Today is the feast of Saint Patrick, today we celebrate his sainthood, and the ascendance to heaven of a British man, of Roman heritage, who lived sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries CE.
Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, but he was not Irish at all, he was a Roman of the Patrician class, from a family of rank and privilege.
Patrick (Patricius) is credited with converting the people of Erin to faith in the Universal and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, in so doing he separated the Celtic people from their Gaelic traditions, subordinating them to the Catholic Church in Rome; he won with the Word what could not be accomplished through war, by sword and spear, by fire and blood and for this Patricius was named a Saint of the Church.
It should be noted that Saint Patrick has never been canonized, or even beatified not by any Pope, therefore Patrick is not officially a Saint of the Catholic Church; nevertheless, he is recognized in the annals of the Saints of the Church of England, I hope that all my Irish kinfolk appreciate the irony of this.
It is an irony worthy of song.
History tells us that Patrick was a humble man, a rare quality for those of rank. History also tells us that he himself proofed the plan of spreading the faith by converting the Irish chieftains first, this became the model for proselytizing and missionary work throughout Northern Europe.
Patrick was a politician of great skill. He spread the faith, established churches and earned the rank of Apostle by popular acclamation.
History tells us that his mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours, the Patron Saint of Soldiers otherwise known as Saint Martin of the Sword, whose biography was written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, and history also tells us that this a work of pure fiction; Saint Martin never lived, even so, his story gave license for Christians to become soldiers, to serve in the army and as such his story brought the Roman legions into the fold.
Patrick was said to have had a “heroic piety,” praying day and night, in the mountains and in the woods, he prayed through the rain and through storms of snow and ice, he should be the patron saint of post men if this were true, but then again…all hagiographies are lies.
His story tells us that he spent six years as a captive and servant to a Celtic Chieftain, the Druid named Milchu in Dalriada, where he mastered the language of the common folk and learned all of their stories.
However, if you appreciate history you will know that it is much more likely that he fled his home to wander abroad in order to escape the duties that were expected of him as the son of a nobleman. Such departures were common in his time, they were referred to as the “flight of the curiales,” and you may conclude that Patrick was no captive at all, he was just a boy running away from his responsibilities.
Rather than being taken captive it is more likely that he paid for asylum in Milchu’s house, and that while he was there he paid for the services of tutors who helped him learn the language. The Druids were great teachers and oral historians, this much we know is true.
The story of Patrick’s escape (if it was in fact an escape from servitude), and subsequent journey were of his own account. He cast the entire experience in dramatic, even biblical terms, which served both to cover up his crime of abnegation and to establish his fame.
It is said that Patrick escaped from Milchu and then fled to the mainland of Europe where he entered the priesthood and became a missionary. On his return to Ireland however, the first place he went was to his former home in Dalriada. Where, after some period of conflict with his former captor (or patron) and the affectation of some miracles on Patrick’s part, Milchu is said to have immolated himself in order to make way for the upstart Patrick, throwing himself on a fire after burning the collected scrolls and mysteries of his people.
This event may be seen in metaphorical terms as Milchu offering himself as a human sacrifice, at the foundation of the church in Ireland, that is how Patrick wrote it.
In reality the whole episode denotes the ritual destruction of the Celtic people in favor of the ascending Romano-British invaders.
On Easter Sunday, 433 a conflict of will ensued between Patrick and the Celtic Arch-Druid Lochru, historians mythologized it as a battle of divine forces like the contest between Moses and the Egyptians or Elijah and priests of Baal, and it ended with Saint Patrick magically hurling Lochru into the air, before he broke the druid into pieces on a sharp rock.
It was another ritual murder at the foundation of the Irish Church, another human sacrifice to be sure; there is no other way to read it, this was a good old-fashioned Roman slaughter.
On a side note, while speaking of his vaunted magic powers, and not to be outdone by Jesus, this same Patrick was said to have been able to raise the dead.
