1ST Reading — Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
About the time of Josiah’s crowning (Josiah brought in righteousness and reform), the Book of Zephaniah records for us the voice of reaction against the idolatry practices in Manassah’s years. Zephaniah was a fiery preacher whose wrath against pagan practices and hatred of Assyria were matched only by his devotion to Yahweh. In the previous chapter, Zephaniah says God will “search Jerusalem with lamps” (1:12) to find the guilty and punish them drastically, “their blood poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung” (1:17). (Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 340-341) You know that stage we all go through when we are tired of things being wrong and we have this energy toward making things better and right? It feels like Zephaniah was in that stage and was imploring the people in Jerusalem to be in it with him.
But this energy needs to be brought to the Lord humbly, and Zephaniah is aware of that too. It can’t just come out of our own egos. Humility (in Latin humilitas, from the earth) brings a groundedness. It is allowing God to be our shelter in the storm. Joan Chittister says, “Humility enables me to stand before the world in aw, to receive its gifts and to learn from its lessons…It is when we cease to be our own god that God can break in,” The Illuminated Life, p. 55-56.How does this sit with you today?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 26 –31
This early community was for the most part, “a motley assembly which included free people, tradesmen, and slaves, along with a few (not many) people of higher standing. It was also a mixed group of both Jews and gentiles, males and females. This diverse character of the early church was one of the most striking features of the Jesus movement. It was a unique ‘melting pot’ of cultures and classes who professed to accept each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. This life in Christ was a ‘calling’ from God to care for each other and to complement each other as the united body of Christ in the world. This diversity also created tensions and obstacles that only with God’s grace could they overcome. (Celebration, Jan. 1999, and 2005)
For Paul, boasting in oneself rather than in the Lord is perhaps the supreme sin – or the root of all sin. This was the trouble Paul saw in the Corinthians. They were becoming too sure of themselves – instead of the Lord. They boasted of their own wisdom – or the wisdom of their ‘clique’ or faction. They thought themselves as superior to other people; they had forgotten that to the outside world they would probably be regarded as the ‘dregs of society’ – not wise or successful. They needed to remember that the ground of their ‘salvation’ (fullness of life) is Jesus Christ. So do we. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel — Matthew 5: 1-12a
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ way of life; they need to be our way also. These words come at the end of Jesus’ Great Sermon from Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7. This section contains far more than Jesus would ever have said in one sermon. This ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is the essence of Jesus’ teaching, a kind of “epitome of all the sermons that Jesus ever preached.” (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 84)
Jesus is trying to impart true wisdom, true worth to his ‘disciples’ – those who were listening to learn from him. If we were to make a list of what we want out of life, we might have compiled quite a different list. We look for the ‘good life’ filled with at least some riches and honor and prestige. But riches can tempt me to let what I own substitute for who I am. Admiration can turn my head from being thankful to the One who created me to being overly convinced of my own power and importance. All of these things can create a false identity because they are ‘out there’ – instead of ‘inside’. Within each of us is the gift of who we are called to be – who God created to help bring his love to this world. God loves this real self within each of us. He does not care how we dress or how respected we are. God calls us to be what we really are: persons who are loved and who can love in return. The beatitudes make deep sense. We need to live from this ‘home within’ where God’s presence is ever generating new life and true love. Then we will be blessed – and so will all who know or live with us.(John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Of course, this is all very counter-cultural – back in Jesus’ day and in our day. And so, we will not find all ‘these blessings’ easy ones. But if we are willing to embrace the blessing along with the difficulties – along with the pain and suffering and even persecution involved – then we will find true consolation, true wisdom and, in the end, true blessing –a blest happiness that no one can take away from us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Another problem – these beatitudes may allow us to think that God wants us poor and abused. But there is a difference between humility and being humiliated. We may meet a lot of people who are poor, powerless, or vulnerable; no one should want to be these things. Sometimes our religious language can get distorted. Being humble is a virtue; humiliating or abusing someone is a sin, a crime. Such crime calls out to God for justice. We need to be part of God’s answer not part of the problem. We should never encourage someone to put up with abuse or humiliation. We may at times find suffering and even persecution as we stand up against such unfair actions, but we are called to hunger and to work for righteousness, for all that is good and just. (Exploring the Sunday Scriptures, February, 2002)
The Beatitudes are about finding God present and active in our lives now. They are about letting God give us a joy that can shine through tears – a joy that pain and grief cannot overcome. Spend sometime in prayer thanking God for all the ways God is present to you.
