Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.
We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.
We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.
- Published: Friday, 14 October 2016 22:17
LITURGY NOTES FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR.
Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year
October 16, 2016
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand.
We pay our respects to them and for their care of the land.
May we walk gently and respectfully upon the land.
We acknowledge the living culture of the …….. people,
the traditional custodians of the land we stand on,
and pay tribute to the unique role they play in the life of this region.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where we are now gathered, the ………….(name of local people) and recognise that it continues to be sacred to them.
We hail them: as guardians of the earth and of all things that grow and breed in the soil; as trustees of the waters – [the seas, the streams and rivers, the ponds and the lakes] - and the rich variety of life in those waters.
We thank them for passing this heritage to every people since the Dreamtime.
We acknowledge the wrongs done to them by newcomers to this land and we seek to be partners with them in righting these wrongs and in living together in peace and harmony
Prayer For the People of West Papua
We see them walking, walking.
Sorrow in one hand, hope in the other.
May we walk with them in spirit,
May we also be a visible hint of God’s promises
So each step we take together
Moves us all closer to the Incarnated Body,
The Kingdom of God that we create
For all members of the human family,
Walking, walking, walking
On the journey to justice.
Jane Deren, adapted from another prayer in Education for Justice
Reading I Exodus 17:8-13
Responsorial Psalm Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
R. Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Reading II 2 Timothy 3:14--4:2
Gospel Luke 18:1-8
v You are God's living Word to us today. Jesus, have mercy.
v Your words are spirit and life. Christ, have mercy.
v Your word is truth. Jesus, have mercy.
Ø You have come amongst us as one who sympathises with those who are forgotten. Jesus, have mercy.
Ø You have come amongst not to be served but to serve. Christ, have mercy.
Ø You assure us that the great in your eyes serve one another. Jesus, have mercy.
Persistent God, you search our hearts
and guide us in ways to serve others.
We bear your image and carry your name into the world.
Grant us the boldness to seek your presence in our world,
the courage and persistence to respond to his words
with deeds of justice and love,
Prayer of the Faithful
Introduction: Let us pray to God who has created us to live in peace with one another. May we listen to the voice of God and the voices in the world that call to us: The response: Our help is from God.
· For Pope Francis that he will courageously and consistently call us and all leaders of nations and churches to continue in way of peace with justice. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For the people of West Papua in their ongoing struggle for independence and self-determination: may our political leaders speak out against this unjust treatment of people, and join with the courageous voices of Pacific Island nation leaders. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For Haiti and other countries in the Bahamas and areas of the USA where people have suffered the effects of Hurricane Matthew: we remember all who have died and suffered losses and may all the people affected receive dignified and respectful assistance from organisations that will not profit from these disasters. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For the churches that they may keep courage alive in the hearts of people as they confront the problems and difficulties they face daily. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For courage among church leaders that they may enter into constructive and trustful dialogue with their members who feel alienated and marginalised by their refusal to listen. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For ourselves, that we may have the capacity to take risks without being paralysed by fear when confronted by the unjust demands of those in authority. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For those who are charged with special responsibility within the church - pastors and catechists; ministers of worship and ministers to the poor; ministers of healing and ministers of reconciliation. We pray: Our help is from God.
· For those who serve the church by their prayer : that they may continue through their lives point to a world that possible free of greed, injustice and violence. We pray: Our help is from God.
· We pray for peace and justice in West Papua: that the human rights and dignity of the people be respected so that they can live their lives free of fear. We pray: Our help is from God.
· We pray for all people who have been imprisoned, tortured or killed for their commitment to peace and democracy that they may be the bricks out of which a new Burma is built. We pray: Our help is from God.
· We pray with all people who strive to build a transformed and more like the reign of God as preached by Jesus. We pray: Our help is from God.
Concluding Prayer: Persistent God, we pray that we may be continually converted to the Gospel and freed from fear and despair at the tasks before us.
