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Posted by on Jan 21, 2024

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Each month, Pope Francis asks people around the world to join him in prayer for a particular intention. This month, January 2024, he is asking us to pray for the gift of diversity in the Church. Specifically, his prayer is,

“We pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to recognize the gift of different charisms within the Christian community and to discover the richness of different traditions and rituals in the Catholic Church.”

This prayer is focused on diversity within the Christian community, with its varied history, traditions, and rituals. As a worldwide community, people from multiple traditions, cultural understandings, and expectations all share in the same fundamental set of beliefs and practices. However, the ways those beliefs and practices are expressed can vary dramatically.

When my husband and I were first married, for example, we often found that we were divided by the bonds of a common religion. We were both Catholic from birth and grew up in actively Catholic families and communities. But the specifics of which customs, which saints, and which fundamental requirements and expectations of Catholic life were most important differed in many ways. Northern European Irish/German traditions were different from Mexican-American traditions. It took many years to recognize and anticipate the expected practices from our childhood experience and know which ones were going to be more important to each of us. With experience and many years of practice, we mostly have this worked out, but we still trip up from time to time.

As a Church, we have a long way to go, but the reforms of Vatican II have given a great foundation and permission for us to recognize and value the incarnation of our God within the many cultures of our world. We can now pray for diversity and acceptance of the many charisms, the gifts of the Spirit in our daily lives. We no longer need to demand that all peoples around the world understand or celebrate God’s presence in human history in exactly the same way, nor that they live their lives in the same way.

This struck me as an apt insight when I read the story of Jonah and his arrival in the ancient city of Nineveh with a message from God. (Jon 3:1-5, 10) Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. It was very large – a three day walk to cross from one side of it to the other. The Assyrians were long-time enemies of the Israelites. They had battled more than once. Assyrians had actually destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in battle. Many of the people of northern Israel had been killed, many driven into exile. Jonah and others in his community hated the Assyrians. No love was lost between the people of Assyria and the people of Israel.

Imagine Jonah’s surprise and horror when the Lord told him to go and warn the people of the enemy capital that their city was to be destroyed because of their evil behavior. That was exactly what he would have cheered! Destruction of an enemy’s capital, a warning not to mess with one’s own God – who could ask for more? And for this to happen without any loss of life among one’s own people? Fantabulous!

But no. God wanted the people of Nineveh to be warned, to have a chance to escape this horror. So, he called Jonah. Jonah tried to escape his task, boarding a ship to cross the Mediterranean, but that didn’t work out. He ended up in the belly of a whale for a bit, after having been tossed overboard by the crew and then being deposited back on the shore where he started. At that point, he gave up and headed to Nineveh. Entering the city, he began to proclaim its coming destruction. In only one day, the city and its leaders took heed. They proclaimed a fast, put on simple, uncomfortable, penitential clothing (sackcloth), and changed their behavior. With this quick response, there was no longer any reason to punish the city, so God relented and all was well.

Was Jonah happy? Not at all! He had hoped the city would be destroyed. He went away and pouted for a while. But again, how he got over it is another story for another day.

What strikes me about this story is that God did not pay attention only to the people of one culture, with one set of traditions. God cared about the people of Nineveh too, enough to send an unwilling prophet to call them to repentance. Though not members of the Chosen People, they were also a people about whom God cared enough to call them to reform and live.

The city of Nineveh still exists. It has a different name now. We call it Mosul. And God still cares for the people of Mosul and the rest of the Middle East, with all of their different traditions.

How about Jesus? Were his followers all from the same background or occupation? Not really. Some were fishermen. One was a tax collector. One was involved in politics – on the more revolutionary side. Saul/Paul was called after the resurrection. He was a Pharisee, an educated man, a student of the Law, who was active in persecution of the early followers of Jesus.

Mark tells us about the call of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. (Mk 1:14-20) They were fishermen from two different families who were working with their families along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when they met Jesus. Jesus himself was a carpenter, a tradesman. All were men who were accustomed to working and supporting themselves and their families. When Jesus walked by the boats as they were cleaning up after fishing – repairing nets, getting everything ready for the next day’s work – he called them to follow him. Amazingly, without hesitation, they left their nets and followed him. They didn’t reject their families or communities, but they left the nets and fishing to follow and learn from him. His other followers also left their jobs immediately when he called them. There was something compelling about the man and his invitation. He was open to them, just as they were and with their own particular backgrounds and family stories. Others who followed him but weren’t in the inner circle were also a diverse group. Women, men, well-to-do, middle-class, and poor. All were represented among Jesus’ followers. He was also recognized as a special person by non-Jews. Remember the Roman centurion whose son was healed by Jesus?

The followers of Jesus were a diverse lot. Jesus may initially have thought he was sent only for the Hebrew people, but his encounters with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Syrophoenician woman who begged for healing for her child opened his eyes to the fact that God cares for all people, not just those who worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. God cares for humans in all our diversity.

That being the case, when do we need to start welcoming and treasuring our diversity? Right now.

St. Paul reminded the folks in Corinth that time is passing quickly. (1 Cor 7:29-31) It is still passing quickly. We don’t know the day or the hour when our time will end. We don’t know when the Lord will come again. We must live the calling of our life now, welcoming the diverse members of the human community whom we meet along the way.

