December 4th, 2016: 2nd Sunday of Advent

1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5

This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel.  This was a world in crisis.  There are three characteristics emerging from this reading:

  1. This messianic age will be presided over by a just and God-fearing descendent of David. The shoot coming from the “stump” and “roots” represents the state of the dynasty after the branches (unfaithful kings) have been removed.  The ideal king, then is rooted in his earliest forebears.
  2. This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people. Equity and harmony will  be re-established.
  3. There will be a return to the harmony and peace of Eden. Mutually hostile animal species will be able to co-habitate, as it was before sin came to be on the earth  (Foley, Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 15-16).

Does it sound a little beyond reach?  This Advent, consider living with this unfinished feeling.  We know how we wish things would be, and yet we are not there yet.  Richard Rohr says, “We need to be reminded that utopia is nonexistent.  Utopia, that perfect world in our imagination, is not what we’re waiting for at Christmas.  Our task in this world is to live with open hands –with emptiness – so that there’s room for a coming, so that there’s room for something more,” (Catholic Update, Dec 1989).

2nd Reading —  Romans (15:4-9):

Christian fellowship should be marked in hope.  The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist.  The Christian hope is not a cheap hope.  It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life.  The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God.  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Romans, p. 196)

Paul is really furthering the vision of Isaiah here by encouraging us to see how the ‘peaceable kingdom’ has begun in Jesus, the One who welcomed – even sought out – sinners, the afflicted, the lost.  We must continue Jesus’ example. No one is excluded from God’s mercy.  (Celebration, Dec. 2004)

The Gospel — Matthew (3: 1-12):

John cries out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Jesus began His ministry with the very same words in Mt.3: 17.) How do the first two readings prepare us for these words?  How is this an Advent message?

What images of desert and mountains and valleys – of Spirit and fire – of axe and root – of good fruit and wheat and chaff – speak most to you?

John’s entire presence preaches repentance.  His ‘dress’ of camel’s hair and leather belt is similar to Elijah, another prophet heralding the end times.  He resists the mainstream, living in the desert and eating locust and honey.  He is not shy…how often have you been in a group and called a brood of vipers?!  What John is challenging is that just because paternity makes the Pharisees and Saducees sons of Abraham, that doesn’t mean the  kingdom is theirs.  It is by their fruit (what they DO) that matters  (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 4-5).

It is also important to remember when we read about repenting and judgment that we remember that Scripture is meant, first of all, to call ourselves to conversion. We may be tempted, though, to think it is all right to point the finger at others and even practice retribution ourselves. But it is fundamental to recall that God is the one who does the judging and God alones does the cutting. Final judgment is God’s job; ours is repentance. ( Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 9, 2007)

How can we let this gospel move our hearts this Advent?

Voluntary Vulnerability

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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Christ the King C 2016

It is jarring so close to Christmas to hear the depiction of Christ on the cross.  Yet, the Church wants to remind us on this feast precisely what kind of King Jesus was. – a king not defined by his power over others; a king whose only throne was the cross.

This sacrifice of Jesus reminds of less dramatic ones made every day.  By now most of you know that my best friends, Diana and Fred, are Catholic Workers and they, like all Catholic Workers, live in voluntary poverty.  They are both well-educated and incredibly capable people who have decided that to best minister to the poor, they themselves should be poor.  It is not the same as cyclical poverty because they could leave their state behind at any moment.  But for them, it made more sense to live poor among the poor.

What does…

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: Cycle C

1st READING – 2 SAMUEL 5: 1-3

David was not perfect.  David was a sinner, yet he would be the one Israel would remember as leader of their splendid past.  Doesn’t that give us all hope?  God comes to us as we are and can create in us a light for the world, if we let God shine through us.

As a sense of messianic hope developed in Israel, it was logical that the messiah-to-be would be referred to as the Son of David.  This king is a ruler who is in solidarity with his people.   Thus, king as benevolent ruler and as shepherd are primary motifs in the first Old Testament theology of kingship (W&W, Birmingham, p. 540).