Prayer over the Gifts
Jesus serves us and is present
in the signs of bread and wine.
May his love enable us to understand
that you are present in our persistent commitment
to give life to others.
Deliver us, Holy One, from every evil
and give us the peace that flows from justice.
Help us to give to every person their due
and, like you, to pay special attention
to the victims of injustice.
Let us bring fresh hope to them
as we prepare for the full coming among us
of Jesus Christ, our Saviour… R/ For the kingdom
Prayer after Communion
Persistent God, in this sacrament
you have made yourself known to us.
Help us to know that:
whenever we walk in strange places, we see your footprint;
whenever we meet with unknown faces, we see your image;
whenever we are disappointed and walk in the dark, we see your help;
and whenever we stumble into the unexpected joy of service,
we feel your heartbeat.
May the blessing of God who creates and upholds, be with us. AMEN.
May the blessing of God who redeems and endures, be with us. AMEN.
May the blessing of God who inspires and leads us, be with us. AMEN.
The more clearly we can focus our attention on
the wonders and realities of the universe about us,
the less taste we shall have for destruction.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, superficial relationships,
so that you will live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you will work for justice, equity, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you will reach out your hands to comfort them
and change their pain to joy.
And God bless you with the foolishness to think
that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.
When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of [people] we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage is to sacrifice ourselves for others in totally nonviolent struggle for justice. To be [human] is to suffer for others. God help us!
Cesar Chavez, quoted in Celebration: An Ecumenical Worship Service, October 2000, page 441.
A Jewish Blessing
O God, you have called us to peace,
For You are Peace itself.
May we have the vision to see that each of us,
in some measure, can help to realize these aims:
Where there are ignorance and suspicion,
Let there be enlightenment and knowledge.
Where there are prejudice and hatred,
Let there be acceptance and love.
Where there are fear and suspicion,
Let there be confidence and trust.
Where there are tyranny and oppression,
Let there be freedom and justice.
Where there are poverty and disease,
Let there be prosperity and health.
Where there are strife and discord,
Let there be harmony and peace.
We cannot have peace if we are only concerned with peace.
War is not an accident. It is the logical outcome of a certain way of life.
If we want to attack war, we have to attack that way of life.
Indian Proverb on Courage
Do not be afraid of standing up for what you believe;
what you do, no matter how small, will make a difference.
A candle is a protest at midnight.
It is a non-conformist act.
It says to the darkness,
‘I beg to differ’.
Flagrant inequalities exist in the economic, cultural and political development of the nations: while some regions are heavily industrialized, others are still at the agricultural stage; while some countries enjoy prosperity, others are struggling against starvation; while some peoples have a high standard of culture, others are still engaged in eliminating illiteracy. From all sides there rises a yearning for more justice and a desire for a better guaranteed peace in mutual respect among individuals and peoples.
Pope Paul VI, Call To Action
The reckless financial policies of leading western powers in the last two decades make it likely that the next seismic debt crisis will be in America, not Argentina.
Ann Pettifor, political economist, writing in 2003 (five years before the crash). Those who grow up in a faith-community take their religion for granted; its stories and teachings are like the wall-paper in their mental furnished apartments. Those rejecting such spiritual housing tend to take regular looks back to see what they rejected, or need information for debating points should they challenge the half-faithful.
Martin E. Marty, US religion commentator and academic, on religious (il)literacy.
Voices from The Dead
Quietly we lie, scattered across the land
separated from our comrades in battle,
returned home in a pre-paid coffin
draped by an American flag,
and put to rest in a hometown plot.
We are the dead.
They told us that we would be heroes
fighting for a noble cause.
Save our country, save their country,
they'd welcome us with open arms.
But no flowers, only bullets
greeted us when we arrived.
And now, we are the dead.
We may be silent, voices muted,
yet we speak to hearts and minds.
Our noble cause, we know was terror
for us and for those in that far-away land.
