- Written by Father Morton
- Category: Ordinary Time Year B (2018)
- Hits: 84
That disappearance of the Saudi dissident at the Saudi Embassy in Turkey is causing much trouble. It seems that he went in one door looking for papers and didn’t come any other door, alive. His wife waited on him but he didn’t return. Turkish authorities believe he has been assassinated in broad daylight. Sinister black vans and cars shuffled in and out of the Embassy in the hours that followed. These same cars were tracked to a private aeroplane that flew from Turkey to Saudi Arabia that very evening. The Saudi authorities are allowing a visual inspection of the embassy but not a forensic search of the building that might detect blood, DNA or any struggle.
Today we hear in the midst of those words from the Gospel something that is very appropriate for the occasion, the great commandment recalled by Jesus that was given to Moses on Mt Sinai – thou shall not kill. Those words are very powerful, relevant for all times, alive and active, sharp as a two-edged sword, prudent and wise, as the book of Wisdom says in the first reading.
Every society worth its salt abides and lives by this commandment. Laws are built round these words. It is unlawful to take the life of another, its unlawful to put someone’s life in danger, it is unlawful to harm someone with the intention of taking their life. It’s a law that makes individual and families safe and secure from harm. No one will attack them, no one will endanger them, no one can threaten to take their life, it’s against the law of the land, it is against God’s law .
But it becomes even more heinous, if the government of a country, against its own laws takes the life of one of its own citizens, against every law and precept that it asks everyone else to abide by.
Today (tomorrow) in Rome, Pope Francis will canonise Archbishop Oscar Romero. He likewise was killed by a group of soldiers allied with the government of the day in El Salvador, and was shot while saying Mass. His only crime was speaking up for the poor.
History is littered with people who are killed in these circumstances. People who are dispensed with, removed, cancelled out because of their views. History is also littered with defenceless towns and cities put to the sword. Gangsters and shady elements within governments take the law into their own hands.
You might know that Pope Francis has changed in recent months the catechism of the Catholic Church that allowed for the use of the death penalty in dire and extreme circumstances. He now says it is not legitimate for the State to kill or put to death its citizens, through capital punishment.
There is something that is very terrible when a person kills or takes the life of another. But there is something even more terrible when a government feels that it can assassinate one of its own. It’s as if because of all its power, it feels itself untouchable, able to make decisions that it will never be held accountable for or have to be responsible to anyone. It is the worst kind of tyranny, it becomes like gangsters, who think themselves above the law. A government or a state which acts in this way loses all sense of legitimacy or moral authority.
Listening to those commandments that Jesus recalls in the Gospel of today’s Mass we realise that most civilised societies are built and operate on these God-given laws. Thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, thou shall not defraud, honour your father and mother and so on. If you allow killing, or stealing, or lies to be told or fraud to take place then the wheels come off the vehicle and chaos ensues. If you are free to kill or steal or tell lies, or to extort and be fraudulent then the result or consequences will be barbaric. The strong, the rich, the powerful, unscrupulous people will subjugate the weak.
Laws create order. They establish justice. They allow for fairness. They stop terrible things happening. They are often designed to defend the weak against the powerful and the wicked.
In that Gospel passage Jesus warns the rich and wealthy it will be hard for them to enter the kingdom of God. Every potentate, every heir to a fortune, every person who has wealth must quake in their boots at the sound of those words. There is something in that wealth and in those riches that will weigh them down, that will encumber them, that will be an obstacle to them to get into heaven.
Maybe it’s because wealth makes them think themselves untouchable. That those laws which Jesus recalls don’t apply to them. They are able to quieten their consciences. Live in luxury and comfort and break the rules and laws. How often we have heard in legal trials of people like this, that they have acted because they thought they were untouchable or could act with impunity.
We sometimes take for granted our laws and the places that these laws come from. They are there to create justice and fairness for all. We would certainly know all about it if they were not in place.
What a terrible thing it would be if we came to believe the killing of another, especially by the State, should go unrecognised. We would allow ourselves to descend into gangsterism and lawlessness of the worst kind.