It should be noted the Saint Columbanus, the Patron Saint of Poetry, who was the most significant representative of the Irish Catholic Church after the Dark Ages, who lived and wrote and sent missionaries from Ireland to Continental Europe, where they built Churches and founded religious communities, Saint Columbanus (otherwise known as Columba or Colmcille) makes no mention of Saint Patrick in his writing, not once, not anywhere; on the contrary Columbanus tells us that the Church in Ireland was founded by a man named Palladius.
I think it may be said that the entire legend of Saint Patrick is little more than a myth designed to subordinate the Irish heart to a British nobleman of Roman descent, and a fictitious one at that.
Be mindful when you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day!
There are no prophets, there is no prophecy, there are only human beings. Human beings have the innate ability to perceive and recognize what is true. But we are all, each of us compromised; every expression of the truth coming from a human being is conditioned by that compromise, and therefore it is necessarily flawed, and yet despite these flaws we sometimes do good work, but because of these flaws all human works are suspect.
Listen to the psalmist!
It is God who makes us well, who creates in us the possibility of wellbeing. God is our wellbeing, but God is not a king, and there are no other gods.
All of creation belongs to God, all that is good and all that frightens us; everything, no matter how distressing or troubling, everything comes from God and will redound to the good.
It is good to show our respect for the creator and to sing songs in praise of God, remember! Always remember that God is our loving parent, and has prepared each of us for the divine blessing.
Even the apostle is liable to asserting his personal beliefs and foibles into the rubrics of the Church. Not everything he says should be accepted on its face as wise and good.
Paul believed that people should withdraw from public life, stop procreation and wait on God to deliver humanity from the miseries of the world. If he could have, he would have had all of us living chaste and celibate lives behind the walls of the cloister, men living with men and women living with women.
The apostle errs, but the church is not obligated to follow him in this error, the more humble thing would be to acknowledge the truth and move on.
This is the truth:
It is the desire of God, the creator of the universe, it is the desire of God that we follow the way that Jesus taught, to be merciful, love justice and walk humbly all the days of our life, to prosper and multiply.
The teachings of Jesus cannot be treated like a shell game, though they are, and have been since the beginning, as Matthew’s illustrates.
The way of Jesus is not a long con, it is not a bait and switch, it is a simple teaching that cannot be controlled or owned by any one group of people.
God, the creator of the universe, God has hidden nothing from us. The truth is in the open for anyone to see. The wise and the powerful, the learned and the clever, the weak and the meek, everyone has access to the same truth, to the knowledge of God, of justice, of hope and love.
Who are the wise and powerful, who are the learned and the clever, who are the faithful and childlike? In every generation, you will see a new group labeling the elder group as out of touch, blind, privileged, in the dark, corrupt. It is an endless cycle, and the truth remains the same; love justice, be merciful, do good, serve God through the loving service you provide to one another: your family, your friend, your neighbor, the stranger, even your enemy.
Just because a person may be wise and powerful, learned and clever, or a child of the Church, does not mean they recognize the truth when they see it, or act upon it when they do.
It is not your station in society, it is not how other people regard you, it is not the titles you have earned or the ways that you have been marginalized that give us the tell on how you will fulfill the calling to follow Jesus. What matters is what is in your heart and your willingness to trust in the content of your hope.
When you speak from the scriptures be careful.
When you observe the authors attempting to fit their narrative of the life of Jesus into a picture that makes it look as if he is fulfilling a prediction about the future, be wary; this is always a falsehood.
Even if a prediction had been made, and even if Jesus did the thing that was predicted, it is a false narrative to suggest that Jesus’ actions were in fulfillment of prophecy.
Prophets only speak of the future for two reasons; to engender hope and to warn of danger.
The words of a prophet are always addressed to the people in their own time, in their own place. Prophecy is never meant to guide the lives of future generations, except in the cases when the prophet is addressing an issue of universal truth, such as the nature of justice, which is itself unchanging.
The Gospel writers were propagandists; they fabricated many of the details of Jesus’ life. They fabricated those details to suit their narrative about who Jesus was, why he was necessary, and what his life and death meant for the early church.
In this narrative the Gospel writers place Jesus directly in the tradition of John the Baptist, with the words “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
This is a continuation of that narrative, meant to harness the energy of John’s movement, after his arrest and murder.