The ramparts we watched were not ours to defend
And the flag that we placed was a thorn in their eyes.
No, this was no act of valour or glory
We were misled, deceived by our own
Too late we learned.
We are the dead.
A thousand voices like a choir are rising,
voices from our separate graves.
Who knows how many more will join us
blown to pieces, by bombs and grenades?
Do you hear us? People? Leaders?
Bring an end to this murderous act.
So others may live, be useful and creative
For we, we are already dead.
We were Americans, just like you
African, Mexican, Indian, white Americans
Citizens from many walks of life,
except for those from wealthy stock
who yearned for war, but did not flock
Their fight be fought by others instead,
So they go on living,
while we are dead.
Must war be always a part of men
to satisfy their greed and corruption?
To take what doesn't belongs to them
So they may live in wealthy indulgence?
There is, we know, a better way
One that meets peoples needs and desires.
Let's battle disease and hunger instead,
for that'll save lives, not destroy them.
We speak from our graves to you who still live
To better the world while you can.
Life is too short, we know it full well
For we, as you know, are the dead.
W. Vic Ratsma is a lifelong political activist, now retired and living in Nova Scotia, Canada.
We often see poverty as an economic and social issue, but we must have a deeper understanding. In the ultimate analysis, poverty is death. It is unjust and early death. It is the destruction of persons, of people, and nations.
Gustavo Gutierrez, address at Brown University graduation ceremony, 2000
The monastery presents an alternative lifestyle that implicitly criticises the greed, injustice, and oppression of our everyday world. It is a mode of semi-communal or fully communal life witnessing that violence is not the inevitability of human nature but only the normalcy of human civilisation….. the word ‘civilisation’ is often used to refer to all those magnificent aspects of our human life together – art and architecture, poetry and literature, music and dance, play, thought=, and learning. But civilisation also has darker aspects. Its magnificent cultural gifts are often built upon violence against the earth and injustice against the world.
John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire
We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.
Ayn Rand, The Nature of Government
The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.
There is absolutely nothing to be said for government by a plutocracy, for government by men very powerful in certain lines and gifted with 'a money touch,' but with ideals which in their essence are merely those of so many glorified pawnbrokers.
I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own -- and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the ‘haves’ refuse to share with the ‘have-nots’ by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans.
General David M. Shoup - Commandant of the Marine Corps 1960-63, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) Brave New World, 1932
Chief among the spoils of victory is the privilege of writing the history.
If for decency, progress, order and liberty in the community and nation we cannot rely upon the character, sentiments, allegiances, and moral habits of the people, upon what, in heaven's name, can we rely?
Charles Beard 1874-1948
….government is instituted for the protection, safety, and happiness of the people, and not for profit, honour, or private interest of any man, family, or class of men. . the origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation, vested with certain powers to guard the life, liberty and property of the community. ..
Mercy Otis warren 1728-1814, poet, historian, patriot, and advocate of the Bill of Rights
I would be better to trust the many than the few, who are infected with the plague of self-interest and selfishness.
Tom Paine, 1737-1809,
Today as never before in their history Americans are enthralled with military power. The global military supremacy that the United States presently enjoys--and is bent on perpetuating--has become central to our national identity. More than America's matchless material abundance or even the effusions of its pop culture, the nation's arsenal of high-tech weaponry and the soldiers who employ that arsenal have come to signify who we are and what we stand for.
The revulsion against war ... will be an almost insuperable obstacle for us to overcome. For that reason, I am convinced that we must begin now to set the machinery in motion for a permanent wartime economy.
Charles E. Wilson (1886-1972) President of General Electric (1940-42, 1945-50), head of the Office of Defense Mobilization in 1951, US Secretary of Defense (1953-57)
American strategic [nuclear] forces do not exist solely for the purpose of deterring a Soviet nuclear threat or attack against the U.S. itself. Instead, they are intended to support U.S. foreign policy.