There has to be laws which stand as pillars of what we believe and build our society on. As the book if wisdom tells us, there are prudent, wise words, stronger than sceptre and crown that are the firm foundation on which everything is built. One of those is clearly, thou shall not kill.
- Written by Father Morton
- Category: Ordinary Time Year B (2018)
- Hits: 98
I have a close friend who confesses to having read the diaries of her children. I am rather aghast at that. But she protests to me breezily that she has done it for selfless reasons, so that she knows their worries and concerns. I am not sure that the children or young people would see it the same way, their private thoughts are poured into the pages of their diaries, it’s as if they are speaking aloud to themselves, only themselves.
Recently I have surprised myself by taking a liking to reading other people’s diaries too. You shouldn’t be concerned, I’m not breaking into homes to read diaries. The diaries that I speak are by people that keep diaries and go onto publish them. I find them quite compelling, better than biographies or autobiographies. : Often it is as if you are listening into conversations, having first hand experiences of people meeting in history, their thoughts and reactions. Often these diaries have not been written with any thought at the time of publication, or any thought of being read by anyone else that n themselves – they therefore ring true. They have a freshness and honesty and an immediacy which makes you want to know more. -
Very often we don’t see that side of a person. Everyone has a private side to them, their thoughts, their ideas, their judgments which they keep to themselves. Very often we don’t get that insight into a person, their inner life, their inner core, their thoughts and who they are.
The closest perhaps that you get to that is maybe in married life. In marriage thoughts and ideas and the heart is opened to another person. How often you see that bond between two people. The person can almost read the other person’s thoughts. They can judge their moods. One begins a sentence and the other finishes it. It is as if in this union that they have truly entered into a union. Often the other person will tell them things that they have not told another, share confidence that they have not shared with another.
Maybe that is just exactly what we are hearing in the reading of today’s mass. That extraordinary reading from Genesis which puts two people on the same page. That speaks of them being bound together. Thinking, loving working, struggling together. Of being able to share and open their heart to one another. That is how God means it to be, that strong bond of love between 2 people. .
Although the reading comes down to us as a great reading about marriage. I think it has a greater significance about created things being joined together. working together, being bonded and welded together. Animals and human being, growing things and human beings together.
If the readings speak about 2 people being united and open to one anther, they also speak of disunity and division.
Today the readings speak about the D word – division and divorce. Even in the Old Testament time there seems to have been divorce, Moses seems to have allowed for the possibility – the Pharisees say, “he allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal”. Even the people of the Old Testament who were sticklers for rules saw that there were cases in which two people could be divorced.
I just want to say a few words about divorce that I have gleaned working with people over the years. No one in the history of the world who has been married ever wanted their marriage to end in divorce. Everyone whose marriage ends in divorce, it is often the greatest sadness in life. People always set out with the best intentions and the highest of ideals and want to be happy and fulfilled in marriage. No one wants their marriage to fail, break down or end in divorce. Marriages fail for all sorts of different reasons financial, irresponsible behaviour, incompatibility, honest and dishonest reasons. No one who has every been through divorce proceedings would every recommend it to another, the pain involved in in it is very great, it’s a deep turmoil. It always seems to me a great mystery how love can turn into hatred, how you can love a person with all your heart and then given all sorts of reasons or circumstances you can end up hating them. Betrayal, dishonesty, deception can make a person’s heart grow cold and turn to stone for another person.
I think looking as an outsider to marriage you have to have a tough skin to be married. Marriage is not for the fainthearted, you have to be strong in your love and sure of your love to get married and to stay married.
You must carry certain things into marriage: an ability to forgive, a desire to get on with one another, a sense of perspective and proportion, realise what is important and unimportant ; a desire to make each other better people by being married rather than lesser people, weaker, more unsure, emotional fragile; it should make you stronger, develop you and make you progress as a human being, rather than hold you back.
