Losing Life

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…


5th Sunday of Lent B

I cannot remember if I ever mentioned it to you, but I was in the Holy Land in January.  One place I have not talked about though is a lovely church about half way down the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem called Dominus Flevit, or “The Lord Wept.”  It commemorates the spot of Jesus’ famous lament for the city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings.”  And the remarkable thing about that spot is that if you extend your arms like a hen would spread her wings to gather her young, from that perspective, your arms would encompass the entire walled city of Jerusalem.

And that is exactly what Jesus came to do. To gather us.  To make us…

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5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Theologians have a lot to say about this passage of scripture because of the language around a new covenant.  What was wrong with the old one?  How is this fulfilled?  What does this say about how God works in our lives?  Are we puppets to God’s law?  What does this say about church hierarchy?

“You shall be my people and I will be your God,” is similar to the marriage contract of that time period.  It was found on papyri, “She is my wife and I am her husband this day and forever.”  It is a solemn agreement.  A sacred bond.  But the Israelites broke that bond with God.  So the Lord, through Jeremiah, is proposing a new covenant that will be written in our hearts rather than on stone tablets.  Instead of external instruction this covenant will contain an interior principle of personal regeneration; hence charismatic leaders such as prophets and priests, who instruct the people in the obligations of the law of Yahweh, will not be necessary in the new covenant (McKensie’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 155-156).

For Yahweh’s law to lodge in the heart of the people is for the people to obey Yahweh not out of obligation at all but out of their glad free will.  Jesus is our example.  Jesus obeyed God not simply because he was obligated to, certainly not because he was forced to, but more profoundly because he wanted to, (Holladay’s Long Ago God Spoke, p. 33-38).  So we are not puppets.  Maybe there is no plan.  God has planted goodness in us.  It is up to us to live it.

But let’s be careful not to read Jeremiah’s prophecy as meaning Jesus is the new covenant, as that would displace Judaism.  For Jeremiah, the new covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In the end, Jeremiah is unclear about the future…Jeremiah ends up being killed by his own people.  What IS clear is that God will always prevail when all other forms of rule are exhausted.  Because of this, the future is open and awaits embrace, (Brueggermann’s Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 189-190).

2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 7-9

Obey means to listen –       to listen with one’s heart.  This ‘letter’ is really a sermon rather than a letter.  It was probably written near the end of the 1st century when some Christians were tired of waiting for Jesus’ return – especially in the face of many difficulties.  This preacher seemed to be encouraging his listeners by saying: “Are you weary of it all? Look at Jesus. Drink deep of the blessedness of the Christ-event and then pull yourself together and get back to the challenge of trying to follow him. He wanted them to see their sufferings and struggles as the training ground for a renewed obedience to God.  Such obedience (from the Latin ob + audire) would mean that the weary must learn to listen once again and to open themselves to hearing the words and challenges of God.  As we also struggle to listen, to hear, and to follow Jesus, we also live as priestly people – offering ourselves as sacrifices — making (w)holy the world and those we encounter.  Like Jesus, we must learn from our listening to mediate God’s presence for others.  That is the ‘job’ of a priest to which we are called by baptism.  (Celebration, April 2000 & 2003)

Again, remember this from Richard Rohr:

All religion must ‘deal with’ suffering and give it meaning and hope. All religion is about this question: what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us.  This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus’ – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it.

This reading states that Christ became perfected through his suffering. The word, perfected, is a term that in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) was used to speak about the conferring of priestly power. Jesus became the eternal high priest through his sacrifice on the cross.  He became the pledge of God’s love and the one who makes it eternally present       for us. The Crucified One is the one who now sits exalted by God on his throne in heaven.   (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 233)  The word used for perfect also meant, not moral perfection, but the reaching of a goal or destiny – becoming who and what one was called to be. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth)

The Gospel – John 12: 20-33

Our lives give glory to God also when we like Jesus are willing to give of our selves for the good of others. This is a kind of ‘dying to self’ that brings new life. (http://liturgy.slu.edu)