Consider the Gospel for today, it is packed with nuance.
Begin by unpacking:
This is the first record of Jesus in his ministry as a public teacher.
He is still in Palestine but he has travelled to the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is beyond the borders of Judea, half-way between Jerusalem and Damascus.
He gives his teaching in a synagogue, indicating his status as a Rabbi. The synagogues belong to the diaspora, Jewish communities outside of the Holy Land. Synagogues are the seat of the Pharisaic sect of Judaism, and Rabbis are teachers in that movement. Pharisees are a distinct group of teachers; they promulgate the law. They are different from the Scribes, and the priests of the temple. All of these distinctions are communicated in the opening paragraph:
Jesus the Pharisee, Jesus the Rabbi is teaching with authority, unlike the Scribes in Jerusalem.
One man calls him out. Not because he is possessed by demons, but because he afraid of what Jesus’ teaching represents.
He asks a good question, “What do you have to do with us?” This indicates that Jesus is an outsider.
He asks, “Are you here to destroy us?” This indicates that he perceives Jesus’ teaching to be a threat to the established order, and therefore quite possibly to his entire community.
He addresses the claim that Jesus’ followers are promoting, that he is the “Holy One of God.” He asserts this in an unfriendly manner, quite possibly as a charge against Jesus: a charge of hubris at the least, though it is potentially a charge of blasphemy.
By raising this charge he intends to undermine Jesus’ authority in the synagogue. Jesus commands the man to silence, and Jesus prevails. This scene is depicted dramatically in the gospel, as if Jesus were commanding an unclean spirit to come out of the man, a spirit of disobedience and falsehood. It is presented as Jesus casting out a demon or demons, and healing a man who was possessed. Though it should be presented as Jesus commanding his authority to convert a dissident into a believer.
The narrative does not depict a supernatural challenge to Jesus’ authority, but an ordinary challenge from a member of the community. It was not easy for Jesus to convince the man, it was a convulsive struggle, but Jesus prevailed; he prevailed because the community had been ready to receive Jesus’ teaching at the outset, and his victory in the disputation with the man who argued with him, how he managed the situation as a healer bolstered his authority all the more.
Be like Jesus in your ministry, be a healer; it is the best way to serve the interests of the divine.
I Will Raise Up a Prophet and Put My Words into His Mouth
Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’
I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 11:25
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to mere children.
Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 4:16
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.
Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
When I finally made it to the university, I went to a school named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, named for Saint Thomas Aquinas; I studied philosophy there, as well as theology and the classics.
It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the river bluffs nearby. The moment I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.
My time at this school was reasonably well spent. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, and I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as our Patron Saint, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas in than for the conclusions that he made.
Saint Thomas bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al, and the proto-renaissance period of Western Europe, re-discovering the use of intellectual tools like such as formal logic and discursive reasoning, and re-employing them in a way that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.
Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today.
Saint Thomas was Italian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there, fully cognizant of his fame, knowing that he would become a saint of great renown, they coveted the relics of his body.
They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.
The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, a silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.
On his death bed it is reported that he gave an estimation of the value of his own contribution to the doctrine and dogma of the church, of which he said: everything is just straw.
There is a prayer that Thomas wrote carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, the same arches that I first walked through my first day on campus, two stories below the offices of the Philosophy Department. I recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.
It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:
Grant, O Merciful God
That I may ardently desire,
And perfectly accomplish
What is pleasing to thee
For the praise and glory
Of thy name
In the year 2021 CE, seven hundred and forty-seven after the death of Saint Thomas, the world has become enmired in another kind of dark ages, which is odd and sadly ironic because the current tide of anti-rational, anti-intellectual sentiment that has griped the world has been seeded through the prevalence of digital media platforms that are in themselves a function of our mastery of light, as a means of communication.
We now find ourselves leaving in a cultural milieu that disdains the truth, scientia, science and knowledge, which undermines place of reason in public discourse.
