Humble Beginnings

Has we head towards Christmas I am reminded of Jesus’ birth in a stable. Luke 2:6-7 “While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” So, we have Jesus the Son of God, being born in a stable not in the inn or somewhere with more plush surroundings. Why, do I think that was the case?

I believe the reason was this immediately gave Jesus more commonality with the majority of people. This is never more evident than the human touch that Jesus shows through his miracles, teachings and fellowship with those at the margins. Jesus doesn ‘t discriminate he offers through his words and supported by his actions opportunities and accessibility for all to enter the Kingdom of God. However, it is up to everyone to accept that invitation.

Additionally, this was demonstrated by Jesus not succumbing to temptation in the desert. When the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms in the world in return for bowing down and worshipping him, Jesus replied, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”       Matthew 4:8-10. Hence, Jesus’ motivation was not materialism but to store riches in the hearts of people and engage them in seeking life. I reflect now on how many times do I seek selfish short-term positive outcomes instead of pursuing long term goals that will benefit others.

Furthermore, Jesus was never about exerting power over others, instead his leadership displayed humility. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”John 18:33

Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. John :18-36.      So, for Jesus it is was never about being a king and ruling over his subjects but using his power to evangelise others and ultimately, lose his life so every person can receive eternal life. In other words, Jesus showed us how being a servant can empower others to live a life that embraces the Kingdom of God on earth. Consequently, Jesus showed us it is about exhibiting qualities of humility, compassion and generosity via helping others and being ecological advocates that enables us to witness God’s presence on Earth. Thus, imparting the reason why  God sent Jesus, who challenges us to continue his mission and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Noticing the Important Things

My Priest at Mass on the weekend gave a homily about a social experiment where a world-famous violinist dressed up with a baseball cap on his head and busked in a metro station in Washington playing the first movement of Bach. Of the 1097 people that passed by only 27 gave money and stopped and listened for any length of time. This got be thinking how often do I make time to reflect and notice all the things happening around me and instead just taking it in?

My feeling is how do I become a more interactive, visible presence with the people and world around me? I wonder would I have noticed the violin player or been totally oblivious due to being caught up in my own life.  I think Jesus put it very succinctly in Luke 10:38-42 when he visited Martha and Mary. When he came, Mary was listening to Jesus while Martha was preparing in the kitchen. Martha complained to Jesus about Mary not helping her prepare and cook the food. Jesus replied, Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I believe Jesus is telling us we need to evaluate what is the most important thing at that time. For Martha in that instance, it was not preparing food in the kitchen but listening to Jesus. I then reflect on how I let the busyness in life distract me from engaging in prayer and building my relationship with God. Would I take the option of using busyness as an excuse or follow Jesus’s example, of making time before an important occasion, a difficult challenge or some time during the day to pray to God? Furthermore, I understand I need to reflect on my day and determine what changes I can make to improve my relationships.

Consequently, I consider one of the things that is really vital more than ever in today’s society is to check in with others, listen to their dialogue and observe their body language as it is a great indication of their well-being.  But if we don’t give time for pray and exchanges with others, we really don’t notice the important things going on in others lives as well as own. Hence, preventing us from making a difference and enriching our life and other people’s lives.

Being Generous

In Mark 12:41-44, a widow put two small copper coins worth only a few cents into the Temple Treasury. Jesus told his apostles this woman gave far more money than those people that gave larger sums. What was the explanation behind Jesus’ response?

I believe her offering demonstrated the nature of her heart and the importance of her relationship to God whereas those who donated greater amounts were acting out of self-interest. Therefore, the widow prioritised her relationship with God above worldly goods while the other donors did not exhibit the same commitment. The question the widow is asking is how often do we fully give ourselves to God which enables us to continue Christ’s mission?

Hence, I would submit that the only way we can work towards being powerful witnesses of our faith is by embracing the fruits of the Holy Spirit of love, patience, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness and joy which mark the character of God.

 

 

 

 

Receiving Eternal Life

In Matthew 19:16 a Rich Young Man, asks Jesus, “What good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus tells him to keep the commandments to which the Rich Young Man says he does. Then Jesus asks him to sell his possessions and you will have your treasure in heaven but the Rich Young Man walks away sad because he cannot do this. Thus, Jesus is implying to receive eternal life it is not just a matter of being good.

