27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4

From Celebration, October 2004:

If scholars are right, Habakkuk might have been a contemporary of Jeremiah. He is probably here lamenting the destruction of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army. He is probably also lamenting the corruption that took place in Judah before the fall. Yet, he is told that he must trust in a vision that can yet come to be. With this vision comes an assurance of God’s love and care even though there is destruction and suffering. He was told to write down this vision; in other words, make it permanent. And, it is to be in large, legible letters so that all the people may see it, read it, hold on to it – a public display of faith in the midst of tragedy. This is faith that gives life.

Br. David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness, the heart of prayer:

How difficult it is to live in the creative tension of hope, the tension between not-yet and already!…Some people imagine that hope is the highest degree of optimism, a kind of super-optimism.  I get the image of someone climbing higher and higher to the most fanciful pinnacle of optimism, there to wave the little flag of hope.  A far more accurate picture would be that hope happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism.  We have nowhere to fall but into the ultimate reality of God’s motherly caring  (p. 126, 136)

2nd Reading – 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14

By the time of this writing, many have given their lives for the faith in Christ; others have endured increasing difficulties and hardships. (Some have also fallen away or fallen into heresy –see 1:15, 2:17-18 and 4:9) This writer wants to use the example of Paul’s imprisonment and suffering along with some of perhaps Paul’s own words to encourage others to use their faith to live with courage, power, love and self control.   (Celebration, October 2004)

We hear Paul telling Timothy to seek God’s help through “the imposition of my hands” and “the sound words that you heard from me”.  In other words, Timothy should feel hope in the Lord because of how the Lord works through Paul.  Don’t we often find hope in the Lord through each other too?  The warmth of a loving touch and comforting words can be all we need to get through a really hard day.  It gives a whole new meaning to “being there” for someone.  We bring God into that accompaniment when we have faith.

The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10

This whole chapter in Luke’s gospel is about “the decisiveness and urgency of discipleship.” We cannot just wait (or even pray) until we have enough faith, for then we may never begin living as the servants we are called to be. A seed is small, but it is filled with potential ‘power’ for growth. Jesus wants to convince us that our faith is like this.  We must ‘burst open’ like a planted seed allowing growth and new life to begin.

“We must use what we have.” Jesus then shows us what the faithful disciple looks like – one who not only works the fields, but also serves at table. In fact, as we put this all together we see that serving at table is as great as moving trees – and other more amazing feats of faith! Jesus like many good preachers of his time loved to use hyperbole and humor to get his point across. (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.220)

What do you think of the phrase “unprofitable servants”?  The Greek adjective that is used here actually means “without need.” Although it is translated here as ‘unprofitable’ it seems to mean more that this servant is without the need for ‘pay.’ He is not motivated by reward or recompense.  As servants of an all-merciful and loving God we need to do everything with gratitude that we have been called to serve such a ‘master.’ We are servants that are ‘due nothing,’ because all we have has been given to us with love. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context, liturgy.slu.edu)

Mammon or True Wealth

Fr. Bob’s homily 2 Sundays ago…

bobblogobucco

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

This is a curious Gospel because unlike most parables like the Good Samaritan, the protagonist is not a heroic figure.  In fact, he is a fairly pathetic one. The dishonest steward, the name gives away the story, is about to be sacked by his master “for squandering his property.”  He is in desperate straits.  He memorably says, “I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.”  (I think I might adopt that as my motto.)  He has only one plan at his disposal.   He goes back to all the master’s creditors he has dealt with and has them lessen what they owe the Master.  Whether it comes out of the steward’s take or the master’s is unclear.  What is obvious is his motivation – trying to curry favor with the creditors so they will take him in after he…

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

The 1st Reading — Amos 6: 1, 4-7

Amos is continuing to lament and grow weary of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  The rich are basking in the glow of their wealth, even drinking wine out of bowls!  Scholars think the reference to David is trying to be ironic.  Unlike David who used his musical talents for praising God, the wealthy of Israel were dabbling in the art simply for their own entertainment and enjoyment.  The prophecy of the rich going into exile first does occur.  In 722BC Assyria attacks the northern Kingdom (Celebration, Sept. 1998).  Their complacency did not benefit them in the end.  What happens when we become complacent and take for granted what we have?

