Father Bob’s homily last weekend…
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
I love being on a mission. I love the thrill of having a goal and the time and the determination to pursue that one big thing. It give me clarity of thought and absolute focus. There is the joy of singlemindedness and almost a purity of spirit as we pursue the mission. We block out any diversions and keep our eyes straight ahead with our eyes on the prize. To put it in a timely manner, being on mission feels like the World Series of life.
And when that mission is the mission of Jesus Christ, my excitement even grows. What could be more important than spreading the good news of the Lord? Nothing can quicken my pulse like the idea that the word of God is reaching where it has never been before; that someone unfamiliar with the promise of eternal life…
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1st Reading — The Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9 – 14)
This is the last book of the Bible. It abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism and language. This type of apocalyptic writing uses symbolic colors, metals, garments and numbers. It tries to show graphically how awful evil is and how much it offends the goodness of God. This book has its origin in a time of crisis and persecution, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the midst of horrible evil and suffering, we are called to trust and remain faithful to Christ and to a God whose care is ever with us – and will be with us for all eternity. No matter what adversity or sacrifice we may endure as Christians, we will end in triumph over evil and pain. This is its enduring message. It is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe. (The Catholic Answer Bible, Fireside Catholic Publishing, pp. 1372-1373)
Symbolism according to Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Iowa:
East: Or the place the sun rises. This is often connected somehow with God.
Seals: Hide the secrets of the future. Only God knows them and opens them.
144,000: All of God’s people. 12 means God’s people, and 10 means complete. Cubed (10x10x10) is holy and perfect. 144,000 (12x12x10x10x10) is really ALL of God’s people, holy and perfect.
White: Clean & pure, or victory & triumph.
Elders: There are 24 elders: 12 Old Testament and 12 New Testament
4 Living Creatures: Cherubim or seraphim, like God’s personal servants. They are very close to God and His throne and carry His word.
Throne: Where God is, the center of all His glory and power.
We often think of saints and martyrs as sort of ‘out-of-the-world’ holy people – far beyond our own experience or sense of goodness. But this Sunday should remind us that they were also ordinary folk like us. We should find encouragement along with the challenge. God doesn’t judge us only on our weakness but on our persevering in our willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others. The simple, everyday things we do will wash us in the blood of the lamb. Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Simple, kind, ordinary ways of giving of ourselves brings the kingdom of God’s love and goodness closer . . . (Living Liturgy, 2003, p.236)
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-3
This letter is dealing with ‘false teaching’ from within the Christian church around the year 100 A.D. Some were denying the true humanity of Christ; some also misunderstood what it meant to be Christian. This reading is dealing with the second problem. Some people were claiming to be already perfected. They saw no need for moral effort. The writer is trying to encourage them not to rely on their own strength or ‘perfection’ – but on the goodness and love of the Father that Christ has given us. We are his children and must trust as children and live as children of this good and caring Father.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
But isn’t it true that when we are questioning our faith, our journey, our identity…we are also questioning where love is in that deep well in ourselves? We need to be reminded that God’s presence is here. God is with us. God’s love will never leave us. It is knit in our bones. And right now, not just when we think we “have it all together”. This letter from John speaks to that inner conflict we sometimes have.
The Gospel – Matthew 5: 1-12a
This Sermon on the Mount was “the concentrated memory of many heart to heart” talks that Jesus probably had with his disciples. This is what he would teach them. Matthew writes that Jesus “sat down” – the typical position of a rabbi when he was teaching. He also says: “He opened his mouth and taught them.” This Greek phrase meant two things: 1) it was used of a solemn, serious, and dignified utterance – often used when referring to the saying of an oracle. 2) It was also used when a person was really opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind – an intimate and profound teaching.
Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
The Greek word for poor that is used here is ptochos. It means absolute and abject poverty. It describes the one who has nothing, a beggar. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, this idea of poverty underwent this kind of development: it meant poor, and because they were poor they had no power, or help or influence or honor or prestige. Finally, because of all this, they had no hope except to put their whole trust in God. So the poor came to describe the one who was humble and totally reliant on God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (Ps. 34:6) See also Psalms 9:18, 35:10, 68:10, 107:41 to name just a few.
**We must be careful not to think that Jesus is saying that actual material poverty is a good thing. Jesus would never declare ‘blessed’ a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat, and where health rots because conditions are all against it. That kind of poverty we as Christians are called to remove.
Blessed are they who mourn . . .