We don’t have time to hold on to old ways or restrictions. The freedom of the children of God allows us to step beyond our regular restrictions and expectations. We can be open to see God’s hand in the lives of others who are not part of our immediate family or community. We can see God’s face in the immigrant, the undocumented, the hungry, the little ones in our churches and schools who are still learning the social rules, the neighbor across the back fence, the person who cuts ahead of us in line at the grocery store, the addict begging on the street. God is present in each one. God loves the diversity of humanity and hopes we are free enough to enjoy it too.

It’s going to take time for all of us to feel comfortable with the myriad forms of diversity among our fellow human sisters and brothers. Our own cultural traditions and explanations of how-things-are will continue to jump to the forefront when we encounter other ways of being and of doing things. I pray that we can become open to listen deeply to those we meet and hear the goodness within each, which is reaching out to meet the goodness within us. When cultural practices diminish the freedom and well-being of others, it’s important to question them. The same is as true for practices in our culture as for those in other cultures. However, we must always remember that God is the creator of all and through all shines forth in marvelous beauty and colorful light.

May the Holy Spirit, still at work in the Church and in the larger Christian community, lead us to newly recognize, cherish, and support the many gifts, talents, and richness of our many world traditions and varied rituals. May we be unafraid to see our expectations of roles and expression of our deepest selves be broadened by exposure to other ways of life. The diversity is greater than we might imagine. The Holy Spirit will lead us as we explore the marvels of God’s human creation. We just need to be willing to open our hearts and see.

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2023

Joy – Much more than simple happiness

Joy – Much more than simple happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy these past few days. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, right up there with love and peace at the beginning of the list of them given to us by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. It’s not a passing phenomenon like happiness. It’s something much deeper that is rooted in the Spirit. Through good times and bad, joy is a response to the presence of God working in us and in the world.

Isaiah speaks of bringing glad tidings to the poor, healing to those whose hearts are broken, liberty to captives, a year of favor. The prophet rejoices in the Lord who brings salvation and makes justice and praise spring forth in the land. (Is 61:1-2a, 10-11) Isaiah spoke in and about the same land in which hearts on both sides of a war are being broken today. How will justice, peace, and joy blossom again? How does joy appear in the midst of sorrow and pain?

Yet in all things, we are called to rejoice. We are to pray unceasingly and give thanks for all that comes to us – we can and will learn and grow closer to God as we do. St. Paul promises that the God of peace will make us holy and ready for the coming of the Lord. (1 Thes 5:16-24)

John the Baptist came to testify to the light that was coming into the world. He was clear with all who came to him that he was not himself the light. His role was to be a voice in the wilderness calling all to prepare the way of the Lord. Another was coming. This other one would be much more important, but in the meanwhile, he himself would continue to call people to repentance and to prepare for the one already present among them, the one who was to come. (Jn 1:6-8, 19-28)

Joy is fundamental in each of these messages. Joy is a characteristic that is more stable than happiness. Even in hard times, one can be joyful, recognizing the sustaining presence of God in the midst of those hard times.

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis noted that like happiness and pleasure, anyone who has experienced joy will want to have it always. “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” Joy is enduring and deep rooted.

Author Michela Summa notes in Joy and Happiness, “joy is not only a direct emotional response to an event that is embedded in our life-concerns but is also tightly bound to the present moment…” She contrasts this to happiness which is experienced at the culmination of a process. Joy is present through the entire process.

Dr. Pamela King, of Fuller Theological Seminary has been researching joy in her work in Applied Developmental Psychology. In an interview in 2020 in Psychology Today, she said:

“I have observed that many people have an enduring and underlying sense of something that is deeper than the emotion of happiness, and I have come to describe this as joy. In my study of joy, I have also noticed that joy is more complex than a feeling or an emotion. It is something one can practice, cultivate, or make a habit. Consequently, I suggest that joy is most fully understood as a virtue that involves our thoughts, feelings, and actions in response to what matters most in our lives. Thus, joy is an enduring, deep delight in what holds the most significance.”

“An enduring, deep delight.” This is something much more than happiness and contentment. This is a quality of openness and acceptance and delight in the presence of God in all things. When all is well and when all is perfectly awful, God is present with us, giving strength and courage. This, as a priest I knew years ago once said, “is pretty good news!” In this we rejoice. In this we trust. In this we move forward on our journey of life.

As we move through this Third Week of Advent and quickly approach the celebration of Christmas, may we pay attention to God’s presence in our daily lives and activities. May we rejoice in those with whom we interact. May we find time to rest in the love of our God who took time to enter into humanity as a real human child.

Our family Advent Calendar now includes three candles for the first three weeks of Advent. Today the pink candle joins the festivities, reminding us all to prepare in joy for the Lord’s coming.

Rejoice. The Lord is near!

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

 

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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

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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

 

 

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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

 

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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

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Posted by on Jul 16, 2023

Rain, Seed, Harvest – the Word of God

Rain, Seed, Harvest – the Word of God

“My word shall not return to me void.”

One of the great mysteries of life is the way everything grows from a tiny beginning. Even single cell creatures must start somehow. Division of a single cell into two is a common mode of birth for such beings. But they are not fully grown at the time they pop into being. Both the old and new cells are smaller than the original one had become at the time of the division.

For larger creatures, dividing and forming an exact copy of an older one is not an option. The pattern we see is of a very small cell with genetic material that somehow guides it as it grows and changes into increasingly more complex states. Eventually, the organism gets large enough and developed enough to survive on its own and even reproduce.

