I visited my parents this weekend. They live in Syracuse near my sister. I grew up in a little town called Moira in upstate New York (the real upstate…my husband calls it southern Canada). As my parents got older, access to good health care didn’t seem adequate there anymore. They sold their home and now live in senior housing. Every time I see them, they complain about having to see so many doctors and how often the ambulance comes to their complex. My response is always the same: Getting old stinks.
Well, it does and it doesn’t. The hard part, it seems, is that our bodies stop cooperating. We are still ourselves on the inside, but our limbs get stuck, our skin sags and our engines don’t want to run the way they did. My mom especially seemed older to me this time. She hunches in her chair, as if it is going to swallow her up. She looks just like my grandmother did when she sat in her favorite chair.
The great thing about getting older is the time already spent. The blessing of experiences, the relationships with people and the lessons learned all add up to the richness in years. I don’t know if time makes decisions easier, but I think there is more meaning in them. We often call older people wise. Getting older is like the strength we see in a long-standing tree. The bark may buckle and split, and the branches may not be as supple over time, but they are so much nicer to sit under with their shade. They stand up to the heaviest storms. Getting older has the benefit of looking back. We can’t be beautiful oaks without being saplings first.
So aging isn’t so bad, but I still don’t like seeing it happen. I don’t like seeing my mom sink in her chair. And as I work longer at our parish, I notice going to more and more funerals. I see more gray in my own hair, and I sometimes forget why I came into a room. But that’s life, right? I’d rather be here for the ride God gave us, take the risk of living and get to know the wonder of people (this creation!) than sit idly by. We live, we love, we try to find meaning and we make our place in the world. Being numb isn’t living. Like my favorite line in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Age can be a blessing or a curse. We have to choose…and I think God always chooses life for us.
Someday I may be hunched in a chair too, but hopefully with a smile on my face. What’s your choice?
Reading 1: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
This is a story of a people in relationship with their God. It is a story of sin and grace, bondage and deliverance. The exodus-event, then and now, was the axis upon which Israel’s history spun, just as the cross is the axis upon which Christianity revolves. While there is no certain date for the book, most scholars place it around 13 BC. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 593)
Manna was a sweet substance excreted from insects that lived in the Sinai desert. It is left on the leaves of the tamarisk shrub during May and June. It cools overnight, drops to the earth and becomes firm. If left on the ground, it would soon melt again; but if it is gathered in the early morning, it provides a tasty, nourishing feast. It is still eaten today. The word ‘manna’ may be from the Aramaic man hu, or what is this?. Quail are migratory birds that often fall from exhaustion over the desert. Both are regarded as gifts from God. (594) What do you see as the gifts from God in your life? At a time when the Israelites may have been the least-deserving of help, God showers them with nourishment.
Reading 2: Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
This reading is all about choice. How do we become the people that God calls us to be? How do we say no to doing wrong and yes to doing right? Sometimes our bad habits are just that…habits. Sometimes it is easier to keep doing what might be wrong for us because it is what we have always done. But it is futile.
Through Christ, there is hope! We can shed our old ways and be renewed! Like the white cloth in Baptism, we can “wear” a new life. We can choose to be new, but only through Jesus. How might this apply beyond ourselves, like the state of the economy, the environment, problems in the church…a lot is broken in this world…if God doesn’t fix them, who will (a loaded question)?
Gospel: John 6:24-35
We are forever wanting. As Ronald Rolheiser put in his book, The Holy Longing, “…there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul, “(p.3). But he ends his book, “Thus, given that we live under a smiling, relaxed, all-forgiving, and all-powerful God, we too should relax and smile, at least once in a while, because, irrespective of anything that has ever happened or will ever happen, in the end, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well, “(p. 241). We will never go hungry or thirst if we do the work of God, which is to believe in Him.
What memories do you have of bread? How does God feed you with the living bread?
Jesus specifies only one work of God, faith in the person of his Son. Faith is not a human accomplishment but is affected by God himself. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 517). What do you think of that?
