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.

Posted by: livingscripture | July 19, 2014

Fifteenth Saturday in Ordinary Time

 Micah 2:1-5
Psalm 10:1-2, 3-4, 7-8, 14
Matthew 12:14-21

 

There is so much condensed in today’s readings. The first reading gives us a sense that the Lord will prevail against evil plots, it invites us to risen Jesus 1trust in the ways of the Lord. Evil plots are being planned against the heir of the house, but the Lord is “planning against this race an evil from which you shall not withdraw your necks” (v. 3). The prophet Micah invites his audience and us today to trust in the Lord and to never lose hope.

In today’s gospel we read that the Pharisees are plotting against Jesus’ life, but he decides not to confront the Pharisees and leaves quietly. Today, in the 21st century, we would probably expect for Jesus to confront the Pharisees with the truth that, whether they like it or not, he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who will save Israel and will bring hope for the gentiles. But Jesus decides to leave and not to confront the Pharisees, furthermore, Jesus asks his followers not to make him known. This is the way Jesus operates: gently, quietly. In a way this action speaks louder than a thousand words, since Matthew interprets it as the fulfillment of Isiah’s prophesy about the servant of God. Mathew wants to show his community and us today that Jesus is God’s beloved, in him God is pleased; that Jesus has the Spirit of God upon him and the salvation that he brings is open to everyone who follows him. Jesus is the Lord’s response to the evil plots.

Moreover, in a very hidden line, Mathew tells us that when Jesus leaves a big crowd follows him and he cures them all. Jesus cures all those who follow him. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the savior, hope for the gentiles, the healer, but we have to want the salvation that Jesus brings, we have to follow him and let him in our lives, we have to let him heal us.

Let us pray for one another that we will continue to grow in trust in the Lord and be more open to his healing and salvation.

 

Posted by: livingscripture | July 18, 2014

Fifteenth Friday in Ordinary Time

 

Jesus makes it clear that he himself is more important than the Temple and even the Law and that he has the power to sweep away all the legalistic accretions that creep into our human behavior and into the laws that we believe that God is imposing on us — when such additions are actually only human (cf. Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:8; Colossians 2:8). Jesus_039_small

Just before this passage Jesus calls us: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.“  If we do go to him as he asks he can remove those burdens from us — but we must truly put ourselves in his hands, not hang back and try to hold on to some things while asking him to change our lives.  After all, would we be happy with the results if we hired an interior decorator to turn our living space around and then insisted that there were many old things we would not let him or her touch?  We cannot, then, hold back from Christ and then blame him for not giving us that promised rest.

Jesus, and following Jesus, will involve a realigning of our values and principles and a broadening of the rules or the code we live by.  This latter may require our going off the accepted and safe rails to follow God in truth and in the Spirit, but for two reasons this new freedom in Christ is far more demanding than merely living such basics as the ten commandments.  For one thing, following only Jesus requires that we make sure that it is truly God that we are following and not our own corrupted wills, and for another it demands that we be personally responsible for obeying God, not letting ourselves hide behind a supposedly divine law (cf. Mark 7:9-13).

This way of living, this spirituality, is for the more courageous, the enterprising, those willing to be self-responsible (but not independent of God!).  These people have the courage to be wrong sometimes but are robust and trusting enough in God’s love to make some mistakes…  This is not simply relieving ourselves of the burden of Law only to fall into a self-scrutiny that is even worse, it is falling in love with God and finding life in a responsible, mature, active freedom.

Are these the adult people whom we wish to be?

 

 

Posted by: livingscripture | July 17, 2014

Fifteenth Thursday in Ordinary Time

 Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19
Psalm 102:13-14ab+15, 16-18, 19-21
Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

Today’s readings reflect our experiences when, despite our good intentions, our desires are frustrated.  We might will salvation for the earth (a tall order indeed), but we cannot deliver it.  We cannot even deliver this to our own children, for goodness sake! When we feel most powerless, the transcendence of God becomes real to us and we call out for his help. crowds

Isaiah’s words reflect this time of crying out for God and his transcendent power, which is the opposite of our own impotence.  Even what might seem to be our most transcendent act – bringing new life into the world — can appear to us like giving birth to the wind.  Even with our knowledge of the divine mystery that surrounds this wondrous event, we know that our ways always fall short.  We depend on God for sustenance.