Contrast this image with St. Teresa of Calcutta. In a general letter she wrote to her sisters in July 1961:

My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption.  Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death…Only by being one with us He has redeemed us.  We are allowed to do the same:  All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it.  Pray thus when you find it hard – “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them – to take upon me something of their suffering.”  Yes, my dear children – let us share the sufferings – of our Poor – for only by being one with them – we can redeem them, that is, bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.

The 2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 6: 11-16

This passage tells us clearly how and what we are to be. It is an exhortation not just for Timothy, but for every baptized person. We all need to take these words to heart. It should help us realize that our faith is a living relationship of love – with God and with others(Celebration, Sept. 2001).

What wisdom do you find in this passage?  What do you make of the writer saying we should, “Compete well for the faith,”?

The Gospel — Luke 16: 19 – 31

This gospel reading is challenging us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to those around us. Let not our possessions and comforts blind us and deaden us. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this parable comes when the rich man, suffering now himself, raised his eyes and saw Lazarus. But even then he only saw him as someone who could meet his needs — not as a person in his own right with needs. The rich man has no name (although he is sometimes called Dives, a Latin word for rich); the poor man is given a name and an identity: Lazarus, which means the oneGod helps or loves. (Celebration, Sept. 2001)

St. John Chrysostom, “Thoughts from the Early Church,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Have you thought about why the rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s arms? Abraham was not only our ‘father-in-faith,’ but he was also known for his hospitality. Abraham did not begrudgingly help strangers; he would sit in his doorway and catch all who passed by – to offer them friendship and food.

He did not know that these strangers would bring the tangible presence of God and new life to him and to his wife as they did (Genesis 18:1 – 8).

From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 221-222:

The details in this parable are very important. The rich man had great luxury: garments of purple and fine linen.  The word that is used for feasting is one that is used for a glutton who feeds on exotic and costly dishes – everyday. His self-indulgence seemed to give him no time for work while his servants must have slaved to keep him fed. Also, in these days food was eaten with the hands. In very wealthy houses, the hands were cleaned by wiping them on chunks of bread. The bread was then thrown away. These were the ‘crumbs’ that Lazarus longed to be allowed to eat. The rich man was not deliberately cruel; nor was he accused of being the reason for Lazarus’ poverty. His sin is his blindnesshis lack of even noticing another’s need. That lack of human concern for anyone outside of himself was a great chasm that separated him from love, life.

From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 169-170:

Hades is the abode of the dead. It does not necessarily coincide with our term of hell. In this story there is a big chasm separating those who respond to and with God’s love and those who do not. The ‘hell side’ is the state of being where you don’t love – where you find yourself cut off and where non-life is chosen. This parable is not suppose to convince us that God’s justice is served by physically punishing people: God’s justice cannot be served by “burning people’s behinds.” The story is suppose to open us to the true way of life – to listening to God’s Word and letting it guide our life and our choices. We are to choose life – love – sharing – communion. We need to choose the good because it is good – it leads to life. Such choice leads to dignity and goodness. There is as Abraham says in the story a ‘great chasm’ between heaven and hell – between fear and faith, between death and life. This story was meant to help us overcome the chasm – not to deepen it. Continue reading →

Forgive One More Person

Father Bob’s homily 2 Sundays ago…

bobblogobucco

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

I have a notoriously bad relationship with the Prodigal Son.  He has always rubbed me the wrong way.  It is not so much what he did to his father or how a young man wasted money.  That is a story that has been going on for literally thousands of years.  What I have always resented was the lack of quality in his repentance.  After all, he did not return because he was sorry.  He came home because he way “dying from hunger.”  He did as anyone would when approaching an awkward situation, as you did when you broke curfew – he practiced a speech. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  I imagine him the whole way home, saying over and…

