27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.

So begins our story from the Gospel of St. Matthew (21: 33 – 43)

In Tuscany, Italy, where St Catherine of Siena was born, there are miles and miles of vineyards, but they are not divided: all are one vast plantation of vines.

The neighbours know, apparently, where one ends and another begins. This is how it has been for centuries.

St Catherine (14th century) used this as an image of how we should be with others: we are ourselves, yes, we have our own space, but we are not divided from others.

This seems the right arrangement, a perfect image of harmony.

“Each one of you,” she wrote, “has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to your neighbours’ vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbours.”

To the Jews of old, the vine symbolised their own race and very identity.

God took them from the land of slavery and transplanted them in new soil: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; to plant it you drove out the nations” (Psalm 79, responsorial psalm of today’s Mass).

Some of the detail is lost in countries where the vine does not grow.

The vine is a most vigorous plant and needs severe pruning. It displays a great abundance of leaves, but only some of the branches are fruit-bearing. The ones that produce only leaves need to be cut back, otherwise, they rob life-giving sap from the others.

The wood of the vine is perfectly useless, not even good for firewood. So, it is usually just put in a heap and burnt. We get the point of what Jesus once said: “Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – they wither; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire” (John 15:6).
In spiritual writing, we hear a lot about growth but very little about pruning.

The aspects of our life that are not fruit-bearing are for pruning so that we might bear fruit. Leaves are the plant thinking of itself; fruit is the plant thinking beyond itself: thinking of the next generation. We are to think beyond our own interests.

The sap in us is the life of Christ. It is for fruit-bearing; we are not to turn it into stuff that is not even fit to make a fire.

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.