26th Sunday of Ordinary time

The Swedish word smörgåsbord consists of the words  smörgås , (“sandwich”) and bord (“table”).

In Sweden, smörgåsbord refers to a buffet consisting mainly of traditional dishes.

In English, the word smorgasbord refers loosely to any buffet with a variety of dishes and is not necessarily used to reference traditional Swedish cuisine.

The buffet concept is popular in many countries. Buffets are, for example commonly served at larger private gatherings like weddings and anniversary celebrations.

The buffet consists of many types of food, each on the same table.

Hot and cold food sit together as do spicy and mild.

Sweet and savoury food share the same table; open sandwiches sit alongside closed pastries.

The ’Fisherman’s Table restaurant’ north of the city of Wellington has a buffet table of salads, ‘All-you-can-eat’ from the salad boat they advertise. (Fortunately, the diner does not require sea legs to approach such a ‘boat’!.)

While the diner can pick and choose from the selection offered what they wish to eat, they cannot choose what is set on the table!

The choice of what is set on the table is the prerogative of the host/hostess.

Today’s Gospel (Mtt. 21: 28 – 32) has these quite “smörgåsbord” like words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (21: 31).

Perhaps it is fortuitous that this Sunday is a day of celebration for Venerable Suzanne Aubert – if there was ever a woman who knew the meaning of the word “smorgasbord” it was indeed this truly venerable little woman from St-Symphorien-de-Lay near Lyon in France.

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The occasion was the 2016 Summer Olympics also known as Rio 2016, an international multi-sport event held in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The event is a heat of the women’s 5,000-metres.

The incident occurred about 3,000 metres (yards) into the race, when Abbey D’Agostino of the US and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin collided, and both went down.

Hamblin fell heavily and just lay there, appearing to be in tears.

Instead of continuing the race to catch up, the American put her hands under the New Zealander’s shoulders to help her up, telling her not to give up.

As they continued the race, it became clear that D’Agostino’s injury was the more serious and her ankle had been badly hurt.

So, it was Hamblin’s turn to be the helper, hanging back to encourage her rival.

“She helped me first,” said Hamblin after the race. “I tried to help her. She was pretty bad.”

She eventually had to leave D’Agostino behind and thought the American would have to give up.

She waited at the finish line where they shared a hug.

This time, it was D’Agostino who was in tears, and she was taken out of the stadium in a wheelchair.

“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” said Hamblin.

The organisers reinstated the two runners as finalists if they were fit enough to race in the final.

D’Agostino did not race in the final.

Their sportsmanship in helping one another up and to the finish line saw the pair presented with the International Fair Play Committee Award at those Olympics.

The image of that moment of sportsmanship was beamed throughout the world.

Only those with encyclopaedic memories will know who won the final. However, the entire world remembers who didn’t!

The last did indeed come first.

24th Week of Ordinary Time

A former prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp was visiting a friend who had shared the ordeal with him. ‘Have you forgiven the Nazis?’ he asked his friend.

‘Yes’, came the reply.

‘Well, I haven’t. I am still consumed with hatred for them.’

‘In that case,’ said the friend gently, ‘they still have you in prison.’

“He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass… for everyone has need to be forgiven,” wrote George Herbert (1593–1633).

Forgiveness flows at the heart of human life; without it a human being becomes a cesspool of bitterness. Since it is central to our life, nothing is more important than to look into it as deeply as we can.

Forgiveness is a ‘nice’ word, in the sense that just about everyone would be pleased to be described as forgiving.

That should be enough to put us on the alert; we can suspect straight away that many vicious attitudes have attempted to dress up like it.

Someone does me harm – it could be unknowingly. I lack the courage simply to point it out.

Over the weeks (or years) I become full of silent anger. But I am now more afraid than ever to point out the wrong because anger tends to be explosive, and I am afraid of explosions.

Instead, I swallow it, ‘spiritualise’ it and tell myself that I have forgiven him or her.

Of course, I have not.

Instead, I have swallowed a dose of poison that will kill my relationship with that person. Fear has been masquerading as forgiveness.

Then there is the person who keeps count; there is the person who claims to forgive but not forget; the person who is always on the lookout for something to forgive; and a host of others.

All these forms of forgiveness are counterfeit.

The mark of real forgiveness is a lively awareness that I am in need of forgiveness myself.

That is what is missing in the counterfeit forms.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.”

We are set free to forgive others in an uncomplicated way when we accept that our own books are not balanced either – that nobody’s books are balanced, that every human being needs another chance, and another: “seventy times seven”; in other words, endlessly.




23rd Sunday of Ordinary time

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recounts an occasion when he was called to the main office of the prison on Robben Island.

General Steyn was visiting the island and wanted to know from Mandela if the prisoners had any complaints.

Mandela had been chosen by the prisoners as their spokesman.

The officer in charge of the prison, a man named Colonel Piet Badenhorst, was also present. Badenhorst was equally feared and hated by the prisoners.

In a calm, but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela informed the visitor about the chief complaints of the prisoners. He did so without bitterness or recrimination.

The general duly took note of what Mandela had to say, which amounted to a damning indictment of Badenhorst’s regime.

The following day Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, “ I am leaving the island. I just want to wish you people good luck.“

The remark left Mandela dumbfounded, and he thought about the incident for a long time afterwards.

Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric commanding officer they had had on the island. But the incident showed that there was another side to his nature.

Mandela concludes, ‘it goes to show that even the most seemingly cold-blooded have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing.‘

‘ Am I my brother’s keeper ‘, Cain responded to God’s inquiry about Abel, and the same reasoning has been, and still is used to this day; we call it ‘turning a blind eye ‘. On such occasions, it is astounding how noisy silence is!

The Christian response is, as St Paul exclaims, “ to speak the truth in love “ (Eph. 4:15)

Or, with equal acclamation, St Paul says in our second reading, “love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.” (Rms. 13:10)

Jesus is even more dramatic, “ love one another as I have loved you “ (Jn. 13:34)