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Advent is a Time of Hope

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B. The readings are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14 and Mark 1:1-8.

Holy darkness, blessed night
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight
As we await you, O God of silence
We embrace your holy night.

Holy Darkness, by Dan Schutte

 Last week, we heard that it seems that this year there has been so much darkness. But that we can take that darkness – that can sometimes be an un-holy darkness- and turn it into a holy darkness. Our pastor told us that everywhere we turn nowadays, it seems that all we hear – whether it’s in the news or anywhere – are messages of doubt, despair and fear. It’s easy to fall into doubt, despair and fear, but as Christians, we must always respond to doubt, despair and fear, with its opposites: faith, hope and love. Our pastor reminded us last week of how important faith and trust are in order to fight doubt – and how we must always ask God to increase our faith, so that we don’t fall in doubt. (Go to Holy Martyrs of Japan’s YouTube channel to listen to our pastor’s homily last week.)

Today, we are going to speak about hope.

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Are you a Saint?

A reflection for the Solemnity of All Saints, Year A. The readings are Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14, Psalm 48, 1 John 3:1-3 and Matthew 5:1-12a.

Section of the the Communion of Saints mural at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. Do you recognize any of them?

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints – a feast that maybe most of you don’t usually celebrate with a Mass because it’s always on Nov 1st, and many of you don’t go to daily Mass. But this year it falls on a Sunday, so we get to celebrate it all together with a Sunday Mass. And it’s a great day for me to ask you a question I’ve asked you many times before: Do you think you are going to be a saint? At this point, most people look the other way and hope I go away. We don’t think we are “saint” material. We don’t think we are worthy to be saints. But what is a definition of a saint? The saints are people who are in Heaven. Simple.

I don’t mean canonized Saints. Those are the people that the Church has officially recognized as Saints for their heroic lives. The Church declares them as Saints because we know with certainty that they are in Heaven and because their lives are good models for us. But what about all the other people who are in Heaven who have not been canonized? Your grandmother or great uncle? That nice old neighbour you had growing up? There are so many people that, I am sure, are in Heaven, but the Church is never going to recognize them as saints – still, they are saints because they are in Heaven. So, if you plan on going to Heaven – and that should be your plan – then your plan is to be a saint.

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God is Generous

A reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A, The readings are Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145 Philippians 1:20, 24, 27a and Matthew 20:1-16a

Gleichnis von den Arbeitern im Weinberg (Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard) by Jacob Willemsz de Wet (fl. 1632–1675). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

I hate this parable. Well, ok, I don’t really hate it, but I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I think most of you can relate because we know what it’s like to have the youngest, less experienced person at work get the project or the account or the promotion, that we want and we think that we deserve. But Jesus today is not talking about job or pay equity.

He’s talking about God’s Grace.

It helps to understand what had just happened. Jesus is approached by a young man who asks him what he needs to do to get into Heaven. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He says he does. Then Jesus says, “Then sell everything you own, give it to the poor and follow me.” Then the young man went away sad because he had great wealth. And Jesus tells the disciples, “It’s very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. At this the disciples say, “Wow! Then who can be saved?” And Jesus responds, “For human beings it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” And then he says, “But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first. Because of this, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a landowner who went out in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard…. etc.” and he goes on to tell them this parable. He’s talking about getting to Heaven.

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The Church Will Prevail

The remnants of the temple of Pan with Pan’s grotto. Picture taken by User:EdoM Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/

A reflection for the 21st Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings are Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36 and Matthew 16:22-33.

In the north of Israel, very near the borders with Syria and Lebanon, at the foot of Mt. Hermon, there’s a place called Banias. Banias is the Arabic name for Panias, a city that was built there by the Greeks – hundreds of years before Christ. Panias was dedicated to the Greek God Pan. You may remember Pan from your Greek Mythology. He’s the one who’s half man/half goat and plays the pan flute. He is also the god associated with fertility. The reason why the Greeks built the shrine in Panias is because there is a huge rock face – this massive rock at the foot of the mountain range – and in the rock there’s a massive cave. It’s a cave with a huge entrance and so deep that the ancient Greeks were never able to get to the bottom of it. They believed that this was the entrance to the underworld – the netherworld, literally, the Gates of Hades. They believed that the gods would go in there for the winter so every spring people would go to Panias to perform all sorts of rituals and sacrifices to entice Pan to come back out for the Spring and do his fertility thing. There were multiple temples and statues placed in niches that were carved into the rock face. Out of the cave came a number of springs, which went into the Banias river, which in turn feeds into the River Jordan.

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