Reflections on Gospel Readings for Sundays and Feast Days

We would like to invite you to some weekly reading on the Gospel readings for Sundays
(and occasionally feast days too).
We hope you will find these reflections both interesting and spiritually enriching.

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The Feast of our Holy Father Saint Benedict

Matthew 19:27-29


Peter said unto Jesus: Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?


Saint Benedict is probably the non-biblical saint who has had most influence over European Christianity. 16 Popes have named themselves Benedict. Only John, with 21, outscores Benedict (although we had a John XXIII, this was due to an historic error in numbering). So, there is definitely something about Benedict.

 

Benedict wrote his monastic rule around the year 520. He was writing for men and women of faith in a highly uncertain and dangerous socio-political climate just as the Roman Empire was beginning to unravel.  1,500 odd years later men and women around the world, still living in a highly uncertain and, in some cases, dangerous socio-political environment, continue to live a life based on the Rule of Benedict and the wisdom it offers. So, as I said, there is definitely something about Benedict.

 

Benedict of the Italian Perugian town of Nursia lived from around 480 to 547 AD and became the founder of the Benedictine Order. In fact he founded twelve monasteries, the best known of which was his first monastery at Montecassino in the mountains of southern Italy and he wrote a set of rules governing his monks, the Rule of Saint Benedict, one of the more influential documents in Western Civilization, and it was adopted by most monasteries founded throughout the Middle Ages. Because of this, Benedict is often called “the founder of western monasticism.”  Benedict was canonized in 1220.

 

The only ancient account of Benedict is found in the second volume of St Gregory’s four-book Dialogues, written in 593.  19th century Roman historian Thomas Hodgkin praised Gregory’s life of Benedict as “the biography of the greatest monk, written by the greatest Pope, himself also a monk.”  

 

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble and tradition makes him a twin with his sister Scholastica. Gregory’s narrative makes it reasonable to suppose him no younger than nineteen or twenty when he abandoned his literary studies and the potential life of power and nobility in search of the eremitical life. He matured both in mind and character, in knowledge of himself and of his fellow man, and at the same time he secured the respect of those about him. In each of his twelve monasteries he placed a superior with twelve monks. He remained, however, the abbot of all.  

 

Benedict spent the rest of his life realizing the ideal of monasticism which he had drawn out in his rule. He died at Montecassino, Italy, on 21st March and was named patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

 

I could give an entire lecture series on St Benedict and his Rule. I won’t, but I want to consider just three very Benedictine concepts: Orientation, Obedience, and Hospitality.

 

Benedict is keen to stress that Christ must be the focus and orientation of our lives. In the prologue to the rule he wrote, “My words are addressed to you especially, whoever you may be, whatever your circumstances, who turn from the pursuit of your own self will and ask to enlist under Christ.

 

In Luke’s Gospel the question is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer given by Christ is to “follow me” and, for the rich young ruler asking the question, this requires the throwing off of wealth and earthly status. He is being asked to ditch all his possessions, but he is being asked at a much deeper level to ditch all pretentions to be a ruler. In today’s gospel reading from Matthew (19:27) Peter says to Jesus, “Behold we have forsaken all and followed thee” and hears again that he shall inherit eternal life.

The theme or concept of obedience is strong and recurrent in Benedict’s rule, but it is poignant how the first mention of it is of obedience to Christ. There are other people to whom to be obedient within the rule: the Abbot/Abbess, the Dean, the Prior, and each other. But none of those matter as much as our obedience to Christ. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but rather that each member of the community is to be obedient to Christ, so that obedience to the Abbot, or in our case, Superior, is actually aligned to obedience to Christ. This obedience to Christ is kept in high regard within our community. We are not all of the same tradition, and with that comes different practices and devotions. For some of us there will be a very definite obligation whilst, for others, not so much, but by being obedient to Christ we put our trust completely in him who assures us “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Finally, hospitality. For St Benedict a faith community exists to do two things: firstly, to help its members find God and, as we have seen, make God the orientation of their lives. Secondly, to be a living, visible, and tangible witness to the love that God has for each and every person and especially those seeking hospitality. But how does Benedict define hospitality?

 

In Chapter 53 of the Rule Benedict wrote: “Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received just as we would receive Christ himself.”  In our dispersed or parochial context this means that how we meet and greet people is directly correlated to how we meet and greet Jesus. This is challenging and radical stuff! Do we see Christ in each and everyone we meet?  Do we give of our very best to the poorest, or do we just give them what we don’t need? These are really important questions and get to the heart of what it might mean to take hospitality seriously as an expression of mission and ministry.