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Amos 8: 4-7

Amos was a native of the village of Tekoa located 6 miles south of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean wilderness. He made his living as a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. What is translated as sycamore is probably a type of mulberry that produced a type of fig-like fruit. They had to be punctured or pinched at exactly the right moment in its growth cycle so as to release the insects that infested it. Insect-free fruit would then grow to ripeness so that the poor, for whom the fruit provided some meager sustenance, could gather it up and be fed. Although Amos thought he was not suitable to be the prophet God called him to be, perhaps his job with these trees had actually prepared him well to pinch and puncture the greed and dishonesty that infested the hearts of some of the rich at that time. The greedy rich did not even like the Sabbath rest for it kept them from their unscrupulous business practices. These heartless and disreputable merchants actually sold the poor into lives of slavery because of their greed. Amos understood the lives of the poor; he spoke out vehemently with condemnation toward those whose greed continued to force the poor into more and more difficulties. We need to allow Amos’ words to pinch and puncture us so we too are open to God’s ways of love and truth, not selfish greed. God still hears the cry of the poor; he is not fooled by superficial piety. (Celebration, Sept. 2001 and Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept. 1998)

There is a sense that nothing is hidden from the Lord.  All of our actions are noticed and have meaning.  Sometimes we don’t even give thought to how our actions have impact on others, such as the food or clothing we buy from a company that doesn’t practice fair wages.  In what ways can you be more mindful of your actions?

2nd Reading — 1 Timothy 2: 1-8

As we said last week, most scholarship theorizes that this letter wasn’t actually written by Paul but a disciple of his.  Some in the community were succumbing to Gnosticism, and so the letter is countering that.  Gnosis is Greek for knowledge.  Gnostics thought they possessed special, mystical knowledge that they received because they were an elite group.  They believed all matter is evil, so our bodies are evil and our spirits must escape them.  In order to be liberated from our bodies, a spiritual messenger must come and awaken us from our sleep.  This messenger brings gnosis.  For Christian Gnostics, that messenger was Jesus.  But because they believed bodies were evil, they rejected the idea that Christ had a body like ours  (appeared to be human but not).  So there were theories about Jesus’ birth, incarnation and resurrection that threatened Christian doctrine  (Gonzalez, JL, The Story of Christianity Vol I, pgs 58-61).  In this letter to Timothy, “Paul” writes how EVERYONE is to be saved, there is ONE mediator and he is a ransom for ALL.  What do you make of this in our world today?

The Gospel – Luke 16: 1-13

This whole section is tied together by the theme of wealth and the danger it poses for disciples. Luke is always very concerned about this problem.  Don’t you wonder why Jesus advises that we should make friends with dishonest wealth?

Jesus’ audience (and Luke’s) would have expected the steward to be jailed immediately.  When this didn’t happen in the parable, their imagination was captured.  The underdog seems to be getting the better of the person in power!  In actuality, the master is a man of mercy.  The steward knew that, since he wasn’t jailed, and decided to capitalize on that.  When he lowered the renters’ ransom notes (connect this ransom with the one in the previous reading!), the renters believed it was with the master’s approval and so he is a hero.  It would look bad if the master changed this.  The steward hoped that even if the master did not reinstate him, he would be welcomed and employed by others in the community.  The steward relies heavily on the fact that the master is generous and merciful.  God is the master, and we are God’s stewards.  We are completely dependent on God for life itself.  Only God can save  (Birmingham, M, Word and Worship, p. 481).

As disciples, we need prudent decisiveness. We must take our identity so seriously that it defines how we live. We are not going to live in this world forever. We or our profits are not the source and security of our lives; God is. We had better take his priorities seriously. We need to realize that all our choices in daily living are actually choices for eternal life. And, our Christian way of living – our Paschal Mystery living – isn’t simply a matter of surrendering to the self-sacrificing possibilities that come our way in the normal course of living. We must be clever and smart about searching out such opportunities to live Jesus’ proactive way of love. This passage in Luke’s gospel is really challenging us with the question: How smart  are you? We need to know who and what we are. We need to face our gifts and shortcomings honestly. It does not do ourselves or anyone else any good to live in fantasy. We need to face our abilities and the real situation with clarity. Such realism is an asset in many a crises. It enables us to come up with real solutions to the problems. It is only practical, real-life wisdom that brings true insight.  (Pheme Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, 165-171, & Living Liturgy, Cycle C, 2004)

