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Posted by on Sep 12, 2021

Looking Good on Wood

Looking Good on Wood

The Babylonian Empire had replaced the Assyrians in conquering Israel by the time of the second author of the Book of Isaiah, whose work we hear today. The people had been taken to Babylonia and lived in exile there. Our first reading for this Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time was written early in their long exile. It is one of four “songs” of the Servant of the Lord, also called the Suffering Servant (Is 50:5-9a). This person is one who has been called by the Lord and formed to speak the Lord’s words. Today’s song is the third one. The Servant has had a rough time. He has listened and followed the Lord’s word. He has not sinned or turned against God in any way. Yet he has met opposition from those around him. He has been physically assaulted and insulted in many ways. Nevertheless, he remains steadfast in trusting the Lord. He challenges his opponents to come before the Lord with him and see, trusting that because the Lord God is his help, none will prove him wrong.

Psalm 116 continues the theme. In time of trouble, the faithful one calls upon the Lord and the Lord responds. The faithful one is saved and “shall walk with the Lord in the land of the living.” In the time this psalm was written, the people did not believe in eternal life or heaven. The psalmist believed that after death all that remained was a shadowy netherworld from which no one could ever return. This psalm was one of praise for healing of a potentially mortal illness, but for Christians, it is also a reminder that the Lord God protects those who are faithful. “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” Christians extend the land of the living to eternal life, beyond that which we experience here and now.

St. Mark drew on the Suffering Servant prophecies in presenting the life of Jesus. In today’s reading, Jesus and his friends are on the road (Mk 8:27-35). Jesus asks them what they are hearing people say about him. Some think he is his cousin, John the Baptist, returned from the dead. Others think he might be Elijah, the prophet who was expected to return before the coming of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, the Chosen One. The Messiah would bring reconciliation between God and humanity. When Jesus asked them who they themselves thought he might be, Peter responded for them. “You are the Christ.” The word Christ as used here means the Anointed One, the Chosen One.

It seems rather incongruous that the very next thing we hear about Peter is when Jesus rebukes him, calling him Satan, meaning adversary or enemy. What is going on?

Jesus knew that he had enemies in high places. His teaching about the importance of caring for each other and for God’s “little ones” – those of any age who were unable to fend for themselves – was a threat to the wealthy and powerful leaders of his people and to the Roman conquerors. Rome did not deal gently with those it perceived to be a threat. Nevertheless, he was on his way to Jerusalem, called to speak the truth of God’s care for all to the leaders of his people as well. He warned his followers that it would not go well for him. Most likely he would be killed.

Peter and most others were expecting a messiah who would deliver the country from the Romans. Not someone who would be killed by them. What kind of a messiah would not lead the people to triumph over their enemies? God was on their side, so they would triumph militarily as they had in former ages. Besides, Jesus was his friend. What kind of friend would not try to protect the companion he loved and followed?

But Jesus knew that violent revolution would not bring true freedom. He was not called to be that kind of chosen one. That was not God’s way. St. Mark has Jesus saying, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This was written about 35-40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, so it is from the perspective of one who knew what had happened to Jesus. The people were experiencing persecution and rejection from their communities. It was not an easy thing to be a follower of Jesus. Mark’s words were intended to encourage the community and make it clear that Jesus was the one to whom the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah had pointed. This really was the one the Lord would raise up and whose faithfulness would be vindicated.

How does it all play out in everyday life for the believer? St. James speaks of this (Jas 2:14-18). Faith in the Lord is important. But for James, the proof of the pudding is in what people do, not in what they say. How do we respond to the poor in our midst? If we simply throw kind words but don’t include food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, we are not living out our faith. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave those who hurt him. His followers must do the same. A life of faith requires commitment to sharing and serving those in need of help. The gifts and talents we have received must be shared.

Daniel Berrigan, SJ once said, “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.”

What wood will I need to look good on?

What am I called to do? Who am I called to help? What will my friends on social media think if I support an unpopular cause? Will my family support me or will they oppose my positions? Will they just write off what I say? Does it matter?

As we continue to live our daily lives, may we be ever more aware of the needs of those around us. May we choose to believe that they are trying hard and doing their best, even if they aren’t able to achieve “success” in the ways our family or friends would define it. May we meet them as companions in the journey, not as outsiders who intend to “save” them from their situation and then get on with our lives again. May we walk with the Lord in the land of the living, in all his many disguises.

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2021

Ears and Mouths Opened – What Do We Hear, Say and Do?

Ears and Mouths Opened – What Do We Hear, Say and Do?

Our readings for the Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time begin with an oracle. It was very common in the ancient world for prophets, priests, or priestesses to speak the words of the gods as oracles. Both the person through whom the message is delivered and the message itself were known as oracles. Oracles as messages were often difficult to understand or required some time and effort to unravel.

The book of Isaiah is believed to include the prophecies of three persons over an extended period in the history of Israel. This reading is from the first section, as the Assyrians are invading Israel from the north and have neared Jerusalem (Is 35:4-7a). The assault on Jerusalem failed, fulfilling the prophecy that God would step in and protect the people in the end. How or when the miraculous healings might be seen is not addressed.

This oracle is pronounced while it is still uncertain that anything will stop the enemy’s advance and the total conquest of the nation. Yet the prophet speaks the words of the Lord boldly. “Here is your God … he comes to save you.” Still, the signs of the coming of the Lord are not what might have been expected. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap like a stag, the mute speak. These promises can be seen as purely metaphorical. Or they can be applied to the actions of Jesus over 700 years later. The writers of the Gospels and the people who witnessed these things happening in real life took them as confirmation of the authority of Jesus to speak in the name of the Lord.

