Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, December 27, 2009

Lectionary #17

Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-15
Colossians 3: 12-21
Luke 2: 41-52

“My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as his lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins---a house raised in justice to you.” (From the Book of Sirach, Chapter 3)

I was the lector for my parish’s 8:30 AM Mass. Today being the Sunday of the Holy Family, the lectionary offers a selection of various readings to choose from. My pastor selected the reading from the Book of Sirach, the above quote being the last paragraph of the reading.

I do not know if the Holy Spirit was trying to say something to me, but this reading has personal significance for me. My father came down with a case of pneumonia right after Thanksgiving and is still in the hospital. Fortunately, he has gotten through it, but he still has a long road to recovery. He is incredibly thin and weak, but in good spirits. It has been difficult to see my parents’ age over the past few years, but especially my father over these recent weeks. Both parents are going to need a lot of support from my siblings and me.

This puts us in the company of many “baby boomers,” who find themselves caring for parents who are living longer, but are developing more illnesses and weaknesses. The media reports on the strains this puts many families through. This is when faith communities need to step up and provide the social and spiritual support that family caregivers need. We need the opportunity to gather and share our struggles, frustrations and joys. Individually, we need to give ourselves time for prayer, to open up to God, pour out our anger, fears and despair; then open our hearts to God’s healing love.

“Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (From the First Letter of Saint John)

Experiencing God’s love enables us in turn to love; to be compassionate and patient. Then we will truly be able to honor our parents.

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (From the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 8, 2009

Lectionary #155
1 Kings 17: 10-16
Hebrews 9: 24-28
Mark 12: 38-44

In 1904, a Franciscan Capuchin by the name of Solanus Casey was ordained as a priest. His journey to that moment had been difficult. He found the studies at the seminary difficult; and because his superiors judged his knowledge of theology as being weak, he was not given permission to preach or to hear confessions. After several assignments, he was assigned to a monastery in Detroit, where he was sacristan and porter. As porter, he greeted everyone who came to visit the monastery, ready to listen to their worries and concerns. He was able to offer a comforting word and a blessing. He was able to touch the hearts of hundreds of people. When Father Solanus died in 1957, about 20,000 people passed his coffin during his wake.

Father Solanus Casey was a man judged to have few talents, but he gave those talents to God and God’s children. Through grace, the Father took those talents, multiplied them and enabled Father Solanus to reach out and comfort, heal and inspire thousands of people. Each one of us has skills that we are good at, some of us are blessed with many talents, and some of us are blessed with a few. Jesus is asking us to offer them all for the glory of God, our Creator; and for the service of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This can require courage, because it can be difficult to open ourselves and share all that we are with others. But all things are possible with God, so let us turn to him for that courage; ask that he send his Spirit to inspire us; his Son to strengthen us; so that we can contribute all that we have for the mission of the Church.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time - October 25, 2009

Lectionary #149

Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Hebrews 5: 1-6
Mark 10: 46-52

Can anyone of us who have our eyesight, imagine what it must be like to be blind? To be living in total darkness? Imagine what it would be like in the time of Jesus; with none of the aids or support systems we have today for the blind. Some would be abandoned by their families, ashamed because they think God is punishing them for some unknown sin. Some of the blind would be like Bartimaeus, sitting on the roadside, hearing the sounds of the world going by them, calling out for some alms. They hope to hear the clatter of coins; they hope that no one will rob them of what little treasure they have.

We do not know how long Bartimaeus was blind, how long he had been sitting at that roadside. Whether he was despairing over how his life was turning out. Then one day he hears this commotion, he learns that Jesus of Nazareth, the famous healer and preacher is coming. He suddenly feels a spark of hope, and he grabs for it. He cries out, somehow inspired to call Jesus, “son of David.” Bartimaeus is brought before Jesus; he is asked what he wants Jesus to do for him. Now he has only heard stories about this Jesus; and there have so many so-called healers in Judea. But deep in his heart, he believes in this man from Nazareth, so he asks that he might see. It is that faith that saves him, he receives his sight and his world is forever changed. Now, his world is open to new opportunities, he can take any road now. He chooses to follow Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

We all suffer from some type of blindness, the blindness of prejudice, greed, hate, depression, and self-doubt. It is a blindness that keeps us from seeing the beauty of God’s creation; keeps us from seeing others as our brothers and sisters in Christ; keeps us from seeing how much the Father loves us. We all need healing; even though that healing may change us, change how we perceive the world and ourselves. And change can be scary; it can draw us out of our comfort zone. What we need then is the gift of faith. It is faith that causes us to get up and draw near to Jesus. It is faith give us that little spark of hope. It is faith that makes us ask Jesus to say, “Master, I want to see.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 18, 2009

