1st Reading: Isaiah 49:14-15
One can only imagine Israel’s hopelessness. There is nothing harder to bear than to have the one you counted on the most desert you in the midst of despair. Because of what Israel perceived to be God’s non-action in their Babylonian captivity, they felt they had been completely abandoned by their God. But today’s word of the Lord has spoken. Human beings are a part of God – the womb of God – never to be forsaken or abandoned. God always forgives, invites, and tenderly caresses those who are God’s children, God’s own (Birmingham, W&W, p. 403).
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This is not the life God wants for us! God’s loving grace is a free gift for us…poured out in abundant supply. God wants us to know we belong to God, never to be forgotten. Have you ever felt forsaken? Can you think of others out there who do? Bring this to the Lord.
2nd Reading; I Corinthians 4:1-5
You can almost hear in this reading how Paul is trying to defend himself and who he stands for (who, of course, is Jesus Christ). He is humbling himself. He explains that we are meant to be servants and stewards of God, despite not even completely understanding God’s mysteries. He was not concerned about how he might be judged because he felt his conscience was clear. His actions were between him and God.
St Augustine of Hippo said in explaining his role as bishop, “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.” We have to learn how to sink the roots of servanthood deep into the soil of our character (habits) so that our commitment holds up in the face of life’s inevitable challenges (Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 71)
St. John Neumann reminded us that our conscience is the highest moral indicator. We are to follow our conscience above all else. Human beings have the right to act in freedom according to their conscience. They may not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially when it comes to religious issues (CCC, #1782). Faith, prayer, and the word of God enlighten our conscience. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a [person]. There s/he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his/her depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one’s neighbor.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] ,16).
Gospel Reading: Matthew 6: 24-34
“No one can serve two masters.” Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea. He said, “If it is possible that a man can will only one thing then he must will the good,” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271). This is a singularity of thought. This is living authentically. It is not living with two masters. It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able. Yet even when we fail, we can turn back again. Kierkegaard continues in hope, “For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (p. 272). Even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence.” Thomas Merton
Jesus is not insensitive to the needs of the peasants. Like all human beings, they were anxious about the basics of life. Given the subsistence economy in which they lived, the unpredictability of nature, and the voracious taxes they were forced to pay, how could they think of anything but survival? Jesus’ advice is simple yet cleverly delivered. Without pointing his finger or naming names, he selects a masculine Aramaic noun (birds, associating men’s work like sowing, reaping, harvesting) and a feminine Aramaic noun (anemones, or lilies of the field, associating women’s work like spinning yarn, making clothes) and urges men and women not to worry. One must trust in God the heavenly patron who knows our basic needs and will meet them (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 41-42).
Ignatian Spirituality encourages a life of detachment to help us worry less. Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands (Silf, Inner Compass, p. 110).
1st Reading – Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
Leviticus 19 is a miscellaneous collection of laws; some think it might be a more primitive form of the 10 Commandments. The distinctiveness, the separateness of God from the world now calls his people to also be like this. We need to show this by our behavior. This behavior is summed up in the command to love the neighbor. In the OT this neighbor meant a fellow Israelite. Jesus will widen this concept to include even the enemy. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/theword_indepth.html )
The word holy means ‘set apart’. What does that mean to you? Holiness is a gift that is maximized when we choose good over evil in the various circumstances of our daily lives. Grace, accepted and celebrated in a life of prayer, gives us the strength to be holy. It’s hard to think about ourselves as holy. We often don’t feel worthy to be called that. How different would be world be if we considered ourselves sacred, by the grace of God?
Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance says, “…it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound (from vulnus, “wound”…think vulnerability). But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you. But it is a felt risk every time. Every time,” (p. 57).
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23
Paul tells us that we are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in us; translated that means that God built the human heart ‘with a hole in it.’ We have a built-in openness for others, if we don’t block it with selfishness. We are to let God’s own self in – to let God stretch our stunted outreach to others so that we will truly give out of love. Love wants what is truly best for the other – as God wants what is best for us. Real love is what we are to offer; real love wants what is healthy, good, life-giving for the other. (Fr. John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/reflections_foley.html )
Pope Francis said, “When the church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick. Think of a closed room – a room locked for a year. When you go in, there is a smell of dampness…The church must go out from herself. Where? Towards the existential outskirts. I prefer a thousand times a church damaged by an accident than a sick church closed in on itself.” How do we do in this as temples of God?