St. Mark tells us today that Jesus traveled to the north, outside the area where Jews typically lived, to an area in Gentile lands where there were ten cities, the Decapolis. (Mk 7:31-37) People there had heard of Jesus and brought a man who was both deaf and mute (unable to speak), requesting that Jesus lay his hands on the man and heal him. Jesus often touched people as part of healing them. However, it was forbidden for good Jew to touch a Gentile (non-Jew). Doing so resulted in ritual impurity that required offering special sacrifices and purification rituals before one could again worship with others or be in community with them.

Jesus took the man aside and, disregarding the prohibition, he touched him. He put his fingers into the man’s ears, then spit on his own fingers and touched the man’s tongue. We would react with “Eww” at the thought of doing this, but saliva was commonly used in healing in that time and place. Jesus used saliva in other healings as well. After touching the ears and tongue of the man, Jesus looked up to heaven, groaned, and ordered, “Be opened.” The man’s ears were opened and he could hear. He also became able to speak clearly.

Jesus, as he usually did, ordered those who witnessed his actions not to tell anyone. But as usual, they proclaimed it to any who would listen. Familiar with the oracle of Isaiah, they noted that Jesus “makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” These things were known to be signs of God’s coming to rescue God’s people.

Jesus accepted people of all types who came to him for help or to learn from him. The same behavior is expected of those who are his disciples. St. James chides the people to whom he was writing for favoring those who appeared to be rich over those who obviously were poor. (Jas 2:1-5) This kind of response to those who joined the assembly for worship and community sharing was absolutely unacceptable for the followers of Jesus. He reminds them that God chose the poor to be the ones rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, the opposite of the values of their society and most others. He knew that those who depend totally on divine providence and the goodwill of others often have a deeper experience of God’s care than do those who might think their good fortune is the result of their own actions and worth.

This reading is especially noteworthy this year, since it falls on September 5, the Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was known for her dedication to caring for the poorest of the poor. When a man remarked that he would not do the work she was doing for all the money in the world, she informed him that she would not do it for that reason either. She did it because that was where and how she met and served Christ.

I won’t go into the story of Mother Teresa and her life here, but it’s worth considering in the light of today’s readings. If you’d like to know more about our family’s story of Mother Teresa’s work, take a look at http://blog.theologika.net/mother-teresa-love-is-left-alone/. Suffice it to say that Mother trusted deeply that when others knew of the needs of the people she served, they would find a way to help. She would simply inform them of the need, then sit quietly, with her hands in her lap, and wait for them to figure out how to meet it.

Our challenge today is similar to those faced in the time of Jesus and the early church, as well as those Mother Teresa faced. How do we respond to the needs of others? Do we see the faith of those left behind in our economy, our communities, and our world? Do we see Christ among them? Do we reach out in love? If we ourselves don’t have a lot resources to spare, we’re not off the hook. Who do we know and how can we work together to help?

We pray with the man Jesus healed today: Open our ears, Lord, so we can hear your voice. Then open our mouths too, so we can speak of the needs of our sisters and brothers here and around the world. Help us to respond to your love by sharing it in concrete ways with those we meet each day – rich or poor, native born or immigrant, man or woman.

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2021

Living in the Presence of the Lord

Living in the Presence of the Lord

I grew up in a Scouting family, with four younger brothers. Each month a new copy of Boys Life magazine arrived and we eagerly opened it to a page called “Think and Grin.” This was a collection of jokes and cartoons. Some were very obvious in meaning, others required a bit of thinking to understand the joke. But we all read them and usually then read them to our mother. She enjoyed them too, and especially she enjoyed the fact that we all, individually, read the very same jokes to her!

As I consider the readings for this Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time, I am struck by the double meaning of a word. The first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy, begins, “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe…” (Dt 4:1-2,6-8)  The word in question is “hear.” For us, hearing refers to the physical act of perceiving the sound and understanding the meaning of the word. But for the people of Israel, it carried an additional meaning. That meaning was to “obey,” as in “take it to heart and live according to what is being said.” In essence, this set of instructions should be called “Hear and Do.”

The context for this reading is that the Law is being presented to the people. It is a codification of how people are to interact with their God and with each other. The rules and codes grew out of a particular cultural context – that of a Middle-Eastern pastoral people. It codified a more merciful response to misfortune or injury at the hand of others. Today we look at it and see it as rather brutal, but the notion of balancing the taking of an eye with the penalty of losing an eye was actually a great improvement over the prior way of killing an entire family or village if one individual maimed, insulted, or injured a member of another stronger group. Jewish law was heavily influenced by the Code of Hammurabi, a legal text from Babylonia written down around 1755-1758 B.C. which pioneered this more humane legal code.

The instructions from Deuteronomy include another important point. Nothing is to be added or taken away from the Law as it is being presented to the people. Following this Law will show the wisdom and intelligence of the Israelites, a people who are close to their God who, in turn, chooses to remain close to them.

As the years and centuries passed, many new situations arose and solutions were found that came to be treated as essential parts of the Law. The Law as it was known by the time of Jesus was far more complicated than it had been when first handed down in the Sinai desert, particularly in terms of purity regulations. What made a person “unclean” and therefore ritually impure and prohibited from participating in religious rituals? A large number of guidelines had been developed, including specific ways and times for washing hands, kettles, jugs, and beds that explained what was impure and what was necessary to restore purity.