From Bishop Untener in his Little Black Book, 2006:

The image of a seed is a good one. The seed when it ‘dies’ is not annihilated, It simply ceases to exist as it did in order to become something else, something fuller, richer, more vibrant, brimming with life. This theme of death in Christianity is never to be morbid. It is never dying or suffering for its own sake. It is not about being discarded or worthless or lost. We are born to love, to be outgoing, self-giving. It is only our fear and self-centeredness that needs to die. When we let go, ‘die’ to that, we find life brimming with goodness. When we give up being self-centered, clutching things, we open up to everyone, to life. It is a question of becoming what we were made to be. The seed is made to blossom and grow and bear fruit. So are we.

From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile”:

There is a suffering and loneliness that is not only beneficial, but that is, in fact, the only route to empathy, to selflessness, to compassion – to real strength and goodness. Our successes may bring us pleasure and glory, but they rarely bring us true wisdom. Suffering and loneliness give us this depth, but they can also deepen us in anger and bitterness rather than in gratitude and compassion. God does not take pleasure in this. God takes pleasure only when the suffering and loneliness bring us and others some benefit, some insight and strength. We need God’s help to undergo these difficulties in the right way. God rejoices when we do things right, when we exercise our talents, growing and maturing as we help ourselves and others to a fuller life. Like a good parent, God enjoys watching us, his children, develop and stretch our hearts in ways that make us more caring, more generous, more truly alive.           (http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B:

Jesus reveals to us what God is like.  God sent Jesus to be one with the human race – to save humanity and to show the world definitively and forever just how much he loves them.  Humans would never have believed God’s love had God not sent Jesus.  And, Jesus was true to his mission.  He stood with the poor and with sinners.  He was courageous, challenging all who refuse to love and to serve.

Jesus’ torture and death was a crime. It was murder. He was an innocent man.  Jesus himself renounced it as a sin, an evil.  Jesus’ death was a result of sin, hatred, prejudice, animosities, jealousies, fear, pride, power.  Yet, in his death he expressed the highest form of human love.

This is what was pleasing to God: Jesus’ inner disposition of faithfulness and love and his willingness to die for his people.  This is what God willed: love so deep that he was willing to sacrifice his own life for it.  In this way Jesus was able to reveal the love that God has for all of us –  a love that is willing to go to any length, even humiliating lengths, — even to death, itself.

From Carrie Newcomer, singer and poet:  Transformation is deeper than “the only way out is through”. At the growing edge…the only way through is in. That is where I begin to look at something I really don’t want to see, a place I do not want to go. It’s uncomfortable, and I have to sit in an uncomfortable place, process and uncover in what way this hard thing, the thing I did not want,has meaning for me. This is where I learn that this discomfort will not drown me, but transform me.  And yes, eventually, a lightness arrives. It comes with a deep acceptance of my own humanness, a clearer view to what comes next. The paradox that sometimes to get where we need to go, we have to travel where we did not want to go.

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1st Reading – 2 Chronicles 36: 14 – 23

Along with Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles represent a type of ‘history’ of the people of Israel from their origins to the period of reconstruction AFTER the exile.  The world had changed.  The author exalts David even more than he is exalted in Kings 1 & 2; the exile was viewed more as the people’s failure to worship Yahweh.  But in today’s reading, we hear God hating the sin but loves the sinner.  God is always ready to forgive at the first sign of a repentant heart, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Wkbk for Yr B, p. 214).

“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it.  That, and only that, is forgiveness,”  (J.C. Arnold’s Why Forgive?, p. 44).

2nd Reading – Ephesians 2: 4-10

The theology in this letter is in sharp contrast to the retributive-type justice we see in the first reading.  How does this writer see God working in human history?

To many Greeks philosophical systems and self-improvement ideas were seen as ways to great human capabilities. To them the ‘saving act’ was knowledge.  The Christian writer who composed this letter is trying to emphasize that ‘salvation’ is God’s transforming gift to sinners.  The writer was trying to stress that God’s great love (revealed and given freely to us in Jesus) is not a reward for good works or great knowledge. Yet, a life of good deeds is the natural outcome,  (Celebration, March 2003).