The prophet Isaiah reminds the people of his time (and all of us) that the rain and snow which fall on the earth are essential for the growth of the plants on which we all depend. They come from the heavens and return only after fulfilling their role on earth. The Lord, through his prophet, says that his word is the same in this regard. The Lord’s word goes forth from heaven and does not return until its purpose has been attained.

Jesus speaks of this same reality and the conditions that affect the way the process unfolds. “A sower went out to sow.” Those who are not close to the land may never have experienced the scenario Jesus presents. Seeds are very small. Traditionally, they were scattered by hand out onto the fields. Later, machines were invented to throw the seeds out in a pattern onto the fields. Today, there are even more precise machines that poke the seeds into the soil one-by-one and add a bit of fertilizer to help the seed grow. There is much more accuracy to today’s planting methods, and presumably, better yields at harvest time. The newer method also allows farmers to care for the soil more effectively, not having to plow under the remaining short stalks and roots of the prior year’s crop and risk having the soil blown away in a windstorm or washed away in the rain.

But when Jesus was speaking, and even today for farmers around the world, seeds were tossed out across the land by the farmers. Fields are not typically surrounded by solid walls. They are bordered by roads or paths. The soil on the path or road is hard. Seeds may sprout, but only with difficulty. Lots of them become food for the birds or other small animals. Then there are the areas where there are lots of rocks. Not a lot of soil to cuddle around the roots of the plants there either. Again, they don’t survive in large numbers. They are easy to pull and dry out quickly. And then the thorns. Have you ever tried to grow a lawn or garden beside a berry patch? The berry plants send out roots far into the area around them. Anything growing inside the berry patch is not going to produce well. The berries pull the nutrients for their own fruit. It’s a continual battle to beat back the berries and let the grass grow. The same goes for wheat and other grain crops growing beside thorny plants.

Fortunately, there are large expanses of land which are not filled with rocks or thorns onto which the seeds also can fall. In a good year, with adequate rain and dry weather as the grain matures and harvest time nears, a good crop will be harvested.

I grew up in a family in which some members were and still are farmers. In Eastern Washington, farmers often grow winter wheat. It is planted in the fall and sprouts before everything gets too cold. Then the snow comes and covers the land. Growth stops, but the plants are protected from the extreme cold that would kill them if they weren’t small and insulated. As the snow melts, the ground is watered and growth resumes. By June, the crop is growing beautifully, forming heads of seeds for the next season. The plants don’t know it, but they are also growing to be food for humans and animals. As the season moves on to August, we all hold our breath. Will the weather hold until the grain can be harvested? Will the storms that inevitably come through go around the family farms?

Lives can be and have been changed dramatically by the luck of the weather. Two harvests-hailed-out in a row sent my grandparents from Montana to Spokane, Washington, where Grandpa worked as a brake mechanic for the city bus lines for the rest of his career. Other relatives had better luck. The harvests were good enough to keep going another year. It’s not surprising that farmers take pictures of their fields as the grain is growing. It’s so beautiful. And then they take pictures of the harvest too!

For Jesus, there was a lesson to be learned from the sowing and harvesting. The word comes forth from the Father. It lands in different ways among the people who hear it. Some simply don’t understand what they are hearing and are easily convinced that it means nothing for them. Some receive it happily, but when opposition arises, they don’t hold on to it. Some hear it and want to grow, but they get worried about the future and how they’ll get along, and they can’t keep going. But there are some who hear the word and it takes deep root within them. These are the ones whose faith sustains them, allows them to share with others, and carries the Father’s word forward in the world. The community grows as the word is shared and lived.

Sometimes we can get to thinking in very abstract ways about questions of faith. How does God do this or that? Who or what is God? Why does God let bad things happen? Why can’t God do bad things? Or can he? Many, many questions and concerns. But the very basic reality is that God is both practical and optimistic. God sends out a word to bring forth all of creation. God’s word is like a tiny seed, that grows and bears fruit, including seeds to continue the cycle. Each time, more are created.

St. Paul tells us that creation itself is waiting, groaning in labor pains, for the triumph of the harvest of the freedom of the children of God. The word of the sower grows in all of creation and in human society, as we learn to care for each other and this home we have in common, our Earth. When we accept the love and forgiveness of God, and become God’s children, the word is fulfilled and returns to the Father.

As we move through this coming week, may we be alert to the ways in which the word has been sown in our lives. Are we open to growing in love? Are we sharing a smile? Are we patiently helping a family member or friend who simply needs a hand now and again? Where are the seeds sown in our lives taking us? Are we ready and willing to go?

Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Many thanks for this photo to my “cousin” Scott whose uncle and my aunt were married. Scott took this photo of one of his fields a few years ago.

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Posted by on Jun 25, 2023

We are Never Forgotten

We are Never Forgotten

Isolation is one of the most damaging factors that impacts our mental and physical health and well-being. It doesn’t need to be as extreme as solitary confinement in a prison or torture center. Isolation socially creates lasting scars. A child who is rejected and teased by peers grows up feeling unworthy of love and respect. An adult whose ideas are regularly mocked begins to think they are just foolish whims, not accurate perceptions of reality. An older person with no family or friends is more likely to die early than one surrounded by both. A people whose customs are different from those of the other people among whom they live can easily become hesitant to continue those customary activities. This is especially true for younger members of the community. Isolation sets in and fears of being forgotten.