When Jesus’ disciples were seen eating after visiting the marketplace without first washing their hands in the ritually required manner before eating, the Scribes and Pharisees objected. Scribes were those who studied the scriptures. Pharisees were another group that focused closely on observing all of the specific requirements of the Law. Jesus responded with some aggravation. (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) He quoted Isaiah the prophet who had noted that human requirements had been added to the commandments of God and God’s commandments were not being observed. “Their hearts are far from me…” Jesus declared, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person.” It is only what comes from the heart, the depths of the human being, that can defile a person.

St. James echoes Jesus’ point in his letter to Jewish Christians. All good things come from God and are pure gift. There is never any change in God’s relationship with humans from God’s side of the deal. We have been willed into being and are to be a sort of first fruits of creation. From the human side, the critical thing is to be doers, not just hearers of the word of God. “Hear and Do” again!

What are we to do? Care for orphans and widows. Just for them? Why these two groups? When these words were first written, it was because without a man’s protection, anyone could and did do whatever they wanted to do to women and children. They had no social status and were the most vulnerable members of any community.

Today we have social and legal protections for women and children. Orphans and widows are not necessarily the most vulnerable people today, though we certainly have a responsibility as a community to provide loving support for them. But who else needs our care now? Refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, addicts, the unhoused, those with special needs. Many people still need a hand and a smile of welcome. How will we respond to them? How do I respond?

“Those who do justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” (Ps 15) It was so three thousand years ago and it is so today. It’s all about our relationship with the Lord and each other. Hear and Do!

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2021

Layer upon layer of meaning for the Feast of the Assumption

Layer upon layer of meaning for the Feast of the Assumption

The Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary pre-empts the usual celebration of the Sundays of Ordinary Time when it falls on a Sunday as it does this year. It is a feast that has been celebrated by the Church for many centuries, but it was only officially promulgated as a feast in 1950. The Assumption refers to the belief that Mary’s body was taken into heaven at the time of her death. In the Eastern Church, the feast is called the Dormition and the belief is that she when she died, she simply went to sleep and was taken, body and soul, into heaven.

The readings begin with one from the Book of Revelations (Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab). This book is an example of apocalyptic literature, in which there are many layers of meaning. It is not to be taken literally, because the characters and events described are symbols of other realities. Numbers, colors, objects – all carried deeper meanings than their face value. Revelations was written during a time of persecution of the Christian community. Those for whom it was written understood it as an encouragement in time of trouble. Through all the suffering and trials, Christ and the Church would prevail, because God was on their side.

In today’s reading, first a sign appears in the heavens – a woman laboring to give birth. Then comes a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, ready to devour the child. There were said to be seven diadems on its seven heads, each of which had ten horns. Seven and ten were numbers signifying completeness and power. Horns are symbols of power. The diadems also referenced power. Red symbolizes war, destruction, and bloodshed. This dragon symbolized the forces of evil, arrayed against the woman and her child. The woman herself relates to two layers of meaning. She represents both Israel, from whom the savior would be born, and Mary, the Israelite mother who would give birth to Jesus and the church.  The child born and saved from the dragon was both Mary’s son, the Christ, and the community of believers who form his body today, the Church.

The triumph of the forces of good does not appear seamlessly in this story. There are many ups and downs, many triumphs and tribulations. However, the focus is on the ultimate victory of God, brought to fruition through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the faithfulness of the Church. The inclusion of a woman in the mix, as the one giving birth, makes clear the importance of the feminine and of matter in the story of salvation. God is not one who despises matter or the feminine. God unites heaven and earth, male and female in the story of salvation.

The readings continue, with St. Paul reminding the people of Corinth that Christ was raised from the dead. Christ is the first of “those who have fallen asleep” and been raised to new life. (1 Cor 15:20-27) Death came through the first human, Adam. All humans die. Now, because Christ is the new Adam, all humans will rise as he did. This will happen at the end of time, when all enemies of life have been conquered, including death.

The role of women is again featured in the Gospel according to St. Luke (Lk1:39—56) In this story, a newly pregnant Mary leaves Nazareth shortly after her encounter with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel has informed her that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, is having a baby and is now six months pregnant. This is a miracle because Elizabeth was past child-bearing age. Mary hurries to Elizabeth’s side to help her in the final months of the pregnancy.

When Mary approaches Elizabeth, her cousin cries out to her in the words we use in the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The child in her womb had leapt with joy when Mary greeted Elizabeth. This child grew up to be the final prophet, John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus as the one who was to come. Elizabeth praised Mary for believing the angel’s words and consenting to God’s request of her.

If you or I heard such a greeting, we might well focus on our good deed or we might be embarrassed and brush off the greeting as excessive. Mary responded differently. Her response takes the form of a Canticle, a song of praise to God. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” This song is sung by the Church every evening as part of Evening Prayer. She sings of God’s great love and mercy throughout history, of the way the Lord comes to lift up the lowly and cast down the mighty from their thrones. She rejoices that the Lord has always come to the aid of his servant Israel and remembers the promise made to Abraham and his children forever. We too are children of Abraham in faith. She sings our song.

On this, the feast of the Assumption, let us rejoice in the courage and faithfulness of Mary, a teenager who met an angel, believed the messenger of God, and accepted a role that would bring danger, hardship, and sorrow, but also joy as she shared the journey of Jesus’ life. She understands what it is to be a mother, a wife, a faithful woman. She is ready to help all who ask for aid.

