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. “


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.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 22, 2014

Twentieth Friday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of the Queenship of Mary
 Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Matthew 22:34-40


If we pay attention to Ezekiel’s text concerning the dry bones we can see that it is a figure Ezekiel aims at Israel and its infidelity to the Lord and his law, but we can also see that it fits our pagan modern society just as well.  Immaculate%20Conception%20dogma%20defined-thumb-300x248-5178[1]

Too many of us have our bones connected logically and properly, but they are without life: they just go through their lives day by day as they wish, just looking for enough pleasure to get by.  Such people have no goal and no growth; they are already dead even though they have not yet lain down at the end of this time that is our earthly chance to choose who we will be in the next life.

Others of us are driven, active, and seeking a goal, albeit a poorly-defined success which amounts to money, power, or status and popularity: we have a flesh that is active, but we are still not really alive, merely adolescents following a materialist program.

It is only when the Spirit comes to us that we are able to gain real life and to receive what the Lord has prepared for us — but this happens only to the extent that we let go of all that is merely earthly, right down to who and what we are and the goals we insist on pursuing.

Into our lives the Lord sends prophets, men and women who bear his word, a most effective word.  Consider how Ezekiel receives that word (2:1-11), sweet in his mouth but bitter and filling his heart with anger.  The prophetic words of Ezekiel are powerful here, fulfilling the will of the Lord and bringing life to those who truly wish to become the Lord’s people.

We are not only members of that people, we are also the chosen ones whom  the Lord entrusts with that word, that mission, that witness, that healing and giving of life, true life.  Here in Ezekiel’s text the Lord promises to Israel that ”I will settle you upon your land”: His promises in the Old Testament are wealth, children, long life, and real estate, still all very earthly.

For us who know the living Christ, though, we look forward to much more, to everlasting life and bliss in knowing Christ, his Father, and their Spirit personally and affectionately.  We will not be dry bones, not even bones covered with flesh but doomed to futile lives.  We will be living with the full and true life of God.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 21, 2014

Twentieth Thursday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of St. Pius X
 Ezekiel 36:23-28
Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
Matthew 22:1-14


Two themes emerge in my mind from the readings today: 1. God’s promise and invitation to us and 2.  the attitude of our response.  God speaks through Ezekiel of his promise to cleanse, restore and renew us.  While we may have stony hearts and many impurities, God draws us together into a covenant promise in which he establishes an intimate relationship between God and God’s people.  In that relationship, God expects us to live by the standards God sets for us.  We can do that because God gives us a new heart and a new spirit with which to prove God’s holiness through our lives.  That is what the church is about.risen Jesus 1

In God’s promise to cleanse us and make us holy, God recognizes our need for guidance.  Our salvation is not a one-time pronouncement, but an invitation to a sustaining relationship.   Because we are so prone to wandering, God sets up a relationship in which we are constantly engaged in renewal through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The church helps us practice that relationship through a spirit within us that creates a relationship of joy in salvation, not bondage to law.  In order for that relationship to sustain us, we need a willing spirit that comes from knowing that we are God’s people in community.  We are invited to enter into the relationship with an attitude of humility.  We are not invited to bring sacrifices and offerings, but simply our contrite hearts.  It seems to me then, that the invitation into the Kingdom of heaven is a generous offer that should not be ignored or mistaken as recognition of our goodness or worthiness.  It is a daily invitation to affirm our relationship with God in a feast of holiness.  The attitude of our response in affirming that relationship should be one of humility and joy.  This attitude we need to bring with us when we worship and live out our daily lives.

I share a short story of how I saw that working around me.  There is a small country Presbyterian church on the corner down the road from where I grew up on a farm in Butler County, Iowa.  While I attended a Lutheran church in a nearby town, Unity Presbyterian was always a part of my life.  All of the kids from the neighborhood attended its Bible school, regardless of denomination.  And the entire neighborhood attended its hymn singing events, famous duck suppers, and special guest speaker events.  The members were our friends and neighbors and from them I learned the importance of the gift of hospitality.  I could walk in that church any time to pray.  The invitation was always there.  The door was never locked.  Because that invitation means so much to me, I keep a relationship with that little church.  I stay in touch with the people who remain there, even though there are fewer and fewer of them each year.  I worship there at least once every summer and attend its annual hymn singing event, which draws people from many communities in the area.

Sadly, the congregation is dwindling.  The old time members are dying off and few new people take their place on the farms.  They have had difficulty finding a pastor.  Because there are not many Presbyterians in the area they can usually only find aging retired interim pastors who stay for only a short time.  But they remain faithful.  They also remain humble and joyful.  I am very much drawn to their spirit.  And God sustains them.  Something very beautiful happened last summer.  A young couple moved into a larger community nearby with a small liberal arts college.  The husband was hired to be the music director there in a tenure track position.  His wife is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  She is a lovely gentle young woman in her early 30’s that plays the violin.  This couple plans to establish their careers in the area.  After one year, it is clear that they are agents of God’s invitation to joy and renewal.  The congregation is once again reaching out to new members and hosting musical events for the surrounding area.  It gives me great joy to see how the humble little congregation remains faithful in observing God’s decrees with a steadfast spirit.  They believe in God’s promises and extend God’s invitation to the feast in the Kingdom of God.  God sustains a willing spirit in them and I think they will be there for a while.