1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3
Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways. It brought darkness and destruction to both. The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people. King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling. He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’. These hopes were not realized. Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)
The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)
Thomas Aquinas said hope is a special desire that has a special object. That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get and yet possible. So to have hope is to have faith. If faith is a gift of God, how are you open to receiving it? How does it give you hope and dispel your darkness?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17
This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)
Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)
Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic? It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ. But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division. Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation. “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another. Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a one and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude. There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).
The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23
Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats. This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus. Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.” These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.
(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)
Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary! He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.” The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)
Other interesting ‘fish’ facts: A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S. These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR” (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)
The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross. This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’
The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
Epiphany A 2017
How many of you would you say are comfortable with change? How many are uncomfortable? The story of the Epiphany is about how we respond to change. A star that had not been seen before suddenly appears. Change is in the air. When Magi show up in Jerusalem, proclaiming there is a new born king of the Jews, the current king, Herod and all Jerusalem with him “were greatly troubled.” Change is always a challenge. What happens next will shape the history of peoples.
There are three possible reactions to the star over Bethlehem. One is to ignore it. In all the world, only a few people investigate the phenomenon. [The Bible never says there are three.] What about everyone else? It is easy to miss a new star. Who has time to gaze upon the sky? We bow our necks, do our work and keep our…
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1st Reading – Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
This is from Second Isaiah – written during the Babylonian Exile. This servant was to help free these exiled Jews; it was a most difficult assignment. But then, God expands the scope even more. This servant and his people were to be a light to the nations. God’s concerns are not limited to any one race, or ethic group. God’s power to save wishes to expand “to the ends of the earth.” Everything and everybody is to be brought to wholeness and freedom (that is what salvation means). Celebration, Jan. 2002
As Jesus was called to be this servant, this light, so are we called by our baptism to bring the light of God’s love and to ‘put on the Lord Jesus.’ How do you respond to this reading?
This may seem like a ‘big’ order when too often we feel more like a morning fog than the light of Christ. Yet, God chooses us. The more we choose God’s way of love over our usual selfishness and preoccupation, the more the radiance of God shines forth. Prayer connects us to this Source. Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan 2002
2nd Reading — 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
The next four Sundays we will read from Paul’s letter to the early Christian community in Corinth. This city was a wealthy busy seaport as it had two harbors, one open to Asia and one open to Italy. It was a veritable melting pot of people, cultures and religions. After it was conquered by Rome in 146 BC, it was re-founded as a Roman colony in 44 BC. It had a large Italian population and a sizable Jewish community. It was a place of many shrines to a variety of gods and goddesses. The Corinthian Christians would have been confronted on a daily basis by all of this variety, vivid images, and temptations. Paul was challenged to help them come to know the one God we find in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Celebration, January, 2002
Notice how many times Jesus’ name is said in this short introduction? Right at the beginning of this letter, Paul has Jesus at the forefront. It was a difficult letter dealing with a difficult situation…Paul goes right to the love of Christ to deal with it. Notice Paul calls it the church of God, not the church of Corinth. To Paul, wherever an individual congregation might be, it was a part of the one Church of God. Also notice how he describes a Christian: one that is sanctified in Christ, called to be holy and who calls upon Jesus name. Wm Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series
Who is Sosthenes? A friend of Paul’s and someone who was known in Corinth. It was a common name in those times. Sosthenes is mentioned again in Acts 18:17 but it is unclear if they are the same (In Acts, he is a leader of the synagogue, where here it is not known if he is Jewish or not.). The name means “saving strength”. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible and The Jerome Biblical Commentary
The Gospel – John 1: 29-34
John calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’ – it is a title with many meanings.
3 meanings in particular are –
Passover Lamb (Exodus 12: 6-13): The Passover Lamb recalls the time in Exodus when the Israelite slaves were told to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorpost and lintels of their homes so that death would not touch them. This Passover led to their freedom.
Suffering Servant Lamb (Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12): The fourth Suffering Servant song in Isaiah describes a servant who goes like an innocent, oppressed, condemned Lamb to the slaughter – yet from this death comes new life and goodness.
Victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6; 7:17; 22:1): The glorious Lamb that we find in Revelation is the lamb that has passed through suffering and death and now becomes the source of life-giving water; all humans can be freed by his blood.
We believe that Jesus is this threefold lamb – this lamb who takes away our sin and insecurity giving us new life and peace – alive with God’s grace and set afire with his love for the sake of the world and in service of his word. Celebration, January, 2002
This is a different picture of Jesus’ baptism. We are hearing it through the eyes of John the Baptist, as he was there and witnessing to this miraculous event. You know yourself that you give more credibility to stories that are told as seen vs. stories that are hearsay. He speaks as though he was forewarned of this baptism. Then John the Baptist calls Jesus the Son of God. It is very clear Jesus is center stage. John the Baptist is playing second fiddle. Is Jesus center stage in your life?