In Western Europe the so-called dark ages are considered to have begun around the year 500 CE, with the reign of the emperor Justinian, roughly the same length of time seven hundred and fifty years after the golden age of the philosophers, and roughly seven hundred and fifty years before Saint Thomas wrote his Summa.
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently ominous in the pattern I have articulated, the numbers themselves are arbitrary and it would be unreasonable to suppose otherwise. However, we would be wise to acknowledge this, the descent of darkness has a cycle all of its own. We have fallen into this before and we are susceptible to falling into it again, once we have fallen, it could take centuries to emerge back into the light.
Your House and Your Sovereignty will Always Stand Secure Before Me
Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’
But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’
The Mystery is Revealed that was Kept Secret for Endless Ages
Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith. This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be. He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
Praise God and praise God’s servant when the will of God is done, praise God when the divine way is taught with clarity and purpose.
Know this, God is the author of our well-being, if we are able to lead lives of integrity it is God, the creator of the universe who has shown us the way, guiding us and drawing us the divine.
This is God’s constant desire and it is right to praise God for the good things we experience and the good things we are able to do in this world insofar as all good things emanate from divine.
Be mindful, while it is true that God is the eternal source of all goodness, God waits on us and the choices we make for good ness and integrity to manifest themselves in our lives.
Rejoice in the divine, rejoice that we who are infinitely less than the infinite have been graced by the blessing of God.
Rejoice in God’s mercy and do not fear; rejoice.
Consider the teaching of the apostle and know that these words are meant for everyone, for all of God’s children whether they have entered the church or not.
It is God’s desire that we be happy and give thanks for all that we receive, for this is the way that Jesus taught us to live by.
Look for the spirit of God in all whom you meet, because God is with them as God is with you.
It is right and good to pray for perfection, but do not expect to find it in this world, its promise will find you in the next.
The reading for today is a revisionist narrative. It does not represent the teaching of Jesus.
It is false and propagandistic, demonstrating the worst tendencies of the early church to stifle dissent among its members and sweep its competitors away, to sweep them out over the fast-hold of the threshing room, the followers of John among them.
Jesus was not God, Joseph and Mary’s son is not the creator of the universe, and John was not sent by God to bear witness to anything; this is true even though John bore witness to much.
John and Jesus, like all prophets, bore witness to injustice and spoke against it where they saw it.
They were killed for it, put to death by the prevailing powers of their day.
In their heart, they heard the voice of God, they listened to that voice in the same place where God dwells and speaks to each of us, through that aspect of ourselves that God created in God’s own image, the imago dei.
All of us bear a seed of God’s Word within us, the divine logos is present to us, and where God is present, God is present fully.
God was present in Isaiah, in John, in Mary, in Jesus, in Paul, as God is present in you and me and everyone.
The light that John bore witness to, is a light that dwells within us all.
Christians are called to follow the way of Jesus, as Jesus followed in the way of John; the way is a path of service and sacrifice, anoint yourself with these and you will be a light to others.
He has Sent Me to Proclaim a Year of Favour from the Lord
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.
‘I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity, like a bridegroom wearing his wreath, like a bride adorned in her jewels.
‘For as the earth makes fresh things grow, as a garden makes seeds spring up, so will the Lord make both integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.’
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
There is great hope expressed by Isaiah, a profound hope for the future wellness of all people,
As seen through his understanding of our common destiny as children of God, the creator of the universe. The prophet expresses certainty in regard to the expectation of atonement, not just for the people of Israel or the children of Judah, but for all people.
This teaching serves as the principle foundation of the early church, and the whole of Christian faith accordingly.
John the Baptist, stood in the tradition of Isiah, his was a voice crying out in the wilderness; he called the faithful to action, instructing them to prepare the way. His was a voice of expectation instructing the faithful that the entire creation will bend to the will of God; every valley and every mountain, from the cliffs to the plains, everything will yield to God.
Furthermore, we are instructed to believe that despite the omnipotence of God, we are to regard the creator like a shepherd who feeds the flock, like a mother ewe among her children, not as a lord or a king or a general leading armies.
