Commentary on 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19

The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written.  It makes use of the philosophical arguments found in Philo of Alexandria, Egypt in the first century BC, and employs many Greek oratorical devices of the same period.  Chapter 12 in particular is a long review of the history of Israel up to the exodus as evidence of God’s mercy on Israel, (Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, p. 488).

According to LR Farnell, The Attributes of God p. 174:  Plato’s theory of human punishment had the intention of reformation and remediation only.  In Homer’s Odyssey (1, 31), the gods send no evil to men either in this life or in the next; however, the purpose of punishment is retributive and deterrent.  For the Greeks, justice was the retribution that countered wrongdoing.  Thus, justice and revenge are not very different.  Applying this to the text, words like “condemned”, “might”, “mastery”, “judge” make more sense.  But the author also describes a God of leniency, caring, kind and full of hope.  What do you make of “repentence for their sins”?

“History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss.  There is always a way that leads out of guilt:  repentence, turning to God.  The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay.  Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day,”  A. Heschel’s The Prophets, p. 185.  How can this help us now?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 26-27

From R Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu./16OrdA071711/theword_indepth.html :  The inward groaning of those who possess the first fruits of the Spirit is assisted by the Spirit, who intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words” (v. 26; the word for “sighs” is akin to “groanings”). Herein lies the clue to Paul’s meaning. It is not that the speech of the Holy Spirit is in itself encompassed with infirmity and therefore itself groans or sighs in an unintelligible fashion (in glossolalia, for instance); rather, Paul’s thought is that the Spirit condescends to take up our infirm prayers and to bear them up to God and to present them before God in the form of intelligible speech. Here the Spirit acts as a Paraclete or Advocate, as in the Fourth Gospel, although Paul does not actually use the word.

From J. Finley’s podcast, “Turning to the Mystics:  Theresa of Avila, Session 1”:  It’s a sacrament that God sees you, that you’re God’s beloved, that God sees in you the God-given, Godly preciousness of you in which the very depths of God by the generosity of  God has been given to you as the very depths and reality of the mystery of your own soul in the presence of God.  God sees that.”  This is a mouthful, but it relates to this important passage on prayer.  God-within-us can pray the prayers of our deepest desires for us to the God-outside-of-us, because God knows us so well and loves us so.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 24-43

  1. HISTORICAL: The weeds, or tares, were known as bearded darnel.  When it is sprouting, it looks very much like wheat.  It does not look different until it is at a more advanced stage.  At that point, it is too late to pull it out because the roots have intertwined with each other.  A grain of darnel was slightly poisonous, caused dizziness and sickness and was bitter in taste.  Because of all the problems with the darnel, it was against Roman law to sow it with wheat, (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 72-74).  The landowner knows the wheat will tolerate the weeds and so he is willing to be patient; but this is not to be underestimated.  Everyone would be able to see that he had weeds in his field.  What shame!  BUT, the landowner would have the last laugh.  Not only would the wheat still be collected, but also the weeds would be burned as fuel.  In a sense, the weeds would be put to good use too.  There is no retaliation toward the enemy in this story.  There is only satisfaction in the goodness that resulted from the situation (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 113).
  2. LITERARY: There is an irony in this story that makes the listener pay closer attention.  It is unexpected that the landowner would allow the weeds.
  3. AESTHETICALLY
    • There will always be weeds. Evil exists and so we must stay alert.
    • It is hard to know who the weeds are and who the wheat is. It is easy for us to judge first and ask questions later.
    • God judges people on their whole life, not an individual act. Leave the judging to God.
    • Judgment will come for all of us in the end.
    • Let God be God, (Barclay, p. 73-75).

On this earth, there is good and evil.  Both are present among all people and within all people.  Wheat and weeds grow together.  There is a sense of hope in this.  Richard Rohr says, “If we have to eliminate the weeds before we can love the field, you know what?  You’ll never love anything!”  Although we have sin, all are welcome to be part of the kingdom that is God.  It is not a select group of ideal people that are called.  It Is up to us to see God’s grace in our lives and know God means for us to choose the good.  Just like the landowner, we must be patient with each other and ourselves.

How does the mustard seed and the yeast or leaven speak to you of God’s kingdom and power?

Wonderful and Awful by Kris Rooney

Woodcock Preserve, Clifton Park

Have you thought about how these states of being can exist at the same time, wonderful and awful?  They seem like they should be at odds with each other, but so often they happen at the same time.  Here’s what I mean.

Corona-mania is awful.  There has been so much death, so much change, so much fear and for so long.  Awfulness.  There have also been new ways of being (live-streaming Mass), time for reflection (while doing puzzles:  who knew?), and wonderful discoveries that may not have been found otherwise.

You may have heard by now that the previous pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, Fr. Alan Jupin, has been added to the List of Offenders.  Awfulness.*  Yet, I have heard from others and experienced myself good moments with him, like the baptism of my son Nolan.  Terrible awfulness that sits with a wonderfulness.