Colin Gray U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Source: ‘Victory is Possible,’ Foreign Policy, Summer 1980
The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States.
US Agency for International Development Source: ‘Direct Economic Benefits of U.S. Assistance Programs,’ 1999
A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one!
The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.
Charles-Louis De Secondat - (1689-1755) Baron de Montesquieu - Source: The Spirit of the Laws, 1748
A man's liberties are none the less aggressed upon because those who coerce him do so in the belief that he will be benefited.
Herbert Spencer - (1820-1903) British author, economist, philosopher - Source: The Principles of Ethics Bd. II, ed. T. Machan, Indianapolis 1978, S. 242-43
The greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes.
In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
It is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make democracy safe in the world.
These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.’ He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people...
Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an arch-patriot; every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for democracy. What humbug! What rot! What false pretense! These autocrats, these tyrants, these red- handed robbers and murderers, the ‘patriots’, while the men who have the courage to stand face to face with them, speak the truth, and fight for their exploited victims-they are the disloyalists and traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight.
Eugene V. Debs - The Canton, Ohio, Anti-War Speech. June 16, 1918
Freedom is never an achieved state; like electricity,
we've got to keep generating it or the lights go out.
Because they spurn riches as ashes that are dead because of avarice, none of them has anything according to his own will. Whatever each has through the gift of God, let her possess with God. She says that nothing is hers by her own strength, but all is from God who gives all good things to the good. And what are these? Truth and justice, which interweave with all good things.
Hildegard of Bingen, Book of Life’s Merits
I weep a lot. I thank God I laugh a lot, too. The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.
The quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community. It is part of the unceasing human endeavor to prove that the spirit of [humans] can transcend the flaws of [their] own nature.
Aung San Suu Kyi
We live in hope because we believe, like St. Paul, that love never dies. Human beings in the historical process have created enclaves of love by their active practice of solidarity throughout the world, and with a view to the full-orbed liberation of peoples and all humanity.
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, from his Nobel Lecture
Bit by bit … she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
Toni Morrison, in Beloved
We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God [Godself] visited to redeem. We receive [God's] poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with [God], may then pour ourselves out for others.
Monastic spirituality says that we are to honor one another. We are to listen to one another. We are to reach across boundaries and differences in this fragmented world and see in our differences distinctions of great merit that can mend a competitive, uncaring, and foolish world.
Sr. Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict
Peace is not a matter of prizes or trophies. It is not the product of a victory or command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement. Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together.
Oscar Arias Sánchez, from Nobel Lecture and former president of Costa Rica
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.
Helen Keller (1880 - 1968)
We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)
There is no crime more infamous than the violation of truth. It is apparent that men can be social beings no longer than they believe each other. When speech is employed only as the vehicle of falsehood, every man must disunite himself from others, inhabit his own cave and seek prey only for himself.
Dr. Samuel Johnson - (1709-1784)
Trust is a two way street. If your government does not trust you, how can you trust your government?
Bruce Montague -
There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust.
Demosthenes (384 B.C.-322 B.C.)
You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common, they don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable, if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
Doctor Who, The Face of Evil
People sometimes rationalize their greed by saying that it is all for the good of their children but this is nothing but an excuse they use to make their despicable actions appear respectable and praiseworthy.
Democritus, Greek philosopher (460-370 BC)
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
I count myself as a spiritual sister to those the US government has murdered, and I am angry at my powerlessness. I have the budding heart of a terrorist.
Karen Kwiatkowski, http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26425.htm
True compassion, is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King Jr.
The misapprehension springs from the fact that the learned jurists, deceiving themselves as well as others, depict in their books an ideal of government -- not as it really is, an assembly of men who oppress their fellow-citizens, but in accordance with the scientific postulate, as a body of men who act as the representatives of the rest of the nation.
They have gone on repeating this to others so long that they have ended by believing it themselves, and they really seem to think that justice is one of the duties of governments.
