Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Dec 2, 2023

Beginnings, Endings, and Continuity

Beginnings, Endings, and Continuity

One year comes to an end. Another begins. One story comes to an end. Another begins. One way of living ends. Another begins. We see this pattern again and again in our lives. But what about the transitions? Is there anything that remains from the year or story or way of living that carries over into the next?

We have reached the end of a liturgical year, a series of fifty-two weeks of remembering and celebrating the love of God reaching into our human lives. A new year begins for us on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – this very Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent. Do we start from scratch somehow or is there a seamless continuity between the celebration of Christ the King and the beginning of Advent?

The word we use for this time comes from Latin, from a word meaning arrival. Something or someone is coming or arriving. In our Christian tradition, we look for the coming of Christ into our world, both at the end of time and into our own personal time. We also await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and son of Mary.

Do we start with a totally clean slate then? Not really. Jesus was born into human history. Just which day and which year we don’t know. Parents didn’t go to the Court House and record births in those days. Even the presentation of a child at the Temple didn’t get recorded in any way that we can reference officially. The early Church chose late December for the birth date to coincide with the Roman celebration of the return of light at the solstice. Since Jesus is the Light of the World, it made sense to celebrate his coming at that time. It also made it easier not to be noticed while celebrating the coming of a person who was crucified for treason!

So then, Jesus has already come into human history. He has promised to come again at the end of time. When that end of time will be was originally thought to be very soon after his Resurrection. But that too turned out to be a bit delayed. Of course, in terms of the age of the universe, it’s barely a blink in time, but it’s a long time for humans.

The ancient Hebrews waited for a very long time too, with many ups and downs along the way, for the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah asks the Lord why he lets the people wander away, harden their hearts, and no longer respect his will. He reminds the Lord that he could come in great power and punish them, blowing them all away like leaves carried away by the wind. And yet he concludes, “O Lord, you are our father, we are the clay and you the potter.” We humans and all the world are the work of the Lord’s hand. (Is 63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7)

St. Paul gives thanks to God for the people of Corinth in his first letter. They have been filled with grace, a share in the life of God, through Christ Jesus. They have received all the spiritual gifts they need as they wait for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, they wait, and as they wait, they live the teachings they have received. (1 Cor 1:3-9)

Jesus reminded his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Like servants whose master goes on a journey, it’s still necessary to keep watch and be prepared for his return. (Mk 13:33-37)

And how do we keep watch and remain prepared for the master’s return? What have we been taught? What have we been hearing in the past few weeks? Care for the hungry, the thirsty, those in need of shelter, clothing, health care, and all the basic necessities of a dignified human life. All of these are the activities to which we are called as children of the Father and siblings of our Lord Jesus, sharers in the Kingdom of God.

Here is the continuity. We have come to the end of a year of living and learning the ways we are called to serve the Lord. We begin a new year of learning as we prepare to celebrate his coming. And in this time of transition, we are reminded that resting on our laurels and trusting that we have learned enough and all is well is not enough. We must continue to learn and practice what we have learned already. And then we must remain alert so that we recognize the Lord when he comes into our midst.

Happy New Year. May this be a year of joyful growth and surprises as we find the Lord in every corner of our lives.

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B


Read More

Posted by on Nov 24, 2023

Sheep and Goats – Which?

Sheep and Goats – Which?

Sheep and goats represent a frequently recurring image in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I don’t know about you, but I have not personally had a great deal of experience with either sheep or goats outside of petting zoos.

Given my great lack of knowledge of either sheep or goats, I asked my sister, who raises alpacas and has a sheep as well, to help me understand how sheep and goats are similar and how they are different. Her daughter-in-law, my niece, raises goats, so my sister also got feedback from her. It made for a very enjoyable afternoon’s texting.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Goats are smarter than sheep and can figure out puzzles, “like how to open a gate.”
  • “Goats are leaders, sheep are followers.”
  • “Goats are hardier and easier to take care of than sheep, in my experience…”
  • Both have similarities regarding food and other animal habits, but there are differences.
  • Sheep will knock over anything or anyone, including the shepherd, who is in the way of where they want to go, especially if they are frightened or in a hurry.
  • Sheep are very food and instinct oriented and will ask for food and water even when they already have them.
  • “Sheep are complete idiots and rude,” quoth the goat herder in a short text.
  • Endearing qualities of goats? “They love treats and are a lot hardier.” Again from the goat herder.
  • Goats will come up to a person and wait to be petted. If they think they are being ignored, “they will stick their heads over the fence so you can scratch their nose or between their horns.”
  • Both sheep and goats can be sources of milk and fiber/wool. Some types are more suited to one or another product.
  • Goats can be used to pull carts. Their horns make it easier to keep a halter on those with smaller ears.
  • Sheep can sleep outside in the snow – their wool keeps them warm under the snowy blanket. When they wake, they can eat snow rather than needing to drink water.
  • Sheep will ‘Pogo’ when they are happy or in a hurry to get somewhere – “hop, hop, hopping … their little feet hitting the ground.”

Many thanks to these two lovely ladies for their insights.

These exchanges left me wondering why it’s the sheep who get the good press in the Bible.

In the Book of Ezekiel, the king and religious leaders of Israel get the blame for having caused the great troubles of defeat and exile of the nation under their leadership. Ezekiel, in a passage before the one we see this day, decried the fact that they had taken advantage of the poor, the sick, the injured, and those who were lost souls among the people. The job of the King and religious leaders, in God’s view as expressed by Ezekiel, is to look out for those who can’t take care of themselves and need help.

Speaking through Ezekiel, God proclaims, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ez 34:11-12, 15-17) God promised to rescue these sheep from everywhere they have been scattered and bring them to a safe pasture. This shepherd will go out and find those who are lost, tend the wounds of those who are injured, and heal the sick ones. But “the sleek and the strong” will be destroyed – those who did not use their strength to help and protect the others.

On a final note, the prophecy declares, “As for you, my sheep, … I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” (Rams are unaltered male sheep.)

There we go again. Sheep versus goats? There must be something else beneath the surface that a non-shepherding culture doesn’t notice.

It is possible to have both sheep and goats in a herd. Goats can help protect the sheep from predators, because they tend to be more aggressive. They’re not going to turn and run away in panic when they perceive a threat. They eat different plants than the sheep, so the pasture can support more animals.

Ezekiel is not the only one to speak of sheep and goats. In Jesus’ description of the end of times when he will return in glory with the angels and sit in judgement over all the nations, he speaks of sheep and goats as well. Matthew’s narration of this event is the only version of this that we see in the Gospels. (Mt 25:31-46)

People will be divided into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be gathered at Jesus’ right hand and the goats at his left. Then he will tell those on the right, “Come … inherit the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me food…” These were the ones who took care of the hungry, the thirsty, newcomers, those without adequate clothing, the ill, the imprisoned. They are surprised to be singled out for this, especially since they didn’t recall ever doing any of this to/for Jesus personally. He explains that doing it for “one of the least brothers of mine” was the same as doing it for him.

Those on the left-hand side are chided for not caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, and so forth. Again, they don’t recall ever seeing Jesus needing these things. Yet Jesus applies the same logic to them. What was not done for the little ones, the least of God’s people, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, was not done for him.

Here we still are, with the sheep getting the good press and the goats getting the bad.

I think part of what we are seeing is that the ancient Hebrews started as shepherds, so there’s a long history with these animals and their care. Abraham was a shepherd. He probably had both sheep and goats in his herds. Both species have useful qualities and together they can provide a more complete set of products for supporting a household, especially a group of herders who travel from place to place with their animals. Goats, with their intelligence and tendency to be more aggressive, might be a bit more challenging at times. But these same qualities would make them a useful addition to the mix. The shepherds and their dogs could use the help of other animals in protecting the entire herd. Still, if there are too many goats, it could also be a problem, especially when it comes to growing the herd and mating time. Intermixing the species is not a successful strategy in such instances.

Another thought that comes to mind is that sometimes, it’s best just to follow the rules and do what is the right thing, even if it’s not the most clever or flashy. When we get too clever and try to outfox the rules to get a better deal for ourselves, it’s not going to lead to our serving the poor or those who can’t get a leg up in life on their own. We too easily get focused on our own needs and wants and find ways to justify meeting those first. God, the shepherd, wants us to look out for each other and will support us as we do. We don’t have to go running off slyly on our own like the goats, figuring out how to unlock the gate to have a good life.