Posted by: livingscripture | August 20, 2014

Twentieth Wednesday in Ordinary Time

Memorial of St. Bernard, abbot and doctor
 Ezekiel 34:1-11
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Matthew 20:1-16


Today’s feast is in honor of St. Bernard who is termed the “Doctor of the Church”. St. Bernard’s life, in part, helped to re-emphasize  Lecto Divina (latin for divine reading). This was the understanding that Holy Scriptures should not be treated as just texts to be studied but as the Living Word.  The tradition of Lecto Divina has four steps: read, meditate, pray and contemplate.th_johnnineeleven

Today’s Gospel reading certainly warrants these four steps. How challenging it is to understand the mind and thoughts of God! On the surface, the landowner simply was not fair in paying the workers who worked all day the same as those who only worked an hour. Through the lens that we see the world, the landowner’s generosity was not representing just treatment to the workers who labored longer. Our competitive socialization makes it hard to accept “the last shall be first, and the first will be last” in this context.

God’s love and gifts are personalized just for us. We are accepted, loved and blessed individually. We are moved and called by the spirit individually. We should not compare and view as competition the position, gifts and blessings of our fellow pilgrims for we cannot fathom the insights of God, nor do we fully know the depths of the needs of our brothers and sisters. It is difficult but, in faith, we must focus on our own acceptance by God.

And when doubt creeps in because of the pressures of the world recall Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Amen!

Posted by: livingscripture | August 19, 2014

Twentieth Tuesday in Ordinary Time

 Ezekiel 28:1-10
Deuteronomy 32:26-27ab, 27cd-28, 30, 35cd-36ab
Matthew 19:23-30



Today’s first reading from Ezekiel is about the prince of Tyre. The prince of Tyre has accumulated great wealth and power over his years. Sadly for him, he attributes these gifts to himself, becomes haughty of heart, and even refers to himself as a “god!” As a rRevelation21_JohnNewJerusalemesult, God puts the prince “in his place,” sending armies to destroy him in order to remind him that he is not a god, but a man. Wow, does this sound familiar? We accomplish a thing or two and begin to feel pretty proud of ourselves – thinking we are “it” and maybe, as well, that we did it all on our own and really don’t need God. As we begin to think this way, God typically does not send in the most barbarous of armies to immediately destroy us and put us in our place, but he does occasionally nudge us back to reality by allowing us to stumble or to fail – reminders that we are human and wedo need God after all.

Although I am appreciative of all the many gifts that God has given me in this world, I think it is during those times when I stumble or fail a bit when I genuinely see the need for God in my life and thankful for him putting me in my place. It is those times when I take a step back and say, “I can’t do this on my own and I need a trusted companion to help me through.” And the one I trust most is God. He is the one who reminds me that being haughty or arrogant is not justified when all of my gifts and all my blessings truly come from God.

Today’s second reading from Matthew is one that is familiar to many of us. In this reading, Jesus talks to his disciples about how we may enter the kingdom of heaven; specifically, Jesus notes that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” So, is Jesus saying that the accumulation of wealth is bad and with it we may never enter his kingdom? I do not necessarily think so. Possessing material wealth is fine as long as we keep the proper perspective, know these gifts come from God (unlike the prince of Tyre from our first reading), and understand that we must use our riches in a manner consistent with God’s teachings. By doing this, we are able to exchange our material wealth for something of greater value – that being spiritual wealth and with it “receive a hundred times more and…inherit eternal life.”

Posted by: livingscripture | August 16, 2014

Nineteenth Saturday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32
Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
Matthew 19:13-15

Lately, there have been many references to proverbs and parables in the daily readings.  Often, especially in the Gospels, Jesus explains the sayings.  But Gesu e_i_Bambini[1]this was not the case with the reading from Ezekiel.  I have to admit being stumped by the literal meaning of the proverb about fathers eating green grapes and “thus their children’s teeth are on edge.”  Perhaps this is because the green grapes at the grocery store have been so good lately that I’ve literally had a bunch every day at lunch.  And what exactly does it mean that the children’s teeth were on edge.  Were the kids annoyed or angry at their fathers?  Embarrassed?  Nervous?   In pain?  I’ve certainly generated all those reactions from my children!  According to The Catholic Study Bible (2011), the proverb was used by the ancients “to complain that they were being punished for their ancestors’ sins” (p. 1178). Contrary to tradition, the reading asserts that the sins of the fathers should not be visited upon their children, nor, I assume, should parents always be blamed when their children fail.  Each person is responsible for his or her own actions.  Ezekiel quotes the Lord, “Therefore I will judge you . . . each one according to his ways.”  If each person is “virtuous” and avoids sin, then “he shall surely live.”

As someone raising children in the age of helicopter parenting and child psychology, I have been guilty of blaming the parents when kids act out, and I have been embarrassed and apologetic—I’ve felt responsible—when my own old-enough-to-know-better children have committed infractions.   Of course, a person raised in a culture of poverty or abuse does have extenuating circumstances; however, our judgment should not be skewed by prejudices and guilt by association.  God’s judgment isn’t.  We would certainly have fewer problems around the globe if people could forget ancestral injuries and longstanding quarrels.

Another shift in the ancient and patriarchal way of doing things is found in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus exhorts, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; / for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  The disciples are not happy about this.  Like most people of their time, they feel that children are not that important, certainly not as influential or as worthy as adults.  Usually, adults served as examples for children, but Jesus, as he was wont to do, turns things upside down.  A few lines earlier, in Matthew 18:3, he urges his followers to “become like children.”  Jesus values the humility, openness, and innocence of children.  All of this makes me think of the British Romantic poets and their works—of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and of Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode— that celebrate the power and purity of children.

Children tend to have clean hearts and minds, more so than adults.  Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by all my mistakes and flaws or even the violence and sadness in the world, I find myself saying the very words of today’s psalm:  “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”  I long for a fresh start, a do-over, a spiritual bath that cleanses my sins and renews my spirit.  The sacrament of reconciliation is one solution, but if that is not available, I try to get back to basics—love of God and love of neighbor—and to again see the world with the humble, hopeful, and  wondering eyes of a child.

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