As humans, we are social beings. We share this quality with other primates and many, many other types of creatures. We need each other for support, for development of necessary skills, for the basics of survival, and for physical and mental health. Those who are isolated do not survive as long.

In the recent past, we have all had a taste of isolation from family and friends when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down our freedom to venture out without worry into the world outside our homes. The difficulties of being with the same people all the time or of being alone all the time was somewhat mitigated by our access to social media and the internet. Zoom parties, meetings, school classes, and even wedding receptions filled some of the holes in our social lives. Our parish stepped up with Zoom gatherings in which we played actively as household teams in trivia contests and scavenger hunts. We’re still laughing here about the time my daughter-in-law grabbed me and put me in front of the camera as “something in the house older than you are!”  We won that point!

Prophets often find themselves in situations of isolation. Speaking truth to power does not typically go over well. Jeremiah, for example, didn’t want to be a prophet. He often complained to God about what a raw deal he had gotten in being called to prophesy. He tried hard not to speak, but the words burned within him until he simply had no choice but to let them out. And then, “I hear whisperings of many … all those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” (Jer 20:10-13) He was nearly killed for his telling of the truth he heard from the Lord about the coming conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Yet he remained faithful. “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He trusted that he was not forgotten and that he would experience vindication. The Lord “has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” The Lord is to be praised for supporting those who depend only on him. They will not be on their own to get by. They are not forgotten.

St. Paul reminded the people of Rome that human imperfection (aka sin) has been part of our experience from the very beginning. The story of the sin of Adam is a way of explaining both this imperfection and the death in all its forms that accompanies imperfection. Paul spoke as a teacher of the Law, from within the Jewish tradition, as he proclaimed the wonder of “the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ” whose willingness to die rather than deny the truth overcame death for all. When one human being chose not to obey God’s command, all who followed were also separated from God. But when one human being chose to obey and give himself for the truth, all who followed were freed of that separation from God, that death. It was the grace of God, given as a gift from Jesus, that overflows to all. (Rom 5:12-15) No one is forgotten or excluded. No isolation anymore!

Does this mean no one will be in danger anymore? Or that no one will feel alone? Or that everyone will welcome the prophet who comes speaking truth to power? Unfortunately, the answer must be “No.” However, when Jesus was sending out his disciples to witness to what they had seen in their time with him, he reassured them. “Fear no one.” Speak boldly of what you have heard whispered or in the dark. All is to be proclaimed to the world now. It may not be well-received, but don’t worry. Those who can kill the body can’t kill the soul. (Mt 10:26-33)

Jesus used a beautiful image to express the loving care of the Father. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin! Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” For the poor, a sacrifice of small birds rather than of a larger animal allowed for compliance with the requirement to offer sacrifice at such times as the birth of a first son. The sparrows are of little monetary value, but even they are treasured by the Father.

In another homely image, Jesus reminded his hearers that the Father even knows how many hairs are on each person’s head. I’ll guess that most of us have no idea how many that might be, even as our hair gets sparser with age.

“So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows,” he says. Speak the truth you hear from me. Admit that you are my friend and follower of my teachings. I will support you and acknowledge you when you meet my Father.

Jesus ends these instructions with a rather disturbing image. “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” That would be pretty awful. However, it might be seen as a reminder that we all have a choice to be in union with God and others or to turn away. The Father never forces anyone to come for a hug of divine love. Neither does Jesus. It is always our choice to join with him or remain in isolation. When and if we turn back and acknowledge the Lord’s love, we will be welcomed. We won’t have been forgotten!

Today and this week, let’s pray that we will be open to see the Lord’s presence in our daily lives – through those we meet and the activities in which we are engaged. We are not alone. Even when we are by ourselves, the Lord is with us. May we always know the love of our family and friends. And may those who have been hurt or abused or otherwise traumatized and those who are suffering isolation and abuse right now, find a bit of healing and relief each day through the love and care of their friends.

Peace be with you. You are never alone or forgotten.

Readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2023

Without Cost You Have Received

Without Cost You Have Received

“Money can’t buy love.” God’s interaction with humanity might be summed up in this simple phrase.  It seems self-evident and we assume our interactions with family, friends, and strangers will start with this premise. However, all too often we forget. We start worrying if the person we are will be attractive enough, if the clothes we wear are of the “right” style, if the things we like to do are “cool” enough, if our economic or social situation will work against us. So many things to burden our hearts and minds.

For better or for worse, God doesn’t work that way. God met Moses on the mountain and reminded him of the way He had treated the Egyptians when He led the Israelites out of slavery. The Lord promises to love and care for this specific people above all others. In return, the Lord asks only that they live in covenant with Him. (Ex 19:2-6a)

Jesus too, in looking around at the people among whom he was living, teaching, and ministering, took pity on them because “they were troubled and abandoned,” like sheep without a shepherd. He envisioned an abundant harvest of hearts waiting for love, but not enough people willing to reach out and work in the harvest. He sent his followers to proclaim the coming of the kingdom by healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead. All this was and is to be done without charge, because all has been freely given to them. (Mt 9:36-10:8)

Jesus himself gave everything, including his life, as a free gift of reconciliation between humanity and the Father. The shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. It cost the sheep nothing. (Rom 5:6-11)

Today we too are called to love freely and share love with all we meet. We don’t typically cure illnesses or raise the dead to life again literally. However, a smile, a kind word, a patient willingness to wait our turn in line even when someone else is moving slowly ahead of us, all are gifts of healing we can bring.