What a great thing marriage is if you find the right person. The person out of the whole world who is surely meant to be your husband or your wife. Its always a vocation not a social convenience to make your union official or formalise it or to get family tax credits. Coming to be married, you believe that there is someone who will make you happy and love you, and you can make them happy and love them. We have come to call this marriage. This is what the story in Genesis is meant to remind us – that in creation there should be unity between us and the animals, between us and growing things, between us and one another, between us and God. . Marriage should never make us miserable or be a battleground or turn into hating one another.
Is that kind o f love possible, some would say it is not but people wish it, desire it, hope for it and yearn for it because it is thing as the book of Genesis says that there is in each of us a desire to find that person who is our Eve or who is our Adam? Who will love us and who will love us for the rest of our life.
You know that saying: marriages may be made in heaven but they have to be worked at on earth. Again, as an outsider, you have to work hard in marriage. You have to pray and ask God’s help. You have to see it as something holy you are involved in too, the love that you have in marriage is a bigger plan for our happiness. If you are married that’s your vocation in life. Something that is given to you to work at and be happy and fulfilled.
Can love last, can it remain, can it last forever. Sometimes the world says it cannot. Jesus would seem to say it can last and it should last.
But it has to be love, real love. Not just love in name. Not just love staying together for convenience sake or for children. It has to be love, deep love, love that makes us happy and bound together in a common purpose and fulfilled that is what love is about.
God doesn’t have to read our diaries to know what has happened in our day, last month or last year. He knows our deepest desire. That deepest desire is to love and be loved. He will give us the ability to fulfil that love even in the hardest of circumstances. When the sun has gone behind the clouds. In dark and stormy days he will teach us how to love.
- Written by Father Morton
- Category: Ordinary Time Year B (2018)
- Hits: 148
Later on this week we will celebrate the feast of St Matthew. I think everyone knows about Matthew: he is that disciple/apostle/evangelist who changes from being a dishonest tax collector to following Jesus.
If you ever visit Rome then be sure to visit the Church of San Luigi, it is the French national church in Rome, most nations have a church that is their own in the city. Inside the church there are small side chapels with altars, as there are in most of those churches in Rome. Normally in the past these belonged to some rich patron or family and often were decorated by them.
In the Church of San Luigi, nearest the main altar there is a side chapel dedicated to St Matthew. This chapel was owned by a cardinal of 16th century whose name was Matthew Contarelli. Out of affection for this saint, and for the fact that it was his Christian name, he dedicated the chapel to the honour of St Matthew. After his death he willed that some art works honouring the saint be put there in the chapel, to adorn it. He especially wanted paintings of St Matthew’s conversion, Mathew writing his Gospel and Matthew’s martyrdom to be put there. The executors of his will turned to a young painter in Rome to do the work, a fiery individual called Caravaggio. He was to execute and paint 3 of the finest paintings in Rome which to this day have crowds looking at them in wonder, in the same way that they look at wonder at the Sistine chapel’s ceiling or the last judgment. The executors were a bit prissy, prudish and scrupulous, the painting of Matthew writing his Gospel, they got him to re-paint because they didn’t think it appropriate that Matthew was seen crossing his legs. Don’t ask me what that was all about, not what a saint should be doing!
The main painting of the three, that most catches the attention, is the conversion of St. Matthew, that moment when Matthew is at the crossroad of his life and is changed from being a dishonest tax collector to a disciple of the Lord. As so often, Caravaggio paints thing in darkness and light. There is a room and a group of men, dressed in clothes of the 16thcentury, it is obviously a bar or tavern, the group are young and old, seated at the table they are drinking and perhaps playing some sort of game. In the shadows of the room is Jesus with Peter, dressed (strangely) not in clothes of 16thcentury but 1st century clothes, flowing garments. There is a window high up in the wall, that casts a shard, a beam of light that crosses the painting and illumines the group of people at the table but the darkness of the room is made even thicker by the presence of this bright light. Jesus raises his hands and points to one of the men sitting at the table, a bearded man and the man in turn points to himself, as if to say “me, is it me” (the man clearly is Matthew). That outstretched arm, the pointing finger is apparently meant to represent deliberately the same gesture that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine chapel, that finger of God which touches the finger of Adam and gives him life, the divine choice, the divine election.
