WEEK 3: “BY RESTRAINING OURSELVES AND PARDONING”
By our Province’s Formation Director and St Mary’s Prior, Bernard Rolls O.S.A.
"STOP TURNING MY FATHER’S HOUSE INTO A MARKET"
March 4, 2018
Experience teaches that commerce will always fringe any attraction that brings in numbers of people and therefore money.
For instance, how do ice-cream sellers always appear at school Sport’s Days? Temple traders were part of the Temple scene. Only Temple money could be used to pay the Temple Tax that everyone over nineteen had to pay. Pigeons or animals for sacrifice had to be passed perfect by Temple authorities; therefore most people purchased them within Temple precincts, telling us that anything bought outside was unlikely to be passed fit. It was a closed shop. The merchants and money lenders provided a necessary service. So why did Jesus re-act with such anger? Where there was business as usual he brought hostility. Why do all four Gospels relate the incident? Was Jesus not afraid of being arrested? Apparently not!
One gets the idea that the traders had exaggerated the small fee they were supposed to charge. Animals were not sold at Aldi prices but at John Lewis rates, and probably without the necessary quality either.
The whole incident took place in the court of the Gentiles. It was as far as a non-Jew could enter into the Temple. With all the trading going on, the noise of people bargaining, the livestock smells and mess, it could not have been a very conducive atmosphere in which to pray. But for the Jews the Temple was not really a place for Gentiles. It was a very nationalistic place. Perhaps this alone accounts for Jesus’ anger – the fact that people were being shut out from the presence of God.
As for the traders, Jesus charges them to change and cleanse their hearts. He calls us all back to our mission to all peoples.
Wherever we worship may the Lord help us to truly make it a house of prayer, a meeting place with God, a meeting place with each other. Remember too that Jesus, the Risen Messiah, has taken the place of the Temple and all it stood for; He is the presence of God among us.
“THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE… TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM.”
March 1, 2018
RICHES AND POVERTY
San Francisco may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world but like most cities has lots of ‘street people and bag-ladies.’ Each day in central city kitchens many thousand people down on their luck are fed up to three meals. Before one can be a volunteer one has to experience standing in line for hours with those to be fed. Thousands of miles from home I stood there thinking, “What if someone sees me?” A guy alongside me saw I was uncomfortable, introduced himself and told me his tale. He had lost a few fingers to a printing press. Not having paid his insurance he faced huge bills. He lost his job and all assets. One day he swallowed his pride and came to St Anthony’s kitchen.
Servers in the kitchen ranged from a judge to a tram driver, housewives and teachers. They were people who felt compassion and wanted to help. That was the problem with the Pharisees. They were rich and lived comfortable lives but lacked compassion. Jesus told the story of Dives and Lazarus for them.
The details of the story are important. Dives dressed in purple, like the emperor. Lazarus dressed in rags; many days he didn’t eat. Dives was healthy; Lazarus was covered in sores. They lived in opposite worlds, Dives in a lush garden villa, Dives in a barren hell. And yet they lived side by side. But Dives never once encountered the world of the poor man. He was indifferent to him. Lazarus suffered real street person poverty; Dives suffered poverty of heart. He had no compassion. Thus he was condemned. One of the greatest evils in our world of today is indifference towards our neighbour.
May this Lent help us open our hearts to those less fortunate than ourselves.
“THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL BE TAKEN FROM YOU AND GIVEN TO A PEOPLE WHO WILL PRODUCE ITS FRUIT.” - MT 21:43
March 2, 2018
DEEPEN OUR FAITH IN YOUR UNLIMITED GOODNESS.
The brothers of Joseph plotted to murder him out of jealousy; they could not accept that he was their father’s favourite son. Yet later in a time of severe famine this same beloved son would rescue his brothers.
The Father sends his Son among us and the Pharisees then and we now struggle to recognise or welcome Him. Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard and tenants. It is an allegory of God’s dealings with his people. God is the landlord; the vineyard is Israel and the wicked tenants are people such as the Scribes and Pharisees. Over the centuries the servants are of course the prophets who are often rejected, occasionally killed. The Son is Jesus himself. Sadly his warning went unheeded. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Gentiles replaced the chosen people.
Vines, if they are to produce good fruit, must be the recipients of dedicated care. They have to be weeded around; every bunch tied up and shaded from the noon sun; they are sprayed against disease by the vinedresser. The Chosen people had been the recipients of love and care, but they had not produced the fruits of right living. God looked for justice and found corruption and exploitation; in place of compassion, he found indifference and snobbery. God did not give up on them. God was sad that they squandered the blessing he wanted them to enjoy. This story applies also to us. God wants us to use our gifts so we can truly grow as his children, his followers. We fail. But God doesn’t write us off. The vineyard is the Church Christ planted and for which he gave his life. He looks to us, the tenants, to produce the fruits of love, peace, patience...
“YOUR BROTHER HERE WAS DEAD AND HAS COME TO LIFE.”
March 3, 2018
This third parable of the ‘lost and found’ series is on a much larger canvas than the other two. It is one of the best known and mulled over of all Jesus’ stories. It is a story of rebellion, repentance, forgiveness and grace. We are invited to reflect on how the father must have felt at the impertinence and ingratitude of
the younger son demanding his inheritance. Even more we are drawn into the scene to marvel at the father’s patience and love as he longingly waits day after day for the young man to return. Upon seeing his scruffy and humiliated son returning home, the father’s compassion knows no bounds. He races to
restore his son’s dignity and status. “Put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet: let everyone know that he is accepted as my son no matter what you have heard about him.”