The other day, an older man at the grocery store was trying to complete a purchase. At first, he couldn’t find his wallet, so he walked away from the checkout stand. The checker knew him and simply put the goods aside, ready to start on my purchases. Then the man called out the checker’s name and returned in great joy. He had found the wallet, in a different pocket than where he usually kept it. I told the checker I would wait for the man to complete his purchase. It should have been very simple, but it wasn’t. When the final total was reached, the man tried to use his debit card to make the payment. He tried two different PINs, neither of which worked. He didn’t want to try too many times and lock the card, but decided to try one more time. Very carefully, he entered the number, and it worked! He was amazed and delighted. I smiled at him and said simply. “See, third time was a charm,” echoing what he had said just before trying the third PIN. He had been feeling upset and ashamed that it had taken so long to do a simple task, but now his spirits were lifted and his embarrassment ended. As he picked up his purchase to leave, he tipped his hat and bowed to me, with a happy smile. I responded in kind and he went on his way, with a spring in his step. For a short while anyway, something within him was healed.

We are all called to serve our world, our sisters and brothers, in simple, everyday, ordinary ways. When we do, the Kingdom of God is here. We have received without cost. Now we give freely of what we have received.

Readings for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2023

Celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi

Celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi (Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ) weekend! I’m writing to my spiritual family today and thought of my own birth family as well.

Some people have very powerful or peaceful experiences at their First Communion, others not so much. How was yours? Was yours at St. Pats, like me? We were in Spokane for Spring break and Grandmom took me to the sacristy before Mass to let Father know. Someone got a cake for the house after.

Many years later, when I was about 15, I had a truly special experience with the Eucharist. After Communion, there was a warmth that started in my tummy and went out to my head and to my toes. I told my mom about it and she asked if it could have been from the properties of the wine (the Precious Blood still has all the external properties of the wine, which is part of the miracle.)

I knew it wasn’t that; I’d only taken a sip. The next day at school at Marist (in Eugene), I went to the lunch time Communion Service where we received Communion – just the host – from the tabernacle and it happened again!! Warmth from my tummy to my head and to my toes.

It happened a few more times – enough for the Lord to make sure I knew that the Eucharist is really him – body, blood, soul, and divinity. Our God is a good, good God.

God gives us gifts for our salvation and the building up of others. When a nun told St. Theresa of Avila that she was envious that she didn’t have mystical experiences like her, Teresa responded saying something like, “Some people like you have such faith you only need to hear about mystical experiences to believe, while others of us are so hard-hearted that God has to do such things to help us believe.”

May we all be given the gift of faith and respond to it soft-heartedly, so as to believe the wonder that is the Eucharist.

Love and blessings.

 

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Posted by on Feb 12, 2023

Going Deeper with The Law

Going Deeper with The Law

In the Sermon on the Mount in St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says several times, “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you…” (Mt 5:17-37) Each of the things Jesus says takes the requirement farther than the original teaching from Mosaic Law seemed to go. It’s not enough to refrain from murdering someone, even getting angry and holding on to the anger is too much. It’s not enough not to be unfaithful to a spouse. Even harboring unfaithful thoughts is too much. It’s not enough not to swear a false oath. Don’t swear oaths at all. You really have no way to back it up.

We so often are tempted to split hairs. Well, she didn’t really say I couldn’t stop for ice cream on the way home, she just said to come home! Well, it’s only a little untruthful, what difference will that make? What right does he have to tell me what to do anyway? It won’t hurt anything to do it my way instead! And so we justify what we want to do, regardless of what is asked of us.

But Jesus wants us to look at the underlying meaning of the commandments. How do we live out the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. It’s in the spirit of the law that we learn the wisdom of God and choose life. He was very clear on this. He didn’t come to overturn the Law. He came to fulfill it.

Does that mean that we have to take everything we hear in scripture at face value, even if our culture is very different from Jesus’ culture? No. But we need to understand what the reasoning was for his teachings. For example, when he speaks of divorce, it is about a different social reality than we know today in our Western culture. In his time and culture, a man could divorce a woman, but a woman could not divorce a man. Beyond that, once a woman was married, she was the responsibility of her husband’s family. Her family was no longer responsible to support her in any way. If her husband divorced her, there was no one to look out for her. She had no income, no home, no support. That’s why Jesus spoke of such women as having to commit adultery. It was the only way a lot of them could survive, but their survival method put them in violation of the letter and spirit of the law.

How about that business of gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand that causes us to sin? Not to be taken literally at all. But we need to act definitively sometimes to cut out the things from our lives that lead us to make the wrong choice or to go down the wrong road. If watching TV in the evening leads me to get angry with the baby who interrupts my watching, it’s not the baby’s fault. I need to cut out the TV watching. If having the computer in my bedroom leads me to watch YouTube rather than do my homework, maybe I need to keep and use the computer only in a public area of my home. If being around people who are smoking or drinking makes me want to do it too, or if I can’t resist their offers to join in, maybe I need to hang out with other people.

