Saturday of week 17 in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 26:11-16,24;Psalm 68(69):15-16,30-31,33-34; Matthew 14:1-12

The beheading of St John the Baptist is hardly a cheerful story, it shows humanity at its degraded worst. Originally told by Mark, who was much less condemnatory of Herod and rather more of the women involved in the story, through abbreviation of the story Matthew clearly puts all the blame onto Herod.

At the end of this story we are briefly told that John the Baptist's disciples go to tell Jesus that John has been beheaded. The start of the next chapter, begins with Jesus' response to the story - he wants to be alone, presumably to deal with the deep grief at the murder of his cousin - and grief at how it happened. The daughter who danced for Herod and who received the head of John on a plate - was a 'little girl' in modern translations - a child - and we would think that to be an abuse full situation would it happen today. So Jesus heads off into the hills, seeking solace in prayer - but his disciples crowd after him. Jesus heals many - a hard and full days work right after receiving hard news. A natural human response would be to send them away and indeed his disciples try to get him to do this, but instead Jesus' response is to feed them all (the feeding of the 5000).

It will have been no accident that Matthew places these two stories right next to each other, he was trying to present to his readers the nature of Jesus' love for us, so strong that his own grief is of no importance to him. For our part we need to remember in our dark hours, when we might feel alone in bereavement or that very real sense of loss when we hear of murder, death and evil in the world today - that our Saviour Jesus also had those feelings. Through his Love, Jesus made healing the path through his bereavement. Through His love, we can make our path through our own loss.

Saint Martha

1 John 4:7-16; Psalm 33(34):2-11; John 11:19-27

The importance of Women in the life of Jesus is clear from the Gospel of John. We know from Easter that a Woman (Mary Magdalene) was the first human to encounter the risen Christ and to believe in his resurrection, and she was also the first apostle to the apostles by telling them this good news.  We also have that well known scene in which Martha and Mary are perhaps in conflict, the one busy caring for the practical needs of the day, the other preoccupied in listening to the words of Jesus. That Gospel (Luke 10 38:42) is available as an alternative today.

In John 11 however, Martha is in dialogue with Jesus, and is given the voice (we hope) of us all "Yes Lord I Believe that You are the Christ, The Son of the Living God". Once that declaration is made, then Jesus is able to exercise his power and raise Lazarus from the dead. Everything is possible - but belief in the Lord is needed first.

As always the situation is more complex than we tend to see if we only read small parts of the Gospels. Both Martha and Mary are profoundly women of faith as well as women of action. Reading the Luke passage we are ready to say that the way of faith is more important than the way of action - with Luke and John both, we see that in fact both are important. Perhaps it is fairer to say that without Faith, our activity is pointless? St Benedict certainly saw it this way as we see in his rule that the life of work is supported by the life of faith and prayer, and that prayer without work is diminished. We need both in our lives - leading to the Catholic Social Teaching about the dignity of the worker.

Thursday of week 17 in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 18:1-6; Psalm 145(146):2-6; Matthew 13:47-53

A number of us will remember this video. It is worth watching all he way through, whilst reflecting upon todays reading from Jeremiah.

"So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do" God is a master potter - but we sometimes go wrong in his hands. But we can always, always be reformed, and it is a common experience for us to see this in our lives.

We only have to allow ourselves to be formed and reformed by God.

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Wednesday of week 17 in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 15:10,16-21; Psalm 58(59):2-5,10-11,17-18; Matthew 13:44-46

Matthew 13 provides us with a number of images of the Kingdom of God. They are not all easy to see - one is reminded of 'now we see in a distorting mirror, then all shall be clear' (1 Corinthans 13:12). There are images of difficulty - the sower and the stony path, the field full of weeds, the weeds being discarded at the harvest, are not good to hear when we feel (as we often do) that we are not worthy of entry to God's Kingdom. So Jesus ends with a pair of calming, encouraging images, the perl of great price and the field with treasure. It is worth striving for this Kingdom, the end prize is beyond all our understanding!

We also have an encouragement from Jeremiah, who finds himself unable to do his prophetic ministry amongst the people. He has heard the Word of God and has devoured it, but when he speaks to the people they will not listen, and threaten him. Jeremiah can not understand why the joyful message of God's promised Kingdom is rejected by all those around him. Sounds familiar - as most people in our country have already fallen away from faith often including our own family members, it is easy, very easy to become discouraged.

No - persevere: trust in the Lord, listen to his Word, Believe what you hear, Preach what you believe, Practice what you preach and God will take care of the rest. The phrase Believe - Preach - Practice comes from the commissioning of those called to be Lectors. Up to recent times this has been part of the journey for those in formation for the permanent diaconate or Priesthood, but Pope Francis is opening up that ministry to all the people of God. With the Motu proprio Spiritus Domini, which modifies the first paragraph of Canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, Pope Francis establishes that women and men can have access to these ministries and that this be recognized through a liturgical act formally instituting them as such, and also that these ministries are no longer only for those who are on that formation journey towards an ordination.

Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ecclesiasticus 44:1,10-15; Psalm 131(132):11,13-14,17-18; Matthew 13:16-17

There are no scriptural references to Mary's parents in the Gospels - but she must have had human parents. The Gospel of St James - which scholarship has shown to not have been authored by the apostle James and also is not recognised as an authentic source of faith or teaching - does mention them, and it is certain that the early christians reverenced their names.