During this time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday it is good to remember his hope and vision for a universal ‘salvation’ for all people. As he chose to live Jesus’ words in a world of difficulties, he, too, has become an example for all of us. Let us recall his words that were delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers . . . I have a dream that one day every hill and mountain will be made low . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope . . . this is our faith . . .With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together . . .”
Fr. Bob’s homily for the Solemnity of Mary…
Solemnity of Mary 2017
Did you ever wonder how Mary and Joseph kept it together? For the past few weeks, we have heard of their remarkable journey. It is composed of an unending stream of miracles, prophecies, angels and dreams, all speaking of a life beyond their imagination. Given how outrageously the mission of giving birth and raising God’s son was given to them, how did they handle it so graciously? Why isn’t there a verse around Luke 2:46 that says, “And then Mary had a panic attack.”
We learn a great deal about why in this Gospel when we hear, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She did not allow any detail of God’s great plan escape her notice. She held on to all of them and reflected on them, making sense of what this meant for her child, her family, herself and…
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Fr. Bob’s Christmas homily…
Christmas A 2016
The night shepherds, quietly watching their flocks are disturbed by a miraculous sight: an angel of the Lord shining in the glory of God. What the angel has to say is as unimaginable as its appearance. ““Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” These outcasts, the lowly among the lowly, are given the news Israel had waited its whole existence to hear. They trust their eyes and ears and leave their flocks behind that they might, in the words of our theme this year, “Come and See” this child who fulfills the long awaited promise: ““Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to…
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Epiphany comes from the Greek, epiphaneia, meaning manifestation, striking appearance or come suddenly into view. It is when we celebrate the Three Kings, who are gentiles, coming to worship the Christ child as Lord. But how does Christ manifest himself in your life?
Reading 1: Isaiah 60: 1 – 6
The return from exile in Trito-Isaiah foreshadows the liberation won by Christ though his manifestation to the world. The Gentiles converging upon Jerusalem provide a glimpse of the manifestation of Christ – not just to the chosen people, but to the Gentiles and to the entire world (Birmingham, Word & Worship A, p. 117).
Rise up, light, shines, glory, radiance, overflow, proclaiming. These are all words that speak to us of what happens when we allow God into our life. Richard Rohr says, “What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search.” So it is an inner journey for us. Have there been moments in your life that God has touched you in a way that you felt these words? Were they times that you felt true to yourself too?
Reading 2: Ephesians 3: 2 – 3a, 5 – 6
When Paul thought of this secret which had been revealed to him, he thought of himself as a recipient of a new revelation. It is told that once Sir Arthur Sullivan was at a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore. When that lovely duet “Ah! Leave me not to pine alone” had been sung, Sullivan turned to the friend sitting beside him and said, “Did I really write that?” One of the great examples of poetical music of words is Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”. Coleridge fell asleep reading a book in which were the words: “Here Kubla Khan commanded a place to be built and a stately garden thereunto.” He dreamed the poem and when he awoke he had nothing to do but write it down, (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 124). Sometimes we may also relate to times when solutions to problems flash before us and we don’t know how they got there. Or maybe a synchronicity happens, a type of coincidence. Is Spirit at work?
Paul’s revelation (or epiphany) is that we are ALL coheirs, copartners in the body of Christ. This has multiple levels of meaning for us today. Explore within yourself what this means for you, with your family, your parish, your community, your country, all people…
Gospel Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12
After contemplating the staggering fact that God has become a human child, we turn to look at this mystery from the opposite angle and realize that this seemingly helpless Child is, in fact, the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe. The feast of Christ’s divinity completes the feast of His humanity. It fulfills all our Advent longing for the King “who is come with great power and majesty.” We see that whereas Christmas is the family feast of Christianity, Epiphany is the great “world feast of the Catholic Church.” At Christmas the Light shone forth, but dimly, seen only by a few around the crib: Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But at Epiphany the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled. Epiphany demands that like these kings we should return to our own countries a different way, carrying to all those we meet the light of Christ, (Chaney, https://www.catholicculture.org).
From Ronald Rolheiser: To bless another person is to give away some of one’s own life so that the other might be more resourced for his or her journey. Good parents do that for their children. Good teachers do that for their students, good mentors do that for their protégés, good pastors do that for their parishioners, good politicians do that for their countries, and good elders do that for the young. They give away some of their own lives to resource the other. The wise men did that for Jesus.
How do we react when a young star’s rising begins to eclipse our own light?
Closing Prayer by Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angel’s is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To being peace among all,
To make music in the heart.