Sirach (15:15-20), long ago, presented a series of choices the Lord offers that ring true today. Fire or water? Life or death? Hang on to anger and revenge – you’ve chosen a fire that will eat at you and eventually destroy you. Choose water and you can be washed clean of the anger and other negative emotions – you are choosing life. Wisdom comes as we choose the path of life again and again over time. And sometimes, it comes as a result of having to turn from the wrong choices and the messes that have resulted when we made them. Turning from death to life.

God doesn’t force us to do anything we don’t want to do. That is a key reality of love. Freedom to choose. But God also doesn’t shield us from the consequences of our choices. God is simply there to help us pick up the pieces when we realize our mistake and make better choices the next time around. Then God gives us a big hug to let us know how much we are loved, even when we mess things up royally.

So, as we listen to the readings from Sirach, St. Paul (1 Cor 2:6-10), and the Gospel today, with all of these more demanding instructions, let’s remember that we are called to hear a deeper meaning to the rules. We’re to hear the meaning that seeks to call us to be our best selves and choose the path of life and love rather than sinking more deeply into the morass of anger, selfishness, deceit, and all that goes with them, all the while thinking we are keeping the rules as they are literally formulated. We are called to go deeper.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Feb 5, 2023

Light and Salt – Justice for the Poor

Light and Salt – Justice for the Poor

Salt of the earth, light for the world – the essential calling of the disciple is to live a life that shines with the goodness of the Lord, a light that shines in the darkness, so those who see it understand the glory of the Father in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16) Jesus is very clear on this point. It’s useless to live in a way that hides the light of love from others or that does not season interactions with love and care for others, because then God’s glory can’t shine forth into the world of human social life.

This insight of Jesus was not unique to him. We often think that Jesus thought up most of what he taught, but actually, there is a long tradition in Judeo-Christian thinking that focuses on the interaction between those who have the necessities of life and the power that goes with it and those who do not.

The prophet Isaiah spoke very clearly of this (58:7-10), in words that many of us first heard spoken by Jesus about the final judgement in which the “sheep” would be separated from the “goats.” “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them…” These words of Isaiah were spoken to a people returning from exile in Babylon. To the extent that they created a new society in which justice and care for the poor and oppressed were foundational, the light of that society and its people would break forth like the dawn into the world. The Lord would be present among them and be a source of protection and healing for them. “Light shall rise for you in the darkness…”

This kind of life is not to be a source of pride for Jesus’ followers. It’s certainly not a message that is easily accepted in a world in which those with power don’t easily share resources with those who have nothing to give them in return. But as St. Paul points out (1 Cor 2L1-5), the persuasiveness of the message of the Gospel is the result of the demonstration of Spirit and power that flow from the positive change that the foolishness of the message and lifestyle produces. Doing hurtful things leads to anger and revenge – an intensification of the evil that provokes them. Doing good things for others leads to more goodness being shared.

How does this play out for us today? We have a lot of social safety nets that are intended to help protect and support those who for one reason or another are unable to earn the money needed for food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education for themselves and their families. These programs provide essential support to a lot of people that we might not ordinarily realize are struggling.

As an insurance professional specializing in health insurance, I hear a lot of stories from people struggling to keep food on the table and a roof overhead for themselves and their children. I often work with middle-class people who suddenly find their income crashing and discover that what they always took for granted is not guaranteed for all in this country. I explain how the social safety net works, based on my own experience with it, and encourage them that it’s not the end of the world if they need to move to Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California) for a period of time. I encourage them to look at the supplemental nutrition programs for their families (aka, food stamps) and to take advantage of the help, so that they have a chance of getting back on their feet. Sometimes I work with people who will never be able to support themselves, due to illness or injury, including mental illness or addiction. It is a great joy to me to be able to offer help to those who are despairing of ever living a “normal life” again. On more than one occasion, I have had people react with tears of joy to know that their prayers have been answered and help is available. Not a common experience in the insurance field.

And yet, there are still folks who have even less and don’t qualify for this governmental help. We think of refugees and asylum seekers in this category. It’s not easy for them to get along and figure out how the very different legal and socio-economic systems here work. Lots of people are involved in helping and offering a welcoming hand to these new arrivals.

Once they have been here for a while, there are still obstacles. I worked with a young person the other day who is a DACA recipient. They can’t get a policy through the Affordable Care Act marketplace because we as a nation have not yet come to terms with the fact that these young people are ours just as surely as if they had been born here. We have raised them and educated them and shared our dreams, visions, and expectations with them. They have jobs and businesses and are giving back to the country which raised them. And yet some of us still want to throw them out because their parents brought them here so they could be safe from the violence or oppression in their native communities. Fortunately, my young client was able to afford insurance outside of the subsidized plans. Not all are so fortunate.

How do we react to the discrepancies in income and opportunity in our country. Do we work to make sure the hungry have enough healthful food to live a decent life? Do we complain that a homeless person has been given a cell phone so they can get medical care and other essential services? Have you tried to find a pay-phone in a telephone booth lately? Without a cell phone, it’s next to impossible to access basic services if one does not have a home.

As you may have guessed by now, these are questions and issues about which I am rather passionate! I see too many folks on a daily basis who are struggling and I know the great blessing that having folks who are willing to share their bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked, and find homes for the homeless can be.

If you ever wonder about the wisdom of the Gospels and of efforts to help those who struggle, I encourage you to volunteer with others from your Church community or other social service programs. Get to know some of the folks who serve and some who are served. There’s a tremendous richness in the encounter and a deep, deep faith among those who have nothing but faith to hold onto.

