September 17th 2017

Contents:

  1. Parish Bulletin for Holy Family and Sacred Heart
  2. Newsletter for St Benedict's
  3. This Sunday's Readings
  4. Sunday Reflection

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This Sunday's Readings

First Reading Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:7

Resentment and anger, these are foul things, and both are found with the sinner. He who exacts vengeance will experience the vengeance of the Lord, who keeps strict account of sin. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord? Showing no pity for a man like himself, can he then plead for his own sins? Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment; who will forgive him his sins? Remember the last things, and stop hating, remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not bear your neighbour ill-will; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offence.

Second Reading Romans 14:7-9

The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord. This explains why Christ both died and came to life, it was so that he might be Lord, both of the dead and of the living.

Gospel Reading Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, 'Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?' Jesus answered, 'Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master's feet. "Give me time" he said "and I will pay the whole sum." And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. "Pay what you owe me" he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, "Give me time and I will pay you." But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. "You wicked servant," he said "I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?" And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.

And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.'


Sunday Reflection 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (17.09.17)

Ruled By Numbers

Numbers have always had a prominent place in our lives. As very small children we may been talked to count our tiny fingers and toes. We would certainly have learned our numerical position among our siblings and probably our wider family.

Catholics, of a certain age, will likely remember their religious life being ruled by numbers. When, for example, you were expected to go to Confession at least every two weeks. When you had to fast from food and drink (except water) from the preceding midnight if you intended to receive Holy Communion the following morning. Fast days were regulated by numbers. Depending on your teacher, you may have been told to eat no more than 4 ounces of food at breakfast and 6 ounces at supper. One meatless meal was allowed in the day. 21st century Catholics may think such measures to be unbelievable, but then 20th century Catholics found it hard to believe that their forebears had been expected to fast every day throughout Lent.

Of course, there were (as there still are) the casuists. For example, some believed in measuring out 4 ounces of, say, dry porridge oats. By adding the water after weighing the oats, a more substantial breakfast was enjoyed! The same casuistic reasoning was applied to dried vegetables!

Whenever mathematics hold sway in the living out of our faith, it would be fair to say that we had, to a worrying extent, lost our way. St Peter, about whom we read in St Matthew's Gospel for this 24th Sunday (18:21-35), quite likely felt that he was being magnanimous when he asked Jesus: "How often must I forgive my brother(sister)? As many as seven times?"

As a practising Jew, Peter would have been taught from his earliest years that he was required, under Jewish law, to forgive a person who sinned against him three times. (See the Book of Amos chapters 1 and 3) By asking Jesus if he should grant forgiveness seven times, Peter was doubling the required legal number for granting forgiveness to another and adding one! Once again, Jesus's response would most likely have caught Peter by surprise: "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times."

More than a few scriptural scholars would contest the Jerusalem Bible translation. Instead of "seventy-seven" they believe that Jesus had said: "seventy times seven". This would bring a total beyond comprehension - 70x7=490; 490x7=3430 and so on. In other words, Jesus was indicating that, for him, forgiveness was unlimited. And if it was for him, then it will be so for his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is a Trinity of compassion and forgiveness when we, made in his image and likeness, open your heart and genuinely seek his forgiveness.

The Catholic Church's preoccupation with numbers was particularly evident in the Sacrament of Reconciliation - formerly called "Confession". The penitent was expected to state the time lapse since their last reception of the sacrament. Individual sins where to be identified with a number corresponding to the number of commissions. In most cases the penance imposed by the priest was a set number of prayers such as the 'Our Father' and/or 'Hail Mary'. Judaism's preoccupation with numerical regulations found continuity in the structures of governance within the Roman Catholic Church!

The impulse to measure by numerical quantity is ingrained in our nature. It could be argued that without numeracy everyday life would become impossible. It could equally be argued that the Church, by incorporating the dominance of numeracy in its rules and regulations, strayed away from the example Jesus set. There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus used numeracy to determine how we should implement his teaching except by way of being generous. Jesus used multiplication to demonstrate that as God is generous so must we practice that virtue. In Matthew's Gospel (5:40-42) we read: "…if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go two with him. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.…" You may or may not be aware that in Jesus' day a Roman soldier had the authority to make a Jew carry his burden for one mile.

Jesus emphasises his answer to Peter with a powerful parable exemplifying God's generosity (18:23-35). It teaches a lesson - running through the entire New Testament - that we must forgive if we are to receive God's forgiveness. "Blessed are the merciful," said Jesus, "for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt.5:7) As soon as Jesus had taught his chosen band his own prayer - the 'Our Father' - he directed their focus to one petition in particular namely, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Jesus explained: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15).

Why this should be so is shown in the parable for this Sunday. Look at the contrast between the two debts. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents. One talent in today's money would approximately equal £240. Therefore, 10,000 talents would equate today to almost 2½ million pounds Sterling. The size of this servant's debt becomes even more clear when you consider that the total annual budget for the province of Galilee, a wealthy province, was only 300 talents. By contrast, the debt of the fellow-servant was a mere trifle! 100 denarii would be less than £5.

Nothing that Jesus calls us to forgive can even remotely compare to all that our heavenly Father is willing to forgive us. His forgiveness of us is conditional upon our forgiveness of others. We have been promised forgiveness for a debt that is beyond all repayment. The human race has brought about the death of God's only Son and unless we forgive others we have no hope of finding mercy.

The ease with which we pray the 'Our Father' is born of constant repetition. It is a good thing that we have ready access to that prayer. However, if the words pass our lips with inadequate consideration then we are in danger of foregoing God's forgiveness through a lack of attention to the specifics of God's words. Did the penances that we were given in confession - say the 'Our Father' 10 times, for example - really encourage our understanding of the prayer of Jesus?

The twin themes of mercy and forgiveness have found constant expression in both the spoken and written words of Pope Francis. He is God's emissary to a generation that sadly reflects the words of the prophet Isaiah:

"You will listen and listen again, but not understand,

See and see again, but not perceive.

For the heart of this nation has grown coarse." (Isaiah 6:9-10)

This coarseness of heart is not medical but spiritual. The health of the human heart is affected by both internal and external factors - for example: the clogging of the arteries or the lack of bodily exercise.

Spiritual coarseness of heart occurs when there is an absence of God's grace. This occurs not because God refuses us his grace when we choose not to accept it. At first, this refusal of grace can be through procrastination - "Oh, I will get round to prayer etc later". Meanwhile, Satan edges ever closer to cleverly withdrawing us from God's grace.

The remedy is in our own hands. Jesus patiently and lovingly awaits us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.