Posted by: livingscripture | September 2, 2014

Twenty-second Tuesday in Ordinary Time


 1 Corinthians 2:10b-16
Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13ab, 13cd-14
Luke 4:31-37

And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.crowds

While reflecting on today’s readings, “and news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region” kept springing up in my mind.  What were the various ways news was spread?  What was said?  What were people’s reactions?  I think about our current methods of spreading news such as blogging, Facebook and Twitter, just to name a few, and these methods disseminate news quickly.  And with the amount of news, we have become overloaded with news.  At least I have.  There are times when I completely try to step back from all news, but that doesn’t last long. News is everywhere!

How does the news of Jesus continue to spread today?  How accurate is this news?  We are told that people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because he spoke with authority.  Jesus had such authority and power that demons not only listened to him but they did what he said.  Do I recognize Jesus’ authority?  Do I not only listen to him but do what he says?  Do I believe and live as though he is the Holy One of God?

I share with you these many questions because of something I recently read on Facebook: “Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.”  Why don’t I continue to spread the news of Jesus everywhere?  Maybe it has something to do with: “Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.” 

My prayer is to continually ask God to reveal to me what I cannot understand and to ask for the grace to spread the news of Jesus everywhere!

Posted by: livingscripture | September 1, 2014

Twenty-second Monday in Ordinary Time


Labor Day in the United States

 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Psalm 119:97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102
Luke 4:16-30

 

You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of an important American novel that I’ve actually never read; the saying seems to me to fit today’s preachingGospel, along with another one:  “You can’t step into the same river twice.”   As the river flows on, life continues; each minute, each day, each year is always new, and never repeatable.   Our young students beginning their lives in college and university may feel this, facing their new lives and unable to go back to their high school years or young childhood.   Or maybe they already felt that almost grown-up nostalgia, years ago in seeing the “little kids” go off to the grade school / primary school that they had left behind.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has already been baptized by John the Baptist and has prayed and fasted and been tempted by the devil in the desert.   He has been traveling and teaching in the synagogues of Galilee – in other words, he has already taken up his public mission when he comes to his “home town” of Nazareth and, as we hear today, announces his power and authority.

Today’s first reading and Psalm are also about divine power and authority.  Paul tells the Corinthians that he teaches not to convey his own wisdom and expertise, but to demonstrate God’s “spirit and power.”   In the Psalm, the refrain, “O Lord I love your commands,” follows from saying that obeying God gives us wisdom, understanding and discernment.

Jesus knew in advance that his former neighbors, who had known him as a child and as a young man, would be not only shocked and suspicious of his proclamation but also jealous and angry.  Feeling those emotions in the crowd, he would have felt the pang of recognizing that he couldn’t go back to his earlier life in Nazareth.   Ordinary human failings prevent his audience from seeing who he is and what he is doing now.  And surely, filled with God’s power, committed to his mission, he never meant to stay in Nazareth anyway.

We can understand the human sins of jealousy and anger and unbelief in these people of Nazareth.  Recently we saw news reports on our American television of angry protest marches, throwing stones and looting;  now we recognize the even more violent and angry mob at Nazareth.  What we can’t explain or take for granted is how Jesus walked through the crowd and away – away, into the world, to teach all of us through the rest of earthly time.   Divine teaching, power and authority are calmly demonstrated for us in this scene, and then the public life of Jesus on earth goes on, and leads finally to Jerusalem, his death and his  Resurrection – and our salvation.

Our God-given lives continue through years and decades, the stages of life advance, and we can’t go back.    I can’t go back to the joys and troubles of earlier days, earlier responsibilities and opportunities – but that’s OK.  Whatever life gives me in whatever time I have ahead, my faith tells me that Jesus is always with us who believe in him.   As the “Amazing Grace” hymn says, “The Lord has promised good to me / His word my hope secures.”

Mary, may your trust in the Lord’s goodness to you, be fulfilled.

 

 

Posted by: livingscripture | August 31, 2014

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time


 Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

 

Perhaps today should be called “Prophecy Sunday”. We start with Jeremiah. Prophecy was not a job he wanted. “You tricked me Lord” he 486713_657087720974915_1716860718_ntells God. And what did he get? Derision and reproach. Why? Well, the job of a prophet was not to serve as fortune teller (as perhaps we might think). It was to be God’s spokesperson, to tell people they are not doing what God wants, that they are not running the world the way God intended it to be run.

A prophet’s job didn’t stop with words though. A prophet was to show by his/her life how God wanted people to live and govern. A prophet had to “walk the walk”.  And a prophet was to witness God’s vision for humanity to those in charge – at obvious risk to the prophet’s physical health. Nobody likes to hear that his priorities are wrong, especially those who are in a position of power.

