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21 November, 2013
7:01:00 pm | By Diego Galanzino
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:17
The words we have heard in our first reading stand as a warning sound ringing as one begins to explore the book of Isaiah. The themes contained in this passage become quickly familiar as they are found many other times within this book and within the message which the Old Testament prophets were sent to proclaim.
Isaiah’s message is highly controversial and very difficult to tolerate for the people Israel – especially to the powerful and respected individuals in the land. In a nutshell, God criticises his own people, those whom he has chosen, raised and nurtured as beloved children, for not being true towards him, for not abiding to the covenant He made with them. God rejects wholesale the worship and sacrifices of Israel including all the things that He himself had asked for.
Through Isaiah God strongly denounces the injustice and lack of charity that plague Israel as sins – sins that has caused the entire nation to fall into ruin. The prophet criticises the people of Israel for practicing only those commandments that are part of their cultural heritage, part of their tradition ritual tradition and local custom, whilst disregarding to love their neighbours and act justly. Israel is charged of not doing those things which require personal commitment, perseverance, and openness to others in charity.
However, if we look closely, we see that Isaiah’s proclamation is not strictly against the offering of sacrifices and the keeping of festivals – all things that God had himself ordered as part of his covenant. God’s criticism – as always – goes deeper than that. It is about rejecting a kind of worship offered by people who did not live ethically; a kind of detached, loveless worship offered by those who oppressed the poor and taunted or ignored those on the margins of society. The people of God pretended to worship and to make offerings, but in their lives they manifested corruption, hard-heartedness, and indifference to the needs of others. They tried to cover up their actions by abiding to ceremonies and the offering of sacrifices, but God cannot be fooled and he rejects this type of false religion.
The worship and sacrifice demanded by God are something alive that does not end when we live the church building or shut the world tightly outside our inward-looking fellowship groups. The worship and sacrifice demanded by God are something that should echo in our daily living. They should teach us to pursue justice, to work for the relief of the poor, and to be more Christ-like in loving those on the margin of society.
Jesus is our example of true worship and sacrifice to God and only within the context His self-offeringto the Father we celebrate at the altar we may truly Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Today we see an example of what type of religious person God wants us to be in Jesus, in our gospel reading. All too often whilst reading this passage we focus on Zacchaeus, when we really should pay close attention to Jesus. Our Lord reaches out to someone who is ritually unclean, an outcast of Jewish society. Jesus reaches out to a tax collector and does not take “No” for an answer. He spends time with him without judging him. Jesus manifests to Zacchaeus the free love that God has for all his children. Jesus spends time with Zacchaeus and the dramatic change in the man’s life is the result of his interaction with the Lord. It is certainly not the result of a thorough holier-than-thou Bible-bashing, nor of any judgemental criticism.
If we listen to Isaiah’s warning message we must learn to engage both with the liturgy of the Church and the issues of social justice because both of these aspects form a single act of worship. We cannot come to church and remain blind to the injustices of our world. We cannot offer incense and not spread the sweet scent of God’s love in the community. We cannot offer the Mass at God's altar and close our hearts to the outcast of our society.
I leave you with some words from our Archbishop, Justin Welby. If you any of you know me at all they would also know that Archbishop Justin would not usually be my go-to source for quotations; however his words encapsulate extremely well what I have tried to articulate in my homily.
Our task as part of God's church is to worship Him in Christ and to overflow with the good news of His love for us, of the transformation that He alone can bring which enables human flourishing and joy. The tasks before us are worship and generous sharing.
27 August, 2013
11:38:00 am | By Diego Galanzino
Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks,by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).
Imagine yourself as an early Christian, at the time when the differences between Judaism and Christianity were not clear cut. You live in the imperial city of Rome. There have been persecutions, but not all of them have been lethal; there have been struggles, but the various Church communities have managed to overcome them so far. You know that more persecutions are on the horizon, and you fear that the next time the authorities will not be lenient.
What’s more you hear of wars far away. The group of Christians from Jewish origins are in turmoil because something catastrophic has happened. You learnt from them about a homeland for the Christian faith. They have shared with you their inheritance and traditions about the Sacred Scriptures; and thanks to them you now believe in the Messiah named Jesus.
