Our day began in Ein Karem, the hometown of John the Baptist which makes it the center of all the events surrounding his birth and Mary’s visit to his mother Elizabeth. The church of John the Baptist is another simple church which takes claim to the title by being located in the Judean hills as the Gospel states and by tradition. As Catholics we count on tradition a great deal and the holy land is actually affirming of this as time and again the traditional sites are verified by archaeology. The church focuses on the miraculous events of John’s birth to elderly and supposedly barren parents and John’s father Zachariah who thinks the angel is crazed who told him of the remarkable child to be born and is silenced until in obedience he insists the child’s name shall be John, upsetting traditional naming customs. Then his tongue is…
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Another blog entry while Fr. Bob is in Israel. He flies home today.
The Holy Land is another world and Bethlehem is another country. I do not want to go on about the politics of the country, but there is always an admixture of holiness, history and politics in everything here. To travel the few miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, one must go through a checkpoint. Getting into Bethlehem is easy for us; leaving it to go to Jerusalem is almost impossible for its citizens. The security Wall built in the last ten years (called by our Palestinian Christian guide Rula, the Wall of Separation) is beautifully painted with depictions of hope including contributions from the renowned modern artist Banksy and one of a triumphant Muhammed Ali.
You wind up the main street of town, Manger Street, and at the top of the hill stands proudly the Church of the Nativity. It…
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1st Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
This book is a ‘second law, a second look’ at the covenant between God and his people. It was written after the exile when Israel was rediscovering their roots. It is in the form of an address written as if Moses is giving a final speech to the people before they cross the Jordan into the promised land. It is also his farewell speech to his people. He had led them out of slavery and now through the desert. They will enter the Promised Land without him, but not without teaching and guidance from the Lord. This book contains long speeches and sermons that are intended to help the people reflect further on the law, God’s teaching on how they are to live. There is a constant call to reform and to live faithfully the covenant between God and God’s people. For Christians, we are reminded that Jesus was and is the new Moses, the ultimate one in whose words God’s authority and power lived – and lives! (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 467-468)
We often picture Moses as Charlton Heston, someone confident and suave. But he had to be talked into his role. Remember he asked God to have his brother Aaron speak for him because he didn’t think his voice would carry? Moses was one with his people, “from among your own kin”. He didn’t put himself above them. Consider this relationship with Jesus too. What does it mean for your life? Is it easier to listen to someone who is one with you? What about in your actions…do you place yourself at one with others if you are in a position of authority?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35
In order to understand this passage, it is important to read this part in connection with the rest of the chapter and the letter. Taken out of context, it is very easy to misunderstand Paul’s words and to misuse these words. Paul did seem to have a bias in favor of celibacy — maybe because he himself was not married, or because he was a widow, or because he truly believed that the second coming was imminent. He was also reacting here within the culture of Corinth that seemed to hold two extremes: one of sexual promiscuity, and one of sexual asceticism. When you read the entire chapter (and letter) you can see these important ideas coming forth:
1) Paul believed that our bodies were holy and that there was virtue in praising God with our total selves. 2) Paul believed in the mutuality of men and women and that there was to be a balance of rights between husband and wife. 3) Lawful, married sexual relations in no way prohibited a person from coming to God in prayer. While celibacy might be seen as a ‘gift’ to some, it was not intended for everyone. 4) Paul held sacred the human dignity of every person – men and women. Both are equal. Both husband and wife are to ‘please’ their spouse. This suggests a view of marriage as a union of sensitive friendship and respect. (Birmingham, W&W Wrkbk for Yr B, 468-469) In light of all of this, what meaning do you get from this passage?
The Gospel: Mark 1: 21-28
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B: We see much of the ‘culture’ of the times here in this passage; spirits, both good and bad, were part of the belief system of Jesus’ time. It was believed that spirits also had much greater power than humans. Only God had more power. To call out the name of a spirit was to have power over it. So by shouting out Jesus’ true identity, the unclean spirit was trying to overcome Jesus’ power. Jesus was also ‘just an artisan from Nazareth.’ He was acting totally out of line with his inherited status – thus he astonished the people (Some translations say spellbound!). Yet, Jesus’ words are in line with his actions. So to those who could see this truth, he regained his honor and his “fame spread everywhere.” Even the man who had been filled with “an unclean spirit” was now released and reunited with his people. Today, we no longer see illness as ‘demonic.’ We have other ‘demons’ for Jesus to overcome. (28-29)
From E Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark: We also see in Mark’s dramatic story how God is speaking through Jesus in such a way that those who have been separated are brought back into fellowship with God and each other. In Jesus’ word, heaven actually breaks in and hell is abolished. Jesus’ words are action and life. (48-52)
From Celebration, Jan. 2006: The word, authority, which in Greek is exousia means ex “out of” and ousia which means “being.” So Jesus taught out of his very being . . .
What do you think Mark meant when he used this word to refer to Jesus and his way of teaching?