It is an amazing painting. It has this incredible use of darkness and light. The faces are faces we would recognise, faces that we have seen ourselves, old and young people - human faces that convey different emotions - surprise, regret, disinterest etc. You can feel the cramped and airless and dark tavern, lit by this beam of light coming from the window.
But most if all it conveys some deep Christian message. It conveys that moment of conversion, that moment when we are at the crossroads. The raised arm of the Lord, that finger that points us out, that singles us out, that chooses you and me. That feeling of the one pointed out that says, is it me, are you sure it is me, is it not someone else? And that sense that he chooses the person not because they are on their knees praying but he chooses us where we are, in the tavern, counting the money that we have extorted from others, namely in the midst of life and all its ills. It recalls St Paul’s great saying in Romans 5: 8 “While we were still in our sins, Christ died for us”. He chooses us not because we are good or do good things, he chooses us in the midst of everything, just because he chooses.
You might know that the present Pope has a great devotion to St Matthew and particularly the story of Matthew’s conversion. He often says that when he re-heard this story in a Church as a young man, it had a profound effect on him. He traces a personal conversion from it and the desire to offer his life to God from that story. He sensed that the words were directed to him too, the Lord looking with compassion on him too and chose him – these words seem to mean a lot to him. He even has a Latin phrase on his coat of arms taken from 21stsermon of St Bede, an English monk, writing on the conversion if St Matthew Miserando et eligendo (which means having compassion he chose him). It refers to that moment of Matthew’s conversion, which clearly means a lot to the present Pope.
There is something about that moment, that crossroads moment, that moment of conversion. That moment when you know that the words are directed to you. That his gaze is turned in your direction, the words are being spoken to you. That his finger is pointed in your direction. It doesn’t need to come in some holy place while you are on your knees praying, but it can come, just like the painting depicts, in the midst of life, like Matthew in that dark airless tavern, dimly lit, while he is counting his money or gambling, or drinking or playing cards with his friends – it can come anywhere and at anytime, in the middle of life and living.
Today’s Gospel also has that sense of people at the crossroads. Jesus is walking along with his disciples and they have reached a crossroads in his life and ministry. The road he is now about to take is towards his death. Peter doesn’t want him to take this road, he doesn’t want him to take this direction. But Jesus resolutely takes this road and the disciples follow, bewildered, sad and afraid of what is to come.
One of the things about life is that there are many crossroads along the way. There are many times when we come to that point on the road and wonder what road we will we take. Will we turn left or right, will we go straight ahead or will we turn back. Whatever road we take will dictate our future, there is the chance that we will make the right decision or there is also the chance we will be making some big mistake which cannot be undone. How many times in life have people wondered what would have become of them if they had taken a different road, made a different choice.
Matthew and Peter and the disciples also had that sense of being at the crossroads )Matthew in his tavern/Petr and the Apostles on the road at Caesarea-Philipi), following Jesus would change their life, taking the road with him would change everything.
Is there are a right road to take in life or, at the end of the day, are there just roads? Are we just fated to take a road and that be our lot in life, like a lucky or unlucky throw of the dice? Is one road as a good as the next road? Do all roads lead to the same place?
All of us throughout our lives stand at those different crossroads and are faced with those choices of which road to take, what direction to go in.
For Matthew and Peter and the Apostles there seems no other option than to take the road with Jesus, no other way to go, no other road that is appealing, no other road that makes sense.
To take that road you give a nod to faith. Faith will be your map, faith will be your compass. Faith will direct your steps. Faith will sustain you when you are tired and afraid, faith will be your comfort and consolation.
In taking this road, it’s a risk, because you don’t know where it is leading or what you will be asked to do, you only know it is the right road, it is the only road to take. Matthew and Peter and the other apostles knew that.
