Posted by: livingscripture | July 29, 2014

Seventeenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of St. Martha
 Jeremiah 14:17-22
Psalm 79:8, 9, 11+13
Matthew 13:36-43 or Luke 10:38-42

 

Today, the Church offers us two options for a Gospel reading.  One has Martha and Jesus at the Tomb of Lazarus – Martha’s brother and Mary and MarthaJesus’s friend.  The other is the image of Martha asking Jesus to put her sister Mary to work.  Both are well known stories of today’s saint.  Both also contain very well-known sayings of Jesus – “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and “Mary has chosen the better the part.”  And both remind Martha – and us! – that the encounter with Jesus is a real encounter with a loving God who calls us to new life.

We can see this quite clearly, of course, in the account of Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb.  His friend has died and now Jesus approaches the family.  Martha expresses here her deep and abiding faith in Jesus, and, moreover, her trust in God’s loving providence.  Jesus affirms her faith by telling her that Lazarus shall live.  More than that, though, he deepens her faith for, when she would focus only upon the final resurrection at the end of days, he pulls her back into the present moment.  Yes, Lazarus would live with saints at the final resurrection – but here and now Jesus is Life.  He is the Resurrection.  The encounter with Jesus is one that brings life not only on the last day, but every day.

This is the same thing that Jesus does when he visits Martha and Mary in seemingly happier times, during the passage offered from Luke.  Martha is burdened by much serving.  It is unclear who exactly has burdened her.  Has she perhaps burdened herself?  Those of us who want to be perfect hosts know this burden.  Or we have seen friends and family struggle to have the perfect dinner miss the actual dinner.  Jesus calls Martha to this understanding.  Be present – this is his invitation to her.  Certainly, details will need to be addressed, but do these details trump the people coming to visit?

Again and again, Jesus’s invitation is to true presence in a real moment of life.  Resurrection is not (only) some far-off experience, something that we will get to eventually, if only we believe hard enough.  Rather, new life is the gift Jesus offers to us simply by his very presence.  Jesus is Resurrection; Jesus is Life.  And when we encounter him, we encounter life, we are raised.

Too often the burdens of our daily life keep us from that moment.  We need things to be perfect, so we miss out on the joys found in the imperfections.  Or, we focus so much on getting the details just right, that we miss the reason the details matter at all.  In dark days, too, we can place all our hopes and dreams on some far-off vindication, or some abstract ideal, that we miss out on the gifts of life offered even amid apparent desolation.

In neither of these stories is Martha a bad person.  Nor has she chosen bad things, let alone sinful things.  Attending to the details and hoping in the final resurrection of God’s People – these are good things!  Jesus, though, invites her to not let those good things stand between her and a better thing.  For, Jesus invites her to an immediate encounter with new life.  Jesus extends that invitation to you and me, too.  Can we let go of our burdens and far-off dreams, good as they may be, to encounter the Resurrection and Life of Jesus today?   Can we too choose “the better part”?

Posted by: livingscripture | July 28, 2014

Seventeenth Monday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 13:1-11
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21
Matthew 13:31-35

 

Today’s first reading must seem very strange. Dirty underwear, buried in the ground where it rots and is then dug up. Of what possible use Pope Franciscould it be? No use at all, except as a graphic image of uselessness – of something held close by God but misused and ruined by those to whom its care was entrusted.

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet. It was not a job he wanted, but he couldn’t resist God’s call. A prophet is not so much someone who sees the future, as a person who sees how God wants us humans to behave toward one another and toward the creation God has entrusted to our care. God chose Israel and gave it a vocation – precisely to be a model for the rest of the world. Israel didn’t always measure up, and Jeremiah’s job, like that of the other Old Testament prophets, was to call attention to Israel’s failures. A prophet not only spoke God’s vision for humanity, but embodied and enacted it by the prophet’s life and actions. What does Jeremiah say to Judah? “You are of about as much use to God as rotted, dirty underwear.” No mincing words there. His symbolic act becomes even more poignant when we hear God saying that Judah was as close to Him as a human is to his own underwear.

