My father has his first, and only, heart attack in St Vincent’s Hospital as he was waiting for heart surgery. The doctors decided not to bring forward his quadruple by-pass surgery but leave it at the scheduled time. Dad said he spent the next 36 hours in intensive care, repeating a cry very like Bartimaeus’, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’. Like Bartimaeus, he prayed fromthe depths of his need.
Desperation can be a great gift. It focuses us on reality as it truly is. In his need, Bartimaeus did not care what the crowd thought, whether they were telling him to be quiet or how to relate to Jesus. In his need, he knew who Jesus was at a level deeper than this crowd knew. In his need, he was able to state simply and starkly what he wanted from Jesus. In his need, he realised what truly mattered. Unlike James and John, in last week’s Gospel, who, when asked by Jesus what they wanted, had sought power and prestige, this man’s need was simple and basic. And when Jesus fulfilled his need, he responded in the true manner of a disciple, following Jesus along the way – the way leading to Jerusalem, to suffering, death and through to Resurrection.
Our desperate needs are to be treasured. When their time has passed and our lives have returned to what passes for normalcy, for equilibrium, we should often revisit them to recollect the wisdom they have to offer us: the clarity regarding what is truly important in life, the knowledge that we can truly open ourselves to God, the experience that God can be truly merciful and tender in our lives.
It is amazing how, in a fearful situation, people can be blinded by alternate concerns. Immediately before this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus had been clearly predicting his coming passion, death and resurrection. Hot on the heels of that momentous teaching, James and John, taking advantage of a moment alone with Jesus, try to manipulate him into giving them positions of power in the coming Kingdom. Jesus sees through them yet leads them on. With his mention of ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’ they should have realised that the game was up and they should back out now. But blindly they plough on and Jesus, taking advantage of this, promises them the ‘cup’ and ‘the baptism’ but not the power and authority they desire. Is this unfair? Not really because he, in his authority, can see the true nature of their needs and knows that the ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’ are what they will need to make them fit for authority.
But, at this point in time, their blindness makes them unfit for authority. They, and the other disciples, see the prestigious position as the place where they can lord it over others, telling them what to do. Jesus, in contrast, regards authority as the position where a person, seeing the bigger picture, and having access to greater resources, can be at the service of those in his or her authority. This type of authority does not make life easy for the one wielding it. Rather it is an extraordinary challenge. Called upon to juggle the disparate needs of the group with the limited resources at hand, the person in authority actually needs to use every bit of wit, creativity and sensitivity to respond appropriately to changing situations. Ask any good parent with adolescent children, any decent parish priest, what are the questions that haunt them in the night. Invariably it will be how they can adapt themselves to serve better the people they love. Truly such people are giving their lives in ransom for the ones in their care.
‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ Jesus was about to make an audacious request of the wealthy man and he knew that only in the gaze of love could the man respond to this invitation to totally transform his life. Till now he had devotedly kept the Law and avoided sin: no adultery, no stealing etc. and he would have understood his wealth as God’s reward to him for such behaviour. Now Jesus challenges the ground on which he walks. No longer is his virtue to be shown by avoiding sin but by serving the poor with the very wealth his perceives as a blessing and then following Jesus. Devotion to the Law is to be superseded by love of Jesus. It is a big ask: the man had been in control of his life, he had wealth, prestige, the ability to be devout. Now he is asked to give it all away and follow the poor Jesus who we know is on his way to the cross. How could Jesus expect him to respond positively- only in the gaze of love. We, too, will find ourselves in that gaze with an audacious request asked of us- not every day, perhaps only once or twice in a lifetime. But at some stage we will be asked to move beyond everything that holds our world and our self-identity together. We will be asked to do the impossible. How can we prepare for such a moment? By allowing ourselves to bask regularly in the love of Jesus.
You are invited to join our Parish initiative – “Our Vision through the Spirit”. A journey of 3 sessions over 6 weeks where we join in prayer, scripture, reflection, discussion and personal commitment as we work together with the Holy Spirit to bring our Parish Vision to Action. Sessions will be conducted over Zoom and you have a choice of day or evening sessions. 1.30pm Wednesdays 13, 27 October, 10 November or 7.30pm Thursdays 14, 28 October and 11 November. Each session is planned for 1.5 hours.