Isaiah expresses humanity’s cry for God to rescue us from this precarious existence, where even our most meaningful events fall short of what we need.  Please, come, dear Lord.   This is a good place to be, because God will indeed come when we call for him.  But too often we cannot recognize our need because we are drunk with our own visions of invincibility, satisfied with our achievements and the good gifts we have.  Let us pray for a sober vision of reality instead.  That would be a good start.  From there, improvement is possible.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus supplying the answer to that prayer for divine assistance.  Jesus tells us something astonishing:  despite our questionable track record, he invites us to join him in accomplishing his work for the Kingdom of God.  Really?  Do you know who you are inviting to join this partnership, Jesus?   Jesus somehow understands our predicament, and that we are frustrated in our own attempts to achieve the good we may be willing to happen.  His words are very encouraging, indeed.  Come.  Really?  Are you talking to me?  When he tells us to take on his yoke, what does that mean?  Is this a call to be joined together with others in the Christian community, rather than a call for “Jesus and me” to work together?  I think so! This is not a validation of “Jesus and me in the basement”, but a nudge toward the Church, warts and all!

When we think we are strong, when our illusions make us susceptible to believing we are powerful, we may think of ourselves as being free to do whatever pleases us.  But when we look soberly, we may see no achievement worth counting.  We see only our footprints, which soon disappear as the sand is blown by the wind.  But we are meant for eternal significance, and we cry out to God for deliverance from meaninglessness, the preeminent disappointment that we experience along with our other, lesser maladies.

How do we respond to Jesus’ call to join him?  What does Jesus’ call require of us?  Let us ponder that today and see how we might take our place in the yoke and help to pull the wagon.  And in so doing, may we find both meaning and significance.  And we might even find the company of others who are pulling to be most enjoyable!  What a pleasant surprise!

Posted by: livingscripture | July 16, 2014

Fifteenth Wednesday in Ordinary Time – Our Lady of Mount Carmel

 

Will the ax boast against him who hews with it?
Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?              Isaiah 10:15
As a young physician, I relish every correct diagnosis and successful treatment I provide.  It’s truly gratifying to personally admit a patient Maria e Gesù con la S.Scritturato the hospital one night, initiate a treatment plan, and a day or two later note drastic symptomatic improvement in that patient.  These little “accomplishments” make the nine years I’ve spent in higher education feel justified and important.  But what role do I actually play in my patients’ health? Allow me to illustrate with one great organ.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the physiology of the nephron in the kidney (a tiny structure that helps filter our blood and produce urine).  I discuss the kidney regularly in the hospital with at least a fair grasp of its function.  But, I did not design it.  I understand a fraction of that organ’s incredible beauty, but certainly not near the knowledge of the kidney’s Creator.  I can monitor its function and, at most, facilitate the improvement of its function, but I am deceiving myself if I try to believe that I have done any more than that. It’s just past 3:00 a.m. here in my hospital call room so I have a little more time to reflect than normal.  Perhaps it’s this extra solitude combined with the natural self-reflection that comes with the conclusion of my first year as a physician, but I have found myself more frequently pondering what real benefit I have actually provided my patients and colleagues over this past year.  Although a degree of confidence goes a long way in this frequently humbling profession, recognizing how small a role I play is maybe healthy for my relationship with God. Our reading from Isaiah questions, “Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?”  Equally, who am I to think that any medical success around me has anything to do with my own sharpness?  Just like each of us in our respective vocations, I am merely God’s instrument. This recognition of the necessity of humility and the smallness of our roles simply acts as a lesson in character if it stops there.  To grasp the Scripture’s call we must take it the step further.  Rather than simply deflecting the praise and glory, we must redirect it toward our Father.  St. Ignatius challenges us beautifully with the goal of living Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (“For the Greater Glory of God”). Even Jesus, the single human being who has the greatest right to boast, hands the glory and praise to his Father in Heaven, as demonstrated in today’s Gospel. How would each of our professions change if we were to actually give God the praise for each success?  When a nurse or family thanks me for helping a patient I should respond with a, “Praise God!  He certainly has blessed her!” shouldn’t  I?  When we offer our help or expertise, couldn’t  we also offer to pray for the issue as well?

 

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