A Homily – The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

First Reading – Numbers 6:22-27 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 66(67):2-3, 5, 6, 8 ©
Second Reading – Galatians 4:4-7 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Hebrews 1:1-2
The Gospel According to Luke 2:16 – 21 ©

(NJB)

The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)
Listen, hear is the formula of blessing:

Only remember this; God, who created the universe, God is not a lord, free God from that earthly title, and free yourself as well.

Know this, the blessing of God rests on all of God’s children, feel God’s presence (it is always with you), and keep yourself in the way of God.

Be mindful.

See God in the face of everyone you encounter, treat them as if they were God themselves; for they are, god dwells within in them.

Peace comes through understanding, God is utterly transcendent, God is not a god of tribes, of nations, or even worlds.

God is the God of all creation.

Listen!

The psalmist is right to ask God to bless all peoples and all nations; to have pity and to be merciful. We are right to seek this fulfillment for it is the promise of God.

Be mindful.
God is not confined to one place, neither to one time, nor does God belong to one people.

God, who created the universe, God is the God of everyone, whether they know it or not.

Seek God’s blessing; seek it not just four yourself, but seek it for everyone.

Listen!

Comsider the teaching of the Apostle:

The death of Jesus was a political murder. It was a sacrifice, but not a sacrifice of redemption. Jesus was not purchasing anything for himself, or for us when he was killed on the cross, he was not paying a debt.

Jesus was showing us the way.

Jesus was acting out of love, taking the wrath of the Sanhedrin and the Romans on himself, rather than have that anger visited on his broader group of followers; his family, the disciples and their families.

His sacrifice was not magic, it is not mystical, or supernatural. Jesus was a faithful son of God, exercising ordinary compassion in extraordinary circumstances.

He was acting as a champion of justice.

Jesus demonstrated his faith every day in his ministry of healing, through his loving service, and finally in his death on the cross, he believed in what he taught and he went to his death trusting God.

Be mindful of this.

God’s spirit is with us; the spirit is with us in the memory of Jesus that we hold on to, it is demonstrated in the loving service we provide each other.

God’s spirit animates all of us. We are all God’s children, and all of us are God’s heirs; Christian and non-Christian, alike.

Listen!

God speaks to everyone. God speaks in the secret chamber of your heart.

Listen!

God calls us to justice, to goodness, and to humility.

God call us to service.

Consider the Gospel for today:

There is a lot packed into this short passage.

Before we begin to explicate its meaning we must understand that, Luke, the Apostle, he never met Jesus. Luke was not one of the disciples. Luke was a protégé of Paul, and Paul had never met Jesus either.

Luke and Paul, travelled broadly and met many of those that followed Jesus during his life. Paul met with James, who was Jesus’ brother, but they never met Jesus, and everything they knew about Jesus was hearsay.

It is important to note, that while the Gospel of Luke bears Luke’s name, it was not written by Luke. None of the Gospels were written by individuals, all of them were exercises in collective development, and the writing of them took place over generations, as the communities who authored them did their best to narrate their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus in terms their audience would understand.

The Gospel of Luke says that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were visited by three shepherds. This is presented in distinction to Matthews Gospel which says that they holy family was visited by three Magi, who were “wise men” and Kings.

The Gospel of John, the earliest Gospel, and that of Mark, neither of those Gospels treat the subject at all.

Matthew’s community and Luke’s community were writing to very different audiences. As such, they tailored the narrative of the birth of Jesus to their audience. They each in their own way created a fiction that was pleasing to the people to whom they were preaching.

This is the essence of propaganda.

To understand the Gospels, this must be understood first of all. The Gospels contain some legitimate historical data, but the facts are difficult to sift out. They are the product of artifice, they are fictions. The Gospels speak to some truths that are universal, and relate some true events, but they cannot be relied on as a true account.

They speak to us of historical realities but they are not historical narratives.

The Gospels are propaganda, and that is not to say that they are bad, but it is to say that they must be seen for what they are.

Because the gospels are propaganda they are less reliable as a tool to teach us about Jesus, or his mother Mary, more appropriately used to teach us about the diverse Near Eastern and Mediterranean communities that formed the early church.
First Reading – Numbers 6:22-27 ©

They Are to Call Down My Name on the Sons of Israel, and I Will Bless Them

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

This is how they are to call down my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 66(67):2-3, 5, 6, 8 ©

O God, be gracious and bless us.

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help.

O God, be gracious and bless us.

Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.

O God, be gracious and bless us.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him.

O God, be gracious and bless us.
Second Reading – Galatians 4:4-7 ©

God Sent His Son, Born of a Woman

When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.
Gospel Acclamation – Hebrews 1:1-2

Alleluia, alleluia!

At various times in the past
and in various different ways,
God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
but in our own time, the last days,
he has spoken to us through his Son.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Luke 2:16 – 21 ©

The Shepherds Hurried to Bethlehem and Found the Baby Lying in the Manger

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception

The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

A Homily – Easter Sunday (Year C)

2019.04.21 – (Easter Sunday) C

First Reading – Acts 10:34,37-43 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 117(118):1-2,16-17,22-23 ©
Second Reading – Colossians 3:1-4 ©
Alternative Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 ©
Gospel Acclamation – 1 Corinthians 5:7-8
The Gospel According to John 20:1-9 ©
Alternative Reading – Luke 24: 1-35

(NJB)
Listen, and keep this in the forefront of your mind: God does not intervene in creation, or the free choices of human beings.

God does not intervene in our lives, at any point in time and space.

God did not so much anoint Jesus, as did Jesus accept the mantle of sonship to God. Jesus accepted the full burden that this entailed, even to the extent that he went to his death, suffering on the cross.

Jesus was free to reject the ministry that had been laid before him, but he did not. He was faithful to the end. Setting an example for all of us, demonstrating through his life and death the true meaning of the way.

Few people will be called to serve in the capacity that Jesus served; to be tortured and executed for a cause that is right and good.

Few of us have the capacity to love justice so much that they could humbly endure what Jesus endured, and that is why we call him the Christ, anointed with his blood and tears.

If you call yourself a Christian follow Jesus.

Do good.

Love justice.

Be merciful; be a source of healing in the world.

This is the way of Christ

Do the best you can, not for the sake of your salvation, but for the good of your sisters and brothers, for all women and men, for the stranger among you; the migrant and the refugee, even for your enemy.

Follow Jesus.

Do good.

Love justice.

Be merciful; a source of healing in the world.

This is the way.

Do not forget it.

To the extent that the Apostle deviates from this message, he is wrong, he is perpetrating lies for the sake of politics and propaganda.

This is a tragic disservice to the memory of Jesus.

It was not to Jesus of Nazareth that the prophets gave witness; not to Jesus specifically, but to the spirit of God that dwelt within him, and in every other person who has taken to themselves the mission of divine suffering.

Jesus never encouraged us to believe in him so that we could be saved, but to believe that we are saved; by God, ipso facto, out of love, simply because we are.

Saint Paul never saw the resurrected Jesus, but he did see in himself something that was Christ like, and divine. He taught us to see the same thing in each other, the figure of the risen Christ.

He moved us toward grace.

Listen!

It is true that the God is kind, loving, and merciful.

It is true that God always comes to God’s children in the way of kindness, love and mercy, even when God is exercising judgment, and administering justice.

God has no enemies.

God does not dwell behind the walls of a city.

There are no gates barring access to God.

God is in all places, at all times and in the hearts of all people.

God does not favor one child above another.

God is a bringing of life, not death.

God loves peace, not war.

If you meet victory in battle or in any other conflict or contest, do not confuse this with God’s will.

Be mindful of this.

Let us not pretend that life is waiting for us on the other side of the veil.

True life is the life we live here on Earth. We are called on by our faith to live this life as if we believed that the promise of our salvation were true, and already accomplished.

Imagine the holy family of God, of God who created the universe and everything in it.

Imagine living with the holy family in that garden now, at peace, without want or enmity, imagine that place where we can see clearly that our relationships with each other are more important than gold, and silver, more important than anything.

That is the place of true life, and we are called to live that life openly.

We must make a change, go back to our beginnings, to the simplicity of a child’s heart and grow ourselves anew.

Consider the teaching of the Apostle.
For the Apostle; yeast is an agent of change. It transforms us as it does bread.

We are the bread.

