January 27th 2019

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Contents:


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This Sunday's Readings

First Reading            Nehemiah 8:2-6.8-10

Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This was the first day of the seventh month. On the square before the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and children old enough to understand, he read from the book from early morning till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden dais erected for the purpose. In full view of all the people - since he stood higher than all the people ¬Ezra opened the book; and when he opened it all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people raised their hands and answered, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and, face to the ground, prostrated themselves before the Lord. And Ezra read from the Law of God, translating and giving the sense, so that the people understood what was read. Then Nehemiah - His Excellency - and Ezra, priest and scribe (and the Levites who were instructing the people) said to all the people, "This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep." For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law. He then said, "Go, eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and send a portion to the man who has nothing prepared ready. For this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is you stronghold."


Second Reading       I Corinthians 12:12-30

Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink. Nor is the body to be identified with anyone of its many parts. If the foot were to say, "I am not a hand and so I do not belong to the body" would that mean that it stopped being part of the body? If the ear were to say, "I am not an eye, and so I do not belong to the body" would that mean that it is not a part of the body? If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything? If it was just one ear, how would you smell anything? Instead of that, God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose. If all the parts were the same, how could it be a body? As it is, the parts are many but the body is one.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you," nor can the head say to the feet, "I do not need you." What is more, it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones; and it is the least honourable parts of the body that we clothe with the greatest care. So our more improper parts get decorated in a way that our more proper parts do not need. God has arranged the body so that more dignity is given to the parts which are without it, and so that there may not be disagreement inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.

Now you together are Christ's body; but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages. Are all of them apostles, or all of them prophets, or all of them teachers? Do they all have the gift of miracles, or all have the gift of healing? Do, all speak strange languages, and all interpret them?


Gospel Reading           Luke 1:1-4.4:14-21

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up; and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them: "This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen."


Sunday Reflection 3rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

The Future Is Now

Where we grow up provides sustainable lasting memories. The Gospels indicate that Nazareth was Jesus' home for his youthful and formative years.

The Gospel extract for this 3rd Sunday of the Year comes from Luke 1:1-4 and 4:14-21. In the late Henry Wansbrough OSB's 'New Jerusalem Bible', Jesus is described as having "the power of the Spirit in him" (4:14) for his first return visit to Nazareth after his baptism by cousin John the Baptiser.
Luke's use of the phrase - "the power of the Spirit in him" - is so revealing. What Jesus chose to do and say, not only during this visit to Nazareth but thereafter throughout his public life, was the expression of his total communion with his heavenly Father - "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased" (Matt.3:17) - empowered through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us that Jesus, when in Nazareth, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. There the youthful Jesus would be remembered but the adult Jesus would be unknown. Sabbath visitors at the synagogue would have been invited to read the Scripture. Jesus was now a visitor, having long since ceased to be a resident. He was handed the Scroll of the prophet Isaiah in which Jesus found the passage:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.." (61:1-2)

As was customary, Jesus sat down and prepared to address the congregation. Would the congregation's expectations have been coloured by their historic memories of Jesus or by reports that may have reached them from other places where he had interacted with people? In all likelihood the synagogue congregation would not have anticipated Jesus' reported opening words:
"This Scripture text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening." (4:21)

Those present who remembered the youthful Jesus would have recalled him as a conveyor of hope among his people who were daily under siege by violence, hunger and fear. They would have heard how Jesus, emerging into Jewish adulthood at twelve years of age celebrating his bar mitzva in Jerusalem, had remained in the Temple. When his Mother and foster-Father, who had searched Jerusalem for him for three days, eventually found him, he told them "Did you not realise that I must be about my Father's business?' (Luke 2:49)
Perhaps that Sabbath's synagogue congregation remembered the youthful Jesus as an idealist who had refused to let the brutality of the military occupiers and the connivance of his own religious leaders crush his hope and his trust in God. His opening words to them in the Nazareth synagogue that Sabbath did more than covey hope, they revealed to them that he was, himself, the Divine promise personified!
Luke tells us (4:22) "And Jesus won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips."
However, we are bound to wonder whether that ancient congregation had grasped the depths of Jesus' revelatory statement? For that matter, how many, hearing his opening statement read aloud this Sunday, would grasp sufficiently of its depths?

Back then, in that Nazareth synagogue, the hesitations began to surface. "They (the people) said: 'This is Joseph's son surely?" In other words, how could this boy become man be other than as we remember him? It is characteristic of fallen human nature that we are slow, even reluctant, to accept the manifestation of holiness in those with whom we have shared, or currently share, the path of life. Is this because we are more apt to see the imagined faults of others before acknowledging their virtues - lest their virtues reflect adversely on ourselves?

The clarity in Jesus' statement - "This Scripture text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening." - tells us that he clearly a) knows who he is b) understands the primary focus of his mission and c) is fully committed to the mission his heavenly Father has entrusted to him.
Jesus' chosen Isaiah text (61:1-2) makes, for the Baptised, an appropriate Morning Prayer:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord..."
We could amend Jesus' opening synagogue statement to conclude our morning prayer saying something along the lines of:
May the Lord in his love and mercy help me to fulfil this Scripture text today to the best of my ability.
This format for our morning offering enables us to affirm daily a) our being, unworthy though we are, an adopted member of the family of God b) that our mission is to love God and our neighbour as our self and c) to reassert our commitment to this primary objective, despite our numerous failures at implementation.

Luke describes Jesus as having "the power of the Spirit in him. Each person Baptised is sealed with that same "power of the Spirit". The evidence is visible in the lives of so many thousands of women and men, young as well as old, who chose wholehearted collaboration with God's Holy Spirit, rather than a compromise in order to save their earthly lives. There is no day that passes when the history of Christianity in our islands does not provide us with knowledge of saints remembered by name as well as countless more whose individual names have not come down to us. It is a tragedy that 'All Saints Day', November 1st, has become obscured in recent decades by a commercial malevolent interest in Halloween on 31st October.

Today's Gospel invites us, as the Baptised, to actively share in "the power of the Spirit"? Have we the conviction of our faith to live each God-given day in active engagement with Jesus' opening statement in the Nazareth synagogue? - "This Scripture text is being fulfilled today……..."
It is true that actions speak louder than words but it is equally true that the Word of God-made-Man, living in us, continues to give us the focus for our choice of action.
As St. Paul wrote to his beloved Corinthian community: "You are God's building… Everyone doing the building must work carefully. For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one that has already been laid, that is Jesus Christ." (3:9-11)


From the Archbishop's desk: January 2019

By Archbishop Malcolm McMahon

January is a very hopeful month for it is a time for us to look forward to the year ahead and even beyond. The days lengthen, and our new year's resolutions fill us with determination to do better with the things of last year and to be creative in the months ahead.

What's more, the Christmas feast has reaffirmed our identity as brothers and sisters of the Prince of Peace, as daughters and sons of the highest God. That is really who we are.

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So much of the last month's celebrations have been about confirming bonds of friendship by the giving and receiving of presents. Our families have been strengthened by the meals that we have shared and the parties that we have enjoyed. But underlying these has been an affirmation of what it means to be a Christian. And now the fuss is over and the decorations have come down, we can pause and think about what really matters.

Our value as human beings is not measured by the size of the gifts we exchanged, or the amount of alcohol we consumed, but by our loving relationships - not just with those we know intimately but with people who are outside the warmth of our families. You know who I mean: refugees, the homeless, the rough sleepers, and our neighbours who rely on food banks. Now Christmas is over, their need will be greater, so don't forget them. They too are God's children. Let us share our hope for the coming year with them.