Rembrandt has literally given an inspired presentation of the scene. Henri Nouwen gave a deep spiritual interpretation of this painting. Denis McBride CSSR gives a marvellous theological unravelling of it. Examples of talents shared! The elder son gets the least space in the story and yet is no less
essential. Remember the setting of this story: some Pharisees were complaining that Jesus welcomed sinners and dined with them. So he challenged them to stop judging others and to grow in God’s perception of things. People we condemn may in fact be in need of compassion.
You examine this parable and you wonder is this the end of the story? Does life go back to normal the next day, as if nothing happened? He has done a lot of damage. Does the younger son have some fences to repair and rebuild?
Receiving forgiveness is not the end of the story, but a new beginning.
'FATHER, IF THE PROPHET HAD ASKED YOU TO DO SOMETHING DIFFICULT, WOULD YOU NOT HAVE DONE IT?’ - SECOND KINGS 5:13
March 5, 2018
“LORD, HELP ME TO ACCEPT YOUR OFFER”
The medieval Leper church still stands in Cambridge. Victoria Hislop wrote a highly regarded novel about a nineteenth-century leper colony on a Greek island; she simply called it “The Island.” Today this disease can be cured. In biblical times it usually meant one was divorced from family and society.
Naaman, an army commander, was a leper. Powerful as he was he shed his pride and listened to a slave girl who urged him to visit the prophet Elisha to be cured. His faith faltered when the prophet did not come out to him but only sent a message ordering him to bathe in the river Jordan. He had to be persuaded to do so. He was cured. Here was a man willing to listen to a slave, willing to do what his servants urged him, a person willing to listen to God’s word whoever speaks it.
Sadly, the people of Nazareth could not listen to Jesus’ word nor accept the notion that salvation is open to all –especially when spoken to them by one of their own! That community had forgotten that ‘election’ was meant to be a sign of God’s love to all people, not just a privilege for them to enjoy. Faith is a gift to us to share.
“DIRECT ME IN YOUR WAYS, YAHWEH, AND TEACH ME YOUR PATHS.”
March 6, 2018
As schoolboys we were telling a friar of our heroic approach to Lent. He smiled and said to us, “You will need a lot of grit and determination.” He pointed us away from ‘muscular Christianity’ to what is achievable. He urged us to pray more, to seek to get in touch with God, to speak to God, to let God speak to us.
The end is that we should become more sensitive to the reality of God within and among us. Decades later the advice is still acted upon, augmented now by his power source Augustine, who has so much advice for us. For instance in his commentary on Psalm 93 he says, “None of us does anything good unless aided by Christ’s grace. What we do badly comes from ourselves; what we do well, we do with the help of God. Therefore let us give thanks to God who made it possible.”
We set out into Lent with great personal intentions but the weeks threaten our resolve. Augustine urges us to rely on grace: “None of us should engage in combat with the temptations that vex us and presumptuously rely on ourselves. Don’t be careless and slack about fighting but also don’t proudly rely
on yourselves. Whatever it is that troubles you, battle it bravely and don’t give in. Call on the God who watches from the sidelines...It is he who insures the victory....The God who watches you in your fight, helps you when the going gets tough and will crown you with the victor’s laurels when you win” (Sermon
335). It is a theme he frequently returns to.
In his Soliloquies he says, “O God, I ask for the grace to pray. You are too good to allow anyone to be lost who is really trying to find you. Indeed you are so good that I know you will give me the grace to try to find you. Wash me free of all my silly earthly desires so that I may be clear-eyed enough to see you.”
“Let my heart praise you, and my tongue say: “Who is like you Lord? Let them speak. Answer me, Lord. Say ‘I am your salvation.’(Confessions 9,1)
“THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE… TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM.”
February 28, 2018
These words come just after Jesus predicts his passion and death. They come too after Mrs Zebedee approached Jesus wanting the top places in his kingdom for her boys. Her bold request shows that she, like the disciples, has not understood what Jesus has just proclaimed.
To be a Christian is not just to be an imitator of Christ but, as St Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “to live with the life of Christ who lives in me.” We are called to examine our lives in Lent in the light of this truth. In his kingdom the rulers are to be like servants. It is good to want to excel, Jesus does not deny this, but then turns this our thoughts upside down by saying true greatness consists not in exercising power over others but in serving their needs. We have kept to this officially in the Church, for is not the Pope, “servant of servants”.
When we were in novitiate a missionary bishop and two priests out for a bike ride called to the priory. They met this figure in a blue boiler suit. Presuming him to be a brother or servant, they asked for some water to drink. The bishop asked him to put their bikes somewhere safe while they had a picnic. Then they asked him to take them to the Prior of the community. He said, “I am the prior.” He was truly a servant of the brothers and the sisters in the priory and parish. In a small, practical way he illustrates the spiritual revolution Jesus brought. He wants members free from rivalry and competition, people of loving service.
Meditations for Lent 2018
Theme of this 2018 Lent retreat : “Seeking Peace in Prayer”
"In humility and charity, by fasting and giving, by restraining ourselves and pardoning, by paying out good deeds and not paying back bad ones, by turning away from evil and doing good, our prayer seeks peace and obtains it."
- St. Augustine, Sermon 206, 3