 

So, here you have three very contemporary challenges from a rule of life written some 1,500 years ago:

·       What is the orientation of our lives?

·       How do we respond to the concept of obedience?

·       How hospitable are we – as a church, as an order, as individuals?


13ᵗʰ Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matt 10:37-42

Our first reading makes for uncomfortable reading and looking at some of the commentaries on Genesis 22: 1-14, there is general agreement. Despite the passage of time, the way that some children are treated in the world is shocking, institutions like the church need to work harder to repair the damaged caused and continues to cause.

Biblical scholars explain that it was not uncommon at that time for people to sacrifice humans and children to their gods; God was sending a different message to Abraham, this is not how you prove your love or loyalty.

In Matthew’s gospel the theme of relationship continues. There is a list of statements made by Jesus giving us a choice, to endure hardship, welcoming you is welcoming Jesus and to welcome a prophet or upright person carries a reward.

For the last few weeks I have been working with healthcare staff. It seems that the adrenaline that has kept them going during the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and new emotions emerge.  

What struck me during those meetings was their duty of care despite the cost. They welcomed patients with suspected CV19 or confirmed cases, took care of them and then returned to their own homes. And now on reflection they consider the enormity of their compassion. It seemed that this was their vocation in action. Knowing the risk, they went into work, cared for the vulnerable, the sick and the dying.

It reminded me of notable figures from history who despite the danger wanted to care for those sick and dying. Not that long ago, healthcare staff went abroad to care for patients with e-bola, and now the CV19 pandemic not abroad but the reality of it happening here with over 40,000 dead in the UK.

COVID-19 has re-defined how we relate to one another in our personal, professional and social life. In fact, in that space without distraction, things begin to emerge.

I have been reflecting on how the church, the community can provide psychological safety to those who have endured during this pandemic. The enormity of loss and grief,
bereavement.

The people who cared for those unwell may not have been religious, probably more spiritual than anything else but for me, providing care despite the cost is unconditional love, ‘if anyone gives as much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not go without his reward’.

In Christ’s name, thank you for all you do.
Our first reading makes for uncomfortable reading and looking at some of the commentaries on Genesis 22: 1-14, there is general agreement. Despite the passage of time, the way that some children are treated in the world is shocking, institutions like the church need to work harder to repair the damaged caused and continues to cause.

Biblical scholars explain that it was not uncommon at that time for people to sacrifice humans and children to their gods; God was sending a different message to Abraham, this is not how you prove your love or loyalty.

In Matthew’s gospel the theme of relationship continues. There is a list of statements made by Jesus giving us a choice, to endure hardship, welcoming you is welcoming Jesus and to welcome a prophet or upright person carries a reward.

For the last few weeks I have been working with healthcare staff. It seems that the adrenaline that has kept them going during the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and new emotions emerge.  

What struck me during those meetings was their duty of care despite the cost. They welcomed patients with suspected CV19 or confirmed cases, took care of them and then returned to their own homes. And now on reflection they consider the enormity of their compassion. It seemed that this was their vocation in action. Knowing the risk, they went into work, cared for the vulnerable, the sick and the dying.

It reminded me of notable figures from history who despite the danger wanted to care for those sick and dying. Not that long ago, healthcare staff went abroad to care for patients with e-bola, and now the CV19 pandemic not abroad but the reality of it happening here with over 40,000 dead in the UK.

COVID-19 has re-defined how we relate to one another in our personal, professional and social life. In fact, in that space without distraction, things begin to emerge.

I have been reflecting on how the church, the community can provide psychological safety to those who have endured during this pandemic. The enormity of loss and grief,
bereavement.

The people who cared for those unwell may not have been religious, probably more spiritual than anything else but for me, providing care despite the cost is unconditional love, ‘if anyone gives as much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not go without his reward’.

In Christ’s name, thank you for all you do.

Fr Tosh Lynch


12ᵗʰ Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matt 10:26-33

32 “All who declare themselves for me before others,I shall declare myself for them before my Father in the heavens.33 All who deny me before others,I shall deny before my Father in the heavens. 

This may be another instance of Matthew’s use of the literary doublet. Here the contrast was declare for/deny. Jesus was not making two different points – he was essentially making only one, that Jesus’ person and message embodied the mind and heart of his Father. 


The text need not be interpreted literally as threatening that Jesus would deny the one who denied him. That would undermine all he had said previously about unconditional love and openness to forgiveness [5:43-8], and of his post-resurrection response to Peter and the other disciples. 


It is uncertain whether Matthew was actually quoting the words of Jesus, or making his own gloss for the sake of emphasis. In either case, he was relentless, nevertheless, in his insistence that people put into practice what they professed and believed. Love and forgiveness do not exclude. 