See you at Mass.

P.S. Many years ago I wrote another blog post for the Feast of the Assumption. If you’re interested, you can find it at:  http://blog.theologika.net/feast-of-the-assumption/

Image: Dormition of Mary – unknown artist – public domain

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2021

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Barley loaves, the gift of the man from Baal-Shalishah to the prophet Elisha and the gift of a child to Jesus, share the spotlight in the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Both the first reading from the second book of Kings (2 Kings 4:42-44) and the gospel reading from St. John (Jn 6:1-15) feature a person who brings a gift of food to the prophet. The prophet receives the food and instructs that it be shared among the people who are present in the crowd. The crowd is large and the small amount of food offered would never be enough to feed everyone, but the prophet doesn’t back down, insisting that the loaves be shared among the people. There will be enough for all.

As it turns out, in each case there was indeed enough for all. There was even bread left over. In the case of Jesus, the amount left over was enough to fill twelve wicker baskets. Granted, you and I don’t know how large a wicker basket was in those days, but the five small loaves given by the child to Jesus would not themselves have filled twelve baskets when broken into pieces unless they were tiny baskets for a doll house, let alone after they had been shared among the crowd.

There are many layers of meaning in these narratives. The fact that the man shared twenty barley loaves with Elisha indicates that he had plenty of food. Sharing it might not ordinarily have been his first thought. The fact that he was identified by his place of origin indicates that what he did was noteworthy. Those with plenty often don’t think of sharing, especially if what they have would not be enough to feed everyone and still leave some for themselves. Yet God provided for all the people, as Elisha had declared would happen.

Barley, not wheat?

Barley loaves were the most common form of bread in Israel and most of the Middle East at that time. Barley has been cultivated in that region for over 10,000 years. It grows well in areas where water can be scarce. It ripens early in the spring, having been planted in the fall. It is higher in many nutrients than wheat and is easier to prepare for eating. (It’s also used in making beer – another common use for it even today – but that’s another story!) Unleavened barley loaves were a regular part of the diet of the people who listened to Elisha and to Jesus – the ordinary folk.

Wheat is also an ancient grain, though it was less commonly used in baking in Israel. It grew well in Egypt, where the annual flooding of the Nile provided a reliable source of water. It ripened later in the season and was less nutritious. It took more work to process it into a useable form. The Egyptians developed bread and ovens in which to bake it into leavened loaves. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were instructed to eat unleavened bread, baked in haste for the journey. Wheat bread was seen as the bread of captivity and of the wealthy and powerful. It didn’t become common anywhere else until the Romans conquered Egypt and took it home with them. Even then, it was still food for the wealthier classes.

The child brought five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus, willing to share his own lunch. With this gift of love, near the feast of Passover, Jesus was able to feed five thousand men, along with the women and children who accompanied them. For St. John, this was a sign of the true revelation of who Jesus is – God who has become one of us – Jesus who becomes the new Passover Lamb. This event was seen by the early Christian community as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist – bread is taken, blessed in thanksgiving, broken, and shared with all. There is always enough to share – God sees to that.

A Miracle? A Sign?

Did the miracles happen just as they are described? Were there really no more than twenty loaves in the first case and five in the second? That is not something that we can say with any absolute, 21st Century Western Historical-minded certainty. Stories such as these were never intended to be “historical” in our sense of the word. The important thing is that bread, simple, commonly eaten bread, was shared by all in the crowd. If others besides the man identified in the first story or the child in the second also shared what they had, would that not also be something of a miracle? If folks took food with them into the countryside when they went to hear a prophet, would that be surprising? You and I would usually take something with us when going out into the countryside to hear someone speak, right? Surely at least some of those who couldn’t expect a food truck to show up out there would have taken something.

Bottom line, God provides. How? God provides through the loving presence of a community who look out for each other. St. Paul reminds the people of Ephesus (Eph 4:1-6) that they are to live “in a manner worthy of the call” they have received – the call to be the children of God. Humble, gentle, patient, loving, sharing a unity of spirit through a bond of peace. They/we are to be one – one with each other and one with our God and Father.

So out we go into the field, each taking our few barley loaves and fish, our gifts and talents, to share with those we meet along the way. We share with those who are members of our community. We also share with those who are outside our community. No one is to be excluded from the love of God and God’s community, because God loves all of creation, including all of us.

See you at Mass,

Kathy

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Posted by on Jul 10, 2021

Kindness and Truth, Justice and Peace – Signs of the Kingdom

Kindness and Truth, Justice and Peace – Signs of the Kingdom

The readings for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B this year) begin with an event in the life of Amos the prophet (Am 7:12-15). A priest from the temple in Bethel named Amaziah essentially tells him, “Get lost!”

This might at first glance seem like a clash between the roles of priest and prophet. Anthropologists have noted these clashes in many societies. The priest’s role is to uphold the religious system and offer the necessary sacrifices to the local deity. The prophet’s role is to stand outside the gates and call for changes in the status quo when things get too unbearable for the poor and others outside the favored classes. Once the changes have been made in a society, the priestly class re-establishes a new status quo and all moves forward peacefully again.

To a certain extent this is what we see happening here. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. The Promised Land has divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom is known as Israel. The southern is Judah. Bethel is in the northern kingdom which has been quite successful in expanding into lands we now know as Syria and Iraq. The nobles are doing very well personally. The religious leaders are also profiting from the elaborate religious ceremonies, including sacrifices to local gods of the conquered areas. The religious establishment is favoring the ruling class rather than reminding them to care for the poor as well, and that favor is being returned.