The apostle wants to take us back to a place before we were corrupted by the yeast of worldly influence, by the corruption of sin.

In this metaphor, yeast is the power of sin.

The followers of Christ are asked to reject the yeast and return to a state of purity, returning us to the unleavened state, a place that is simple and good.

Adding yeast to the dough allows the bread to rise, it adds flavor and pleasure, but it also corrupts the loaf.

The Gospel reading for the day does not offer a great deal of theology to engage with. The narrative is brief. And relatively straight-forward.

It was dark on Sunday morning, when Mary Magdala came to the tomb. She had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. It was she who anointed him for burial, and she was the first to receive the revelation that Jesus had risen.

It was dark when she arrived at the tomb, but not completely, in the dim light of morning she saw a hint of the truth that would unfold as the sun rose, and fit illed the day with light.

She saw the stone rolled away from the tomb, and found the tomb empty.

At first she assumed that someone had come and removed the body of Jesus; taken and hidden him somewhere.

She hurried to find the others, to tell them what she had found. When the other disciples arrived on the scene and explored the empty tomb for themselves, the understanding of what had transpired began to take hold.

They saw the empty tomb, the burial garments cast aside, and they understood that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

On that belief, and on the strength of their witness the Church was born, but the Church was not built on the foundation of Peter’s faith. It was built on the faith of women; the women who never abandoned Jesus, the women who did everything in their power to make smooth the path that was in front of him.

Throughout his ministry it was the women who surrounded him, the women who always knew, who always understood the power of his message. They were never confused about his mission. They always understood how it would end.

While his male disciples tripped over themselves, doubted him, doubted each other, vied for supremacy, betrayed him, denied him, sold him into captivity; while all of that was going on, the women were steadfast by his side. They anointed him, they witnessed his trial, they stood by him as he was crucified, they buried him, they waited by the tomb, and they were the first to see him risen.

God bless these women, and their faith, it was a comfort to Jesus in his final hours.

After all that they had witnessed those same foolish men put the women aside. Took over the narrative, and did their best to wash their names from the Gospel.

The story of the church became less and less about Easter morning, and more and more about the days and weeks that followed.

The Gospel writers became confused with questions about who Jesus was, about his rank among the prophets, about his historical connection to Moses, about the proof of his ministry that was given in the scriptures/

In their confusion they began to make up stories to validate their claims, and this was all unnecessary.

It was contrary to the Spirit of Truth they were ostensibly committed to serve.

They had learned a great deal from Jesus about the way, but not enough. They continued to fall back on their same mistakes, mistakes that were fueled by fear and ignorance, arrogance and pride.

Jesus did not perform miracles in order to prove to anyone that he was a child of God. He stressed the fact that we are all the children of God, even the leper and the thief, the unmarried woman and the outcast.

Jesus did not come to work magic, to provide signs and wonders, because that is not how God, the creator of the universe, works in the world.

The core truth in this Gospel passage is not the long story about encountering Jesus, listening to him expound the scriptures, offering proofs and arguments.

The signal truth is this, “they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.”

They had the opportunity to see Jesus in the man they encountered on the road, but they did not see him in this stranger.

They had the opportunity to see Jesus in the faith of the woman at the tomb, but they could not understand it, or accept it in the moment

Jesus was dead, and yet the way which he had personified remained in front of them, the way is the living witness of God’s intention for creation.

The disciples were finally able to see the way, when they broke bread with the stranger, they found it in the meal they shared and not the words and arguments that were spoken.

The way is community.

Jesus is found in the trust we give to others.

The way is sharing things in common.

Jesus is present in the hope we kindle in the stranger.

The way is love.

Love has no boundaries, not even death can stop it.
First Reading – Acts 10:34,37-43 ©

‘We Have Eaten and Drunk with Him After His Resurrection’

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 117(118):1-2,16-17,22-23 ©

This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his love has no end.
Let the sons of Israel say:
‘His love has no end.’

This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The Lord’s right hand has triumphed;
his right hand raised me up.
I shall not die, I shall live
and recount his deeds.

This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.

This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Second Reading – Colossians 3:1-4 ©

Look for the Things that are in Heaven, where Christ Is

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.
Alternative Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 ©

Get Rid of the Old Yeast and Make Yourselves Unleavened as You were Meant to Be

You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Gospel Acclamation – 1 Corinthians 5:7-8

Alleluia, alleluia!

Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed: let us celebrate the feast then, in the Lord.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to John 20:1-9 ©

He Must Rise from the Dead

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Luke 24: 1-35

Why Look Among the Dead for Someone who is Alive?

On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on entering discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there. As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side. Terrified, the women lowered their eyes. But the two men said to them, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?’ And they remembered his words.

When the women returned from the tomb they told all this to the Eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them also told the apostles, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.

Peter, however, went running to the tomb. He bent down and saw the binding cloths but nothing else; he then went back home, amazed at what had happened.
They Recognised Him at the Breaking of Bread

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.

Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
Easter Sunday – Easter (Year C)

A Homily – The Fifth Sunday in the Ordinary Time (Year C)

First Reading – Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 137(138):1-5,7-8 ©
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ©
Gospel Acclamation – John 15:15
Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 4:19
The Gospel of Luke 5:1-11 ©
(NJB)
Be mindful of what the prophet teaches.

Always be mindful, move carefully through the symbols in the script.

Understand this, a host is an army. Using this rope the prophet does, what the prophets and the church have often done, he has depicted God, the creator of the universe, as the commander of an army, as a king clothed in glory.

This image of God is errant.

God is not a king, and God has no use for armies. God is the infinite and the eternal, the first source and center of all that is. God is the unmoved mover, the cause of causes, and all other powers, no matter how great they might be, may as well be nothing in comparison to the infinite.

God comes to us not as a king, but as a brother, the face of God is reflected in our mother’s, God is a friend and God pursues our friendship with love.

Now, be mindful of what the prophet teaches.

Listen to the prophet relate the story of his encounter with God, encountering God in a state of shame, but God loves him anyway, even though he is unclean, in his encounter with God, through God’s ministry he is healed.

Pay particular attention to how the healing is conducted, it is accomplished through fire, through a burning coal set against the mouth of the prophet, and the touch of fire comes as the grace of God.

The fire is a gift.

God’s fire is a purgative, the fire of God heals, and the result of the healing is that the prophet’s spirit is renewed, restored to the status of messenger, of servant and friend.

Remember the teaching of the prophet, whenever you read the sacred text, the fire of God, from beginning to end, the fire of God does not destroy, it healing and restorative.

So it is and so it will always be.

Remember this.

It is right to praise God; the creator of the universe.

Praise God’s mercy wherever you see it, be merciful on behalf of God, because God has no greater wish, than to see we Christians who aspire to be God’s servants, express the divine through love.

Trust in God; God who has no need glory, who leads us on the path to humility, as Jesus did, in Nazareth.

Remember this.

God made us free, do not expect God to take sides in our struggles with one another, or intervene in our affairs, any such hope is hubris, it is vanity, and it misses the mark.

Listen to how the teaching of the apostle is presented to the church. Be mindful of the inconsistencies, there are lessons to be learned in each and every one.

Know this.

The Gospel does not bring salvation (not in the ultimate sense), it does not bring salvation inasmuch as it announces it.

The formula of the good news is not: Believe so that you can be saved.

It is: Believe, have faith, you are saved already.

The salvation that the Gospel delivers is salvation that comes to us in this world, it is the fruit of living well, of living justly in communities that care for one another, as Jesus taught.

The Gospel is fulfilled in this world in communities that are bound by love and trust, and hope in both the promise and the gift that Jesus proclaimed and belong to those who have the courage to follow in his path.

For Jesus that path ended in death, it ended in his murder on the cross, but that was not the end of him; he continued, as we all will, he was raised from the dead, for death had no claim on him.

He defeated death and the powers of sin, and now death has no claim on us either. More importantly, it never did, because the work of Christ did not begin on the Cross, or with the resurrection, but before creation, in the beginning with the Word of God.

Jesus did not die so much “for our sins” but because of them, and he was raised in accordance with God’s plan, to bear witness to God’s love and mercy.

Be mindful, and do not hesitate to check the apostles and the saints and the doctors of the church when they are wrong, they are often wrong.

The apostle was wrong when he said that Jesus died for our sins.