St. Paul tells us in several places that “all things written in times past were written for our instruction”. That’s certainly true for this graphic, earthy episode. The counterpart of Israel today as God’s model people is, of course, Christianity. Our task, our vocation, is to show the world God’s plan for humanity. How have we measured up? How well do we draw people to God’s vision? Gandhi, you recall, said he would have been a Christian if he had encountered someone who actually lived the Beatitudes. Yes, there were virtuous Israelites in Jeremiah’s time, and there certainly are virtuous Christians in our own time. But it’s the people as a group, and their leaders, that Jeremiah is speaking about. How are we doing as a people? Sexual abuse of minors, discrimination, power grabbing, privilege-seeking, exclusiveness, money laundering,  and that’s just within the hierarchy. For the rest of us, it’s too often rampant individualism, widespread social injustice, structural poverty, greed, and on and on . . . not all that different from Jeremiah’s time. Maybe rotted, soiled underwear doesn’t look like such an inappropriate metaphor after all.

Thanks be to God, we have now been given a prophet for our time, gentler than Jeremiah. Francis, Bishop of Rome, says that God’s model people must be inclusive, must be forgiving, must be a poor church for the poor, must be joyful. And God says “listen to him”. “Listen to him . . .”

God also says: “I love you and I will forgive you if you fail Me. But look: I have given you my Son. I have given you the Bible. I have given you the Sacraments. Live them all, be them all, and show the world my vision for humanity. If you don’t, then, well, as Jeremiah said . . .”

Posted by: livingscripture | July 27, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 119:57+72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52 or 13:44-46

 

As I read my assigned readings for this reflection, I secretly groaned.  Parables.  Why do I have to reflect on parables?  A good spiritual Highway_Home_blank-961x828[1]director might ask “What is your resistance to reflecting on parables?”  Mine is this: they are either so explicit that I wonder why Jesus didn’t just say what he meant or they are so convoluted that I wonder why Jesus just didn’t say what he meant.  This frustrates me and I am off wandering down a road that goes is a different direction than the parables lead.  So, as I read about the kingdom of heaven being like a treasure, a merchant and a net, nothing remotely insightful was coming to the surface.  I approached the scripture from different angles: What is the kingdom? Are these nouns or verbs? Is Jesus trying to say that we are precious?  I also went to my Catholic Youth Bible.  Sometimes the explanations I find there are about my speed.  You get the idea, I hope.  I also went back to the beginning of the Matthew, Chapter 13, and started looking at footnotes.  This is where my thread started to emerge.  Matthew 13:10, 11 tells us that knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom is a gift.  Understanding is a gift from God.  Here is a link to our first reading about Solomon requesting an understanding heart and God is the one who granted it.

So, after all this, what do I want to say?  I want to say that the kingdom of heaven is something we seek and have joy around when we find it.  The kingdom of heaven is something we search for; it is priceless.  The kingdom of heaven is an action of collecting and sorting.  I want to say that the kingdom of heaven is present in the ministry of Jesus.  It is present today in our ministry to one another, the environment, the world.  I want to say that understanding exactly what this means is a gift from God and that maybe the invitation is to relish the mystery, divinity, bigness of God and the kingdom.

Just one more thought, from the Catholic Youth Bible.  “In trying to get people to understand something as mystifying as the kingdom of heaven, Jesus used ordinary objects like seeds and light, salt and yeast.  He chose everyday actions like farming, fishing, and baking.  And in doing so, he helped the people of his time understand the new life that comes with the kingdom of heaven.”

What is the kingdom to you?  Take a walk outside, or look around the room you are in right now.  Pick any object that catches your attention.  Try to imagine how Jesus, the master teacher, would use that object to describe the kingdom of heaven.  For example, he might say: “The kingdom of heaven is like this telephone.  It connects you to everyone else in the world no matter who or where they are.” End your meditation with a prayer that your life will be a living sign to help others understand what the kingdom of heaven is all about.