My son Matthew was born too soon and died 3 minutes after life.  He would have been 21 this year, so my husband and I went to his grave to share a drink with him.  Awful.  Yet in his 3 minutes of life he blinked at me.  I felt God in that moment of wonder, and it brought me to ministry today.

I could keep going but you get the point.  I’m sure you can reflect on your life and find the wonderful and the awful (and please do take that time).  It is a deeply-rooted teaching from Jesus that it will never be all roses and sunshine.  It is the path of discipleship.  There will always be a dying with the rising.  It’s what life is.  But what do we do with that?

Fr. Richard Rohr says that, “…it is a holding of a real tension, and not necessarily a balancing act, a closure, or any full resolution.  It is an agreeing to live without resolution, at least for a while.”  He goes on to say it is the very name and description of faith.  We must, “open up (faith), hold on (hope), and allow an infilling from another source (love),”  (The Naked Now, p. 107).

I interpret that as just continuing to breathe, knowing God is here.  How else do we get through the awful except through the wonderfulness of God?  Even if you can’t see the wonderful yet because of all the awful – and I know this is where many parishioners are right now – please trust and know that grace is there for you.  For all of us.

Listen for it in the 2nd reading this Sunday by St. Paul to the Romans:  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (8:23).

So we groan with all creation.  But we also wait (in hope!) for the wonder of good that God so wants us to see and feel and know in our hearts.  Wonderful and awful.  We can do this.

*Note:  Father Bob and I will be available this Monday and Tuesday 5-6pm in the Rosa Road Church to meet (socially but not compassionately distant) with anyone who wants a listening ear.

Commentary on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In the biblical world rain was precious. The total rainfall averaged 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?  How important is your word?  How does God work through our words? 

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

“Eager expectation” is from the word apokaradokia, meaning the attitude of a person who scans the horizon with head thrust forward, searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn break of glory.  The Christian does not see only the world; s/he looks beyond it to God.  The Christian waits, not for death, but for life (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 110-111).

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)

“We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh.  While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures.”  Wendell Barry

  1. HISTORICAL:  Consider other scripture passages and compare:  Isaiah 55:  10-11, 1 Corinthians 3:  6-9, Sirach 6:  18-21.  In Palestine, the field is unplowed, people have trod a path or paths through it, here and there rocky ground or limestone rises through, and thorns and stubble have been growing out of it.  The farmer broadcasts the seed atop the earth before he plows it under.  Planting proceeds plowing.  That’s why seed sprays on pathways, rocky ground, among thorns and on good earth, (Fichtner, Many Things in Parables, p. 15)  Considering the audience of this story, these early Christians were a persecuted people.  The oppression they experience and the cares of the world are not to be allowed to dampen their faith, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 81).
  2. LITERARY:  This is more an allegory than a parable, since it has more than one point of comparison, (Fichtner, p. 15).
  3. AESTHETICALLY:  There will be severe problems:  frustrated starts, failures, smothering opposition and trials galore.  Yet, despite all the obstacles met in sowing the seed on various kinds of soil, the farmer’s work will succeed,”  (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 88).  The emphasis on our response to that seems to be the point of the parable.  It is the SEED that has to deal with what it is given, not the sower.  Consider this quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”  What kind of seed are you?  Perhaps circumstances have changed you as a seed over time?  What are other influences in your seed life?  Do the various soils bring other examples of people (seeds) to mind?

Commentary on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Zechariah 9:9-10

Thus says the LORD:  Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

This reading is often associated with Palm Sunday. What meaning does it have for you during this time of summer?

From M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 442:  Scholars tell us that this book was probably written over a period of a few centuries by at least two authors. Chapters 1-8 were most likely written following the Babylonian exile. This section is a word of hope and reassurance to the returning exiles. Chapters 9 to 14 were perhaps written by disciples of Zechariah and possibly composed during the time of Alexander the Great. Persian rule was replaced by Greek domination. People were tired of foreign control. Hopes for a messiah had all but vanished. This writer took it upon himself to try to restore this lost vision.

Also the word ‘meek’ comes from the Greek and means ‘not easily provoked’. The Greeks understood meekness to be a balance between extreme anger and the total absence of anger. A meek person is in full control, not acting out of weakness, but out of controlled power. It is a power that is receptive to knowledge and to God. Those who are arrogant are incapable of learning.  Discipleship requires this virtue.  What does this mean to you?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 9, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:  You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The word sarx, “flesh,” does not indicate the same reality as soma, “body.” Soma is far more integrative and unifying than sarx. But the human body (person), soma, can be jailed in the prison of mere flesh if it is without the liberty of the spirit. Sarx is the debased, sin-ruled body; it is earth-bound human existence left to itself. It is thus dominated by the ‘natural’ drive for self-maintenance and enhancement, even at the expense of others. Paul’s psychology is fully enhanced by his belief in the Spirit of Jesus. Read all of Chapter 8 and rejoice that the Spirit makes us adopted children of God and that all creation is in birthing pangs of love and eager expectation. Nothing then can separate us from the eternal love of God we find in Christ Jesus. With Spirit, sarx becomes the soma, a body inspirited temple – it can sing of love, play in joy, console with gentle compassion, touch with kindness. With the Spirit our very bodies can be revelatory of God. (John Kavanaugh, http://liturgy.slu.edu./14OrdA070311/theword_embodied.html ).