The people are confused. They had just witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, then Jesus left. They didn’t know how he got there, but he avoids this question. It is more important why THEY are there! They are looking for more miracles from him, like Moses. Jesus explains to them that Moses didn’t perform the miracle of the manna, God did. And now God has sent them bread in the form of Jesus. Are they ready to hear this news?
“For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” In the ancient world, where the skills of reading and writing were not generally diffused, the seal served as a signature. The seal was usually made of semiprecious stone. It was regarded as something to be kept on the person at all times. (Dictionary of the Bible, McKenzie, 782) Jesus was chosen, permanently sealed with God’s mark. It isn’t just what Jesus taught that we believe in…it is Jesus himself.
In the Hebrew mind-set, faith is an act of heart and soul – not necessarily the intellect. To our modern culture, faith often refers to matters of the mind – belief in certain dogmas, or belief in one who possesses authority (i.e. doctor, clergy, etc.). In Middle Eastern thought faith has more to do with loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 597). Can you think of times when you made decisions with your head vs. your heart?
Let us pray in the spirit of the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6):
Brothers and sisters,
St. Paul urges us to live in a manner worthy of the call
we have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as we were also called to the one hope of our call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all. AMEN
This is the translation in The Message: “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.” How does this speak to you?
1st Reading: 2 Kings 4: 42-44
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, 583-584:
The faith history of Israel between King David’s death and the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.) is encapsulated in the Books of Kings. These books relate the history of a people in relationship with their God. It gives a rather panoramic view of the Davidic dynasty, the relationship between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea), and the religious judgments of a people. During this time the prophetic tradition also developed. The kings and leaders and the people were not only to worship Yahweh, but they were to live according to the wisdom and love of Yahweh. Elijah and Elisha were early, legendary prophets and holy men. Many of the remembered stories of them are a bit like epic cinema. None of the other prophets spoke of miracles, but the powerful ministries of these two men are replete with such stories.
Barley loaves were used in the Temple offering. The man who brought the bread to Elisha as “first fruit” also has a liturgical significance. By rights the man should have taken the ritual bread to the Gilgal sanctuary, which had been turned into a shrine to the pagan god, Baal. He chose, instead, to take the bread to Elisha as a sign that he would not worship idols but would remain true to the one Lord and God. First fruits are sacred, something very meaningful and precious to offer to the Lord. What are your first fruits? Are you willing to lift them up to the Lord?
The Gospel: John 6: 1-15
What does this story reveal to you about God? Notice the setting: It is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. 5,000 people were there (quite different from the wedding feast of Cana, the first sign in John’s gospel). Jesus is up on a mountain, like Moses – and like Moses he is called to care for a great, hungry multitude. Twelve wicker baskets…like the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, all the people—a number of completeness. Barley is the type of bread used, the bread of the poor – it also was used in Temple worship. Barley is a hearty grain. It can survive extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought. It matures in less time than other grains. The feast of Passover coincides with the barley feast, so it no surprise that barley cakes take a star role in this drama. Galilee was famous for its pickled fish; dried fish was also common – an easy ‘luncheon meat’ to bring along for a journey. The word fish in Greek (ichtys) was also an acronym for Jesus Christ Savior, Son of God, and a symbol used in the early church to identify Christians.
Consider how limited the disciples seem in their problem solving. Philip can’t seem to figure out how to feed the crowd. Their limitations are like the church’s limitations. There aren’t enough priests…how will the people receive Eucharist? But Andrew and the little boy are more imaginative. How do we overcome our limitations?
Also consider what happens with the crowd when they have to share. Jesus created a sense of community when 5 thousand people (probably more since as the scripture says, it only included men) gathered. There is common ground in everyone sharing the same food…one body, one Spirit (in Ephesians). Sunday by Sunday by Shawn Madigan, CSJ
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Let’s talk about Amos, one of my favorite prophets. I like him because he is bold and courageous. But he also has the most interesting occupation in the bible. He was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. I have no idea what that means but it has always intrigued me. What does a dresser of sycamores do? I just picture them walking around and imagining what outfit would look best on this tree.
