5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Both today’s First Reading from the prophet Isaiah,(58: 7-10), and the Gospel from St Matthew (5: 13 – 16) feature strong imagery of light.

Ovalau Island is a lush tropical volcanic island of about 100 square kilometres It is the main island of the Lomaiviti Group which is part of the Fiji group of islands. The islands are the peaks of deep-sea volcanoes that became extinct millions of years ago.

The island, like many in the Pacific, is surrounded by a large coral reef. These coral reefs are hazardous for shipping, they can tear the bottom out of a boat irrespective of its size.

The island’s main town, Levuka, has a tuna canning processing plant owned and run by PAFCO. With regularity, boats arrive with fresh tuna for processing. Of course, they need to negotiate with real care for the one entry spot among the coral reef which enables them to dock and unload.

Sacred Heart, Beach St. Levuka, Ovalau, Fiji. The navigation light can be seen sitting on the top of the tower.

Sitting on the foreshore of Levuka township is the Catholic Church named the Sacred Heart. The church was built and consecrated in 1858 by the Marist Fathers.

A feature of the Church is its 80ft high masonry bell tower.

The church sits opposite the safe entry spot through the reef.

The spire of the tower is fitted with a neon light in the form of a cross, which is used by ships to navigate safely through the Levuka Passage to the port; this light works in synchronization with another green light fitted on the hill.

Fishing boats from Taiwan, Korea and China, all are dependent on safe passage through the reef by lining up their bow to the “light” shining out from the Church.

It is quite an experience to be returning by sea to Levuka town, and through the absolute blackness of a tropical night to be beckoned on, to be drawn home by “the light “ on the Church tower!

There is certainly no “hiding your light under a bushel” going on here, rather “the light” is drawing one forward and ensuring safe passage, entry, and arrival home!

I invite you to sit for a time with the image being offered: a navigation light sitting atop a Catholic Church!

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…… The Beatitudes; we have heard them over and over.

Many organisations have what is known as a Mission Statement.

Persons of note (usually the ‘big wigs’) have some “retreat days” and together fashion out, what becomes known as the organisations or company’s ‘mission statement’.

A company uses a mission statement to explain, in simple and concise terms, its purpose(s) for being.

The statement is generally short, either a single sentence or a short paragraph.

The statement explains a company’s culture, values, and ethics. Mission statements are to motivate employees and reassure investors.

The sermon on the mount is the heart of the Gospel, and the Beatitudes are the heart of the sermon on the mount.

Here is to be seen the focused image of the Christian life.

Here is the Mission Statement as proclaimed by Jesus himself.

When I was a child, and at school, I, and those in class with me had to learn by heart the Ten Commandments. I could tell you what was commanded and forbidden by each of the ten commandments and what else was commanded and forbidden by each of them – even though I didn’t understand what many of the words meant.

I have no memory at all of having to learn the  Beatitudes.

I cannot remember being instructed to recite them by heart.

I never learned what was commanded, forbidden or even recommended by any of them.

I now suppose this is because it was so much easier to handle codified laws than deeper matters of the spirit.

It also had powerful ramifications for the theology I lived out of for many years of my life. The fact that this what was taught in the early formative years of my life I realise now had a profound effect on my approach to God!

One man went up a mountain and called out “thou shalt not . . . ., and I/we have been ‘shalt notting’ ever since.

Another man went up a mountain and shouted, “blessed” and we have, for centuries, been deaf to his calling!

[A little test for you: recite the ten commandments and see how many you get right; then do the same for the Beatitudes!]

In a way, the first Beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, contains all the rest.

One of Meister Eckhart’s most famous sermons is on this Beatitude.

He said that poverty of spirit is even more fundamental than love.

Strange saying for a Christian!

But what he meant was that without poverty of spirit, you cannot love as Christ loved.

The ego knows about love, but only self-love and love of one’s own circle (extended self-love).

It knows nothing of the spirit of Christ.

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Pivotal moments in our lives affect everything else that follows: educational and career choices, deciding whether to marry and who, or contemplating a move to another city or country.

Some people run head-long into a decision with little thought or consideration. Others take a more thought-out and measured approach.

Whatever the approach, we cannot avoid the consequences of such decisions because even if we do not choose, that is a choice. That too will affect us.

Perhaps the most important decision each of us faces is how we respond to our God’s call. We are all challenged to decide how important God will be in our lives. How we respond affects everything else that we think and do.

God entered directly into the world through Jesus, and Jesus in turn enters directly into our lives.

Also, if we choose to allow Jesus into our lives, that will influence those we live with and minister with and to.

There is a prayer ascribed to St Teresa of Avila, the 16th Century Carmelite. The prayer reads:

“Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands
Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes
You are His body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Today, Jesus presents us with the same challenge: “Come, follow me.”

The disciples’ response changed them and the world around them.

That will happen to us too if we respond as they did, without hesitation or reservation. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Our time of decision is at hand.

In my own life, I found something quite intriguing and reassuring, namely, the path I walk down as been walked before me!

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time

When does the “ordinary” become “extraordinary”?

My Liturgical Calendar tells me/us that we are now in what is known as Ordinary Time. When one looks up the definition of the word ‘ordinary’ in the Oxford Dictionary we find stated “not interesting or exceptional; what is commonplace or standard.”

Nothing really to write home about. The liturgical colour chosen for this “ordinary time” is, however, green, and maybe here the ‘ordinary’ becomes ‘extraordinary’; what is standard becomes special.

Across the road from the parish complex of St. Mary’s Otaki there is a market garden. I found it intriguing to watch what were ploughed however empty, barren paddocks, after attention and watering begin to be carpeted in green! Row upon row of lush cabbages, and lettuce, and broccoli.

Maybe this time in our liturgical year is the invitation to go down, deep, and to find my/our water source?

What, who gives me life? what, who refreshes me? Where lies my/our water source? What and/or who colours me green?

I recall watching a television programme, many years ago, and the topic of discussion was whether there were life forms of any kind on planets other than our own, Earth. One of the scientists made an almost offhand comment – he said, “we need to search for water, because where there is water there is life!”

Maybe these weeks called “Ordinary Time” are an invitation to find my water source – those persons, places and objects that refresh me, nourish me, make me wet again and so promote my growing.

The 12thC Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote, “There is a power that has been since all eternity, and that force and potentiality is green!” Hildegard names this greening force viriditas, the Latin for her original “das Grün,” the greening.

With viriditas Hildegard captures the greening power, the living light, that breathes in all beings, flows through all that is alive: “Be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty – it could not be creation without it.”

Hildegard spoke often of viriditas, the greening of things from within, analogous to what we now call photosynthesis. There is a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform its light and warmth into energy and life.

Maybe that is what this “Ordinary Time” is truly about, a readiness to receive the sun/Son and to be transformed into energy and life.

Maybe, we dare rename our Ordinary Time as Greening Time.