God is personal.  God is not a by-itself, or an in-itself, or an in-and-of itself, but rather God exists in a communion of persons toward one another in self-giving Love, revealed in Word and Spirit in human life, in history, in the world.  God is immutably toward us and for us in the self-giving Love that is constitutive of the divine life.  All reality is personal.  Everything that exists is from God, in God, for God, who is God precisely in the relations of interpersonal self-giving Love:  Father, Son, Spirit, (M. Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 62).

The Gospel – John 3: 14-21

John’s Gospel is one of darkness and light; this contrast is used throughout it.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (verse 2) looking for new life.  We later find Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion anointing Jesus’ body with over a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. (John 19: 38-42)

In the Book of Numbers the Israelites while wandering in the desert complained about being hungry, thirsty, — then when serpents began to bite them, they were sure that God was punishing them.  Moses prayed to God and God told Moses to make a fiery serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole.  Anyone bitten by a snake could look upon the bronze serpent and be saved from death. In this gospel, Jesus compared himself to this serpent — the one lifted up who can save us from death.  (Sunday by Sunday, March 2003)

The contradiction in the paschal mystery is that what we abhor — the cross — becomes the instrument of redemption.  God saves Israelites from death. Yet, in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ we must embrace death for the only way to eternal life is by dying to ourselves. In this ‘dying’ we can then allow ourselves to be lifted up like Christ.  Our good works — reaching out to others, working to improve the world around us, caring and acting kindly and justly– all of this is ‘being lifted up’ — being crucified so we might live. We sometimes choose to do difficult things – not because the suffering is good but because the end is good.     (Living Liturgy, 2003)

Light and believing is important in this gospel.  The light = Christ who enables us to see; seeing is believing — it is also activity. John’s gospel uses the verb believe 98 times — never is the noun used.  Both believing and not believing is expressed in actions.  Those who do not believe hate the light and do ‘wicked things’ and their ‘works are evil.’ To come into the light exposes evil deeds.  The one who lives the truth is the one who does the truth.  A Christian must live the choice for Jesus with one’s whole life.          (Living Liturgy, 2003)

Sometimes wouldn’t we really rather be able to ‘save ourselves’? Wouldn’t we like to point to our successes, our virtues, our improvements, our earnestness  — all our efforts and deeds? But salvation is not our doing and at least on ‘bad days’ we are grateful for that. Maybe like Nicodemus we come to Jesus in the dark and only when we trust God’s rich mercy and abundant grace can we finally come to not fear the light. We do not so much achieve our salvation as we entrust ourselves to it –  by God’s love and favor we are saved. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In the end our faith must help us ‘deal with’ the suffering in life. It is the ‘test’ of every religion to try to answer this question: “what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us. This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it. (from Richard Rohr)

What do you put your faith in?

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…


3rd Sunday of Lent B
The Gospel ends in a strange way. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” He gets us. He knows that we love the show, the easy way. You see Jesus has an interesting frustration. It is not that he is failing. People are flocking to him. But they are coming for the wrong reason. They are coming because of the great and powerful deeds known as signs in John’s gospel. And what is wrong with that? Isn’t that what athletes want? Isn’t that what performers want? Homilists? But it isn’t what Jesus wants.
That is what scholars have identified as sign faith. The people Jesus is attracting are caught up in the signs. We like to be around cool people doing cool things. Besides, if you are ailing, he will heal you, if you are hungry, he…

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3rd Sunday of Lent, cycle B

1st Reading – Exodus 20: 1-17

Some Basics on the Ten Commandments

  • They are found twice in the Bible: Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
  • The Hebrew word for law is tôrâ, or Torah, which is more closely translated to meaning guidance, teaching or instruction. Perhaps the best human analogy we have is that of an effective parent with growing children:  the parent is serious about child-rearing, but that seriousness includes humor, tact, love, and approachability – all with a view to shaping a small community of supple and ultimately joyous human beings.  So it is with God (Holladay, Wm., Long Ago God Spoke, p. 44, 51).
  • There are 2 types of laws: case law and apodictic law.  Case law is causative, meaning if someone does this thing, then he receives this punishment.  There are consequences for our actions.  There may be exceptions depending on the situation.  Apodictic law is without exception.  These are statements of conduct that have no conditions or suggested penalties.  They are strong, dramatic demands.  The only expected answer is a firm “Amen” said in trust  (Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, p. 185-186).  The ten commandments are apodictic.