“Light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday,” says Isaiah. “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father,” says Jesus.

Here we go on the journey together.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Sunday Mass at Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, CA

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2023

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

A great light shining forth in the darkness. A manifestation of something unusual. A new understanding of something. All are included as meanings of the term epiphany and are not mutually exclusive. More than one meaning can apply to any particular situation.

Since ancient times, Christians have referred to various events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as epiphanies. He was born. He was visited by wise men from the east. He was baptized. He was seen after the resurrection. All of these events have been described by the term Epiphany.

The Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on the first Sunday following January 1, is the day we remember the visit of the sages from the East. These scholars watched the skies for signs that something important was happening somewhere in the world. Each part of the sky, each constellation, carried a meaning. If something changed within that section, it meant something was changing for humans too. Accordingly, when they noticed a new light appearing in a region of the sky related to the land of Israel and to royalty, they went to see who had just been born. (They lived close enough to this event to go for a visit!)

St. Matthew (Mt 2:1-12) tells of their visit and gives us an historical time frame that also tells us approximately when Jesus was born. “In the days of King Herod …” Herod was king from 37 to 4 BC, so Jesus was born during that time. The travelers stopped at the royal palace to inquire for the new child, a reasonable thing to do, given that the child was born to be a king according to the stars.

The wise ones were sent on to Bethlehem, where indeed they found the child and his parents, no longer in a stable, but in a house. Their gifts were shared and they returned home without checking in again with Herod. An angel had warned them in a dream that Herod was not to be trusted.

This event was and is seen as the first time non-Jews were welcomed into the new manifestation of God’s kingdom of love for all humans. In the past, it had been understood that people would come from all over the world to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. But the full meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah (60:1-6) was not totally obvious. “Nations shall walk by your light … your sons come from afar and your daughters in the arms of their nursemaids.” These words originally were spoken in terms of the return from Babylon to Israel. But the early followers of Jesus understood them to refer to people of all nations who would become part of the people of God, children of the covenant centered in Jerusalem.

On this day we celebrate that we are included among the many nations that rejoice at the light dawning with the coming of Jesus. We bring the gift of ourselves to the community of faith. Together we offer our gifts and talents along with the bread and wine on the altar. We sing of three kings coming to visit a baby. May we also sing with reference to our own lives. “Star of wonder, star of night … guide us to the perfect light.”

If you have time and are so inclined, it’s fun to make a Kings Cake / Rosca de Reyes to share with family and friends on this day.

Illustration: The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow – 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Look for the magi in the lower left corner of the painting!

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Posted by on Dec 30, 2022

Family In Its Many Facets

Family In Its Many Facets

Families come in many shapes and sizes. It’s something of a cliché to say that, but it’s true. We are each part of a family. Some are born into the family in which they grow up. Others are chosen and adopted into a family. Some are sheltered and loved by a family into which they were not originally born. But families are an essential part of the healthy development of any human being.

And about that many shapes and sizes part – there’s a lot of variation there too.

In some cultures, only one’s father’s side of the family are considered to be relatives. In others, it’s mother’s side. In a few (our own included), both sides of the family are relatives.

Then there are the “fictive kin” – the folks with whom relationships are established by choice of adults in the life of a child, or later by the individuals themselves. Godparents are fictive kin, for example, considered to be sharers in the responsibility of raising the child.

There are folks to whom we give kinship titles simply because they are older adults in our community or the network of friends of our relatives. We had several older women whom we called Grandma when I was growing up. One was the mother of an uncle by marriage. Another was the mother of friends who generously shared her love with us too. In some cultures, adult men and women are addressed as Uncle or Aunt.

And then there are the families that grow together in close friendship through many years spent together. We shared our lives with another family as children. Our parents became very close friends over the years. We traveled to see each other often and spent Thanksgiving together nearly every year. (The roads were too dangerous for regular travel again until February or March after that weekend.) When they moved to our community, we shared meals and time together at least a couple of times a week. We are still fond of each other and enjoy our time together.

These thoughts come to mind as we celebrate the Holy Family. Jesus was born into a family. When Joseph accepted Mary as his wife, he became the legal and social father of Jesus. How the conception of Jesus occurred didn’t matter. Joseph became Jesus’ father, responsible for loving him, teaching him, raising him to be a good man. Joseph did a fantastic job of being a father, just as Mary did a marvelous job of being a mother.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not an isolated family. They lived, loved, and grew together within a community of other people in their village. This foundation prepared Jesus to go out when the time came and share the news that each of us is loved as a child by the Creator of all. We are so loved that we are to call that creator Dad/Daddy/Papa/Father. The term he used is Abba and is used by children to this day to speak to their fathers.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, let us rejoice in the gift of family and pray that in our lives we too will grow in wisdom, age, and grace through our days spent in ordinary activities and the special times that we share. May we each become part of a Holy Family too, dancing our way into eternity.

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family

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Posted by on Nov 6, 2022

Playing the Long-Game on God’s Team

Playing the Long-Game on God’s Team

Several things have been on my mind this week. We have just celebrated All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls. The weather is changing. In the Northern Hemisphere we are settling into our school and colder weather routines. It’s getting darker. We’re beginning to get rain on the Central Coast of California. Other areas are seeing snow already.