“The teaching and the healing are inextricably connected. Jesus’ deeds lend authority to his words, and authenticate them: someone who can drive out demons is surely someone to listen to, and what he says must be true. And his words help to explain his deeds; since his preaching is about the reign of God, his healings must somehow be a manifestation of the coming of that reign. The crowd also must have marveled at the way the exorcism was accomplished: without any of the complicated incantations or rituals that other wonder-workers used – without even a touch. This man did this with just his words. Jesus’ speech is more powerful than the demonic power. And his words effect what he says. No wonder they were amazed,” Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage, p. 148-149.
Fr. Bob’s blog on the way to Israel…
I have always wanted to go to two places in the world. Africa and the Holy Land. By the grace of God, I now will have been blessed to do both. This primal yearning is as mysterious as any of ours but I imagine it is because life originated from Africa and new life flowed from the Holy Land. Africa was the dawn of creation and the Holy Land the dawn of our salvation.In a sense then we all share in both places.
I am stunned that for at least one week I will call home where Jesus did. And as much as nearly everything has changed in two thousand years, they have not moved the Sea of Galilee and the sun still rises and sets as He saw it. Olive trees can live two thousand years; which young tree witnessed that young man walked by. And the holy sites…
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1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
This is a story about Jonah the prophet. God told Jonah to bring about the redemption of Ninevah, to which Jonah ran in the opposite direction toward the sea (How often do WE run away from where God may be leading us?). The sea became stormy and the sailors thought Jonah was bringing God’s wrath to them, so he sacrificed himself and was swallowed by a huge fish. After 3 days, God had mercy and Jonah eventually through twists and turns went to Ninevah to do what God had said.
This story can help us ponder how we listen to God in our own lives. Is following God’s will always placid and without ambiguity? When we pray, do we really pray to know God‘s will or do we ask God to do our will? (John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy,slu.edu )
Some psychologists say that we mature not by always having everything ‘together’ and ‘successful’ – whatever that means – but we often “grow by falling apart.” Jonah’s story is sort of a parable about this ‘disintegration.’ Sometimes it is in the darkness, in the ashes, in the failures and frustrations that we journey to full maturity. In scripture this is often imaged in ‘desert or wilderness’ experiences.’ — or in Jonah’s case, the belly of a whale. Like Jonah we can find ourselves carried to some place we’d rather not go. Our successes bring us glory, while our pain, with God’s help, brings us character and compassion. Pain can mellow and enlarge our heart and our soul. The best wines are aged in cracked, old barrels. Our natural instinct, though, is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible – it is not easy to trust that God’s love can be with us in such dire circumstances. We are too often afraid to suffer, to let it do its purifying work. Yet, when we find ourselves in this ‘dark night’ we can come to know what it means to let our faith in God’s love carry us. We can care rather than cure. We can support and trust the process. We can reflect, think, pray, and talk about the situation with trusted friends and mentors. We do not need to move against the process, but find ways to relax and be comforted right in the middle of it. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile” http://liturgy,slu.edu )
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31
This is a very early letter of Paul’s. The expectation at this time was that Jesus was coming back very soon – that his life, death and resurrection had ushered in the ‘end-times.’ This belief empowered the early Christians including Paul to eagerly share the good news of Jesus Christ.
“The world as we know it is passing away” – Paul wanted us to think about the priorities that fill our lives and preoccupy our minds. Richard Rohr talk about this a lot, the idea that we NOTICE what we are feeling and doing as a way of seeing how God works in our life. We don’t need to be so attached to the emotion. We can wonder about our responses, a little like Paul is telling the Corinthians to do. Rohr says, “Wondering is a word connoting at least three things: standing in disbelief, standing in the question itself and standing in awe before something. Try letting all three ‘standings’ remain open inside of you…whenever we can appreciate the goodness and value of something, while still knowing its limitations and failures, this also marks the beginning of wisdom and nondual consciousness,” (The Naked Now, p. 46, 106). It is allowing the tension…to live without resolution. When we open ourselves in this way, God has an easier time entering in and causing something new to happen. Have you experienced this?
The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her essay, “We Were Made for Times Like These”, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” Simon, Andrew, James and John are all safely keeping to their boats, but Jesus calls them out. They go. What would your response be…to stay safe or to go out?
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 people to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, fishermen eat fish, not save them! 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)
After his baptism, Jesus may have stayed around John and his followers for awhile. After John’s arrest, it seemed that Jesus began setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was a clean cut, 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 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. 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)
The invitation is also open-ended. Jesus does not tell Peter and Andrew how they will “fish for people.” No, Jesus’ call is – like many calls – appealing but also confusing…There are many ways of being called. Many people think that being called means hearing voices. Or they feel that since they have never had a knocked-me-off-my-feet spiritual experience that they have not been called. But often being called can be more subtle, manifesting itself as a strong desire, a fierce attraction, or even an impulse to leave something behind,” (Fr. J. Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage, p. 134, 141).