The kingdom of heaven is like the curtains in my office.  They shield me from things that are too bright, while letting just the right amount of energy in.

Posted by: livingscripture | July 26, 2014

Sixteenth Saturday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Ann, parents of Blessed Virgin Mary
 Jeremiah 7:1-11
Psalm 84:3, 4, 5-6a+8a, 11
Matthew 13:24-30

 

Today is the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary. It is also the birthday of one of my daughters, named Annabelle fields of grainin part to reflect this feast. So today is an important day for my Christian and biological families! While the Bible itself is silent on Mary’s familial roots, there is an old Christian tradition that recounts Joachim and Anne presenting the young Mary in the Temple. This tradition reminds us that Mary was first and foremost a daughter of Israel, knowing by heart the Psalmist’s memorable words that “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”

And yet, as Jeremiah reminds us in today’s first reading, the “thousand elsewhere” surely matter. Here we see Jeremiah in true prophetic mode, given the unenviable task of “greeting” Temple visitors with a promise of judgment and an exhortation to reform. Jeremiah will not allow Temple worshipers to “compartmentalize their lives,” separating spiritual worship from ethical action. No, true obedience to God entails right action towards one neighbor…especially the marginalized orphans, widows, and resident aliens in our midst. Without this reconciliation of worship and ethics, the “dwelling place of the Lord, the mighty God” becomes a “den of thieves.” One sees here an unmistakable connection between Jeremiah and Mary’s own son Jesus, a prophet whose “jeremiad” against Temple merchants led directly to his death.

And yet today’s gospel parable cautions the church against being too quick to separate the “weeds” from the “wheat.” We are called to reform our lives, but final judgment belongs to God, not us. In fact, the “weeds” and the “wheat” are so inextricably interwoven…and our “gardening skills” of discernment so limited…that attempting to extirpate the weeds will inevitably lead to the destruction of the wheat as well.

But if final judgment lies in God’s hands, the promise of judgment remains. Judgment is not the most popular of theological themes in the 21st century, an era that prefers a God of therapeutic affirmation. But as Mary learned, election offers not an escape from life but a deeper responsibility for life. With Jeremiah, Mary, Joachim, Anne and the Psalmist, may “my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God,” both in the sanctuaries of our churches and in the streets of our world.

Posted by: livingscripture | July 25, 2014

Sixteenth Friday in Ordinary Time

Feast of St. James, apostle
 2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalm 126:1bc-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

 

“It’s not about you, it’s about me.”Bethesda 2

Sounds like a “break-up” line, doesn’t it?

In my prayer over today’s readings, I received a sense that Jesus might reverse both the wording and context of the above phrase to suit his message for his Apostles—and us.  The phrase would be more to the liking of, “It’s about you; it’s not about me.”

Just before this scripture passage begins, Jesus shared with his Apostles that very soon he was going to have to serve others in a very unpleasant way—suffering on a tragic scale–to fulfil his mission on earth.  His loving Kingdom was at hand.

He was also trying to help his followers understand that serving (although serving in the intense fashion he was about to do was not called for by everyone) was the way to be his follower.  Serving others was the way to fulfill their calling—to bring about the Kingdom.  Being a member of his family in his Kingdom was not about ruling over others; it was about serving them.

His Apostles had not quite fully understood this yet.  Fortunately, Jesus, being both human and divine, knew full well how our nature is integrated.  Our humanity, we are born with; our divinity—our spark of the divine—is granted to us through baptism.  Jesus looked to both sides of our nature to help us see that by our serving of others, we become fulfilled; we are fulfilling our mission of bringing about the Kingdom.

A few years ago, I met a woman in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy.  She shared with me a powerful change in her life, one that touches upon the message in today’s Gospel.  I asked her if I could mention her story someday, keeping her identity confidential; she agreed.

Mary (not her real name) was undergoing chemotherapy for stage four cancer.  She lived about four blocks away from the hospital and would walk to her treatments.  She was quite haggard and in a lot of pain most days.