 So, what is Jesus asking us to do to receive eternal life? Having a 2-year-old grandson, he knows if he makes good choices he will be rewarded while choosing inappropriate options there will mean consequences. A comparison for me in our Christian faith is the development of Conscience. Our Conscience at this early stage begins to discern what might be making suitable choices which result in positive affirmation for child. I would argue a similar thought process was demonstrated by the Rich Young Man as my grandson as he was only talking about his own good deeds.

 Furthermore, as he grows older, he begins to build relationships with his parents, extended family, friends and wider community. He also needs to understand that he is bound by laws when making choices. Hence, the necessity of the person for the need for affirmation from the people he encounters as well as being constrained by rules at school the workplace and obeying the laws of the land. However, for the Rich Young Man while thinking he was making wise decisions by following the commandments, he failed to connect that the judgements you make should be of a benefit of others.

 Finally, as my grandson becomes a older man he made be conflicted by social justice issues that directly affect his relationships as well as lifestyle either in the work he pursues or his personal interests.  The question for me is he going to be motivated by selfish interests for personal gain or a voice for those inflicted by situations that cause injustice? This was the tipping point for the Rich Young Man who was sad that he could not bring himself to sell his possessions. I hope not only for my Grandson but also myself that we can selflessly act as advocates for those who have experienced injustice through our work, interests and our life. Then hopefully our treasures will be stored in heaven.

United in One Goal

Being a huge sports fan, I am amazed that around finals time when teams fail to succeed invariably the coach is to blame.  I always think it is the coach who prepares the players to play and execute a game plan beyond that, the result is dependent on the players. However, the fact is it is not as simple as that.

Like the body of Christ, a football team is made up of many parts. From the board, President of the club, the CEO, the football manager, medical team, recruiters or the coach and the players blame for a team’s failure to achieve success can be allocated equally. I believe it would be unfair to blame one particular person or individual players on the team. Successful teams are always built where the administration and the playing unit are united in working towards ultimate success the title. Consequently, everyone places their trust in one another to perform their role at an optimum level.

In the same way I believe the Church has to continue to work hard to continue Jesus’s mission.

So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26-2

Therefore, what Saint Paul is imploring in his letter to the people of Corinth, is that unless they display as a Christian Community a united presence in proclaiming Jesus’ teachings the Gospel values they extol will come under scrutiny. For me it is all about trust and credibility demonstrated through using the gifts and fruits of the Spirit in building relationships with my family, friends, work and faith community and witnessing and living Jesus’ mission through my words and actions. Thus, it is only then that I claim to be contributing to creating a visible presence of a vibrant body of Christ.

Subsequently, like a coach elevates a football team to produce their best efforts throughout their season to attain the goal of winning the trophy a Christian Community is mindful of living out the Gospel values to continue Christ’s mission. Accordingly, both the football team and the Church must demonstrate a presence that exhibits virtues such as trust, justice, prudence, courage, faith, hope and charity to showcase why they are relevant and important within the community. Hence, unity makes a football team or Church able to attract a loyal, supportive band of followers whose monetary and spiritual commitment provides a powerful foundation for them to achieve their goals.

Making Sense of the Parables Part 3

So, what is my motivation to continue Christ’s mission? I consider it is best encapsulated in the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. Matthew 25:1-16 A Landowner went out early to hire labourers to work in his vineyard for an agreed daily wage. The Landowner continued to go out and hire workers at nine, noon, three and five. Now when it came to pay the worker’s wages, they all received the same daily wage no matter the hours they toiled. However, the workers who commenced earlier grumbled to the Landowner. The Landowner replied, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious  

Matthew 25:13-16

 

How does this Parable translate to my own life? I reflect on Pope Francis’s words that the Vineyard is the Kingdom of God and God is the Landowner who wants everyone to work for his Kingdom where everyone receives the same reward salvation; eternal life. This is what sustains my life’s meaning and purpose and drives how I witness my personal faith, build my relationships and persist in my labours with my family, friends, Parish and the Holy Family Community. I know when I face challenges I can get caught up in deferring to selfishness, envious of other peoples lives who I perceive as being more successful and taking my eyes off the prize. Nevertheless, it is the promise of salvation and the justice and equality of the Kingdom of Heaven that gives me the necessary perspective of God being a constant presence in my life. This is what inspires and gives me hope when I wake up every day to be the Sower spreading seed, through using my talents and acting without judgement and with equality to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to everyone I encounter.

 

Making Sense of the Parables Part 2

I think the message of continuing Christ’s Mission is best reflected in the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30.

Jesus told this parable, A man going on a journey summoned his slaves to each one he gave talents, one five, one two and another one, according to their ability.