As I have said, Jesus did not die for our sins, but because of them. He was buried and entered into eternity. When he appeared it was not first to Cephas and then the Twelve, it was first to his mother, and the other Mary’s who never left his side, even when all of the other disciples, including Cephas, betrayed him, denied him and fled.

Remember this, this is one example among many of the errancy of scripture; Paul, or whoever was posing as Paul, withheld the truth when they were writing this letter.

A Christian must always be a servant of the truth.

A Christian must always be careful not to confuse humility with pride, and it is easy to do for a believer, or anyone whose aim is piety.

When you here a Christian proclaim “I am the least,” what they often mean is, “I am the greatest.” They will say…”my work was not the greatest because the great work I did was really God’s. It was God was acting through me.” What they mean when they say this is that they will strike you down if you challenge them because their authority is the same as the authority of the creator, this is wrong.

This is dangerous thinking, but never far from the halls of power, in the church and everywhere.

Be mindful of the Gnostic implication at the beginning of this reading. They are a trap.

The author issues a claim to power and authority that is out of step with what they Church ultimately came to hold as true. It says that salvation is dependent on what a person believes, and this is a lie.

Salvation is dependent on the love of God and the love of God alone, a timeless love without condition, one that emanates from eternity and promises to make all things well..

The reading for today says that what we have been taught to believe comes in an unbroken line of authority, and that this is the benchmark of true doctrine. But this is false, there is no unbroken line of authority, there are only us sinners, doing our best to discern the will of God, and each of us failing in our special ways, some of us more than others.

Listen to the Gospel.

The greatest commandment is love, and love is the whole of the law.

To love one another, to give of one’s self to another, there is no greater gift.

The love that we are called to is not the love we call desire, though to desire and be desired is an experience of great joy.

The love that we are called to is not the love that we have for family and friends, though that love, which we experience as belonging is a source of great comfort.

We are called to move past the love we have for family and friends, because to love in that way is only a short extension of the love we have for ourselves. We are called to move past the love we call desire, and that love by which we see ourselves in the faces of our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, the love that connects our ambitions to the ambitions of our friends. We are called to love in a greater capacity than that.

We are called to love to the point of selflessness, to love even those who are against us, to love our enemies, to forgive those who have hurt us and done us harm, to feed the stranger and protect them…to do so out of love.

Remember this.

When you hear the call, and you have discerned that it is God who is calling you, then you must obey.

Consider the gospel reading for today; set aside the notion that Jesus used some magic powers, that he performed a miracle to fill the nets with fish, when earlier in the day there were no fish to be found.

This is not a story about fishing, and there is no such thing as magic.

Listen to the spirit of truth and you will know that this is true.

This is a story about moving beyond boundaries, reshaping context, exceeding expectations, and organizing the work of one’s partners in ministry.

In the first paragraph we see Jesus teaching in a crowded place. Does this mean that the crowds following Jesus were so great that they pushed him into a boat?

Possibly, that is a common reading…but consider for a moment that Jesus and his followers were preaching in a crowded field, in a place and time filled with many voices contending for the attention of the people, and that the ministry Jesus was concerned with was not an ordinary ministry. Jesus was actively involved in changing the expectations of the people, he did that skillfully by drawing them outside of their context, and this was illustrated dramatically by his stepping into a boat, leaving the shore and teaching from a place that was detached from the normal mode of living.

Jesus skillfully leads his closest followers into this new mode of teaching, as a result their efforts, which had earlier met with failure, were now manifestly successful. By going beyond their boundaries they were able to engage more people than they were able to minister to in their normal context. Because of their success, they in their turn needed to call for more support.

Their work required them to train more teachers.

In the final paragraph we here Simon-Peter asking Jesus for forgiveness on account of him being a sinful man.

It would not have been a sin for Simon-Peter to have been incredulous at the notion that Jesus would teach them a thing or two about fishing, if it was actual fishing that they were doing; because Simon-Peter was a fisherman, and the son of a fisherman, whereas Jesus was the son of a carpenter. This would not have been incredulous at all.

Be mindful.

Doubt is not a sin, especially when the expressed doubt is in regard to the expectation of a miracle or the workings of magic; that is not doubt, it is common sense.

When Simon-Peter was asking to be forgiven for his sins it was an acknowledgment that his former way of seeing things, of viewing people, of understanding relationships, was a mode of life rooted in fear, prejudice and privilege; that way of life was sinful, and Simon-Peter was right to seek forgiveness for that.

His desire to be forgiven was an acknowledgment of his previous failures, like Isaiah before him, who approached the divine reality in a spirit of shame, needing first to be healed before he could serve the divine as a messenger of salvation. His submission is an indication that he understood something of the new way that Jesus was leading him toward, and proof that he trusted Jesus in spite of his ignorance.

First Reading – Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8 ©

‘Here I Am: Send Me’

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings.

And they cried out to one another in this way, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.
His glory fills the whole earth.’

The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said:

‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said:

‘See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away,
your iniquity is purged.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:

‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’

I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 137(138):1-5,7-8 ©

Before the angels I will bless you, O Lord.

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart:
you have heard the words of my mouth.
In the presence of the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple.

Before the angels I will bless you, O Lord.

I thank you for your faithfulness and love,
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul.

Before the angels I will bless you, O Lord.

All earth’s kings shall thank you
when they hear the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the Lord’s ways:
‘How great is the glory of the Lord!’

Before the angels I will bless you, O Lord.

You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands.

Before the angels I will bless you, O Lord.
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ©

I Preached What the Others Preach, and You All Believed

Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.

Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve. Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all he appeared to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.
Gospel Acclamation – John 15:15

Alleluia, alleluia!

I call you friends, says the Lord,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.

Alleluia!
Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 4:19

Alleluia, alleluia!

Follow me, says the Lord,
and I will make you into fishers of men.

Alleluia!
The Gospel of Luke 5:1-11 ©

They Left Everything and Followed Him

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Homily – The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading – Isaiah 62:1-5 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 95(96):1-3,7-10 ©
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ©
Gospel Acclamation – 1saiah 3:9, and John 6:68
Alternate Gospel Acclamation – 2 Thessalonians 2:14
The Gospel of The Day – John 2:1-11 ©
(NJB)

In the reading for today from the prophet Isaiah, we receive an expression of profound hope for the future of Israel and by extension the whole world.

Was Christians, and as theists we are called on to brandish that hope, carry it forward, not only for ourselves, but for all people in all places at all times.

Following the thought of Isaiah we come to understand that this hope is like the hope of a young couple entering into marriage. They do not know what the future will bring but they are determined to face it together, believing that together they can endure whatever comes their way that threatens to overwhelm them.

Together they are stronger, together they are wiser, together they are better, and the love they share with one another, in the view of the prophet, it is like a bright and beautiful gem, it is a crown upon their heads or a beacon on a hill lighting up the night.

Listen to Isaiah and bear in mind, the prophet speaks from a position of wisdom and ignorance both, as do we all, knowing some things and not knowing others.

Isaiah speaks well of faith and hope but not of God’s activity in the world. There are other things expressed in the reading for the day than the hope Isaiah points to, He also speaks of his belief in that God, the creator of the universe has played a role in shaping the destiny of Israel, and by extension the world.

Know this:

God has made both us and the entire creation free. God does not coerce anything or anyone. God does not intervene in worldly affairs, either for our benefit, or to our detriment. We are free, as individuals and in the collective whole.

This is what our faith tells us to look to God for, to deliver us to a place of safety and joy, of love and rest, bring us to a place of wellbeing, not in this world, but the next.

God has promised to deliver us when we are done with this world, not now, but after.

Listen!

It is right to praise God; the creator of the universe. It is right and good.

It is right to treat our discourse concerning God with respect and honor; God is holy and our discourse should keep in mind the sacred nature of God’s blessed work, but it is wrong to think of God as a Lord.

Disregard the psalmist when he speaks in this way and remember, god has already judged the world, God has judged the entirety of the created order, god Judged it at the beginning while seeing the end, God judged it and proclaimed that it is good.

This is what our faith instructs us to believe.

God is not to be feared, but trusted.

Be mindful.

As a theist I will happily proclaim that there is only one God, I will tell you that the infinite can only be expressed by the numeral one, the infinite is one, one undivided, indivisible being.

There are no other God’s, but we should respect and strive to understand all of our language concerning the sacred, pertaining to the reality of the divine, from whatever culture or whatever nation it comes.

There is only one God, and none of us understand God perfectly. No one ever has.