“First, wherever Spirit succeeds in opening human hearts to the divine, it brings about some kind of personal encounter with the personal God and not just a hazy religious consciousness. Second, at the horizontal level, the Holy Spirit works against alienation, injustice, and violence to spread solidarity, justice, and peace,” (Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God, p. 169). In other words, forming a personal relationship with God allows God to dwell in you. It cannot be contained.
The Gospel – Matthew 5: 38-48
Thoughts from William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 166-175:
The ‘law of tit for tat’ was in fact the beginning of mercy, a limitation of vengeance. It was meant to stop blood feuds. It was also never a law for an individual to extract vengeance. It was how a judge in a law court must assess punishment and penalty. Even further, this law was never, at least in any even semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon the injury done was assessed at a money value; the value was assigned according to the injury, the pain, the healing needed, the loss of time to work, the indignity. Also, the OT has other sayings concerning enemies that go far more along with Jesus’ ideas: “Do not say, I will do to him as he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24: 29) Yet, Jesus does go further. He actually does away with the very principle of that law; retaliation has no place in the Christian life.
Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we love our nearest and dearest. The word that is used for love is agape (invincible goodwill) not phila (deep friendship) or storge (family love) or eros (sexual love). With our enemies love is not so much a feeling of the heart as it is a decision of the will. We are called to will ourselves into doing this with God’s grace. It is in fact a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural person. We are called to have unconquerable goodwill even toward those who hurt us. It is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us. In fact, we can only have this kind of love, agape, when Jesus enables us to conquer our natural tendencies to bitterness and brooding. It does NOT, however, mean that we allow people to do absolutely as they like. No one would say a parent really loves a child if the parent lets the child do anything he likes despite the dangers. If we regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that discipline, even punishment, might be in order so that the person will learn what is best for themselves and others. The discipline would never be retributive – it must always be aimed at a cure – at recovery – at remedial care. Lastly, Jesus says that we must pray for those who hurt us. We must take ourselves and those who hurt us to God. The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate.
Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; God is love itself. Everything God does flows from God’s love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is God’s nature and the expression of God’s being. God loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is God’s nature to love us, and God must be true to God’s nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The object of God’s agape love never does anything to merit God’s love. We are the undeserving recipients upon whom God lavishes that love. God’s love was demonstrated when God sent God’s Son into the world to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to provide eternal life to those God sought and saved. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves. (Sweet to the Soul on Facebook) This is our example!
From the On Being Blog, columnist Courtney Martin:
But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow. It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.
It is perhaps most clearly understood as maternal. Just as mothers have, from time immemorial, loved without condition, we must now love this nation like mothers. We must parent it into a new maturity. We must not give up on it, no matter what. We must be prepared to be surprised at how beautiful it will be. We must do all this without knowing what form it will take, but knowing that whatever it becomes will be rewarding if it is shaped by fierce, unending, active love.
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Well, judging by Facebook and about a billion conversations, this seems like a good time to talk about anger.
Anger is a strange and complicated thing. Often, people will confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that they were angry and I suggest to them that it is not a sin. Anger is an emotion, a spontaneous reaction, often justifiable. Trust me, when the Mets blow a four run year in the ninth inning I am not “choosing” to be angry. My strongest theological argument is that it certainly appears that Jesus was angry at times. I wasn’t there, but I don’t think he would say things like “You hypocrites!” or “You brood of vipers!” in a lilting and comforting voice.
On the other hand, there is this challenge from the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said to your…
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Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
When Ronald Reagan in the eighties used the image of a “shining city on a hill” to describe the United States, it was a point of pride and patriotism. But in the original setting on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s “City set on a mountain” that “cannot be hidden” sounds more like a warning. Jesus has shared his truth with his disciples and they know what the kingdom of God consists of. We do too.
