This is a post from Fran Szpylczyn who is a writer, graduate of St. Bernard’s, works at Immaculate Conception in Glenville and a friend. Look for her upcoming article in the Times Union and watch this TED talk from Br. Consolmagno…will get you thinking!
A couple of weeks ago the Albany Times Union, (note: the paper hosts a mirror of this blog on their website) ran a reprint of an editorial from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. To say that it ticked me off would be a significant understatement. Yes – that is an excerpt from it. Which part of not true would you like me to begin with? *exasperated sigh*
When my church nerd and my science geek get going, trust me they get going. Talk about science, I really get worked up when people think that the Roman Catholic Church is anti-science. Without said church there would not be science as we know it… but that’s another story for another day.
What started out as a letter to the editor quickly morphed into a column that should run in this coming Saturday’s Albany Times Union. Late on Wednesday…
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1st Reading – Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17
Prophet to his people during their exile in Babylonia, Ezekiel shared their sense of having been failed by their leaders, who, from David onward, had been ideally cast in the role of shepherd of God’s flock, Israel. As history attests, however, that ideal was not always realized and, as a result, the people of God were left unattended, like sheep left to founder on their own without a shepherd. Right before this reading, Ezekiel reprimands failed shepherds in the past. Only God will restore and lead God’s people to wholeness. It is a message of hope (Preaching Resources from 11/20/2005).
From The Word into Life, Cycle A, 122:
Usually we reserve the title, “pastor” for the leader of a religious community. The pastor is to shepherd . . . But perhaps we fail to recognize that every believer is also commissioned, through baptism, to look to the needs of others. We are a priestly people — and priestly people “pastor.” Ezekiel responded to the needs of his despondent exiled community in the early sixth century BC. To encourage them, he presented God as a shepherd. Yahweh would focus attention on the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick. Later, in today’s gospel we find Jesus who fulfills this image and also identifies with all those who suffer.
Ezekiel’s vision of a new beginning under leadership may seem to be slightly diminished by the ominous parenthetical phrase included in verse 16: “but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.” Some scholars suggest that this phrase is a gloss, later interpolated into the text and, as such, should be omitted. Certainly, it seems unlikely that God would shepherd the people lovingly with one hand and strike them down with the other. Others may be more correct in pointing out that this surprising phrase may be the result of a copyist’s error. Only a yod (smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet) differentiates the Hebrew text (I will destroy) from the Greek (Septuagint), Syrian and Vulgate translations, which read: “I will strengthen the fat and the strong.”
What other meanings do you ‘get’ from all this? What if the fat and strong were fat and strong because they took too much for themselves? (Celebration, Nov. 1999)
What of the reference to goats? Why are goats generally seen as bad in scripture? Goats were often used for sin and guilt offerings. Most Palestinian goats were black (vs the white sheep). Goats often lead the flock, so they can be associated with political leaders; perhaps Ezekiel was comparing the goats to the failed shepherds (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 315).
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
In the Jewish tradition, offering the ‘first-fruits’ of a harvest was a way to bless the entire harvest – a way to consecrate the entire harvest. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s Kingdom, we have the promise and blessing of abundant life in this Kingdom. So death is an enemy that has been overcome!
(Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year A, 581)
When Paul talks about Adam, he talking about all of us when we choose that which is bad for us. It is our ‘false-self’ – our deeply insecure self that does not trust that God has created us to be God’s image. As Adam, we reject living in a loving, trusting relationship with our creator. In other words, ‘being Adam’ is being in sin. It is giving into our endless capacity to destroy ourselves. As ‘Adams and Eves’, we are faced with death – with the fact that someday the world will have no time or place for us. It is only our faith in the God that Christ Jesus brings us that saves us from this terrible predicament. In Jesus we find a God who loves us despite our insecurities and wishes to show us the way beyond this death sentence. (Thoughts from John Dwyer, “A Retreat with Paul,” Part 2)
What does Paul mean by Christ’s delivery of the kingdom to the Father and his subjection to him? What Paul seems to be saying is that all the ways that God has acted toward the world is revealed and upheld in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. After all has been redeemed (set free), we will be able to know God directly. For now Christ is the visible face of the invisible God. Jesus leads us to and involves us with this God of love. When we are brought fully into God’s loving presence we will be enjoying the Beatific Vision; God will be all in all, not only in Christians but in the whole world that Christ restores fully in God’s love. All death will finally and forever be destroyed. That is the Good News of Jesus Christ!(Scripture In Depth,Reginald Fuller,http://liturgy.slu.edu
The Gospel – Matthew 25: 31-46
This is an apocalyptic parable. It is about the ‘end-times’ – the ultimate outcome of history. It attempts to give a view of history and humans from God’s point of view.