The word used here for mourning is the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. It is the passionate lament for a loved one. It is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden. It is a sorrow that calls for compassion from others – and that Jesus reassures us will come from God. God does not send ‘suffering’ – but God can help us cope with it – and even learn from it. Sorrow can ‘drive’ us to the deep things of life. We are also called by Jesus to be people who deeply care about others, who empathize and feel with them. As God became one of us in Jesus, so are we called to unite with others. It is right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. We are asked by Jesus to care intensely about the sufferings and needs of others – to mourn over the evil and sickness and blindness in this world – to work with God to comfort and overcome the suffering where we can.
Blessed are the meek . . .
The Greek word for meek, praus, expressed a great ethical idea. It was the happy medium between too much and too little anger. It was also commonly used to describe an animal that had been domesticated, trained. It was also the opposite of pride and “lofty-heartedness’. It meant true humility. It is a quality that helps us to realize the truth about ourselves — that we need to learn and to be forgiven – that we need to be God-controlled: gentle towards others and open to God’s Holy Spirit.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . .
Few of us really know what it is to be hungry or thirsty. In our abundance, we rarely starve for food or die of thirst – even if we use these words often. Yet, this is the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about –a starving and thirsting for goodness, for what is right. God does not care just about our achievements, but also about our dreams – our yearnings – our hungers. If we hunger and thirst for God’s goodness, Jesus tells us that God will supply our need.
Blessed are the merciful . . .
The Hebrew idea for mercy that Jesus is using means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel with his feelings. This is what God did in Jesus: God came to be one with us. Jesus is asking us to let God help us to reach out in the same way to others.
Blessed are the pure in heart (clean of heart) . . .
The Greek words for pure is katharos; it has a variety of meanings. It means clean, such as soiled clothes that have been washed clean. It was also used to describe corn or wheat that had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all its chaff. It also was often used to mean unadulterated or unmixed – such as a pure metal or wine. Jesus is calling us to be people who are sincerely who we are – not to be fake or have hidden agendas.
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
The Hebrew idea of peace is expressed in the word shalom. It means everything which makes life good, full, healthy. It is the presence of all good things. We are called not just to be peace-lovers, but peace-makers. It can be that if we love peace in the wrong way, we may allow a dangerous or threatening situation to develop and not take any action to prevent it because we ‘just want peace and quiet.’ As peacemakers, we are not to pile up troubles for another day, but to do all we can to create life-giving situations. What this beatitude is demanding is that we do not passively accept things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things and the making of peace even when the way to peace is through struggle. We are to make the world a better place for all to live in – to help create right relationships with all others. Peacemakers are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live – people who bridge the gulfs and heal the broken – and sweeten the bitterness of life. Such people do God’s work.
Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .
Jesus is honest; being his follower is not going to be easy. But it is the way God will bless this world with God’s presence and strength. It is the way to abundant life. Jesus wants us to remember that despite persecution and hardship “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121)
(Wm. Barclay, The Daily Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1)
This feast day was originally one for the early martyrs, when there were so many that all the names could not be listed. This is long before there was anything official about canonization. Also, in the New Testament all baptized Christians were called saints, hagioi, holy ones. The Greek means, ‘called as saints.” (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. ) Who or what do you think of on this day?
The Communion of Saints is an important reminder that our relationship with God and with Christ is both vertical and horizontal, and that our relationship is always mediated. “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to humankind his presence and his face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his Kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn . . . our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ.” (R. P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol.II, 890; Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church)
“What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation . . .the incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine.” (Ronald Rolheiser, Holy Longing, 74, 76)
Those in heaven live fully with God,
yet they remain united to us in love . . .
They pray for us.
They worship with us.
They lend us their spiritual strength in our weakness . . .
In the Eucharist, the whole communion of Christ,
living and dead,
gathers around the table . . .
we experience a profound closeness
with those who have gone before us . . .
It is a marvelous gathering of heaven and earth!
(Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,#49)
The 1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 7-9
This is a reading of compassion at a time of exile and hardship.
What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘remnant’? The thesaurus lists these ideas: remainder, relic, leftover, residue, trace, vestige, scrap, end . . .
Yet, in Hebrew scriptures this remnant was the few and the faithful who would survive because of their faith in the Lord. They are a ‘motley lot’ but they journey with a God who loves them and who cares for them like a father for his first-born.