We are your “bone and flesh” – what is meant here?  Reflect on what it means for our messianic king to be bone and flesh WITH us…

2ND READING — COLOSSIANS 1: 12-20

This is from a Christian hymn probably used at baptisms.  What do some of these phrases mean to you . . .

Scholars suggest that this letter was written most likely in the 80’s A.D. in reaction to false teachers among the Christian groups.  Influenced by the Greek culture of their day, there were beliefs that regarded angels and other ‘spirits’ as rulers of the universe. They were associated with stars and new moons and pagan rituals. These people wanted Jesus to be seen as subordinate to these ‘deities,’ since by his incarnation they viewed him as being contaminated by human ‘flesh.’ This writer firmly tries to correct this view with imagery that is profound and beautiful.               (Celebration, Nov. 2001)

The word ‘transferred’ has a special purpose in this reading.  In the ancient world, when one empire won a victory over another, it was the custom to take the population of the defeated country and transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the conqueror’s land.  Thus the people of the northern kingdom were taken away to Assyria, and the people of the southern kingdom were taken away to Babylon.  So Paul says that God has transferred the Christian to his own kingdom.  From darkness to light…from slavery to freedom…from condemnation to forgiveness…from the power of Satan to the power of God  (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 111-112).

We must note that Paul says that in Christ God was reconciling all things to himself.  The Greek is a neuter (panta).  The point is that the reconciliation of God extends not only to all persons but to all creation, animate and inanimate.  The vision of Paul was a universe in which not only the people but the very things were redeemed.  The world is not evil.  It is God’s world and shares in the universal reconciliation (p. 123).  What a way to look at life!  This resonates so closely to what Pope Francis says in Laudato Si, “…all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.  Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator,” (#83)  This is the kingdom of God!

THE GOSPEL — LUKE 23: 35-45

What two reactions to Jesus are seen here?  Who is the only one to call Jesus by name?  What does this mean to you?  How is this a story of conversion?  What kind of Kingship do we see here?

Jesus chose to exercise his authority as service and forgiveness. He reigns not from a throne, but from the cross. The Jesus who is worshipped today as Lord of lords and King of kings does not Lord it over others, but, rather, he loves and leads all who will follow him to the kingdom of eternal life, peace, and glory.    (Celebration, Nov. 2001)

The word ‘Paradise’ is a Persian word meaning a walled garden.  When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor he made him a companion of the garden, and he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king.  It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief.  He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven.  Surely this story tells us above all things that it is never too late to turn to Christ (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 299-300).

Christ the King was designated a holy day 1925 after World War I by Pope Pius XI.  There was a strong desire to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly kings and wealth  (Knipper, Hungry and You Fed Me, p. 287).  Don’t we always need to remember where our allegiance lies?

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…

Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;

And there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,

Raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation.  Amen

1st Reading:   Malachi (3:19-20a)

Take a minute to go over the opening prayer again and what this reading is saying.  Our spirituality is like fire.  We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”  How does this sit with you today?

Malachi means “my messenger”.  This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile.  Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened.  The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity.  The people were in disarray.  The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor.  The rich became richer, and poor became poorer.  The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed.  Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet.  He was also insistent that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism.  (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)

The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’.  How does this image speak to you of God?  Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous.  Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God.   (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)

2nd Reading:  2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)

This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community.  We do need to be careful how we apply this text.  We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)

“Faith cannot stand as an excuse.  Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray.  Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever.  Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).

Gospel Reading:   Luke (21:5-19)

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

But in some ways this gospel is also just about the way life is – such things do happen as Jesus warns us. Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human faces the end of the world in the span of a life. Every sunset closes a day that will never come again. Each human death is a curtain on an unrepeatable drama. Without God, this would all mean hopeless tragedy.

