LAST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
READINGS FOR THE DAY
Cycle A: Ezekiel 34. 11 – 12, 15 – 17; Psalm 23; I Corinthians 15. 20 – 6, 28; Matthew 25. 31 – 46.
Cycle B: Daniel 7. 13 – 14; Psalm 93. 1 – 2, 5; Revelations 1. 5 – 8; John 18. 33 – 7.
Cycle C: II Samuel 5. 1 – 3; Psalm 122. 1 - 5; Colossians 1. 11 – 20; Luke 23. 35 – 43.
There was given his dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion.
The Christian Year finishes on a triumphal note. When this feast was instituted in 1925 by Pius XI in his Quas Primas it was to be celebrated on the Sunday before All Saints’ Day. In 1969 Paul VI moved its celebration to the last Sunday of the year, and revamped its title to Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe and upgraded it from a feast of the first grade to a solemnity. When it was instituted by Pius XI in 1925 at a time of growing secular power under Mussolini it was intended to counter this by promoting Jesus’ kingship of non violence and love. It was also to remind Catholics that their first allegiance was to their king in heaven and not an earthly ruler. Pius XI thus wanted the following effects from the promulgation of this feast.
1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas 33).
Living almost a century on, one would say that these reasons for keeping this solemnity are even more critical. Christ’s kingship is so different from any kingship in this world. That Jesus made clear to Pilate at his trial when the Roman governor asked Him was He a king? When Jesus stated that yes He was indeed a king, He quickly added it was not of this world. “It was for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18. 33b, 36- 7). Therefore it was not based on corruption, power, brutality or force – all too evident in our secular world.
The idea of messianic kingship became part of the Israelites’ psyche for years. They longed for another leader like King David that would bring prosperity to them but above all would free them from political oppression. In his earthly ministry some saw Jesus as being this kind of leader, but His role was like the shepherd’s role as expressed in Ezekiel to rescue the lost and the stray and to bind the wounded. He who is the Lord of the cosmos and the first-born from the dead has made us clean from our sins through His blood and has given us the opportunity to share in His kingship.
However to share in that kingship we must serve Him faithfully in our neighbours. Nowhere is that made so clear than in the Matthean parable of the sheep and goats. When Judgment Day comes Christ will judge. If we have served Him in the poor, oppressed, imprisoned, sick and hungry then He will know our voice, and we will be welcomed home. If we have not served Him in this manner, then we shall not be welcomed at all. Augustine commented that this parable frightened him very much and I can understand why, for it is very demanding upon a follower of Jesus. Yet we must try to love our neighbours in serving their needs. How comforting then are Jesus’ words from the cross to the penitent thief who recognised that he was being rightly punished for his sins. Yet Jesus assured him that today he would be with Him in paradise. Although this is a lovely Lucan touch I am sure it has helped many a soul in life approaching death and wondering whether he/she has fulfilled the law of love.
The Daniel reading in cycle B for this solemnity draws our attention to the eternal sovereignty of God over all peoples and nations. Everything and every person in the end must bow down before Him. All creation is in His hands as He made it. So today’s solemnity reminds us that no earthly power has ultimate control of this universe or human beings. It is the Lord’s and in that as Christians we rejoice.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the triumph of your Son over all enemies of mankind: death, sin and Satan. Amen.
MONDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 1. 1 – 6, 8 – 20; Daniel 3. 52 – 6.
YEAR II: Revelation 14. 1 – 5; Psalm 24. 1 – 6.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 1 – 4.
THE THREE CHILDREN
After ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.
Both years end with apocalyptic books: Year I Daniel and Year II Revelation. Both have similarities and it is not a bad idea to read them side by side for maximum understanding. We spent last week looking at what is known as the Maccabean period in the history of Israel and this week we read a book that is a product of that period – Daniel. Last week we learnt that Antiochus Epiphanes IV was responsible for “the abomination of desolation” in the temple and in this book he is portrayed as the first anti-Christ alongside more positive themes that bring hope and bravery in time of calamities. Indeed these bear similarities with Revelation.
The final form of Daniel is actually written in three languages: Hebrew (1. 1 - 2. 4a, 8. 1 - 12. 13), Aramaic (2. 4b – 7. 28) and Greek for the Deutero-canonical parts (chs.3 & 13. 1 – 14. 42). The first part of the book has Daniel interpreting dreams of the kings of Babylon while the second half revolves around a series of five dreams that Daniel has. Step by step these dreams explain what will happen in the last days.
The actual reading for today comes from the beginning of the first part, supposedly set in the time of the Babylonian exile but with all its inaccuracies it is unlikely. Its author, probably different from the other parts of the book, is reminiscing of the Exile period when a Jewish youth, Daniel, arrives in Babylon. So today we meet up with him and three other pious Jewish children: Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They are serving at the royal court but obviously they are finding it difficult to keep to their traditional foods. The king instructed Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain, to train these Jewish lads in the king’s service, part of which was to eat from the royal table. Daniel begged Ashpenaz to be spared what would be a defilement for them, but was refused. Not to be outwitted he approached the steward with a proposition. He proposed that they be given a trial period for ten days by dining only on vegetables and drinking only water. The steward agreed.