In other words:

For Paul the words ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ did not designate two distinct aspects of human nature, but two ways of living. Flesh is turned in on self; self becomes the center of all wants, decisions, and values. To live according to the Spirit is to live free from this bondage to self and sin. Paul’s life is an example of one who lives by the Spirit as an adopted child of God, living with joy, commitment, and love. Rather than self-centered, Paul becomes Christ-centered, even anticipating eternity in the here and now. Thus, he could face even death with joy and peace.             (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

“Holiness rests in becoming persons conformed to the image of God in us, being toward and for another, for others, and for God…authentic Christian holiness is realized by living in communion as Christ’s Body through the Spirit amidst the vicissitudes and interruptions of life in a highly complex and fragmented world,”  Michael Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 106-107.

The Gospel – Matthew 11: 25-30

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The yoke that Jesus imposes is one he wears himself. In Jesus’ day, a yoke was a common wooden device that paired two oxen and made them a team. The ever-approachable Jesus invites us to become his ‘yoke-mate’ — and with him and in him, to find our burdens lessened and our sorrows shared. The One who called us into being wants to shoulder our troubles as his own. (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

From John Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 106:  Jesus reminds us that his Father is like a Mediterranean patron, a godfather.  This is the meaning behind the title, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” which tells us that Jesus’ Father is truly in charge of human existence, of all creation.  Jesus is his broker, who mediates between the patron and the clients.  As everyone in the Mediterranean world knows, a patron is someone who freely selects clients and then decides to treat the clients “as if” they were family…What is peculiar about this patron?  Who are his “favorites”?  The simple or powerless people, those unable to do or obtain anything for themselves.

Jesus teaches and demonstrates a way of life, a yoke, that differs markedly from the one other Judean leaders taught.  He promises a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.  The peasants found this enormously appealing.  Peasants always had a yoke.  Their lives as tenant farmers were governed by the wills and whims of the landowners.  Religious leaders grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the Temple instead of redistributing to the needy, (p. 107-108).  Jesus offers a whole new way.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: 2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16a

The hospitality shown to the prophet guest by the Shunammite woman is rewarded with the birth of a much desired child.  In the complete story, Elisha assures her of a son, is later summoned by the woman when her son dies, and finally restores him to life.  The prophetic promise of a child is divinely affirmed recognition of a woman’s thoughtful hospitality  (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 443-444).  When has your hospitality brought about fruits of the Spirit that surprised you?  

2nd Reading: Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11

We must remember that baptism in Paul’s time was different from what it commonly is today.  It was adult baptism; a person came to Christ as an individual in the early Church, often leaving family behind.  Baptism was also intimately connected with confession of faith.  The person to be baptized was often direct from paganism.  So it was a tearing away from the roots and a complete starting over.  Baptism happened through full immersion, so the symbolism was clear that there was a dying of self and a rising to new life.

But there is more than a mere ethical change in a person’s life when accepting Christ.  There is a real identification with Christ.  We are IN CHRIST.  We cannot live our physical life unless we are in the air and the air is in us; unless we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, we cannot live the life of God, (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 85-86).  This is powerful stuff!  Can you identify with this?

The Gospel: Matthew 10: 37-42

From Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, 188-189:  Jesus’ words — “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (10:39) – are a succinct statement of the Paschal Mystery. The heart of this mystery is dying and rising. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us concretely the cost and fruits of self-sacrifice. Our own daily living can sometimes seem to have much more dying than rising  (especially in a pandemic!).  Even when we obviously do not choose suffering consciously, just the demands of our lives pull it out of us: feeding the infant in the middle of the night, ferrying kids to school and activities, helping with homework, dealing with our own health issues, visiting the sick, caring for our elderly, taking time to share our energy and our gifts with our family, friends, and the needy.  One thing to notice about this gospel is that many of the ‘offerings’ – a cup of water to little ones’ – are small and seemingly unimportant. But our generosity is far surpassed by God’s generosity. The crosses and difficulties that we face are more than equaled by God’s generous blessings. With God, our ‘dyings’ can lead to abundant life.  What do you think?