One other thought, which comes from Catherine Cory in the Workbook for Lectors that we use in our parish, is that the words translated as sheep and goat do not necessarily refer only to the animals we categorize by that name. She suggests that the term translated as sheep refers to small grazing animals, not just sheep. The term translated as goats refers to small creatures that are “woolly.” She suggests that those Jesus called sheep are the mature ones who are ready to enter the kingdom of God. The others are unready to enter. They have not matured properly and become ready for the kingdom. The way to become ready, is to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the sick, and so forth. We call these tasks the Corporal Acts of Mercy and we are all called to this service.

As we end our liturgical year with this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, let’s pray that we have grown in maturity this past year and will continue to grow in the year to come. It’s not just the sheep in my sister’s yard who should go hop, hop, hopping quickly towards a special treat or person. We, the sheep of our Lord and God, need to hop, hop, hop along together in joyful service, meeting our Savior in all those we encounter.

Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Nov 19, 2023

Worthy Wife, Worthy Husband & Talents

Worthy Wife, Worthy Husband & Talents

Literature written thousands of years ago sometimes presents us with images that seem unnecessarily limited in our times. This is particularly true when we look at gender roles and expectations.

The Book of Proverbs includes many sayings and images that can be taken individually and used to guide one’s actions. It also presents a picture of Lady Wisdom, an ever-present manifestation of God’s powerful presence in our world. One section is written as an acrostic poem. Each line begins with a word from the Hebrew alphabet. The lines begin with the first letter, alef, and the poem’s last line begins with the letter tav, the last letter of that alphabet. (As an aside, the alphabet can be known as the Alef-Bet – the A, B – and as we would add – Cs.)

This poem speaks of the qualities of the ideal wife in the world of that day. (Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) Women in those days were primarily responsible for management of the home, raising of the children, and support of their husbands in their activities. They did not have careers outside the home. It was a full-time job to handle the household.

Many years ago, the teacher of a class dedicated to study of Wisdom literature assigned his students the task of writing a “newly discovered” extra chapter for each book studied. It was a way of seeing what the student understood about the book being studied. One student decided to write a parallel chapter for the book of Proverbs, describing the husband, also in an acrostic poem.

The section about the wife begins, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.” Her skills are praised, her outreach and compassion to the poor are noted, her dedication to the Lord is admired, and she is described as meriting praise for her labors at the city gates. It is truly a work of praise and love.

Here’s the missing chapter about the worthy husband, as imagined by a woman in the late 20th century.

A Modern Parallel to Proverbs 31:10-31

A worthy husband, who might find him? He is more precious than gold.
Bountiful is the harvest of his labors.
Confidence in his abilities guides his actions.
Defending the poor, he dares oppose oppression.
Eager for life, he embraces it joyfully, yet
Fails not to recognize physical death as its goal.
Gentle concern endears him to his family and friends.
Humbly he acknowledges his strengths and weaknesses.
Innocently he walks in the midst of intrigues.
Joyfully he provides physical and spiritual support for his wife and children.
Kites he flies with his children and he kisses them freely each day,
Loving them and their mother as himself.
Manager of his earnings, he generously shares whatever he has.
Nature is his ally, she abundantly rewards his good deeds.
Optimistically he faces the future with assurance as he
Prayerfully begins, lives, and ends his day.
Queen of his heart, the wife he has chosen he makes his partner.
Respectfully dealing with all he meets, he is loved in return.
Smiles are his trademark, even during times of trouble.
Truthfully he expresses his thoughts.
Unusually curious, he is continuously questioning,
Vigorously seeking truth.
Wisely guarding his inner privacy, his
“X” or unknown qualities continually surprise his friends.
Youthfully he goes about his work,
Zestfully living each day, he wins praise from all.

We each have talents received from God, who hopes we will use them wisely to spread the kingdom of love and mercy, just as the master Jesus described did when he gave his servants huge sums of money to invest on his behalf. Two of the servants took the money and used it to earn an equal amount. One was afraid that he might lose it and the master would be angry, so that servant buried the money to protect it until the return of the master. Only those who took and used the money were pleasing to the master when he returned. (Mt 25:14-30)

The parable ends with the statement that those who use their gifts, who spend them freely, will be rewarded with more of the gifts they need. Those who hold on tightly to what they have will lose them instead.

The gifts we receive from our Father are to be put to work. Just as the worthy wife buys flax and wool to spin thread and weave fabric for making clothing for her family in the poem, we are to take the talents we have and share them freely. This may be something as simple as sharing a smile with a passing stranger, or patiently waiting in line while a checker helps the customer ahead of us sort out which card to use to pay for the groceries. Sometimes we are asked to share a bit more. A child needs a new coat for the winter. Will we help fund that for a low income family? A family doesn’t have extra money to buy a doll for a child for Christmas. Will we be the ones who help that child receive a precious gift? An older person waits hopefully for a visit from a neighbor. Will we be the ones who stop by to say hello and share a few minutes of friendship? Our church community needs helpers to share our faith with the children and youth. Will we take the time to be with them as they learn of God’s love? Will we share what we have seen?

We all have received many gifts and talents. Men and women, husbands and wives, adults and children – all have something received and something to give. As we approach the end of our Church year in another week, may we be open to hearing the voice of the Lord and growing into the role we are to play in the community of faith.

Readings for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A



Read More

Posted by on Nov 12, 2023

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

Come with me for a little walk today. It’s a walk through our daily life. We’re going to visit some old friends and some new ones too. Along the way, we’ll see some people we don’t know. One person in particular whom we hope to see will be a model and guide for our journey, the Lady Wisdom.

This Lady whom we hope to see is described in the Book of Wisdom. She is “resplendent and unfading … readily perceived by those who seek her.” This gives us hope for our journey. If we are seeking her, we will see her.

So where do we look for her? And when are we likely to see her? Will she be found in gatherings of teachers and students who are seeking the mysteries of the universe? Will she be present at fine restaurants and banquets where leaders of industry and government meet and share a meal? Will she be at department stores, among the fine clothing and perfumes? How about in the kitchen as we sit and visit after dinner and then clean up the dishes?

Wisdom herself tells us that she will help us find her. (Wis 6:12-16) She will sit outside our door in the early morning, waiting for us to get up and venture out into the world. We might not see her though. We must be looking for her if we hope to see her, keeping our eyes open. What will we see as we go on our way? The homes of our neighbors. The trees and flowers in the gardens. The people getting ready to go to work and school. Those coming home after working through the night. Will we see their joys and sorrows too? Will we notice their hopes and the places they are in need of encouragement and healing?

This Lady Wisdom meets all who seek her as they travel through the day. She makes her rounds and visits all, bringing love and hope and joy with her as her gift. In the process, she opens our eyes to see the needs of others and their joy and gifts as well.

We don’t generally think of wisdom as being masculine or feminine in our daily lives. We think of wise people as those who know many things and make good choices that lead to happy, successful lives. But in scripture, particularly in the Books of Wisdom and Proverbs, Wisdom is more than that. Wisdom is feminine and intimate. There are at least three words that are translated as Wisdom in the Scriptures, but the one in question here is characterized by a sense of intimacy with God. Wisdom is connected with the divine. She is radiant, reflecting the Lord’s light. Wisdom leads us to union with God through our connection with all of creation and all of God’s people.

Wisdom helps us see hope in difficult times. When people we love become ill or die, Wisdom helps us trust that they will rise through the gift of the Lord. (1 Thes 4:13-18) When we meet others who are having hard times financially or personally, Wisdom helps us walk with them, sharing their burden and helping to make it easier. We won’t always be able to resolve the problem or make it go away, but being present can be the most important gift we can give. Moral support in hard times cannot be purchased.

Wisdom also helps keep us on our toes, ready to meet the Lord when he comes. When we have met him in our daily lives, in our contacts with folks who may need a help to support their families, with those who are seeking a safe place to live and raise their children, with those who hope to go to school and enter a career, with those who are sick or dying, and so many, many more, we will be more like the wise virgins of Jesus’ story, who had the oil they needed to keep their lamps burning late into the night. (Mt 25:1-13)

Many years ago, a group called the Medical Missionary Sisters produced an album called “Joy is Like the Rain.” One of the songs was titled, “It’s a Long Road to Freedom.” It is ringing in my head this day. “It’s a long road to freedom, a winding steep and high, but when you walk in love with the wind on your wings, and cover the earth with the songs you sing, the miles fly by.”

When we walk with Wisdom on our journey, we walk in love and the miles do fly by. The Lady Wisdom sits at the gate waiting for each of us to notice her and journey with her through our days. May we be blessed with open eyes to recognize her.

Readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Nov 5, 2023

Covenants and Family

Covenants and Family

The time spent nursing a child is some of the most precious time ever in the lives of mothers and children. Not all children nurse easily from the beginning of their lives, but once they and their mothers figure out how they can do it, the time together and the sharing become unforgettable – a deep, pre-verbal connection is formed that can last for decades. As a mother myself, who was nursed as a child and watched my siblings nursing as well, I was delighted to have the chance to do so too. Those years with my children were very special, filled with funny happenings, some frustrating times, and many simply peaceful, routine times.

St. Paul speaks of his time with the community in Thessalonika as one in which he and his companions were “gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.” (1 Thes 2: 7b-9, 13) They shared the amazing, wonderfully good news of God’s coming among us and loving each of us as parents love their children. The response of the people among whom they toiled was a source of great joy to them. He speaks of his gratitude to God for their openness and acceptance of the teaching, which shows forth in their lives. Though Paul doesn’t say it in so many words, in their lives they are examples of the contentment of the weaned child on it’s mother’s lap, happily experiencing the presence of a parent’s love and protection in life of which the Psalmist speaks. (Ps 131: 1, 2, 3)

Both the prophet Malachi and Jesus speak of family ties too when addressing the challenges of their times.

Malachi speaks at a time after the Babylonian Exile. (Mal 1:14b-2:2b-8, 10) He proclaims that the Lord is a great King, with power feared among the nations. Yet the priests who are responsible to lead the people in worship have not lived up to their calling. They have turned away from the covenant, the agreement God made with Levi, their ancestor. Malachi cries out, “Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us?” The covenant of the ancient fathers of the community with their God has been broken. This is a great tragedy. Israel is a family, the children of God, yet the priests have not lived up to their part in the relationship. As a result, their family connection as a community with God has been broken and so has their relationship as sisters and brothers in one family. When this happens, community strength is lost and mutual respect is gone.

How and when will the covenant be renewed? Only when the people turn again to God, their father, the one father of all.

Jesus spoke of the Pharisees, who were students and teachers of the Law, and the Scribes, who were advisors, leaders, and teachers entrusted with reading and writing the traditions and teachings that guided the community. He criticized them because they did not live what they taught. To follow all the details of the Law as they taught it was very difficult. They themselves did not follow the rules they made for ordinary people to follow. Yet Jesus did not tell people to ignore the teachings. Instead, he told people to follow the Law, but not to follow the examples of these teachers who were more interested in being seen and honored for their pretended observance of the Law than in actually living according to the Law. The fundamentals of living humbly, serving others, and recognizing all others as brothers and sisters of the one Father in heaven are the critical, essential actions. (Mt 23:1-12)

In a community and culture in which corporate families were the norm, one statement in particular is striking: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” In corporate families, the leadership of the family is vested in one parent. In Israel of that time, the parent was the father of the extended family. Children and grandchildren and their families were all under the leadership and authority of that one parent. Individual families did not really exist in the sense we experience them. Family identity passes through the male or female line in corporate families. In patriarchal Israel, the line went through the males – from father to son. Women married into the family, leaving their own family behind. The “Father” in this large extended family made the decisions about who would do what and who would marry whom. Jesus says, only God is the Father. The earthly parents of each person are not the ultimate authority.

The bottom line for Jesus was the importance of humble service. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Only those who serve humbly will ultimately be recognized for their greatness.

The nursing mother, the humble servant, the God who is Father. The ones who make life easier and better for others, especially the others who are poor, or of lower social status, or strangers/newcomers in the land, or who suffer illness or injury are the ones who will be exalted. These are the ones pleasing to the Father. It was thus in the time of Malachi. It was thus in the time of Jesus. It was thus in the time of St. Paul. Nothing has changed. It is still thus in our days.

May we this week be aware of the needs of others and quietly offer a hand where needed. Maybe we pick up a bit of litter in a parking lot. Maybe we smile at a neighbor. Maybe we are patient in line at the grocery store. Maybe we read a story for the umpteenth time to a small child. Maybe we sit down with a nursing child and simply allow the child to eat and rest, basking in our love. Whatever we do, when we do it in love, we do it for and with our Father in Heaven. And the Father is pleased…

Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Oct 29, 2023

Just Two Fundamental Principles

Just Two Fundamental Principles

Differences of opinion among groups of people are nothing new, though sometimes we despair of the possibility of ever reaching agreement on how to move forward and address common challenges. Disputes can take the form of physical violence. They can remain in the realm of words, though words can cause great pain and harm. They may even remain unspoken yet provoke ongoing stress and anger in relationships.

Another way to deal with differences of opinion about how to move forward is to talk calmly about the options. It’s not uncommon for individuals moving from childhood to adulthood to become very argumentative with the adults in their lives. The approval of their peers becomes very important as they grow towards adulthood. The study of rhetoric, logic, and reasoning is quite appropriate during this time of transition. In Language Arts classes, students may learn how to write essays presenting an opinion and backing it up. Sometimes these are described simply as Five Paragraph Essays.

While these essays may not be the best approach for very complex topics, the basic format is helpful to understand. An essay begins with the statement of an issue about which there may be some difference of opinion. The author takes a stand and states their position on the topic. The next paragraphs each have one point in support of the author’s position. Explanations and examples in support of the author’s position are presented here. After the points in favor of the stated position are presented, the contrary position may also be stated, along with points made in its support. Finally, the author restates the original position, along with a brief restatement of the reasons for its validity in contrast to the opinion of those who disagree.

This basic outline is not limited to five paragraph essays. It can be expanded to entire books, theses, and dissertations. It is used in speeches as well. It also helps in the everyday interactions of people with differing opinions. Learning to state clearly what the issues are opens the door to improved communication for all.

This same basic structure is useful in conversations between people who disagree with each other about how to dealt with fundamental differences of opinion. It can help make clear what the most important issues are and how they are perceived by each side.

When Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, two groups of powerful teachers were listening with concern. What he was saying had implications for the future of their society and their security under Roman rule.

One group, the Sadducees, were quite conservative and did not believe in life after death. Furthermore, they had come to an arrangement with the Roman rulers and did not want to lose their power or position. The other group, the Pharisees, were students and teachers of the Law. They focused on strict  adherence to the teachings and traditions of the Law handed down on Mt. Sinai to Moses and developed in the years following to deal with the multitude of possible situations that might arise in everyday life.

Both Pharisees and Sadducees had questions for Jesus. One day, a Pharisee came to Jesus and asked a tricky question. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” We tend to think of the commandments as being a collection of just ten rules. However, there were many, many more commandments and rules as part of the law. If Jesus chose any specific one as being the most important, they could come down on him like a ton of bricks. Why this one and not this other one? Who are you to decide what rule God would say is more important? How dare you teach this falsehood? All of the laws are equally important!

Jesus recognized their intention and answered directly, though not in the way they expected. He didn’t select one specific law – “Thou shalt not kill” – for example. Instead, he summarized the underlying meaning of the law. First, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart…soul…and mind.” Secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:34-40)

He went on to explain that the entire Law and all the teachings of the Prophets – the entire foundation of Jewish life and tradition – boiled down to these two principles. Love God above all things. Love other people as you love yourself.

Was this something new with Jesus? Not at all. It was spelled out in great detail in the Book of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus. Case by case, example by example, the behavior desired by God was described, as well as the consequences for disobedience. You must not harm a stranger or a person from another nation. You were strangers in another country at one time yourselves. Do not harm widows and orphans. I the Lord will hear their cries for help. Aliens in the land, as well as widows, orphans, and others who did not have a man or a tribal family to protect them were the most vulnerable persons in society. Anyone could treat them badly and they had no legal recourse. But the Lord cared: “I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up… your own wives will be widows…”

Similarly, if someone needs a loan, the terms of the loan must not put the person’s very survival at risk. No charging high interest is allowed. If a person gives something as security for the loan, that security item must be returned in a timely fashion. If it happens to be a person’s cloak, the cloak must be returned before sunset, so the person is not left to suffer or die in the cold of the night. Again, the Lord cares what happens to the poor – “If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.” (Ex 22:20-26)

The basic principles are the same. The Lord is to be loved and obeyed. The neighbor is to be treated with fairness and compassion. The most vulnerable are to receive unconditional support and care, so they have a chance to live in dignity and safety.

When people live by these principles – love of God and love of neighbors – we see their example and find it attractive. St. Paul remarked on this in his letter to the Thessalonians – “you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” because of the way they lived the Good News they were proclaiming. More people come to a life of faith as believers model a life of faithful love. (1 Thes 1:5c-10)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with anything in our lives today? Jesus’ insight and the words from the Book of Exodus are pointed reminders that our actions matter. It doesn’t have to be something great, or public, or even of particular importance. What matters is that our actions reflect the reality that for us, love of God is central to our lives and from that flows our love and care for the vulnerable among us.