History, however, shows us that governments, as seen from the reign of Caesar to those of the two Napoleons and Prince Bismarck, are in their very essence a violation of justice; a man or a body of men having at command an army of trained soldiers, deluded creatures who are ready for any violence, and through whose agency they govern the State, will have no keen sense of the obligation of justice. Therefore governments will never consent to diminish the number of those well-trained and submissive servants, who constitute their power and influence
Leo Tolstoy ,Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence (Signet Books, 1968), pp. 238-239.
A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol.
God's truth judges created things out of love, and Satan's truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.
It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them. The weak always have to decide between alternatives that are not their own.
It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.
The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children…….The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.
I protest, therefore I believe
How can I believe in God when tsunamis strike?
The Christian Century February 8, 2005
At a dinner in honor of a prominent guest, I was seated next to a woman who works for CBS. The tsunami had just struck off the coast of Sumatra with all its destructive force, and we were talking about the magnitude of desolation, the plight of the victims and the insanity of the event. She knew I was a theologian, so she broached the question of God. ‘Where was God?’ she asked bluntly. ‘How can one believe in a good God in the face of such suffering?’ And that’s when I made my mistake.
The good thing is, I suppose, that the mistake was not as bad as it could have been. I could have attempted to justify God. After all, God was under attack, and I was a theologian—and a theologian who finds God immensely attractive even if sometimes totally baffling and very disturbing. But I remembered the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 and Voltaire’s Candide, a devastatingly witty attack on philosophical and theological optimism written partly in response. Two-thirds of Lisbon was destroyed and close to 30,000 people died, mostly from a tidal wave and a fire that followed the earthquake. It was All Saints Day, and ‘churches, with tapers burning, crumbled upon the crowds of worshipers.’ Brothels were mostly spared, as Voltaire was quick to note.
Ever since I read Candide I have not been able to bring myself to try to defend God against the charge of impotence or lack of care with regard to horrendous evils. I certainly couldn’t make it plausible to myself that ‘whatever is, is right’ or that ‘partial ill is universal good.’ It’s not so much that I’ve come to believe that such arguments must be wrong. Maybe I’ll be persuaded by them once history has run its course and God has brought about redemption and consummation, and I am able to think with a clear head from within a world made whole. That’s what Martin Luther suggested would happen in his treatise On the Bondage of the Will. But here and now, enmeshed as I am in a world in which suffering piles upon suffering in the course of unfolding history, I find such arguments implausible, lame, even a bit irritating. The good of the whole seems terribly abstract and without meaning or consolation to a human being plagued by suffering. ‘When death crowns the ills of suffering man, what a fine consolation to be eaten by worms!’ wrote Voltaire with characteristic sarcasm.
I did not make the mistake of trying to justify God—in two minutes or less. But I did try something almost equally complex, though more plausible. I suggested to my dinner partner that the very protest against God in the face of evil in fact presupposes the existence of God. Why are we disturbed about the brute and blind force of tsunamis that snuff out lives of people—including children who were lured, as if by some sinister design, onto the beaches by fish left exposed in the shallows because waters had retreated just before the tidal wave came? If the world is all there is, and the world with moving tectonic plates is a world in which we happen to live, what’s there to complain about? We can mourn; we’ve lost something terribly dear. But we can’t really complain, and we certainly can’t legitimately protest.
The expectation that the world should be a hospitable place, with no devastating mishaps, is tied to the belief that the world ought to be constituted in a certain way. And that belief—as distinct from the belief that the world just is what it is—is itself tied to the notion of a creator. And that brings us to God. It is God who makes possible our protest that there is evil in the world. And it is God against whom we protest. God is both the ground of the protest and its target. Almost paradoxically, we protest with God against God. How can I believe in God when tsunamis strike? I protest, and therefore I believe.