The slave with five talents increased his by five, the one with two made two more, while the slave with one dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time, the master settled accounts with the slaves.

The slave with five was praised for by being trustworthy by increasing his talents by five more and given more responsibility. The slave with two talents increased his by two and was praised for by being trustworthy and put in charge of more tasks. The slave with one talent was afraid of his master and buried his talent. “But, his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter.” Matthew 25:26. So, he was thrown outside and his talent was given to the slave who now had ten talents.  “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Matthew 25:29.

 So, how do I in my role as APRIM using my talents to continue Christ’s mission at Holy Family? I believe it is by making God’s presence visible at Holy Family where our Catholic Identity key performance indicators are a catalyst in engaging our community in developing a relationship with God and their faith. Holy Family’s Catholic Identity self-assessment of Excelling in Catholic Identity is underpinned by the Living Learning Leading Framework of Thriving People, Capable Learners and Leaders for the world God desires. Hence, I am required to be spiritually aware and inspired by faith through my prayer life, an active role within a Catholic Eucharistic Community in my role as commentator and reader, writing the commentary and prayer of the faithful and my professional learning in Religious Education. This nourishes my personal witness and utilisation of my talents to assist in enhancing Holy Family’s Catholic School Identity.

 

My core targets in my role as APRIM are to invite all in the Community to develop a personal relationship with Jesus and to participate and engage with Jesus through our faith and service. To achieve this, I need to acknowledge all people are Made in the Image of God and Holy Family’s cultural diversity. (John 14.2, In my Father’s House there are many rooms.)

Inviting parents/caregivers and members of our community to Class, prayer, liturgies, masses, whole school events, assemblies, Mission Day, Catholic Identity and Harmony Day, shared lunches, excursions and Spring Fair. Encouraging teachers, students and parents to rigorously and critically reflect on change and continuity in praying, believing, living and celebrating Church as it engages with the world through the Leuven Model. Moreover, inviting and encouraging the active participation of staff, students and parents to use their gifts in prayers, music, dance, readings, processions, technology and service to the community.

Creating a warm sense of community outreach and welcome by greeting parents/givers and students at the start of the day, at the gate, in the yard and in the classroom.  Facilitating, opening up our hall and centre to different religious denominations to enable the different groups to worship and celebrate their faith and culture.

Learning to live faith-filled lives informed by the Scriptures where the Bible is the centre point of each class’ prayer table. The Scripture references highlighted in the Crossways enduring understandings focus on drawing out meanings from the many symbols throughout our school, comparing the meanings to their own lives, and sharing these meanings amongst those of other cultures and beliefs. Examples of work from the Crossways Unit is represented on the Catholic Identity wall in the classroom.

Visibly engaging with those who experience poverty and need, and those at the margins by developing Gospel Values that promote compassion, social justice, discernment, pastoral care and ecological sustainability. As a community, fundraising on Holy Family Mission Day for Catholic Mission, Fred’s Van and Catherine House.

 Witnessing to God’s love for all of the Creatures of the Earth by raising awareness of God’s creation and co-creators with God in sustaining a social and physical environment. By continuing to maintain and evolve our Ecological Sustainable Projects of the Fish Farm, Orange an Olive Groves, Peace and Indigenous Gardens and Avocado Projects. Furthermore, our commitment to recycling waste & nude food projects. Thus, I believe at Holy Family we are active and committed to implementing initiatives in highlighting our Catholic Identity and making God’s presence visible.

Making Sense of Parables Part 1

 Making Sense of Parables

To understand parables, I need to find a definition that best suits what a parable tries to convey to its audience.  I have borrowed from other definitions and come up with this one.

A short simple story that everyone can relate to and challenges us to change the way we view our way of life. They also create a discombobulating shift which helps us understand the meaning of Parables which are meant to discomfort us by turning our expectations upside down. Thus, the challenge of being a Christian and living according to the Gospel values. Therefore, in this reflection paper I will explore three parables, Sower, Talents and Vineyard and how it relates to my personal life, work and world. I particularly like this view on the Parables, “Each generation looks for new meanings, reads with new sensitivity, and projects onto the text new issues. Good literature continues to yield those new meanings, and the parables are no exception.”

A-J Levine, 2014, Short Stories by Jesus, Harper Collins, NY, (19)

For example, in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus tells us about a Sower who sowed seed (the Word of God) some which fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on rocky ground and sprang up quickly but the soil had no depth and when the sun rose, they were scorched and because they had no root they withered away.  More seeds fell amongst thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Whilst, further seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain a hundredfold, sixty and thirty. Matthew 13:1-9 So, my take is the seed that fell on the path that was eaten by the birds depict them as an image of people with selfish desires consuming all that is around them. The greatest example being when there is a suggestion of a Covid outbreak the mad rush for toilet paper.