To everybody’s delight they were far healthier than any of the other young men after ten days on this vegetarian and water diet. Moreover they were also more knowledgeable and wiser than the other youths and indeed most advisors. As a result they remained in the king’s service until Nebuchadnezzar died. Their loyalty to their God seems to be rewarded in their success at the court.
The meaning that pious Jews would have understood from Daniel’s request would have been similar to Mattahias’ response against the Hellenists requirements. Although not so brutal the symbolism would be the same by being courageous in not defiling oneself. Before we reach the end of the book we shall also discover the cost for these young Jews in not defiling themselves that is reminiscent of the Jews who went out into the desert to be able to practise their religion but were mercilessly slaughtered under the Seleucid king.
Daniel’s decision not to eat according to the Chaldean custom set him and the other children apart from others. What they ate symbolised what they believed. It used to be like that with Catholics who ate fish or other non-animal meat products on Fridays. I have always thought the doing away of that practice except for Fridays in Lent was a shame as it made a statement to the world. Perhaps there are many like me who have kept this tradition as a statement of faith. We can also make a statement of faith and concern by refusing to be indulgent in food and drink and never wasting food. We can all learn from the example of these Jewish children of being faithful to the Lord first in their lives.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them.’
Since His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (our Palm Sunday) Jesus has spent His days in the temple, teaching and answering questions. Yet He is also being very observant of the people who come into the temple. Today’s reading from the Lucan gospel enables us to envisage Jesus after His scathing remarks about the scribes and their dishonest practices especially in regards to old women being reflective as He observed those who placed their gifts in the temple treasury. Amongst the affluent making their token offerings there was also an old widow, very poor, so poor that she only possessed two small coins. These she put in the treasury – drop, drop. She certainly did not give of her surplus as we sometimes do, but of her all.
After his attack on the scribes for the way they mistreated old women, I have always wondered what Jesus would have said to the widow afterwards. Surely He would know that she had absolutely nothing now. How was she going to live? Would she be another Anna?
Not only this widow, but there have also been many examples in the history of Christianity of people giving all. The one we shall focus on today is St. Clare and her community at San Damiano. It was Sister Clare and her Poor Clares who, even more than the Franciscans, kept the rule of total poverty and simplicity of life that St. Francis had envisaged. Clare became the first woman to write a religious Rule for women, and despite all those who opposed her, including Popes of the time, she insisted that the Rule for her community be modelled on St. Francis’ concept that emphasised the vow of poverty and living from alms. They owned absolutely nothing and were actually beggars. Clare’s devotion to poverty was illustrated in this extract from a letter written shortly before her death in 1253 to Sister Agnes in Prague:
I rejoice and exult with you in the joy of the Spirit, O bride of Christ, because since you have totally abandoned the vanities of this world, like another most holy virgin, St. Agnes, you have been marvellously espoused to the spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Happy indeed is she to whom it is given to share this banquet, to cling with all her heart to him whose beauty all the heavenly hosts admire unceasingly, whose love inflames our love, whose contemplation is our refreshment, whose graciousness is our joy, whose gentleness fills us to overflowing, whose remembrance brings a gentle light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, whose glorious vision will be the happiness of all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
It is only when we allow ourselves to become poor in both spiritual and material things for the sake of Christ that we can make room for the true riches of this life that are only discovered in the dear Lord. For example when we approach the altar at the Eucharist, if we are empty of all forms of selfishness then we are fed to the brim. We indeed do eat and drink at the heavenly banquet. Being nourished we take Christ out into our everyday world to help those in need.
TUESDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 2. 31 – 45; Daniel 3. 57 – 61.
YEAR II: Revelation 14. 14 – 19; Psalm 96. 10 – 13.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 5 – 11.
In your vision, O king, you saw a statue, very large and exceedingly bright, terrifying in appearance as it stood before you.
The interpretation of the king’s dream by Daniel is our reading for today. Supposedly Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream. So disturbing it was that he insisted on having it interpreted. He exhorted his magicians and enchanters to not only interpret the dream but also to know the dream itself. None is able to do that, as in the words of one of the sorcerers, it is only a god which can do such a thing. Furious of their lack of knowledge they were all condemned to die.
When Daniel heard of this decision, together with the other three children, they sought counsel from Yahweh to have the dream revealed to them. After praying the Lord revealed to Daniel the contents of the dream in a vision and so Daniel approached Arioch who had been appointed to deal with these matters, requesting not to put the men to death as he could interpret the dream and to take him to the king.