Unfortunately, now all these things seem to have lost their meaning. The great city of prophets, Jerusalem, lies in ruins in a distant land; its temple has been destroyed (and maybe this time for ever, who knows?). You have seen with your own eyes people coming from Palestine as slaves. You have seen the sacred vessels, the lamps, the ornaments of the temple being carried in triumph as spoils of war through the streets of Rome. Jerusalem is no more. The land that brought Christianity is devastated. It seems that every material thing that sustained your faith has crumbled away in a few moments leaving you stuck between a past that is no more and a future that inspires only fear. Now consider your Christian commitment in these circumstances. All of a sudden you realise that it would be easy, very easy, to turn away from the Christian faith and seek a pain free existence. You are you stuck between a past that is no more and a future that inspires only fear. It would be easy to escape whatever is coming, all too easy.
This is the broad context in which our second reading comes in. The Letter to the Hebrews is in fact a sermon delivered to early Christians who were well versed with Jewish practices and would have readily understood all the different layers of meaning. In the midst of the chaos caused by persecutions and by the destruction of the temple the author delivers a word of exhortation, a word of encouragement to lay aside the past taking heart about the future, because even though things may appear incredibly gloomy now the Church is receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28). Everything else, every material prop of the faith, anything that can be touched is going to pass, but God has prepared something else and they faithful are in the process of receiving it.
But there is more. In this exhortation to have confidence about the future and to hold fast to the word spoken by God through Jesus, the author introduces for us another element. We are called to meditate on that tension between the present moment and the future realities which should be at the heart of our way of life. We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken but we also have already come to a place where we can experience what the future will be like. So we read that we already have access to something which is better than all those things that have been destroyed; better than Jerusalem and better than the temple.
At the celebration of the Mass, at the Eucharist, we come to all the future realities listed in our reading; or rather all these things come to us in our worship. At our celebrations, however more or less elaborate they may be, the tension between the present and the future breaks down and, as if a veil were removed from the eyes of faith, we see Mount Zion […], the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, [… the] innumerable angels in festal gathering […], the assembly of the firstborn, [… and] God the judge of all, and the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and Jesus, [… and] the sprinkled blood (12:22-24). These realities are part of that kingdom that cannot be shaken, and yet they come to us, we receive them, as we offer an acceptable worship, that is by associating ourselves to the self-offering of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration – which in itself means giving thanks.
So at a time when many dioceses across our Church are tempted to put aside the celebration of the Eucharist in order to cut corners and to save money on staff, as it were, let us remember that in this corporate thanksgiving celebration we have the unequalled opportunity to experience in the present time the power of the kingdom that cannot be shaken.
19 August, 2013
7:19:00 pm | By Diego Galanzino
This is a short (undergraduate) historical overview about the reforming liturgical agenda Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the publication of the first three editions of the Book of Common Prayer. Interests may include Liturgy, Church History, History of the Tudor period, Church of England use, and Anglicanism.
15 August, 2013
6:19:00 pm | By Diego Galanzino
Before I begin I ought to thank all those who last night attended the annual Pilgrimage to St Hilary on the vigil of the Assumption. St Ives was extremely well represented. Fr Philip from St Ia with the Sacred Heart deliver an excellent homily about Our Lady as the Ark of the Covenant and it is a tough act to follow.
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:47-48).
Growing up in Italy meant that our Sunday school sessions were a lot more like proper school than play areas, with Bible verses and prayers to learn off by heart and rudimentary theology to master. I remember that I often confused the Assumption of Our Lady with the Ascension of Jesus forty days after Easter to the desperation of one particular Sunday school teacher. However, as I later came to understand, the perhaps subtle difference between these two words is fundamental in order to appreciate the character of the feast we celebrate today.
On the one hand, the word “Ascension” implies that Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father out of the divine power which was his from the beginning. On the other hand, the word “Assumption” implies that Mary was taken up to heaven by the Father who prepared her to be the pure Mother of his Son, the ark of the new covenant, and Mother of the Church.
For Centuries theologians have tried to define and interpret the mystery of this latter event; sometimes their efforts and zeal has even become cause of division in the Church, and to this day the Western and the Orthodox Churches hold different views about the practicalities of how the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven. Nevertheless, the mystery we celebrate should be an occasion of rejoicing for every Christian soul at the mighty work that God has accomplished in Mary. The virgin of Nazareth, the lowly servant of the Magnificat, the young woman prepared to be the mother of God, the faithful model of discipleship who followed Jesus even to Calvary, the woman whom all generations are calling Blessed, the attentive mother who invites us to carry out whatever Jesus commands us to do; this our sister in humanity and our Mother in the faith has been exalted above all creation and taken up into heaven both body and soul.
