Sunday 22nd of Ordinary Time

Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison.

Before that he was on the run for several years.

Of the time he was on the run he wrote later,* ‘ I had to separate myself from my wife and children. I had to say goodbye to the good old days when, at the end of a strenuous day at the office, I could look forward to joining my family at the dinner table.

Instead, I had to take up the life of a man hunted continuously by the police, living separated from those who are closest to me, facing continually the hazards of detection and arrest. This was a life infinitely more difficult than serving a prison sentence.’

*(Long Walk to Freedom is an autobiography by South African President Nelson Mandela, and first published in 1994.)

What was it that drove Nelson Mandela to make such a sacrifice? It was his love for his country. This was the ‘cross’ he carried because of his love for his people.

For a number, religion is seen as a crutch, something to lean on in times of weakness and infirmity, however something to forget in times of well-being.

While it is true that religion is a support – like a crutch, perhaps also religion is like a pair of wings, encouraging and enabling us to fly – and of course flying necessitates a leaving behind the secure perch I am resident on.

Today’s Gospel, (Mt. 16: 21 -27) has the challenge from Jesus to “take up your cross.”

Have you considered that ‘taking up your cross ‘may not be about adding more weight, rather it is about growing wings and learning how to fly!

You may like to take some flying lessons from St. Joseph of Cupertino, the patron saint of aviators!

Ps. Feel quite free to take someone else with you!

A Parable of the Lifesaving Station

The illustration is a Lifeboat Station, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Ireland, early 1900s.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station.

The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews trained.

The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped.

They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.

They replaced the emergency stretchers with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.

The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held.

About this time, a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people.

They were dirty and sick.

The beautiful new club was in chaos.

So, the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership.

Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.

Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station.

But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station.

So, they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same
changes that had occurred in the old.

It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore.

Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

– by Dr Theodore Wedel

The illustration is a Lifeboat Station, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Ireland, early 1900s. Date: early 1900s

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The illustration is of a drawing that was in a private collection for years and has been attributed to one of the Renaissance most high-profile artists, Leonardo de Vinci (1452 – 1519)

This is not the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus is acknowledged as the “Son of God”. Earlier, after Jesus rescued Peter from the waters, quieted the sea, and the wind had ceased at his command, those on board the boat recognized who Jesus really is.

However, in today’s passage there is a pivotal dramatic moment in the relationship between Jesus and his closest friends.

Jesus first asks: ‘Who do people say that I am?’ Those around Jesus reach back into the history of the Jewish people and respond: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and other prophets.

Jesus then asks those whom he has lovingly invited into his community, patiently taught – those on whom the future of the mission depend: ‘Who do you say that I am?’

It is at this critical moment, in between the question and the answer that Jesus must wonder if all that he has shared with them has taken root.

The question Jesus puts to these first disciples, at some time in our own growing into spiritual maturity, he puts to each of us, “Who do you say I am?”

Do I, like those early disciples, reach back into my history and offer the answer provided by my parents, or caregivers; by my teachers; by a religious leader?

Or do I dare provide an answer from the depth of my own inner self.

This answer may well differ from those who first nurtured me into faith.

However, the answer will be mine, and my relationship with Jesus will be founded on my response.

To provide the answer, may I suggest we need to be still and silent, first to hear the question, and second, before responding, to hear the reply from that quiet voice, which resides deep within me!

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

A line from this Sunday’s First Reading, reads

“for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”. (Isaiah 56:7)

A recent Saturday evening Mass at Sagrada Familia parish in Barcelona had all the hallmarks of a neighbourhood worship service, from prayers for ill and deceased members to name-day wishes for two congregants in the pews.

But it also featured security checks to get in and curious tourists peering down to take photos of the worshippers from above.

The regular Mass is held in the crypt of modernist architect Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece church, The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, one of Europe’s most visited monuments.

With the pandemic stringent rules now relaxed, iconic sacred sites are struggling to accommodate the faithful who come to pray and the millions of visitors who often pay to view the art and architecture.

An increasingly popular strategy is to have visitors and the faithful go separate ways – with services held in discrete places, visits barred at worship times, or altogether different entry queues.

This spring, the Vatican opened a separate “pathway” starting outside St. Peter’s Basilica for those who want to enter to pray or attend Mass, so they wouldn’t be discouraged by sometimes hours-long lines for the average of 55,000 daily visitors.

But the challenge remains: how to balance the churches’ competing roles amid the tourism surge without sacrificing their spiritual purpose.

With an estimated 330 million people visiting religious sites yearly around the world, it’s one of the tourism market’s largest segments.

Filled with masterpieces from Romanesque sculpture to lavish Baroque decorations, Santiago’s cathedral of Santiago de Compostela attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims who since the Middle Ages have travelled along the Camino routes to venerate St. James’s tomb.

As people, we need the transcendent.

Leisure and rest, and time with God, are not incompatible,

Co-existence between worshippers and tourists has been controversial at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. Built as a landmark cathedral in the Byzantine era, turned into a mosque by the conquering Ottoman empire in the 1400s, and opened as a museum for the last century, it was converted back into a functioning mosque in 2020 by Turkey’s Islamic-oriented government.

Now visitors can tour the structure for free outside of prayer hours. In Hagia Sophia’s main section where prayers are held, the vast mosaics depicting Christian figures are hidden behind drapes and most of the marble floor is covered with carpeting.

With some 2.5 million annual visitors, Barcelona Cathedral was also close to a breaking point. The cathedral instituted caps on visitor numbers, required tour groups to use wireless audio guides to reduce noise, and added staffers to explain the new policies to visitors and those coming for daily Mass or confession, held in a side chapel with crystal doors to preserve silence.

Many of these iconic buildings are still active places of worship.

In a statement it reminds persons visiting that “this cathedral has been and is a space dedicated to prayer” before describing its stunning Catalan Gothic architecture.

3.7 million tourists explored the Sagrada Familia’s arresting architecture and mesmerizing stained glass windows last year. Each begins their visit as a tourist, they may well leave to continue their journey as a pilgrim.

“for my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples”. (Isaiah 56:7)


The illustration is of The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as Barcelona Cathedral, Spain.

[It is worth knowing that the building known as the Barcelona Cathedral and the La Sagrada Familia Basilica are separate buildings.]