Has there ever been an age without such turmoil and trial, persecution and stress? As Paul says, it is only faith that saves us; it is faith that gives us hope in the midst of this ‘groaning of creation’ both within and without our human lives – as we live and when we die.

Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us.  From the Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:

In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .

Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely.  (146)

What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?

  1. Name your deaths.
  2. Claim your births.
  3. Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
  4. Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
  5. Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)

Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire like St. Ignatius implores.  Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:

  • What is blazing in your heart?
  • Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
  • What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
  • Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
  • What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?

To be a Christian

Fr. Bob’s homily last weekend…

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

The Gospel derives from the Levirate law which demanded, “If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.”  The Sadducees, who did not believe in the afterlife, use this law to construct a ridiculous story of a woman who is childless when her first child dies and then goes through six other brothers without bearing a child before they die.  They then ask “at the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?”  Jesus dismisses the story arguing the kingdom of heaven is a far bigger place than that.  Indeed, it is always important to remember just how big it is.  And how easily we can be forget that.

Even in that bizarre story though you must admire the commitment to follow the law, a quality presumed by Jesus and…

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A Short Thought about the Election

Words from Fr. Bob…

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A Short Thought about the Election

Delivered at beginning of mass on 11/6.

So many people, this year more than ever, have asked me to say something at mass about the Presidential election.  To those people I have universally said, “I thought you were my friend.”  But I do sense the growing tension in our church and in our nation, so let me give you the only piece of advice I have – Pray.  Study the issues and the people, pray like you would or should over any important decision and then vote and you will have done all that you can do and need to do.  And I will make you this promise, the day after the election will just be Wednesday.

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading —   2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14

This book tells of the gruesome atrocities endured by the Jews under the Greek leader, Antiochus Epiphanes about 150 BC.  He is noted for the “abomination of desolation” in which he had pigs sacrificed in the Temple’s Holy of Holies to the Greek god, Zeus. The purpose of this book is to edify its readers in their Jewish faith, recalling for them the beautiful examples given by those who defended the cause of God. It places great hope in the rewards that await those who suffer for their faith.  The death of martyrs can bring salvation to others. It is believed that it is out of such suffering that a firm belief in resurrection began to grow in the Jewish faith. (Celebration, Nov.2001)

The name Maccabees means “designated by God,” an apt title for one who would so courageously lead the people in their fight for independence  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 526).  What do you think of someone showing no fear in the face of adversity because of their belief in resurrection?

2nd Reading — 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 3: 5

There is something deeply moving in the thought of this giant among men asking for the prayers of the Thessalonians who so well recognized their own weakness (like Pope Francis?).  It is very difficult to dislike a man who asks you to pray for him!  In the last verse of this passage we see what we might call the inward and outward characteristics of the Christian.  The inward characteristic is the awareness of the love of God, the deep awareness that we cannot drift beyond his care, the sense that the everlasting arms are underneath us.  The outward characteristic is the endurance which Christ can give.  We live in a time that more and more people have the feeling that they cannot cope with life.  With the love of God in his heart and the strength of Christ in his life a man can face anything (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 216).  How does the Lord direct your heart?

Gospel Reading —  Luke 20: 27-38

Jesus is finally in Jerusalem:

in Luke 19: 29+, he entered the city on a donkey.

In verses 41+, he weeps over Jerusalem

because they will not recognize the “things that make for peace.”

He enters the Temple and ‘cleanses’ it,

calling it a House of Prayer not a den of thieves.

Needless to say, the chief priests and leaders of the people were plotting to ‘trap’ him . . .  After much controversy, we then have this reading.

THE SADDUCEES, mostly priests, were the wealthy aristocracy of the day.  They were the privileged presiders of temple ritual and sacrifices.  They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (a much debated subject at Jesus’ time).  The Pharisees, mostly laymen, on the other hand, did believe in resurrection. The Sadducees, as an elite class, also enjoyed a very cooperative and profitable relationship with Rome.