Each of these commandments is not some external, irrational demand from an alien god. Rather, each is an expression of the truth God has made in us. If we worship idols or our work, if we covet person or property, if we dishonor those who have given us life, and steal and kill, we destroy what we are. The duty that God imposes on us is not some arbitrary law, but the duty to be true to what we are – limited but loved creatures. Each of the commandments offers life. J Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”, http://liturgy.slu.edu

Fear was thought to be a valid and effective motivator.  Perhaps if people had been more open and receptive to God’s love, these commandments could have been phrased more positively, such as:

“You may do nothing that allows you to lessen yourself;

do all you can daily to esteem your dignity.

You may do nothing that in any way causes harm to anyone

whether in spirit or in body –

you must daily work to build up others in every way.

You may not choose what takes you from the arms of God,

because God has chosen to love you and is therefore vulnerable to you.

After all that God has done for you, you have no reason to cause God pain.

This is all of life.”

Today’s Parish, “Discovering God, Day by Day,” 1994)

2nd Reading –1 Corinthians 1: 22-25

The main issue for Paul is the cross. Some however wanted to ignore the cross. For some the cross was a sign of weakness and failure . . . a sign of foolishness and scandal. But to Paul, the cross is life. He was willing to be a fool for Christ Jesus.  Christ crucified is God’s gift of wisdom to the world.  (M Birmingham, W and W, B and Celebration, March 2003)

Jesus’ life and death that culminated on Calvary was an ultimate sign of God’s unfailing love for us; we can trust this God. Jews saw such suffering as a punishment for sin; the Greeks saw it as madness.  Their heroes and heroines triumphed over suffering and evil. But Paul preached a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God.  How do we find this God? Is God still with us in the middle of poverty and hunger and sexism and war? Does God see or care about this suffering?   Do we find God working, struggling, caring in the midst of our problems? Perhaps today more than ever the cross is an urgently needed sign.  Jesus on the cross gives us hope that good can come from evil, suffering can lead to glory, and that death can lead to resurrection.  Because of Jesus we can believe that God will strengthen us to take up our cross, as we fight oppression and help those in need. We can say a trusting yes to whatever God asks. It wasn’t easy for Jesus – it won’t be easy for us.  But our God guarantees success – and abundant life.  Journey to Joy ,23rd Publications, 1985

The Gospel – John 2: 13-25

This same scene is told in Mark 11:15-19; in Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48.

They all happen just before Jesus’ arrest and death. John tells the story at the start.  John’s story is right after the Cana story (the wedding at which Jesus changes the water of purification into the wine of celebration) at the beginning of his ministry.  By the time this gospel is written, the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed – and the Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Christians) had been expelled from the synagogues and separated from the other Jews. What evidence of this is in the reading?

This event might have been one of the most historical events that actually led to Jesus’ death. And, of course, we as Christians believe that Jesus’ death did not have the final answer. This apparent foolishness of Jesus was a part of God’s wisdom. In Jesus we were to realize a new way to God; a new ‘Temple’ was to be built – the Christian community itself was to come to be the very presence, the body of Christ in the world for the benefit of all people.