Please let the Parish Office know which session you would like to join: email@example.com or 9744 1060.
This is not an easy Gospel to write on. Many hearing or reading it could think that it does not apply to them as they are widowed, unmarried, celibate, rejected, deserted or even divorced. That is quite a swathe of people. But it still does speak to us, to all of us. It tells us that long-term loving relationships are integral to our development as persons. I recently watched the movie The Way and while it received rave reviews I was profoundly disappointed with the ending. While the central character Tom did need to learn to embrace life and allow it to form him, I question whether becoming a traveller of the world would actually bring him to a rich deep life – who would he love? Who would challenge and form him radically on a daily basis? For it is in the deep bonds of love that we are formed as persons. And, as antithetical as this is to the popular notion of romance, this usually happens in ordinary mundane situations devoid of glamour or excitement. The Bridges of Madison County is a movie with a very different ending. Romance here does not trump everything. It is not the high road to self-fulfilment justifying abandonment. After her four day affair, Francesca is profoundly tempted to abandon her family and leave with Robert, the lover who has brought her so much joy. But she does not because her husband, her boring husband, is a good man and doesn’t deserve this. And what would it teach her 16 year-old daughter about love? After her death, her children discover the true stature of the woman who was their mother. Harriet Goldher Lerner in her book The Dance of Anger gives a definition of ‘intimacy’: maintaining a relationship over the long haul. As we do that, our strengths and weaknesses are revealed, as are those of the other in the relationship. In dealing with each other, we necessarily change. As we chose to grow in love, we are transformed. As we chose to remain in that delicate and difficult dance, we will discover that we have entered into the Kingdom of God.
In his book Life without Limits Nick Vujicic tells the story of the most sensitive embrace he had ever experienced. Born without arms and legs, Nick had become an inspirational writer and speaker. At a social event, a small girl was introduced to him and she was encouraged to give him an embrace. She drew back in fear. Nick understood. As various other people came and greeted him, the little girl noticed how he treated each one. Eventually she decided to embrace him herself. Drawing near, she stopped, then put both arms behind her back and embraced Nick in the manner by which he embraced, putting her chin over his shoulder and she hugged him close with it. This small child understood a crucial element of the way Jesus wants us to relate. To embrace the weak and helpless, we have to become weak and helpless ourselves. We simply cannot serve from a position of power.
When we look at the person of Jesus, we see a God who chose to be born powerless and to die helpless. We see someone who could have stunned us with his wit, ingenuity and power but who didn’t. His example tells us to take on the humility and simplicity of spirit that can welcome and embrace a small child. Sadly, like the disciples on the road, we are slow learners. It may take us a lifetime to learn this wisdom but it is crucial if we wish to be embraced by God.
I find the best wisdom from the saints comes at the end of their lives. Love of Christ combined with life’s experience gives them sure insight. At the end of his life, when revising his Rule, St Benedict stated, ‘For it is by patience that we share in the Cross of Christ.’ The call of Jesus to take up our cross may inspire us to great actions. The reality, for most of us, is much more mundane – living and working for years with the same group of people, be they family, community, workmates. They don’t seem to change much, nor, we fear, do we. St Benedict lived in such a stable situation but saw that the call to follow Christ is no less real than if we went to be martyred at the ends of the earth.
Patience for him is not a ‘putting up with’ each other. The word is based on the word for ‘passion’. Patience is both a passionate love for the other and also a sharing in the Passion of Christ. How can we do this? St Benedict offers another nugget of wisdom. ‘To always do what benefits the other, not oneself’. Now think carefully on that because he is not recommending that we just patiently take whatever another dishes out, bad behaviour included. We are to actively work for ‘the good’ that others need and sometimes that is going to take wisdom and courage to enact: discipline to the adolescent, challenge to the gambling partner, whistleblowing in the workplace. Sometimes martyrdom looks easy compared to these. Even if our situation is not so traumatic, to love the other in this way makes us actively engage with them, to truly think about and ponder what their needs are and how they can best be fulfilled. When we do this, we have truly taken up our Cross and followed Christ. Even if and when we feel we may be dying in such service, we are entering into the fullness of life that Christ offers.