Lectionary #146

Isaiah 53: 10-11
Hebrews 4: 14-16
Mark 10: 35-45

One could say that James and John are the most clueless of Jesus’ disciples. And they are definitely slow learners. We have seen in the earlier readings from the Gospel of Mark, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus; what are the challenges and the sacrifices that are required. But James and John do not seem to get it, they are still looking to be above the others; they want to be Jesus’ “number one” guys. Jesus is blunt with them; he lets them know what will be required of them, what it will cost them to be his followers. James and John are still clueless; they should have remembered what Isaiah had written about the Messiah, how he was going to suffer, so that others may be saved. Jesus reminds them and the other Apostles that they are not to be like the rest of society, where everyone is continuously seeking power and prestige. No, they are to be servants to all people; that if one wanted to be the greatest of all, they would have to be “the slave of all.”

In our society today, we are constantly being bombarded with images and stories of people who are seeking fame, power, and wealth; and those who have it, are flaunting it. Our televisions are constantly showing us the lives of the rich and famous, the checkout counters of our stores are almost buried with magazines, papers, “scandal sheets,’ revealing every aspect of these “bright, young things” lives. And truth be told, all of us have a desire to be “top dog” in our own little part of the world, to have at least fifteen minutes of fame.

And there is Jesus telling us: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.” We are all called to be servants, to one another, and to the rest of the world. This will require us to make sacrifices, let go our egos, give of our talents, time and treasure. We are inspired by the example of Jesus Christ; receive strength from his Body and Blood, so that we can give our lives for others.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2009

Lectionary #140

Genesis 2: 18-24
Hebrews 2: 9-11
Mark 10: 2-16

America has the reputation of being the most litigious country in the world. It seems that we need a contract, or some written document that covers every aspect of life. This is especially true of marriage, where we see pre-nuptial agreements becoming a regular practice. We see divorce attorneys becoming almost a numerous as marriage counselors. We are becoming a society where the idea of a permanent commitment to a relationship seems anachronistic.

But historically, that is how marriage has developed over the centuries. To many societies, both ancient and modern, marriage was seen as a contract, at first between the man and woman, then between a man and the woman’s family. It involved dowries, money, and land. Society would soon consider the woman as the man’s property. But when we read today’s passages from Genesis and the Gospel of Mark, we know that the marriage of a man and a woman is something more than just a contractual relationship, it something wondrous, awesome and holy.

I know it may not seem that way on days when we are arguing with our spouse over money, kids, and work. But despite that, the sacramental reality still exists, man and woman are one flesh, each unique, but both one. Both united to one another by God’s grace, and it is in opening oneself to that grace that can enable us to bear the troubles of life and stay united as one flesh.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 27, 2009

Lectionary #127

Numbers 11:25-29
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

When we hear the words from James as he rails against those rich persons who oppressed the poor, we most likely visualize persons like Bernard Madoff, the bankers with their huge bonuses, and the brokers who sold mortgages to poor people, pocketed their commissions and skipped town. We probably would say, “Preach it, Brother James, preach it!” But what if we realize that James is addressing his words to us? Then we would be thinking, “Now he’s stop preaching and gone to meddling!”

Now most of us would never act in ways that James in describing in the reading. We would never withhold wages from workers. We would never hoard wealth, never sharing it with those in need. We would never live in “luxury and pleasure,” while others live in poverty and squalor. Or have we? How often do we shop in stores that withhold compensation their workers are due? How often do we stand silently by while developers take over poor neighborhoods, building homes and condominiums, bringing in wealthy tenants and driving out the poor ones? How often do we fail to lift a finger or raise a voice for those who are oppressed in this world?

James was a prophetic voice in his time; we are called to be a prophetic voice in our times. We have seen how corporations, how people of wealth, through their political contributions, buy access to our political leaders. Their voices speak louder than the voices of those who are poor. God is calling us to be their voice, he calling us to fulfill the prophetic role we accepted when we were baptized into the Body of Christ. We need only open ours hearts to God, and he will send us his spirit, and we will prophesy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 20, 2009

Lectionary #134

Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20
James 3: 16—4: 3
Mark 9: 30-37

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

“Numero Uno,” “Top Dog,” “King of the Hill.” It almost seems to be in our DNA, this desire to be ahead of the crowd, to be the Boss. We see it in other mammals. The “Alpha male and female” in a wolf pack. The stallions that fight each other to control the herd. The bull elephant seal, protecting his harem from all challengers. And in humans, we see this competitive streak, whether in sports, in the office, in business or politics, we all want to be recognized as the greatest.