Remember this:

God’s salvation is close.

Have no fear, the ministers of God are ministers of hope.

The glory of God does not come and go according to our deeds and merits. God is always present, God is present in all times and all places. God is with you now.

Believe it without fear.

God’s salvation reaches everyone, not because any of us deserve it, but simply because God loves all of us, every last one of us.

Be mindful.

God welcomes our participation in the work of the faithful, and there is much work to do. There is a role for everyone to play, both inside and outside the church, but mostly outside of it, with the people, with those feeling most alienated from the divine.

Everyone of us comes to that work with different gifts, different abilities and talents, we are called on to use them for the benefit of our brothers and sisters, for those who share the same faith and for those who do not.

Listen!

The reward for your faithful service is peace, it is peace in this life, and the knowledge that you have lived well, acted justly and done good.

Do not fear.

God has prepared you for eternity, but eternal life is not your reward. It is a gift of love that God has extended to you, simply for being you.

We are given the thoughts of Saint Peter to think, Peter who denied Jesus three time on the night he was arrested, Peter would have us believe that he follows Jesus because Jesus has the secret message that leads to eternal life,. He is thinking like one of the Gnostics here, as if there passcodes and secret ways that would lead a person upward on a journey through the heavens, until the come to the place of everlasting paradise.

Saint Peter puts this forward as if this were the purpose of the Gospel as if believing that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” is the key to receiving it the benefit he seeks.

This faith is born from fear, from a fear that God will not deliver on God’s promise, that God is not with us, and that our salvation is something God cannot manage without us.

Reject this fear.

The Gospel is this; it is simply this. God loves you, and you are saved.

You are not saved for anything that you have done, you did not earn it, you are saved because God loves you. There is nothing more to it, there is nothing that you have to do, and the same is true for everyone.

The promise of salvation is not that you will be spared from suffering and torment in hell, or that when you are judged God will forgive you.

The Gospel is this: God has already forgiven you. You are already saved you have been since the beginning, when God looked on creation and proclaimed that it was good.

God has prepared you, and everyone for eternal life. Believe it!

Let the goodness of the promise flow through you now, start living this life as if it were true.

We are not called to believe in the idea that Jesus is this or that, the Holy One of God, we are called to act on the principles of his faith, to live lives of charity and service to one another other.

From the beginning, God chose all people to receive the sanctifying spirit, God created each person in the divine image, have placed within them a seed of the eternal Word. Through the Good News given to us by Jesus of Nazareth we learn to trust in the truth of that proclamation.

As people of the faith we have a duty to adhere to the truth. The spirit of God is the spirit of the truth, of truth shining in the darkness.

Consider the Gopel for the day, ask yourself this: Where is the truth in this myth?

Jesus was not magic.

God is not a miracle worker.

Read literally; this story is a lie. Jesus never turned water into wine. It is likely that the entire event never happened, that the entire thing is make believe.

There was no wedding at Cana.

Mary did not call on Jesus to work wonders. People did not follow Jesus because they saw him to wonderful tricks.

That is the truth behind this reading.

So what is happening here? This it is not a story of who Jesus was or what Jesus did, we are not called on to believe anything about those things based on this narrative. It is a story that tells us something of what people came to believe about Jesus a hundred or so years after he was killed.

It may be a story about Jesus and John the Baptist. It may be an apology of sorts; a defense of Jesus given to the followers of John, insofar as John came first, but John was the lesser of the two prophets of that era. The people might have expected the best to come first, like the wine at the wedding, but like the stories of the Patriarchs, the second son was favored more, and so Jesus came to surpass John.

It might be that, that would be a fair reading of the mythological trope. This is the best understanding. The Wedding of Cana is not a miracle story, it is a parable. It intends to convey a simple set of beliefs; Jesus did not come to carry the mantle of John, his work is not an extension of the former. Jesus came carrying the promise of the covenant.

He came with a different teaching altogether, and a radical departure from the prison of the law, he came to preach on a message of love, of service and humility in the furtherance of the good.
First Reading – Isaiah 62:1-5 ©

The Bridegroom Rejoices in His Bride

About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary, until her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch.

The nations then will see your integrity, all the kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name, one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.

You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord, a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’, nor your land ‘Abandoned’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded’; for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding.

Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 95(96):1-3,7-10 ©

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

O sing a new song to the Lord,
sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Proclaim his help day by day,
tell among the nations his glory
and his wonders among all the peoples.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Give the Lord, you families of peoples,
give the Lord glory and power;
give the Lord the glory of his name.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Worship the Lord in his temple.
O earth, tremble before him.
Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’
He will judge the peoples in fairness.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ©

The Spirit Distributes Gifts to Different People Just as He Chooses

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose. One may have the gift of preaching with wisdom given him by the Spirit; another may have the gift of preaching instruction given him by the same Spirit; and another the gift of faith given by the same Spirit; another again the gift of healing, through this one Spirit; one, the power of miracles; another, prophecy; another the gift of recognising spirits; another the gift of tongues and another the ability to interpret them. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, who distributes different gifts to different people just as he chooses.
Gospel Acclamation – 1saiah 3:9, and John 6:68

Alleluia, alleluia!

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening:
you have the message of eternal life.

Alleluia!

Alternate Gospel Acclamation – 2 Thessalonians 2:14

Alleluia, alleluia!

Through the Good News God called us
to share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia!
Gospel – John 2:1-11 ©

‘My Hour Has Not Come Yet’ – ‘Do Whatever He Tells You’

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said, ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’

This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Homily – The Second Sunday of Christmas, The Epiphany

First Reading – Isaiah 60:1-6 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©
Second Reading – Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2
The Gospel of the Day – Matthew 2:1-12 ©
(NJB)
The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Isaiah is speaking to us about inclusiveness, he is projecting his understanding that the God of the Hebrew people is the God of all people. The one and only God, the creator of the universe is God over everyone, and that we are united in this, ven though we cannot see it clearly in the present world.

Isaiah expresses the hope that at the end of time, all people will be united in actuality, there will be no division among us, no war, no enmity, everyone will have been brought to the table by God and we will share a common feast.

This is not an expectation of hope for this world. It is an expectation of hope for the world to come.

Isaiah understands that God will not affect these changes in the lives of the people today, he takes the long view. He is looking to the eschaton.

Remember this when you are reading Isaiah, or any other passage from scripture; God does not intervene in the affairs of human beings, God does not appoint rulers and kings.

God; creator of the universe, God will not rescue you in this world.

God has made you, and us, God has made the world itself absolutely free, God will not exercise any form of divine coercion, God does not intervene in our lives, whether to our benefit or to our detriment. God will not intervene.

Note well: God is not a king. God has no desire for us to pay homage to God as if God were.

Be mindful of this; human beings are obsessed with mysteries, conspiracies. God, the creator of the universe, God has no such obsession.

God has made the truth plain and easy for us to know.

The only mystery is why human beings have such a hard time understanding it, once they have heard it.

The secret to the good life is written in our hearts, we all possess, it is not kept from as at all. The secret is an open secret, and if we receive it, believe in it, we can have in the small measure of our lives the realization of the hope that Isaiah spoke to. We can have the blessing of unity, through the mutual recognition of one another’s dignity, and through love.

Jesus and all of the prophets speak to this: Love God with all of your strength, all of your heart, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.

Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you.

This is the sum of the revelation God gave us in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus himself give us this formula and tells us that it contains the entire teaching of the law and the prophets.

Saint Paul elaborates, he tells us this, between faith, hope and love; the greatest is love. He says that if he speak in the tongues of angels, and of men, but does not speak lovingly, then the words are nonsense, they are so much noise.

Remember this, carry it forward and have it present with you at all times, but especially when you are at prayer or reading scripture.

If we are not interpreting the scripture through that lens we are not understanding it all.

The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Consider the Gospel for today, the message here has nothing to do with the core values of the faith. The reading is the beginning of an argument meant to influence our perception and understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was, not what he came to do. This is an important distinction for the faith.

Mark’s gospel, the earliest, has no reference to these events presented in the reading from Matthew for today, no reference at all, and John’s gospel, the latest skips over them completely.

Luke’s gospel relates a similar set of events, but in his narrative Jesus is visited by three shepherds, not the Magi.

Apologists for the gospel tradition claim that Luke and Matthew were relating separate events, and they encourage us not to conflate them.

