July/August 2021: The Deep End

The Deep End

Tríona Doherty
Email trionad@gmail.com

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 July 2021

This is the carpenter, surely?
‘A prophet is only despised in his own country among his own relations and in his own house.’ We might find ourselves sympathising with Jesus in today’s Gospel: no matter what a person achieves in life, in their home place they will always be identified with their childhood selves and their family. While this generates a sense of belonging, it can be stifling. There is always someone to ensure we don’t get ideas ‘above our station’!
Returning home to Nazareth, Jesus teaches in the synagogue but his former neighbours turn on him. Who does he think he is, this carpenter, the son of Mary? This could have been a moment of grace, if they were open to hearing what he had to say. Perhaps the implications of the Good News were just too challenging coming from one of their own.
Sometimes God’s Word comes in an unexpected package. As individuals and communities, we can be guilty of silencing certain voices. Do we listen to young people with their energy and idealism, or the elderly with their experience and wisdom? Are we biased against certain groups in society, do we shoot them down before they speak? When our hearts are open, we come to recognise the prophets who are bringing the dream of God to fruition among us.

‘Although they heard you Lord, they failed to listen. They heard only what they wanted to hear. The truth hurt them, you made them feel uncomfortable, and they rejected you… Show us how we may seek your Kingdom and help to bring peace to a troubled world.’ (Tony Singleton)

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
11 July 2021

The first mission
Two phrases come to mind as I read about the disciples heading off on their first mission: ‘baptism of fire’ and ‘to be thrown in at the deep end’. We use these expressions to describe a difficult introduction to a new job or activity, when we are expected to learn as we go and cope with whatever obstacles we face. In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends the Twelve out on their first mission. It is a challenging one and his instructions are brief and very specific: they are to bring nothing but a staff – no food or money – meaning they will have to rely on the hospitality of others for all their needs. They are to stay wherever they are welcomed, rather than move around from house to house, so they can’t be choosy about their lodgings. Simplicity is key – no baggage, no luxuries, no distractions, nothing but the task of reaching to people. It might not be plain sailing, but Jesus offers advice for those difficult times too.
It appears their mission of preaching and healing was successful, as we are told the disciples came back eager to fill Jesus in. Imagine the experiences they must have had during this time – the people they met and helped, the generosity of those who welcomed them, the conversations on the road, the chance to share their excitement at everything Jesus was doing. They were certainly thrown into a challenging situation, but they returned with a fresh perspective and strengthened faith. Jesus calls us to step out into the unknown, his words as our guide and his bond with us unbreakable.
‘A boat is safe in the harbour, but this not the purpose of a boat.’ (Paulo Coelho)

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 July 2021

Take a break
We all need a break sometimes. I remember once reading a selection of entries for a Mothers’ Day competition, in which people were asked why their mother deserved to win a prize. They all had themes in common – she never does anything for herself; she’s always thinking of other people; I can’t remember the last time she took a break.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples need a break. They have returned from their mission, eager to catch up with Jesus, but there is so much happening that they barely have time to eat. Jesus sees their need, and invites them to take a boat with him to a quiet place and rest for a while. But there is no time for rest, as the crowds have followed them on foot. Jesus is moved by them because they are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. He is the Good Shepherd who always cares for his flock, and he responds with compassion and love.
No doubt the disciples are drafted in to help: it turns out it is not break time! We can imagine their exhaustion. We all feel tired or overwhelmed from time to time, from work or family pressures or simply trying to balance everything. Postponing our own needs to care for others is familiar to every parent or caregiver. We don’t know if the disciples got a rest at that point, but we know that Jesus valued time apart as he later sends the disciples off in the boat again while he goes away by himself to pray. In the chaos of life, even when there are demands on our time and energy, it is important to take some time to reflect and to pray.

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
25 July 2021 o Grandparent’s Day

Gift of love
We meet Jesus today in a situation of need. The crowds have followed him and they are hungry. Jesus challenges his disciples to provide a meal for them. When they object that they don’t have enough money, and only a tiny amount of food, Jesus uses what they have to pull off a remarkable feat (and feast).
For us, this Gospel might bring to mind the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers who experience hunger and hardship today. We are left in no doubt about our obligation to protect and care for those in need, just as Jesus provided for the hungry crowds. This feeding account also has the elements of a Eucharistic meal, with Jesus taking the food, giving thanks, and distributing it to everyone. Jesus doesn’t produce this meal from nothing, but transforms what the disciples provide into a blessing for many.
Sharing in Eucharist means sharing our resources. It means ensuring people are not left to fend for themselves in crisis situations. When we receive the body of Jesus, it is a gift of love. But if we do not give and love in return, we are wasting the gift. Where people are in need, it is our responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to share and to provide. God will provide beyond our imagining, no matter how little we think we have to give, but we are invited to take the first step.