This applies even to the disciples of Jesus Christ. They are small group, minuscule compared to the forces of the Roman Empire, or the priestly class of the Temple in the Jerusalem, yet they are arguing about which one of them is the greatest of this small group. One can picture Jesus holding his head and shaking it as he listens to this. He then sets the Apostles straight, and turns their world upside down. Contradicting everything they have experienced and learned in their society, they hear that to be the greatest, means to be the least, to be the leader means to be the servant.

This is an alien concept even in our own time. In the world of business, to be the greatest means to have the biggest office, the fanciest limo, the largest mansion, and the biggest bonus. Celebrities expect the best seating in restaurants, all their needs and desires to be taken care of. Even some leaders among the clergy expect to be treated like princes.

Jesus preached that we all are called to be servants to each other. Anyone who is called to be leaders in their fields of endeavor, need to remember that all the talents and strengths we have are gifts from God. And these gifts are meant to be used for the good of all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2009

Lectionary #131

Isaiah 50: 4c-9a
James 2: 14-18
Mark 8: 27-35

When a charismatic leader is trying to entice people to join his or her movement, there are promises of rewards, glory, and the gratifications of desires. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been acclaimed as the Messiah by Peter, but then he begins to describe the suffering he must undergo. Peter is shocked by this, and tries to let Jesus know that this is not the way to recruit and keep followers. Jesus then lets his followers know what it means to be his disciple. It means self-sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom, even to the point of losing one’s life.

This is the challenge that Jesus lays before us, this is the question he asks, do we wish to be his disciple and follow him? To follow him means giving up our self-centeredness and loving God with our whole heart and mind, and loving others unreservedly. It means sharing all that we are, our talents, our gifts, and our wealth, with those who are in need. And it means bearing with our own weaknesses, pains, personal crises and troubles, and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many people in our society today would not find this an attractive calling. They would be happy to accept the title “Christian,” and declare that they are a follower of Jesus, but continue to maintain their comfortable lives. We have seen though that many people can see through this rouse, and are turned off by the hypocrisy. Faith that is not lived is worthless, lifeless. We need to trust that God’s grace will give us the courage to really begin the gospel journey, give us the strength to pick up our individual cross’s and follow Jesus. The journey may be hard, with sacrifice called for along the way. But if we remain faithful to Jesus and his call, the journey will lead us to new life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 23, 2009

Lectionary #122

Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Ephesians 5: 21-32
John 6: 60-69

We see in the first reading and the Gospel reading, people being asked to make a choice; to step over the line; to cross the Rubicon; to fish or cut bait…you get the idea. What we have are groups of people being asked to make a life changing decision.

In the Book of Joshua, we see God giving the people of Israel an opportunity to get out of the covenant they first entered into with God at Mount Sinai. God, who freed the Israelites from the Egyptians; who guided and sustained them through the desert; who protected them from their enemies; is giving them a do over. God does not want to coerce a commitment from Israel; he wants them to accept his way freely. They can be like other people in the land of Canaan, trying to control their lives through worshipping little idols. Or, they can be transformed into God’s unique people, with all the glory and challenges that transformation will bring. The people chose to “serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

In today’s Gospel, we are at the end of the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus has announced that he is the bread of life, that his flesh and his blood is true food and true drink. Anyone who feed on him will receive life eternal. His disciples, his followers hear this and do not know what to make of it. Some must have thought that Jesus was a crazy person. Others heard this teaching, and could not understand its meaning. Others must have heard the words, and understood them, but were afraid to accept them. For to accept the meaning of his words, is to be open to a radical transformation. The disciples could not make that choice, so they left Jesus, all but the Twelve. Peter, speaking for them all, has made the decision to continue to follow Jesus, because he has “the words of eternal life.” In making that choice, the lives of the Apostles are forever changed.