Thus Daniel was able to do what the magicians could not do, to know and then interpret the king’s dream. The huge, human-like statue made of various metals crumbled as it was struck by a stone, a stone that then became a huge mountain and filled the earth. Those various metals: iron, bronze, silver and gold crumbling symbolised the destruction of four empires: the Chaldean, Persian, Greek and Hellenist. The only ruler to survive is “the God of heaven” who “will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” symbolised by the stone. Thus all earthly kingdoms will be destroyed and delivered into God’s hands. This “great God” therefore gave Nebuchadnezzar the privilege of knowing what would happen in the future.
Upon this great revelation the king of the Chaldeans fell at Daniel’s feet and worshipped him in his acknowledgement of his wisdom. Yet more importantly he acknowledged Daniel’s God as being the source of this wisdom. Like Joseph after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Daniel was given a position of authority by being promoted to the highest position in the kingdom. He is thus able to give his Jewish friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, administrative positions within the empire while he, Daniel, remained at the royal court, the favourite of the king.
What the king’s vision reminds us of is the end of the world when Christ will rule over all as He subjects all to Himself. Once that is achieved the King of the universe will hand all over to His Father. His triumph over all enemies will have been achieved. So we can take heart from today’s reading just as Daniel did that God’s kingdom will never be destroyed.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
‘Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?’
Jesus’ prophesying of the destruction of the temple is a bridge in today’s reading between the narrative of the poor widow in the temple and the Lucan version of the apocalyptic. As our Lord, sitting in the temple, was observant of many facets of life, He became aware of some people’s praises of the beauty of their temple, especially its stone work. When these words were uttered the temple was probably not yet completed. That would happen after our Lord’s death. Undoubtedly on completion Herod’s temple was one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. So there is little wonder that people admired its stone work yet it did not remain for long for Jews to admire it before its destruction in A. D. 70 by the Romans.
Therefore to hear our Lord’s remarks that these stones would soon fall down must have been shattering. How could this be possible, one can hear the people murmuring? To hear such a prophecy must have sounded like the end of the world to the Jews in the temple that day. Of course we must remember too that the author is placing on Jesus’ lips events that were out of His time frame but in his.
The reading moves on to those signs of end time. This is not the first time that Luke has used apocalyptic imagery. Recall after the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the author placed on the lips of the Pharisees that question, when would the kingdom of God come? To this Jesus replied in apocalyptic terms of fire and brimstone, flashing lightning, and of one being taken and one left behind.
Here we have it again, and its message is one of alertness. "Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all that is coming and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man” (Lk 21. 36). Alertness means not allowing ourselves to be caught up with worldly cares and pleasures that drain us of our time for God and our preparation for His coming. Advent season is a special time when we are challenged not to be caught up with all the busyness of Christmas preparation and its commercialisation but rather to spend it quietly in preparation and anticipation of the various ways Christ comes to us, including the Babe of Bethlehem. The closer we live with and love our dear Lord, the more we recognise Christ not only as the Babe but also in our hearts that make us yearn to be with Him in all His glory.
The following is a prayer of very early origin in the Ravenna Scroll. It will help us in the coming Advent season to open our hearts to the comings of Christ within us each day.
O God, who at the beginning of the world,
creating light, dispelled the impenetrable clouds
of darkness, we pray you:
May the creator of light come quickly,
the promise of that true marriage bed
prepared from all eternity,
that your people,
freed from the ancient snare,
may go to the encounter with your son
WEDNESDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 5. 1 – 6, 13 – 14, 16 – 17; Daniel 3. 62 – 7.
YEAR II: Revelation 15. 1 - 4; Psalm 98. 1 -3, 7 – 9.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 12 – 19.
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
Suddenly, opposite the lampstand, the fingers of a human hand appeared, written on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.
Today’s reading is the fifth story in Part I of this book of yet another mystery at the royal court. The old king has died and we are told that his son, Belshazzar, is now king (he was only ever a crown prince). At a sumptuous royal banquet, after having drunk too much wine, the king requested that the golden and silver vessels that his father had stolen from the temple in Jerusalem be brought out to be used as drinking vessels by the guests. At such a request the great God intervened. He abruptly brought to an end the desecration of these sacred vessels by writing a mysterious message on the wall. One can imagine the fear and terror that was struck in the hearts of all, especially the king. He shouted for his astrologers and enchanters to come and interpret, but all to no avail.
Hearing the king’s rage and wailing, his queen hastened to his side. When she discovered the reason for such an outrage, she immediately remembered Daniel who had previously interpreted signs and visions. On his arrival he is offered the same reward as had been offered to the others, to be clad in purple and to be third in government if he rightly interpreted the writing. Daniel dismissed these as being unimportant. Before giving his interpretation Daniel delivered a sermon on humility and what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar through his arrogance. He also chastised the king for desecrating the sacred vessels of Yahweh. Then Daniel informed the king that this writing has been done by none other than the great God of heaven in the three words written, the first Mene meant that God has put an end to your kingdom; the second Tekel meant that God had found you wanting while the third Peres meant that God has taken your kingdom from you and will give it to the Medes and Persians.