Jesus was a prophet (He was more than that, of course, but prophet was the role He played as God incarnate). He anticipates His fate as a prophet in today’s gospel (“suffer greatly from the rulers”), and He straightens Peter out, Peter who, like Jeremiah, would rather that their prophetic message would be received with joy and gratefulness. Dreamer!

No, fidelity to a prophet’s role (and to ours as the successors of the prophets) will bring mainly shame. “Take up your cross . . .”   Shaming was what carrying the crossbeam through the city was intended to do: humiliate the criminal. That’s Jeremiah’s “derision and reproach”. And that’s what behind Paul’s exhortation in the second reading, not to “conform yourselves to this age . . .”

As Jesus’ role was to be a prophet, so is the Church’s – first in its early days, but no less today. Our vocation is the same as that of the early Christians – to serve as prophets, both to those in power (state and church) and also to our Christian brothers and sisters who, too often, have “conformed” themselves to this age.  God clearly wants us to hear the prophets among us and to take what they say seriously – however uncomfortable it may make us feel.  And we should look in the mirror ourselves; how “conformed” are we?

As a society we may be a little more humane than the rulers in Jesus’ time. (After all, we don’t line the roads with crucified rebels as the Romans did.)  But power is still abused massively. Worth is still defined by wealth. Today in the U.S., people are driven into poverty and homelessness, despite working full-time. Even our clothing and foods are the products of little more than slave labor. What are we to do? We feel helpless. Just look the other way? Don’t make waves?

No, we are called to take seriously the missionary charge at the end of Mass “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives.” That’s the missioning of a prophet. “By our lives” means more than virtue and piety, observing the rules and receiving the sacraments – though those are good traits to have. (But remember: the Pharisees did that much.)  When Jesus didn’t know what to do next, He spent the night in prayer, asking His father to show Him what He should do next.  That’s a good place for us to start, too.

One thing we should recognize: not “conforming to this age” will put us out on the margins – where we could encounter “derision and reproach”. However, as Pope Francis has assured us, that is precisely where the Church needs to be. And the Church, as always, is us.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 30, 2014

Twenty-first Saturday in Ordinary Time


1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Psalm 33:12-13, 18-19, 20-21
Matthew 25:14-30

 

The parable of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel today refers to the Kingdom of Heaven.  “The Kingdom of Heaven,” for him, is the same as “the mother teresa[1]Reign of God” in the other Gospels.  Matthew uses “Heaven” because his community is made up of Jews who have become Christians.  He is sensitive to what they are used to.  They rarely refer to God as God, because they regard the word God as sacred.  So they used circumlocutions speaking of God, as does Matthew in today’s Gospel.  His readers who left the Jewish community to become Christians knew full well he was referring to God.

When Jesus speaks of the Reign of God, He proclaims God as the living God, acting concretely, in our history and now.  The kings, emperors, and presidents of our world and throughout history may hold sway for a time but, like Ozymandias, their reign eventually crumbles. The reign of our God perdures.  It begins with creation, is actively present now, and will continue to be active, guiding us and our world until the end of time and into His eternal Kingdom.

God’s Reign is His creative love for each of us personally, and for all of us collectively. It prevails when each of us personally, one by one, and all of us together as a world-wide community, let God’s love take over in our lives. What does today’s parable from Matthew tell us about the Reign of God?

The master, leaving on a long trip, portions out his fortune to three servants. Two realize the master wants a return on his capital, so they invest it and double it.  When he returns, he praises both because both gave him a 100% return.  The third servant, however, buried the money for fear of losing it.  The master is outraged.  He was angry because the servant had allowed fear to paralyze him. So afraid was he of losing money that he did not even take the very modest risk of depositing it in a bank.

The Lord has entrusted a fortune to us:  material resources, natural talents, spiritual gifts, and the Gospel. He expects us to grow them. In the last supper discourse (John 15) He speaks of the disciples as bearing much fruit. In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, He speaks of grain that bears 30, 60, and 100 fold. Whatever labor we are involved in–economic, family, apostolic–the goal should be to develop, increase, and grow what God has given us, for his honor and glory.

This involves taking risks. It means not letting fear of failure stop us from pursuing success.  The Acts of the Apostles frequently uses the Greek word parrhesia, meaning cheerful boldness in the face of danger or opposition. Without such boldness, Christianity would have stalled in Palestine. It never would have made it to Antioch, Greece, Rome, and us.  Faithfulness to God means having courage to take bold initiatives, in pastoral life, family life, and business — to be creative, even entrepreneurial, to express our gratitude for all God has given us by making it grow.