Today, caring for the vulnerable among us means looking out for refugees, documented and undocumented immigrants, children born into poverty, non-binary folks who are not accepted by family or friends, working class men and women who aren’t earning enough to support their families, individuals who get sick and miss the paycheck needed to pay the rent, and many others. So many, many people in our world need to experience God’s love through the actions of God’s people.

This week let’s pray that through our loving kindness and openness to help those among us who are most in need of a hand, they will experience the presence and love of God too. And as we meet those whose paths cross our own, may we see God’s presence as well.

And while we’re at it, let’s remember to pray for peace and justice in war-torn areas of our world.

Readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Oct 22, 2023

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

When the Jewish people returned from Egypt and moved into the land west of the Jordan River, they were organized into communities descended from Jacob, who was also known as Israel. These communities were called tribes. According to tradition, there were twelve tribes or very large extended families, each with land assigned to its members. 

The tribes mostly got along with each other, but not with outside peoples. During the years described in the Hebrew Scriptures, there were many wars with neighboring peoples. Eventually, only a couple of the original tribes remained. Those were conquered by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. 

Babylon was a powerful nation, but there was another powerful nation to the east – Persia. When Cyrus II, King of Persia, came to power and conquered Babylon, he ordered the release of the Hebrew people, allowing them to return to their land, the territory around Jerusalem in 538 BCE. 

Cyrus ruled an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River by the time of his death. He is recognized as the founder of a great line of kings of Persia. His rule was characterized by a willingness to allow conquered peoples to continue some self-governance and maintain their own traditions. 

We hear of Cyrus’ role in the history of Israel through the prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…” The Lord has chosen Cyrus to subdue many nations for the sake of Israel, the Lord’s “chosen one.” Note that Cyrus is called the anointed by God in this prophecy. This term used for anointed is the Hebrew word we translate as Messiah – one chosen and anointed for a particular role. (Is 45:1, 4-6)

God has chosen Cyrus for a specific mission in Salvation History – to return the Hebrew people to their own land. God is not limited by the categories or boundaries of human societies. God works in many cultures and through the interactions of many nations and peoples. As humans, we don’t always see the presence of God in our world and in the events that are taking place. Which of the Israelites in exile in Babylon would have guessed that Cyrus would be the one who would order their return home? Yet, the Lord called him for this purpose, according to Isaiah. 

Many centuries later, another one called Messiah was asked a question intended to trick him into taking a position that would either get him in trouble with the people or with the Romans who had conquered his country. The questioners were Pharisees, teachers of the Law. The question was, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Caesar was ruler of Rome and by extension of the land of Israel. If Jesus said the tax was legal, the people would be upset with him. If he said the tax should not be paid, the Romans would have grounds to arrest him. 

Jesus could see what they were up to. “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” The coin was a Roman one, with a picture of the emperor on it. Jews were not allowed to make pictures of people or animals, so there would not be any worship of idols. Yet one of those who questioned him pulled out one of the coins and handed it to him. There were other forms of money used among the people. This coin was not typically used in daily life. It was a Roman coin. Jesus asked whose image was on the coin and what was the name written on it. They replied that it was Caesar.  

Jesus knew who it was and what it said, but he asked the question to make it clear that other forces are at play in societies and in world affairs. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  (Mt 22:15-21)

The presence of the Romans in Israel, the status of the Jewish people as subjects of Rome, and the laws governing this small, conquered country all played a role in the way the proclamation of the Good News by Jesus and later by his followers led to the events of his life, including his death and resurrection. The spread of the news of his coming and of the reconciliation between humans and God that he brought was made far easier by the fact that Rome ruled so much of the world at that time. Travel was common, roads had been built and maintained, trade was flourishing, and the world was mostly at peace. 

The growth of the community was not unopposed. Difficulties were common. But the word was received and communities of faith grew. Paul and the others who carried the Good News through the surrounding countries and even to Rome rejoiced in the growth in the numbers of believers. They reminded those new sisters and brothers of God’s love for them and the power of the Holy Spirit, who had come to them and given them strength to live this new way of life. (1 Thes 1:1-5b)

God’s presence and action in the world reaches beyond all boundaries of human communities and traditions. God works to bring good from all that happens. Doors open. Opportunities appear for healing and peace-making. Boundaries break down.

As wars continue in our world today, let’s pray for those in a position to work for international peace, especially for peace between nations that are neighbors and may share some common history. We pray that the Lord will touch the hearts of all involved and help them to see a way forward that allows peoples to live in peace and to grow in wisdom and justice and mercy.  

Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe into our hearts the fire of love, that we may be peacemakers in our own small worlds. Then take that power of peace and move it to the larger stages of life in this world of yours. Surprise us again with the blessings of your love. 

Readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Oct 15, 2023

On this Mountain

On this Mountain

On this mountain, the mountain of the Lord, all will share in rich food and choice drinks, death will be destroyed, tears will be wiped away from every face, and the reproach of his people will be removed from the whole earth. All will rejoice in the salvation that comes from the Lord, on this mountain.

What beautiful hopes and dreams are expressed in this reading from the prophet Isaiah. (Is 25:6-10a) It was a time of impending conflict in Israel. Defeat and exile awaited the people. Destruction of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem was coming. All seemed hopeless. Yet, Isaiah promised that all would end well, because “the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”

The Mountain of the Lord, the Temple Mount, in the city known as Jerusalem, is described in this passage from Isaiah. It is named often in the scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is revered as a holy place of encounter with the Most High. When the nation of Israel was again established following the Second World War, Jerusalem was to belong to no nation. It was to be a place open to the faithful of all faiths. The name of the city itself identifies it as a place of completeness and holiness, because the Lord dwells there.

An ancient land

Today we witness once again war in the land of Israel/Palestine. The same geographic area has been known by many names throughout history. The father of both Jews and Arabs came to this land from Ur of the Chaldees over 4,000 years ago. The land belonged to others when he arrived. He and his family were foreigners, shepherds, whose God had promised them he would be with them. Against all odds, it turned out to be the case that this God was not one local to Mesopotamia. This God was present everywhere they traveled, including for a time into Egypt.

Abraham settled in the land. He and his wife did not have children and it seemed they never would. But they welcomed visitors one day and the visitors promised that they would have a child. Abraham had despaired of receiving an heir through his wife, so he had a child with her servant. This child, who was named Ishmael, Abraham believed would be his heir. However, the visitors’ promise was kept and a year later, Sarah bore a son for her husband Abraham. This was the child of the promise and he was named Isaac. Ishmael and his mother were sent away.

Thus were sown the seeds of the conflict we see continuing today.

When the descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt during a time of famine, others remained in the land they left behind. Many generations later, these descendants had grown to be a large nation. They left slavery in Egypt, with the help of their God, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years and eventually re-entered the land of Abraham and their ancestors. Once again, the land was filled with people. It was not open for a large new group of people to move in without conflict. The newly arrived battled the existing residents and took for themselves most of the land, including the mountain on which the temple was built in Jerusalem.

As we have been hearing in the readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel, conflict continued with surrounding countries, Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Greece, and others. Sometimes the children of Israel (another name for Jacob, one of the sons of Isaac) won these conflicts. Sometimes they were defeated and the people taken into exile. Always they returned, until the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70 CE. At that time, most of the people were killed or driven into exile.

Again, non-Jewish people, including the descendants of Ishmael, many of whom had never completely left, moved back into the area and prospered.

It was an on-going cycle of hope and disappointment, building and destruction. This cycle was not unique to this land. It was a cycle we have seen throughout history and in many areas around the world. Peoples come into a new area. Those who were living there previously are defeated. New nations rise, others come later and again war ensues. People are killed. Revenge is taken. Wars continue and hatreds grow ever more deeply rooted.

Is there any cause for hope? Will the cycle never end?

Another perspective

Jesus told a story that sheds a bit of light on this issue. (Mt 22:1-14) It seems there was a king whose son was getting married. The marriage of a royal prince is always a big deal. Invitations to the ceremony and the festivities are generally highly desired. But in this case, when the wedding feast began, none of the guests arrived. The food was ready. The tables were set. Everyone was all dressed up. And no one came.

Well, this would never do. The King sent out his servants to remind those who had been invited. But the guests refused to come to the party. There must have been some mistake, perhaps they didn’t get the date right? So he sent out the servants again with an urgent message. “I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” The food is going to spoil. We can’t just put it into the freezer for another day! This is the day…

But the guests still didn’t come. Instead, they mistreated and killed the king’s servants.

The king was furious. He sent out his soldiers and killed those who had refused his invitation and killed his servants. He burned their city to the ground.

Still, the food was waiting and there were no guests.