Anyway, Amos has moved from the poorer southern kingdom of Judah to preach in the more prosperous northern kingdom of Israel. He speaks of economic injustice and unjust systems the way Pope Francis has this past week in South America. And he is obviously unwelcomed. A distressed priest asks him to return home and earn his money by prophesying in Judah. Amos says something akin to “I ain’t no…
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1st Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6
How does God punish evil? By focusing more on the good! Instead of striking down the evil doers, God promises that he will gather ALL of his flock and they shall multiply. None shall be missing!
And who is the righteous shoot of David but Jesus Christ. This type of writing in the Bible is considered typology. “typology is seen as a method by which Old Testament events are seen as types or figures of the work of Christ; more than that, it reflects a theological understanding of salvation as enacted and revealed in history,” (Medieval Liturgy, Mayeski, 63). Events are fulfilled in Christ. Right now, Christ continues to fulfill these things in the Church. Where do you see this? How do we live in security and justice today?
Jeremiah speaks out against the kings of Israel who have traditionally been seen as shepherds to God’s people. Their power was to protect and guide their people, not to destroy and use them. Needless to say, Jeremiah was not popular among these corrupt kings. He suffered greatly (and not silently either!) Jeremiah spoke about the sheep being scattered across the land – the people were exiled. Israel sinned and was unfaithful to the covenant. (Birmingham, W&W, 575) What scatters and drives us away from God?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2: 13-18
Peace is a many-splendored word! The Hebrew word, shalom, has a rich meaning of fullness of goodness, completeness, perfection. Peace is not about mere prosperity – an essential component of peace is righteousness. Where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace. Jesus brings us this kind of peace. (Dictionary of the Bible, John McKenzie, S.J., 651)
“that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two”…what do you think that means? Paul indirectly refers to Trinity, that Jesus the Son and the Father are united and later on, that “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”. Who is we? We are the Gentiles and the Jews, together equal and both offered this peace that only Jesus can provide. We are invited to have a relationship like that of Trinity. God wants to be one with all of us. That is true peace.
Also consider Paul’s language of who is near and far. Think of those who are near and far from you, especially this summer when there is so much travel. It is good to go away but there is always an ache to be together again! How are you near and far from God?
The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
This gospel is very carefully structured. We need to pay close attention to the order that Mark has given us. At the beginning of this 6th chapter, Jesus goes home to Nazareth but is rejected by his own people (the gospel of 2 Sundays ago). Then, last Sunday we see Jesus (not deterred at all by the rejection) sending out his apostles in twos to preach and to heal. This week we jump over Mark’s story of John the Baptist’s death to the return of the apostles and Jesus’ compassion toward them – and then toward the crowd of hungry people in “a deserted place”. What do you make of this story and the order? We all need to go off to a deserted place to rest at times. What deserted places have you found helpful?
Picture Jesus listening to the apostles. It is almost like when Dad comes home from work and everyone fights to be first to tell him about their day. He listens to them with such compassion…he knows how hard they are trying and wants them to have rest. But the crowd is ever present and needy. We might be irritated by this! But, “their need calls forth from him what he does best – generously subordinate his needs so he can minister to the needs of others…There will always be a faithful Shepherd who will not mislead, who will not abandon the truth, who will never desert the flock,” (Workbook for Lectors, 211). How does this compare with the first reading?
Shepherding in the church, which today embraces many people in diverse ministries, calls for a Christ-like openness and responsiveness. How we do things is as important as what we do. That is the asceticism of Christianity. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 491). What do you think?
The Hebrew word for pity described in the text is ‘womb’. Jesus is drawn to help the crowd because his heart burns for them like a mother to a baby within her. When people are hurting and hungry, disciples of Christ are to extend the compassion of God and one’s very life to them – balanced, of course, with appropriate doses of much needed solitude, contemplation, and prayer (W&W, Birmingham, 578). How do you achieve this balance?