This ‘remnant of the needy’ shows us a spirituality that has learned to depend on God for survival and salvation. They were in need and disadvantaged: blind, lame – mothers and mothers-to-be – without husbands. They needed God’s consolation and guidance – and each other’s support. This is a constant theme that echoes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Ps. 34:6; Sirach 21:15).It is meant to challenge all of us: if God is so concerned for the needy, how can God’s people be otherwise? (Preaching Resources, October, 2003)
Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, but he received the blessing of the first born from Jacob instead of Manasseh. Jacob crossed his hands so his right hand was blessing Ephraim instead. Ephraim is one of the tribes of Israel (another name for Jacob), but he represents all of Israel in this reading. How does this prepare us for the gospel?
The 2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 1-6
Who is Melchizedek? See Genesis 14: 17-20. Melchizedek means ‘king of Salem [peace] and priest of the Most High’. He embodied ‘mysteriousness’ since he seemed to have no history – no family or lineage. Thus, he also stood for a priest with no limits of time and space; he offered bread and wine and blessed Abraham in the name of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth, who delivered him from his foes. He seemed to transcend history with an eternal connection to this God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus comes ‘in the line of Melchizedek”. (Birmingham, W& W, 696)
From Bishop Matthew Clark’s Forward in Hope:
Vatican Council II affirmed that pastors have the “duty to shepherd the faithful and recognize their ministries and charisms so that all, according to their proper roles, may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart” (LG, 30). For from Christ “the whole body, being close joined and knit together through every joint of the system, according to the functioning in due measure of each single part derives its increase to the building of itself in love” (Eph 4:16). We are all called through our baptism to be priest, prophet and king. Like Melchizedek offered bread and wine as an offering to God, so we offer ourselves and our own gifts in order to fulfill the whole body of Christ.
The Gospel — Mark 10: 46-52
In what ways can Jesus help you to see?
This gospel is at the end of chapter 10; chapter 11 is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. This whole ‘journey-section’ is sandwiched between stories of the cure of two blind men — the blind man from Bethsaida (Mark 8: 22) and this story of Bartimaeus (‘son of the unclean’ is perhaps the meaning of the Hebrew words). Between these two stories of blindness we find the three passion predictions, each one followed by graphically embarrassing stories of the disciples’ blindness as they fail to understand Jesus’ mission. Take some time to look over this section of Mark’s gospel and pray with it this week. (Living Liturgy, 2003, 233)
*Notice the contrast between the disciples of last week along with the story of the rich man who ‘saw so well’ that he had kept the law perfectly. Note also how Jesus asks the same question of both Bartimaeus and James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” The answers are in sharp contrast showing us what true discipleship is – and what it is not . . . Jericho was the last stop for a pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem.
At the outskirts of this ‘suburb’ there would be a throng of beggars hoping to receive alms from those who are going up to the Temple. Bartimaeus jumps up quickly and readily lets go of his ‘cloak’ when Jesus calls. (The cloak was the only means of support for a blind man: he would spread it on the ground and use it to catch the coins that were thrown his way. It was also his only cover against the cold, wind and rain.) Bartimaeus – without possessions or ambition – asks for sight. When he receives it, he follows Jesus on the way – which as we see in the very next section is the way to Jerusalem and to the cross. (Birmingham, W&W, 698-700)
What is this faith that has saved Bartimaeus? Observe how this ‘faith’ is acted out: Bartimaeus heard Jesus, cried out to him, persisted in his prayer, came to Jesus when called, spoke boldly of his need, and when he finally ‘sees,’ he follows Jesus with the crowd down the road to Jerusalem . . . Bartimaeus gives us a blueprint for being a true disciple. (Living Liturgy, B, 232)
Father Bob’s homily last weekend…
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” What a hard and challenging statement. It is also one with a long history of interpretation as to what Jesus meant. Some say it refers to a gate to the city of Jerusalem called the eye of the needle. In order to get through, a camel would have to stoop to pass narrowly. Tough, but possible. Others say if you had a camel, why not choose a bigger gate? Others claim that it is an Aramaic expression that when transposed into Greek becomes it is easier for a rope or cable to pass through the eye of a needle. Still impossible. Finally, others point to the fact that other near Eastern societies expressed the impossible by saying…
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1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11
This is part of the fourth Suffering Servant Song that is found in Isaiah. One can read all of these Servant Songs at Isaiah 42: 1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12. They were written during the time of exile when the nation of Israel was itself the ‘suffering servant’. Its intention was to offer a word of hope and consolation. The early Christian community believed that Jesus was the Suffering Servant; it isn’t certain if Jesus actually saw himself that way, but he could certainly identify with it. How do you identify with this passage? Did you see a light in the tunnel when you have had a moment of suffering?