What can we learn from today’s reading? Two things: the first is that we cannot disrespect God’s laws and secondly that if we live in tune with His Spirit we display the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. We should also learn to see the writing on the wall when we deviate from the path of righteousness before it is too late. Furthermore we should try to be a prophetic voice when we see writing on the wall in our societies, not in the sense of doom and destruction as some fundamentalists do but a warning that we cannot turn our backs completely on God who is the author of all life without some dire consequences. I don’t think there is such a thing as political correctness in God’s scheme at all. As human instinct should know, the created acknowledges the creator by being humble in His presence. When we all acknowledge that, this world will be a better place in which we all live.
Hence a better world will never be achieved by displacing God with other gods such as my rights. These are the baals of this world. Many centuries ago the great prophet Elijah challenged the priests of the cult baal in a holocaust to prove whether baal or Yahweh was the true God. You probably remember the account in the first book of Kings, chapter eighteen where on Mt. Carmel Jezebel’s priests ranted and raved for hours as they called upon baal to consume their holocaust. All was to no avail. Afterwards Elijah set us his altar and cried out to Yahweh to hear his plea. Immediately the holocaust was consumed. That day Elijah manifested who is indeed the God of this universe – the Almighty Himself. Just as He defeated the pagans that day at Mt. Carmel so He will continue to be victorious. The baal cult may seem to be winning in many societies today but God will never surrender His world to idols. Neither should we!
THE COMMON GOSPEL
You will be handed over to synagogues and put in prison; you will be brought before kings and governors for your allegiance to me. This will be your opportunity to testify. So resolve not to prepare your defence beforehand, because I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute. ... By standing firm you will win yourselves life.
Luke 21.12 - 15, 19.
Today’s reading opens a window into the life of the early Christians. We know from Acts and the genuine letters of Paul that they faced persecution. In the first couple of chapters of Acts Peter and John after healing the sick, including the crippled man at Solomon’s portico and their preaching were imprisoned before being brought before the Sanhedrin where Peter testified that the Lord was speaking through him (Acts Chs. 3 & 4). If one reads on in Acts both Peter and Paul’s life had many persecuting trials. Paul in his own writings certainly manifested many of these as illustrated in his letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8. 35 – 9).
That witness and persecution of the early church continues to this moment throughout the world as Christians gladly face death from Islamic extremists and all forms of secularism in this twenty-first century.
We personally may not have to face imprisonment as such for our faith, but there are many prisons we and others can make for ourselves such as loneliness, isolation and fears. Christ will speak to us all if we are like Peter and Paul and allow Him to speak through us. Michel Quoist painted this imprisonment so realistically:
In our society individuals have enclosed each other in a great city where they live together like bees in a hive.
They are confined within their little boxes close to the ground or reaching up to the sky in high-rise flats.
Imprisoned, they suffer and are lonely, brushing against each other only in the streets of the city.
And while all this is happening, children cry in their search for someone they call "father",
sick people call out in their suffering and are not heard and old people are unbearably lonely at end of their lives.
We pay to keep them and our consciences quiet, as though we did not know that nothing is so healing as a kiss.
Isolated in one way or another from each other, more and more of us are imprisoned in our terrible loneliness.
What Quoist described is very much a part of city life in the twenty-first century. It is in such situations that Christ is beckoning us to venture into because these are desperate people in our midst. They need to be liberated from their fears and feelings of utter hopelessness. They desperately need to feel loved. The only way they are to experience love is from those who know what love is from their own experiences, and whose lives radiate the love of Christ. They need people who allow Christ to love and work through them so that they can be touched and healed by the Lord Himself.
Are we as Christians prepared to launch out in the deep, not ever knowing how deep it will be, or how long it will be before we return to the shore? Yet when we do venture we do not have far to travel before we come across empty and despairing faces. Remember time is God's gift to us to use unselfishly, and above all spent in witnessing to Him in the service we give to our fellow brothers and sisters. Again the words of Michel Quoist are apt:
Millions of human beings - women, men and children who are, with us, members of one body - suffer terribly because so many feed on the lives of others but do not feed them with their own lives.
THURSDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 6. 12 – 28; Daniel 3. 68 – 74.
YEAR II: Revelation 18. 1 – 2, 21 – 3, 19. 1 – 3, 9; Psalm 100. 2 – 5.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 20 – 8.
THE LION’S DEN
The king ordered Daniel to be brought and cast into the lion’s den. To Daniel he said, ‘May your God, whom you serve so constantly, save you.’