At the end we will be asked, as the men in the parable were, “How did you use the gifts I gave you and how productive were they in furthering the growth of the Kingdom?”  Today then is a day for us to identify what those gifts actually are. Some people have never given it much thought. They see their Christian life in rather passive terms, just looking after themselves, living in conformity to the commandments of God and the Church, fulfilling their “religious duties,” making sure to die “in the state of grace”. To do only this, in effect, is to bury one’s talents.

So we are here and now called to continue to spread God’s love in word and deed, as best we can, wherever  we can, no matter what the circumstances:  To make sacrifices, to share our wealth, to be kind and patient, to be humble and poor in spirit, to be merciful and truthful, to be peace makers and one another’s servants.   Let God be the judge as we confront injustice, greed, self-centered ambition and arrogant pride.  To love others not just by what we say but by what we do.  That is how we manifest and disclose that the Reign of God is at hand.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 29, 2014

Twenty-first Friday in Ordinary Time

The Passion of St John the Baptist
 I Corinthians 1:17-25
Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 10-11
Mark 6:17-29

 

Today’s scripture readings are an interesting mix.  They speak of the message of the cross and tell the story of the demise of John the John and HerodBaptist.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the reader “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.  And Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified”.  The psalmist proclaims “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord”.  In Mark, we hear the sad story of Herod and the death of John the Baptist.

It’s interesting that, centuries ago, Paul and the Corinthians ran into the same rejection of the Good News that we see in the world today.  Everyone wants a sign (me included).  After all, we live in an age where science is worshiped.  Science is all about evidence and signs.  Christ crucified?  What does that even mean?

Recently my family was on vacation in Branson, Missouri.  As we walked down the street, a young man approached me and asked, Are you saved?  To be honest, I was a little put off and immediately on my guard.  I expected the next question to be about money.  I replied yes, and he gave me a blessing and moved on.  I was rather ashamed of my reaction to the Good News and my treatment of this young man who was bold enough and cared enough about me to ask the question.

Shortly thereafter we walked into a thrift store.  To be honest, my wife is the shopper, so I stood by the cash register and waited.  I asked the clerk how she was today.  To her credit, instead of the standard, fine, she responded that she was not doing well.  A few further questions revealed that her son was quite ill and going in for brain surgery in a week.  My wife came over and joined the conversation.  Talking one mother to another, I could see immediately tears forming in my wife’s eyes.  She has such a wonderful heart and empathy for people in pain.  As we left, we promised the woman that we would pray for her and her son.  She thanked us.  I wonder if God was sending me a message?  Why did I ask this complete stranger how she was doing?  It would be easier if Jesus had said, hey, once you get to know me, let’s just keep it a secret.  My relationship with Jesus is very personal, but I don’t think it is meant to be private.  I think knowing that God loves us allows us to venture out into the world and risk loving people who may not love us back.

My son, Nattie, recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti (his second).  As he talked to people in our church about a young Haitian boy who had particularly touched his heart, he began to cry.  Afterwards, he told me he how embarrassed he was.  I told him to never be ashamed to cry.  It shows he has a heart for God’s children.

My granddaughter, Annie, is approaching two years of age.  Her favorite word is wow.  She throws her arms in the air and shouts, Wow!  I’m with her.  It’s an amazing world we live in, full of amazing people.  God places people in our lives and asks, “now what are you going to do?”  I believe if I put Jesus first, then I will be able to love others as God wants me to.

My prayer is for those of us who are afraid of rejection and who are reluctant to share the Good News.  May God give us a bold spirit and a heart for his children.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 27, 2014

Twenty-first Wednesday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of St. Monica
 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18
Psalm 128:1-2, 4-5
Matthew 23:27-32

Which Side Are You On?

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones.”  (Matthew 23:27)

To follow Jesus, we leave old ways behind.  As all things are made new, one can grow dizzy.  Paul emphasizes the steadying role of tradition as the Christian movement spread through the empire.  Everyone must contribute to the work of community in some way.  No one lives off the labor of others.  We share the risks and joys and troubles.  Those with authority must serve.19a[1]

The other path is more common.  Like scribes and Pharisees, we acquire the shiny regalia of virtue designed to impress.  Those with authority hobnob with the privileged and pray vaguely for the poor.  When strong words and courageous actions are needed, the silence is deafening.  Jesus calls these dead men.  Their words are formed from bone and ash.  Their masks will fall some day.  Truth cannot be hidden for long.