In The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis, he says that the shepherd (or priest) takes on the smell of the sheep. But he also says that ALL evangelizers must take this on. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice, “ (p. 8). We are all called.
1st Reading – Amos 7: 12-15
Amos was a relative nobody – or as he says a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores (a seasonal job which involved puncturing their fig-like fruit at a certain time – it improved the taste). He was not a ‘professional or ordained’ religious person; Amaziah was a priest of Bethel, the royal sanctuary, sort of a national cathedral. Amos was not getting paid to ‘make’ the king look good – or to ‘stroke his ego’. We do know that he felt called by God to speak this powerful and unpopular message. He was not called because he was great; he is great because he responded to God’s call and did as God requested. In this way Amos prefigures those in the gospel who are sent out.(Living Liturgy, 2003, 171)
Amos sounds like he was comfortable with his pursuit in life as a shepherd and then God called him to be a prophet to the people. Have you ever felt “comfortable” but had a nagging sense that God was calling you to something more? Amos was almost like an early Robin Hood. He had a mission – proclaim God’s Word to the people, no matter how unpopular or unpatriotic it may be, even if it meant castigating the king (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 565). Think of the focus and determination he must have had…could you do it?
2nd Reading – The Letter to the Ephesians 1: 3-14
This letter is like a love letter…we are chosen, blessed, adopted by a God who loves us. It is doubtful that Paul actually wrote this letter, but it might have been based on previous letters he had written. It is a collection of prayers and preaching, probably an ancient liturgical hymn used in the baptismal liturgy (W&W, Birmingham, 565).
From Can You Drink the Cup? Henri Nouwen:
Jesus took upon himself all this suffering and lifted it up on the cross, not as a curse but as a blessing. He gave himself away for us, so that we may live in community. He became for us food and drink so that we can be fed for everlasting life. The Eucharist is that sacred mystery through which what we lived as a curse we now live as a blessing (p. 74-75). This is what this letter to the Ephesians is getting at. We are blessed and made holy by Christ. We are chosen to be one with Him. We enter into this mystery at Eucharist in a tangible way. We are all welcome to the table. Do you feel these words when you receive Eucharist?
The Gospel – Mark 6: 7-13
From Living Liturgy, 2003, 170: In our own lives we carry much baggage on our journey as disciples of Jesus. We have closets full of clothes, pantries and refrigerators full of food . . . The practical instructions of Jesus might not suit us well today; it might even be irresponsible to divest ourselves of all of our possessions. It could certainly be dangerous to go out ‘hitch-hiking’ through the country to try to share the good news of Jesus Christ. At the same time, this gospel does invite us to examine what it is that hinders us in our day and society from fulfilling our mission on which Jesus sends us.
What distracts us? What fears and attitudes get in our way? What burdens do we carry needlessly? What keeps us from living our baptism?
Jesus sent the disciples with oil. Oil was commonly used in the treatment of medical conditions, thus it was appropriately associated with Jesus’ miraculous healing mission. Jesus used the things of ordinary life and common experience to demonstrate God’s incredible power – water, mud, spittle, bread, wine (W&W, Birmingham, 567). Where is God in the ordinary of your life today?
“Shake the dust off your feet” is almost taking a stand in nonviolence. No retaliation, just move on. There are no grudges. Can you shake the dust off your feet if someone is unwelcoming to you? By knowing where they were welcome, it set up a network of safe houses for the disciples. Perhaps this was the beginning of the early church.
Father Bob’s homily to the Class of 2015…
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time B (Baccalaureate Mass)
The Gospel speaks of touch and faith. A man sees his daughter dying and he places all his faith in the hands of Jesus, confident that if Christ places his hands upon her head his daughter might be healed. And there is the still greater faith of the woman who will not even dare to ask Jesus for prayers. She believes that the suffering of the past twelve years caused by her bleeding might be cured if she were to but touch his cloak. And of course their faith is rewarded. The touch of Christ is a powerful thing.