Are there instinces in our lives where we do not put into practice what we profess and believe? 

Brother James CFMD

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

John 3.16-18: God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.



Members of monotheistic religions, particularly Jews and Muslims, believe that Christians worship three gods. This is often the challenge made by those that do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.  The scriptures never mention the word Trinity. However, like the gospel appointed for this day, there are many scriptural references that lead Christians to an understanding of God who we call the Holy Trinity.  

Why is it important, you might ask, whether or not we believe in the Holy Trinity? The reason, I would suggest, is that our salvation hangs on the fact that Jesus is fully God as well as being fully human.  This is what 150 members of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) had to say on the matter: “...we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood.... This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union...”

There is a wonderful prayer at the Offertory of the traditional rite of Mass: "O God, who didst wondrously create, and yet more wondrously renew the dignity of human nature: grant that by the mystery of this water and wine we may be made co-heirs of his divinity, who vouchsafed to be made partaker of our humanity, even Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord..."


Why is Jesus’ humanity and his divinity so important? St. Paul tells us that all mere mortals have sinned, and if Jesus were merely human then he would have been born into sin. So instead of dying for OUR sins, He would have had to die for His own sins. His divine nature secures his sinlessness. The American Baptist theologian Eddie Snipes sums this up admirably: “If Jesus was not fully God, He is no different from Mohammed, Buddha, and countless other religious icons claimed by the world religions. If Jesus was merely a man, the world would be correct in its claim that all religions point to the same God. However, since Jesus is God, He has the right to claim that no one comes to the Father except by Him. No longer is the Cross just another symbol, but it is the doorway to salvation that God Himself created by His own sacrifice and His own blood.”


But where is the Holy Spirit in all this? Despite the fact that the Holy Spirit has a special feast day, Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, the Holy Spirit often suffers from neglect in our talk of God in three persons. Furthermore, many people refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”, but Jesus says in John’s gospel, “when the Spirit of truth comes, HE will guide you into all truth”, giving the Holy Spirit persona rather than mere matter or object.  It is essential not to underestimate the importance of the Holy Spirit in our salvation as well as the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and enabling us today and we cannot leave Him out.  All three members of the Holy Trinity are involved in our salvation and that’s pretty important to us today.

 
I am always intrigued when I hear people saying, “He or she is a good Christian and does more good than most people who go to Church even though he or she doesn’t believe in God”.  Why am I intrigued? Because this takes the emphasis away from the goodness and saving work of Christ and puts the emphasis on the “goodness” of that individual person.  Is that really the definition of a Christian? Or is the definition of a Christian somehow tied up with the work of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in effecting the salvation of humankind?

Fr Julian CFMD



Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus gives us an image of the Shepherd and the sheep. so often in trying to describe a deep theological point of view, Jesus looks to what is around him, humanity is represented by the sheep, and the Shepherd in this is Jesus himself. The thief and bandit will follow their own way, and potentially lead others astray. But those who hear the voice of Jesus, and go where ever he calls them, will have life, and as John tells us have it abundently.

In the Acts of the Apostles from Chapter 2, we are told that All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. These new Christians soon began to form small communities, living together in a communal way, and before very long, there was a need to provide some coherent structure to their way of living. 


This model of living in community was the precursor to the monastic way of life, which was founded by St Benedict on the holy rule he wrote. St Benedict valued both a vertical and a horizontal relationship with God: vertical in the sense that as Christians we can have a personal relationship with God which is intimate and personal, yet at the same time God is to be found in a horizontal relationship through one’s neighbour, as found in community life. One of the vows we Benedictines take is that of Obedience. Obedience is better described as a vow of listening: of spending time listening to God , to the Rule, to the Abbott, to the other members of the community. To listen attentively to what we hear is much more than giving it passing attention, going in one ear and out the other. It means we have to listen whether we like it or not, whether we find it agreeable or disagreeable. If we stop listening to what we find hard to hear, then we’re likely to pass God by without even noticing him. It is out of obedience we can show that we have been paying close attention. 


So to obey means to hear and act upon what we have heard. The daily routine of monastic life is that of worship, study of the Scriptures and holy texts, and manual labour, which includes the running of the house and putting food on the table. St Benedict’s Rule focuses the community on living as Easter people. is a life- long process, as we live out our life in relationship with those around us, either in community or family life, or the networks we currently inhabit. Community in the twenty first century for many is to be found on-line and in electronic format. This brings new demands and challenges to living in community. 


What is God saying to you through prayer, sacred reading, everyday tasks and also the people around you? 

Brother James CFMD


Please, click the above link to find our archived reflections from the past months.