On families: Jesus did not set out to destroy families. However, as a person’s priorities, commitments, and decisions became ‘converted’ to Jesus it often did put a strain on family ties. This problem was very evident for Matthew’s community as they began to separate from their Jewish roots in order to remain faithful to the message of Jesus. When Christians were expelled from the synagogue, they found themselves a part of an illegal religion. They were then subject to persecution. Picking up their cross to follow Jesus was very real for them.  Isn’t it always hard to realize that the lion and the lamb do not come to the feast at the same table too quickly or too willingly? The decision to follow Jesus was often a sword of decision that brought division and suffering despite the peace and love of a new family of God.  (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, 435-438; John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, 104)  Is this personal for you too?

This is Matthew’s first mention of the cross, and in a context of discipleship.  The cross was an infamous form of Roman torture; its application to the life of the disciple is figurative.  But Jesus’ literal cross-bearing and that of his followers are linked by the common spirit of dedication to God’s will.  To seek one’s own good (life) in escaping the cross leads to doom (life lost).  To set aside one’s interests (life) for the cause of Christ is gain (life found),  (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 446).

Something for your own meditation…how do people receive Christ through you?  And what about now in this time of social distancing?  We are put off by the masks at times, but they are a sign of our love.  Our masks don’t protect ourselves but others.

Commentary on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 10-13

The “Confession of Jeremiah” reflects the interior dialogue of a prophet who gave his life as an authentic witness to God.  Jeremiah suffered at the hands of his own colleagues.  He was in great turmoil because he believed God ill-equipped him for his mission.  He felt inadequate – that he was not up to the impossible task at hand.  He felt duped and angry.  Yet he knew that God had called him to the prophetic life.  He was confident that the Lord remains faithful to those who are faithful to him.  We are all invited into Jeremiah’s trusting hymn of grateful praise   (Birmingham, W&W for Yr A, p. 429).

Jeremiah turns to God in prayer when he is overwhelmed and full of emotion, as most prophets do.  Margaret Guenther in The Practice of Prayer says, “I enjoy listening to prophets when they say what I like to hear (that is, when their target is someone other than me), but I prefer to tune them out when they threaten my comfort.  Prophets can expect to be unpopular, to be opposed and even killed if they persist in their candor,”  (p. 36).  Consider the “Black Lives Matter” movement or Greta Thunberg and her environmental activism…modern day prophets?

Who are our persecutors?  Does God give us strength in times of struggle?  How do you feel the Lord with you?  What helps us persist in trusting the Lord?

2nd Reading: Romans 5: 12-15

When trying to understand Paul here, it is important to understand the Jewish notion of “corporate personality” – sort of like our modern idea of an ecosystem in which everything in that system is mutually interdependent. Paul is talking about the social effects of evil – death coming to all of us as we have sinned “in Adam.”  This does not mean that Adam introduced into human life a hereditary trait that is henceforth transmitted biologically. It is more that we have all sinned in Adam because we have all sinned like Adam. Adam is that insecure, false, needy self that we are all like without Christ.

Death is also not to be seen in some crude mechanical way as a punishment for sin. The awful death that Paul is talking about is separation from God; such separation is sin, a turning away from the very source of life.  Physical death is a biological inevitability in an imperfect world – but it is also the final revelation of our utter aloneness before the forces of life and death. Without Christ, we are hopeless.  But Paul is reassuring us that God’s grace is much greater than our sin, our separation. With faith in Christ, we can overcome the chasm . . .

From Celebration, June, 2002 and R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu.

Sin can come in through a very small door – a moment of vanity, a selfish choice, an avoidance of compassion. It doesn’t take much energy. Sin can seem so easy; the failure to love can be ‘second nature’ to us – but it is our ‘false nature.’ Our first nature is to love and be loved. We can become insensitive, insecure, walking around in a fog of self-centeredness. But Jesus offers us another way – another door – a door wide enough to bring in love and life. Sin may give us many excuses to say no, but love makes us yearn to say yes. (Exploring the Sunday Readings,  June, 1999)

The Gospel: Matthew 10: 26-33

In Matthew 10: 16, Jesus says, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” Jesus knew that the way of discipleship is and was a very countercultural way of life. Yet, in today’s passage he also assures us of God’s loving concern with every aspect of our being – even the hairs on our heads. The problem may be with us. We hold records of everything that can and does go wrong with our frail mortality. We cling to our insecurity and worry, instead of living fully a life of faith and hope. But when we begin to speak the truth of God’s love, its certainty grows in us. When we act on this truth, we are brought into Christ’s marvelous light.

(Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), a professor at the Union Theological Union in New York once wrote:  “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable; and most of all, fear put hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”           (Celebration, June, 2002)

Sparrows are what bird-watchers call ‘junk birds’ – birds so plentiful that them seem uninteresting, unworthy of much attention. But Jesus assures us that God cares for such things – and even cares for us unworthy humans. Jesus urges us to trust that God is highly invested in us. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 2008)

Commentary on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle A

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16

Consider your own journeying with God…how has God been present with you, especially in difficulty?  How have you been fed?  What do you think of the words “let you be afflicted”?  Do you sometimes forget where God works in your life?  