Let us proceed with the understanding that no such events actually took place, what we have in both gospels, is a work of narrative fiction, they are a myths, as such they are packed with metaphorical and allegorical meanings.

They are not to be taken literally.

Let us proceed with Matthew’s gospel. He tells us that three wise men, the Magi, come to Jesus and Mary after his birth and do him homage. They present him with gifts of gold and other offerings befitting a royal person, treasures of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

This is real wealth, enough to set Mary and Joseph and the Holy family up for life. If we accept this story as fact we can no longer believe that Jesus was the son of a humble carpenter.

The image is intended to establish the image of Jesus as a royal person, as the heir to David’s throne, like Herod feared, it is intended to show Jesus as a contender.

The popular interpretation of this reading is to view the Magi themselves as not just wise men, but as kings in their own right, putting their encounter with Jesus on the level of a diplomatic mission, they are of the same class, and they present gifts of the type that the laws of hospitality would demand royal powers share with each other.

The reading not only builds on the foundation of Jesus’ kingship, which the writers of Matthew begin in the presentation of Jesus’ genealogy. It also connects him to the priestly class of ancient Persia, the astronomers and priests of Zoroaster, to which Pharisaic Judaism owes a significant theological debt. This is the Judaism of the diaspora, otherwise known as Rabbinical Judaism, the sect of Judaism to which Jesus and the disciples, and Paul of Taursus belonged.

The myth is intended to convey these points and those points only, that Jesus is the heir to David, and that he is connected to mysteries of the ancient and influential Persian tradition. The same Persian tradition that was practiced by the emperor Cyrus when he released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, so that they could return to Judea and rebuild the temple. The same Cyrus who viewed the God of the Persians, Ahura- Mazda, as one and the same with the God of the Hebrews.

The Herodian intrigue is of secondary importance to these messages. It complements the message concerning Jesus’ identity, and sets up the Herodian dynasty as a group of villains that the disciples, along with John the Baptist and Jesus will have to contend with throughout their lives. In addition the drama with Herod at Jesus’ birth topologically connects the birth of Jesus to the birth of Moses, and while these are important cues, they are not nearly as important as the main theme, which I have articulated above.
First Reading – Isaiah 60:1-6 ©

Above you the glory of the Lord appears

Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.
Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.
Lift up your eyes and look round: all are assembling and coming towards you, your sons from far away and your daughters being tenderly carried.
At this sight you will grow radiant, your heart throbbing and full; since the riches of the sea will flow to you, the wealth of the nations come to you; camels in throngs will cover you, and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
and your poor in right judgement.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

In his days justice shall flourish
and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
from the Great River to earth’s bounds.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts
shall pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Seba
shall bring him gifts.
Before him all kings shall fall prostrate,
all nations shall serve him.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

For he shall save the poor when they cry
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
and save the lives of the poor.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.
Second Reading – Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©

It Has Now Been Revealed that Pagans Share the Same Inheritance

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2

Alleluia, alleluia!

We saw his star as it rose
and have come to do the Lord homage.

Alleluia!
Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12 ©

The Visit of the Magi

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The Second Sunday of Christmas
And the Epiphany of the Lord

A Homily – The First Sunday of Christmas

First Reading – 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 ©
Alternative First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 83(84):2-3,5-6,9-10 ©
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©
Alternative Second Reading – 1 John 3:1-2,21-24 ©
Gospel Acclamation – cf. Ac 16:14
The Gospel of the Day – Luke 2:41-52 ©
(NJB)
If you were to take the reading from Samuel and regard it only as narrative extoling the virtue of giving thanks to God, the creator of the universe, giving thanks for the good things we receive in this life, if you were to go no further than to accept the piety of Hannah as a woman intent on keeping her promises then you would be reading this passage well.

If you go further, and you sink into the notion that God actually granted her prayer when she became pregnant with Samuel, then you would be mistaken. God does not intervene in the lives of human beings. God does not work miracles like magic in the wombs of barren women.

If you were to accept the piety of the sacrifices she rendered at the temple as a thanksgiving for what she perceived was God’s direct hand moving over her in answer to her prayers than you would be compounding your mistakes. There is nothing pious in the act of an animal sacrifice, God does not desire it, and unless the food you offer is distributed to the poor, then nothing good comes from it.

Listen:

There is wisdom in the writings of Ecclisasticus and there is also falsehood, they present themselves as binary messages in the same reading.

Honor your father and mother, but do not expect a reward for it, neither from heaven or even from them, for there are no guarantees in this life.

Honor you mother and father, your sister and brothers, your cousins, your aunts and uncles, your nieces and nephews, honor them all. Honor your teachers, and your classmates, your co-workers and your employers, honor the stranger who comes into your midst, honor them.

To honor people is good in its own right. You honor yourself in doing so, and through the service you give to everyone, near and far from you, through that service you also serve and honor God.

Do it without the thought of reward to yourself, because you will not be rewarded.

Remember:

Do not fear God. There is no blessing in it. Fear is not a blessing but rather the path to sin and darkness.

Trust in God, have faith and confidence in God’s love and in God’s word.

Remember God’s servant; Job. Remember that the Sun will burn you, as readily as it will warm you; scorch the earth as easily as it will feed the crops.

God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

If you find yourself asking: Where is the house of the God? Know this, it is not a palace, or a temple. God, creator of the universe does not dwell in Zion; Israel, God is not a king, not a lord, and not a god among gods or the ruler of many gods.

God is infinite and beyond our comprehension, God is in all places at all times and in the hearts of each and every one of God’s children.

God dwells in the human heart, the heart is the temple of God, and that is where we true worship takes place.

Look into your own heart, and into the heart of your neighbor, you will see the face of God peering back at you.

Happy are they who dwell in the place of God.

God, the creator of the universe, is loving, compassionate, and wise. God created all of us with the capacity for each of these qualities, but God also created us in freedom and we are capable of much more. We are capable of their opposite and find it far to easy to fall into their darkness/

God has chosen you as God has chosen everyone. We are all of us, God’s children, it is for each of us now to choose God.

Be loving and compassionate, show genuine good will toward all of your sisters and brothers. Do not just mimc the expression of love you are most fond of finding in the world, this is the way to proceed in life, let it unify everything that you do as a servant of God, in the service of humanity.

A life of faith requires support and nourishment, we need it from those near to us. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is most helpful. You may practice your faith in isolation, but it is more difficult. The life of faith is not meant to be lived in a vacuum, it is meant to be lived through relationships and in community.

Be aware:

Live a life of prayer; yes, but the Apostle is wrong to ask you to do all things in the name of God.

Do what you do in your own name. Take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad, whether they were well intentioned or ill, whether you have succeeded or failed.

Strive to live a life of prayer.

If you are living and working for God. In whatever industry, in whatever capacity, at whatever calling has come to you through the world, you will be doing it on behalf of your neighbor, your sisters and brothers, your fellow human beings.

You will be working for the benefit of all people, now and in all generations yet to come.

If your work does not allow to you to do this…abandon it. Remember this always and hold it close to your heart.

When you are preaching and speaking to others about the faith, you are speaking to the children of God, the creator of the universe.

There is nothing you can do to affect their salvation. There salvation, as yours, has already been accomplished by God.

Love is its own reward, do not seek anything else in return for love, accept it as you find it in the spirit with which it is given.

Nothing good at all comes from believing in a name, it is only in loving, and in the act of caring that good things come through us and to us.

God is alive in all people, no one is excluded from the love of God. There is no proof of this, it is only faith that informs us that it is true.

Faith is not belief in a particular doctrine, or article of dogma, faith is trust in God. Faith is trust.

Trust and yet be discerning:

Beware of false prophets, go, look to everyone around you, especially those who claim to be “true believers.” Look to yourself. We are all imperfect, and we all have false understandings of who God is.

Each of us in our own way confounds our knowledge of the truth with our hopes and desires for ourselves.

Trust God, and be mindful God is beyond the propositions we generate about God.

The purpose of the church is to foster belief in God, which means to nurture faith, and faith is trust.

Trust God, trust the image of God that was present in Jesus. That same image that is present in you.

Trust God and forgive.

Accept forgiveness.

Allow yourself to love, and be loved.

You are worthy of it, as is everyone, and you no-more than anyone.

God lives in the obedient and the disobedient, the faithful and the unfaithful alike. Remember this, God lives in all people, God knows you and God knows them, God knows us, even as we know ourselves.