It is about the end times as it challenges us in living as a Christian here and now.
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Nov.2002:
As Jesus explains it, there is only one way to exercise power in this world: for the sake of the powerless. Those with food and drink, should share it. Those who are on the inside should be hospitable to those on the outside. If someone is cold, someone with clothes should keep him or her warm. If someone is sick, those who are well should be attending. If people are oppressed, those who have their liberty should look to their needs. If you want to inherit the kingdom, you can do so right now: Put your hat on and go visit the sick Christ. Set a place at your table for the lonely Christ. Forgive, support, or lift up the burdened Christ. Then, the kingdom begins to grow within us – and among us.
From The Cultural World of Jesus by John Pilch — On Sheep and Goats:
Sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength. Goats were considered lustful and lecherous animals. Unlike rams, goats allow other males access to their females. Also, goats were associated with sin, for example, the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21-11) Even in Greek culture, the ram was associated with honorable Greek gods like Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon, while the goat was associated with Greek gods known for shameful and unrestrained behavior like Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. What is the basis for Jesus’ final, definite determination of in-group (sheep) and outgroup (goats)? Hospitality! The kindness and steadfast love that one owed one’s family was to be extended to others, especially those in need.
From Living Liturgy, Year A:
What’s surprising about the judgment (in Matthew 25) is that neither the good nor the wicked knew that what they were doing or not doing was for Christ. It was just true empathy – feeling with the one in need. Another point about Christ’s judgment — growth in discipleship and living the paschal mystery is measured by the extent to which we look upon the other as Christ, loving the other as Christ, doing for the other as Christ. This is how we come to eschatological joy. This is how we “share in the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.” Think about it: from the first moment of creation, God planned for us to share in this everlasting joy!
Gospel: Matthew (25: 14-30)
The very rich man in this story sounds like an honorable person at the outset. It is only at the conclusion that we learn that he is dishonorable. The 3rd slave even describes him as such, and the rich man agrees with him! The first 2 slaves not only served their master but imitated him. Why not? If you can’t beat the system, join it. The 3rd slave did what most rabbis would later commend as the safest and most honorable course of action for a freeman, but maybe not for a slave. In 1st century Mediterranean culture people believed that all goods already exist and are already distributed. There is no more where this came from, and the only way to get more is to defraud another. Anyone who suddenly acquired something “more” was automatically judged to be a thief. (Pilch, the Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 164) So then why is the parable saying the 3rd slave is wrong?
- It may have been to capture the attention of Jesus’ audience.
- The message is we are not to be complacent but increase what Jesus has given us.
- William Barclay makes this point about the gospel’s ending advice: “If someone has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will lose it – slowly, but surely. (The Gospel of Matthew, 324)
- From Celebrations, November, 2002 and 2005: Fearfulness only breeds fear and crippling inaction. If we dare to risk ourselves in loving God and others, then Jesus assures us that we will find a God who is eager to share his powerful presence and gifts. Along with this parable, we need to reflect on the kind of God that Jesus shows us — a God who welcomes sinners and who rejoices when the lost are found.
Fr. Richard Fragomeni once said that faith is a risk; it is a bet we make with our whole lives . . .
C.S. Lewis once suggested that the ‘one’ talent many Christians fail to ‘invest’ or fear to risk losing is love. In a series of 10 lectures on this subject (later published as The Four Loves) he explains:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one — not even to an animal or pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.