In yesterday’s reading we learn that Daniel was promoted to be third in authority in the kingdom and so today’s reading, the sixth story, manifests jealousy towards him who had performed his duties in a good and efficient spirit. Knowing how faithful he prayed to his God three times each day, his adversaries decided that this should be the cause of his undoing. Hence the other two officials approached the Persian king, Darius, to implement an irrevocable decree that for the next thirty days that if any person was found petitioning a god or person other than the king himself should be thrown into the lion’s den.
So the trap was laid. Yet it did not deter Daniel who continued to pray three times a day in his chamber. We are told that he knelt to pray, a position scarcely to go unnoticed, especially when others wanted his demise. One can imagine their glee as they trotted off to the king to report Daniel’s breaking of this decree and to remind the king of the penalty – the lion’s den. Of course the king had no choice, despite his feelings of remorse for Daniel to have him thrown into the lion’s den and to make sure the entrance was blocked. Yet in his heart he hoped that the God to whom Daniel prayed so faithfully three times a day would save him.
After a sleepless night, the king arose very early in the morning and hastened to the lion’s den. He shouted, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has the God whom you serve so constantly been able to save you from the lions?” To his amazement and joy, he heard, “O king live forever!” An angel had closed the lion’s jaw. Yet that jaw acted very quickly when the officials who schemed for Daniel’s death were thrown into the den. As a result the King issued a decree for everyone in his kingdom to reverence Daniel’s God, “For he is the living God, enduring forever.”
What happened to Daniel was a common site in the early history of the church. Those who did not worship the emperor were often martyred in the coliseum in Rome. The playwright, George Bernard Shaw, adopted the Aesop fable of Androcles and the Lion to give it a Christian interpretation. In the fable Androcles, a runaway slave but a Christian and a lion are captured by the Romans but separately. When thrown into the lion’s den for his Christian belief the lion refused to eat Androcles. Why? It was this Christian who had taken pity on the lion when its paw had become swollen and infected by a thorn.
In Shaw’s play Androcles is one of many Christians being led into the coliseum to be killed. Although Shaw was not very sympathetic to Christianity, it seemed a matter of course that when Androcles was led into the lion’s den it would be his lion from the forest that he would encounter. Perhaps one of the best lines in defence of the Christian faith came from another who should have met her death that day too, Lavinia. When the captain asked her, “Will you too be prudent?” she answered very directly. “No, I’ll strive for the coming of the God who is not yet.” To this the captain replied, “May I come and argue with you occasionally?” “Yes, … you may,” replied Lavinia.
That to me is in the spirit of what we have in our reading for today. We must be able to give an account of what we believe intelligently. Daniel had no trouble in doing that and hopefully Lavinia did not too. Neither should we. That is why it so important for us to know the Christian faith well not only through our living of it but also by our frequent study of it.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
THE TIME OF GREAT TRIBULATION
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, knows that its desolation is at hand. … People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
The Gospel reading for today has two parts to it, one is the great destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the other the coming of the Son of Man. The Jewish revolt against the Romans began in A. D. 66. Four years later the Roman army still had not crushed the revolt and so the Roman general, Titus, set up camp at Mt. Scopus, a mile north of Mt. Olives. His purpose was to construct a siege wall around the holy city in order to prevent the inhabitants from escaping. It also protected the Roman soldiers from raiding parties from the Jews. This we should remember was standard practice for the Roman army. Inside the city there had been internecine fighting amongst the various Jewish sects that had left the people starving. Was it co-incidence that the day Jerusalem fell to the Romans was the exact day that the Babylonians had done the same some five centuries before?
The second half of today’s reading shifts from Jerusalem to the whole cosmos. Perhaps what will happen to Jerusalem is a foretaste of what will happen when the cosmic Lord comes. The Lucan account in its descriptions of the end time borrows heavily from images used by the prophets. For example, there is great similarity with Joel when he prophesied of the end time:
The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining;
The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his host is exceedingly great; he that executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; who can endure it? (Joel 2. 10 – 11).
Indeed who can endure the day of reckoning as proposed by Joel and adopted by Luke? None can who have lived recklessly, ignoring the hand of God unless one repents.
The apocalyptic images should also remind us of death. Some of the most moving lines ever written of approaching death and death itself were written by John Henry Newman in the nineteenth century through the journey of Gerontius. What has accentuated this journey was the music craft of Edward Elgar who set “The Dream of Gerontius” to inspirational music in 1900. If you have never listened to it, I suggest you do, especially with the words in front of you. I think many of us can put ourselves in Gerontius’ shoes. If we can, then we shall not have to concern ourselves very much when the Christ comes again or death. To conclude our meditation for today, I leave you with this extract from The Dream of Gerontius with Gerontius on his deathbed pondering:
I can no more; for now it comes again,
That sense of ruin, which is worse than pain,
That masterful negation and collapse
Of all that makes me man; as though I bent
Over the dizzy brink
Of some sheer infinite descent;
Or worse, as though
Down, down for ever I was falling through
The solid framework of created things,
And needs must sink and sink
Into the vast abyss. And, crueller still,
A fierce and restless fright begins to fill
The mansion of my soul. And, worse and worse,
Some bodily form of ill
Floats on the wind, with many a loathsome curse
Tainting the hallow'd air, and laughs, and flaps
Its hideous wings,
And makes me wild with horror and dismay.
