Year C – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Two Family Treasures

(Gen.18:20-32; Col.2:12-14; Lk.11:1-13)

Today, let’s talk about treasure:  in fact, let’s consider two family treasures that are too often overlooked.  The first is our grandparents, who we celebrate today.

When people think of Jesus being raised as a boy, they usually only think of Mary and Joseph.  But his grandparents played a vital role, too. They were Saints Anne and Joachim, whose feast day was on Friday (26 July).

Anne and Joachim were Mary’s parents.  They knew she was a gift from God because they’d had great difficulty conceiving a child.  Their faith, patience, wisdom and love had a profound influence on Mary, and on Jesus as well. It was they who chose Mary’s husband, Joseph.  And it was their good parenting that taught Mary to be a wonderful mother. St John Damascene described them as a ‘blessed’ and ‘spotless’ couple to whom all creation is indebted.

In 2013, Pope Francis called all grandparents a ‘treasure’, and said that Anne and Joachim were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their love for God, and expressed it in the warmth and love of family life.

‘How important grandparents are for family life,’ he said, as he stressed the importance of intergenerational dialogue, especially within the family. Children and the elderly, he said, build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward; and the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives.  ‘This relationship and dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened,’ he said.

But I wonder: what kind of relationship do we actually have with our elders?  

I recently saw a short film called ‘The Mailbox’ (1977).  It tells the story of an old widow named Leethe who loved her family, but they all lived some distance away.  She loved getting letters, but her children rarely ever wrote, they rarely ever called. Every day she walked to her mailbox.  Every day it was empty.

That was, until one day she did find a letter.  She was so excited. She rushed into the house to get her glasses.  But as she opened the envelope she had a heart attack and died. What was in that letter?  It was a message from Leethe’s daughter, telling her that it’s time to go into a nursing home.

Our grandparents are a treasure, and Pope Francis says the elderly are ‘like a fine vintage wine’.  ‘But’, he adds, ‘we live in a time when the elderly don’t count.  It’s unpleasant to say it’, he says, ‘but they are set aside because they’re considered a nuisance.  And yet, the elderly pass on history, doctrine and faith and they leave them to us as an inheritance.’

We owe so much to our grandparents, not least for our very existence.  They’ve played a significant role in our lives, both directly and indirectly.  And despite any flaws, we have much to thank them for.

The second family treasure I’d like to mention briefly is embedded in today’s Gospel.  It, too, is too often overlooked. It’s the Lord’s Prayer. It was given to us by Jesus, through his Apostles who had asked him to teach them how to pray.

The version we use comes from Matthew (6:9-13), and if you look closely you can see that it includes seven petitions.  In 1979 Pope St John Paul II said that everything that can and must be said to the Father is contained in those seven requests. 

He also said that there’s such simplicity in them that even a child can learn them, and also such depth that a whole life can be spent meditating on the meaning of each of them.  

In our throwaway society, it’s so easy to discard precious things.  Our grandparents are fundamental to our families and to society. They’ve given us love, encouragement and support, and they connect us with our history, heritage, culture and faith.

St. Thomas Aquinas called the Lord’s Prayer ‘the perfect prayer’ and the second century theologian Tertullian said it summarises the whole Gospel.  It binds us to our heavenly Father and to every other member of our Christian family.  But it, too, is easily overlooked.

Today, let’s combine these two great family treasures by praying for our grandparents, using the words that Jesus himself gave us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. 


Year C – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Martha and Mary

(Gen.18:1-10; Col.1:24-28; Lk.10:38-42)

Life is a struggle for many people. The daily grind of domestic chores, parenting and earning a living can be so hard.

The Spanish painter Diego Velázquez tried to capture some of this feeling of drudgery in the above painting, ‘Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’.

It depicts an unhappy servant girl who’s in tears as she does her chores.  She’s grinding something with a mortar and pestle, while an older woman supervises her from behind.  On the table are other ingredients, waiting to be cooked. Is she perhaps preparing a garlic aioli?

Now, there’s a painting within this painting, because through the hutch on the right we can see Jesus talking with Martha and Mary.  Martha is resentful because Mary’s listening to Jesus and not helping with the chores.  But Jesus raises his left hand and tells Martha that Mary ‘has chosen the better part, and it’s not to be taken from her’.

Notice how these two scenes are linked. The older woman is pointing to the biblical story and explaining to the servant girl that she’s just like Martha.  Martha is only thinking of herself when she complains to Jesus, ‘Don’t you care that my sister has left me by myself? …tell her to help me.’  If the servant girl wants to be happy then she, too, must listen to Jesus.

Jo Fiore, one of our gifted parishioners, has taken another approach to this story of Martha and Mary and kindly penned this poem for us:

Martha hurried up the road, her thoughts on earthly things.
She was planning for the day ahead. Her mind was in a spin.
‘Mary!  Come and lend a hand! The Master’s on His way.
I’ve invited Jesus and his friends to dine with us today!

He showed how much He loved us – He showed how much He cared
When He raised our brother Lazarus and saved us from despair.
Now we’ll have a chance to thank Him on this very special day,
But we have so many things to do. There’s no time to delay!

