2nd Sunday of Advent

The name of the mountain pass ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ surely has a note of irony to it, as that scenic road is blocked every now and again by landslides. Clearing the road and making it passable is akin to painting the Forth Road Bridge. That’s our modern equivalent of responding to the ancient cry as recalled in today’s gospel: ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill will be laid low, winding ways will be strengthened and rough roads made smooth.’ This passage comes from the prophet Isaiah roughly 2,600 years ago, well before the invention of motorised transport. It shows that beaten tracks – and later on, paved roads – were crucial for maintaining effective control over conquered territories, and made movement of goods and people much easier and safer, hence it was good for trade too. The importance of an extensive network of good quality roads was emphasised recently by the British Government in a rather bizarre way; the budget proposal included more money for dealing with potholes than for education.

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1st Sunday of Advent

Some call it one of the greatest moments in our recent history and paint a very optimistic picture of a bright future. For others, it’s one of the greatest follies of our time, and they present a gloomy picture of the imminent total collapse of the country and of society at every level. Of course, I’m talking about Brexit. Those highly polarised and polarising views make the headlines because they attract attention. And that’s what the proponents of the opposing sides want to capture: our attention. Such a tactic isn’t new; on the contrary, it’s been so common since time immemorial that it has its own literary term: hyperbole. I’ve found a rather good definition of it: ‘Hyperbole is a literary device wherein the author uses specific words and phrases that exaggerate and overemphasise the basic crux of the statement in order to produce a grander, more noticeable effect. The purpose of hyperbole is to create a larger-than-life effect and overly stress a specific point. Such sentences usually convey an action or sentiment that is generally not practically or realistically possible or plausible but helps to emphasise an emotion.’

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary time

‘Paradise’ is no more. The town in California, ravaged by the recent wildfires, looks like a post-apocalyptic ghost town. The disaster hit so suddenly that many of the town’s residents were only saved by the skin of their teeth; many didn’t make it and died where they were. Sadly, it is the latest, but not a one-off tragic event on such a massive scale. Less than a couple of months ago a deadly tsunami hit Indonesia, leaving behind damaged property, settlements razed to the ground and over a thousand dead. You might also remember the deadly floods in the Indian state of Kerala, as well as many other natural disasters around the world. Each of them left behind a trail of material, physical and mental devastation. Each of those tragic events has been the end of the world for the affected as they knew it.

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31st Sunday in Ordinary time

Perhaps you may be familiar with a version of the quip: ‘Two Jews have three opinions…’ Ostensibly it smacks of a negative remark that labels the Jews as quarrelsome. In fact, the quip is a source of pride for many Jewish people as it describes their mindset and attitude towards Truth with a capital T. The quip has a second line, which is usually missing in popular usage. The whole sentence goes more or less like this: ‘Two Jews have three opinions, all of which have merit.’ Rabbi Rick Sherwin explains that ‘The statement is based on an ancient Jewish text that conveys a serious lesson: consider another’s perspective not as right or wrong, but as offering merit, whether you agree with it or not. Ultimately, it is a statement of respect.’

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30th Sunday in Ordinary time

I was about twelve years old when it became blindingly obvious that my eyesight wasn’t as sharp as I wanted. A standard eye-test confirmed the obvious and the sentence was passed: life behind glass. Or – to be more precise – behind correction glasses. Nowadays glasses seem to be quite fashionable amongst young people. But for me, at that time, the newly acquired accessory was a devastating blow to my self-esteem. For many years thereafter, I was desperate to get rid of glasses. Instead, I have become more and more dependent upon them and, as you can clearly see, I remain bespectacled.

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28th Sunday in Ordinary time

Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty. This rather catchy phrase by a German-born teacher and academic, Leo Rosten, has a ring of truth about it. But it also goes against today’s gospel, where Jesus gives a jaw-dropping piece of advice to a wealthy man: ‘Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come, follow me.’ The man is gobsmacked by Jesus’ proposal and departs, prompting Jesus to comment publicly: ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ So, essentially, it seems that we are all doomed, damned and condemned unless each one of us makes ourselves as poor as a church mouse. No, I’m not going to tell you that giving all your money to me is the perfect solution to finding happiness!

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27th Sunday in Ordinary time

Differences between men and women have always been fertile ground for jokes! Some of them good, others less so. Some jokes considered good and funny in the past can be perceived nowadays as embarrassing at best, or insulting or sexist at worst. There also exists a much darker side regarding differences between men and women. In many cultures over the millennia, women have often been treated unequally, unfairly or harshly. Sometimes women have been effectively reduced to chattels, expendable possessions, inferior even to property or domesticated animals. In 2018, one hundred years after some women in the United Kingdom were allowed the Vote, one of the topical subjects in the public sphere is ‘pay inequality’ or ‘the gender gap’ where men are earning more than women for doing the same job. In Saudi Arabia, women are practically imprisoned in their houses unless an adult male member of the family chaperones them outside. Until only recently, women in Saudi Arabia weren’t even allowed to drive their own cars. Arranged marriages, where girls on reaching a certain age are forced to marry much older men, are still common in many parts of the world. What saddens me is that religious tradition is commonly employed to justify such degrading treatment of, and attitudes towards, women.

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