Every Sunday, we hear the Word of Lord, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. But are we letting ourselves be transformed, are we saying yes to Christ by entering into his life and letting him enter into us. Every day, we make that decision anew to serve the Lord by serving others, to love the Lord by loving others, by being people of hope.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2009

Lectionary #119

Proverbs 9: 1-6
Ephesians 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58

“The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (Gospel of John)

There have been surveys that asked Catholics whether or not they believed the Church’s teaching on Christ’s Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. One survey was taken by Gallup in 1992, and the other survey was taken by the New York Times/CBS news. The results of these surveys showed that a growing number of Catholics, especially young Catholics, no longer believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist. Why this unbelief? Is it a perceived lack of reverence in the Eucharistic liturgy? Is the result of Western skepticism about all things mystical? Or could it be that we have not lived Eucharistic lives?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because he loves us so much, is willing to give himself to us in the form of bread and wine; so that the gift of divine life will be renewed within us. And what have we done with this gift? When we eat this bread of life, do we open ourselves completely to the Presence of Christ? Do we allow Jesus in, and allow him to transform us? Have we forsaken foolishness? It is we who will provide living proof of the power of the Eucharist to transform.

I want to close with the words of St. Francis of Assisi, from his writings, The Admonitions, “And we may ask in the words of Scripture, Men of rank, how long will be dull of heart? (Ps. 4: 3). Why do you refuse to recognize the truth and believe in the Son of God? (Jn 9: 34) Every day he humbles himself just as he did when he came from his heavenly throne (Wis. 18: 15) into the Virgin’s womb; every day he comes to us and lets us see him in abjection, when he descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar. He shows himself to us in this sacred bread just as he once appeared to his apostles in real flesh. With their own eyes they saw only his flesh, but they believed that he was God, because they contemplated him with the eyes of the spirit. We, too, with our own eyes, see only bread and wine, but we must see further and firmly believe that this is his most holy Body and Blood, living and true. In this way our Lord remains continually with his followers, as he promised, Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world (Mt. 28: 20).”*

*The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, Franciscan Herald Press, 1976

Monday, August 3, 2009

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 9, 2009

Lectionary #116
1 Kings 19: 4-8
Ephesians 4: 30-5:2
John 6:41-51

This Sunday’s Scriptures begins with the story of Elijah, fleeing the anger of Ahab, King of Israel. To escape, he flees into the desert. We have already seen in the previous Sundays’ readings, what the desert meant to the early Israelites. The desert heat drained them of energy; its lack of food and water weakened them; the starkness of the desert frightened them. It has the same affect on Elijah, just one day’s journey into the desert, and he is ready to give up. He complains to God that he has suffered enough, and is ready for death.

Most of us have had a “desert” experience in our lives. The struggles, the challenges of daily life can sometimes drain us of life, of hope. Some of us may experience a life crisis, a burden that we find too hard to bear. Like the desert heat, life can sometimes beat down on us, so much so that sometimes we feel like giving in to the despair, the hopelessness. Or else, like the early Israelites, like Elijah, we want to give up the journey we began when we were baptized. We want to give in to the bitterness, the anger, the hatred.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus’ response, “Stop murmuring..” As God did for Elijah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes to provide “the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” Jesus Christ, “the living bread,” comes to feed us, to strengthen us, to renew the life within us, so that we will get up and begin the gospel journey again. As the bread Elijah ate, gave him the strength to reach Mount Horeb, where he encountered God; so to when we receive the Eucharist, we are united with God. Through the Son, our hope is renewed, the darkness of despair dispelled. Feed by the “living bread,” anger, bitterness, and hatred are removed, and kindness, compassion, and love are reborn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2009

Lectionary #113

Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15
Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24
John 6: 24-35

Since 9/11, there has been a debate in this country on how much freedom we are willing to give up for security. In Russia, people seem willing to give up many newly gained freedoms to a central authority, so that they will feel secure in their country. As long as the Chinese government provided jobs, the people see no need for individual liberties. In Exodus, God has just delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians, and is leading them to freedom. The path is taking them through the desert, and soon they are grumbling against Moses. Even though they had witnessed the power of God, when He freed them from slavery; even though He is making them His Chosen People, they are already longing for the supposed security of Egyptian slavery. They were willing to give up their newly won freedom for full stomachs.

God hears their complaints, provides for their needs, not just birds for meat, but he gives them a special food. God gives them bread from heaven.