What is Jesus so angry about? At the time, it was necessary to change the various coins – it was necessary to have animals for temple worship. But it had been that the ‘vendors’ were allowed only in the courtyard of the temple – but now they were inside. Furthermore, the dishonest practices of outdoor market-places may have found their way into the temple: the thumb on the scale, the inflated prices, etc. Jesus knew that humans had been created for more than cheating and being cheated. We had been created to be filled with God’s presence. It was all upside down to find such activity at the very center of this sacred space. Then, in a short time he will be silent and passive at his own trial and suffering. Jesus comes to understand that he must empty himself so God would fill him with his presence – he must be one with us, too, — completely in life, in suffering and in death. Out of all of this, God will bring new life . . . (John Foley, “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Do Not Let us Fall into Temptation

Fr. Bob’s homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent…


1st Sunday of Lent B

Did you hear that Pope Francis wants to change the words to the Our Father?  I first saw it on Facebook and I thought… well you know… fake news.  Buy as I saw it from more reputable sources, I thought it was worth looking into.  Of course, you cannot change the words of Jesus, so we are really talking about the translation of those words.  And the line he has focused on is one that has troubled me for a long time.  “And lead us not into temptation.”  Have you ever thought, “I have enough going on in my life without YOU leading me into temptation?”  And I think if God were to lead you into temptation, can you really get out of it?  As the Pope says, a Father would not do that to his children.  He prefers what the French Bishops have…

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2nd Sunday of Lent, cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18

It’s important to know this passage comes from the “Eholistic” source: an oral tradition written down in the Northern half of the Holy Land in the middle of the 8th century BCE. The authors of this particular source seem to have been prophets, disturbed by constant pagan pressures inflicted on their readers.  Many of these non-Jewish people actually sacrificed their children to the fertility gods and goddesses they worshiped; if Yahweh were to actually demand the Israelites sacrifice their children, they would do so, no matter the cost. But the writer reinforces their belief in Yahweh as a God of life by reminding them they’re to “redeem” any child they’d sacrifice with an animal.  In Abraham’s case, Isaac is redeemed with a ram.  In narrating this story, the Eholistic author is more interested in Abraham’s dedication to Yahweh than in the psychological harm such a scenario can inflict on the participants.  Abraham, as the first Jew, sets the example for all other Jews. He’s depicted as someone totally loyal to Yahweh. The constant intent to do whatever Yahweh wants is what sets him and his descendants apart from all others. Certainly makes them “holy,” deeply different from those around them, (Dignity USA weekly email for this week).

Notice how Abraham continues to listen to God, even when he hears such a difficult message. In fact because of his faith in a God who is a faithful friend he listens with hope and an expectation that in the end God will bring forth life. Due to this kind of listening, he was able to hear the words: “Do not lay your hands on the boy.” Only this kind of listening can lead to new life and a deeper appreciation of God’s love and power.  (“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In reflecting on this passage, Rabbi Harold Kushner wondered if Isaac may have had developmental issues.  He was born to elderly parents who had to arrange a marriage for him, so it’s a possibility.  Maybe Abraham hearing God’s command could actually have been his own ambivalence about having to raise a special needs child, (The Book of Job, p. 23).  Food for thought.

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 31-34

Here we are assured by Paul that God is not only with us – Emmanuel – but God is FOR us. What meaning do you find in this?  How is this connected to the 1st reading about Abraham and Isaac?

When Saul was thrown from his legendary ‘high-horse’ and blinded, he awoke as Paul, to know, to love, to follow the One who called him.  From that hour forward his life was an unwavering Adsum, Hebrew for “Here I am, Lord!” No other force sustained him, no other love motivated, so that he could say: “If God is for me, who can be against me?”  These scriptures challenge us to say the same: “Here, I am, Lord!” (Celebrations, March 2003)

The cross is a great act of love . . . God accepts, affirms, sustains, and supports us – He loves us – by taking his place with us, in and through Jesus. He has chosen to be with us in our brokenness. He has come to stay.  “There is no dark corner of human existence which will ever be able to separate us from him again.” Now suffering and death are signs of his presence and power. This is why we “proclaim the death of the Lord,” (John Dwyer, “Theology of the Cross”).

The Gospel – Mark 9: 2-10
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil . . .

Because the Holy Spirit over the bent

World with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

High mountains have often been sites for theophanies or ‘godly manifestations;’ clouds that overshadow were seen as signs of the divine presence.  Martin Luther King, Jr. probably had this gospel in mind when he said the night before he was killed: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain . . . And I’m happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”   After King’s death, his experience of the mountaintop inspired his followers to continue his work.  Jesus’ disciples were also inspired by such experiences to continue Jesus’ work of spreading the Good News of God’s love – despite the hardships that might entail. We, too, need to look at Jesus, listen to him and be similarly transformed. (Celebrations, March 2003)

Both Moses and Elijah were prophets whose whole lives were transformed by God’s presence and power. Both experienced God on Mt. Sinai – Moses receiving the Law and Elijah receiving God’s power and presence in the silence after a storm. In Jewish thought, clouds were regularly connected with God’s presence: Exodus 16: 10; 19:9; 33:9; 1 Kings 8: 10; 2 Maccabees 2:8. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 210.)

God moments end, and we have to go back down the mountain.  The good news is, we can take them with us.  We can let those good, wonderful times transfigure us.  They can light us up and help us to take on what comes ahead.  We can be refreshed.  We can know that God enters in and doesn’t go away.  Jesus walks back down the mountain with his friends.  They are ready to take on what is ahead together.  God’s love never goes away, no matter where we are, and we are transformed by it.

As Christians, how do we come down the mountain?  Do we keep ourselves “apart” and in tents, or are we challenged to do more?  What “tents” separate people in our society today?  (Questions posed by Barb Forte for our RCIA meeting this week.)

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 9:8-15

Thomas Green, an educator and spiritual director, says that ‘floating in the sea’ can be a kind of spiritual growth lesson.  Floating is difficult for most of us because “it demands much letting go.”  The secret of floating lies in being willing to take the risk and do the opposite of what comes instinctively.  We tend to keep ourselves rigid in the water, ready to save ourselves from the waves breaking around us.  As a result, we end up swamped by the waves.  Yet, if we relax and float, we are buoyed up by the rolling sea.  We learn to float when we relax and entrust ourselves to the water.  Similarly, people learn to pray and commune with God when they are willing to risk letting go in order to be at home in the sea that is God with no visible means of support except the constant buoyancy of God’s grace and presence.  The authors of the story of Noah were trying to teach us a similar lesson.  Noah’s contemporaries resisted God’s ways and refused to hear God’s voice; yet, Noah freely cast himself into the sea of God’s mercy and compassion.  With their faith and trust in God, they were saved.  It is a story of conversion – leaving behind the ‘old way of life’ and trusting God to help us float above the waters of chaos and come to safety. (Celebrations, March 2000)

Ancient people imagined their world completely surrounded on all sides — up, down, and around — by water.  Their world was flat with waters below, the source of springs.  A dome topped their world, holding back the waters above.  This is the firmament God creates on the second day in Genesis 1:6.  They feared floods the way we fear nuclear war or global warming — it is the ancient fear of extinction. The rainbow: ancient people thought this to be a divine ‘bow’ or weapon that gods could use against humans. But in this story the rainbow becomes a promise of love.  (Sunday by Sunday, March 9, 2003)

Flood stories were prevalent among ancient people.  The Noah story is very similar to the Babylonian Myth of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh was searching for immortality. He consults one of his ancestors who had become immortal.  According to the story, the council of the gods had whimsically plotted to destroy humankind by flood. Ea, the god of wisdom, warned him to build a boat to save his family.  After the storm, the boat safely came to rest on a mountain; birds were sent forth to see if the waters had ceased.  Then sacrifices were offered to the gods who offered him immortality.  The Genesis authors adapted this flood story for their own use.  It featured the one and only God.  The flood was not the result of capriciousness, but viewed as punishment for sin.  Noah was granted a covenantal bond with God which would be life-giving.  (Celebrations, March 2003)