From https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/spiritual-reflections/whats-manna:

“According to the Bible, around 1200 B.C., God began enabling dependency. In one 40-year episode, God sent a substance called manna to a people wandering in the desert. Had God let them be self-sufficient, they might have found their own food, or eaten less, or just gone back home and gotten jobs. Well, maybe not back to Egypt exactly, but somewhere they could find employment. On the other hand, self-sufficiency may not have been what God was after.

Manna had a strange effect on the wandering people. It helped organize them. They had to figure out a way to collect and distribute and consume this daily edible event, and do so before the day’s end, for the manna would not last overnight. The next day the same process would begin all over again.

So manna fed the people not just physically but socially and economically, too. And, of course, the experience day after day of this good gift, beyond anything deserved, hoped for or imagined; this experience of being loved and cared for — it formed them, too. It meant they didn’t have to be self-sufficient any more.

Years later, Moses told his people, as they sat on the stony ground at the border of the Promised Land, to consider self-sufficiency. “Remember how for 40 years,” he said, “the Lord, our God, directed all your journeying in the desert.”

The form of the word translated in this passage as “your” is not individual but communal. It may have taken 40 years, but a community now existed, with all its riches and limits, its brokenness and grandeur, its need for rules and rituals. Where there used to be a gathering of individuals, there was now a community, a people with the capacity for the Promised Land.”

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17

Living Liturgy, Year A, states: “It is a misunderstanding to conceive of Communion as a privatized moment between ‘Jesus and me.’ Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ compels communion with one another.” (2002, p. 161)  What do you see in this reading to confirm this statement?

Look around you (SOON!) at communion time and pray for all of those you are one with: the older one with a walker, the young dude in a leather jacket, the one whose nose is pierced, the elderly gentle grandfather, the young mother in need of sleep, the one with strangely colored hair, the carpenter with calloused hands and splintered nails. Communion means more than accepting the host in our hands. It means accepting our relationship with, even our responsibility toward, all those people. Each of us in the communion line will hear the words, “Body of Christ,” and each of us needs to confirm being a part of that Body with an “Amen” – “So be it.”   (“Exploring the Sunday Readings,” June, 1999, Cycle A)

Continuing with https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/spiritual-reflections/whats-manna:

“We are participants in Christ, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. We have merged; we ourselves have been transubstantiated. And part of the process is that eating from the one loaf makes us one body. We don’t have to be self-sufficient anymore. Unlike the people who see themselves, first and foremost, as self-sufficient individuals, we who share this bread see ourselves, first and foremost, as a community caring for one another. It is precisely that connectedness that allows the human self to be as sufficient as possible. Outside of that connectedness, the drive toward self-sufficiency is merely a form of brokenness. It denies community and in so doing destroys part of what makes us human.”

The Gospel — John 6: 51-58

The Lord’s supper is:

1) a memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a covenant sacrifice

2) a continuation of Jesus’ earthly and post-resurrection meals in which the messianic banquet is anticipated

3) a ritual extension of Jesus’ Incarnation.

The bread and wine become the living body and blood of Christ in those who receive him into their lives. John’s gospel is emphasizing this idea. Through this Living Bread, Christ’s ongoing presence and life continue in the community – in the world.

“If Baptism gives us that life which the Father shares with the Son, then the Eucharist is food nourishing it.” Jesus promises to dwell within the hearts of believers – to abide within them. A mutual indwelling happens between Jesus and his disciples. This incredible act of intimacy (INTO-ME-SEE) with Jesus opens the door to life – eternal life. Flesh (sarx) is that which of itself leads to death. In Jesus this flesh, sarx, is transformed, redeemed, set free from natural destruction by the Spirit of Jesus. (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Year A, p.607)

Life is the most precious thing we have. To share one’s life, then, is to share with another our deepest “I am.” This is how we remain in each other – through self-giving and, yes, participating in the common Meal. Jesus’ gift of life to us through our participation in his Body and Blood is not simply for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others. To receive this gift of life is to be compelled to give this gift to others. Giving of one’s life-force, one’s blood, is not so beyond our own human experience either. Every time a mother gives birth, she sheds her blood. Family members readily give blood for the transfusion of a loved one. Our public blood banks are testimony to the generous giving of blood by strangers to strangers. Heroes sometimes shed their blood trying to help or protect another. Living Liturgy, 2002, p. 161

From St. Irenaeus on the sacraments, written 220AD:

“For as the bread, which comes from the earth, receives the invocation of God, and then it is no longer common bread but Eucharist, consists of 2 things, an earthly and a heavenly; so our bodies, after partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the eternal resurrection.”

And Tertullian, another ancient theologian:

“The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ that the soul may be fattened on God.”

And St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

“And while the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands, and sanctify your eyes and forehead and the rest of your organs of sense.  Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks to God who has counted you worthy of admission to those great mysteries.”

