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Posted by on Oct 24, 2021

Seeing Hope as Darkness Surrounds Us

Seeing Hope as Darkness Surrounds Us

Have you ever seen a snail’s tongue? They are very tiny. How do I know? I saw one last night, as a very small snail made its way across the glass of the aquarium in which it lives. Its job is to keep the glass free of algae. That’s a big task for a very small creature, but this snail was moving along, bit by bit, licking the glass clean. My sister-in-law and I watched it moving and she noticed the tiny little tongue darting in and out, cleaning the glass. The light was just right and we could see the tracks of where it had already cleaned, in lovely curves, with space between them where the snail was holding on with its great foot.

The snail spoke to me of the gift of hope in the face of what might otherwise seem like a hopeless task or future.

The readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time are instructional in this regard. We begin with the prophet, Jeremiah (Jer 31:7-9). The people are still being taken into exile, nearing the final end of the kingdom of Judah in northern Palestine. They are facing the possible extinction of their nation and historical line. Yet Jeremiah proclaims, “Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations, proclaim your praise and say: The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.” All seems lost, but the prophet speaks the Lord’s promise that they will be gathered from among the nations and return as a newly recreated people. They themselves can never do that alone, but the Lord will do it. The new kingdom is beginning to be understood as something more than a nation-state with a king. It’s to be much greater because not limited to control of territory on land by an individual ruler and family.

They will return on level ground, rest beside brooks of water, and know that their father is the Lord. The reference to Ephraim is also noteworthy. Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, making him a grandson of Jacob. But Ephraim’s mother was Egyptian. She was not one of the relatives of Jacob or a descendant of Abraham and Sarah. Yet he and his brother, Manasseh, were accepted into the family as adopted sons of Jacob. Their descendants became the fathers of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. When Jacob was nearing the end of his life, he gave the blessing due the firstborn of sibling sons to Ephraim, though Mannaseh was actually the older son. Jacob assured Joseph, who noticed what was happening, that he knew what he was doing, that selecting Ephraim for the firstborn’s blessing was the right thing to do. The children of Ephraim became a large tribe in the far north of Palestine. It was these people who were being taken into exile.

Now, we hear the Lord saying, through his prophet Jeremiah, that Ephraim is also the first-born son of the Lord. All will be new in relationships and in creation through the Lord’s actions. Good news of hope for those being driven from their homes and into exile in the lands of their enemies.

The Psalm speaks of the return from exile (Ps 126:1-6). “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming … our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.” The long period of suffering had passed. The Lord had kept the promise made so long ago. “We are filled with joy.”

In the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5:1-6), the author speaks again of the high priest and his role. Historically the high priest was selected from among his peers, selected by God, just as Aaron had been selected to make the sacrifice of atonement for all the people so many generations earlier. But this time things have changed, we have a new high priest, also selected by God. This new high priest is the Christ. He did not select himself. When Jesus died, he was truly dead as a human being. But God glorified him, saying, “You are my son: this day I have begotten you … You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Melchizedek was King of Salem and a priest who lived in the time of Abram, long before the Jewish priesthood was established among the Israelites after the Exodus. He was known as a wise, righteous, and kingly man. Jesus, the new high priest, takes this role, now and forever, chosen by God for this role because he is the Son of God. He knows both the difficulties of being human and the mercy and patience of God, so he is the best intercessor humanity could ever have.

The healing of Bartimaeus is the final event in Jesus’ life before he enters Jerusalem on his final journey there for the Passover. This section of Mark’s gospel began with the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now Jesus is near Jericho, just north of the Dead Sea and next to the Jordan River. It has been a long and eventful journey, and  finally they are nearing their destination.

Bartimaeus (whose name means Son of Timaeus as Mark informs us) is sitting beside the roadside begging. He hears the crowd going by, learns that it is Jesus, and calls out to Jesus for pity. “Son of David, have pity on me. (Son of David was a title given to the expected Messiah, because the Messiah was to come from among the descendants of King David.)

Those around Bartimaeus try to silence him. But Jesus hears him and calls Bartimaeus to him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus comes quickly and responds immediately, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus heals his blindness, saying “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” His sight was returned immediately and rather than going home, he began to follow Jesus “on the way.”