The ark is a symbol for a sanctuary and a haven.  The Hebrew word for ark (tebah) was also the word for the basket that carried baby Moses to safety (Exodus 2:3).  It was also the name for the tent that housed and carried the tablets of the Law, the visible presence of Yahweh and the covenant.  The ark became the symbol of God’s protection and salvation (fullness of health).  It is not surprising that Christians who had been Jews would see in this story a type of baptism.  The church became another ark — families clinging together with their faith in the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  Here the waters become neither punishment nor cleansing.  They are a passage into a new life.  Note, also, that this story is not about God’s covenant with humanity alone.  It is about God’s covenant with all of creation.  (Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B)

2nd Reading –1 Peter 3: 18-22

This letter presents itself as being written by Peter who now regards himself as an elder in the church.  He is sending it from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor.  Tradition holds that Peter was martyred in Rome under the emperor Nero, that he was put to death by crucifixion, and specifically, that he was crucified upside down.  Scholars remain divided over the question of whether this letter is pseudepigraphical, but it is a reflection of “Petrine perspective” associated with Rome in the last third of the 1st century (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 464-466).

The readers of 1 Peter are Christians in process, or “under construction”.  A key word for such people is hope; the readers can look back on a futile and dubious past, and then they can look forward to an absolutely certain future, but the present is a time of “living hope” (p. 475).  Baptism, which is our spiritual coming to life, is our way of ritually participating in Jesus’ death.  As Christ died in the flesh and was made alive in the spirit, so converts likewise put off fleshly sins in baptism and live irreproachable lives through Jesus’ resurrection (Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 76).

The Gospel –Mark 1: 12-15:

We are back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, right after Jesus’ Baptism. Mark’s story of Jesus’ desert-time is short and tense.  Here we see Jesus faced with a time of choosing

God says to Jesus:  “Take my love to humans. Conquer them by this love. Even if they crucify you, set up a Kingdom of Love.”

Satan says to Jesus: “Use your power to obliterate – to impress –to win by might and power.”

This is the temptation that Jesus will face time and time again:  What kind of a messiah am I to be?  How does God wish me to proclaim his Good News?  We are faced with similar questions.

“Repent and believe the Good News!” Mark summarizes for us Jesus’ person and purpose: God is among us. Believe that and live accordingly.  After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Drove is a harsh, forceful word.  Jesus has put himself completely at the power of the Spirit of God. Evil will confront him — in the desert, and in his ministry.  But on the cross, evil will be defeated..

Both floods and deserts are things hostile to life. Floods can strip us of everything, even the land to stand on. And yet, water, despite its chaos, is the promise of life. The desert has its own chaos and danger. Dreadful and waterless, empty and dry, one can only survive a desert if one traverses it. To stop is to succumb to death. The Hebrew people learned in the 40-year desert journey that God was their only security and guide. Jesus now spends 40 days in the desert of radical dependency. The will of God will be his only nourishment. We, too, are invited to ponder this journey: what is it all for?  Lent invites us to enter the water – to walk the desert. God incarnate invites us. And, he himself walks all the deserts of our lives to be the path through exile serving as food and drink along the way.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,”  http://liurgy.slu.edu)

Holy Land Part 6


We began our last day of touring at the Mount of Olives. Beyond its stunning view of the holy city, the second highest mountain of the city located east of its walls, has been the base for pilgrims, processions and conquerors for centuries. In the life of Jesus, it was precisely all those things, although his conquering was through sacrifice, not arms.
For once we traveled down a hill after nearly a week of straight ascent. Yet, while less arduous, this proved tricky over the pavement slickened by a steady drizzle. From the top of this mountain, probably roughly along the path we walked, Jesus made his palm strewn entrance into Jerusalem aboard a mule, a messianic sign. To this day, pilgrims and locals commemorate this march on Palm Sunday down the slope of the mountain. From the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus ascended into heaven. But our…

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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st   Reading – Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46

Biblical leprosy was any fearful condition that was of unknown origin and could possibly contaminate others.  It ran the gamut from acne, psoriasis, boils, ulcers, rashes, even dandruff to serious malignancies. Leprosy was another name for the community’s fear.  Lepers were not only sick, but also condemned as sinners.  They were called ‘the living dead.’  A healing was considered as difficult as raising the dead to life.         (Exploring the Sunday Readings, and Celebration — Feb. 2000)