In that dark tavern, painted by Caravaggio, while playing cards and counting his ill gotten gains, the Lord pointed Matthew out and invited him to take the road with him. Matthew leaves that table, his friends and money and follows him. To where – he didn’t know. To do what he had no idea. He left everything behind simply to take to take the road with him.
- Written by Father Morton
- Category: Ordinary Time Year B (2018)
- Hits: 284
Recent scientific exploration of the Mayan civilisation in Guatemala, in South America, has uncovered things that were not expected. Previously all that could be seen was random ruins or ocassional temples, popping up from the forest undergrowth and peeking out from the trees, nothing else was thought to have survived. But laser analysis now shows us a clearer picture of many other things that have survived under this equatorial rainforest - 60,000 buildings have been discovered, 60 miles of roads that criss-cross uniting fields, towns and cities have been detected. It’s believed that the civilisation was destroyed by a mighty flood 1000 years ago and little was thought to have survived that terrible destruction. Recent pictures and laser analysis of the area that we now possess, however, shows us what this area once really looked like, the layout of buildings, streets, towns and the country and the thriving place it once was. What has also been discovered about this Mayan civilisation is that unlike any other of the tribes or civilisations, they had writings. From these writings it can be discovered what like was their life, their traditions and things that were important to them.
I wonder if it stretches the point to suggest that under the thick deep undergrowth of the centuries that has grown over the both the old and new testament passages, there is a meaning that lies waiting to be discovered too. Things that have grown over it pious thoughts, tangled ideas, wait to be stripped away to reveal a fresh terrain that we could never have known was there. Clearing away this undergrowth maybe we can visit ideas that inspired these early Christians which may have been lost, forgotten or just simply ignored and maybe these ideas can once again awaken thoughts and ideas in us.
That idea present in both the first reading and the Gospel reading that there are people outside the camp that are just as able to prophesy and just as able to heal and cast out devils as there are within the camp is an idea that seems to me an idea that waiting to be re-discovered and explored once again. And idea that is very powerful.
It seems to say or suggest that there are as many good people outside of the camp than there is inside. That there are many wise words outside than there is inside. That there are many people as good outside here as there are within. That people outside can do as much good as those within. That good can be found everywhere. That people can do great and wise and exceptional things, they are out there as much as they are in here.
That seems to me a very powerful idea that there is good everywhere and in everyone and maybe an idea that should cause us to think or shape the way that we look at things. But in a sense it is not such a great revolutionary idea and maybe something we have always known and carried around with us. Namely, that although God chooses to be present in some, it doesn’t mean he is not present in others. That although he chooses to give his grace to some, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exclude it from others.
But what the idea does do is to free up our thinking, instead of thinking everything is bad, we think that everything contains the potential for good and to do good . God chooses to be where he wishes to be, God’s goodness turns out not to be in the few but in the many and indeed in everyone.
He is working in everyone and in everything. He can give, for instance, the gift of prophecy to those he chooses and the gift of healing to those he picks, as we hear in the reading. How often we have heard prophetic and wise words come from people we didn’t expect. How often people have healed situations whom we didn’t think would be capable of it.
It’s something we know to be true. There are people who are unbelievers who are often much better than us. There are people who are unbelievers who are kinder, more charitable, more forgiving than us. God’s grace is in them, as much as it is in us and sometimes it seems more so.
Those people are our friends, people we work with, other members of our family, people who live in our street. It’s that sense in which the spirit blows where it wills. That God is not confined to the limits we place in him.
There is nothing worse than a closed mind. The closed mind cannot see, cannot understand, can only see things from one point of view. And maybe the idea that we are hearing in the reading is to have an open mind. A mind that sees God’s grace where it blows, capable to fall on whom he chooses.
The closed mind cannot see that. The closed mind is like the eye and the foot and the hand if today’s Gospel that turns out to be something that impedes and is an obstacle. Let not the closed mind be an obstacle to seeing good in others.
Under that dark undergrowth where the word of God lies. Cutting back those things that have grown over it is an idea that is very powerful. That we are surrounded by good and that huis goodness is communicated to us in ways and in people and in things that we did not expect it to be present.