Have you noticed that Jesus is harsh, even savage with those who judge people according to how well they observe religious practices? In fact these people, those who lead children astray and those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit are the only groups that he attacks and condemns. In all four Gospels we see him confronting them in the most hostile language. They are called hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, blind guides. Note that is was these ‘religious people’ that worked for his downfall and manipulated his death.
Jesus attacked them vigorously because they were idolaters of the worst sort. Instead of using their religious practices to foster love of God and compassion for others, they used their practices for self-glorification and condemnation of people. “God” was simply the background light to show off their glory.
All who practice their faith, regularly and religiously, should take pause when we hear a Gospel like this Sunday’s. Our religious practices can do us so much good, that we can easily be tempted to think that we are good because of them. All our goodness comes from the grace of God. Our religious practices are like fragile vessels. We are to hold them gently not taking them too seriously. Then they will help us deepen our love of God and lead us into the ways of compassion. But if we hold them harshly, glorifying ourselves, they will break and be a curse upon us.
Is Jesus trying to mess with these people’s heads? Yes. Over the past Sundays we have heard him outrage the crowd with his demand that, if they want eternal life, they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. They revolt at the cannibalistic overtones of this and the implied assertion of being able to offer divine life. Now he takes both to different levels. In predicting his ascension he asserts a union with God. But he then states that the ‘flesh’ has nothing to offer. Well, what of his flesh that he was offering for eternal life? It doesn’t make sense.
St Thomas Aquinas and the best of the Christian theological tradition have held that what we can say and know about God is always more unlike God than like God. The best of Christian mystical tradition has held that we have to go through a Dark Night of the Spirit, a Cloud of Unknowing to recognise the presence of God in our lives. At Bath Abbey, there is a remarkable stature, Christ ascending. https://revdocgeek.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/ascension-bath-abbey.jpg . Notice how the burial bands around Christ are ripped asunder and fall away at his ascending. If Christ is to ascend in our lives, if we are to surrender to the mystery as Peter, we must be prepared to have our heads messed with, to have our images and ideas on God challenged, to move beyond a faith that is safe and predictable into the wild places of the Spirit.
God doesn’t think like we do. The Assumption (just up there ^) by Francesco Botticini, an 15th century altarpiece painted for a Florentine church, shows two levels of ‘reality’. On the lower level, in a vast landscape, the disciples gather round a stone tomb, sturdily rectangular. Where the body of Mary should be there is an abundance of flowers. The disciples either stare into this tomb, empty of a body, or discuss with each other their mystification. But above them within a luminous circular dome (and remember at this time the circle represented completion in art) a vast throng circle around Jesus, Lord of Heaven and Earth, as he greets his mother, Mary, coming into heaven. Three circles make up this exultant crowd. Angels, saints and putti (baby angels) surround Jesus and Mary. If one looks closely one can see that these choirs are about to break into a lively, joyful and stylised Renaissance dance. In heaven there is no time, so, to Botticini, there is no incongruity that at Mary’s Assumption, the saints down through the ages would be there. In his mind’s eye, we too could be there – we have yet to break our confinement to our bodies and finally come to our destiny in the fullness of God’s life and love. This is where we are meant to be. God’s destiny for us is to join these choirs in their lively joyful dance celebrating the mercies shown to Mary and to all the saints. Mary’s life, in a real sense, has been defined by this moment (for Heaven is but a moment so full we never come to the end of it). When we read today’s Gospel, we hear in the Magnificant, a woman who not only recognises God’s presence in the history of her people but one who looks to God’s mercy reaching through the generations for all ages to come, ‘for ever’. As we celebrate this Feast, we should also celebrate this mystery of our own lives within the reality of eternity and our destiny to be enfolded in God’s love.