The prophetic voice unsettles us.  From Creighton University in the 1940’s, the Jesuit Father John Markoe attacked racism as a mortal sin.  While most white Americans, including Catholics, saw segregation as normal and necessary, an interracial band of young people answered Markoe’s call.  Years before the courts struck down Jim Crow laws, the DePorres Club used persuasion and protest to challenge local churches, schools, hospitals, and business to do the right thing and end racial segregation.  (See Ahead of Their Time by Matt Holland).

Today we remember St. Monica, whose trust in God carried her through many storms.  Daily prayer frees us to take up the works of justice and mercy as the stuff of life.  Every morning we awaken to a call.  Which side am I on?

Posted by: livingscripture | August 26, 2014

Twenty-first Tuesday in Ordinary Time


 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 14-17
Psalm 96:10, 11-12, 13
Matthew 23:23-26

 

Judgment is a major theme of the two readings and the Psalms. What struck me was the tone had a more hopeful nature than I anticipated on dd5f9-f1vj5the subject of the readings. The first reading from Thessalonians gives a warning about the second coming. We are told not to be concerned about any “spirit”, an “oral statement” or a “letter” on this future event. The advice to us from Paul is to “stand firm” in what we are doing. This gives comfort knowing that if we are strong in our faith and continue in our actions we should be encouraged through the grace of God.

The psalms continue this theme. God is portrayed as the Lord of all who reigns justly and with equity. I know from this he is a just and loving God. The gospel reading from Matthew has a more foreboding tone but offers contentment as well. There is a warning not to be hypocritical like the Pharisees. The message is to be concerned about our interior self and not be ruled by the external. For myself I find that this speaks to my heart.

So often I get carried away by the externals of the secular world and even at times become too rigid in the practice of my faith. I need to be reminded that my interior spiritual life is most important. This certainly includes a solid spiritual life grounded in faith. It also includes perhaps following the example of Pope Francis and turning my attention more to my fellow man in need. As I go forward in my spiritual journey, the challenge is to find the balance between both of these approaches to spirituality. I hope as Paul states “through grace” my heart will be strengthened.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 25, 2014

Twenty-first Monday in Ordinary Time


 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 4-5
Matthew 23:13-22

 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.t_Jesus_the_Teacher002
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “

Matthew

As I read this challenging, even harsh, passage from Matthew, all I could think about was Fr. Pat Malone S.J., one of the kindest, gentlest priests I have ever known – the embodiment of what Jesus wanted the scribes and Pharisees, and, by extension, all religious ministers, to be.

We lost Fr. Pat, our pastor at St. John’s Parish on campus, last week to a variety of illness that he had battled courageously for years. I wondered if some of them stemmed from his service as a chaplain at Ground Zero but who knows? Whatever their origin, he was a hero and a saint.

At his wake, many of us recalled how he had stood at the entrance of St. John’s on even the coldest of Saturday evenings opening the door and joyfully welcoming us to Mass.  He quite literally allowed “entrance to those trying to enter” the Kingdom. But even when he was hospitalized for months and could not be with us physically, he continued to open that door through his powerful columns in our bulletin.

Always he wrote about compassion and God’s love for us. He wrote about our community and what it means to be the People of God, embracing others in love. Of course much of the letters’ impact came from the way Fr. Pat had lived his whole life from his days in the Peace Corps before joining the Jesuits to his work at Ground Zero then later with Creighton students in the Dominican Republic and finally with us.

Sadly today’s Gospel also makes me think of the opposite of Fr. Pat — today’s scribes and Pharisees who have their own notions about who is worthy of welcome to the Kingdom with little compassion for their struggles. Enough said.

But today I celebrate Fr. Pat and his life of welcoming people who seek to enter the Kingdom where he is now reaping his reward. He taught us how to live and how to die. Thank you. Blessings. Rest in Peace.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 24, 2014

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 22:19-23
Psalm 138:1-2a, 2b-3, 6+8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

 

When we hear Jesus say to Simon bar Jonah, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” we have no trouble understanding the sendingsymbolism of passing on keys. Scholars rightly refer us to Isa 22:15-25, where the giving of keys to King David’s steward Shebnah signifies the transfer of authority from Eliakim to him as master of the palace of David. The giving of keys in these biblical passages in Isaiah and Matthew resonates easily with the giving of keys in our own culture. When a parent gives her child the keys to the family car, the child recognizes this as the giving of authority (albeit temporarily) over the use of the car, typically for a date that evening. Similarly, when the high school basketball coach gives a trusted senior a set of keys to the gym to provide access to shoot buckets after hours, his peers recognize that he is in possession of significant authority. We get that.