This did not stop the king. He had the servants go out to the main roads and invite anyone they met there to come to the feast. Fine clothes were provided for everyone. It would still be a party worthy of the son of a king.

When the king arrived at the party, one guest stood out. This person had refused the offer of new clothes to wear for the party. He was still in his everyday traveling or work clothes.

This puzzled the king. Why haven’t you put on the wedding clothes that were provided for you? The man had nothing to say for himself. So the king ordered that he be tied up and thrown out of the banquet hall. Jesus finished his story with the words, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Wedding Garments and War?

What does this have to do with the current war between Israel and Hamas?

It seems to me that the critical piece that is missing is something like that wedding garment. What does the wedding garment in the story represent? What does refusing to wear one that has been provided for the guest mean?

We are continually offered gifts by the Holy Spirit, including wisdom, understanding, and courage. These gifts allow us to bear fruit. The fruit we are to bear might be likened to the wedding garments of Jesus’ story. These garments are made of characteristics such as patience, kindness, goodness, joy, gentleness, faithfulness, peace, self-control, and love.

When we are invited to the wedding feast for the King’s son, we wear those characteristics as part of our identity and history. If we appear before the King refusing to wear these lovely garments, we won’t fit in. We will have chosen exclusion.

A change of heart is essential for inclusion at the king’s banquet. Similarly it is essential to the creation of peace in the Middle East and around the world. As long as the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael see each other as enemies who are taking each other’s land, there can never be peace. As long as revenge for injuries and massive destruction of life is the response in difficult relationships, the pogroms, massacres, and the Holocaust that were inflicted on the children of Isaac for so many centuries, and the never-ending cycles of violence over which of his descendants will own and control the land originally settled by Abraham will beset the world.

When the agendas of surrounding countries and peoples also enter into the equation, things get even more complicated. Just as in the past, other nations also played a role in whether there was peace or war in the area, larger forces complicate the realities of today and don’t help bring a peaceful resolution to modern conflicts.

Hopeful prayer

Is there hope? I believe there is always hope. I don’t know what it will take, but somehow, when the original guests don’t come to the wedding feast, there will be a way for the feast to happen anyway. Some will put on the wedding garments and lead the way. The prophet tells us that on the mountain of the Lord there will be peace and abundance. People from all nations will come together to share in the blessings and joy of God’s saving work, the defeat of evil and death. People will learn to forgive. Not necessarily to forget. But to forgive and decide to work together for the common good – that would be a critical place to start. And to trust that together they could all live and prosper. Not an easy step by any stretch of the imagination after so much hurt and anger. But essential.

In the meanwhile, we join together in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Violence does not result in peace. It only leads to more violence.

May the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ishmael be with their descendants around the world and especially in Israel and Gaza today. May peace and justice begin to sprout and bear fruit in the land that is their common inheritance.

Readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Special thanks to Deacon Patrick Conway of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos for his insight into the meaning of the wedding garment in today’s parable.

Read More

Posted by on Oct 8, 2023

Not All Grapes are Grapes

Not All Grapes are Grapes

In one corner of our back yard when I was growing up there was a plant whose leaves were sharp like those of holly. The bush had small flowers in the spring and blue berries in summer and fall. We were used to picking and eating huckleberries in the fall. They looked a lot like the fruit on this plant, though the leaves were different. But this plant was called Oregon Grape, and we never ate the “grapes” that grew on it. We might have tried the berries, but my mother cautioned us that they really didn’t taste good, despite being called grapes and looking like grapes. The bushes just grew in the corner of the garden as a part of the unchanging shrubbery. Not grapes at all, it seems.

The grapes we hear Isaiah describe in his story of the vineyard remind me of the Oregon Grapes in our back yard. However, in Isaiah’s story, the owner of the vineyard was expecting real grapes, ones that could be eaten or made into wine. (Is 5:-7) He cleared the land, planted high quality vines, took good care of the plants. He even prepared a wine press – all with the expectation that a good harvest would follow in the fall.

Imagine the disappointment of the owner of the vineyard when the fruit appeared on the vines. Instead of plump, sweet grapes, he found small wild grapes that could never be made into wine or other good foods for the family or community. It was like finding Oregon Grapes growing on his vines. This fruit was unusable. The vineyard was a total failure. A waste of time and money. What a terrible disappointment.

The owner of the vineyard responded by breaking down the protective walls of the vineyard and letting it be returned to an untended state. The vines were useless, except as food for wild animals.

Isaiah here reminds the people of his time that the Lord’s vineyard is the people of Judah, the house of Israel. If this vineyard of the Lord is not producing good fruit, it will suffer the same fate as the vineyard which produced wild grapes rather than the rich, plump, domestic grapes that the owner had expected. The Lord will stop protecting the nation from their foes. Their land will be destroyed and they will be scattered.

The image of the Lord’s people as a vineyard is ancient. We see it in the psalms, including Psalm 80. “A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it. It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.” In other words, the people have increased in numbers and filled the new land into which they moved after their time in Egypt and wandering in the desert. Yet they have not always remained faithful and at times it’s as if the walls of the vineyard have been broken down and passersby have taken its fruits. Wild animals have eaten the plants. Nevertheless, the psalmist calls on the Lord to rescue and protect the vineyard and the vines planted there once again. When the vineyard has been restored, the people will remain faithful, the Lord’s face will shine on them, and all will be saved.

Jesus also described a vineyard. (Mt 21:33-43) In this case, the landowner leased out the vineyard he had planted to tenants. The tenants would receive a part of the harvest as payment for their labor. The rest would go to the landowner, as a return on the investment in the land and the vineyard.

When the time came for the harvest, the landowner was away. He sent his servants to collect his share of the harvest. The tenants beat and killed the servants rather than give them the grapes for which they had come. The landowner sent more servants, but the tenants killed them too. Finally, the landowner’s own son was sent to collect the harvest from the tenants. The greedy tenants killed the landlord’s son rather than send the harvest to him.

Jesus asked those with whom he was speaking what the landlord would do in such a situation. (Always good to include your listeners in figuring out what comes next in a story or lesson.) They answered quickly that the tenants would be killed and new ones entrusted with the vineyard.

Then Jesus reminded them that just as the stone the builders had rejected became the cornerstone of the Lord’s building, the kingdom of God would be passed to other people if the people to whom it had originally been entrusted did not care for it and produce good fruit.

So what kind of grapes (or behavior) is the Lord hoping will be harvested? What are the good grapes?

St. Paul tells us that whatever we need, we can ask of God. (Phil 4:6-9) The peace of God will fill our hearts and minds, guarding and guiding them. The grapes we will see in such situations are truth, honorable behavior, justice, purity, beauty, graciousness, excellence, and actions worthy of praise. These are the kinds of grapes our landlord, the owner of the vineyard of the Lord, is hoping to receive. As long as our lives are producing these good fruits, these true “grapes,” the God of peace will be with us.

It’s still harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern, spring is bringing the hope and promise of a rich harvest. But for us, the harvest is on. The race to finish all that needs to be done before winter storms begin is in full swing. Grapes are being harvested. Will we and our lives be seen as sweet, rich grapes, filled with love and kindness? The Oregon Grapes are ripe too, but once again this year, they will remain on the shrub in the back yard for the birds and other animals to eat. Not all grapes are grapes!

May we bear rich fruit this week, reflecting the loving work of our Father, the vineyard owner.

Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Oct 1, 2023

Not too late to change

Not too late to change

I attended a play recently in which the world and all within it was beautiful and peaceful until spirits of anger, fear, doubt, distrust, and other negative emotions began to surround and disable the healthy functioning of the people. Eventually a wise old man went into the forest alone to seek wisdom and a solution for this terrible problem. He was advised to seek the solution through the air, the water, the earth, and fire. The wise ones of the mountain told him the people would need to pass through trials involving these forces and elements in order for life to return to the peaceful state that had existed before the coming of those evil forces. The people passed through these challenges and emerged into a community, singing of the wonders of life.

This play took the place of the more traditional ones for the festival in which it was performed. In those traditional plays, there is a dragon (from one or another of the world’s traditions) that somehow is threatening the people. With the help and guidance of angelic or spiritual forces, specifically Michael the archangel in some stories, brave people are able to tame the dragon. The dragon then provides power and help to the community to support life for all.

I have been reflecting on the difference in these stories. The first left me and many others with a sense of incompleteness. The forces that had upset the lives of the people had not really been addressed. They had not been transformed in any meaningful way. There was no reason to assume they would not return at a future date to cause even more harm. Anger was not transformed into forgiveness. Fear did not give way to courage. Doubt did not grow into a readiness to explore deeply and find inner, hidden truths. Distrust didn’t grow into a willingness to take a chance on reconciliation and healing. There was no redemption or transformation of the deep, and often fearful powers that can cause such pain and suffering in human life and damage to our ecosystem. The dragon-powers within each of us that can cause such hurt and suffering in human life did not receive the gift of transforming grace. In the traditional stories, the dragon-forces are brought under control and improve life for all. A much more satisfying result.