Mary shared with me that she would cry as she walked to her chemotherapy, her anguish fomenting from the fear of the treatment itself.  And she would continue shedding her tears as she headed home after her treatment, the sadness then a combination of feeling awful both emotionally and physically.

One day, while walking home past a restaurant after her ninth chemo treatment, she passed a young and gaunt homeless man begging by a restaurant.  She had seen him a few times before; however, in trying to manage her own pain and suffering–she acknowledged to herself with a little guilt–she really had not paid him a lot of attention.

He was sitting along an outside wall of the restaurant with his back to the wall and his legs bent so that his knees were scrunched up, pointing to the sky.  His bare hands were in his lap, fingers laced together.  And he was quietly snoring.  The young man did not verbally ask for food; he displayed a sign requesting it.  She did note that this time he seemed far thinner; he also looked very cold.

Mary had brought some crackers with her from her treatment.  She placed what she had near his hands.  After taking a few steps toward her home, Mary looked back.  And without even thinking about it, took off her scarf and placed it around his hands and the crackers.

And she felt a little better.

She went home and began to pray for the young man.

When she went back to the hospital for her next treatment, the young man was no longer there.  She inquired as to his whereabouts from a restaurant employee.  The woman she spoke with said that she had not seen the young man in awhile, but, that Mary might find him in the homeless shelter a few blocks away.

Walking the extra few blocks was too much for Mary after her chemotherapy.  Or so she thought.  Once again without thinking about it, she found herself, exhausted and nauseous, walking up the steps of the shelter.  She walked in and sat down on the first chair she could find.  And then she saw her young man come in, looking a little better, wearing her scarf.  Seeing that he was alright, she closed her eyes, the exhaustion of her efforts taking over her weakened body.

When she opened her eyes a few minute later, he was sitting by her.  Once they made eye contact, he asked her if she was okay.  Mary nodded.  He said that she looked like she had had a tough day.

She began to cry.  He reached out and took her hand, waited until she finished crying, got up and gave her a few Kleenexes.   Mary said thank you to this young man.  And he said, “No, thank you. And thank you for the scarf.”

What Jesus was trying to help us with is that, whether we are or are not well, our calling is to serve.
And when we serve, we physically, emotionally and spiritually aid ourselves in feeling better, feeling more alive.  More importantly however, is that we are helping others.

We, like the Apostles, become the instruments of our Lord, in helping the bringing about of the Kingdom of God.  Not a Kingdom where we are princes and princesses, finding fulfilment in ruling; instead, a Kingdom where we are children of God, finding fulfillment in serving others.

“It’s not about me; it’s about you.”

Posted by: livingscripture | July 24, 2014

Sixteenth Thursday in Ordinary Time


 Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13
Psalm 36:6-7ab, 8-9, 10-11
Matthew 13:10-17

 

“Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.151900
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests”  Psalm 37: 3-4

Today’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm hammer home some important aspects of faith: confidence, trust, and commitment.  Through a trusting, confident, and committed faith we find salvation in the Lord.  For me, unlike the image of the mustard seed in today’s Gospel, it takes hard work to develop and cultivate these traits and, without the proper attention, they can disappear quickly.  These things do not “sprout and grow” naturally in me – they exist tenuously and need constant effort to preserve and flourish.  When I am overcome with anxiety – about my health, work, relationships, finances, etc. – I lose confidence in my connection to the Lord and let fear control my life.  When I see suffering and poverty in our world, I doubt whether the Lord really stands by each of us all the time.  When I am surrounded by a culture bankrupt of moral values, I am tempted to forgo my commitment to Christ and to “take the easy way out.”

I might not face physical persecution for my beliefs, but maintaining a strong faith in God requires strength in the midst of my complex humanity and our busy societies.  Surrendering control is the hardest thing for me to do, but I know that doing so is critical to finding the confidence to trust and commit to the Lord.  Building trust in God requires exercising my “faith” muscles: trust a colleague on a project at work, confide in a loved one, stand up for my values when it’s hard to do so.  If I cannot trust others or myself on the simple things in life, how can I expect myself to commit to the Lord on the ultimate questions of life?