It was a mistake, however, to try to make this argument at that dinner. It’s not that I’ve come to believe that the argument isn’t valid. It’s a fine argument, even though it leaves one with a faith that seems at odds with itself, with a God whom it is hard to abandon yet difficult to embrace. It’s also not that my interlocutor was unable to follow the argument, even in such condensed form and delivered between the salad and the main course. She was smart enough for that. Yet I shouldn’t have offered it, not then and there, and not as the first thing to be said about God and tsunamis.
‘How can one believe in a good God in the face of such suffering?’ The answer to this question depends in part on the other question my interlocutor asked me that evening, ‘Where was God?’ My mistake was that I tried to answer the first question without answering the second. Just as God was in some mysterious way in the Crucified One, God was in the midst of the tsunami carnage, listening to every sigh, collecting every tear, resonating with the trembling of each fear-stricken heart. And just as God was in the Resurrected One, so God was in each helping hand, in each decision to sacrifice one’s own life so that another could live. God suffered and God helped.
I know that, at the same time, God was also seated on God’s heavenly throne. Why did the omnipotent and loving One not do something about the tsunami before it struck? I don’t know. If I knew, I could justify God. But I can’t. That’s why I am still disturbed by the God to whom I am so immensely attracted and who won’t let go of me.
Reflections on the readings….
Again, a figure from the peripheries of society provides us with a lesson. A ‘silent one’ or 'one unable to speak' (from which the word widow is derived), is acting outside the normal bounds in the patriarchal Mediterranean world where men alone played a public role. The ‘silent one’ finds her voice and speaks up for herself and becomes an agent of change for herself. We know that widows, orphans, and aliens are very close to the heart of God and thus the focus of God's concern. At least this widow realised that there is a special place for her in God’s heart, despite messages from society that she is a nobody without a voice. She is prepared to say what ‘she wanted whether she got it or not, because saying it was how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart…’ (Barbara Brown Taylor ‘Bothering God’ in Home by Another Way). We have in some made it passage about the need for persistence in prayer. I am convinced that any longing for God and for God’s presence, justice and protection is more than matched by God’s desire to be with us and break into our lives with justice, right relationships and fullness of life. So any reference to prayer it must be seen as the meeting place for God and ourselves where, we are changed by this encounter, but so too the world we live in.
For the pragmatist involved in justice and peace making, prayer can seem impractical and ineffectual as we try to bring about change in our leadership with whom we disagree hoping that God will somehow come upon them and bring about the changes we want. It seems to me that in prayer, we need to seek to open our hearts so that God’s vision, intentions, hopes may be become part of us where will live in right relationships where our world can be transformed. To be effective and prophetic, it seems that our actions must be clothed with an awareness of God’s presence and purpose.
Anyone involved in peace and justice work invariably comes in contact with other people who work for social change - and are in it for the long haul. There are representations of the widow in today’s gospel every day in people who take the risk of confronting injustice in society, irrespective of the source, irrespective who perpetrates it, and sometimes pay the price. Some are young and others very elderly who have protested against war, advocated for peace, human rights and eco-justice. Many have been arrested, imprisoned, killed or disappeared for their stand, yet others do not tire of the persistent pursuit of justice and peace. They confront patriarchy, militarism, violence, power and privilege; the victims of trafficking and those who resist it; the women whose husbands and children have disappeared yet continue to demand answers from those in authority; the women who continue to challenge the Church for being exclusive in the exercise of sacramental ministry; in gay and lesbian people who continue to struggle for ‘equal’ rights.