These thoughts fit into my reflection on the readings this week. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Prior to his time, the assumption had been that God’s judgement and any punishments for wrongdoing were communal. If others in a family or a community had broken the law, everyone would have to suffer the punishment. God was seen as a judge whose decisions affected all, whether guilty or not. So the sins of the parents were punished in the lives of their children too. If a child was born blind, for example, the question might be asked, as it was yet in Jesus’ time, “Whose sin was it that caused this”– the child’s or the parents’?

Through Ezekiel the Lord asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord reminds them that if a good person turns from doing good things and chooses evil, that person will bear the guilt. But if a person who has been doing evil things turns away from evil and begins to do the right thing, that person will live rather than die. It’s never too late to turn away from evil. It’s a question of individual decisions and actions. God will always give life to the one who chooses to do the right thing. (Ez 18:25-28)

And what is the right thing? St. Paul reminds the Philippians that humble, loving service to each other in the community and beyond is the calling of Christians. We are to be humble as Christ was humble. To make his point even more clear, he quoted an early hymn in which we are reminded that “though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … coming in human likeness…” Jesus even accepted death on a cross – a shameful, humiliating death. (Phil 2:1-11)

In his teaching, Jesus made the same point about our choices as individuals, by telling a story. “A man had two sons…” He asked each of them to do some work in the family vineyard. One son refused, but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The other son said, “Sure, Dad.” But he never quite got around to going into the vineyard and doing what his father had asked him to do. Jesus posed the question to the religious leaders who were questioning him, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Of course, the answer was clear. The one who initially refused, but then changed his mind and did what had been requested.

Jesus made it clear that the ones whose actions, professions, or status in society made them the least likely to be counted among those pleasing to God, would be welcomed into the kingdom because they heard and believed his message. Those whose positions seemed to make them more likely to be pleasing would find themselves excluded because of their failure to believe it and change their lives. (Mt 21:28-32)

We each must decide, again and again it seems. How do we live out our calling to service? Where are our talents needed? Where is a kind word, or a smile, or a simple act of forgiveness going to be the key that helps another person to hope and continue onward on their journey? How do we help to bring reconciliation and transformation of the dragons within ourselves and in our society to build a better world?

As we enter into a new month and a new season, may we be ready to listen and to allow ourselves to be transformed into sources of healing and reconciliation in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, and our world. It’s a beautiful world, just waiting for us to wake up and grow together in love.

Readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Sep 24, 2023

My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts

My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Is 55:8)

Each of us enters life like a bit of a blank slate. It’s not a totally blank slate, however. There are pre-existing conditions for each of us, such as our basic physical characteristics and the physical realities resulting from the genetics of the bodies with which we have been blessed. Nevertheless, for the most part, we are set to learn and develop into adults through the example and support of the family and community into which we are born.

Once we get here, we begin to experience the expectations and knowledge of our families and communities. How are babies expected to behave? How do we expect them to eat and sleep and learn to sit up, crawl, walk, and eventually run? How do we teach them to carry out their expected roles? Will the boys learn to be fathers? Will the girls learn to be mothers? What else will they learn to be? Are roles strictly divided by physical sex? Where does gender fit into it all?

Once we get all of that figured out, then we deal with our cultures. The culture into which we are born plays a huge part in the experience we have of life. What is the creation story of our people? What do we need to do to fit into the larger society in which we live? Are the deities of our people ones who care about us, or do we need to try to please their every selfish whim as they battle for power among themselves?

The people of Israel were used to worshiping and encountering God at the temple in Jerusalem before the invasion of the Babylonians and destruction of the temple. Large numbers of the people were carried into exile – and to their surprise, God was present with them there too. As the end of the exile appeared and they returned to their own land, they took this awareness with them. Yet there was still a sense that it would be important and even necessary to return to temple sacrifice as a major form of prayer and encounter with God.

The Prophet Isaiah reminds them, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.” He is not far away. He is near. He is ready to listen. He doesn’t follow our ways of thinking or interacting with each other. It’s never too late to turn back to the Lord. Scoundrels should forsake their ways. The wicked turn from evil thoughts and plans. Turn to God for mercy. Why? Won’t God just punish and destroy the evildoers? That’s what would happen in human justice. Isaiah describes God as the one “who is generous and forgiving.” Our God is not one who will take out his spite or anger on his people and break off relationships forever. Our God sticks around and hopes for reconciliation, always ready to respond in love and forgiveness. (Is 55:6-9)

Jesus told a story to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” (Mt 20:1-16a) Landowners held a great advantage in their society. They had a resource on which they could count for supporting themselves and their families. They were not dependent on the whims of an employer or the fluctuations of the “job market” – harvest time, planting time, time between seasonal jobs, and so forth.

This landowner needed harvesters. The vines were full of ripe grapes. The harvest was ready. The year’s income was at stake. Time to hire day laborers.

Everyone knew what the regular wages would be for a day of work. It may not have been expressed as an hourly wage, but folks knew what their labor was worth. There was no question of surprises at the end of the day.

A few hours later, the landowner went out and saw more people in need of work, so he sent them into his vineyard too, with the promise to pay them “what is just.” They did not expect full wages. That would not have entered their minds. They expected a reduced wage and would have been completely happy to receive that. Much better than having nothing to take to the market for buying food on the way home.

Around noon, the same thing happened again. The next group went willingly into the vineyard, expecting about a half day’s pay.

Three o’clock, same story. Five o’clock, more idle workers in the market. Off to the vineyard with them too. Same promise – “I will give you what is just.”

Finally, the sun was setting and it was time to stop work for the day. Some of the laborers had worked from dawn to dusk. Others for three, six, nine, or eleven hours less. It was time to receive their pay and head home.

The landlord instructed his foreman, “Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.” Now, one would think this would be very satisfying to the ones who had been working all day. They would see the “slackers” hired at the end of the day get just a few coins in payment. The next group a few more, and so forth. Eventually, they themselves, who had been up and ready to work first thing in the morning, would get their full day’s pay and go home with their heads held high and bragging rights about what great providers they were.

That’s the way the story should end. It would demonstrate the value of hard work and responsibility. The whole pull-yourself-up-by-your-sandal-straps ideal. Those who work hard will prosper and the rest will just fall by the wayside. It’s their own darn fault for being lazy…

But no, that’s not the way the story goes. Those hired last received a full day’s pay, not a penny more. The same for those hired at 3, those hired at noon, and those hired at 9 in the morning. All received a full day’s pay. Well, that boded well for those who had spent all day working, right? Surely, such a generous landowner would have a bonus for the hardest-working among them. Yet no such thing happened. Those hired first received the same day’s wages as those hired at 5 in the evening.

Does that sound fair? Not to most of us.  Certainly not to those hired first.  But suppose you were one of those hired late in the day? It would be an amazing blessing, to be forgiven for not having worked all day, for having come late to the market, or simply not have been lucky enough to be offered work earlier.

The landowner in the story asks, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”

Most of us live in relative comfort. We have our concerns and struggles. But most of us don’t have to deal with loss of home due to loss of income, or the inability to feed our children, or criminals taking over our farms, or severe, disabling health conditions, or a need to care for others who cannot care for themselves. Most of us have friends on whom we can count and a future to enjoy.

It’s not easy to remember that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. When someone hurts us, we want justice in return. We don’t want to share what we have, especially with the one whom we believe hurt us. We are not ready to forgive quickly. We hold on to the hurt and resentment and anger. It builds and sours in our hearts and interferes with our openness to love and forgiveness. If and when the time comes that we speak about the incident with the person who harmed us, we may discover that they also felt wronged and misunderstood.

But the Lord doesn’t work in this punitive, restrictive way with us. The Lord doesn’t get angry and cut us off. The Lord is as ready to forgive as a parent whose small child has lashed out in anger and screamed at them while running out of the room. As would a loving parent, the Lord gives us a moment to calm down, then begins a game of peek-a-boo, hoping to coax us back into a laughing, loving interaction.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord … As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:8)

May we be open to see the Lord’s hand in our lives this week, and glimpse him peeking around a doorway playing peek-a-boo with each of us, coaxing us back home.

Readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More

Posted by on Sep 17, 2023

Set Enmity Aside – An Ancient Wisdom

Set Enmity Aside – An Ancient Wisdom

In the olden days when I was a girl, I knew a woman who told me of a time when some of her classmates were teasing her. She had an older brother and he gave her a piece of advice that she carried with her into her old age: “Don’t get mad, get even!” Unfortunately, she took the advice to heart and it caused difficulties in interpersonal relationships for as long as she lived.

We often hear a version of this advice even today. We are encouraged to take revenge, sometimes phrased in the guise of obtaining justice or “evening out” the balance. Perhaps the most chilling version of it is the statement, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The very words send a chill. Where does it end? As Mahatma Gandhi remarked, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

An ancient Hebrew scribe, Ben Sira, collected a variety of ethical instructions, organized by theme, into a book which survives to this day. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” He advises us all to remember that in the end, all will die. Better than seeking vengeance, “set enmity aside … cease from sin.” Sounding much like Jesus, he advises all, “Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” (Sir 27:30-28:7)

Great advice, but it’s not easy to live this way. Our feelings are hurt, we are embarrassed, we get angry. Yes, we get angry. Anger is an emotion that we all feel from time to time. But what do we do with the angry energy? If we harbor and feed it, it grows stronger. It takes energy we could be using to move on or to build something worthwhile in its place. The anger we are building can even take on a life of its own, prodding us forward with ever greater plans for getting even, that only result in more angry energy flooding back over us.

Ben Sira’s advice is solid. Set enmity aside, let it go! What happened was not right? OK. Recognize that. State that. Then let it go. Don’t let it begin to control or define you.

I totally admit, as a person with a temper that can flare, that letting go of anger is not easy. However, when I find myself beginning to go over in my mind the offenses that have happened to provoke the anger, and feel the anger building, I have learned most times to tell it, “Go away! I don’t need you right now! You are not helping!” And much to my surprise, it typically goes away. Sometimes I have to insist and say it more than once, but it will go away and I will have the energy to do the next thing that I need to do.

Jesus made the same point about forgiveness of injuries to Peter. The number seven is symbolic in Scripture. It’s the number that represents perfection. All was created in six days and on the seventh day, the day of perfection, God rested. When Peter asked Jesus if it was necessary to forgive an offender seven times, he was essentially asking about how far it is necessary to go. Is there any limit to the requirement to forgive? Surely, there must be a time when we can just turn away from an offender, cut the person out of our lives, and move on? But Jesus doesn’t allow that. Not just seven times. Seventy times! There’s no end to the requirement to forgive. (Mt 18:21-35)

This plays out in daily life in practical ways, as the parable of the servant who owed a master a great deal of money demonstrates. The master forgave the debt, until the servant refused to forgive a smaller debt owed by another servant. When the master discovered that unwillingness to forgive, then the first servant lost the debt forgiveness he had already received.

The lesson Jesus and Ben Sira want us all to remember is that if we don’t offer forgiveness to others, we cannot receive it ourselves. It’s just plain impossible. Our hearts are sealed off in a cold room, with not a sliver of light able to enter and bring warmth and healing. We can’t receive forgiveness, so the Lord can’t give it to us. The Lord respects our free will and will not force us to open. That would be a violence against us and the Lord loves us too much to do that.

We can only heal when we are willing to let go of anger and accept healing.

We are the Lord’s. We live and die for the Lord. And as we set enmity aside, we share in the life of Christ. (Rom 14:7-9)

As we move through this week, seeing the high points and low points of our human interactions and our responses to the natural disasters that come along around the world, let’s try to remember to set anger and enmity aside in our own personal worlds. We can’t resolve the issues of the larger world by ourselves. However, we can become an island of peace and forgiveness in our own families and communities. We can help to heal old wounds as we offer forgiveness and acceptance. We can refrain from passing on the wounds that we have been dealt in the past. We can make a better world – one day and one person at a time.

“Set enmity aside.”

Readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Read More

Posted by on Sep 10, 2023

Love is the Fulfillment of the Law

Love is the Fulfillment of the Law

Imagine with me a world in which there are no mutually agreed-upon rules for behavior between individuals. Each day, the members of such a society would awaken without any pre-set guidelines or pathways for how they will treat others they meet or how they will themselves be treated. Will I get a chance to eat a good meal today, without having to prove I am stronger or more deserving of food than someone else is?  Will my parents protect me and help me to learn what I need to know to support myself and a family when I am grown? Will my children help care for me when I am old and need help getting out of bed in the morning? If my friends and I want to play a game, will there be rules for all to follow as part of the game?

Life in this type of world would be very stressful. As social beings, we humans depend on each other for lots of things. We begin as infants, totally unable to care for ourselves, totally dependent on others. We learn what to expect by watching others and by the way we ourselves are treated. Yet a child as young as six months recognizes its own mother and may object strenuously to seeing mother hold another child, even if the “child” is a nearly life-size doll. “Mama should be holding me, not that other child!”

In order to live together in harmony, humans set up social agreements. In larger societies, some of those agreements become laws, rules that everyone agrees are for the best. We may have laws that are decreed from on high (as in the Hebrew Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai). We may have laws laid down by a king or queen. We may have laws passed by our representatives in a body established to govern and protect our mutual interests.

Laws don’t always resolve all possible issues between and among people(s). Some laws are unfair to those who have less power than others. Some laws are disliked because they protect the rights of those who have less power! Regardless of how much we like or dislike a law, we need to have them in order for life to move along smoothly each day.

During the years of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel heard the Lord’s order to speak out when he witnessed wrongdoing, the breaking of the rules for life set down centuries earlier. (Ez 33:7-9) Those who heard the warning and continued to break the law, would be punished by death. But those who stopped their evil ways would live. The twist on this whole prophecy was that if Ezekiel did not speak out and warn those doing evil, then he would also be punished for the evil they did because he would be partially responsible for it. It’s not a question of everyone being responsible only for their own actions. Those who hear the Lord’s voice and know what is right, must also look out for those who are not living justly. We have a responsibility to each other.

Jesus told his followers something similar. (Mt 18:15-20) If someone harms an individual, the injured one is to take it up with the one who has caused the harm. They are to come to terms and become reconciled with each other. If they can’t find a way to do that, then the injured party is to call others of the community as witnesses to the attempt to become reconciled. Eventually, if the entire community can’t find a way to lead the offender back into compliance with the rules of the community, that person can be excluded from the life of the community.

This reading has been interpreted very harshly historically and even sometimes today. People have been tossed out of their homes or communities or shunned because they are unable or unwilling to conform exactly to the teaching of the tradition. And yet, we know that rules and traditions change with time. What was seen as worthy of death in the past may now be seen as part of the normal range of human behavior. We have learned much about human development and psychology. We understand the role of trauma and neglect in the lives of people. We know that illness is not caused by evil spirits or winds but rather by bacteria, viruses, or imbalances in chemical systems in the body. Responsibility for physical conditions cannot always be laid at the foot of the person who experiences them.

And yet, Jesus tells the disciples, “If two or more of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted by my heavenly Father.” Does this mean that everything a couple of us decide should be done will be done by the Father? That could be a problem, right? It’s far too easy to mess things up when we are angry or upset. Better to leave some things for God to decide.

The other very important lesson here is that Jesus is present in the community. We need to talk with each other and pray together. That’s part of the reason we are having the Synodal process right now in the Church. Pope Francis has asked all of us to share our insights into the challenges facing our community and what we need to do to address them. It has been fascinating to see that many of the same issues are being raised by people around the world. Soon the results of the listening will be presented to a group of leaders of the Church for their consideration and reflection. “Where two or more are gathered together in my name….”

The bottom line in all of this is summed up by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. (Rm 13:8-10) So many laws, both human and religious, are based on rules about what must not be done by one person to another. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But deep below the requirement not to injure others is a positive command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Those who truly love do not do evil to another person or community.  Because love is the underlying foundation, it also becomes the fulfillment of The Law, the way our Father hopes and wishes all to live.

As we move through this coming week, may we listen deeply for the voice of the Lord, particularly as related to a loving response to the challenges we face in dealing with each other and the problems we share as members of the human community in this world. May we keep our eyes and ears open to the many ways the Lord speaks to us, especially the most subtle ones. “Love does no evil to the neighbor … love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Readings for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Sep 3, 2023

You Duped Me, O Lord

You Duped Me, O Lord

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!” With these words, the prophet Jeremiah expresses a feeling and frustration felt by many at some point in their journey of faith. The word we translate as duped also conveys a sense of seduction, of being betrayed by the one who has coaxed us to love him. A call has been heard. A fire lit within the heart. Words spoken foretelling danger or destruction. And rejection by those who refuse to hear or believe the truth of the call and the warning that burst forth.