Strong faith is a challenge for us all, whether new to faith or a lifelong believer.  Today I pray for the courage to take that “leap” of faith and trust, commit, and have confidence in the Lord.

Posted by: livingscripture | July 23, 2014

Sixteenth Wednesday in Ordinary Time


 Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15+17
Matthew 13:1-9

“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said,
“I know not how to speak; I am too young.”

“But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold.the field
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

I like both of these readings very much. The call of Jeremiah is very helpful. Jeremiah’s first response is very familiar. He said, in essence, “I can’t do it.” We make excuses, too. We say we are too young; too inexperienced: or too busy. In general, we are really too afraid or simply are not free enough to respond to what might involve sacrifice.

It is wonderful to be reminded that the Lord can use us, even when we are reluctant or even resistant. He puts words in our mouths. He touches us to free us and to give us whatever we need to be his instruments. That includes being a prophet where a prophet is needed. It includes being a leader where a leader is needed. It includes being a loving spouse or parent in the challenging situations in which I find myself.

And the parable of the sower is terrific for any of us who have tried these things and realize that the response is not always what we had hoped. Some of our precious efforts fall on deaf ears or on unresponsive hearts. Sometimes we are in a culture determined to “choke” our efforts at greater love and care for the common good, especially for those on the margins of our society. Sometimes, the wounds that have hurt the hearts of loved ones need deep healing first.

The good news of this parable is the assurance that there is some good soil out there. Our efforts to act with love in his name will bear great fruit. It will. The outcome of our efforts will be fruitful. So, the message is, “Sow boldly. Keep sowing. Trust the master of the harvest.”

Each of us can reflect upon the power of this message for our individual calls today.

Posted by: livingscripture | July 22, 2014

Sixteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time


Psalm 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8
John 20:1-2, 11-38

 

All too often, we think of Saint Mary Magdalene, whose memorial we celebrate today, as the “sinful woman,” from the Gospel.  Even though 100_0249it is highly debatable whether Mary Magdalene was actually the unnamed “sinful woman,” she nonetheless has been labeled this way over the centuries.  We rarely focus on how Mary Magdalene was healed by Jesus and how she became a faithful disciple to the Lord.  In the same way, we ourselves can fall into the pattern of recalling only our sins and our sinfulness while forgetting how we too have been healed by God and how like Mary Magdalene we strive in the midst of our human frailties to be faithful disciples.

Yet, as we hear in the first reading from Micah, our God is a God who removes guilt and pardons sin.  In Mary Magdalene, we find an example of a person who has been healed by Jesus and whose conversion leads her to faithful discipleship.  At the same time, she faces the same all too human challenges we do and when beset by grief in the wake of Jesus’ Passion, she is cast into a spiritual darkness.  In this darkness, she is unable to see Jesus standing right before her.  Saint Ignatius Loyola counsels us to be attentive during such times of spiritual darkness so that we do not become overly focused on our sins and lose sight of God’s healing power.

Like Mary Magdalene wants to cling to the not-yet-risen Jesus in her grief, we in our moments of spiritual darkness often want to cling to the notion of ourselves as helpless sinners.  Through our attachment to these limited notions of ourselves, we do not allow the healing power of Christ’s Resurrection to enter deeply into our lives.  So, as we seek to expand our vision of who Saint Mary Magdalene truly was, a faithful disciple healed by Jesus, we must also expand our vision of ourselves to see that we are beloved sinners healed by God.  In our moments of darkness and doubt, we must cry out like the psalmist to say, “Lord, show us your mercy and love.”

Posted by: livingscripture | July 21, 2014

Sixteenth Monday in Ordinary Time


 Micah 6:1-4, 6-8
Psalm 50:5-6, 8-9, 16bc-17, 21+23
Matthew 12:38-42

You have been told, O man, what is good,imagesCARK0V2I
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God.