We know it is a kingdom of peace. We know we are to lead with mercy. We know that it is a place of compassion. We know it is a kingdom of justice. That is the stuff of the city on the mountain and the whole world knows it. Now it seems that strangely enough, both those who are…
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1st Reading; Sirach 15: 15-20
Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters. It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes grouped together. It was written between 190 and 175 BC. For many centuries it was thought to be only in Greek in the Septuagint. But a partial copy of the Hebrew original was found at the end of the last century hidden in a synagogue storeroom in Cairo, and another when archaeologists excavated Masada in Palestine in 1964. A few fragments also turned up at Qumran in 1947. Despite this evidence, it was never accepted into Jewish canon because it was not from the time of Ezra or before (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 487). It is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant.
Sirach speaks of the choices we make in life and how we must trust in God when we make them. This will help us choose what is good and life-giving for us. We must have an openness to the working of God in our life. In Ignatian spirituality, we must look at the “pushes” and the “pulls”. Do you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please? Or do you feel pulled, like a gentle invitation in love? God pulls not pushes (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin, p. 329).
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10
Paul is talking about the meaning of the cross in salvation history. The ‘mystery’ is that the crucified One is the Lord of glory. Many Corinthians thought otherwise. For them, the Cross was an unfortunate past event, the less said the better. All that mattered to them now was the risen Christ. He was now spirit, and as such, he could convey to them ‘secret wisdom’. Paul is using their terms in an ironic way, sort of turning them upside down to help them see where true wisdom is. By refusing to recognize the Lord of glory in the crucified One, they were in a sense aligning themselves with Pontius Pilate and Herod (the rulers of the day) who also did not recognize the One they were crucifying. Such blindness leads to horrible evil.
Why is God’s wisdom mysterious and hidden? What does this mean for us?
We like to twist and turn reality in order to suit our opinions, don’t we? It makes it easier for us swallow it. We all do it, and sometimes it is completely innocent. But life doesn’t work that way. There are lots of times in our life when we have to trust that we don’t have to have it all figured up and wrapped with a bow. There is mystery. It doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept…we can still wonder and wrestle with reality…but we can sit with the tension and know that God is sitting with us.
The Gospel: Matthew 5: 17 – 37
Now let’s take this gospel in parts to see what value and meaning we can gather:
First, what did Jesus mean by the law and its importance:
Jesus seems to say that the law is so sacred that not even the smallest detail (something as small as an apostrophe) should be discarded or ignored. Yet, again and again Jesus broke what some Jews called the law: handwashings, healing on the Sabbath, picking grain to eat on the Sabbath etc. In Jesus’ time it was popular to call the ‘scribal law’ the law along with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Scribes were people who made it their business to reduce the great principles of the Law into thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations. God’s Law was to rest on the Sabbath. They, however, spent hours arguing about whether it was work on the Sabbath to move a lamp from one table to another, if one could bandage a wound with or without salve, or could one lift a child? Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations. Jesus was highly critical of this. What Jesus was upholding here was the real meaning of God’s Law: to mold our lives on the positive commandment to love. Love that is filled with respect, reverence and compassion is the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and to our fellow humans. Our righteousness in this way must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This law of love to fill our hearts and minds; it must be our sole motivation. We need to be people of gratitude that God has first loved us – and then people who generously give of that love to others. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.126-131)
Second, Jesus then gives examples of the kind of law and righteousness he means – that the law of love must penetrate to our hearts, our core. The only way to safety and security in society is not to even desire what is wrong. It also shows us just how much we need God’s help in this. We need God to transform us to be able to live up to this standard of love. For example Jesus says that any one angry with a brother is liable to judgment. The word that is used for this anger is an anger over which a person broods and will not let go of –an anger that broods, that will not forget, that seeks revenge. It is an anger that insults and shows contempt. Raka meant an imbecile; a word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. This type of anger leads to a hurt that is like a murder; we can ‘kill’ a person’s spirit and take his good name and reputation away from him or her. This makes us liable to fiery Gehenna, a garbage dump where rot burns and pollutes. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)
In fact, here is an interesting piece of information from Jesus’ time:
“The fires of Gehenna” had become a metaphor for divine judgment on evil. The inferno was actually the city refuse dump located southwest of Jerusalem. It was a gehinnom that some of Judah’s kings engaged in the heinous practice of burning their children as sacrifices (see 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35). Condemned by Jeremiah and King Josiah, the valley was used, thereafter, as a site for rubbish. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)
The third point to consider is that when we come before to pray or to bring gifts to the altar to the Lord we must consider not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. A breach between a human and God could not be healed until the breach between humans was healed. Jesus emphasizes this: one cannot be right with God until we are right with each other. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)
Then Jesus deals with lust – looking at and thinking about another person as an object (not a person) of pleasure, an object to be used. Jesus is not talking about what is normal human instinct, human nature. He is talking about lust, where a person uses his eyes and thoughts to stimulate wrong desire – a desire to use someone even if it destroys their personhood and value. If we allow such desire to grow in us the most innocent people and things can become ‘used’ and abused. Jesus is vehement here using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, a very common teaching tool in this culture) to get his point across. When something is deadly, destructive – surgery is needed. In other words, to let such evil grow in us is worse that losing an eye or a hand. For such evil leads us into a garbage heap of burning refuse: Gehenna!
(Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p. 147-148)
Jesus then warns of the abuse of divorce. Ideally, Jews abhorred divorce. Marriage was seen as holy and as fulfilling God’s positive commandment to be fruitful. But by Jesus’ time the practice itself had fallen far short of this ideal and women were the victims of this abuse. In both the Jewish and especially the Greek culture of the day, women were at the absolute disposal of the males, her father and then her husband. She had no legal rights at all. A woman could be divorced with or without her will. All that had to be done was to hand a degree of divorce to the woman in the presence of two witnesses. The reason was to be for some indecency which could be serious – or just that she put too much salt in the food, or she spoke disrespectfully, or she was troublesome, or unattractive. Because of the ease of divorce at this time, basic family structure was threatened. (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.150-153)
Jesus was for loving and caring relationships. This we must keep in mind. He was not for upholding abuse or condoning it. As disciples we must go that extra mile to repair fractured relationships and live according to God’s plan of love and life. Here is a caution to note: While this teaching points out God’s will for unity and love, there are times when a marriage is no longer real – or because someone is incapable of such a relationship – it never was a marriage. While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair. In such cases divorce may be not only the lesser of two evils from the point of view of God’s ultimate will which is love, but also a positive step. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 391.
The last section of this gospel deals with our ‘public’ behavior. “Oath-taking” had greatly deteriorated into misuse in Jesus’ day. Some resorted to frivolous swearing, by constantly ‘taking oaths’: “by my life…” “May such and such happen to me if…” Still others used evasive swearing to avoid the truth. According to this questionable practice, oaths which contained the name of God were considered binding and were rigidly kept; oaths that did not mention God were not considered binding and were easily changed. Jesus advocated simple integrity in speech. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)
As Jesus’ disciples we need to live in such a way that falsehood and infidelity in our families and workplaces is eliminated. The Law of love is the only thing that works.
Fr. Bob’s homily for Jan. 29th…
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Last night I heard Fr. Pat give a terrific homily about the Beatitudes and I was jealous of him. It is his first go round with the three year cycle. The Beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount are virgin territory stretching out for weeks. And here am I on my sixth through.
Yet, there are advantages to being in my position as well. You can find something relatively hidden and expound on it that you had never considered before and have not heard much discussion. And so it is with “The Loneliest Beatitude.” (Doesn’t that just beg to be a children’s book?”)
I divide up the Beatitudes into a few categories. There are those traits I think any Christian would desire even if they are not always easy to accomplish. I hope we would want to be peacemakers, merciful and clean…
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Fr. Bob’s homily on Jan. 22nd…
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A
I have always found something mysterious in this reading. As Jesus walks along the Galilean seashore, he calls his first disciples. This is not an altar call where he asks anyone willing to follow him to come on down. He specifically asks four of the fishermen. They hear him and they leave everything –their nets, their business, their family and everything they had known to follow Jesus into the unknown.
Had Jesus been recruiting them over a period of time and now was the time of decision? Had they heard Jesus speak a number of times and had indicated a willingness to follow? Or maybe they had never heard Christ before and the voice resonated like destiny in their souls. The Bible gives us no evidence. All we know that the call had an irreversibly profound determination in their life.
Our own Kris…
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Let us pray:
God, our Redeemer,
Oscar Romero taught us
Not to tire of preaching love;
It is the force that will overcome the world.
Help us be lovers in all sense of the word.