But when Jesus goes on to describe the keys he is giving Peter as “keys to the kingdom of heaven,” the phrase easily triggers the memory of those many cartoons that portray St. Peter monitoring the pearly gates, allowing some people in, and others not. While that association provides the setting for some wonderful humor, it distracts us from the context of the biblical meaning of “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” For what is commonly called “the kingdom of heaven” in the Gospel of Matthew is the same reality called “the kingdom of God” in Mark and Luke—namely the Reign of God inaugurated by Jesus during his earthly ministry, the gathering of disciples who respond to the reign of God on earth, which Jesus inaugurates through his preaching and healing. This is what Jesus teaches us to pray for when we say “they kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” Entering that kingdom on earth does eventually lead to entering the divine realm we call Heaven, but the authority given Simon Peter is a power that he exercises on earth.

But this earthly authority is divinely authorized. That is what Jesus means when he says, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In first-century Palestine, binding and loosing referred to the authority that a leader of a synagogue congregation had regarding the practical application of the Mosaic Law in daily life, and also the inclusion or excommunication of community members. So, in effect, Jesus was making Simon Peter the chief rabbi of the church.

Taking this language seriously helps us understand the accepting of the institutional reality of the church is as essential to Christian faith as believing in the humanity of Jesus. We know what people mean when they say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” That statement usually means, “I try to take seriously God and my spiritual nature and destiny, but I have trouble relating to official church structures and external practices.” But today’s Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus established a concrete community of followers who were to understand themselves as heirs to the covenant life of Israel. That means working out our collective salvation in the context of divinely established earthly authority. That also means believing that the authority of God works through human frailty. All together now: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!”

Posted by: livingscripture | August 23, 2014

Twentieth Saturday in Ordinary Time


 Ezekiel 43:1-7ab
Psalm 85:9ab+10, 11-12, 13-14
Matthew 23:1-12

 

When I first read today’s readings I recalled the prior dialogue in Chapter 7, where Jesus admonished us to not judge, and to not be images[11]concerned about the splinter in our brother’s eye when we had a wooden beam in our own.  Today’s teaching on hypocrisy is in the same vein – don’t fall into the trap of telling others what to do and then not doing it yourself.  Don’t be so enamored with yourself that you fail to see your flaws.  Don’t do things to be seen, but because they need to be done.  The essence of hypocrisy is just that – to say one thing and do another.

And it is important not to forget this hypocritical leaning that we all have as part of our human condition.  One can certainly see countless examples of hypocrisy in our daily lives, from politicians to entertainers to business leaders and even to religious leaders.  For me though, when I synthesize Chapters 7 and 23, a key teaching is not just to notice the hypocrisy in others, but to more importantly know it in ourselves.  I think it is easy to get caught up in finding hypocrisy only in public figures or work colleagues or neighbors and forget that in our own private lives we too are many times guilty of hypocrisy.  And like the splinter and beam analogy, when we look at someone else it might be easy to see their flaw but then when we look at ourselves we cannot come to terms with our own shortcoming.

It seems like our personal hypocrisy can be more insidious precisely because it is hard to see.  When we don’t acknowledge it, we create patterns and habits of hypocritical behavior (when our actions are inconsistent with our professed beliefs) that become so entwined in our lives that it takes significant effort and reflection for us to even recognize that we have been hypocritical, that we have failed to live up to our own best purposes.  We adapt and customize and sanitize our beliefs to meet our behavior, rather than change our actions because they fail to meet our core truths.  We don’t just act hypocritically, but actually change into someone other than who we started out to be.

It also struck me that we might more easily see our possible hypocrisy in little things (“Gee, I should have been nicer to that grocery checkout clerk – it wasn’t her fault the product was mis-priced or that I was having a bad day.”) but fail to see it in big things (e.g., what types of public response should we have to marginalized people within and outside our borders).  I suppose that being aware of our possible hypocrisy is the first step to not acting hypocritically.  But that awareness takes effort and, if we have over time built up habits of acting inconsistently with our values, a difficult catharsis to make changes.

I think we have to deal with this on two levels – what have we done in the past that is inconsistent with our beliefs and what are we doing currently (or what might we be doing soon) that would be inconsistent.  Recognizing our failure to be faithful in the past is the first step, and resolving to not be inconsistent in the present and future is the next step.  We can change.  Recognizing that we have been hypocrites in the past does not condemn us to be hypocrites in the future.

Ultimately, we can reduce our potential for hypocrisy by being mindful that our actions match our words.  We can avoid being a hypocrite by being aware in the moment of doing that we are acting as we think God calls us to act.

And so my prayer today is for the grace to be more aware of my tendency to be hypocritical and for the grace to act consistently with my beliefs.

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