The word for many according to Jewish scholars referred to gentiles. In later Judaism, the many was understood to mean “all” – everyone, all the nations, all people. The Suffering Servant would save all people. What good news! (Share the Word, 52, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year B, 686)
From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:
God can make sense of chaos. God can bring good out of bad. Hope is only hope when things are hopeless. The Christian view of history is not that goodness overcomes badness, but that goodness survives badness. We learn that from Jesus, God’s own son. God has high hopes for us and for his world. God is tickled to have us in God’s life. The God we find in Jesus promises us that all will be well in the end.
If Jesus came with the sole mission of taking away all pain in this life, then he failed miserably. But perhaps God inspired the Suffering Servant songs precisely to help us understand the sufferings of Jesus and so learn how to cope with our own sufferings – growing in compassion regarding the sufferings of others. (Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)
2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16
Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?
As different as Jesus is from us, he also knows and understands our weaknesses. Like us, he too was tempted, and not only once at the start of his ministry, but throughout his life, just as we are. The difference, of course, is that though tempted “in every way,” he never sinned. The consequences of all this are no less than astounding: we can “confidently” approach “the throne of grace,” that is, the throne of God, because Christ, our brother in the flesh and our Lord in eternity, has thrown wide the gates of access to God’s merciful love, (Workbook for Lectors…255).
How do we hold fast to our confession?
The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45
From your experience, what is so great about being servant? Where is the good in this?
After James and John argued their point that they should have “special seats” in heaven (Doesn’t it remind you of kids who want to sit in the front seat?), Jesus summons all of his disciples saying, “You know….there are rulers in the world that want power and prestige, and you aren’t them.” In other words, Jesus is gently and lovingly telling them to get over themselves! They must be willing to really drink from the cup.
John Pilch says that in this culture, the head of the family would fill the cups of all at the table. Each one is expected to accept and drink what the head of the family has given. In a type of analogy, God is like this parent and so this cup came to represent the ‘lot’ or reality of our life. Jesus accepts the reality and his call from God to serve others by showing them God’s kingdom, God’s power and love. Jesus’ ‘honor’ will be attained in this way, even when evil tries to stop him. What is your cup? How does this add insight into the ‘sharing of the cup’ at Eucharist? (“Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
Henri Nouwen opened up this idea even further in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?. He asks, “Can you drink the cup? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?” Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting and drinking. It is the full celebration of being human. We must hold our cup and fully claim who we are and what we are called to live. When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up theirs lives as well. Drinking the cup of life says, “This is my life, “ and “I want this to be my life.”
Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:
The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering. Jesus has paid the universal debt: he has given his life for many to redeem the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis’ unjust and inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany before and during WWII. He was killed by order of Hitler, but his life and words still inspire many. In his reflections on Jesus’ call to service, he lists certain ministries or services that can encourage a holy and wholesome communal life:
- The service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism or domination while allowing the other to grow freely, in God’s image not my own.
- The service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own.
- The service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear presuming to know already what the other has to say.
- The service of active helpfulness that remembers that nobody is too good for the lowliest service.
- The service of proclaiming by speaking God’s words of compassion and truth even in difficult circumstances.
Only after all these services are in place and available to all can the service of authority be truly exercised. True authority is humble, willing to listen. It is actively helping to ease the burdens of others, while speaking words that give life. (Preaching Resources, October 2000)
Father Bob’s homily last weekend…
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Of all the speeches Pope Francis gave in his time in the United States, my favorite was the one he gave on Saturday night to the world meeting of families. He had a carefully crafted two page talk which the media had already been given and chose instead to speak way off the cuff.