The seed that fell on rocky ground grew only for a short time but had no foundation and therefore when difficulty arises, they can no longer meet the challenge. I often reflect in my life when I find situations difficult and rather than take them head on, I defer and fail to persist.

Moreover, the seed that choked on thorns was people hearing the Word but become seduced by life’s pleasures. Thus, the meaning and purpose of life focusses not on the gospel message but on hedonistic pursuits. Which makes me reflect on my role in my parish which sometimes I see as a chore rather than an opportunity to encounter Jesus through people and other parish activities. While, the seed that fell on fertile soil that yield increased 100 times. A great example, is how Catholic schools have a sense of mission in proclaiming the Gospel and continuing Christ’s mission.

Trusting in the Faith Journey

In Mark 5:24-34 Jesus heals a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for 12 years. She had endured much under many physicians but instead of getting better had become worse. Then when she heard about Jesus she believed if she just touched his cloak, she would be healed. So, my initial thought is what inner belief drove the woman to deem that Jesus could heal her?

 I would consider as we know she had tried different physicians and that had not proved successful in fact her debilitating illness had deteriorated. Therefore, she surmised that Jesus was her last chance having heard stories from people that he cured several sick people through his ministry. Hence, it was now a matter of backing her belief and trusting that Jesus could heal her. Furthermore, this was no easy task. She had to battle through a large crowd and also, saw that Jesus was preoccupied with a man called Jairus pleading for him to heal his little daughter. Thus, she had to have the courage to persist and overcome these obstacles when she could have easily walked away and given up. So, her solution was to come up behind him in the crowd and feel his clothes. I wonder how often I fail to persist when there are barriers in my way. Moreover, I need to follow the woman’s lead and put my trust in Jesus.

 Consequently, the woman’s faith was rewarded. “Immediately, aware that the power had gone from him Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched his clothes.? But the woman knowing what had happened to her, came in fear, fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. Jesus, said daughter your faith has made you well go in peace.” Mark 5:33-34 I think this gospel passage is particularly powerful in inviting us to trust in Jesus and turn to him when we are facing difficult challenges in our lives. Additionally, there is the offer that this faith will be rewarded if we continue to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in our lives.

Calming the Storm

On the weekend my AFL football team, Saint Kilda lost a game from a seemingly winning position. After the game there was the usual recriminations for the club, coach and players. The question I ask who ultimately is responsible for the defeat?

I think a little perspective is needed here. It is one loss amongst other losses that have happened over this season. I would argue that in today’s world where performances are forensically analysed by the mainstream media and fans forums on social media the responsibility is divided where the blame lies. I believe you have to understand what were the actions that caused St Kilda’s demise.

I consider the Scriptural context through the Jesus calming the storm best mirrors the defeat St Kilda suffered. In Mark 4: 37-38 the disciples are in a boat with Jesus. Suddenly, the boat is under attack from a storm.  The disciples, wake up Jesus who is asleep saying to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  Hence, the disciples are shifting the onus of accountability from them to do something about the storm to Jesus. Consequently, in the case of the disciples it is not about liability but responsibility. There is no reason to point fingers or make accusations that exude negativity and is the road to nowhere but embrace the challenge. Additionally, the reaction to panic means no logical action is going to take place it is only going to inflame the situation. I liked how Jesus asked the hard questions of the disciples, as he calmed the sea, ‘why are you afraid have you still no faith?’ Mark 4:40 I would argue that if the emphasis is on Jesus to solve the problem, then what happens if another problem arises and Jesus is not around?

All problems and issues can not just be attributable to one person or one factor either instigating them or providing a positive outcome. Everyone involved in the situation must also be part of the solution, reliance on a few is not sustainable. For the disciples it is believing they have the necessary gifts from God to create favourable conclusions. While for St Kilda it is everyone taking ownership of the issues and placing their trust in their team mates and coach to produce successful results.

Furthermore, both the disciples and the St Kilda players should be appreciative of the opportunities they have been given. The disciples continuing Christ’s mission and the St Kilda team to play AFL football. Moreover, they need to acknowledge their followers and fanbase by leaving a legacy that ensures the future of the Church and the football club for generations to come. I am a great believer that everything happens for a reason it is learnings that motivates change and a willingness to overcome adversity that builds dynasties.