While much of the hemisphere settles in for a long winter sleep of the vegetation, here the grass is sprouting after a long, dry summer and early fall. By Christmas, all will be green and beautiful. Wildflowers will be in bloom and it will feel to someone from farther north to be spring already. I must admit, it took me a while to get used to this.

But despite the appearance of spring outside, it is dark earlier and colder. Rain gear is needed and with the humidity, warm coats are a must.

We play the long-game in our lives in the natural world. Nothing happens overnight. Things just begin, grow, and reach their term over an extended period. Sometimes what develops is objectively good. Sometimes not so much.

On the grand stage of international relations and the history of peoples, the long-game of God becomes even more important. We are all called to play our part in it.

In the second century before Jesus was born, Greek warriors, led by Alexander the Great, conquered much of the known world. Palestine was one of the conquered lands. The Greeks were not a people who encouraged the peoples of conquered lands to continue their own religious beliefs and traditions. Conquered people were expected to worship the Greek gods instead of their own. This applied to the people of Israel as well. Some of the Jewish leaders encouraged the people to go along with their new rulers. But not all agreed to that and resistance arose, led initially by Mattathias, son of John, and later by his own son, Judas Maccabeus. It was a time of great turmoil and struggle. Eventually, the Greeks were conquered by the Romans, who allowed Jews to worship as they pleased, as long as they did not contest Roman rule. But that’s a story for another time.

As we near the end of our liturgical year, we listen to the witness of a group of Jewish martyrs during the years of Greek rule of their land. Their story is told in the second book of Maccabees. (2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14) Seven brothers and their mother had been ordered to eat pork, in direct opposition to Jewish law. All refused. One by one, they were tortured and killed, with their mother being the last to die. Each brother got a turn to speak and each testified of his willingness to die rather than to break God’s law. They spoke of their trust in “the King of the world (who) will raise us up to live again forever.” The Sunday reading only includes the stories of the first, third, and fourth brother, but the story of all is found in the complete text.

The brothers and their mother recognized their place in God’s long-game. They knew that whatever happened to them, God was still in charge and would not abandon them. They might not/would not survive this time of witness/martyrdom, but God would raise them back to life – a life that would not end.

St. Paul recognized by the last months and years of his life that the return of the Lord was going to be part of God’s long-game too. Originally, Christians thought and taught that Jesus would return during their lifetimes. The end of the world was coming soon. But as time went on, it became clear that it was going to take longer.

Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica (2 Thess 2:16-3:5) to encourage them to keep up their hopes and good work, encouraged by the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He asks God to bless them and strengthen them to live in faith through good deeds and words. They are to carry on Christ’s work in their families and communities. He also asks them to pray for him, for protection from those who have lost faith or never believed. Finally, he prays that the Lord will continue to guard them and guide them in their lives of faith, helping them to carry on their lives of faith with the strength of Christ.

Jesus too speaks today of the reality of life after death. (Lk 20:27-38) A group of students of the Law, the Sadducees, did not believe in life after death. The concept was one that had developed slowly in Jewish thinking and was not accepted by all. Trying to trap Jesus into falling into either the camp that believed or the camp that didn’t, and thereby enter into the religious politics of the day on one side or the other, they presented a case study.

A man was married, but his wife had no children before he died. According to the Law, the man’s brother was to marry his brother’s widow. (It was allowed to have more than one wife at that time.) He too died without her bearing a son. The son would have been considered the child and heir of the first brother. This continued through a total of seven sons and marriages. The woman never had a child. Eventually, all had died. They asked Jesus, “Now at the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?”

Jesus answered, but from a totally different perspective than consideration of inheritance of family position or heritage. Those who die no longer are bound by traditions such as marriage. They are free like angels. They are children of God and cannot die again.

Jesus knows that God’s approach is to act over time, touching the hearts and minds of people, so that gradually humans come to live as members of the Kingdom of Heaven in their daily lives. It’s a long-game strategy, but it is consistent with the reality that God created us to be free to make up our own minds about what to do and how to act. God doesn’t force anyone to act justly or lovingly. No one is forced to forgive or to accept suffering or criticism rather than act evilly or curse the opponent. Each person must decide personally how to react in good and hard times.

It’s a bit like the struggle sometimes waged in households over what kind of language is acceptable for children and adults to use. If everyone is using foul language at school or at work, is it OK to use it oneself? What alternatives are there? How can one be part of the group and not behave exactly like everyone else? Does it really make any difference in the long run?

Pope Francis, speaking to the Catholic community of Bahrain recently, encouraged them and all of us to do what is good “even when evil is done to us.” He continued, “There will be cases of friction, moments of tension, conflicts and opposing viewpoints, but those who follow the Prince of Peace must always strive for peace. And peace cannot be restored if a harsh word is answered with an even harsher one. No, we need to ‘disarm,’ to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to put an end to resentment, complaints, and self-pity.”

This is long-game language and strategy. We are all called to play the long-game on God’s team.

I pray that you and I will have the courage and strength to make decisions that lead to reconciliation and peace in our families, our communities, and our world in the days and weeks to come. We are going into the holidays soon. A new year will begin for our Church community in just a couple of weeks. 2023 will be upon us before we know it. Now is the time to commit ourselves to the long-game of God’s kingdom, to build a world of peace, forgiveness, and mutual care and support.

Go team!

Readings for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

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