In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series for Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 323). Doesn’t this remind you of Pope Francis? In a recent homily, he said, “I am attached to my things, my ideas – does this mean I am closed? Or, am I open to the God of surprises? Am I a person who stands still, or a person on a journey?”
Let us resolve to become one-talent wonders, willing to risk ‘being fully alive’ so as to invest our love in God’s service. Let us not dig a hole to bury our love. Let us prefer service to safety, and risk to retreat. (Isn’t that what Jesus did?)
We can love as Jesus did, fully, freely, and forever – at least, we can try!
Father Bob’s last Sunday homily…
Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
This would be a great time to talk about the Lateran Basilica if I had ever been to Rome. But I have been to our two churches and I love them. It is a good week to talk about churches as we honor the Mother Church of all Christendom.
The actual church building is obviously not as important as what they contain. The Church is the People of God and nothing is more important than the community that grows within it. But churches are important. You taught me that. I know that from our merger process a couple of years ago. When we had our town meetings the first question would be “Which Church are you going to close?” I would say, “We are not going to close either Church.” Then the second question would be, “Well, in five years which Church are you going…
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I saw a bumper sticker today that said “Grace happens”. It touched my heart and made me smile. It is so good to stay with those little moments. They are what make or break a day. Because even on the worst days, graced moments happen. A friend of mine, Joyce, calls them ‘God winks’. They are simple, little encounters that move us, make us sigh, speak yes to us, bring inner goodness out.
The bumper sticker was unexpected. That particular car happened to be in front of me, and I happened to see it. I told my son Thomas to look at it too. We were on our way to a piano lesson. He was talking about his classes at school and how a boy was teasing him about a girl. I was turning off the radio so I could hear him better. Everyday stuff. Then this bumper sticker pops up. Grace happens. It was like God popping into our conversation to say hi. What a wonderful surprise. Thomas and I began to talk about the bumper sticker and what it meant to us. It morphed into a conversation about the death penalty somehow, but that is a blog for another day. My point is God surprised us, and we happily noticed.
Pope Francis says we have a God of surprises. He says, “…God is the God of surprises, that God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us.” Do we open our hearts to them?
I think when we do, we start to see them all the time. We look for them. We hope for them. We want to make them for others. I bet that’s what the driver of that bumper sticker-ed car thought. I bet she (I say she because the words “Grace happens” were surrounded by pink flowers, but I don’t want to be accused of sexism…she could be a he.) saw God surprises in her life and wanted to join in the fun.
It’s contagious once your heart can feel the joy in God’s surprises. Maybe it’s an unsolicited hug, a pleasant comment on Facebook or a smile between strangers. They can be in nature, like geese flying under pink-tinged clouds or a single rose blooming despite the chill in the air. Sometimes they are big surprises. Sometimes they are little. Like the other day, my older son Nolan said he enjoyed the banter going on between his dad and I in the car more than anything else about that outing (God must hang out in cars a lot.). I was pleasantly surprised how much he enjoyed our company. It made all of us feel good, and it carried us through the day.
I’m sure I miss a lot of surprises. I let my mind get full of what I need to do, what isn’t getting done. I let myself get distracted. Instead, I need to be present to the possibility of God’s surprises. Notice them. It’s the good stuff of life that brings joy and peace.
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Before we really begin, how many of you believe you are a disciple of Christ. (A good number of hands are raised.) Good, we were at the Diocesan Autumn Gathering yesterday and someone said that they once asked the people of a really good parish if they thought they were disciples of Christ and no one thought they were. I am glad we are doing pretty well.
I have spent the past week along with 28 of your brothers and sisters from our community in the shadow of saints as we were on pilgrimage to Montreal to visit the shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Joseph’s Oratory. We were immersed in how they loved the Lord their God with all their strength, heart and soul and their neighbor as themselves as Jesus points us two in naming the two great commandments. And…
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When my oldest daughter was in first grade, her beloved goldfish Googley died. Googley was one of those famous NiskaDay fish. When she proudly brought him home two years before, I gave him three days at most. But this fish with one giant eye and one normal sized eye flourished under the care that Kate and her father gave it. They purchased a proper fish tank and fed it precise amounts of food. Her father cleaned the tank on a regular basis. (I learned one day that my good salad bowl was used as Googley’s temporary playground on cleaning days!)