For a few years, I used to swim at Lammermoor Beach each morning. I would swim down the beach and then walk back. I was amazed by how many people commented on how brave I was. As I am one to loath an adrenaline rush, this mystified me. What was I to fear? Sharks? They rarely attack humans in this area. Crocodiles? They are only about after the Fitzroy River floods? Jellyfish and stingers? Well, I would never swim when the current that brings them is flowing. Strangely to me, nobody, and I mean nobody, ever told me I was brave as I got into the car to drive home. Yet there was the greater danger of death or accident.
I believe, that to a large extent, we choose what stresses us and this is what Jesus is telling us to consider in this part of the Gospel. The poetry of his call inspires us to consider the true nature of our lives. Practical concerns are a reality but they are to serve our lives as sons and daughters of God. If we allow our fears to dominate us, we will miss out on much of life’s richness and we will not live by our right to radiate the glory of God to our world.
A seal in the Jewish understanding of Jesus’ time was the sign by which something was attested to be authentic. That God had sealed the Son of Man meant that he, Jesus, was the one who truly revealed God.
In our experience, a person who is authentic lives from their deepest self and doesn’t allow transitory desires and whims to dominate their lives. We all know how difficult it is to attain some degree of authenticity. We experience ourselves as a bundle of contradictory, and often base, desires. But perhaps we start at the wrong place: we try to do it ourselves. Like the crowd, asking what they needed to do, to do the works of God, we place the emphasis on our own abilities. Rather, the journey to authenticity, in the Christian faith, is one of uncovering our deepest desires and bringing them to the person of Jesus for him to fulfil. We are to allow our hunger and thirst to emerge, to recognise our helplessness in the face of such need, and to bring ourselves to Jesus. Then will our hunger and thirst be quenched; then will we live from him; then will God set his seal upon us.
LAP – The Harrowing Story of the Challenges Faced by Team Members Caring for HIV Children.
We strongly urge you to read the summary below which we recently received from Nita Anggriawan (the Program Coordinator at LAP in Jakarta). It not only describes the challenges faced by individual case workers in their tireless efforts to care for the children, but it also highlights the risk to the viability of some of LAP’s key support programs as it confronts a loss of around 2/3 of its sponsorship funding.
This is a story about a group of remarkable, strong women who are devoting their lives to humanity. Their lives have not been easy as they have been infected with HIV from their husbands, marking the most impactful events of their lives. The second most impactful event for them is unknowingly passing the HIV to their children—something that is extremely hard to accept. Furthermore, some of these strong women end up raising their children alone as their husbands have already passed on.
However, living with HIV is not the end of the road. These women choose to live on for the sake of their children. Their tenacious will to live have brought them to LAP, Lentera Anak Pelangi. LAP has become their new family, where they can share their life stories, support their children and each other.
Their resilience is manifested in their willingness to support Lentera Anak Pelangi’s mentoring program by becoming case managers Ms. Nur started as an assistant case manager and is now participating in the children’s house visit in North Jakarta. Ms. Nur feels that her background as a mother of a child with HIV is an advantage that empowers other mothers who also have HIV children. Ms. Itok, Ms. Siti, and Ms. Titin share similar stories. They feel that their role as a mother absolutely helps the caregivers of the children with HIV, the very children who are accompanied by Lentera Anak Pelangi.
Even though they are not that young anymore, they do not hesitate to explore Jakarta with all its traffic jams to visit the children whom they accompany. In addition, some days, they can spend more than half a day in the hospital to accompany the children for their ARV monthly checkups. They treat the children with HIV like their own children.
Becoming a part of Lentera Anak Pelangi changes their lives significantly. They have learnt basic counselling techniques, how to use a laptop, how to write and present reports. They have become confident to talk to the doctors about the children’s complaints, to tell life stories through mass and social media, and even to express their own opinions to a government minister during one of the gathering events.
Nonetheless, since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, they have become really worried about the continuation of their work at Lentera Anak Pelangi. So many people have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Sad news arrived in the beginning of this year where Lantern Anak Pelangi lost 2/3 of its operational budget because of the pandemic. Several regular donors who have been supporting Lentera Anak Pelangi had to cut down their donations to the point where the Lentera Anak Pelangi’s mentoring program may no longer be sustainable.