‘If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world… We cannot properly receive the Bread of Life unless at the same time we give the bread of life to those in need wherever and whoever they may be.’ (Pedro Arrupe SJ)

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 August 2021

Food that satisfies
Growing up, did you hear any ‘old wives’ tales’ about food – eating carrots helps you see in the dark; bread crusts will make your hair curly; an apple a day keeps the doctor away…? These wise old sayings, passed down the generations, were employed to encourage us to eat certain foods, mainly healthy fruit and veg. Many even had an element of truth. These days we can easily establish the accuracy of such claims, but many parents still find themselves falling back on these nuggets of wisdom. Behind it all is a desire to see children grow up strong and healthy.
Recent years have seen an increased focus on health, both physical and mental. Nourishing one’s body and mind and keeping them healthy are essential long-term projects, the work of a lifetime. In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about a different type of nourishment – bread that gives life, food that satisfies, food that endures. ‘I am the bread of life,’ says Jesus. It is Jesus who nourishes us at the very core of our being, who knows our every need and gives meaning to our lives. He tells us today: ‘Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.’ As we continue on our way, learning how to best nourish our body and mind, let us not forget to nourish our spirit with Jesus, the bread of life.

‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ… The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
8 August 2021

Uphill struggle
Have you ever felt like giving up? Elijah certainly did. In today’s first reading we meet a prophet who has had enough. He is fleeing from trouble and things seem so hopeless after a day’s journey that he sits under a bush and begs God to take his life. Life has a way of getting on top of us, such as when we are grieving a loss, when we are hurt by a friend, when illness strikes, or when we are simply exhausted. We experience the feelings described in the famous anonymous poem Don’t Quit: ‘When things go wrong as they sometimes will/ When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill…’
At these times of struggle it is helpful to pause and to refuel for the journey. Elijah was visited by an angel who offered him comfort and respite, giving him the strength he needed to carry on. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus again say he is the living bread. Some people have been complaining about his teaching. Surely this is the son of Joseph, they say, demonstrating their lack of understanding of who Jesus really is. Again, he explains that he is the bread of life – more than physical food, more than an ordinary man, he is the living bread and he is God. In all our struggles, especially when we feel like giving up, Jesus offers us nourishment for the journey. This gift is there for us especially in the Eucharist, offering comfort and strength.

‘The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
15 August 2021

The slow work of God

‘Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.’ (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

These beautiful words from French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ speak to the sometimes-tortuous experience of waiting. In it the author gives us permission to not have all the answers, to allow our faith time to grow and develop. Above all, he invites us to do that most difficult of things: live in the present moment, and surrender ourselves to God in that moment.
This poem comes to mind as I think about today’s celebration of the Feast of the Assumption, when we recall Mary’s role in the life of Jesus and in salvation. In our Gospel extract we meet Mary, pregnant and celebrating with her relative Elizabeth. Given the circumstances, it would be understandable if she was unsure and fearful. Her future is uncertain, as is that of her soon-to-be-born son. She cannot yet comprehend the enormity of what is to come. But Mary seems content to wait. When Elizabeth proclaims Mary as ‘blessed’, Mary bursts into prayer, praising God for his greatness and for ‘looking upon his lowly handmaid’.
In modern terms, it is a lesson in mindfulness. When we find ourselves impatient, struggling to comprehend or to trust God’s ways, let us turn to Mary who accepted God’s plan with trust and hope, allowing it all to unfold one step at a time.

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
22 August 2021

Leap of faith
Children are often adept at looking beyond the practicalities and seeing the possibilities. Where a parent or guardian might only see a messy room in need of tidying, a child sees an obstacle course, a castle, a jungle, a magical fairy forest. It can be refreshing to take a breath and remember that there is more to life than our physical, tangible world with its daily routines and to-do lists. Sometimes circumstances can leave us blinded to life’s beauty or meaning.
In today’s Gospel, some of Jesus’ followers are finding it difficult to see beyond the physical. He has been teaching them that he is the living bread, but it is hard for them to accept. They dismiss it as ‘intolerable language’ and they wonder ‘How could anyone accept it?’ His teachings are too difficult to comprehend and they are annoyed and offended. Some of them even walk away.
But Jesus is offering something more than the practicalities, more than physical food or drink: he offers the bread of life, living bread, his very self. It is a difficult message, but Simon Peter gets to the heart of it: ‘You have the message of eternal life, and we believe.’ He is able to see beyond the obvious, to hear the truth at the heart of Jesus’ words. Jesus demands a lot of his followers, who must each decide whether or not they want to follow. Are we ready to make that leap of faith?

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
29 August 2021

What’s on the inside
‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts.’ How often do we hear this? Yet we get contradictory messages and we are also bombarded with messages about how we should dress or act, or what is appropriate behaviour. Rules about outward behaviour govern many aspects of life, from our school and work environments to our churches.
Today, Jesus has something to say about the tension between outward appearances and what’s on the inside. To the religious authorities who challenge Jesus, outer appearances and traditions are important, and they rebuke Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat with ‘unclean hands’. However, Jesus explains that it is not external actions that make a person unclean. It is what’s on the inside that indicates the true nature of our hearts. ‘Lip-service’ is not worth much if our hearts are not in tune with God. As Jesus puts it, ‘You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’
It is an invitation to examine how we put our faith into practice, individually and as a church community. Which human traditions do we ‘cling’ to? Do we become so focused on outward rituals that we risk losing sight of the teaching of Jesus and its radical implications? Do we treat our religious life as checklist of observances, or as a real encounter with Jesus?

‘The words of the Sacred Scripture were not written to remain imprisoned on papyrus, parchment or paper, but to be received by a person who prays, making them blossom in his or her heart.’ (Pope Francis)

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