- Written by Father Morton
- Category: Ordinary Time Year B (2018)
I remember in the first parish that I went to, one of the parishioners came each week to Sunday Mass in their Rolls Royce and parked it right outside the front door. I am not sure why I am telling you that today, but I think it I something to do with that first reading at today’s mass which cautions against making distinctions between people based in their wealth or riches. St James warns those early Christians not to favour the rich over the poor.
It seems amazing to me that out of all the cars that I have ever seen come and go to Church, and there have been many, that this one car should stick out for me. No doubt because it was the most expensive car that I had ever seen and not many people have such a car and not many people drive such a car on a Sunday morning to Church.
But I suppose it poses the question whether we treat or look upon people who might drive such a car differently. And whether in the back of our minds, in some deep dark recess, we think they are somehow better than us. And whether consequently, at least in our mind’s eye, we give them qualities that they don’t possess – they know more than us, they are better than us, they are more successful than us, they deserve our respect.
At the end of the day what is different from a simple family car to a Rolls Royce – both do the same thing, they drive you to where you to go, that’s all. One has a freakish price, the other not so.
Most people put a high price in being rich. Some people treat rich people differently than they would others. How many people look up to rich people as if they are better than them. Some of you may remember that two Ronnies sketch where they parody this – he looks up to me because I am middle class, he looks down to me because I am lower class and so on.
One of the things about living in these times, is that that gulf between the classes in society has certainly lessened, this is to the good. OBE/MBE/Knighthoods/Lords and the like mean much less. But how often even now people who are poor become tongue-tied next to the person who is the celebrity, drives a Rolls Royce or who has a title, as if they know something more or are better than them.
I have a recurring dream of being visited by the Queen at the parish. I wonder where that comes from – wishing to be an important person, of being thought of running the best parish in the world, of getting some stamp of approval. Why do I dream that/ Why should I be dreaming about the Queen at all?
We give to riches in whatever form it comes in a power which it doesn’t deserve. Because someone has a rich life-style or someone has a more important job or someone has a title they know more than us or are better than us. Where does that come from?
We are not immune from this in the church, we think because a priest is a canon or a monsignor, they are a more important priest. These titles mean nothing, absolutely nothing. It might interest you to know that Pope Francis is actively seeking to do away with them. Even we in the church have allowed ourselves to be infected by that mind-set. I strongly advise you not to indulge any priest in this way. Nor even to refer to the Bishop in some medieval way, calling him your Lordship, simply call him by his title, Bishop.
St James in the reading gives a warning, don’t make distinction that favour the rich over the poor.
This echoes what Pope Francis often repeats, he wants the Church to be poor for the poor. To be a place where the poor feel welcome. To be a voice for the poor. To be filled with charity for our neighbour who has fallen in bad times. To be a force for change in the world that changes the lot of the poor.
There’s a very striking thing in the Gospel reading of a man who is deaf and dumb. He cannot hear anything and he cannot speak.
What if the Church has become like this – what of it cannot hear the poor and cannot speak for it, cannot find the words. Is struck dumb, is silenced by the powerful and the rich – what a terrible thing that would be. That it didn’t hear their cries, their call. That it was more interested in the person with their gold rings and fine clothes, or even the man who drive his Rolls Royce to Church on a Sunday than it was with the poor. And not only had it lost its ability to hear but it had also list its ability to speak in their behalf, what a bad day that would be. What if we have become that person in the Gospel deaf and dumb needing a miracle to cure us.
I invite you to look around at your neighbour today. I don’t have to do that you have perhaps already noted what they are wearing, what their hair looks like, perhaps you have worked out what their outfit cost or their shoes, their suit, their hand bag, their watch or their bracelet. Maybe you judge them on what job they might be doing, or indeed what car they drove to church.
Already that warning light should be going on. Don’t make distinctions and don’t be overawed by those you think are wealthy. We are all sharers at the same table, we are all brothers and sisters, we are all parts of the same body of Christ.