From The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, Eugene LaVerdiere:

“For John, the event is viewed primarily from the point of view of Christ’s personal presence, sustaining, challenging, nourishing, and uniting the Church on its journey to the Father…(p. 113)  It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus is glorified, that the Father is present in him and that he reveals the Father.  It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus dies, rose again, is exalted, and is now present to us in sacrament (p. 117).”

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, p. 34-35; 80-97:

The word, “Eucharist” means literally “act of thanksgiving.” To celebrate Eucharist and to live a Eucharistic life has everything to do with gratitude. Living Eucharistically is living life as a gift . . . The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately connected with its fragility and mortality.

In Eucharist we take the ‘bread and the wine’ of our lives and discover the ‘flesh and the blood’ of the Risen One: we take, bless, break and give; Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. Jesus is the fullness of the God who from the beginning of time has desired to enter into communion with us. Communion is what God wants and what we want, need. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart . . . and communion creates community. The God-in-us is now able to see the God-in-others. We begin to glimpse the ongoing incarnation of God – and we participate with gratitude and joy. 

Closing Prayer taken from the Sequence  (shorter form):

Lo! the angel’s food is given to the pilgrim who has striven; see the children’s bread from heaven, which on dogs may not be spent.

Truth the ancient types fulfilling, Isaac bound, a victim willing, Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling, manna to the fathers sent.

Very bread, good shepherd, tend us, Jesu, of your love befriend us, you refresh us, you defend us, your eternal goodness send us In the land of life to see.

You who all things can and know, who on earth such food bestow, grant us with your saints, though lowest, where the heav’nly feast you show, fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Commentary on Trinity Sunday, Cycle A

1st Reading – Exodus 34: 4b-6, 8-9

This reading takes place after the infamous actions concerning the molten calf (Exodus 32). You will recall that when Moses went up to Sinai to commune with God of behalf of the people, the people, under Aaron’s leadership, fashioned a molten calf and declared, “This is your God, O Israel . . .” Then Aaron declared the day a feast of the Lord and the people offered holocausts and peace offerings . . . 

The calf was intended to be an image of the true God, not a false god, but, of course, they had been forbidden to represent God in any visible form (Exodus 20:4), This had been a part of their covenant agreement with God. However – although this ‘golden calf’ had broken the covenant – both Moses and the people were soon to learn that despite their sinfulness and lack of understanding, the God who willed to be their Creator, Liberator and Lover would not be other than “merciful and gracious:” This is the God we celebrate today!             (Celebration, May, 2002)

In his revealing of God’s self to humans, God’s intended goal is relationship. The Bible with all its stories tells us of God who meets human infidelity with divine fidelity, human sin with divine mercy and forgiveness, human greed and ingratitude with divine graciousness, and human rebelliousness with divine kindness and patience.  In Jesus, God ‘passed by’ becoming involved deeply and completely within a human life. Now finally and completely, we can ‘see’ what this God’s fidelity, mercy, and kindness really look like: a life lived in truth and love, dying on a cross, but raised up forever in a glory that will never die. (Celebration, May30, 1999)

Why do you think we have this reading on Trinity Sunday?  What do you make of the relationship Moses has with God?  How are we received as God’s own?  

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

This is the ending of this letter of Paul’s, written about the year 55 AD. What do you find most meaningful here?

Here we see that when we come to know and believe in the Living God that Jesus shows us, we also come to find companions and friends in each other.   This ‘closing prayer and blessing’ does not focus on the relationships within God – but rather on how this living God gifts us with peace, love, grace, and fellowship. It is not so much a ‘mind theology’ as a living theology of the mystery we find as we come to know Jesus and the God he reveals. Mystery is not a puzzle to be solved; it is a glimpse of the deepest reality to be experienced – and yet, it is also beyond our experiences. Eternal life begins here as we come to love and trust that at the very center of the mystery of life is this ‘Wonder of God’ that we will go on experiencing and enjoying for all eternity. (Celebration, May, 2002; “Trinity”, Catholic Update, #0788)

Paul assures us that if we live in peace, the God of peace will live with us. To ‘live in peace’ means to harbor no jealousy, superiority or prejudice. In place of these, we are to foster respect, a tolerance of differences, and a willingness to listen more than a striving to be heard. Peace is never just about putting down our weapons. It’s about taking up our plowshares to help create a harvest of justice together.   (Exploring the Sunday Readings, June 2011)