The readings listed above are those suggested for the memorial. They emphasise the genealogy which is taken up later in the Gospels that links Jesus back through Mary to King David. Ecclesiasticus in a long section, much more than a mere list, identifies the genealogy from Enoch through David and on down to Simon the high priest. For each, a brief justification for their presence in the list of 'illustrious men' is given. (Ecclesiasticus 4 to 46). It is notable that the list only contains men - contrast with the genealogy in Matthew which includes four mothers - and as seems common in ancient texts, the meaning of the genealogy seems to be more important than accuracy as some kings known from historical sources are missed out!

Our Psalm today gives thanks for King David - who represents the unbroken line of contact between the people of God and their creator... 'For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling: ‘This is my resting-place for ever; here have I chosen to live.' 

Matthew in today's short reading, tells us about the meaning of genealogy: that all of these ancestors longed for this day, when Christ would be physically present living among us - the child of a woman, with grandparents -  truly present amongst us. Although St John the Baptist is often presented to us as the symbol of the perpetual, never ending covenant between God and Israel, and Jesus as the source of the new covenant, we must remember and be grateful for the people of the old covenant who gave rise to the human presence of the new: Mary, Joachim and Anne.


Saint James, Apostle – Feast

2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 125(126):1-6; Matthew 20:20-28

St James (? - 44)
He was the brother of St John and, like him, a fisherman. He was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration and one of those who slept through most of the Agony in the Garden. He was the first of the apostles to be martyred, being beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I to please the Jewish opponents of Christianity. He was buried in Jerusalem, and nothing more is known about him until the ninth century.
  At this time we learn of a tradition that the relics of St James were brought to Spain some time after his martyrdom, (perhaps early, perhaps as late as 830), and his shrine at Compostela in Galicia grew in importance until it became the greatest pilgrimage centre in western Europe. In every country there are churches of St James and known, well-trodden pilgrim routes. In Paris, the Tour St Jacques marks the start of the route and the Rue St Jacques points straight towards Compostela. In England, pilgrim routes lead from all parts of the country to the major ports that were used on the pilgrimage. This network of routes is a vital witness to the fact that the Middle Ages were not the static stay-at-home time that we often think them to be: everyone must have known someone, or known someone who knew someone, who had made the pilgrimage. The scallop-shell, the emblem of St James, has become the emblem of pilgrims generally.
  In 1987 the pilgrimage routes to Compostela were designated by the Council of Europe as historical cultural routes of international importance. The Confraternity of St James continues to work to restore and upgrade the refuges on a route which is still in active pilgrim use today.

St Bridget, Co-Patron of Europe

Galatians 2.19-20; Psalm 33; John 15.1-8

Birgitta of Sweden (c1303-73), daughter of the wealthy governor of Uppland, was married to Prince Ulf at the age of 13. They had eight children (including St Catherine of Sweden). Ulf died in 1344 after a pilgrimage to Compostela and Bridget retired to a life of penance and prayer and founded the Order of the Most Holy Saviour (commonly known as the Bridgettines), devoted to devotion to the Passion of Christ, at the former royal castle of Vadstena. In a vision in 1350 she heard God command her to come to Rome, and she obeyed, never to return to Sweden. She exercised a wide apostolate among both rich and poor, sheltering the homeless. Her mystical visions were widely circulated throughout Europe. She worked untiringly for the return of the Papacy from Avignon. She was spurred by a vision to visit the Holy Lands in 1372, and died shortly after her return to Rome.

The Bridgettines are particularly noted for their ministry of hospitality. Their nuns wear a very distinctive metal “Crown of Five Wounds,” a cross with five red stones imposed.

St Mary Magdalene

Song of Songs 3.1-4; Psalm 62; John 20.1-2,11-18

Mary of Magdala (a fishing town on the western shore of Lake Galilee) is mentioned twelve times in the four Gospels, more than most of the apostles. We are told that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her and that subsequently she was one of the women who travelled about with him, supporting him and his disciples out of their own resources. [Luke 8.1-3] These words suggest that she was likely well-to-do. She was present mourning at the crucifixion of Jesus and was a witness to the empty tomb [23.55—24.11]. In St Mark’s [16.9] and St John’s [20.11-18] Gospels, she is the first to see the risen Christ. It seems likely that she was present with the disciples and Jesus’ mother during the days between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost. [Acts 1.14]

During the Middle Ages, however, Mary Magdalene came to be conflated with two other women: Mary the sister of Martha (and Lazarus) of Bethany [John 12.1-8]; and an unnamed woman “who had a bad name in the town” who entered a Pharisee’s house unbidden and washed Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. [Luke 7.36-50] Alas, Pope St Gregory the Great was instrumental in perpetrating this confusion. The sobriquet “Penitent” was removed from Mary Magdalene’s name when the Calendar of the Catholic Church was revised in 1960.

It is impossible to harmonise the four Gospels’ accounts of the resurrection appearances. Mary Magdalene’s appointment by Our Lord himself to “go and find the brothers and tell them” [John 20.17; Mark 16.9-11] suggests, though, that she ought to be remembered primarily as Witness to the Resurrection, a ministry in which we ourselves are invited to be joined.