Help us be more like You. AMEN
Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life’s work was to oppose, at great personal risk, the tyrannical repression in El Salvador. He was a humble man (remember our reading last week on humility?), and yet he spoke out for what he believed was truth. He directed himself to all the people in El Salvador, people from the left as well as people from the right, people supportive of the guerillas as well as people in the government and the army, people who were being killed as well as their killers, the oppressed as well as the oppressors. He was killed during Mass by his enemies; he is now a martyr in the eyes of the church. What he spoke and lived is an example for all of us. His life exemplifies the readings for this weekend.
1st Reading – Isaiah 58:7-10
This is from 2nd Isaiah, written after the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed, but this is meant to be encouraging. Right before this section, Isaiah spoke of fasting and how it shouldn’t be done in a showy way. This is misdirected; use that energy to help the poor and those less fortunate. Spirituality that is other-centered shines like a beacon in the midst of the darkness (Birmingham, W&W, p. 380). Are we a community that is like a beacon? How could we be better?
” We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, as though dealing with irrational beings, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone…Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.” Oscar Romero 7/10/1977
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1-5
Don’t we sometimes think we are the ones that have it right, that there is only one way to solve a problem – and it’s yours? True human wisdom is pure gift from God (One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!). Who could ever look for God’s wisdom and power within an instrument of capital punishment and torture? Yet that was exactly what Paul was demanding that followers of Christ do if they wished to know true, divine wisdom. Paul proclaimed the power of the cross (p. 381).
“God willed to reveal himself and manifest the mystery of his will. Through Christ and with him through his Spirit humans can attain the Father and share in the nature of God…He wanted to teach us that we must live in continuous converse with him and that we must live by his life, that we must lose ourselves in the beauty, in the sublimity of God, giving him thanks for favors received, begging pardon for our infidelities, praying to him when the limitations of our power clash with the greatness asked of us. We must learn to understand that we have such a capacity and that God desires to fill up that capacity.” Oscar Romero 8/13/1978
The Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16
When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, it was the highest compliment. Salt was highly valued:
- It stood for purity (its whiteness).
- It was a common preservative. It kept things from going bad (preserves from corruption). Do you know someone who makes it easy for you to be good?
- It gives flavor. A Christian should be full of vigor and life! Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers, (Barclay on the Gospel of Matthew, Vol I, p. 119-121).
Jesus called himself a light to the world, so here he is complimenting the disciples again by referring to them as he would himself. We do not produce our own light but reflect the light of Christ. Lamps in those days were like a bowl filled with oil and the wick floating in it. It was hard to rekindle a lamp, so when it was not on the lampstand, it would be protected under a bushel basket, (p. 122-124). The light’s purpose is to shine. We are meant to shine too!
“To believe, to hope: this is the Christian’s grace in our time. When many give up hope, when it seems to them the nation has nowhere to go, as though it were all over, the Christian says: No, we have not yet begun. We are still awaiting God’s grace. With certainty, it is just beginning to be built on this earth…That time will come! For me, this is the greatest honor in the mission the Lord has entrusted to me: to be maintaining that hope and that faith in God’s people and to tell them: People of god, be worthy of that name.” Oscar Romero 9/2/1979
Oscar Romero said in a homily: As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.
Let us pray.:
Help us to bring light
into all the darkness of life, spreading hope for a better world,
a world where justice is made real by your children living together
Help us to bring salt
into the blandness of life,
encouraging vitality and joy in living
in a world that dares to hope
for the future that you promise
where all your children will know themselves
loved and valued
created in your image,
bringing you glory forever.
1ST Reading — Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
About the time of Josiah’s crowning (Josiah brought in righteousness and reform), the Book of Zephaniah records for us the voice of reaction against the idolatry practices in Manassah’s years. Zephaniah was a fiery preacher whose wrath against pagan practices and hatred of Assyria were matched only by his devotion to Yahweh. In the previous chapter, Zephaniah says God will “search Jerusalem with lamps” (1:12) to find the guilty and punish them drastically, “their blood poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung” (1:17). (Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 340-341) You know that stage we all go through when we are tired of things being wrong and we have this energy toward making things better and right? It feels like Zephaniah was in that stage and was imploring the people in Jerusalem to be in it with him.