Roving bands of prophets move throughout the land, speaking in the style of oracles – using puzzling language and leaving people to figure out what the oracle means. These prophets earn their living as they move from place to place from people who want to know what the future will bring – much like “fortune tellers” today.

Amos is from Judah. He is a shepherd and “dresser of sycamores.” He is not a member of any band of prophets. He is a respectable man who earns a good living from his work. But God called him, instructing him to go to Israel (the northern kingdom) and call the rulers and people there back to the covenant. When Amos obeys, his message is not welcomed and Amaziah tells him to go home!

This might have been the end of the story, but Amos does not back down. He explains his professional background as nothing remotely resembling a prophet and makes it abundantly clear that he has been called by God to deliver the message. The very next sentence he speaks is: “Now hear the word of the Lord.”

The Book of Amos was the first prophetic book in the Hebrew Scriptures. It became something of a template for the prophets and prophetic books that followed, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The primary offense of the Kingdom of Israel? Failure to care for the poor, the widows and orphans, the conquered, and foreigners.

Psalm 85 puts it very clearly: kindness and truth meet, justice and peace kiss. Truth springs from the earth, while justice looks down from heaven. Justice, the right order of things, is based on kindness to each other. Only when the conditions of justice are met can there be peace and salvation.

The letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:3-14) begins with a reminder of God’s blessings for those called to the community of believers. All things are summed up in Christ, according to God’s plan from before the world was created. We are chosen to be the adopted children of God, through his son, Jesus.

Finally, we see Jesus (Mk 6:7-13) sending out his twelve closest followers two by two to heal the sick and drive out “unclean spirits.” They are not to take anything but a pair of sandals with them on the journey. Their mission is not to the rich. Those who judge the importance of the messenger by appearances only would never give these messengers the time of day! But to those who welcome them and their message of repentance (turning back to God), healing of the sick and deliverance from demons is possible.

Remember, in those days what we know as mental illness was attributed to possession by evil spirits. This is not to say that such spirits don’t exist. They can cause a lot of trouble for any who listen to them. However, healing of the hurts, anger, frustration, and divisions that plague human relationships and can make mental illnesses worse is truly a form of driving out unclean spirits/demons too. When minds and hearts are healed, it can lead to obviously changed lives.

Kindness and truth, justice and peace – all are signs of the kingdom. May they characterize our lives in this coming week and into the years to come.

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Posted by on Jul 7, 2021

God Calls “Ordinary” People

God Calls “Ordinary” People

The readings for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time speak to us of the experiences of three “ordinary” people. These three men were seen by their families and communities as just regular folks. No one expected them to be any different than the rest of their group. They would grow up, have a trade or role in the community, marry, have children, grow old, and die – just like everyone else!

But that was not to be. God had different plans for them. Blessedly, these men listened and responded to the call they received.

Ezekiel

Ezekiel (Ez 2:2-5) lived at a time when Israel was conquered by the Babylonians – a people who lived to the east in an area we now know as Iraq. He was a priest in Jerusalem and was captured early in the war. He was taken to Babylonia and no one would have expected anything good to come of that. Yet that misfortune was the start of something special. In Babylonia, the Spirit came to Ezekiel, setting him on his feet and sending him on a mission. The mission? To tell the people of Israel in exile there that God was still their God, despite their refusal while still in Israel to live by the ancient covenant and rules of their faith. He was to speak using very specific language, “Thus says the Lord God!” These words identified him as a prophet – one who spoke the word of God.

A prophet in the Bible is not one who foretells the future. The prophet is the one who speaks the word received from God. Typically, that word proclaimed by the prophet is not one the people want to hear. It calls them back to a life that might seem to be more restricted and controlled. Often the prophet meets great resistance. But for those communities who respond and obey the word proclaimed by the prophet, it can become a life leading to inner peace and to justice in the community and among the nations.

The Psalmist

Does this mean all is well for the prophet or for those who try to follow the Lord’s call? Not at all. The psalmist speaks  in Psalm 123 for those who have had their fill of the mockery and contempt heaped on them by people who have rejected the Lord’s ways. “Have pity on us, O Lord, have pity on us.” Show us your mercy and end this suffering! Enough already!

Saul of Tarsus – Paul

The second ordinary man is Saul of Tarsus. Saul was originally trained as a tent maker, but he had studied the Law and was a teacher in Jerusalem. He sincerely believed the followers of Jesus were unfaithful to their Jewish roots and traditions. They were the kind of folks who got everyone else in trouble – the kind of trouble that led to them being conquered by neighboring nations. Saul set out to arrest Jesus’ followers and root out this dangerous group. But Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and called him personally to go out and tell the world the good news of the Resurrection and the Kingdom of God.

Saul, now known by his Latin name as Paul, set out to do just that. He traveled all over the Middle East and Greece. Eventually he ended up in Rome and died as a martyr there. His letters are some of the first documents we have from the early Church, earlier even than the Gospels.

In today’s reading from his second letter to the people of Corinth (2 Cor 12:7-10), Paul speaks of his weakness. He has received a tremendous gift in the experience of his calling, but he is still an ordinary guy. He battles physical and spiritual weaknesses just like everyone else does. He has asked to be relieved of these weaknesses, but that is not how grace works. The Lord’s gift of life and love works through the weakness of those who witness to him. Paul declares to the people of Corinth and to us, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The same deal applies to us.