O Jesu, help! pray for me, Mary, pray!
Some Angel, Jesu! such as came to Thee
In Thine own agony …
Mary, pray for me. Joseph, pray for me. Mary,
pray for me.
FRIDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 7. 2 – 14; Daniel 3. 75 – 81.
YEAR II: Revelation 20. 1 – 4, 11 - 21. 2; Psalm 84. 3 – 6, 8.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 29 – 33.
DANIEL’S VISION OF THE FOUR BEASTS
In the vision I saw during the night, suddenly the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea, from which emerged four immense beasts, each different from the other.
In today’s reading we move onto the second part of this book – the apocalyptic visions of Daniel. Now instead of interpreting visions, he himself is the recipient of them. The first is that of the four beasts experienced at night as he lay on his bed. So terrified was he of what he saw Daniel wrote it down but told not a soul of what he had seen. The first part of this vision was earthly. In it he first saw the stirring up of the great sea, probably the Mediterranean by the four winds of heaven, reminiscent of the Genesis story from chaos, from which came life.
In this stirring however, four horrible beasts emerged. The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings that were then plucked off and the beast took on human likeness. The second beast was a three-fanged ravenous bear while the third was a leopard with four wings and four heads. The last beast was exceedingly horrible with its great iron teeth and trampling feet crushing all in its path. It had ten horns and as Daniel pondered this, another appeared and three disappeared to make room for it. This little horn possessed human eyes and “mouth that spoke arrogantly”.
The second part of the vision was heavenly. It was a judgment scene where a very old, white-haired man, dressed in white sat on a fiery throne that had “wheels of burning fire” so reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1. 26). He ruled over thousands of servants. The court was convened and the four beasts were brought to trial. The first beast was given a death sentence while the other three were allowed to live but were stripped of their power. These four beasts have often been interpreted as representing the four great kingdoms that dominated the Mediterranean world until the coming of the Messiah: Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman.
This heavenly vision continued throughout the night when Daniel saw “One like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” into the presence of “the Ancient One.” He is to be given “dominion, glory, and kingship” over all peoples. That kingship will never be destroyed. Often this “son of man” has been interpreted as the Messiah but it was probably not until the Gospel writers referred to Jesus as “son of man” that it began to have a messianic interpretation. As we see in the interpretation of the “son of man” here it represented the people of Israel.
Daniel, quite naturally, was very disturbed by all of this, especially the last beast and although he had been an interpreter of other people’s dreams he sought help, probably from an angel. He discovered that the ten horns represented the divided empire of Alexander and the nasty little horn, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. However his rule will be brief and his power destroyed. After him “the holy people of the Most High” will have dominion and eventually they will have victory.
If one was living during the various battles fought in Judæa to rid the country of foreign power in the time of the Maccabean revolt, Daniel’s vision and his own example of a pious Jew would have been one of great encouragement to persevere in following the Torah. Eventually after over thirty years of warfare the fighting ended and the Jewish people would have their country free of foreign power, albeit for a short time before the coming of the Romans. Years later they lost their city, temple and all. Since A. D. 70 the Jews have never known freedom in a land “flowing with milk and honey” until 1948 with the making of the state of Israel after World War II. But one questions where the milk and honey are to be found!
THE COMMON GOSPEL
THE FIG TREE
Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of kingdom is near.
As we ponder on today’s gospel reading let us be mindful that Luke has placed the parable of the fig tree after the signs for the parousia. Fig trees and other trees clearly have signs that depict the various seasons. For example when trees begin to leaf we know that summer cannot be far behind. Just as these signs are clear so will be the signs of the end times. So Christ is asking for His disciples to be vigilant, which shortly follows in this chapter.
The other part of today’s reading focuses on what will be eternal, the Lord’s Words. These shall never fade away as heaven and earth will. Just as the other readings for today are appropriate as we end the year so is this a reminder that what Jesus taught us will always be.
What are those words we want always to hold on to take with us into another Christian Year? Before offering my suggestions, you might like to discover what words you would like to keep before you. When I ponder on what I shall want to keep close to me as inspirational in my spiritual journey for another twelve months, I think it is hard to beat the “I Am’s” in the Johannine tradition. It is not only the words but also the imagery that it conjures. For example when we recall Christ’s words that He is the Good Shepherd, our imagination can visualise Him taking care of everyone, especially those who stray. We know that we all stray at times and so this image of Jesus going out to rescue us when we need it is not only a comfort but it also strengthens our belief in our Saviour. That strengthening draws us closer to Him who wants to carry us always in His arms. It is a simple image, but how strong it is for us as we walk our journey in contemplation as well as action.