While I never bonded with Googley, Kate did. She took comfort in the glow of the light of his tank as she drifted to sleep. At other times she just enjoyed watching him.
Then one day it happened. Googley died. While I thought, “It’s just a goldfish,” her thoughts were different. She wanted to know when we were going to Gleason Funeral Home and when the Mass would be.
Even at the age of 6, she had the need for ritual and community support. While Googley didn’t have the benefit of the Order of Christian Funerals, we did provide Kate with ritual and support. Her friends and grandmothers came over. We lit her baptismal candle, and we wrote memories of Googley on fish shaped paper and pasted it to a larger fish poster. Her friends told her that their Grandfather who had died was taking care of Googley now in heaven. We prayed together. Then we ate goldfish shaped crackers. While Kate was still sad that Googley had died, she appreciated that her friends, neighbors and grandmothers came and made a poster, shared stories, prayed, and ate with her.
Now I am involved in funeral ministry. I assist families as they are planning their funerals. One of the interesting challenges I find in working with families who are preplanning are those who have decided to forgo parts of the Order of Christian Funerals.
It is common to hear a person say that they aren’t planning on having calling hours or the vigil. There are many reasons we hear this. One of the most common is that they don’t like to go to wakes, so they don’t want others to have to go. I doubt that anyone likes to go to wakes. However, when you are the one who is grieving and you hear a little story about your loved one that you wouldn’t have known otherwise, it makes a big difference that people came. As Catholics, we are called to gently accompany the mourners. When you have been on the receiving end of support provided during the wake, you would never consider taking that away from your loved ones.
The calling hours are a time that pictures, videos, favorite songs, and stories can be shared. It can be a time of both laughter and tears.
When my marriage ended, I wanted a wake. I wanted everyone to know that my family as I knew it was no more. I needed the kind words and support. I got the casseroles. Friends showed up with meals to see the girls and I through the early days. However, I went through what people who forgo calling hours talk about and that is going to the grocery store. You just want to run into the store and get some milk and bread and you run into someone that says, “I heard about… and I’m really sorry.” One family I worked with over a funeral who didn’t have a wake said, “I wish I had known how many people my mom had known and wanted to share stories with me. Every time I go to the store someone stops me. In a way I think I did THEM a disservice.”
At times we hear from people that aren’t going to have a funeral Mass; instead, they are going to have a celebration of life. In the early years of the Church, Christians joyfully praised God even as they experienced great sorrow at the death of their loved ones. While it is important to celebrate the life the deceased lived, that portion could be done the night before during the vigil.
For centuries, the bereaved have taken comfort in the funeral liturgy. The parish priest and bereavement ministers are able to help the family of the deceased with their spiritual and psychological needs. The Mass is one way to accept the reality of death, and comfort one another.
There will be a funeral Mass for me when I go. I’m not taking any chances. I’m human, I’m not perfect. I need a few extra prayers to make it into heaven. And heck, if you want to remember me every year on All Souls Day that would be appreciated too!
The final portion of the Order of Christian Funerals that some people choose to eliminate is the committal. For families that choose cremation, many believe that committal is optional. While the Church has allowed cremation since 1963, its teaching still calls for cremated remains to be given the same respect casketed remains are given. Keeping cremated remains at home presents a unique challenge. What happens to the cremated remains you have kept at home when you die? Who will get them? Do they want them? There are many permanent options for the burial of cremated remains. These allow for memorialization so that future generations can know you were here.
When my youngest lost her beloved hamster Gumball, we went out to dinner with friends to Ferrari’s Restaurant. We prayed, shared stories about pets and people we lost. Mrs. Ferrari sat down, brought the girls dessert and talked about the love of a pet and God’s love. Again, it didn’t make Mary-Margaret’s pain any less, but the ritual was a starting place for her grief.