This story comes at the end of a series of stories we have heard over the past weeks, in which Jesus has tried to let his friends know that he is not a conquering Messiah but rather the one described by Isaiah who is the Suffering Servant. His followers have not been able to see what he has been telling them. It just simply makes no sense. They are still more blind than Bartimaeus or the man healed in Bethsaida.

Mark tells us that Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way.” The way is not just the road to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, Jesus’ followers were known as followers of “the way.” It was not until later that they came to be known as Christians (oil heads). Bartimaeus followed “the way” immediately after he was healed. His faith had saved him.

What are the areas of blindness in my life? Where do I lack hope? What feels like it’s crashing in my life? Where are the signs of hope? How do I hold on to the promises of God? Can I just keep doing what I’m supposed to do each day, like the little snail that makes her way around the aquarium, licking clean the glass? I pray for that gift today.

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Posted by on Jul 18, 2021

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Shepherds – More than those who care for sheep

Popular imagination is based on the historical lived experience of a people. Religious imagery reflects that experience. So today, the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, shepherds (and by extension sheep) are showing up in many of the readings. The Hebrew people were descendants of Abram and Sara, a shepherd and his wife from Mesopotamia. They were pastoralists who traveled over a wide area of countryside, seeking the best pastures for their sheep and living from the work of their hands (and feet – with all that walking). God called Abram to a special relationship and promised to be his God through all generations.

When it came time for the Hebrew people to have kings, the second king was David, a shepherd boy chosen by God to be the successor of Saul. In the Hebrew Scriptures, shepherd is a term often applied to the kings of the land. Sometimes the kings were faithful to the Covenant and sometimes they were not. Either way, the prophets spoke of them as shepherds.

Jeremiah (23:1-6) could see that his people and their kingdom were going to fall when faced by the might of Babylon. But the reason for the coming disaster had nothing to do with military might or the skill of generals. Israel had prevailed against all odds in the past. The failure this time would be the result of the failure of the rulers to be true to the Covenant.

Jeremiah speaks of these rulers as shepherds who have misled and scattered the flock of the Lord. They are not caring for the people as they have been called to do. He cries out that the Lord will be faithful, despite the misdeeds of the rulers. He will gather those who are faithful from among the nations to which they have been exiled and appoint new, faithful shepherds to guide and protect his flock.

This prophesy concludes with the messianic promise of a new king from David’s line who will shepherd the people wisely and be known as “The Lord of Justice.”

The Twenty-third Psalm is rightly loved for its promise of the loving care of the Lord who acts as a shepherd for his flock. Not only does the shepherd guide and protect the flock, the shepherd honors those for whom he cares, even in the face of those who would hurt them. Goodness and kindness characterize the care of the shepherd. The sheep, all of us in his care, will dwell in the Lord’s house for years to come.

With the coming of Jesus and the welcoming of Gentiles into the flock of the Lord as well, the divisions between peoples of the world are broken down. (Eph 2:13-18) No longer is anyone to be excluded from the flock of the Lord of Justice. The divisions among the peoples of the world were destroyed by the cross. Through Jesus, we all have access to the Father in one Spirit. The shepherd now has called the sheep from around the world and united us into one flock.

The Gospel this week (Mk 6:30-34) continues last week’s story. Remember that Jesus sent out his followers to heal the sick and call people to repentance, to turn their lives back to God. This week they have returned. Mark calls them apostles now, those who have been sent. Jesus takes time to talk with them about their experience and invites them to take some time to rest, in a deserted place, away from regular life and the crowds of people who kept coming to hear and see him. However, they can’t get away on foot, so they get on the boat and head out onto the Sea of Galilee. Even that doesn’t work. The people see where they are going and walk there themselves, around the shore of the lake. When Jesus and his friends arrive, the crowds are already there.

Did Jesus get angry, get back on the boat and sail away? No. St. Mark tells us, “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  He sat down and began to teach them. The shepherd had arrived. The Lord of Justice has come to his people.

Today we are challenged to be good shepherds to those sent to our care. It may be children, spouses, fellow workers, the old or the young, or people we meet on the street. How do we share the love of the Lord of Justice, the shepherd who truly cares for and loves his flock? And then, how do we rest in the green pastures to which that same Lord leads us, so we can be refreshed? Both outreach and times to rest and be renewed are essential.  Summer is a good time for both.

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Posted by on Jun 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed is the one who comes as the Lord God.
Image from Vatican Library
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