Besides Ms. Nur, Ms. Itok, Ms. Siti, and Ms. Titin, there are also those who participate in their daily work through psychosocial support and advocacy at Lentera Anak Pelangi such as Ms. Wulan, Adit, Henri, Wardiman, Riama, and Natasya, who are just equally impacted by this situation.
We can only hope that the light of the lantern does not dim out halfway. Over the past 12 years, our tiny lantern has been able to bring rainbows to the lives of more than 150 children living with HIV in Jakarta. We believe that there are good people who will join us to ensure that we keep our lantern going by keeping the fire and the oil.
Please support us to keep our lantern alight, to colour the lives of children with HIV in Jakarta.
Our next fundraising collection at Masses will be in November. However, in the meantime if you would like to assist LAP in meeting their financial challenges, please contact the parish office. Alternatively, you can donate directly to the following parish account established specifically for contributions to LAP.
“Do you not care?” That was an unfair question for the disciples to have asked Jesus. Why he had been asleep, in a very heavy sleep, and wouldn’t have known what was happening. But that question is often hurled against God! The community for whom Mark was writing was experiencing bitter persecution under Nero. Did not Jesus and God care? When Jesus rebukes the storm, the verb Mark uses was used earlier to cast out a demon. In other words, Jesus, in rebuking the storm, confronts evil on the disciples’ behalf and defeats it. This confrontation with evil continues through the Gospel till the final confrontation at Calvary where Jesus dupes the Evil One and defeats him…but it doesn’t look much like success to those watching, who could well have asked “Did not God care?” It doesn’t look much like success, unless…one had the eyes of faith, like the centurion. When the storm subsided, the disciples were filled with awe – that crucial component of faith. (You can hear it in the centurion’s response to Jesus’ death.) They were beginning to have a new way of seeing Jesus. Slowly, slowly he will teach them that God does care but in a way that does not take suffering, pain and evil away. God does not save by taking away evil and suffering but rather invites us to join with him in the drama of salvation. As for the church under persecution, so to for us, we must face the question “Does not God care?” and realise that it can only be answered with the response of faith. Image is of a stained glass window from Covington Cathedral, Kentucky.
I used to be a serious gardener. I worked hard, got all the right information, put in plenty of hours and had a very good garden. But the more I did, the more I realised how little I was really doing. Yes, I prepared the soil, planted seeds, watered, weeded, fertilised but the actual wonder of growth was removed from my power. I often mulled about how all I was doing was providing the conditions for growth. God did the real work.
I find the parable of the Patient Farmer the most consoling in the Gospel. We do our bit for the kingdom and it often doesn’t seem much, but it is God giving the growth, often when we are occupied with other things. The presence of Jesus in our world tells us that God is on our side, utterly committed to the growth of goodness in our lives. We make our efforts, even do our best, and yet we often doubt the results. But our faith teaches us: God is working for good in our lives and growth into his life and love is taking place, unless we actively put obstacles in God’s way.
‘Go preach the Gospel to all nations!’ That directive is given to you and to me as much as it was to those disciples standing on the mountain in Galilee. Personally, the directive worries me, and I’m fairly sure it worries you as well. How are we, in a society cynical of religion, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How are we to preach Good News to people who seem to enjoy bad behaviour? How are we to preach life to a ‘culture of death’?
The clue to how we are to do this comes when Jesus tells us to base all we do on him, his preaching, commands, authority and presence, and to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is not our work but how we work that reveals what animates us. Quite simply we have to regularly enter into ourselves and ask: how central Jesus is to our lives? There, we must be honest, for dishonesty in the heart is the worst dishonesty of all. Jesus himself will not force change. But if we are truly focused on him, we will then allow his teaching to shine in the ways we relate. Jesus’ ways of relating will led us into the life of God, the loving community of the Trinity. There is an integral resonance between how we relate to each other and to God. On these relationships lies our ability to preach the Gospel to the people we meet.