of a united human family that has come to know our merciful and loving God shown to us in the person of Jesus Christ? I believe we get tastes of it when we, a diverse people representing different nations, cultures, ages, and backgrounds, gather together at the Eucharist to worship the Lord and be nourished by Jesus. This I have witnessed during my two or so months here at St. Basil’s; however, we know this is not the case in all parts of our world.

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Va., where the violent and hateful events of last weekend occurred. The demonstration of one group of people claiming to be superior to others goes against the future the Lord has laid out and against what Jesus taught us by his compassion and non-violence. Instead of the community of trust, mutual respect, and life that the Lord desires, the actions of those in Charlottesville led to the loss of human life and an atmosphere of fear and division. Condemning the violence at UVA, the university’s Rector wrote in a message to alumni, “We are all here for a purpose, and the events of the last few days have leant that purpose greater clarity and urgency”.

Events like Charlottesville certainly do clarify our purpose as women and men striving to live out Gospel values and bring the Good News of Christ to all. One of those values is to open ourselves to the gifts and goodness of others who come from backgrounds that we might have been taught to fear or be suspicious of. We do that when we make it a point to encounter and get to know others, particularly those who are different from us, with a belief that we can learn and be transformed from our interactions. Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman and the recognition of her tremendous faith demonstrated that his mission was broader than originally understood. To what insights might our interactions lead us?

In a couple of weeks, university students from around the world will be coming to begin the academic year. The University of St. Michael’s College campus will be abuzz with Orientation Week activities. As part of those activities, students will be attending the 4:30pm Mass on Sunday, 3 September. My hope is that hundreds will come to celebrate and will find a welcoming home at St. Basil’s, where together we can all join in praise of God and truly be a house of prayer for all peoples.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 56.1, 6-7 2

Peter 1.16-19

Matthew 17.1-9

FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

By Lisa Fernandes

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This is an ancient feast that was gradually introduced into the Western Church, and made a universal feast by Pope Callistus III in 1457. It celebrates Christ’s glorious transformation before several Apostles.

Just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus takes Peter, James and his brother John up a high mountain where his appearance changes: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17.2).

According to the Catechism: “Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary” (CCC 568). Today it is an important reminder of Christ’s divine nature; we all need reminders to strengthen our faith in this age of chaos.

Peter, James and John were purposely chosen as Jesus only needed a few witnesses and these, specifically, were part of his inner circle. These are the same three disciples that later accompanied Christ to Gethsemane on the eve of his passion. The transfiguration was not meant for the masses even though Peter misunderstood what was happening and wanted to build tents to mark the event and show everyone. But it was meant only for their eyes as Peter and the other disciples realize when suddenly God says: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17.5). It was at this point that the disciples fell down to the ground in awe.

I think it is important for us as current believers to understand their amazement. In our society where there sometimes seems to be a lack of wonder and we are becoming jaded, we seem to have lost our childlike amazement. We overuse the term “awesome.”

I was reminded of this in a recent obituary of Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a longevity expert who died at the age of 105. He had many rules for living longer: “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep,” he often said. “I believe we can keep that attitude as adults — it is best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

How can you recapture your amazement at this wonderful life God has given us? Write a gratitude journal. Find awe in everyday things. I recently went to hear one of the world’s greatest choirs, The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge from England and I thought how lucky I was to have this experience. And also don’t take for granted Christ’s sacrifice. Pope Francis encouraged parishioners to look at the Cross often, and to remember how Jesus was “annihilated” to save us.

Relish the rare moments in between our everyday life when we might sense we are on the mountaintop in communion with Jesus.

Sundays Readings:

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14 2

Peter 1.16-19

Matthew 17.1-9

Mustard Seed

You Have Revealed To Little Ones The Mysteries Of The Kingdom

You Have Revealed To Little Ones The Mysteries Of The Kingdom

By Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell

One of the main principles of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is to focus on “the essential.” In preparing the presentations for the children, it is important to not overwhelm them with explanations full of deep theological concepts. Instead, we find the one kernel, the key phrase, the key theme, the key image, and we let each child experience the wonder surrounding it in their own way. Their reactions may be big or small but, as Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasizes, sometimes when the Holy Spirit is at work, there are no words; only silence and awe.

Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It is a speck, barely bigger than the head of a pin. The children of the Atrium put their hands out to us and cup them together. They are anxious to have “the smallest of all the seeds” placed in their hands. The moment they receive the seed they are struck by the size and raise their cupped hands closer to their face to get a closer look.

They engage with the reverence of the moment the same way adults respond to the miracle of a newborn baby. Some comment on the size over and over exclaiming, “It is so small,” while others sit in awe trying to protect the seed in their hands. The children are keenly aware that the seed they are holding has a strength within that no words can describe. We also show the children a picture of the transformation which will occur once that seed is planted and grows. The tree has a trunk that is thick and can grow to be 20ft tall. The branches extend and weep like a willow’s. It can withstand harsh arid climates and, no matter what it endures, it will continue to grow and survive. It is a transformation that is both mysterious and beautiful.

For our youngest children in the Atrium, the essential is the movement between small and great. So simple but so very rich with meaning. They take this knowledge and apply it to everything they see in the world. Everything that grows, including themselves, starts small and transforms into something that seems unimaginable. Eventually we, the catechists, pose the question, “Whose strength could be so great, to transform a mustard seed into a tall tree?” It is the marvel of creation. For God’s presence is in all things and always ensures that new life and growth will occur. Even if it seems impossible.

This is the Kingdom of God. It is all that exists as it is born and transforms and withstands. It is beyond words. But to marvel at it, as the littlest amongst us show us, is a form of prayer. Jesus tells us to humble ourselves like children. So today, let each of us take a moment to be childlike and marvel at the Kingdom of God that is all around us.

 

Sundays Readings:

Wisdom 12.13, 16–19

Romans 8.26–27

Matthew 13.24–43

Summer rest

SUMMER REST

By Tina Sibbald

School is out; many book vacation time this month, and we enter a mindset very different from the fall, or the Christmas and Easter seasons. Life slows down for a little while, and we rest. Even the Gospel this week has that feel to it.

Ironically, the rest that Jesus offers us involves activity, not passivity. We are invited to take up the yoke of Jesus. In modern day farming it is tractors plowing fields, not oxen, but one can imagine how hard that work was. That doesn’t feel a lot like rest.

Sometimes it takes symbolism from a simpler time to make the point. Imagine being the only one attached to the yoke and pulling the weight of the plow. That plow symbolized life, and life is hard work, especially when we try to do it alone. So when Jesus invites us to share His yoke, do you think it is because He needs us to lighten His burden?

When we truly align ourselves with God, it is Jesus who does the heavy lifting. That’s how we find rest. While other obligations and workloads may lighten during the summer months, what a great opportunity there is to spend time aligning ourselves with, and getting to know Jesus in a fresh new way. Reading an uplifting book, taking a contemplative and prayerful walk in the park, paying a visit to someone who is home-bound, or volunteering at a lunch program are all great ways to find rest, and peace.

The summer season offers us a wonderful opportunity to take a deep breath and pause. Why not invite Jesus to be part of that? You may find more rest and peace than you ever thought possible.

Sunday’s Readings:

Zechariah 9.9-10

Romans 8.9, 11-13

Matthew 11.25-30