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 anymore once they began to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to 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. This humanity was in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name was not just good news; it was great news! It still is and we still have the same calling. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)
Martin Luther King responded profoundly to God’s call of justice with great hope, faith, and love – even in the midst of violence and hatred: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be . . . so today, I still have a dream.”
Fr. Bob’s Epiphany homily…
Epiphany B 2018
Some people are comfortable with change and some people are not. What we all discover is that change does not care how you feel about it. Change is coming for you.
Actually, we all occasionally welcome or resist change. When things are good, we want nothing to change and when things are bad, we desperately want everything to be different. Yet, it seems to me that every change represents an opportunity whether welcomed or unwelcomed for our God never abandons us. There will be news ways to be merciful, to console, to receive or give. Grace is present everywhere and sometimes change is the new light we need to notice blessings previously unknown.
Not all our reasons for not embracing change are positive or helpful. It may be to preserve power. It may be that which is habitual becomes deeply engrained in us, especially our worse habits…
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1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19
Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets –A time of transition . . .This is a ‘classic’ story about discerning God’s call in our lives. What steps do you see in this story about discernment? Have you ever experienced God calling? How have you experienced any “twists and turns’ in this calling?
Some people who have experienced the twists and turns of God’s calls:
Moses Jeremiah Mary Paul Francis of Assisi St. Teresa of Calcutta Thomas Merton Martin Luther King all of us ?!
“Our lives have been shaped not just by one but by many calls from God, and God speaks not just with one voice but with many.” (Celebration, 2000)
From Mary Birmingham:
The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy. The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)
Are you familiar with the Lord? How does God reveal Godself to you? And where? Notice God comes to Samuel right where he is-in bed! Of course, we don’t find out what God says to Samuel in this reading, but God reveals that he is going to punish Eli because his sons blasphemed (1 Samuel 3:11-14). It may have been left out of the lectionary because the point being made is God calls us to action, and does so where we are.
2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:
Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul. Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul. So sin away! Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed. We are body AND soul for the Lord. How does this affect our lives today? How do you use your whole self for God’s work?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2000: Paul is trying to help us realize that we are people of Incarnation. Our God took on human flesh, and we encounter God not only – maybe not even primarily – in the hour of prayer, but in the many other hours of encounter with one another. Where we gather, Jesus is. If God is revealed to us in flesh and blood, then what happens to us in the flesh is not insignificant. Our sexuality, our stewardship of our health, our respect and care for life – especially for those who are weak, ill or voiceless – all of this has great importance.
From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”: In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it. Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified. That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.
The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42
We go right from Epiphany on Sunday, to the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, to Jesus in ministry now. Jesus grew up and into his calling in a week!
What’s in a name? Jesus is called the Lamb of God, Rabbi and Messiah in this pericope. Simon gets the new name of Cephas, or Peter. Think about the different names you are called, maybe nicknames, terms of endearment, maybe not-so-kind names in traffic! Names are how we are known to people. Names make us unique. Names can sometimes hurt. Sometimes we have pet names for people. When your name is remembered by an old friend, it makes you feel good (and not if it is forgotten). Jesus always knows your name (like Cheers!). You are unique, called and special in Jesus’ eyes always.
The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus in John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.
- Passover Lamb: By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Suffering Servant Lamb: In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7).
- Triumphant Lamb: Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).
As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.” (Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)
More thoughts from Barclay:
It is John the Baptist that calls Jesus the Lamb of God. Once again we see him pointing beyond himself. He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer his loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it. There was no jealousy in John. He had come to attach men and women not to himself but to Christ. There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed. But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send people to him.
Notice that Jesus TURNED to the disciples. It is God who takes the first step. And what does he ask? “What are you looking for?” What are YOU looking for? What’s your aim and goal? What are you trying to get out of life? Whether you are a young person or retired, this is a question for all of us.
Andrew seems to be the man of introductions, because that is all he ever does in Scripture. He does so here, in John 6:8-9 when he brings the by with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and in John 12:22 when he brings enquiring Greeks to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, it must have brought Andrew joy to bring people to Jesus. And he is often named as Peter’s brother, as if he was second fiddle to Peter. He seems to be a humble, loyal servant of God.
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:
The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings. God is the initiator. But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom. It is an invitation to respond. We are told what that response involves: action. Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch. These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . .
Fr. Bob’s New Year’s Eve homily…
Holy Family B 2017
I sometimes imagine Simeon receiving the promise from the Holy Spirit that he would see “the Christ of the Lord,” as a young man. There is no evidence of this but it seems to me his reaction to seeing Jesus is not just joy, but relief. I think of the thrill he must have had when receiving the news and how anxious he must have been to know he would witness Israel’s salvation. But as we know, not only are hope and expectation a great joy, but also a burden that taxes our patience. In those long years, how many children did he see and wonder if that child is the Messiah? How many times did he hear preachers in the precincts of the Temple who intrigued him and thought could that be the one? The suddenly, on this day, he spies Jesus, a child no…
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