Gospel: John 3: 16-18

As we read this lovely and loving passage, we need to remember that as Christians we are called to be children of this loving God. We are called to be a part of God’s family. Church is to be a network of grace-filled relationships in Jesus. This is a great and terrible gift. Christian love is not fun and games. It is, as was said of Dorothy Day, often “harsh and dreadful love.” It must go on as God goes on – in the face of rejection, hate, misunderstanding, and, perhaps, worst of all, mere ignoring. Sometimes feelings overflow, and the Spirit pours forth like a Niagara. But sometimes it seems that “the Spirit has not yet been given” and the Father is silent (even though present within our hearts) and Jesus has disappeared (though visible in many of his followers). Indeed there are times when the Spirit breathes within us, but it is a very quiet breathing. Whether our love is expressed with exuberance or a quiet, plodding fidelity, it is a sharing in the very life of our wonderful God. (Catholic Update, #0788, “The Trinity: the Mystery at the Heart of Life”)

Gregory of Nazianzus said that Trinity is like Light and Light and Light: turn on one light in a darkness and you will notice the one light. Turn on a second light and you may tell the two light sources. But turn on a third light and pretty soon you can’t separate one patch of brightness from another. Light and light and light! But remember it is not about understanding Trinity; it is about coming into the Light and experiencing its goodness, its brightness, its value. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, May, 2005; Celebration, May 2002)

Some thoughts from The Divine Dance, by Richard Rohr:

(p. 42)  “…the principle of one is lonely; the principle of two is oppositional and moves you toward preference; the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.”

(p. 100)”Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts.  Logic has nothing to do with it.  Truth has nothing to do with it:  ‘Don’t bother me with the truth – I’ve already come to my conclusion!’  If you need certitude, you will come to your conclusion.  You will surround yourself with your conclusion.  The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mind-set.  Do you know why I think Jesus (or any of the Three) is actually dangerous if taken outside of the Trinity?  It’s because we then ill-define faith as a very static concept instead of a dynamic and flowing one.”

(p. 166, quoting Meister Eckhart)”Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?  I will tell you.  In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.  The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.  The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”

Commentary on the Pentecost Readings, Cycle A

1ST READING: ACTS 2: 1-11

Luke is telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing is to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is the Spirit!  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336; Celebration, May2002)

Every essential step in Acts of how witness was borne to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth is guided by the Spirit, whose presence becomes obvious at great moments where the human agents would otherwise be hesitant or choose wrongly  (R. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 68).  Isn’t this profoundly hopeful and encouraging?  

2ND READING:  1 CORINTHIANS 12: 3-13

In Corinth, they seemed to feel that ‘spectacular’ gifts such as speaking in strange tongues were more impressive gifts. Those who did not display such wonder-filled gifts were seen as inferior. Paul is trying to help them set their priorities straight. He wants to ground them in the reality that it is Jesus, the crucified one, who is called Lord. The Spirit of this Jesus gives us gifts that are for the good of all. No one gift is to be prized over another – except perhaps love (1 Cor. 13). Through baptism, we are one body – the body of Christ. Through Eucharist we “drink of the one Spirit” — together we are to nourish and build up the entire body that is the very presence of Jesus in the world.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336)

The term ‘body’ (soma, in Greek) means the whole person – the whole human being as he lives in relationship with and for others – the way we are REAL for each other.  Paul is using the metaphor in 2 ways:

  1. As a body has different parts yet is one body, so are we.
  2. We, as church, are a living organism: Christ’s body in the world.  We derive our life from Jesus; and, it is the way Jesus remains involved in our history, relating to us – to each other.  

As we experience and LIVE Jesus’ presence in His Word and Eucharist, we are to BE that presence in the world.  The Spirit is both the source of our unity AND our diversity.  Our hope, our consolation, our strength and challenge is in the Spirit who is God-with-us. (from notes taken from John Dwyer’s talks on this subject)

Martin Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers emphasizes that each Christian has a vocation, a calling, by virtue of their standing or office in the world.  It is through faith, for Luther, that one accepts one’s divinely appointed standing and lives out that faith through the good works of daily life, whether as a cobbler, painter, spouse, or son.  Each of these paths gives glory to God…For work to be a calling means it is recognized as both a gift and a response.  It is more than a desire to do something for others; it is felt as an imperative that I must do this, regardless of how difficult.  In that sense work is experienced as a calling that brings both joy and fulfillment.  (Cahalan, K., Introducing the Practice of Ministry, p. 27).

THE GOSPEL: JOHN 20: 19-23

From The Vatican II Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (translated by Bill Huebsch, chapter one):

‘This Spirit is a fountain of living water springing up to life eternal! . . .

Working through the ordinary lives of us all,

the Spirit gives the Church everything it needs . . .

Praying through the heart of the faithful and dwelling in us as in a temple,

The Spirit unifies us all in love . . .

Life in this church is sometimes messy because the Church includes everyone

with all their various talents and desires.

We would end up in a mess with all this if we did not have Christ to lead us. . .

Christ wants us to love each other, to endure sorrow with one another,

to share happiness, to forgive each other freely,

all in a family-like lifestyle.

Therefore, whoever leads us as the Church toward a community of love . . .

real love lived out in everyday life, that person speaks for Christ.’