Now look around this house and see its total disarray!
When Jesus walks in through that door, I wonder what He’ll say….
If our housework is not finished, and the meal’s not cooked just right,
And everything’s not in its place!  It fills my heart with fright!’

Mary smiled an inner smile – for she knew what He would say.
He’d say, ‘Come and listen to my words. I’m here with you today,
… For tomorrow I may not be here to teach you all I know,
My time is near at hand and to my Father I must go.’

As Mary set the table, and quietly swept the floors,
Her mind was on the Master, and not on her humble chores.
She thought of ways to honour Him, to show how much they cared.
‘I’ll anoint His feet with precious oils, and wipe them with my hair.’

When Jesus came, Mary sat – just as she had planned,
While Martha fussed and bothered; she just didn’t understand.
Martha moaned about her sister to the Master, but He said,
‘Worry not about these things, come and feed your soul instead.’

That day Martha learnt a lesson from our Saviour and our Lord,
She should focus her attention on her heavenly reward.
What He really only wanted was for her to make the choice
To hear the things He had to say, to listen to his voice.

Both this poem and this painting present a picture of what’s so common today: people struggling to make sense of their overly busy lives.

Most people think Martha’s doing the right thing:  working hard and preparing for her guests.  But she’s also worried and very unhappy.  Many of us are the same:  we run around exhausting ourselves and wonder what we’re missing.

The truth is that something is missing.  As human beings we’re not just flesh and blood; we’re also spiritual beings, but many of us ignore that side of our existence.  We don’t pray. We don’t reflect. We don’t tap into God’s gentle and merciful love.  (Or if we do, we don’t do it enough.)

The story of Martha and Mary teaches us that Martha would be much happier if she regularly spent some quiet time in prayer, listening to Jesus – just like Mary. 

To live our best lives, we must both work and pray.  In this story, Martha represents work and Mary represents prayer.  But they’re not in competition with each other; it’s not ‘either-or’.  Martha and Mary are sisters; they belong together, just as work and prayer belong together. 

When we combine a life of good work with a life of genuine prayer, we find ourselves living a life of loving service. 

That’s the pathway to peace, to happiness … and to sainthood.

Year C – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Loving thy Neighbour

(Deut.30:10-14; Col.1:15-20; Lk.10:25-37)

Over the last fortnight our Gospel readings have come from St Luke’s story of Jesus’ ‘Great Journey’ to Jerusalem, and a central theme has been the art of Christian discipleship. 

Two weeks ago, when he began his journey, Jesus told his disciples to be strong, to be prepared to embrace humility and discomfort, and to leave everything behind as they follow him.

Last week, when he sent 72 disciples out as missionaries, Jesus told them to travel light, to live simply, to be people of peace, and to engage deeply with the people they meet, by living as they do.

Today, Jesus tells us more about what it means to be a good disciple, by giving us the Parable of the Good Samaritan and his golden rule: to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.  One interesting point about this famous commandment is that most of the world’s cultures and religions share this same rule. They might express it differently, but Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all agree that you should love your neighbour as yourself.

If it’s so widely accepted, then why did Jesus present this rule as something new?  It’s because he gave it new meaning.  The truth is that many cultures and religions define the word ‘neighbour’ very differently.

In Jesus’ time the Jewish sect, the Essenes of Qumran, believed that only those with the same religious beliefs could be their neighbour.  Another Jewish group, the Zealots, only accepted people as neighbours if they shared their nationality and ethnicity.

So, the Jews didn’t accept the Samaritans as their neighbours. They feared they might be contaminated by them, even if their shadows touched.  They had a real sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

What Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s Parable of the Good Samaritan is that all of humanity is one big neighbourhood.  We’re all neighbours, regardless of any differences we might have.

St Catherine of Genoa was an aristocratic woman who lived in the 15th Century.  After her husband went bankrupt, she started working in a poor hospital.  She once prayed, ‘Lord, you say I should love my neighbour, but I can love no one but you’. 

But God replied to her, saying, ‘Everybody who loves me loves what I love’.  What he means here is that if God loves everyone, no matter what, then we should do the same.

So, who is my neighbour?  Anyone and everyone, without exception.

One thing that sets saints apart is the way they’re prepared to suffer the pain of profound love for their neighbours.

In today’s parable, we can see that Jesus is the Good Samaritan who goes out of his way to help the wounded man.  At the same time, however, he’s also the wounded man lying in the street.  We know that because in Matthew 25:40, 35,  Jesus says that whatever ‘you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me …’ 

Learning to love isn’t always easy.  As so many of us know, it can be painful.  For those who have never really loved, it’s like exercising a muscle you’ve never used.  It can hurt.  But with practice it gets stronger and loving gets easier.  

One thing that sets saints apart is the way they’re prepared to suffer the pain of profound love for their neighbours.  St Vincent de Paul used to say that we should pray continually that God may give us the spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God.

The Polish St Maria Faustina Kowalska did just that.  She was completely devoted to God’s loving Mercy, and used to pray, ‘… O Lord, may the greatest of all divine attributes, that of your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbour’.  

She prayed, ‘Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never …  judge from appearances …  Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may listen to my neighbour’s needs …  Help me, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbour …  Help me, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds …  Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbour … and help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbour…  O my Jesus, transform me into yourself, for you can do all things.’ 

May we all go and do the same.