Whilst perseverance in prayer is often used as theme of today’s readings, we miss the main point if we fail to see today’s gospel as a wake-up call to get moving and start pursuing the cause of justice. And, Jesus gives us the example of one who has nothing going for her except that she is prepared to take a stand for what is right and in this case to take on the judiciary (or the church, today) which was one of the untouchable institutions in society. Through persistence and tireless nonviolent confrontation (following the gospel nonviolence of Jesus) that peace with justice is attained. It often happens through repeated actions of seemingly ‘inconsequential’ people who refuse to give up. Though people who live in a patriarchal world would align their power with that of the judge and that of God, the widow in the parable embodies God’s insistence on justice as seen in Jesus’ teaching and acting to attain it. In order to sustain the work of social change, of peace with justice, we need to allow ourselves to be transformed by Jesus who is the source of peace. The awful violence in Exodus reading notwithstanding, the important point is that our engagement with the world is not a solitary effort. We need to be in brotherhood and sisterhood, with friends, to bring about this change. Our prayer are opportunities for us to see our world with different eyes, with God’s eyes, and to educate us, rather than providing opportunities for us to shore up our convictions; to allow our prejudices be set more firmly; or even using prayer as weapon against others.
The judge does represent God. This is not how God acts. The parable or story depicts how it is in our world, not God’s world. Unlike the God Jesus manifests to us, the judge is not interested in listening to, or responding to, the cry of a vulnerable person seeking justice. But, God is in the poor widow who demands help, justice, and redress. Though not fearful of dispensing institutional violence, the judge is fearful for himself. Terror, corruption and injustice that oppress people – especially the poor - does not seem to bother him. We see in him political leaders who do not hesitate to place heavy burdens on the most vulnerable in our society and blame them for their situation, wo mete out violence and repress their people, yet need heavy security themselves. The analogy can be extended to the church when it refuses to listen to the grievances of certain sections within it, dismisses their claims and takes the subjects off the table.
So we can understand the gospel on two levels: one, where God’s voice calling out to us and pleading with us in the name of the marginalised; and secondly, an encouragement to get up, wake up, and not give up by being ‘seduced by moral disgust’. The pain, the anger, the rage are all God’s voice calling each one of us to action. Can we hear it? God is in the struggle and is in solidarity with us! The call for justice comes as people question the timing of God’s reign - ‘When will it come?’ When will things get better – for the people in West Papua? for the poor of the earth? for our threatened earth? for asylum seekers or migrants? for the Indigenous people who are aliens in their own land? for women or Indigenous people who battle corporations who threaten their life and culture, especially now with the threatened poisoning of their land with nuclear waste? for people living with mental illness? for those languishing at Guantanamo Bay or Nauru or Manus Island? for the promises of globalisation to benefit the majority? for the ‘fair go’ to become a reality? for war to be unacceptable and illegal?
Paul today tells us to persist, and to hang in there with the urgent tasks before us – ‘welcome or unwelcome, insist on it’. The patience called for does not mean sitting out the time or passive acceptance but an active struggle. Like ‘nonviolence’, it is not passivity, compliance, inactivity but nonviolent resistance. The closed universes of powerful institutions such as our places of employment, our churches and local and national governments cannot continue to stand. The call to keep persisting is based on the truth that God is present amongst us - where people struggle for change in the human community; in people, who despite setbacks, persist in the cause of right and justice and peace; in people who defy darkness and hopelessness by making another step in promoting the dignity of others; in those who say ‘no’ to those who try to makes us fearful and turn against one another; in people who nonviolently resist unjust systems. These are ways of poking a finger in the eye of the unjust system – as the widow was in danger of doing to the judge.
The woman in the story today reminds us of God who is forever trying to break into a closed world, to draw us into relationship; who makes us recognise what our relationships with God, neighbour and all creation demand of us. Her voice is God’s strident voice coming to us in many ways insisting that things can be different. God is affected by pain, suffering and injustice. God’s love does not to change. But, if our prayer makes us remote, self-righteous, bigoted or prejudicial, closed off or disengaged from others, does not orient ourselves outwards to God’s world, then we might need to ask what is happening and who we are really listening to: God’s Spirit or ourselves. Prayer really expresses our desire to be open to God so that we can hear God speaking to us through the voice of anyone who is silenced, neglected, marginalised or treating unjustly in other ways.