From Wm. Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 272-273:

Jesus was suddenly in their midst.  He gave them the normal everyday eastern greeting:  “Peace be with you.”  It means far more than:  “May you be saved from trouble.”  It means:  “May God give you every good thing.”

The Church must never be out to propagate her message; she must be out to propagate the message of Christ.  She must never be out to follow man-made policies; she must be out to follow the will of Christ.  The Church fails whenever she tries to solve some problem in her own wisdom and strength, and leaves out of account the will and guidance of Jesus Christ.  

From https://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/042714.html:

‘whose sins you shall retain they are retained’”.  Doesn’t that say that God doesn’t forgive after all, but entrusts the Church to decide who gets forgiven and who doesn’t?  This is perhaps where we have introduced complexity where simplicity should reign. The word “sins” is not actually in the original Greek of the second half of Jesus’ statement. We put it there in our translation because it is how we think things must be. This passage might be better translated “Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven; those [individuals] you have embraced should be held fast.” We should remember that forgiveness in New Testament times refers to baptism. So the best understanding of this phrase seems to be something like: “Those you’ve brought into this community by Baptism have received God’s forgiveness. Don’t lose any of them!”

 

 

Commentary on the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

 

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

Jesus reminds his hearers that not only did he promise the Spirit, but so did his Father.  John the Baptist also prophesied regarding the sending of the Spirit.  Jesus thus relates the prophetic utterances of 2 prophets:  himself and John the Baptist.  But this is not a one-time event!  It is the active movement of the Spirit in the ongoing life of the church.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 321)  How is Spirit active in our church?  How is Spirit active in YOU?

Reflect on the experience of the disciples after the death of Jesus.  Imagine what it would have been like to have followed Jesus, lived with him, eaten with him, and now he was gone.  He is not physically here anymore.  How would that make you feel?  

There is a feeling like the disciples want everything to be fixed FOR them.  The ‘men dressed in white garments’ asked why they were looking up.  In the movie Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman who plays God, asks the same question.  He says that is our problem:  everyone is always looking up.  Can you think of times when you looked up, rather than involved yourself in the solution?

 2nd Reading:  Ephesians 1:17-23

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series (p. 90-94):

We see what Paul asks for a Church which he loves and which is doing well:

  • A Spirit of Wisdom  (Sophia, wisdom of the deep things of God):  To be a thinking people.  Plato said, “The unexamined life is the life not worth living.”  A questioning faith is a healthy one!
  • For fuller revelation and fuller knowledge:  Our spiritual life is like a muscle.  It must be exercised regularly.  Just like any friendship, it takes effort.  
  • New realization of the Christian hope:  isn’t this what the disciples are faced with in the Ascension?  
  • New realization in the power of God:  Because of the resurrection, God’s purpose cannot be stopped by any action of men (or women).  In a world which looks chaotic, it is well to realize that God is still our center.

We are the body of Christ, and Jesus is the head…”the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”  I wonder what challenge this offers us right now?  

The Gospel:  Matthew 28:16-20

From Raymond Brown’s A Risen Christ in Eastertime (p. 34-36):

They doubted.  The doubt reminds us that, even after the resurrection, faith is not an automatic response.  But Jesus is not repelled by their doubt, for he now comes closer to the disciples to speak.  Doubting or not, they have worshipped him, and he responds to them.  The mission is entrusted to the Eleven, even though some doubted.  We are left to suspect that the word of Jesus solved the doubt, and that by proclaiming to others, their faith was strengthened.  Does this resolve your doubts too?

“Make disciples of all nations”  The apostles cannot simply wait for the Gentiles to come; they must go out to them.  And if in the ministry the chief Jewish followers of Jesus (the Twelve) were called disciples, that privilege and title is to be extended to all nations (and you!).  

From Mary Birmingham’s Word & Worship, p. 324-325:  Not only did the appearance stories serve an apologetic function to prove that Jesus died and rose again, they also laid the groundwork for the future mission of the church.  Disciples were to go and tell what they had seen – they were to proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  Jesus appeared to the apostles to commission them to carry on his work.  Quoting Raymond Brown’s RCE, “The sending is based on Jesus’ own status, showing that as Jesus carried on God’s work, the apostles carry on Jesus’ work…The authority of the church is delegated from Jesus who has been elevated and has authority in heaven and on earth; the mission that flows from it will touch all nations.”

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church…

From USCCB’s Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, #24:  Through fervent prayer and pastoral work – and relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit – our efforts together will help the whole Catholic people advance in authentic discipleship and fulfill their baptismal call and mission to grow to the full maturity of Christ.

  1. Invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus in holiness of life.
  2. Promote and support active membership in the Christian community.
  3. Call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world.

Reflective Questions

Have you ever climbed a mountain, and what was it like for you? 

What does this reading say about “being ready”? 

How does this reading call us to action? 

What is it to be a disciple?