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14

In this story we find Moses foreshadowing the role of Jesus as a mediator before God on our behalf. Jesus like Moses prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Here is a God who is willing to forgive even though his anger is great at the evil that has been done. And, of course, we believe that Jesus shows us the fullness of the real God – the visible image of the invisible God.  (Reginald Fuller, “ Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

This event is an example of how religions can confuse the voice of the people with the voice of God.  Any religion has the capacity to produce a “calf” to meet the needs of the people who are in opposition to the will of God.  In the Israelites’ case, all it resulted in was a compromise that threatened the integrity of their relationship with God  (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 472).  How often do we place our needs in the way of God’s will?  Maybe more often than we think.  Yet our God listens to us.  Moses intercedes for his people, and God hears.

Notice too how God tells Moses they are “your people”, like an angry mother telling a father what happened with the children while he was away at work.  Does the angry mother’s love ever diminish for her children?  She is there for them anyway and loves them completely, no matter what they do.  How much more God is.

2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 1: 12-17

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  What does this personally mean to you?

The Pauline authorship of this letter and the rest of the so-called pastoral letters (2 Timothy, Titus) have been disputed since the 19th century. The pseudonymous author for these letters wrote as if he were Paul and included valuable information about the apostle and his ministry. It is emphasizing that Saul-Paul was like the elder brother of the gospel story who had been desirous of punishing the ‘brothers’ he deemed to be unfaithful and heretical. By the glorious grace of the God he found in the Risen Christ, he recognized the error of his ways. He began knowing God in an entirely new way, a way that leads to new life, not judgment and death.  (Celebration, Sept. 2001)

How does this passage lead us into the parables of lost sheep, lost coin, lost son?

“There is something good in the worst of us and something bad in the best of us.” We may not be Paul, a former blasphemer and ‘thug’ – we may not be worshipping molten calves in a frenzy – but we can all be overwhelmingly grateful for the merciful love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Repentance is always the start of good news.  (Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

The Gospel – Luke 15: 1-32

Here is the whole chapter from Luke on the ‘lost and found’. It is sometimes called ‘the gospel within the gospel’ because it so profoundly shows us the essence of the good news we find in Christ Jesus.  What do find good in these parables? What do you find challenging?

From Living Liturgy, 2004:

This parable reveals the dying and rising of the paschal mystery at

work. The prodigal son is brought to repentance because he is in dire need; he is “dying from hunger.” There is nothing he does to deserve the father’s response except return. Yet, his decision to repent (turn from death) is met with warm welcoming love and feasting – at least from the father. For all of us, the invitation to repent is always there – to turn from dying-ways to new life and feasting.  What can bring us – and the elder son – to the feasting?

Notice also, that sin is ‘going away to a distant land’ – it is about losing who and where we are called to be. Repentance is about ‘coming back to our senses.’

Sin is an alienation from ourselves, like the son who no longer deserves to be called his father’s son.  Sin affects our relationships – with the father – and with others (the elder son). But in the father, we find a love that bridges the gap.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu :

In this culture fathers were greatly discouraged from distributing inheritance before their death. The younger son acts very shamefully by effectively wishing his father dead. The elder son is no better. He makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as the culture demanded. When he ‘comes back to himself’ and repents, the younger son is willing to become a servant and take the rejection and physical abuse that the village will heap on him for his shameful behavior. In this, he does show some measure of honor. But then the father acts totally out of cultural character. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him, giving him the best robe (which certainly would be the father’s), putting a ring on his finger (a sign of trust), and sandals on his feet (a sign of a free man not a slave). Killing the fatted calf means that the whole village will be invited to come and accept this son and celebrate. (This size calf could feed 100 people.) And then, what does the elder son do? Instead of honoring his father’s wishes, he publicly insults and humiliates his father. Yet, the father also goes out to him (another shameful thing for the father to do). The parable ends here with the father pleading with his son . . . what did the elder son do? What would you do?