Much of your lives can be defined by touch and faith as well. I am sure your parents can recall the first time you wrapped your infant hands around their finger. Or way back when you used to joyfully and willingly held…
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1st Reading – Ezekiel 2: 2-5
Abraham Heschel describes a prophet as, “a person, not a microphone. S/He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness –but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality. It is not only what s/he said but also what s/he lived. The prophet was an individual who said No to his/her society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism,” (The Prophets, p. x-xv).
When have you been obstinate of heart? Did you wish God set your feet straight? What prophets are among us now? How are we prophets?
The daily reflection from http://onlineministries.creighton.edu says, “We are prophets when our lifestyle reflects an alternative to the easy conformities of our cultures.” We must live as we are meant to live. But the right way to live isn’t always the easy way. Ezekiel is trying to convince a people who see God as a tyrant that he is a prophet for them. Not an easy task.
The term “Son of Man” gives emphasis to the human being who is to be the bearer of the divine message. Ezekiel saw himself as called to this title; so did Jesus. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
What do you make of this? It is questionable what Paul’s burden is, but we all have our own weaknesses and burdens. Some commentators say he had epilepsy, some an ophthalmic condition or maybe depression. From http://liturgy.slu.edu, “But if, like him, we learn to be ‘content with our weakness, for the sake of Christ,’ we may one day find ourselves unleashed, our hearts emboldened, our words firm and free.” Think of St. Kateri and her suffering from small pox and not being able to see well. She is quoted to have said, “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus.” Are you willing to give yourself over completely, weaknesses and all?
But Paul did not use excuses to limit his life. He knew vividly his own problems and difficulties – he even begged many times to be relieved of the ‘thorn in his flesh.’ But perhaps through his prayer he came to realize that none of his ‘work’ was about his weakness – but it was about trusting that God’s grace was sufficient for whatever was necessary. He learned to be content with weakness for the sake of Christ “in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” Like Paul, when we are weak, it is then that we are strong – in and with the Lord. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel — Mark 6: 1-6
Do you find this true in your own life, when you return to your hometown or see friends and family from your past? Where are you in this story?
Most scholars think that this passage has a ring of historicity. It is probably unlikely that the early church would have told stories about Jesus being rejected in his own hometown if it were not based on a real event. It was probably a very important story for them because they themselves often experienced rejection of their own when they tried to share ‘the Jesus story’ with their families and close acquaintances. And, of course, as Jesus will soon begin his journey to Jerusalem, this rejection will culminate in the horrible rejection of the cross. But even that horror will not end the truth and power of his life and word. (R. Fuller, OSB, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In Jesus’ culture there was no expectation of ‘doing better than one’s parents.’ In fact honor required that a person stay in their inherited status and make no effort to improve on it. Any effort to ‘better oneself’ was seen as a threat to others. So Jesus aroused anxiety on this point alone. Then, craftsmen at this time – especially those who lived in small hamlets like Nazareth – had to leave home to find work. They had to leave their women and children at home without proper male protection. Such craftsmen were, thus, looked upon as ‘without shame.’ How could such a one have such power and wisdom? “And they took offense at him.” (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
From Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. J. Martin:
In consulting with 1st century archeologist Jonathan Reed, a Jewish village of that size at the time would not have had a synagogue. There has been no evidence discovered yet. People would have most likely gathered outside, like an open space in the village, or maybe the courtyard of a wealthy homeowner (115). Picture Jesus in that setting. It is likely that Jesus knew how a message of openness to the Gentiles would be received in his hometown. Nonetheless he is fearless. How? Courage from grace, yes. But he also had a freedom from any desire for approval from the people in Nazareth. He needed only to be true to himself. He loved the people of Nazareth, but he saw beyond that (125). How often do we worry about what people think of us? Does it keep us from moving forward?