Jesus of Nazareth

Finally, we hear what happened when Jesus went home to Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6). He has had a tremendous experience of being called at his baptism in the Jordan River and the time in the desert. He has seen people healed of physical and psychological ailments at his touch. Yet when he goes home to his family and religious community, no one is willing to believe he should have anything to say to them. He is not a trained, certified religious teacher. He is a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. An “everyday Joe.”

In response, Jesus quotes a traditional saying: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” He was unable to work wonders or heal people at home, because they were not open to receive the gift he had to offer.

Prophets in our midst?

We look back on these men and their experience. How easy it would be to say, “I would never do that to a prophet that came to me!” Yet it is all too easy to overlook the gifts of those we love – the ordinary people who come to us with a word or insight that might well help us on our way to holiness.

Let’s pray today that we be open to the prophets in our midst. The ordinary folks who speak God’s word to us.

Photo: Michael and Marjorie Brewer – Two ordinary people of faith

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Posted by on Jan 10, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord – 2021

The Baptism of the Lord – 2021

What a week we’ve all had! What should have been a routine process in the Congress of the United States of America – the certification of the results of the presidential election in the United States – was anything but routine. Challenges to state totals by representatives of other states. Rioters invading the capital building. Law-makers taken to safety and in hiding for their own protection. A president who encouraged the rioters. Senators and Representatives being accosted and booed when they are in public. Is there any good news? Where can we find hope? Lots of questions rise in everyone’s minds.

This Sunday, as a new week begins, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus was a good man, a carpenter, son of a carpenter, in a small town in Galilee. He lived in a conquered land. All knew the power of Rome and of the soldiers who enforced order. Those who wanted to live to an old age didn’t make waves or draw attention to themselves. But a prophet, who happened to be Jesus’ cousin, was baptizing people at the Jordan River – not too far away. John was telling people that the long-awaited Messiah was near, maybe already in their midst. It was time to get ready – to turn from their sins and welcome God’s Anointed One.

Jesus went to see for himself what was happening. He felt a call to enter into the water and become closer to the Lord God. As he entered the water and was plunged into it (to be baptized means to be plunged into ….) he experienced the coming of the God’s Holy Spirit, gently filling his heart and telling him, “You are my beloved son: with you I am well pleased.” He left the river with much to contemplate – a changed man, with a new awareness of who he was and who he was called to be. He went to the desert to pray and sort things out. When he returned, he began sharing what he had learned of God’s love and plan for humanity. The mission had begun.

Listen carefully to those words spoken to Jesus at his baptism. Our Father speaks those words to each of us as well. We who have been plunged into the life of God at our baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, are God’s beloved children.

We are called to the water. We are offered all we need for life, given freely by God. We are offered forgiveness when we mess up. We are promised life.

May we hold fast to this promise as we reach out to those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. Respect for each other as human beings, compassion, sharing of visions for the future, rejection of violence, and work for reconciliation are now our calling. We are children of one Father, brothers and sisters of the Lord, anointed by God’s Spirit. With Jesus we go forth into our world to bring words of peace, justice, and healing in times of great distress. Can we be peacemakers? Can healing occur? Will justice become a reality for all. Will we be part of the solution or part of the problem?

On this day, we pray for courage, wisdom, and strength to listen to each other and seek common ground. Our country and our world have need of these gifts.

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Posted by on Aug 4, 2020

What is God up to that is New?

What is God up to that is New?

By Dcn Ed Callahan

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”(Matt 4:17)

As we, the people of God, attempt to navigate these strange times, we may be left with a feeling that nothing is or will be the same again. This Covid-19 event is having such far-reaching effects in our daily lives. We are wearing masks and keeping social distancing. People are suffering because their businesses are changed or closed altogether. We can’t go to the cinema or the theater; sporting events are altered or canceled. Gatherings are discouraged. Even our worship services are altered or even closed! It leaves us wondering how we are to be Church!

Metanoia

The verse in the header was mentioned in a book I’m reading by Richard Rohr. He reminds us that the word frequently translated as repent, convert, or reform is the Greek word metanoia, which quite literally means “to change your mind.” Rohr notes, “It is not a moralistic or even churchy word at all; it is a clear strategy for enlightenment for the world. Once you accept change as a central program for yourself you tend to continue growing throughout all of your life.”

Rohr teaches us that our egos make us resistant to change and self-examination – we are comfortable with our institutions and conscious assent to the ‘right beliefs’ about God and about ourselves and our ‘rightness.’ We are content with our religious group and how we worship. This is our unchanging touchstone in our life. But now we must remember that Jesus himself was all about change.

Sometimes we are loath to change our outlook. We are not open to change in ourselves or our church life. But Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, says, “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

How is the wind blowing in our lives today?

Right now we should be discerning the workings of God in the world. Our question may be, What is God doing now that is new? How do I participate in God’s work? This would be more mature spiritually than stomping our foot that things are just not the same.

Each Christian has the opportunity and the duty to work with the Spirit as it seeks to transform the face of the earth. How are we living our faith? Are we doing any of the Corporal Works of Mercy? Just one person will do for each of us. Are we doing the Spiritual Works of Mercy for another person? Reaching out to one person will do.

We will get back to our worship, but when we return to our spot in the pews are we changed? Have we allowed the Spirit to change us? Have we participated, accomplishing our little part of transforming the whole world? Have we died to ourselves and set our ego aside?

God will never be diverted from his mission to Humankind. He is Love, Mercy, and Justice and against Him and his people nothing will triumph.