The Basilica of St John Lateran was dedicated by Pope Sylvester on November 9, 324. For nearly 1700 years, it has been the place of numerous worshiping communities, church councils, Bishops of Rome (Popes), fires, earthquakes, wars, barbarians, neglect, and reconstructions! It also has a “holy door” which is opened every 25 years to mark the beginning of the celebration of a jubilee year. It was originally known as the Church of Our Savior. Later it was renamed for the large baptistery in honor of St. John the Baptist that is also located there. It is called the “Mother-Church” because it was the first Christian church to be publicly dedicated. Before this, for almost 300 years, the Roman Empire had tried to wipe out Christianity through many severe persecutions. Then, in 324, Emperor Constantine granted Christians the right to worship publicly. After, Constantine’s conversion, the land and palace of the Laterini family owned by his wife, Fausta, was donated to the Bishop of Rome as his residence. This basilica was then built and dedicated. It became the first official Christian church building. Thus, it is a fitting symbol of our freedom as Christians and the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within the Church, God’s People.
We know the church is not the building, but there is something about a holy place that draws us in, helps us feel at home and gives a sense of belonging and unity. What do our church buildings mean to you?
1st Reading – Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Ezekiel was a priest, prophet, mystic, poet, visionary and – some feel – a bit deranged. He certainly had his times of hallucinations. Yet, he was also attuned to the needs of the people of his time. He tried to help them face their failings and sins; then he tried to shore up their hopes when despair was near. (Celebrations, Nov. 1997, and 2003)
This is the hopeful side of Ezekiel that we see here. Although Ezekiel and his people are in exile, he offers them this vision of the temple, an idealized blueprint for the later rebuilding. Not only will this temple be filled with new life, but the river that flows from will heal the land and even turn salty ‘dead sea’ into fresh, living waters. The ‘sea’ was a symbol of chaos and evil . . . but this river of God’s presence can bring healing to all. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids
And a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage
And a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is the river, swimmer
So let go. ~Peter Mayer
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11
With no temple or synagogue in which to convene, the early Christians met together in their homes for prayer and Eucharist. Since most homes became too small, ‘house churches’ began to exist. In Corinth, for example, there were at least four different house churches which Paul addressed in his letters (see I Cor. 1: 10-16). Sometimes rivalry sprang up among these churches. Paul‘s letters are often a call for unity, around Jesus Christ, the only foundation. (Celebrations, Nov. 1997)
The temple imagery is pointing primarily to the place of the indwelling Spirit, not a place of worship. Christ is not only present in the reserved sacrament, but is to be vibrantly present through the Spirit in his body, the Church. Here the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation. A foundation marks out the shape of the building to be erected. It is the task of all who come after Christ to see to it that the church keeps the shape of its original foundation. (“Scripture in Depth, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
The Gospel — John (2: 13-22)
Here in John’s gospel right after the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus
‘cleanses’ the temple at Passover time. Both Malachi (3:14) and Zechariah (14:1-21) picture the time of the Messiah beginning with the Lord “suddenly coming to his temple to purify and to cleanse.” Jesus obviously knew his own Jewish Scriptures; so did the writer of John’s Gospel. So unlike the other gospels (which put this cleansing just before Jesus arrest and death), John puts it right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. (Celebrations, Nov. 2003)
Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” This phrase is used 27 times in John’s gospel. In John 14:2, Jesus uses these words to refer to the kingdom of eternal life: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” What meanings do you attach to this phrase? Later, he then refers to the Temple as the “temple of his body.” How as a Christian do you understand this section?
Why is Jesus so angry in this gospel story? Was it just that the money changers and merchants were so conniving and selfish? Or, was it that he knew that this temple was to be a place where people could give their best in symbolic gifts to the God whose love was total and everlasting? All the noise of buying and selling, all the pretense and self-righteousness distracted people from the real God who was present in their midst. This must have broken Jesus’ heart. NO, he said. Our hearts must be the bottom line, not greed or self-indulgence. Jesus was a man of passion, a man filled with God’s passion and love. His anger is like the very wrath of God that is stirred up by our lack of response and our self-centered ways. But this wrath is meant to change us. At every Mass we have the chance to join Jesus in putting God first in our lives. (J. Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)