So today we must honour Our Lady in her glorious feast. Today we give thanks to God who has indeed looked with favour upon his servant, and who – in his immense love for humanity – has given us in the Assumption of Mary a token, a glimpse if you like, of the blessed life that attends the whole Church in heaven. Today we look upon the effect of the saving power of Christ and we are called take heart about the future; if Mary is our Mother we will come to share in her exalted condition through the overwhelming power of God’s grace.
I strongly believe that the words we use in our prayers and the beauty of our corporate liturgies can express the Christian faith with great power. So I invite you to listen carefully to the words of the preface which bishop Martin will pray later on; these express the faith in the Assumption of Our Lady in the most concise and fitting way I can think of by saying,
today the Virgin Mother of Godwas assumed into heavenas the beginning and imageof [the] Church’s coming to perfectionand a sign of sure hope and comfort to [God’s] pilgrim people.
May the prayers and protection of Our Blessed Mother help us to be faithful to our call as Christians, and to reach safely the destination of our pilgrimage. Amen.
28 July, 2013
9:35:00 pm | By Diego Galanzino
‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ (Luke 11:1)
An Army padre used to sit every day, twice a day outside his makeshift church to say morning and evening prayer. Every day, twice a day he sat with his scarlet coloured copy of the Church of England Daily Prayer book in his hands. Every day, twice a day he encountered the psalms and the scripture readings contained in the book drawing new life from the words he prayed.
One day, towards the end of the regiment’s tour of Afghanistan one of the soldiers seeing the padre recollected in his regular spot with his usual well-thumbed book approached him and giving in to his curiosity said, “You’re still reading that book, Padre. When are you going to finish it?” The padre didn’t mind the comment, though perhaps it took him a while to make the private understand that the red book which never seemed to end contained something called the daily office – the prayer of the whole wide Church – which like the ebb and flow of the tide never ceases, ever bringing with it new life.
However, a few days later the soldier returned and seeing the chaplain in the same usual situation approached him again. It was late in the evening and a dangerous emotional cocktail of grief at the death of some fellow comrades and a case of serious homesickness had struck the spirit of the soldier to ground. “Padre, how do you pray to God?” He asked. “How do I learn?”
The chaplain understood the situation, quickly left his red book and approached the soldier’s question in the simplest way he could think of. That wasn’t really the time to teach the young man how to interpret the mildly complicated rubrics of a prayer book; that was the time to start from the basics. “Talk to him” the chaplain said. “Just talk to him as you would to someone who knows you very, very well.” Then, seeing a little puzzlement in the soldier’s eyes, he added, “Talk to him as you would to a best pal, to your mum, to your dad. Tell him what is on your heart right now, knowing that God is there to listen.”
Today’s gospel reading focuses on prayer understood as a heartfelt, even nagging, expression of an intimate filial relationship with God. Today’s gospel reading sees the disciples enquiring about how to pray after they observe Jesus recollected in the presence of the Father through prayer. “Lord” (and observe how they call Jesus with this title!), “Lord, teach us how to pray” they ask and then, almost by way of justification for their question, they add, “as John the Baptist taught to his disciples”.
Like the soldier in my earlier story the disciples must have seen something captivating in Jesus’ attitude to prayer, something they wanted to experience as well. Also, they did not want to appear less zealous, less holy than John’s disciples who prayed and fasted regularly. So the disciples probably sent one of their group to Jesus, perhaps the least shy among them, with a question, Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.
If we read in between the lines we see that they may as well have said, “John’s disciples fasted regularly and prayed in an orderly fashion; you, Lord, pray too in specific ways; we want to do the same.”
Jesus understands their situation but approaches their request in the most simple, most straightforward way possible. Never mind for a moment, what disciples of other prophets did; never mind the taxing prayer regime of ancient Judaism. He starts with them from the very basics and introduces them to talk to God as to someone who knew them very, very well; to talk to God as to their Father. This is the solid foundation on which the Christian prayer life can be built.