For Heaven’s Sake

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

The second reading got my thinking of heaven and an interesting conversation I had with a friend.  She said that the idea of heaven was not that important to her on a day to day basis.  It was not her motivation for doing good or caring for others.  She did not do the good she does in order to get eternal life.  And I have to admit that is probably true for me and many of you.  We tend to do the right thing simply because it is right and doing things well just to get into heaven seems like cheating.  We are more likely to do something for goodness’ sake rather than for heaven’s sake.

I thought why this might be.  First off, when we do things as not motivated by heaven, we can act the same as non-believers.  We can be…

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Wisdom 9: 13-18b

From Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 465:  It was a popularly held belief that this book was written by Solomon, but scholarship maintains that it was written long after his reign by an anonymous writer.  The most we can ascertain is that the writer was a learned Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher.  He was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric and culture.  A burning issue of those times was how is it that the just suffer and the wicked prosper?  Skepticism and individualism were rampant.

Sound familiar?  It is so hard to discern God’s will for us.  There are no billboards.  We wrestle with what we think is right for us vs. what God may think is right for us.  We also wrestle when bad things happen, and we try to wrap our minds around how that can be.  In the end, the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom to us when we allow Spirit in.  Margaret Silf from Inner Compass (p. 92) says, “God’s will – his desire for me – and my own deepest desire (when I am really living true) are one and the same thing!”  Yet we are so burdened by our “earthen shelter”.  How does this reading speak to you in where you are in your life right now?

Some thoughts on discernment you may find helpful:  Spiritual consolation is any affective movement or state that draws us to God or that helps us to be less centered upon ourselves and to open out to others in generosity, service and love.  Spiritual desolation is just the opposite.  It is any affective movement that draws us away from God an things which have to do with God, and to lead us to be self-centered, closed in and unconcerned about God or other people.  The process of Discernment of Spirits is looking at and sifting our present and past experiences, taking note especially of event, people and situations that are associated with or evoke the moods and feelings of consolation and desolation.  The crucial issue in interpreting and evaluating our feelings in discernment is not so much where the movement or feeling is coming from nor even what exactly the felling is (joy, guilt, anger, etc) but rather the direction in which the feelings are leading – toward God and one another or away from God and one another.  (From Ears to See, Ears to Hear:  An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, David Lonsdale)

2nd Reading – Philemon 9b-10, 12-17

This is the only personal letter of Paul that has survived. Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, a Christian of Colossae. He had joined Paul in prison and under Paul’s influence Onesimus became Christian. Paul is sending him back as “no longer a slave but a brother.” Paul does not abolish slavery, it is true. That would have been impossible in the ancient world. But, rather,  Paul transforms the relationship between master and slave with faith in Christ Jesus.  (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )

In a way, Paul is asking Philemon to forego his legal rights, ownership and cultural understandings in favor of God’s way of wisdom and love. Right in the middle of this Sunday’s readings, this passage is a powerful example of what the 1st Reading is saying and what Jesus will be asking of us in the Gospel.

What understandings do you have to overcome in order truly be Jesus’ disciple?  Do you have a friend with whom you can share your heart like Paul and Onesimus?

The Gospel – Luke 14: 25-33

This gospel consists of a string of sayings on the cost of discipleship, followed by two parables to help illustrate what Jesus meant. “Hate’ is a very harsh word. Exaggeration was a common technique for preachers in Jesus’ day; in an oral culture one had to make important points with strength. The original Aramaic (Jesus’ language) might have meant simply to “love less than.” But no matter the translation, the meaning is clear: following Jesus means the surrender of the whole of one’s life. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )

How does this challenging gospel speak to you? Why not talk it over with Jesus?

Jesus speaks of preparing ourselves for following him.  We must let go of our attachments.  We must make the commitment.  We must move forward.  All of this is part of the discernment process too.  In making decisions in life, are you moving toward God or away from God?  Is this choice life-giving, even if it’s hard?  Are you willing to see it all the way through?  Does it help others?  Does it make you feel thankful, loving and open to serve?  God wants what is our deepest desire.  We are all called to be the most of who we are…what is that for you?

There is a poem on a wall in the children’s home started by Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  Mother Teresa will be canonized as a saint this Sunday.

Never Give Up!

            Discipleship is an unusual undertaking;

The better you become at it,

the more difficult and challenging it will be.

Be a disciple anyway; never give up!