To be clear: Isaiah also speaks of God as the punisher, reminding the people of Judah of the punishment they have suffered for their crimes and of future punishments to come if they persist in their sinful ways.
Remember this, their crimes were crimes against the people, their crimes took place in the world. They made enemies among foreign powers and they suffered on account of their wickedness and vanity, and broken promises. They were not punished by God. The justice they encountered was the justice of human beings. It was harsh, it was painful, many people were slaughtered, many more were taken into captivity, but this was not the work of God, the creator; we know this because God does not intervene in the affairs of the world.
In the midst of all the that the children of Israel and the people of Judah suffered came Isaiah, whose voice cried out in the wilderness, then came John followed by Jesus hundreds of years later, reminding the people that God is with them still, and that in the end all things will be resolved in love.
God is the creator of the entire universe, everything belongs to God; all lands, all seas, all planets, all stars, all galaxies; everything and everyone that is in them.
You should know that God did not end the captivity of the children of Israel, they did.
This is not hubris.
It is greater hubris to think that God loves a special people, one tribe above all others, it is much greater to think that than to think that the Israelites escaped bondage under their own power.
God is never angry or indignant with the people, neither does God rescue us from our plights or the miseries of the world; that is for us to do for ourselves, it is for us to do for each other.
Bear witness to Peter’s struggle.
His mission was to call people to holiness and to a just way of life. He spoke about the fruits of such a life and the reasonable expectation that if you live a good life good things will come to you…though if truth be told there is no guarantee of that.
Peter knew this.
Treating all people with goodness and mercy, telling the truth as best as you understand it, in no way does doing these things guarantee that you will be treated the same. Therefore we may understand that the divine promise is not that you will experience justice and mercy in this world, but that there will be justice and mercy in the next.
Peter had been preaching on this and the return of Jesus for many years, believing that the Church would usher in the new world of justice and grace, but two thousand years has gone by and it has not happened, not yet.
You should know that there are many people preaching the same message, not for the good of others but for their own enrichment, as the years and decades and centuries and millennia pass, the teaching on Christian hope has become elongated elongated, the expectation is no longer that you will receive justice in this life with the return of Jesus, but in eternity.
God will bring the world to an end only when God’s purpose for the world has been fulfilled. Trust that God is loving and God is patient, and it is God’s desire to save everyone. It is God’s desire to leave no one behind, and that is the true foundation of Christian faith, in keeping with the tradition of Isaiah.
Read your histories. Though it has had a mixed record of success the Christian tradition has always attempted to root itself in historical realities.
The study of the Christian tradition gave birth to modern historical and literary criticism, without which, as a culture, we would have no understanding of the uses and limitations of history whatsoever.
Appreciate the fact that this took eighteen hundred years to develop.
Our narrative concerning the life and mission, the arrest and killing of Jesus are a part of the testimony of our faith. These stories helps us to locate in time the singular moment when our cultural commitment to the teachings of Jesus took place.
Through the liturgy we remember the rule of Tiberius, heir to Augustus, the Herodian dynasty and Pontius Pilate. We recall the role that Pilate played in killing of Jesus, we shout it out at every hour of every day in all parts of the world; that Jesus suffered under his hand, was crucified and buried. This story is told unceasingly and without end.
It is long since time that we, as heirs to the ministry and teaching of Jesus, forgive Pilate for the role he played in that political murder.
John the Baptist taught us to repent and be forgiven, but Jesus taught us to simply forgive. He forgave those who killed him even as they were torturing him; and he asked God to forgive them when he was up on the cross breathing his last painful breaths. It is time we followed his example and did the same. The promise of Isaiah, which John echoed in the wilderness cannot be received by us unless and until we do.
God is the author of our salvation but we are the agents of it, and it is incumbent on us to proceed with the healing, if the human race is to be healed.
Consider the Gospel reading for today:
Isaiah did not predict the coming of John and Jesus. We know that this is true, because we believe that God, the creator of the universe, created us in freedom, and nothing in the world is pre-determined.
Isaiah’s movement took place over the course of a decade or more, its followers and proponents witnessed the collapse of David’s kingdom and the scattering of the Israel into the remote reaches of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.