God knows us better.

God will hear you, God is with you.
Take the things we have been preaching on and apply them to the Gospel for today:

The narrative is a myth. It does not give us any reliable information about who Jesus was, or about his relationship with his parents; even though it purports to do so.

This is unfortunate but it is the normative experience of reading the gospels.

The reading for today does tell us something about what the author of Luke wanted us to believe about Jesus. That his parents were faithful and observant Jews. He wants us to believe that they obediently went to Jerusalem for the Passover as required of them by the law, where they were counted and made their offerings to the temple.

The authors of Luke were also trying to tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, that he was capable of self-direction, that he had a sense of mission and purpose for his life, even as a child. The authors of Luke also want us to believe that Jesus understood at this early age, long before his adult ministry began, that he was, in a unique way, a child of God. Finally, Luke wants us to understand that his submission to the authority of his parents was voluntary.

What is unfortunate about this narrative is this; instead of informing us about who Jesus is, it muddies our understanding by mythologizing him, and instead the reading only tells us what the authors of Luke wanted us to believe, what their followers hoped was true.

Though the authors of Luke could not foresee this, these writings would come divide the Christian community, to divide it from itself and precipitate centuries of bloody conflict over the question of Jesus’ divinity, his humanity and the relationship between the two.

I contend that the man who was Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua son of Joseph, would have been aghast at those developments. Jesus, the man spent his life and went to his death as a champion of justice, an advocate for mercy, as a healer, as an advocate for the poor, for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the widow and the orphan.

Luke’s narrative is therefore a cautionary tale, reminding us of the necessity to cleave to the truth at all times, to separate our hopes, our desires, and most importantly our fears, from values we wish to convey.

Then and only then do we honor God, then and only then do we show the reality of our faith.
First Reading – 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 ©

This is the Child I Prayed For: He is Made Over to the Lord.

Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Samuel ‘since’ she said ‘I asked the Lord for him.’

When a year had gone by, the husband Elkanah went up again with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfil his vow. Hannah, however, did not go up, having said to her husband, ‘Not before the child is weaned. Then I will bring him and present him before the Lord and he shall stay there for ever.’

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her together with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’
Alternative First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17 ©

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.

Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays.

Long life comes to him who honours his father, he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.

My son, support your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.

Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength; for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 83(84):2-3,5-6,9-10 ©

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord, God of hosts.
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

They are happy, who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer,
give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn your eyes, O God, our shield,
look on the face of your anointed.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©

Family life in the Lord

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
Alternative Second reading

1 John 3:1-2,21-24 ©

We are Called God’s children, and That is What We Are

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.

Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.

My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence, and whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants.

His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to.

Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him.

We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel Acclamation – cf. Ac 16:14

Alleluia, alleluia!

Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.

Alleluia!
Gospel – Luke 2:41-52 ©

Mary Stored Up All These Things in Her Heart

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

The First Sunday of Christmas
Feast of the Holy Family

Christmas – On Jesus and Mithra, et al…

Part One

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. The narratives of his birth, and childhood are complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 C.E. is imbued with metaphor and allegory, so much so that none of it is reliable as history. The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua, but instead we call him by a Greek variant, Jesus.

If we desire to understand this story, (as we should) to understand how it came to be in the form that we have received it, we must engage that broader narrative. We must engage the complete societal, and theological context from which the Christian story emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, beyond the Greco-Roman world, we must go to Persia. That is where the story begins, with Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied. It is commonly regarded by scholars as merely one of many religious movements that competed with the early Christian Church for the devotion of the masses.

It was much more than that.

Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, (principally by members of the Roman army) in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia. It is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” within the Roman army.

Throughout its evolution, propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East, and Southwest Asia.

This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, but most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and most significantly our beliefs about Jesus.

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant.
Most scholarly research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, these scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few notable, but nevertheless subtle differences is enough evidence to argue for a complete separation, and distinction of the traditions, despite the greater number of obvious similarities.

The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

“The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra. ”

Some of his Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one culture to another, across great expanses of geography and time.

His particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form, and ritual activity, which are the structures that we would expect to change over time and distance.

The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism, the closely held beliefs that had existed from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central theme remains the same; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.
Part Two

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is a demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, God of light, and source of all-life.

Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), holding that Ahura-Mahzda was the only deity, and that there were no others.

However, if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its early evolution the belief system became dualistic. Another deity was established through doctrine, as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda; together they formed a pantheon of sorts.

This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (from whose name we have derived the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was in diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda.

This dualistic view of reality suggests that the drama of our lives on Earth is a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, the Mithraism of the Roman Empire, the demi-god Mithra is once again depicted in that same relationship to the high God. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus, and is iconographically represented as the sun. Mithra is the hero, demi-god and the offspring of Sol.

While this form of Mithraic worship is best understood as belonging to Rome, it should be noted that the cult of Sol Invictus, was also prevalent in Gaul prior to the Roman conquest of the Celts.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe. In the former tradition this is Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition Sol Invictus.

In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that Mithra and Sol become con-joined, through the meal they share, because they have dined together, they are now “one.”

Sol and Mithra are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes, each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, properly sequenced through the rites of initiation, the individual would become one with Mithra, and therefore one with Sol Invictus, thereby gaining access to the heavenly worlds of the afterlife.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work, Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows: Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one.” Angra-Mainyu slays Mithra and the bull together, in an act of violence.

Angra-Mainyu attempts to destroy Mithra and the bull, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through the power of the god of light, stalks of wheat, and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things, and good creatures flow from the bull to fill, and populate the created world, and now those good things and creatures are to be used for the benefit of human beings.

Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, Mithra is restored, and returns to Ahura-Mahzda in heaven.

There is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth.

In both versions of the myth, Mithra is sent to Earth by a God of greater authority than himself.

In both versions of the myth, the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth.

In the Roman version of the myth, the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice.

In the Persian version of the myth, the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit.

The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is.

The Roman version is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul, it is teleological and eschatological, insofar as it address the final resolution of conflict and evil in the world. The Persian version balances these two concerns.

In the Persian account, Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a myth of cosmogonic myth of origins.

Their death, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but does serve the interest of Ahura-Mahzda. Mithra does not die. His soul is immortal, and returns to heaven. From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater, because, the God not only has the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also having the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself.

In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the myth, the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life.

It is the creation of life itself.

It is life restored.

The principal actor in both versions of the myth is the creator God, figured as either Ahura-Mahzda, or Sol Invictus, respectively.

Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu, that does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, God of life, God of light, God of good.

What is significant and most consistent in the worship of Mithra from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia?

It is the belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions in the Near East and broader Mediterranean world
Part Three

There are several clues that we can follow. They will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, which we can uncover in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief in either the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. However, there was a period of time in which these beliefs did flourish.

After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter the Hebrew tradition, and over the next few centuries they become more clearly developed, especially among those Jewish communities remaining in the diaspora, living outside of Palestine and the former kingdoms of Israel, and Judea, which was the majority.

When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon, they were granted their freedom by the Persians, under the Persin king Cyrus, who had just recently conquered the Babylonians.

Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people in the Hebrew scriptures, as a servant of their God, Yahweh:

“22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’ ”

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was (or was perceived to be), but we can surmise that his beliefs and the beliefs of the Persian court did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time.

This passage indicates that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of these two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus, or his priests, saw a considerable amount of compatibility between the faiths of the two cultures and their systems of belief.

At this time, Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They both held, as basic beliefs, that creation was good.

Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop this theme in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of that new movement within the Hebrew culture became known within the Judean community, Samaria and throughout the diaspora, as the Pharisees.

The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster, who were called the Parsees. This etymology clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism, and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Palestine and Judea itself. This belief system was primarily taught by the Pharisees, and by the Essenes, in the remote desert community of Qumran.

Belief in the immortality of the soul was popular among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life, and not the temple in Jerusalem.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran, also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile.

Our word angel, meaning divine messenger, comes to English, from the Greek angelos, which is itself derived from the Persian word, angaros, meaning courier.

Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees received these teachings directly from the Parsees when they were exposed to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity.

It is also impossible to rule it out.

What we can say for certain, is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile, and I do not believe that these belief systems developed independently of one another, because I do not believe in that type of coincidence, therefore I take the Pharisaic movement within Judaism to be a case of pure theological syncretism, the cultural purchase by the Hebrews of an earlier Persian theology.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major streams of influence that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, insofar as they were the generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region, and the Near East at that time.