So, What is God up to that is new?

Image: Detail from Giovanni Guida’s 2020 painting, “God Fights the Corona Virus”

 

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Posted by on Jun 29, 2020

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

A Way Through Covid 19: Blessed is the One Who Comes

When I first heard Sir Karl Jenkins’ composition Benedictus, the title alone, for me, evoked something very deep from my experience of the Mass and showed me a way through the Covid-19 pandemic.This Mass was a memorial for those who died in the Kosovo conflict (1998-1999). It is deeply moving. It contains a deep resonance of the passion for life in the face of death and the triumph of hope.It is not an easy path but it is the path of the cross and the resurrection.It is the path of discipleship.

When I researched it I found an interview with Sir Karl Jenkins the composer. He didn’t experience any real type of other worldly motivation except to work systematically, generate ideas, and then go with his intuition.He also speaks of how he put it together and how it speaks to people particularly to those who are dying or grieving the loss of a loved one.

The Benedictus – blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, is the response after the preface or opening of the Eucharistic prayer.

The preface announces and anticipates the death and resurrection of the Lord in our act of remembrance and Thanksgiving (Eucharist in Greek). We remember, we celebrate, we believe. It is the sacrifice of the innocent transformed by the coming of the Lord. War, hunger, plague are the slaughter of the innocent and innocence itself. Who stands for the fallen? How does the senseless make sense?

The question is not resolved except to say that the one who comes in the name of the Lord – like Christ dies in hope despite the throes of torment and despair.

During my brief introduction to hospital ministry, Fr. Eli Salmon, one of my preceptors and I were discussing the ICU and pastoral accompaniment. As Catholics we often think of hospital chaplaincy as the administration of the sacraments. Which is true since they are rites of peace and healing, but they are part of something deeper.

Being with the sick, the dying, or those returning to the rigors of everyday life is a ministry of hope born of faith that ushers us into that communion which is love. Fr. Eli defined his mission in the ICU as being a support for the patient’s hope in the face of death. It is the prevention of despair.

The primary mission of discipleship is to be that presence of hope – to be the one who comes not with answers, not with solutions, nor the daggers of glib religious slogans.

The Lord is with us through our presence and witness to the pandemic and its victims. As challenging and frightening as these times are, as difficult as the news is to watch, and as absurd as the evil whimsy of Covid-19 is as it grazes some and destroys others, we are the Lord God’s presence. Even as our churches are closed and the altar bare, the Eucharist of our hearts continues. We remember. We give thanks. We await the resurrection and bring forth its dawn.

Blessed is the one who comes as the Lord God.
Image from Vatican Library
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Posted by on Jan 10, 2019

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

A new year begins. A year that will be filled with grace freely offered, seeking only hearts open to receive it.

People dance in the streets, celebrating this outpouring of divine life into our daily reality. Enemies embrace. The fearful step out with undaunted courage. Young men and women move confidently into their unknown future and old ones see visions of great hope.

What if this were the reality of our transition into this new year? How could it come to be? Dare we ever hope for such a gift? It seems too good to be true, especially as we confront the turmoil and dangers of today’s world.

Yet this is the promise to which we are called. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (Is 61:1), “I come to bring glad news, ….”   He echoes Tobit’s instructions to his son Tobiah (Tob 4:16): “Share your bread, clothe the naked ….” He goes one step further even and tells us that this is the basis on which our faithfulness is to be evaluated. To the degree we do this to the least among us, we do it to him (Mt 25:40).

This is the reality, unseen though it may be, to which we are called. The great mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord has come to pass in our human history. They continue to be a living reality in our Eucharist and in our daily lives. Peter’s words to the crowds on that first Pentecost are a call to each of us. Open your eyes. God is doing something fantastic here. Yes, the empires remain. Yes, powerful people continue to bully and oppress the poor. Yes, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and greater in number.

But do not lose hope! Grace has burst into our world. It flows into each of us and out into that world. So dance with joy. See the sun, the moon, the flowers, the smiles of children and old ones. Smile with the beggars and give thanks to the Lord for sharing his abundant life with us!

Then roll up your sleeves and move out into this wonderful world. Be the eyes and ears, the voice, hands, and feet of the risen Lord, the Word made flesh, God with us. And let’s get busy caring for our sisters and brothers who need a hand, our Earth, our communities, refugees at our borders, and our families. Let’s do it in joy, peace, cooperation, and hope.

Peace be with you, now and always.

Photo: “Plum Flower” by Dario Sabio – Public Domain Images

 

 

 

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Posted by on Oct 14, 2018

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero came from modest circumstances in a village in El Salvador. His family did have somewhat greater financial circumstances than most others, but they were still poor. He attended a school in the village which only went to the third grade and then was tutored at home. During those years he worked as a carpenter with his father who had taught him the trade. After he decided he wanted to be a priest, he went to the seminary from age thirteen on. At one point he left the seminary for three months when his mother became ill. While he was home, Oscar worked in a gold mine with his brothers.

After he was ordained, Fr. Oscar Romero worked in a village parish for 20 years. Eventually his superiors saw his talent with administration and his high level of pastoral care. Ordination to bishop followed and he was the Secretary-General for the Catholic Episcopal Secretariat of Central America. By the time he was appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador, he had had broad exposure to the repressive policies and actions of a number of national governments against the poor. But he remained traditional and conservative.