Structure, sacrifice, rhythm, and thoughtfulness are essential traits of a mature prayer life. Without these characteristics our prayer life risks to become whimsical, erratic, and full of silly repetitions. However, Jesus wants his disciples to understand that above and before all things prayer must preserve two qualities; first it has to be a genuine expression of a filial relationship with God – a Father/daughter or Father/son link of uttermost trust. Secondly, prayer must be persistent almost to the point of appearing pestering towards God.
Today’s gospel reading highlights an important aspect of the Christian faith – the Father/child relationship that is chiefly manifested in prayer. Through prayer we become imitators of Jesus who – though himself Lord – recollected himself in the presence of the Father with persistence throughout St Luke’s gospel. This aspect of our faith is also one of the most practical; it cannot be put easily into fanciful explanations, but it has to be experienced first-hand once we have been enticed by the example of Jesus and of the saints. So every time we feel our prayer life growing cold let us call to mind the request of the first disciples, Lord, teach us to pray.
21 July, 2013
7:57:00 pm | By Diego Galanzino
Sar·casm [sahr-kaz-uhm] noun meaning (a) harsh or bitter derision; (b) cutting remark.
Sar·casm [sahr-kaz-uhm] noun meaning (a) harsh or bitter derision; (b) cutting remark.
Sarcasm is a form of irony – sometimes cruel irony – that is regarded by many as the last resort of a weak mind and yet it is very widely employed in everyday life. Sarcasm can also become a sinful habit when it is used to cause needless pain. These definitions may be so, but personally I do not think that all sarcasm is necessarily bad, but like any other tool at our disposal it can be used for good as well as ill purposes.
This evening we witnessed to one of the best examples of Biblical sarcasm in our New Testament reading. Sarcasm, really? Yes, and 1Corinthinas has a highly concentrated dose of it which probably ruffled quite a few feathers among St Paul’s hearers prompting them either to examine their Christian conduct or to abandon their enterprise altogether. But how can it be so? At the end of the day this is the same Letter that contains one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, chapter 13 with its beautiful outlining of charity, of love. So, why does Paul use sarcasm in his debate with the Corinthian church?
At the time of the letter the church in Corinth is plagued by people that use their Christian faith as a social weapon against others. These individuals think that believing in the Christian message makes them partakers of some secret divine knowledge precluded to the rest of society. Consequently they mistakenly think themselves better than others and they begin to form factions within the church. They were boastful for the wrong reasons and they developed an excess of pride in their conditions. They perhaps even thought of themselves incapable of sinning.
Pauls addresses the matter in different ways as he tries to reframe their misguided experience of discipleship through his own preaching and through his own example. Here sarcasm is neither used by the apostle as his main instrument nor with the intent of hurting gratuitously his listeners; rather is it used to cut through to their hearts and to awaken their attention by bruising their pride. In this sense, as Paul mocks the attitude of some believers who think too highly of themselves, sarcasm becomes the best tool to shake consciences and to open the way for true discipleship.
Paul’s sarcastic remarks paired with his example of discipleship reduce all the Corinthian boasting to nought. The apostle compares the self-defined status of these believers with his highly precarious conditions in the service of the Gospel. Paul puts before them his ministry and allows for the differences between him and them to become clear. The result could not be any starker than this as in v. 10 we read, We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute.
Once the sarcasm has awakened the listeners’ attention Paul delivers a fatal blow for their foolish idea of discipleship. To follow Christ, he says, means that becoming like the rubbish of the world and the dregs of all things (4:13) is a very likely possibility, whilst being hailed with respect and honour becomes a very, very improbable status for a believer.
I don’t think that Church has changed very much since the times of St Paul. We are still boastful for the wrong reasons. Some Christian brothers and sisters still display very unattractive features connected with pride. We see this even in our own congregations when individuals set up their own clicky groups and start to behave as if they were better than others. We see this within the dialogue between the Churches, as this or another denomination strives to conquer the higher moral ground. We see this when we adopt unhealthy attitudes towards society at large by thinking that loving the Lord makes us better than other people. Paul’s sarcasm is directed to us too. It invites us to put our pride behind us, to embrace the true spirit of discipleship that Paul tried to embody until we are able to say with him, When we are reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly (4:12-13).