It should be noted that in most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, included the idea that those blessed places were reserved for people of heroic stature.

Because common people, and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic life, they had no hope of enjoying a blessed state in the hereafter.

Mithraism, and in more significant ways Christianity changed all of that; by promising the hope of salvation to anyone, regardless of gender, class, or status. Through these religions, common people and outcasts were able to entertain hopes of a blessed afterlife if, and only if they sought to align themselves with the God of creation, the God of light, and the God goodness, through an initiation into their mysteries.
Part Four

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. Officially, the patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, but as Ulansey points out, Perseus, as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way.

In his journals, the Roman general Pompey points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra in the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra, and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world, the gods and heroes were regarded differently, in different cities, and different regions, at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep, and they are important; as I will demonstrate:

“According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships ‘numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,’ and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, ‘offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.’…For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus. ”

Among the Greeks Perseus is considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus.

Tarsus is the city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull,” Taurus.

Perseus, like Mithra is intimately linked to the sun, referred to as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol.

Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. Also, the order is at times reversed with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun, this is done in keeping with the themes of mutuality, and co-extensive identity between the two.

The two are one.

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire.

The Greeks believed that his son, Perses, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

“The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult. ”

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull, making it so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand, ready to make the ritual cut while looking away from the sacrificial victim, just as Mithra is always depicted in the artwork depicting the tauroctony in Mithraic temples.

These similarities are too many to ignore.

The Cults of Mithra, and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time, and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.

In the city of Tarsus, Mithra is Perseus, at least insofar as they were worship.

The city of Tarsus figures prominently in the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity.

Tarsus is an old town, it originated as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo notes that by the first century BCE, it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor. More significant to our thesis is this, it was the birthplace, and home of Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jew, a Pharisee, and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

There is no research explicitly stating that Paul was aware of, or was influenced by Mithraism, but to suggest that Paul would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home, that would be improbable.

Furthermore, Paul was a Pharisee. As I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs that Pharisees and Mithraites shared included beliefs about the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation, and the ministry of angels.

If Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas, a conclusion we may draw simply by virtue of the fact that Paul was a Pharisee.

Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and its influence on Christian doctrine, constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology and theology, of Persian soterieology on the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first being located within the timeframe of the Babylonian exile, and subsequent diaspora.

Mithraism influenced the Judeo-Christian tradition, first through the teachings of the Pharisaic sect in general, second through the teaching of Saint Paul, who was Saul of Taursus (himself a Pharisee).

I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were syncretized and concretized by the early church.
Part Five

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread both through the travels of merchants, and through the Roman army spreading as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, and as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa, and Egypt, and it was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way across the Persian Empire to India.

As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar also, known as the Saturnalius, on December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Caesar Augustus, as well as the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that all of these people shared the same birthday does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. It was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, because it is that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns, the days get longer, and the deepest dark recedes.

The Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, it was closed to outsiders, closed to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation. Like other mystery religions, it purported to disclose to its initiates, the mysteries of the universe.

Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome, they had to keep to themselves and guard their secrets.
The necessity of secrecy for the cult of Mithra, as with that of many other cults, had much to do with the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors.

All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another; this was on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and were constantly suspicious of treason.

The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the Roman army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions with the army.

The emperors were always dependent on the power of the armies to keep them in the seat of power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith, it was guaranteed that they would lose power.

As I noted earlier, Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but not so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems; their icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal crucial things about that relationship, and also the close relationship between Mithraism and Christianity.
Part Six

In the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism), the priests were called Parsees. Outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic.

In the Roman form of Mithraism; the chief of a Mithraic temple was called father. To be a “father,” the individual had to have risen through all seven stages of Mithraic initiation.

The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity.

The Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers, just as the priests of Mithras and Zoroaster were in actuality.

Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, and not an accurate retelling of history, the presence of the Magi in his narrative is not accidental. It is purposeful and therefore indicative of the sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believed in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a God of goodness and light, as well as the expectation of a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin, and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE, Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son of Sol Invictus. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast he prepared from the flesh of the “Primal Bull,” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol.

Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, to dispute Ulansey’s claim, we can easily identify path of transformation through the cult of Perseus, the patron deity of Tarsus.

Note well, as stated earlier, in the iconography of the city of Tarsus, Perseus and Mithra are one and the same.

Perseus is the son of the Titan Zeus, king of the Olympians, and the human Danae.

The symbolism in their union is profound.

When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or another type of animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae, by a shower of gold is the only scene like this depicted in all of the Greek mythologies.

This is to say that Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form, through the exalted and ephemeral medium of a “golden-mist.” This is the most idealized and spiritual form Zeus could take.
The impregnation of Danae in this manner, and the subsequent birth of Perseus, is the closest thing in all of the Greek mythologies to a “virgin birth,” a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Danae subsequently gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern, she remains a virgin, never having been touched by the hands of men.

In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth.

As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features.

The earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, from which we are born, like Mithra, like Perseus, we are born into new life.

The worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion.

In army outposts on the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches.

In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, it remains the case that most Mithraic worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities, such as Ostia, were later converted to Christian worship.
Part Seven

Among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another.

Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community.

Mithraism, like Christianity promoted the notion that its teachings would transform the individual spiritually, while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart. It manifested itself in their position in the life of the Mithraic temple, or Mithraic shrine, as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank, outside of the Mithraic community would change. A slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian.

The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance in the social order outside of the community.

In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner), and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity, there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…

The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move through the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father, thereby becoming the Father himself.

At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that later, after death, would be used to get him into the heavenly realm appropriate to his rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes, and secret passwords that would allow the individual through the gates of paradise, was widely believed among practitioners of the Hebrew Kabala (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), as well as among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism.

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete, from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or end.

In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism, wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done through full immersion.

In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice, the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal, or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases the blood would be replaced by wine.

This rite of blood, wine, or water is referred to as the purgation. It was a ritual cleansing of the individual from their sins. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual, or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water.

The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation, in which a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself.

It is the same ritual system.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol.

Ideally, the sacred feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches, it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any sacrificial animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine, could be sufficient.

Such compromises were theologically sound, because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.
In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who, prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Saint Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus.

This is evidence that Saint Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that it is a matter of historical record that Saint Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ.
Saint Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), is thought to have enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome.

However, in the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have been the same person; believing that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra.

If this is true, it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Saint Constantine the Great, think that he was an incarnation of Christ, Christ returned, the Second Coming?

Here is one thing that I know with certainty, Christianity and Mithraism, as religious and spiritual philosophies, are both filled with hope:

Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us in the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Mithraism wanted to keep to its secret ways at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, defining the terms of its orthodoxy, and rooting out those groups of heretics, the Gnostics, who had those same tendencies that Mithraites did toward secrecy and exclusivism.
Bibliography

Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, published by E. J. Brill, 1968

Mithraic Studies, edited by John R. Hinnells, published by Manchester University Press, 1975

Mithraism in Ostia, edited by Samuel Laeuchli, published by Northwestern University Press, 1967

The Mithras Liturgy, edited and translated by Marvin W. Meyer, published by Scholars Press, 1976

Mysteries of Mithras, by Franz Cumont, translated by Thomas J. McCormack, published by The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903

The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, published by Doubleday, 1989

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, published by Oxford University Press, 1989

The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, published by Oxford University Press, 1993

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, published by Oxford University Press, 1997

A Homily – The Fourth Sunday of Advent

First Reading – Micah 5:1-4 ©
Responsorial Psalm – 79(80):2-3,15-16,18-19 ©
Second Reading – Hebrews 10:5-10 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Lk1:38
The Gospel of the Day – Luke 1:39-44 ©
(NJB)
The prophet Micah foresaw the coming of the Prince of Peace, of Jesus of Nazareth, who was Joshua bin Joseph, the child of Mary, who Saint Paul called the Christ.

Note well; Micah’s prophecy was not a reading of the future. We know this because the future is not predetermined. God, the creator of the universe, God made us and it free.

Micah’s prophecy is an expression of hope, of trust in the way of love, which he believed all people are called to.

As all prophets must do, Micah called our attention to the troubling times we are facing. There is sorrow and there is pain and there is a deep sense of alienation felt among the people, of isolation from each other and of separation from God.