Neither did John the Baptist predict the coming of Jesus, though he may have expressed the hope that someone like Jesus would come after him and continue his work.
In the time of John and Jesus the people of Judah and the children of Israel were in much the same place as they had been six hundred years earlier. They had rebuilt their cities, re-dug their wells and constructed a new temple in the land of their forebears, but they were still divided among themselves, factionalized and politically weak. They were still subject to foreign powers, and still subject to the capriciousness of kings.
John saw his death coming because he understood the political temper of the men and women in power in his day, like Jesus who came after him he accepted that death rather than risk the lives of his followers in a vain attempt to forestall the inevitable.
We Are Waiting for the New Heavens and the New Earth
There is one thing, my friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, ‘a day’ can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises, as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up.
Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.
Gospel Acclamation Luke 3:4, 6
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight, and all mankind shall see the salvation of God.
A Voice Cries in the Wilderness: Prepare a Way for the Lord
The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:
“Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
And so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
God is parent to us all, and we are all laden with guilt, bearing countless transgressions: transgressions that have born fruit in the world, transgressions that have festered in our hearts, transgressions that have done real harm to ourselves and others.
As the prophet says: we wear our integrity like a filthy cloth.
And despite all of this, God loves us. God has promised to deliver us, all of us together.
The psalmist misunderstands how historical events unfold and how the will of God is manifest in them.
God is the shepherd of all people, not of Israel only.
God does not reside on a throne and God is not the general of armies. Those are human institutions and when we imagine God thus we do a disservice to the creator of the universe, the divine parent.
God’s face shines upon everyone, look for it in the face of your neighbor, in the face of your enemy, in the faces of those who persecute you. Know this, and know that God will rescue no-one from the human conditions, from the dilemmas face, the machinations of other people, or natural catastrophe.
God did not rescue the Israelites from Egypt.
God did not send the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Ptolemy’s, or the Romans, to punish the people.
God did not destroy the temples.
God will not protect you, or show you favor in this world.
It is up to us, God’s children, to love, show mercy and care for those who are downtrodden.
This is the task we have been given.
Listen to the Paul and be mindful!
If you have been baptized you have been appointed by God to be an apostles and to share the good news, the good news of God’s love for us and the promise that God has prepared the way for our salvation; for the salvation of humanity, of all people in all times and all places.
We are all people of the way.
We are all saints in the making.
Remember this and know that Jesus is not a lord, he is not our king, he was our brother, and he is our friend.
God is faithful, but God, the creator of the universe; God does not work in the world the way the apostle imagines.
God is revealed every day in the good works done by one human being for another, whether they are done in the name for God that we recognize or not.
God will not steady you and keep you without blame.
God has made you free, whether you live a good life or a bad life is up to you. God will speak to you, from your heart, God will speak about the good life, but so will the voices of fear and greed, and hate.
It is for you to decide which you will listen to, and because you are human you will vacillate.
Whichever way you wander, God will forgive you, just as God asks that you forgive those who have harmed you, God also asks you to accept the forgiveness of those you have harmed, and ultimately to forgive yourself.
God is the creator of the entire universe, all lands belong to God; all seas, all planets, all stars, all galaxies, everything and everyone that is in them.
Consider the Gospel reading for today.
We are called to diligence and mindfulness, to perpetual and continuous watchfulness.
That is what it means to be in the way.
The way of loving service is never ending, but so long as we are engaged in it, we are living in the garden.
Love is love, hope is hope, and trust is trust…to live out the faith means to actively trust in the goodness, the mercy and the justice of God, God the creator of the universe.
To live in a state of hope, requires only that we extend the hope we have for ourselves, for our friends and for our families, to the stranger in our midst, to the person who owes you money, to the person to whom you are indebted, even to your enemies.
To be in love, you must be loving.
Stay awake, be mindful, keep the lamp lit.
The way is like a great river; it is flowing, flowing all the time.
We are Waiting for Our Lord Jesus Christ to be Revealed
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.
I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.