The people you are called to serve may be unlikable,

ungrateful and unimpressed by your dedication.

Love and serve them anyway; never give up!

If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior                                 motives.

Do good anyway; never give up!

The good you do for Christ will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway; never give up!

Honesty, humility and simplicity may make you vulnerable.

Be honest, humble and simple anyway, never give up!

What you spend years building may seem

insignificant in the eyes of others.

Build anyway; never give up!

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway; never give up!

Give the world the best you have

and you may get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world your best anyway; never give up!

(From Celebration, September, 2001)

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes within the wisdom tradition:  use of speech, self-control, the value of work, etc.  Unlike Proverbs, it tends to group many sayings on the same topic close together.  The author identifies himself (Ben Sira) at the end of chapter 50, but luckily his grandson translated the original into Greek and wrote a preface which helps date the book to 190-175 BC.  It was thought that it was all in Greek but portions were found in Hebrew.  It is not a book accepted in the Jewish canon or the Protestant Bible (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 486-487).  Think about the passing on of wisdom and faith through the generations.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

Genuine humility has nothing to do with praising others or putting ourselves down. Humus means earth; humility means remembering that we are dust – yet dust that God has taken and breathed into it his very life. When we are humble we are filled with gratitude and are at peace in God’s presence. We can use our talents with great energy; but we do not have to be everything to everyone. Nor, do we have to be noticed, applauded, or extolled. Can you think of an example of when you have had to “eat humble pie”?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24

This reading is highlighting the contrast between the law (Mount Sinai) and the salvation we find in Christ (Mount Zion).  What sense do you make of this reading?

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

Some see God as unapproachable as the highest mountain, or an all-consuming fire, or an abyss of impenetrable darkness, or a booming, terrifying voice. But the God we find in Christ is a loving parent, a merciful judge. His mountain is full of life and light and festivity. Come! We will be made whole.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

These two images of God battle for our attention. Is our God fearful, powerful, brooding, and potentially wrathful?   Or, is God approachable, beautiful, and delightful? Do you feel like plugging your ears and closing your eyes before God due to fear? Or, do you find yourself joining in a song of joy and peace in God’s presence? Moses once stood in the presence of God; his face shone with a brilliant light. Yet, the rest of the community nearly died of fright. What we see and experience in the presence of God may have more to do with us than with God. If we are open and trusting in the divine presence, we may be surprised by the joy we find. But if we are closed by fear and self-defensive, self-righteous attitudes, we may find trouble.

The Gospel – Luke 14: 1, 7-14

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

Jesus is not offering some lesson in courtly etiquette. He is talking about the real problem of ego-enhancement – self-promotion. Both the guests and host – and us? – have this problem. Elite house parties, in Jesus’ time or in our own, are honored by the best and brightest who attend. But besides this, Jesus is also speaking to people who want to ‘test’ him – even trap him. He is talking to them in the only language they understand, the logic of self-enhancement. He wants them to see that even on their own terms their tactics are self-defeating.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

In Jesus’ times, meals were very powerful means of communication. They affirmed a person’s role and status in a given community. Luke tells us that Jesus is invited by a leading Pharisee – but also that he is watched closely by the host and his guests. The word that is used for watching implies a very hostile observation. Their apparently honorable invitation may not have been quite so honorable. Jesus responds to this hostility with a story, a parable. Jesus is using their logic to turn their world upside down. Accepting an invitation to dinner came with obligation. Reciprocity was expected. Jesus’ advice to his host was shocking, and perhaps quite insulting and rude.

(A guest was never to tell a host how to be a host!) But Jesus wants to shock them and us into realizing that only God can confer ‘true’ honor. In Jesus we find a God who will personally reward the host who has been gracious to those unable to return such graciousness. Pharisees believed in Resurrection. Having set a trap for Jesus, they find themselves trapped — and their world rather topsy-turvy.