Have you ever been able to identify with this leper?  Perhaps you didn’t have anything visibly embarrassing on your person, but maybe you were self-conscious about something?  Or felt the world knew something wrong about you?  We sometimes have a little voice inside of us that counts us unworthy, unclean, unlovable.  But Jesus saves!  We must turn to Jesus’ voice, and He will make us feel worthy, clean and lovable again.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10: 31- 11: 1

This reading is dealing with the problem of whether it was all right to purchase meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols. Was it okay for Christians to eat this meat? Some thought it was since the idols were not real anyway. Paul is trying to help this community see that while the meat might be fine to eat, one should not cause undue scandal to those who were more scrupulous. Paul is trying to encourage them to follow Jesus’ example by being concerned for the well-being of others. God is glorified when we freely live lives of love and service. We become better and so do others!   (Celebration, Feb. 2000, and Mary Birmingham, W & W Year B, 485)  Paul more fully comes to explain himself in chapter 13 when he discusses love: “Love is kind. Love is patient.  . . . etc.”

Paul has personally experienced the risen Christ; as a result, his life mirrors Christ, who is himself the image of God.  Christ has so taken possession of Paul that his own life is now that of Christ.  The Christian communities identified with Paul did not have the same experience.  His uniqueness as an apostle rested on his direct experience with Jesus.  Therefore, he calls on the communities to imitate him as they move toward their sole model, Christ himself, (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 159).

Gerald Fagin SJ says this of glorifying God:  The goal or end of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God, and to come to eternal life.  All of God’s gifts are means to achieve this goal; we should use them accordingly.  “From this it follows that I should use these things to the extent that they help me toward my end, and rid myself of them to the extent that they hinder me.” (Sp. Ex. 23)…it means being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal.  It means magnanimous generosity, abandonment into God’s hands, avallability, (Putting on the Heart of Christ, p. 41-43).

The Gospel – Mark 1:40-45

Last week, we learned from Simon Peter’s mother-in-law that when we are touched by Jesus, we must ‘rise up and serve.’  Now we see a leper proclaim freely the good news of salvation (full health and life).  We find the love of God in Jesus.

 “Moved with pity” – sometimes translated “Moved with anger” – literally this phrase means to have one’s intestines turn over . . .Yet, this leper had dared to ignore the law’s strict rule of quarantine.  So did Jesus. The passion and sympathy that moved Jesus from deep within showed how he empathized with this man’s blight. Jesus’ passion for the suffering of others challenges us, his followers, to also be stirred and motivated by similarly powerful mission. Jesus’ was willing to touch so as to comfort and heal, touching even those who were condemned as outcasts. This is an example we, too, must follow.     (Celebrations, Feb. 2000, 2003; and Quest, Spring, 2006)

Jesus also spoke sternly toward the man commanding him to tell no one anything, but to see the priest.  The literal translation of this is that Jesus ‘snorted’ or ‘puffed’ – a way that was often used to confront evil in his culture. Mark’s messianic secret seems to be an important motif here. Fantastic miracles do not seem to be why Jesus came. He came to break down barriers between the clean and uncleanbetween the insiders and the outsiders. Eduard Schweizer says that Jesus is horrified at the misery of this man’s condition and isolation for it is contrary to God’s plan for creation.  Also, of course, there is irony in the way Mark tells this story for the healed man is so full of good news that he cannot be silent! God’s kingdom is breaking through! It is just too good – too real – to be concealed.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we kept such goodness to ourselves? (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu;  E. Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, 58-59)

Society tends to exclude people and treat them as social lepers today no less than in the time of Jesus.  At that time, justification could be found in the law for a certain measure of separation.  While Jesus shows a basic respect for the Mosaic law, he never fails to respect primarily the worth of the human person as transcending every other religious or social consideration.  We have many examples of exclusion of people on the basis of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class.  It is Jesus’ over-riding love for the human person, virtuous or sinful, without qualification, that is his greatest challenge in any age or culture  (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 160).