Jesus was part of a culture that was prone to conflict because of its emphasis on honor.  To gain and augment personal honor, one must challenge another in hope that the challenged person will look weak. Jesus may not have started the argument, but he is not against putting the opponents on the defensive and letting them look ‘stupid’ in comparison with his own clear thinking. One can see how such confrontation eventually could lead to their wanting to get rid of him. Yet, Jesus speaks what he knows to be true, not letting fear rule him.(The Cultural World of Jesus, John Pilch, 161-163)

To translate marriage in the present life into resurrection terms is impossible.  The transformation of the resurrected body from matter to spirit is so total that earthly considerations no longer have meaning. It is hard for us to grasp because we aren’t there yet.  We like to know, but it is unknowable.  All we do know is it is vastly superior to the present life, and it is vastly different.  The central joy of heaven is life in and with God with no fear of loss.  We must pray, in the spirit of St. Paul, to be strengthened and with the firm conviction that the God who is faithful will bring us home  (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 724).

Salvation Has Come to this House

Fr. Bob’s homily last weekend…

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time C

In the humorous and eventful story of Zacchaeus, the biggest risk Jesus takes is inviting himself over to Zacchaeus house for dinner for to break bread with someone was to identify with that person, to declare yourself on their team.  That is why the Pharisees grumble that Jesus would dine at the house “of a sinner.”  Holy men should know enough to stay away from public sinners like the tax collector who had made his fortune off of others and on behalf of the hated Roman Empire.  Jesus however can claim vindication for Zacchaeus has undergone a conversion – he is a new man.  He promises to give half of his belongings to the poor and restore four fold to anyone he has defrauded.  Jesus rejoices in his proclamation.  “Today salvation has come to this house.”

“Today salvation has come to this house.” …

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Is It All Going To Be Okay? By: Kris Rooney

remain-calm

This is not another blog posting on our political climate.  Anyone that knows me knows I’m as political as my dog, Benny.  No, I am not going there.  But there is something to be said about the anxiety we are all feeling in the United States.  We are bombarded by opinions, feelings and news about who to vote for in the looming election.  It is literally exhausting.  The passion that some feel about their choice is not only difficult to ignore, it is divisive.  And after the election, there may still be division and emotion.  So our anxiety is this:  Is it all going to be okay?

If you ask my husband, he will tell you that my favorite words are, “Yes, it is all going to be okay.”  I ask him all the time and this is what he always tells me.  Because no matter what we go through, even if it isn’t the way we would like, it always is okay because we have each other.  And I think that is the way of our faith.   Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic, wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”  Because underneath it all, God loves us.  Plain and simple.  God loves us so much that God put on skin to show it.  This truth is a deep part of us.  If we trust this deep wisdom, no matter what happens in our lives or in this election, it is all going to be okay.

The first reading for this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom, which says, “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! (11:26-12:1).”  Listen to the words.  We belong to God.  God loves our souls and is a part of all things.  We are surrounded by and soaked in the love of the Lord.  All things change but this is a constant.  It is such a comfort. We cannot hide from it.  It’s in us.

So next time you begin to feel fear creep in and you worry what will happen with the state of the union, take a breath.  God has our back.  Hold on to the deeper truth that we have each other and a God that loves us.  We’ll figure it out.  It’s all going to be okay in the end.

Standin’ in the Need of Prayer

Fr. Bob’s homily last week…

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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

There is certainly a wild contrast between the people at prayer as described by Jesus.  The Pharisee pray-brags from a prominent place in the Temple about his accomplishments while thanking God he is not “like the rest of humanity” especially the forlorn tax collector.  I am not worried we would act like that.  As a matter of fact, I have never seen anyone act like that (outside of seminary).  A more important question is whether or not we can be like the tax collector, who refuses to raise his eyes and only prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  Can we be small enough, aware enough and humble enough to pray as simply and sincerely as that?

I think one of the obstacles we have in praying as the tax collector is comfortability. Our access and success does not make it…

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