From Joan Chittister’s, Illuminated Life (p. 56):  “I am not everything I could be.  I am not even the fullness of myself, let alone a pinnacle for which my family, my friends, my world, the universe should strive.  I am only me.  I am weak often, struggling always, arrogant sometimes, hiding from myself most of the time, and always in some kind of need.  I cover my limitations with flourish, of course, but down deep, where the soul is forced to confront itself, I know who I really am and what, on the other hand, however fine the image, I really am not.  Then the Rule of Benedict says, we are ready for union with God.”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading:  Isaiah 66:18-21

From The Word into Life, p. 96:  This first reading is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah called Third Isaiah  (chapters 56-66), which was composed by an unknown prophet  (or prophets) around 500BC (and possibly later).  It proclaims a message of exceptional universalism – the God of Israel loves everyone.  First the Gentiles will actually serve as Yahweh’s missionaries; they’ll proclaim Yahweh’s glory in remote regions of Spain, Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor.  In the process, “they shall bring all your kindred from all the nations” – those exiled Israelites who have lost hope and those who have forgotten their God – “to my holy mountain.”  And some will be called to enter the elite ranks of the priests and to become Levites, or assistants, to the priests.  This is indeed a world without prejudice or bias.  In what ways do you experience a feeling of unity, of being one with others, in your family, in your work place, in your neighborhoods, in the Church?

2nd Reading;  Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

From Word & Worship, p. 454-455:  The discipline spoken of in the text probably referred to prejudices and persecution experienced at the hands of their friends and non-Christian neighbors.  Imagine what that must have been like…being teased for your faith, or worse…feeling like an outsider in your own hometown.  Even today, as Catholics, we worry about the fate of our Church and why there are dwindling numbers.  Wherever and whenever the church suffers in any way, whether that is through serious persecution, dwindling numbers, or apathy, we are to view it as discipline.  We are disciplined as a church.  This discipline is a sign of God’s love of the church.  One cannot help but recall St. Theresa’s complaint:  “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”).  What obstacles do you find in practicing your faith?  How are these obstacles like discipline?

The theology of Hebrews asserts that suffering is to be seen as necessary for growth, not punishment for wrongdoing.   Consider exercising, or writing a paper.  It is hard work, but good work!  Harold Kushner in When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, “Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us.  They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly.  But we can give them a meaning.  The question we should be asking is not, ‘Why did this happen to me?  What did I do to deserve this?’ That is really an unanswerable, pointless question.  A better question would be, ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?’ ( p. 136).

Gospel:  Luke 13:22-30

From Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 188-189.  “Keep on striving to enter…”  the word striving is the root word for the English word agony.  We must never be complacent; our struggle to follow Jesus is part of an intense encounter.  There is no finality for the Christian; no resting on one’s self-righteous laurels.  A Christian way is like climbing up a mountain towards a peak which will never be reached in this world…

We cannot live on borrowed goodness – or on who we know, not even if it is ‘rubbing elbows with Jesus.’  Jesus does not want casual acquaintances; he wants disciples.  Think about your own friends and how some are closer than others.  Sometimes it is hard when you want to be closer to someone than you are, but maybe the other doesn’t want that.  Or even people you may always just say hi to but you still don’t remember what their names are!  Jesus wants us to strive to be closer than close to him.  He always knows our name and knows us intimately.  We must respond to his offer.

From St. Anselm, “Thoughts from the Early Church, “ http://liturgy.slu.edu:  The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us – but he will not give it to anyone who lacks love.  Love is the only thing asked for – without it he cannot give it.  Love God and other people as you should and then you will deserve what you desire.  But you cannot have this love unless you empty your heart of other loves:  riches, power, pleasure, honor, and praise.  Hate locks doors; only love can open them…

From Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 215:  “Jesus doesn’t seem to have much patience with the question [of who will be saved]…it’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Just aim for the narrow gate.  Assume that you’re all outsiders and try the best that you can.  Don’t try to assess who is in and who is out.  Don’t even waste your time on all that because you’re not going to be able to figure it out.  The last will be first and the first will be last.’  What if we really led our lives in this manner?  What if we met each person and had no preconceived notions about who they were, but listened to their stories and understood their human messiness?  What if we had a bit of humility and assumed the position of outcasts who are just trying the best that we can?…if we set aside all of the ways in which we determine who is in and who is out, if we begin to relate to one another as mysteries…we would have a very different sort of faith.”