This is the human condition

As a good prophet does, Micha pointed toward our future, to the hope that the Christ will come, the archetype of peace to which all human should aspire, a peace that all leaders should seek to serve.

It is easy to read things the wrong way, consider the words of the psalmist for today

The psalmist misunderstands the natural unfolding of historical events for the will of God. God does not intervene in the affairs of human beings, God is not the author of our history past, or our future histories; we are.

God is the shepherd of all people, not of Israel only, and not of the Church founded in Christ’s name.

God does not reside on a throne and God is not the general of armies. Armies and kingdoms are human institutions and when we imagine God in the role of emperor or king, price or warrior we do a disservice to God, who created the universe, and everything in it. God who loves all of God’s children with the same equal share of the divine, the infinite and eternal love.

God will not rescue anyone from human the human dilemma, not in this life, whether it is long or short, easy or hard, there is no deliverance from it, save by our own action, and but for the love of our family and friends, or the stranger if we are so fortunate.

Remember this:

God’s face shines on everyone, look for it in the face of your neighbor, in the face of your enemy, in the faces of those who persecute you. God is as much present in them as God is present in you, and where God is present God is present fully.

God did not rescue the Israelites from Egypt. They rescued themselves, and they committed horrible atrocities and considerable crimes along the way. I am not talking about the promises they broke to God, God knew that they would. They murdered and plundered, killed and robbed, put dozens of tribes to the sword along the way.

God forgave them, and loved them anyway.

God did not send the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Ptolemy’s, or the Romans, to punish them.

God did not destroy the temples.

Each of those conquering Empire’s did what they did for their reasons in their own time, just as the armies of Joshua son of Nun did in his.

The only lesson we are to draw from it is this, God will not protect you, or show you favor in this world. We are all subject to the vicissitudes of change and the random nature of change.

It is up to us, God’s children, to love, show mercy, mete justice, and care for those downtrodden. We are called it.

Service is the seal of our baptism, we are called to it. It was the call to service that Jesus heard when he accepted his death on the cross, his life was sealed there too.

Note well:

Saint Paul the Apostle made a tragic error in his early formulation of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry and the reason for his death.

When Jesus said, “God wanted no sacrifice, takes no pleasure in holocausts, or sacrifices for sin, he meant it.

Jesus did not mean to suggest that his own death was the sacrifice God wanted, the purpose of Jesus’ ministry was not that his death become an oblation to God or a holocaust rising to the heavens.

He was murdered plain and simple, it was a political assassination.

Know this:

Jesus stood in the tradition of the prophets against the cult of animal sacrifice, because he knew that the cult of sacrifice was a corrupt practice, one that burdened the poor, bankrupting them to fatten the wealthy.

That is why he turned the tables of the money changers over in his tirade at the temple.

That is why the priests plotted his murder and conspired with the Romans to achieve it.

God, the creator of the universe, God takes no pleasure in blood sacrifices and burnt offerings. They are a contrivance, witchcraft, ineffectual and meaningless.

The only sacrifice God desires, is the sacrifice of service, offered in love, engendering hope.

Your loving service to your neighbor, is the offering God wants from you, service which furthers the ends of peace, fosters trust, seeks justice, and teaches a love for the law of God that was written in your heart.

Pay attention:

The writers of Mark’s gospel begin their narrative when Jesus was a man, an adult at the beginning of his public ministry.

The early Christians wanted more, and so the authors of Luke went back in time and narrated a fable about his conception and birth. In this fable, or myth (whatever you think it should be called) they attempted to tie up various loose ends in the stories that were being told about Jesus.
They wanted to unite different factions of the Christian movement in that was already falling apart just a half-century after his death. This particular narrative from today’s reading, was meant to appeal to the followers of John the Baptist.

It brought forth the notion that Jesus and John were actually cousins, and that even though John was older, he was a follower of Jesus from the time he was in the womb.

Just as John’s mother was subordinate to Mary.

It is a story, a fable, a myth; the whole thing is a fiction.

It is an unfortunate fiction, because a great deal of theology and doctrine has been hung from these exercises in make-believe, and such fictions were in themselves naked political calculations meant to manipulate the burgeoning movement.

The succeeding Gospels each in their turn reached back further in time. The writers of Matthew inserted a confusing genealogy; tracing Jesus’ heritage back to Adam, through David on his father’s side, and yet, at the same time, the Church insists that we believe Joseph was not his biological father.

The writers of John begin their narrative with the beginning of time itself, and the creation of the universe.

It is sad to note, that over the centuries, what people believed about these fables, ended up being the cause of extreme, bitter and deadly partisan conflict among Christians, setting aside the actual teaching of Jesus; to love your enemies, and pray to for those who persecute you.

Remember this when you pray; remember the errors of the church, the fictions of Luke, the mistakes of Paul, the carelessness of the psalmist, and remember the hope of Micah, that the proper expectation of the faithful is for the reign of peace.

First Reading – Micah 5:1-4 ©

He Will Stand and Feed His Flock with the Power of the Lord

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old.

The Lord is therefore going to abandon them till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.

Then the remnant of his brothers will come back to the sons of Israel.

He will stand and feed his flock with the power of the Lord, with the majesty of the name of his God.

They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power to the ends of the land.

He himself will be peace.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 79(80):2-3,15-16,18-19 ©

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
shine forth from your cherubim throne.
O Lord, rouse up your might,
O Lord, come to our help.

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

God of hosts, turn again, we implore,
look down from heaven and see.
Visit this vine and protect it,
the vine your right hand has planted.

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

May your hand be on the man you have chosen,
the man you have given your strength.
And we shall never forsake you again;
give us life that we may call upon your name.

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.
Second Reading – Hebrews 10:5-10 ©

God, Here I Am! I Am Coming to Obey Your Will

This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation, prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin; then I said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book, ‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.
Gospel Acclamation – Lk1:38

Alleluia, alleluia!

I am the handmaid of the Lord:
let what you have said be done to me.

Alleluia!
Gospel – Luke 1:39-45 ©

Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Milk

Mithra grew strong in the earth, cradled in Gaia’s womb
He sprang forth, like a titan in fullness of form

The hero transcending on the back of a bull
A victim made holy for the sake of us all

Milk flowed from the sacred wound, a stream of light
Sweet as honey, it was the nectar of life

Drawn with a whisper, seal in the truth
Holy Spirit, Sophia, all paths lead to you

Mahatma came to serve the poor, the Great One
Born in conflict, amid strife, like Krishna

The cowherd, armed with the shield of
Knowledge, and the sword of wisdom

Milk flowed from your words as the morning light
Showering the rich and the poor alike

You offered a vision of new possibilities
A united humanity without cast or class

We left it smoldering on the altar

Metis, the sands are falling, each grain a parcel of time
Your sons cleave the day from the dark of night

Prometheus, with one eye on the future
Epimetheus, with his sight on the past

The starry-field is lit, glowing white like spilt milk
The planets stars and galaxies, spinning

We dance around the center and bear witness
Pulling at the glittering tails of comets burning

Mary, blessed mother, a comfort to the fallen
Skipping across the moons bright face

I drink from your cup as it turns me to cinders
And a trillion stars raise their voices to you

Milk flowing from your breast to nourish the anointed
Did you know then who he would be?

The world made him a healer and a tyrant, both
The child you birthed in on a bed of straw

A Homily – Mark 8:1-6 ©

The Gospel According to Mark – 2018.07.08

Faith and Power

The gospel reading for today suggests that there are limits to Jesus’ power.

“He could work no miracles there,” the people in his home town would not accept him.

He left feeing despised, by most if not all.

Of course we know that his mother, Mary, followed him, She was with him when he was crucified. And we know that James, his brother was one of the twelve, as well as being the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Whatever resistance he met and the beginning of his ministry, at least in relation to his family, it was overcome.

Ultimately, that is less interesting than the revelation that the healing and miracle work Jesus was noted for, could not take place in the absence of faith.

Which corresponds to other passages we have read, where the faith of the individual is instrumental in the healing of their loved ones, drawing on Jesus’ power without his knowledge of it.

This is instructive, for us, because Mark’s gospel is the earliest of them, and it represents a less nuanced apology for the “miracle-making” Jesus was engaged in.

 

‘A Prophet is Only Despised in His Own Country’

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time