Gospel Acclamation – Psalm 84:8
Let us see, O Lord, your mercy and give us your saving help.
If He Comes Unexpectedly, He Must Not Find You Asleep
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’
As a Roman Catholic Theologian, and a student of philosophy, Saint Katherine of Alexandria is my patroness.
I have this image of her, painted by the renaissance master Raphael tattooed on my right arm.
Her legend tells us that she was born in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 287 CE, and that she died as a martyr during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius c. 305.
She was broken on the wheel; she was tied to it, impaled on its spikes, and crushed beneath it as it was rolled through the streets.
Katherine was only eighteen years old but gifted with a rare intellect. She was from a wealthy family and used her fortune to hold salons where she invited pagan philosophers to debate with her and other Christian scholars on matters concerning the central tenets of the faith and the doctrines of the Church.
Katherine is always depicted in the saffron and ochre robes of the philosopher, which had been the tradition throughout the ancient Near East and Hellenistic Civilization since at least the time of Socrates (mid-fourth century BCE). It is likely that these colors, and their association with philosophy come from the Buddhist missionaries travelling west from as early as the sixth century BCE.
Look after the well-being of all who come your way; as you treat the stranger, so do you treat God, the creator of the universe.
God looks out for everyone, the whole of the flock, humanity, is in God’s care, and God is determined not to lose a single one of us. God will seek out the lost, bring back the stray, heal the wounded and strengthen the weak.
As the psalmist says:
God, the creator of the universe, God is shepherd to us all.
If we walk in the ways of God, we will be as a shepherd to our sisters and brothers.
Whatever it is that we experience of lack, our time in this world is not the end of all things. It is transitory. If we are hungry, we are hungry only for a time. If we thirst, it is but for a moment.
Trust in God and find peace therein. In the end you will be fulfilled.
It is not only because God loves you that God guides you, but it is for the God’s own sake that God blesses you.
The power of death and sin are temporary, it is only God that endures forever, and we are the children of God, the divine dwells within us.
If God has set a table before you, share it with the world; turn enemies into loved ones.
Be mindful of the apostle’s words.
The Apostle has a deep liking for circular arguments. The reading for today begins in circularity. Paul insists that Christ must be raised from the dead or his faith, and the faith of Christians everywhere is in vain, because the faith of Christians everywhere is not in vain, he says that we must believe that there is a resurrection, and the risen Christ is the proof of it.
This is not a reasonable argument. Set it aside, because it has no bearing on the main point of this passage.
The main point is this:
Sin and death enter through the world from a single point in time, and it is another singularity that brings sin and death to an end.
Adam causes the fall, Christ lifts creation back up.
The scope of their work is equal and includes the totality of all living beings: past, present and future.
Listen to the apostle; who understand the ways of God. We are created all-together as one. We are one creation in God. In our failures and our faith we are one.
God is not a king, a prince or a lord.
The Church, following in the way Jesus taught, can never be the extension of a royal dynasty, and should not be seen as one.
The reading for today contains much of what is true, and much that is false.
Let us begin with this:
Jesus is not a king, nor is he an emperor.
Jesus is our brother, Jesus is a friend.
The glory of Christ is expressed in his mercy, you will not find Christ seated on a throne, commanding armies of angels, with the nations assembled before him.
It is the duty of all Christians, of all who would follow in the way of Jesus to reject such images. They lead to fallacies.
What is true is this:
Our love and fidelity to God and Christ is expressed in how we treat one another; rich or poor, weak or strong, right or wrong.
Among the ancient Hebrews, both the sheep and the goats were integral to their community, the Hebrews tended and cared for flocks of each. Both the sheep and the goats belonged to the community..
We are one human family, we are not sheep and goats, we are never divided by God, we are only divided by each other.
We must reject all such efforts to divide us.
In our human family there is good and bad, there are right and wrong. We are called on to foster the good, and forgive the bad. We are called by Jesus to forgive even those who do us harm.
The Lord says this: I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest – it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.
As for you, my sheep, the Lord says this: I will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats.
Christ Will Hand Over the Kingdom to God the Father; So that God May Be All in All
Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet. And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.