Now in John’s Gospel, we see the people whom Jesus has just fed, begin searching for him. They had witnessed a miracle; they believe that Jesus is “the Prophet.” They want to make him King, have him use his power to free them from the Romans. Jesus berates them, telling them that they are missing the point of the miracle of the loaves. He has come not to provide for the physical security of Israel, he has come for a higher purpose. And he is calling on the people to join him in that work, which will provide gifts that will never perish, that will truly sustain them, no matter what troubles, what crises life may throw their way, the Father will provide the food that will sustain them and strengthen them. And that food is “the bread of life,” Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is “the true bread from heaven.” The Son of God comes to us in the simple form of bread and wine, transformed into his Body and Blood. He comes to feed us, to renew the life within us, to satisfy our need to experience God’s love, to satisfy our need for hope, to satisfy our thirst for justice and peace. So let us receive him, open ourselves to him, and be transformed by him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 26, 2009

Lectionary #110

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 4: 1-6
John 6: 1-15

Bread is a staple of life. No matter what type of grain is used, many societies in the world depend on bread to live. The lack of bread has lead to revolutions and the overthrow of governments.

Bread is important in the Scriptures. In Genesis, Mielchizedek, the King-Priest of Salem, brought bread and wine to Abraham, to celebrate his victory against the four Kings. In Exodus, God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel to prepare and eat only unleavened bread on the night of Passover, the bread of haste. And later in Exodus, in the great desert, God feeds His people with manna, “bread from heaven.”

In the first reading, the people are suffering from famine; Elisha comes in possession of twenty barley loaves, to feed one hundred people. Elisha, trusting in the Lord’s word, has the food distributed and it satisfies everyone. The Lord cares for His people.

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus performing an even greater miracle, with just five barley loaves and a couple of fish, he is able to feed five thousand people. The people are awed by what they have witnessed; they believe that the Messiah is among them; they want to make Jesus king and have him use his power to drive the occupying Romans out. The people do not understand that this miracle is not meant to reestablish a political kingdom. It was to show them that God still cares for His people.

God still cares for us, His people. In a harsh world, we are hungry for healing, hungry for hope, hungry for peace, hungry for love. The Father feeds us with the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Through the Eucharist, we are refreshed, through the Eucharist, we are strengthened for the Gospel journey, through the Eucharist, we become one with the God who loves us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 19, 2009

Lectionary #107

Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians 2: 13-18
Mark 6: 30-34

Oh, with today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah, anyone with a grudge against America’s bishops could have a field day. Especially when one considers how some of them failed to act during the clergy abuse scandal, one could really write a ripping homily.

However, Jeremiah was not speaking about the religious leaders of Israel, but rather its political leaders, the kings that came after David and Solomon. Jeremiah is railing against their failure to remain faithful to the Covenant God made with his people. These kings trusted in their own political machinations, rather than in trusting God’s power. The result being that these kings have leaded the people to disaster. The Davidic kingdom was split in two; and the two kingdoms would eventually be destroyed and the people of Israel scattered.

Jeremiah, after his condemnation of Israel’s past leaders, proclaims that God will send a new shepherd, a true descendant of David. He will gather the scattered people, and will restore the nation to justice, peace and security.

Christians believe that this new shepherd is Jesus Christ, but He is coming not to restore the political nation of Israel, but to reconcile all people with God, to create a new nation of believers. He begins by teaching the people, guiding them with His words, showing them the way back to the Father. Then, like a good shepherd, Jesus gives up His life for His sheep, that through His death and resurrection, all people are united into one flock, one body, the Body of Christ.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 12, 2009

(Lectionary #104)

Amos 7: 12-15
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6: 7-13

We see in today’s readings, two examples of the Lord calling ordinary people to mission. In the Old Testament reading, we see the prophet Amos, telling off the priest of the northern kingdom of Israel. Amaziah is assuming that Amos is one of those “professional” prophets, who prophesy for pay. These prophets were probably trained on how to make prophesies more favorable to their clients. Amos declared that he was no professional, but a simple farmhand, a shepherd. A most common man, yet he was called by God to go out and proclaim His word; to go and confront a king and call him to account for his actions. He had no training, but the Lord gave him the words he was to speak.

God always seems to call the most ordinary of people, to do the most extraordinary actions. We see this in the gospel passage from Mark, which details the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles. Here we see Jesus calling the Twelve and sending them out to proclaim the Good News, to drive out demons, and heal the sick. Again these followers of Jesus were just ordinary people, fishermen, a tax collector, and other common men. Yet, because of God’s grace, God’s power, they were able to work wonders.

Many of us today, may assume that because Jesus commissioned the Twelve that the work of proclaiming the Gospel to the world is to be left to the bishops, the clergy and the religious; and we lay folk are off the hook. But we would be wrong. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, all of us, ordained or lay, have been called by the Lord to make the Good News known to the world. We ordinary folk, by our words, but especially by the example of our lives, are to make known to everyone the healing love of God, to call everyone to change their lives and believe the Good News.