But this energy needs to be brought to the Lord humbly, and Zephaniah is aware of that too. It can’t just come out of our own egos. Humility (in Latin humilitas, from the earth) brings a groundedness. It is allowing God to be our shelter in the storm. Joan Chittister says, “Humility enables me to stand before the world in aw, to receive its gifts and to learn from its lessons…It is when we cease to be our own god that God can break in,” The Illuminated Life, p. 55-56.How does this sit with you today?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 26 –31
This early community was for the most part, “a motley assembly which included free people, tradesmen, and slaves, along with a few (not many) people of higher standing. It was also a mixed group of both Jews and gentiles, males and females. This diverse character of the early church was one of the most striking features of the Jesus movement. It was a unique ‘melting pot’ of cultures and classes who professed to accept each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This life in Christ was a ‘calling’ from God to care for each other and to complement each other as the united body of Christ in the world. This diversity also created tensions and obstacles that only with God’s grace could they overcome. (Celebration, Jan. 1999, and 2005)
For Paul, boasting in oneself rather than in the Lord is perhaps the supreme sin – or the root of all sin. This was the trouble Paul saw in the Corinthians. They were becoming too sure of themselves – instead of the Lord. They boasted of their own wisdom – or the wisdom of their ‘clique’ or faction. They thought themselves as superior to other people; they had forgotten that to the outside world they would probably be regarded as the ‘dregs of society’ – not wise or successful. They needed to remember that the ground of their ‘salvation’ (fullness of life) is Jesus Christ. So do we. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel — Matthew 5: 1-12a
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ way of life; they need to be our way also. These words come at the end of Jesus’ Great Sermon from Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7. This section contains far more than Jesus would ever have said in one sermon. This ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is the essence of Jesus’ teaching, a kind of “epitome of all the sermons that Jesus ever preached.” (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 84)
Jesus is trying to impart true wisdom, true worth to his ‘disciples’ – those who were listening to learn from him. If we were to make a list of what we want out of life, we might have compiled quite a different list. We look for the ‘good life’ filled with at least some riches and honor and prestige. But riches can tempt me to let what I own substitute for who I am. Admiration can turn my head from being thankful to the One who created me to being overly convinced of my own power and importance. All of these things can create a false identity because they are ‘out there’ – instead of ‘inside’. Within each of us is the gift of who we are called to be – who God created to help bring his love to this world. God loves this real self within each of us. He does not care how we dress or how respected we are. God calls us to be what we really are: persons who are loved and who can love in return. The beatitudes make deep sense. We need to live from this ‘home within’ where God’s presence is ever generating new life and true love. Then we will be blessed – and so will all who know or live with us.(John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Of course, this is all very counter-cultural – back in Jesus’ day and in our day. And so, we will not find all ‘these blessings’ easy ones. But if we are willing to embrace the blessing along with the difficulties – along with the pain and suffering and even persecution involved – then we will find true consolation, true wisdom and, in the end, true blessing –a blest happiness that no one can take away from us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Another problem – these beatitudes may allow us to think that God wants us poor and abused. But there is a difference between humility and being humiliated. We may meet a lot of people who are poor, powerless, or vulnerable; no one should want to be these things. Sometimes our religious language can get distorted. Being humble is a virtue; humiliating or abusing someone is a sin, a crime. Such crime calls out to God for justice. We need to be part of God’s answer not part of the problem. We should never encourage someone to put up with abuse or humiliation. We may at times find suffering and even persecution as we stand up against such unfair actions, but we are called to hunger and to work for righteousness, for all that is good and just. (Exploring the Sunday Scriptures, February, 2002)
The Beatitudes are about finding God present and active in our lives now. They are about letting God give us a joy that can shine through tears – a joy that pain and grief cannot overcome. Spend sometime in prayer thanking God for all the ways God is present to you.
1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3
Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways. It brought darkness and destruction to both. The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people. King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling. He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’. These hopes were not realized. Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)
The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)
Thomas Aquinas said hope is a special desire that has a special object. That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get and yet possible. So to have hope is to have faith. If faith is a gift of God, how are you open to receiving it? How does it give you hope and dispel your darkness?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17
This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)
Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)
Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic? It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ. But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division. Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation. “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another. Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a one and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude. There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).
The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23
Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats. This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus. Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.” These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.
(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)
Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary! He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.” The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
Other interesting ‘fish’ facts: A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S. These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR” (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)
The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross. This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’
The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)