Has any prophet articulated better than Micah God’s perennial desire for us? Assyria was threatening the entire Middle East including Israel. Indeed in 721 BC the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell.   During one of the most turbulent periods of Jewish history Micah prophesied.

Micah asks rather cynically  how Jews might  come before the Lord to solicit favor and protection in view of the turmoil swirling around them.  Should they come with sacrifices of burnt offerings of year-old calves, thousands of rams or even a first born child? What does the Lord want?  Micah’s s response echoes throughout the ages: Do right, love goodness, walk humbly before the Lord.

Our age is also immersed in political  turmoil. We observe daily growing levels of conflict between nations and within nations.  Sadly much of the turmoil can even be traced to religious conflicts..

And we ask what the Lord wants.  The voice of God speaks to us today primarily through Jesus — Jesus raised from the dead fulfilling the sign of Jonah.  And the voice rises up within us. Through faith and  baptism we share Jesus’  dignity of priest, prophet and king.  And through the Indwelling Spirit the voice of Jesus  echoes Micah’s  perennial message: Do right, love goodness, and walk humbly before the Lord.

What great  comfort we enjoy knowing  that listening to  the voice of Jesus rising within us we remain on God’s path despite the turmoil swirling around us!

Posted by: livingscripture | July 20, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

This summer here in the Midwest has brought ample, if not excessive, rains.  While outdoor activities are curtailed during rainy days, the l'abbraccio del Padreproduction of weeds in my yard is not.  Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time pulling weeds and thinking about ways to prevent new weeds from taking over the landscape.  Weeds are prominently featured in a parable Jesus shares with the crowd in Matthew’s gospel today.  I have always appreciated the parables Jesus shares and although I believe the intent is to help an abstract concept be more concrete, the parables do not necessarily make concepts simpler for me.  The farmer in the parable is clear that the weeds will be gathered and burned while the wheat will be taken into the barn.  At first glance this is so straightforward that sinners burn in hell and true believers go to heaven.  Yet I know that the delineation is not so clear.

The other readings today speak to me of the paradox of justice.  In Romans we are reminded that we are not alone and the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.  And the book of Wisdom describes God’s loving engagement of power “but though you are the master of might, you judge with clemency and with much lenience you govern us.”  My prayer around the phrase “those who are just must be kind” brings me to reflect upon restorative justice which engages the paradox of accountability and compassion.

The US Catholic Bishops in 2000 issued a document - Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration:  A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.  A restorative approach to justice attends to the needs of the victim of the crime, the offender and also the community.  This is a rich and more healing approach than a strict retributive approach in which the weeds are simply sent to burn.  In my career I have had the privilege of facilitating dialogues between perpetrators of crime and the persons they harmed.  Many times there were powerful moments of empathy and forgiveness.  A restorative approach holds the offenders more accountable for their actions than a retributive system where they passively accept the punishment given them.

The Bishops’ document contains many guidelines for policy and directions including offering victims the opportunity to participate more fully in the criminal justice process, insisting that punishment has a constructive and rehabilitative purpose and encouraging  spiritual healing and renewal for those who commit a crime.  We as Church are called to responsibility and action in ways such as by teaching right from wrong and standing by victims while we reach out to offenders.

The Catholic bishops conclude their document on restorative justice with these words:  “We are guided by the paradoxical Catholic teaching on crime and punishment: We will not tolerate the crime and violence that threatens the lives and dignity of our sisters and brothers, and we will not give up on those who have lost their way. We seek both justice and mercy. Working together, we believe our faith calls us to protect public safety, promote the common good, and restore community. We believe a Catholic ethic of responsibility, rehabilitation, and restoration can become the foundation for the necessary reform of our broken criminal justice system.”

My prayer leads me to ask:  When do I judge another person harshly?  How do I demonize another person?  When do I show compassion?  How can I strive to ask what are the needs of members of my community?   Committing to the principles of restorative justice helps me live my Catholic faith in the image of our loving and forgiving God.

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