Gospel Acclamation – Mark 11:10
Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David!
I Was Naked and You Clothed Me; Sick, and You Visited Me
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”
‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’
The Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), The Solemnity of Christ the King
It is vanity to believe that God will come to your aid when you are engaged in a dispute with your sisters or brothers, or in any dispute in all.
It is vanity and foolishness to believe that God will secure the foundation of your house or the peace of your city, the stability of your nation or the well-being of the world.
It is vanity and hubris to assume that those who labor from dawn to dusk are loved less by God than those who do not toil at all.
It is vanity and hubris to believe that God places sons in the wombs of the mothers on behalf of the fathers whom God loves.
God does not favor husbands over wives, God does not favor brothers over sisters, God does not favor sons over daughters.
God does not intervene in our affairs.
Listen to the apostle!
When Saint Paul says that we belong to the light, he is speaking to all of the children of Adam, to the entirety of the human race. He is speaking to the world, his audience is everyone; the message is timeless, unbounded; it comes from the infinite.
The gift of grace is not transactional; God gives it freely, the creator of the universe gives grace to all, no one is excluded.
God is present throughout creation; there is no place where God is not. God touches every person, God sustains every living-breathing thing, God undergirds the whole created order, Christian and non-Christian alike, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Consider the Gospel reading for today:
It is heartbreaking to see the teaching of Jesus betrayed so completely by the writers of the Gospels.
The authors of Matthew, writing a hundred years or so after the death of Jesus, were more concerned with building up and retaining church property than they were with teaching the good news, that Christ has risen, that God loves the sinner, even the worst of them.
It is impossible to know how the way came to be betrayed in such a fulsome and complete manner, but I am thinking it has to do with the fact that over the course of a hundred years, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the leadership of Christian communities throughout the Empire fell to the wealthy, bishops were selected from among leading merchants and tradespeople, from among landowners and people of status.
It is not surprising that in this time the way that Jesus preached about came to be imagined as a kingdom, while abba, the father, became a king.
This parable views God or Jesus as a merchant and a banker, instead of a fisherman or a carpenter, a shepherd or a farmer.
The parable begins with the idea that God will distribute challenges and tasks to the people according their ability, that God knows both the powers and liabilities of God’s children, and consequently God knows what to expect from them.
Therefore, it is out of character for the loving and knowing God to punish the servant who buried his one talent. God knew that this is what this servant would do.
According to the way of Jesus, the servant who buried the talent should be the recipient of mercy, of a loving ministry, not cast out and left in the dark.
One hundred years after the death of Jesus, the leaders of the church had forgotten this.
The servant who hid the talent was not lazy, as the “master” said, but was fearful because he knew that the man he was beholden to was a hard person, who took what he had not worked for, robbing others of the fruit of their labor.
This servant did not multiply his talent as the others had done because he did not want to emulate the corrupt practices of his master as the others were willing to do.
Again, the master, who represents either God or Jesus in this parable, does not deny being hard of heart, and does not deny the charge of being a thief, reaping what he had not sewn, and gathering what he had not scattered.
He is proud of it, and that is the type of behavior he intended to promote.
He charges the frightened servant with laziness, with neglect and stupidity, calling him a good-for-nothing and has him thrown into the dark, into the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, into hell, the place of death.
Through this twist in the narrative the authors of this parable up-end Jesus’ teaching, that the last will be first and the first shall be last.
The true reading of this parable is this:
The man who was thrown out represents the figure of Christ. Like Christ he refused to emulate the wicked practices of the rulers, he refused to profit from the suffering of others, he knew that he would be punished and he accepted the consequences. He was proven right, and he was killed for his convictions.
God Will Bring with Him Those Who Have Died in Jesus
You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.
But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.
Gospel Acclamation – Revelation 2:10
Even if you have to die, says the Lord, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life.
Alternative Acclamation – John 15:4, 5
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. Whoever remains in me bears fruit in plenty.
You Have Been Faithful in Small Things: Come and Join in Your Master’s Happiness
Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.
‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”
‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’