He mentioned a time when a little five year old boy asked him a question when he was a priest in Argentina. Francis interrupted himself to say that little children ask the hardest questions. He ain’t kidding. I can walk into a high school theology class and handle every question and I can deal with our fifth graders at our school. But those little ones…So this kid asked him, “Padre, what did God do before the world was created?” See what I mean, those little rascals. Padre Bergoglio hesitated…
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1st Reading — Wisdom 7: 7-11
The author of this book lived in Alexandria, the major Mediterranean port city in Egypt. He wrote his work in Greek for the large Greek-speaking Jewish community there, shortly after the beginning of Roman rule in 28 BC. He probably taught in one of the many synagogues in the city, and his book demonstrates the profound knowledge he possessed of both Jewish and Greek culture and learning. The author shows that one can be open to Greek ways and still remain a faithful Jew, (Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 327). Solomon was seen as the model of Wisdom and was also remembered for building the magnificent temple. This book was written with his name as sort of an ‘honorary’ author. (Preaching Resources, Oct. 15, 2006)
What is it to be wise? Name a person you know or have heard about who seems wise to you. What attributes does this person exhibit that help you to understand what wisdom is?
2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 12-13
What does the image of this two-edged sword say to you? Is it empowering, frightening, encouraging? How do you think the Word of God is living and active today?
This hymn-like tribute to the Word of God (imagine it being sung) invites us – urges us – into transformation. Mary Birmingham says (W&W, B):
The Word comforts those who turn to its counsel. Like a sword it penetrates the dark recesses of the human soul. It pierces the lies and the denial and exposes them to the truth. The Word judges the heart. The word ‘judge’ comes from the Greek word kritikis that means crisis. A crisis is a time for a decision — for judgment. The Word of God uncovers the hidden secrets and questionable motives in our hearts and invites transformation.
From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrew, p.40:
The Greek phrases that make up the last part of this section about being “exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” may have various interpretations. One is that the word was used in wrestling for seizing an opponent in such a way that he could not move or escape. It may be telling us that we may escape God for awhile, but then God grips us in such a way that we cannot help meeting him face to face – as we are. It also refers to the fact that God sees us to the heart – to our inner most being. In the end we must stop running from our selves – and from God. Remember always: God sees with love.
The Gospel –Mark 10: 17-30:
Most of us Christians cannot walk away from everything tomorrow. But all of us are called to personal assessment. The more God grows in our lives, the more simply and generously we can live. When we allow God to fill our hearts and minds, there is less room for ‘more things.’ What stands between God and us? Let us pray for wisdom and use God’s Word as a sharp sword that cuts through the ‘nonsense’ that sometimes surrounds us and deadens us. (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p.662)
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, 148-150 and http://liturgy.slu.edu :
The journey is mentioned at the beginning. This is the journey to Jerusalem and eventually to the cross… What do you think of the way that the man compliments Jesus? Are compliments sometimes given so that they can be returned? Or do they imply that the person is so arrogant that they would think highly of us if we compliment them? This was often the case in Jesus’ culture and times. John Pilch also notes that whenever the word “rich” appears in the Bible it is better to substitute the word “greedy.” At this time the ‘greedy rich’ land owners had 98% of the wealth even though they were only 1% or 2% of the population. They surrounded themselves with those who could supply their every want including honor and prestige. Jesus is also challenging how they (and we) view family. For this young man to sell all would have meant untying himself from family, home and land. Jesus’ challenge was one that would seem like social suicide, but in the end it would lead to more family, real treasure, and full life: The Kingdom. In your life today, how would you view such a challenge?
An interesting comment from Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 227:
The procession [at Mass] with the bread and wine is symbolic of our own journey from life to eternal life when we will stand at the messianic banquet ‘in the age to come.’ The bread and wine are symbolic of ourselves, just as the bread and wine are substantially changed into the real Body and Blood of Christ, so we are transformed into more perfect members of that Body. Finally, when the gifts of the community include food, necessities, and money for the poor this is wonderfully symbolic of our willingness to “give to the poor” and taking Jesus invitation to follow him quite seriously. It is a concrete way for us to show our willingness not to be possessed by our riches but to give of ourselves, emptying ourselves to better follow Jesus with an undivided heart.
Jesus not only was teaching his disciples on the way, but he was showing them the way, and leading them toward it.
Which commandments are missing? Did Jesus forget them? Hardly…the 1st 4 commandments are that there is only 1 God, don’t worship anyone or anything else, don’t use God’s name in vain and the Sabbath is holy. Why do you think he omits them? They all have to do with worshipping God. Perhaps Jesus knew this man already practiced these things.
Notice how Jesus tells him to GO and sell his things, then COME and follow me. Jesus usually calls and sends in a single movement. He almost never sends without first calling a person explicitly. Yet in this case, the man is sent away to do something before he is called to follow Christ. Why do you think that is? Do you think his wealth has anything to do with it? (Gittins, Encountering Jesus, p. 74-75)