“I am the living bread who has come down from heaven.” For Christian souls travelling to the heavenly Jerusalem, one of the great joys and strengths is to know that this living Bread is always available to us just as Jesus fed the five thousand. Indeed it provides a daily meditation for those who attend daily Mass. By receiving that living Bread and therefore knowing that one receives the very life of Christ is a constant source of joy and wonderment. As Christians we need to be lost in a sense of wonderment to experience the invisible world of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as they worship the Lamb.
“I am the resurrection” assures us that Christ is Lord over death as He was when He raised Lazarus. Meditating on these words as we envisage the tomb scene at Bethany are reassuring that whatever happens in this life there is a life that will not end. As we go about our everyday life we can be strengthened by these words. Nothing is as bad as it seems because it is only temporal. This too will pass. In that is our strength.
“I am the truth.” We know the sayings of Jesus are true. When we ponder on these words, one of the images we have is Jesus before Pilate. Here, especially in this Johannine tradition, Jesus is in complete control. It is Pilate who must answer the question. This imagery should always encourage us to stand uprightly for what is right, whatever the cost. In the long run truth will triumph. So we don’t have to be intimidated by anyone who wants to declaim Christ’s teaching.
There are many words of Jesus that we can use through our senses of seeing and hearing and feeling to make them more meaningful for us as we grow closer to our Lord. That is our goal to have an intimate relation with Him, and thus by enriching the words of the Lord in sensual ways, helps us to achieve this. And don’t forget that Christ is also the light of this world and consequently He will illuminate everything to His followers.
30TH NOVEMBER – FEAST OF ST. ANDREW, APOSTLE
READINGS FOR THE DAY
Romans 10. 9 - 18; Psalm 19. 2 – 5; Matthew 4. 18 – 22.
COME AND SEE
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’
John 1. 40 - 1.
St. Andrew's day has for a long time been kept as a special day for the missionary endeavours of the church. In my younger days I recall how my parish priest sat from 8.00 A.M. to 8.00 P.M. at the entrance to the church drive, often under a beach umbrella as protection from the fierce summer heat of the outback in Australia, collecting money for missionary work overseas. Missionary work and supporting those in the mission field was a priority. Raise money we did!
As I have grown in the faith over my many years as a Christian, I have come to realise that in some ways the priorities were wrong. Yes, St. Andrew's day message has not changed, we are to bring others to Jesus, but it is not only for those whom we have regarded as heathens in the deepest parts of Africa or in the tropical jungles of South East Asia, but it is very much for those where we live at this precise moment.
Who did Andrew first bring to Jesus? It was not someone who lived in another part of Judæa, but his own brother Simon who lived and fished with him by the sea of Bethsaida. It was only after his brother knew Jesus that he with Philip brought strangers, Greeks, to the Master. Surely Andrew’s example is telling us that we must live as missionaries, but we start at home. It is often a harder job to ask members of our family or our neighbours or fellow employees “to come and see” than to preach the gospel to people in Africa.
How do others “see”? It is from us. I am sure Andrew said to Peter, “Come and see” with great enthusiasm. The old adage is true – Christianity is caught not taught. So how do we show Jesus to others? By the way we allow Jesus to be the Lord in our lives by shining forth in our conversation, our interacting with and treatment of others as well as our prayerful and joyful demeanour.
In the Gospels and the church, Andrew has been overshadowed by his brother Simon/Peter, but I am sure that would not have perturbed him greatly. He was content to work in the shadow and to be his true self. What a wonderful lesson this is to us in humility and faithfulness. From the glimpses we have of him in the gospels, he is a person who is very much aware of a situation. He had been a follower of John the Baptist and quickly heeded his words, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and went and saw for himself. Having learnt the need of repentance and faith from John, he was ready to become a follower of Christ. It was also he who pointed out to Jesus in the miracle of the loaves and fish of the boy who had brought his lunch of “five barley loaves and two fish” to feed the multitudes on the hillside. It was Andrew with Philip at the time of the Passover festival who introduced the Greek visitors to Jesus.
Tradition informs us that Andrew travelled on several missionary journeys in Scythia and was crucified like His Master but on the saltire cross, what has become known as the St. Andrew's cross, at Patras in Achaia. From the sixth century, his feast has always been held and honoured by the Church as a faithful Apostle and Martyr. He is the patron saint of Scotland and of Russia.
Let us be as enthusiastic as Andrew was “to come and see”, and when we have seen to bring others “to come and see”.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the life of Andrew. Let it be an inspiration to me to bring others to “the Lamb of God” who will give us life eternal. Amen.