In the long-ago times when I was a high school student, there was a war going on in Vietnam. It was one of those proxy wars that pitted great powers against each other, but on the surface had nothing to do with their rivalry and was carried out in a small country far from both. Our country was divided between those who supported the war and those who opposed it. The flag and the Pledge of Allegiance had taken on a meaning far beyond that of commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy. They had come to symbolize for many a complete acceptance of and commitment to the battle against Communism, regardless of the reasons a conflict had originally begun.

In the midst of this discord, my senior class was preparing for graduation. We were taking our last classes, preparing for further education, or for getting a job, or getting married, or for military service. The young men who were not going on to college were quite likely to find themselves drafted into the army and sent to the war. Those who refused to enter the military might find their options limited to leaving the country or going to jail if they couldn’t claim conscientious objector status or arrange alternative service options. It was not an easy, carefree time.

One of my homeroom classmates took a stand against the war. He refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag at the beginning of a Student Council meeting. This might not have been a big deal, except he was our representative to the Student Council. Our homeroom teacher explained to all of us what had happened. Our classmate was given a chance to explain why he had refused. Then we were to decide whether to keep him as our representative.

The vote was taken with heads down on the desk, so no one would know who had voted for him to remain and who had voted against him. Only the teacher and the classroom president, yours truly, were to see and count the votes. I don’t remember whether anyone actually voted against his remaining as our representative. I don’t think so. I just remember how proud I was of our class as we voted to support his right to express his beliefs. Not all agreed with him, but we were not willing to deny him that right.

I don’t know what ever happened to him after graduation. I know that the day we graduated, up on the stage, in front of the entire school community, including parents, grandparents, families, and friends, he did not stand up to pledge allegiance to the flag. He was a person of great integrity and I was proud to be his classmate.

The journey of faith is filled with surprise moments. When we first experience the unbounded love of our Father, we swim in the sea of love that envelopes and enfolds us. A love which we breathe in and out as freely as we breathe the air around us. We may notice that some people look askance at us as we speak of God’s love and the wonder of it. But that doesn’t deter us, at least not at first. It’s all so new and amazing and fantastically wonderful.

When the time comes that we find we must make choices that are not popular, we begin to experience the cost of faithfulness to the one who has claimed us and invited us to be his own. Sometimes we can’t have things both ways. We have to make a choice.

Jeremiah had to speak the words of warning to the leaders of his nation and his faith. They were angry with him and repeatedly threatened and punished him. Yet, in his own words, “it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” And then he speaks the word of the Lord again. (Jer 20:7-9)

St. Paul advised the Christians of Rome to consider themselves to be “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (Rom 12:1-2) They were not to change themselves to match what was popular in the city at the time. They were to be focused on God’s will and seek to find “what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Life is never perfect. Growth in faith takes place over time.  The life of a Christian is to be one of patient, persistent seeking of the good and the will of God.

Jesus also recognized that teaching about God’s mercy and love for all, along with the coming of the kingdom, would not always be accepted or welcomed by the authorities. He explained to his disciples that he needed to go to Jerusalem, not stay out in the countryside preaching and healing folks there. He also warned them that in Jerusalem he would suffer, die, and be raised “on the third day.”

Peter, who just a bit earlier had proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the Christ, took Jesus aside to urge him not to go, not to let such a terrible fate befall him. But Jesus strongly rejected Peter’s advice. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Jesus went on to explain that those who follow the way he would lead must not think first of their own safety. The most important thing is to accept suffering (the cross) and follow faithfully. “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” The life in question here is not physical life. It is the deeper life that continues, the life that matters when the Son of Man comes “with his angels in his Father’s glory” to repay all according to the way they lived. (Mt 16:21-17)

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!”

My friend stood up for his beliefs by remaining seated and risked losing his leadership position and the respect of his classmates. Other brave people have taken unpopular stands and paid a high price for it. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Dorothy Day went to jail. Archbishop Romero was shot as he celebrated Eucharist.

Most of us will never be asked to pay such a price for faithfulness to the Gospel. But each of us will experience times when it’s not comfortable to witness to the truth that we have experienced: the love and mercy of God for all and at all times. We pray that in those moments, we too will speak the word we hear burning in our hearts, boldly and with a courage that admits our fear but speaks and acts in faith.

May we always have the courage to let ourselves be duped and seduced by the love of our God.

Readings for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Aug 27, 2023

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

In our contemporary Western culture, names are given to us at birth and we typically keep them in one form or another for the rest of our lives. One of the first questions we ask when a child is born is, “What is the baby’s name?” Then we wonder how the parents happened to select that particular name. Was it a name belonging to someone else in the family? Was it the name of a friend or respected author, teacher, sports figure? Where did the name come from and what would it tell us about the child?

As we grow up, people ask us our names and we give the name by which we want to be known or by which we are legally known, depending on the circumstance in which the question is asked.

Sometimes people change their names as they grow older. It may be that the name simply doesn’t work well in their profession. A lovely woman I knew was a teacher whose last name was the same as that of a type of fish. She changed the name by which she was called to Sister Grace (her middle name) rather than Sister Iona in the early 1970s when religious women returned to their birth names rather using than their religious names. Her given name would have been too distracting to the children she taught. Others change their names to match their gender identities. Some change their names because they simply never liked the original one. Some change because their cultures expect married women to take their husband’s last name.

This is not the pattern in all cultures. In many cultures, names are not assigned until a child reaches a certain age. Names can be changed as circumstances change. In some cultures, a person’s name is what the other person wants to call them. “What would you like to call me?” is an acceptable response to a question about one’s name. The new name describes a new relationship, a new reality. Our own practice of having special names/titles for parents or other relatives is similar in this regard.

Jesus had a human name, given to him at birth. His family and friends knew him by this name. He was the son of Joseph, a native of Nazareth. His followers also had names given them by their families.

Yet as Jesus moved through the time of his public life, questions arose about who he was. In Nazareth they asked, “How can he be anybody special? We know his parents. He grew up here among us.” In other cities, folks began to wonder if he might be one of the prophets, maybe a new one or maybe Elijah, the one who was to return before the Messiah, the Anointed One, would come to restore the kingdom of Israel.

One day, when traveling with his disciples in northern Israel, Jesus asked them what they were hearing among the people. “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” Son of Man was a term used in Hebrew scriptures to name the savior who was to come. The savior was to be one like a Son of Man. It wasn’t a name one typically used to describe oneself, so this was in itself important. The disciples mentioned John the Baptist (Jesus’ recently executed cousin), Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets as identities that people were speculating might apply to Jesus. There was a tradition that Elijah would return before the Messiah came.

Jesus then asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Talk about putting them on the spot!

Simon, always the impulsive one, responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This was quite a statement. The Christ, the Anointed One, is much more than an ordinary man. We may speak of Jesus as if Christ were his last name, but Christ is much more than that. The Christ is the Messiah, one sent by God to reconcile the human and the divine. It was not a title to be used lightly. People who claimed that title could be executed as heretics.

Jesus praised Simon for his insight. Then he conferred a new name on his friend, one that was not in common use at that time. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church…” (Mt 16:13-20)

Peter  (Petros) is a masculine form of the Greek word for rock, petra. This type of rock was not a rock like a huge boulder. It was more like a small section of a massive ledge. This new name recognized his strength and leadership position among the disciples, as well perhaps as his tendency to go out on a ledge from time to time! It was not a man’s name in use at that time, but it became common in subsequent years because of the faithful life he lived.

Names have meaning. Peter, the rock, was not a perfect follower of Jesus. He made many mistakes. He sank into the waves as he tried to walk across them to Jesus on the stormy lake. He tried to convince Jesus not to go to Jerusalem. He allowed Jesus to wash his feet, rather than refuse and be excluded from the community. He denied his master in the high priest’s courtyard when Jesus was on trial. He was not there as a witness of the crucifixion. But he was still a leader of this small group of men and women whose witness would lead to the spread of the Good News of the resurrection and of God’s great love for all of us. He saw the empty tomb. He met the Lord after the resurrection in the upper room where they had celebrated the last meal together with Jesus. And this imperfect man, this man who kept returning to ask forgiveness, was selected to be the rock-strong leader. The one whose leadership would help ensure the continuation of the mission, he learned from his mistakes and continued to follow his Lord.

What does your name mean? How does it reflect who you are? What would others call you if they could give you a new name? How would you like to be known?

This is a good time to find out a bit more about the meaning of your name. Do you have a patron saint? How about a confirmation saint? Who were they? Why did you choose them?

We grow in faith as we learn about those who came before us. We also grow as we look at our lives and dreams today. Names matter. Names are powerful. May we always use them to support each other and build a community of love and respect.

Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A


Read More