As Archbishop, Oscar was aware of the poverty and terrorizing of the poor by the military in his country. He was also aware that a number of the priests under him were organizing protests, teaching organizational skills to their parishioners, and some were advocating violence. For a number of years he advocated the unity and interior conversion of all as a way to remedy the injustices and bring forth mercy. Archbishop Romero was well loved by many families of the ruling class. He tried not to “rock the boat.” He was worried that would bring on more repression.

After a close priest friend, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated, Archbishop Romero stepped forward much more strongly. His homilies and weekly radio broadcasts then emphatically identified the marginalization and injustices and even ordered the perpetrators to put down their arms and refuse to take orders from their superiors. Romero visited and ate with both the rich and the poor. He baptized the babies of both social classes, often in the same groups, which infuriated the elite. He had very little support, including from church officials.

He was a loving and very pious man. He wrote in his diary that he examined his conscience every day and strove constantly to be a son of the Church. This was very difficult because many of the church hierarchy were of the wealthy class in power. They knew there was injustice and torture, but the official policy was tolerance. Active mercy was the last thing on their minds.

Archbishop Romero was suspected of being an extremist or at least of backing them. He was no such thing. In fact, he ordered the extremists, priests and laity, not to confront the governmental violence with violence. He further did not subscribe to the Latin American versions of Marxism, although he was accused of this. His entire focus was on the suffering of the poor and the peril of the souls of the perpetrators. On March 24, 1980, after attending a day of recollection for priests, Romero celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel. As he raised the consecrated Host, he was shot.

This was an unlikely man, called to something which was foreign to his background, personality, and his superiors. Romero did not go looking for controversy or seek to be famous. Rather, in his diary he wrote of his desire to follow Jesus and for holiness. He saw Jesus particularly in the faces of those suffering. His willingness to be available to God opened his heart to mercy.

Today he is recognized as St. Oscar Romero.

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

More on the Examen

More on the Examen

Ignatian Spirituality.com offers more information about the Examen.

“The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.”

Prayer of the Examen is characteristic of Ignatian spirituality and is included in the Spiritual Exercises. Members of the Society of Jesus pray this prayer at least twice daily, at noon and at the end of the day.

Steps in praying the Examen include:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

 

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

According to Brené Brown

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

One of the key challenges in even looking at our behavior and our relationships is not guilt, but shame. Our thoughts and feelings can run off the rails and we think, “I did something bad. That means that I am bad.” Guilt becomes confused with shame. That’s why shame is such a big part of addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bullying. According to Brene Brown, shame for women is, “Do it all. Do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat.” For men, shame is, “Do not be perceived of as weak.”

Shaming is something we see often with pets. When a dog misbehaves we are tempted to say, “Bad dog!” We don’t say,” You chewed my slipper. You did something wrong, but you are a good dog.”  However, that can be very confusing and threatening for the dog. According to animal behavior specialists, it is much clearer if we say, “No chew!” when the dog is chewing a slipper. “Good dog” should be an ongoing message that is conveyed by the way we handle the dog.

Invalidating or shaming others is a fundamentally evil act, since it contravenes God’s view of us and all creation as fundamentally good. For someone to take on the view that they are bad is to identify with evil, to identify with non-being. Some people can reject the notion that they are bad but respond by defining the people who are shaming them as fundamentally bad. Through this fundamental rejection of a person, we make them something completely apart from us. They are the other. This unfortunate behavior in ourselves and other primates makes it possible for us to destroy members of our own species and even our own families. David Eagleman explains in an episode of The Brain how genocide occurs when we turn off our empathy.

Asking for God’s pardon is an acknowledgement that we have not lived up to what we actually are. Yes, we have done something wrong, and we feel bad about what we have done, but we know that we are loved and good because God sees all that he has made and says that it is good.

The important thing in this step is not to get overwhelmed. Pick one area that you would like to work on in consultation with your spiritual director and reflect on it over time – or not.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Be Grateful – Examen, Second Point

Be Grateful – Examen, Second Point

Being grateful and spreading the message is the 12th step of recovery. If we look at recovery from addiction in its many forms – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or work – it seems like starting with gratitude is starting at the end and not the beginning. To the extent that the 12 steps are an ongoing process jumping on the recovery wheel at Step 12 not only represents a transformation but also occasions a deeper one. Gratitude connects us with God directly because we can see beyond the world of “want and need” to the riches around us and in our souls. You can’t be grateful without feeling good to some degree about yourself and your sobriety.

Gratitude is the acceptance and return of love’s expression as complete self-giving. Hip Hop is often a style of dancing that can be foreign and off-putting for older generations and yet it is the common world language of youth culture today. “Clean Love” speaks to the dynamic of Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love.

It is easy in some ways, to think of the Examen as something for people who already have things figured out. We can think that the Examen is for people without any problems. They always make good choices and it is merely a question of discerning a better choice. Once we have really entered the presence of God, there can only be gratitude. If there isn’t, there is something between us and God. Clearly, that is why the regular sequence of the 12 steps is necessary. For St. Ignatius Loyola, the key problem or sin is ingratitude toward God. “Godspell” the 70’s musical reflects a take on Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love that reflects a divine naivete and fearless authenticity.

Since gratitude is a positive socio-emotional-physical experience, it can heal those deep wounds and injuries from early in our lives that pain us into various methods of non-feeling expressed in addiction. It is important to be grateful for ourselves and our talents. Having appropriate self-esteem is to acknowledge that God gave us certain gifts and talents. This is acknowledging the truth and it can help us to affirm other people in their gifts and talents.

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