SATURDAY OF LAST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Daniel 7. 15 – 27; Daniel 3. 82 – 7.
YEAR II: Revelation 22. 1 – 7; Psalm 95. 1 – 7.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 21. 34 – 6.
You sons of men, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever. O Israel, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all forever.
Throughout this week the responsorial psalm for each day has been part of the song that the three children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, sang in praise to God when thrown into the burning furnace by king Nebuchadnezzar. As they prayed an angel protected them from the flames. It is a beautiful prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God that I thought it would be a fitting conclusion for the last day of the Christian Year to be the focus of our meditation. Do read in its entirety to sense not only its beauty and rhythm but also the sheer grandeur of God. This is what we know liturgically as the Benedicite.
It begins with praising the God of their forefathers who has been worshipped in the temple by His chosen people. Yet it is not only mortals who praise Him but also the whole company of heaven that “exalt him above all forever” God made the earth and all that is therein. The children bring before their Maker every aspect of life in the universe.
The various forms of water: rain, showers, dew, frost, ice, snow, springs, seas and rivers all “praise and exalt him above all forever”. At night the stars, sun and moon praise God while the forces of nature such as wind and lightning “bless the Lord”. All creatures of the waters, the beasts of the land and those of the air likewise offer their praises. Indeed during the nights and days God is glorified by his creatures.
And how does mankind praise the Lord? All people: servants, priests and those who serve in the temple and “the souls of the just” “praise and exalt him forever”. Lastly this beautiful prayer ends with the three children: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, personally thanking God for delivering them from the fiery fire and its flames.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord;
praise him and give him thanks,
because his mercy endures for ever.
After you have pondered on the entire prayer I invite you to make your own prayer of praise and thanksgiving modelled on it. There are just so many things that we can say thank you for in our lives. Apart from that the most important aspect of prayer is to praise God as illustrated by these three children. Perhaps we just don’t spend sufficient time simply being lost in the grandeur of God. When we give ourselves time to be quiet and to ponder on God we can be amazed at what we can discover. But we have to give that time and stillness for that discovery. Many of the psalms are a wonderful source of praising God. If we read just one psalm a day as part of our meditative time we would soon discover a good source for our praying.
Tomorrow we begin a new Christian Year. This is the time to make our New Year resolutions, not the 31st December. Our year should revolve around the life of our Lord and His teachings. With Advent beginning tomorrow an encouraging resolution would be to ignore the shops and people who want to keep Christmas long before it arrives. Rather let them know that this is Advent and what it means. Encourage people to use the Christmas Season as the time to enjoy parties and families coming together. A pertinent question might be, “Would you like to celebrate your birthday before it comes?” No, you wait for the day enjoying the expectation of it. Let the beginning of the new Christian Year be a time of deepening your commitment to and personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Then Christmas will mean even more to you in truly thanking God for a birth that has changed the life of every true believer.
THE COMMON GOSPEL
Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.
In order to be able to see our Lord more clearly, today's gospel, the last for the year, gives us wise advice .We must be alert and vigilant in prayer. Advent is very near. As already stated, this our very special time for watching and praying in readiness for the advent of Christ at Christmas as well as at the end of this world. Advent should be a time of reflection, quietness and preparation when we learn to wait more and more on the Lord. In that waiting more of His nature and love will be revealed to us. What a fitting preparation to welcome the Christ-Child.
Advent, contrary to what the secular world had made it, is a sombre season to initiate us into the rhythm of the Christian Year. Like Lent it has a definite penitential tone to it when we seriously look at ourselves and see what sin does to us and our relationship not only with God but also with others. The Christ-Child came into a darkened world through the sin of Adam but in His birth the light shone from the heavenly realm to announce that this darkness would be dispelled by the righteous One, the Son of God. None need to live in the darkness of sin anymore as Christ’s coming has conquered sin. We can be rescued from the world of darkness if we allow His light to penetrate our very being, and to illuminate our way along the path of righteousness. His light will enable us to learn the truth about ourselves. Thus Advent is an opportune time to re-examine ourselves, and see how we have obliterated the truth so many times. By constantly examining our lives and pondering on the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the gospels we shall be ready to meet the Son of Man when ever He comes, even if is sudden like a thief at night as well as the Babe of Bethlehem.
I have always felt that the Prayer Book collect for Advent Sunday is a most powerful one for this time of the year, and I can thus understand why it was recommended by the Prayer Book Fathers to be prayed daily during Advent. I am therefore including it for those who have not yet discovered it. When you pray it I think you will understand the reason for the direction for its daily praying.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
If we prayed this prayer often, not only in Advent, we would indeed be children of light, and all darkness would be dispelled from our spiritual journey. In this coming Advent could we focus on the message of this prayer, and how it would change our lives and perhaps the world if we allow that grace to cast away any works of darkness within us.