Monthly Archives: October, 2019

Lord Have Mercy

Fr. Bob’s homily from 10-27-2019…

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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
That is some prayer the Pharisee says. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.” Can you imagine if the opening prayer was like that? “O God, we thank you that we are not like the rest of humanity – mean, rotten and smelly. Or even like the fourth person in the third pew.” Nobody prays like that, at least I hope no one prays like that. The Pharisee even goes on to brag that he fasts twice a week and pays a tithe on all his income; doing more than the law requires of him. As if God would not already know that! The key to understanding the Pharisee’s prayer is that he, “spoke this prayer to himself.” The Greek, like the English, might mean that…

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Commentary on 31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading  – Wisdom 11: 22 – 12: 2

This reading, actually a poem, echoes our opening prayer and psalm.  It was a popularly held belief that the book was written by Solomon, but the author does remain anonymous.  The most we know is he was a learned, Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher, and he was familiar with Hellenistic  philosophy, rhetoric and culture.

The word love is used as a verb, an action word.  God continually creates us anew, preserves us and forgives us.   (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook,C, 517-8).

What is most mysterious is God’s superabundant life pouring itself forth, the love of God who gives and gives again but is never emptied in the giving.  This self-giving is at the very heart of who God is   (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 43).  How do you experience God’s love in your life?  How do you live God’s love?

2nd  Reading – 2 Thessalonians 1: 11- 2:2

This is another letter that is questionable whether Paul actually wrote or someone writing as Paul.  Either way, there is truth in the letter.  The people of Thessalonica (the capital city for the Roman province of Macedonia) are being told that they are being prayed for and not to be fooled by anyone saying they know when the second coming will be.  Doesn’t it feel good to know you are being prayed for?  Pope Francis says, “Without love, effort becomes a lot heavier.”  Praying for others is an act of love.

We must be diligent in living the Christian life…be watchful and alert.   During that time, everyone thought Jesus was coming back any minute.  This was to the point where they were just waiting around and not doing anything!  Paul was saying cut it out.  There’s still a lot to do, so get busy doing it.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 519).  How can this reading be good for us today?

Gospel Reading – Luke 19: 1-10

Here we have story of Zacchaeus (zuh-KEE-uhs, not zuh-KAY-us).  This story is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  This is Jesus’ last encounter before he enters Jerusalem.

Remember: Welcoming another into one’s home to share at table was an act of profound friendship.  Meals were sacred times reserved only for close friends and family. Yet, one of the most historical ‘facts’ that we know about Jesus is that he often ate with sinners and the outcasts of society. When Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to dinner, the offer is clear. Jesus is asking him for his friendship.  And, Zacchaeus responds by changing his way of doing business – and his way of living. Such generosity delights Jesus for he knows that now salvation (full health and life) has come to Zacchaeus’ whole house. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu ; Celebrations Oct., 2004)

From “Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu :  We sometimes tend to think that we need to repent and then God will come to us. But the gospel would suggest that just the opposite is true: Jesus comes to Zacchaeus who then responds by repenting. We do not repent so that God will give us his grace; God’s grace is a free gift. We just need to be open to receiving this grace so that we can repent and so the good things God hopes for us to do.

William Barclay tells us to notice that the gospel ends with the encouraging words: “For the Son of Man (the Human One) came to seek out and to save the lost.”  The word lost in the New Testament does not mean damned or doomed. It merely means in the wrong place.  A thing is lost when it has got out of its own place into the wrong place . . . A person is lost when he or she wanders away from God. To come back into a right relationship with God is a cause for rejoicing and new life, (p. 245, The Gospel of Luke).

All Saints Day

“…for our own greater good and that of the Church, we seek from the saints ‘example in their way of life, fellowship in their communion, an aid by their intercession.’  At the same time, let the people be instructed that our communion with those in heaven…in no way weakens, but conversely, more thoroughly enriches the supreme worship we give to God the Father, through Christ, in the Spirit.”  Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium”

“It is in the celebration of the Eucharist that this communion is most manifest.  Here the whole church is united.  The Eucharist binds Christians with the entire Christian community, living and dead, through those physically present at the celebration and those absent.”  (Scripture from Scratch, “The Communion of Saints”, E. McNamer)

Who are your favorite saints?

Commentary for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Reading #1:  Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18

Jesus Ben Sirach lived and wrote around 180 BC.  He was an educated man whose main writing concerns were reflection on the Torah and practical suggestions for upright living.  To live uprightly is to live up to the covenantal relationship one has with God – hesedHesed assumes a reciprocity and requires that love of one another flow out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p.  510).  Hesed is difficult to translate. No single word in English captures its meaning. Translators use words like “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty.” Perhaps “loyal love” is close.  Hesed is one of the richest, most powerful words in the Old Testament. It reflects the loyal love that people committed to the God of the Bible should have for one another. It is not a “mood.”  Hesed is not primarily something people “feel.”  It is something people DO for other people who have no claim on them (www.discovertheword.org).  What does this mean to you?

God knows no favorites.  There are no prayers better than any others.  Sometimes we are afraid to go to God with our small requests.  But Sirach says the one who serves God willingly is heard!  Pope Francis says, “Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others.  To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”  The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds!

 Reading #2: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18

Paul’s ‘departure,’ a euphemism for death, uses a Greek word that means to leave, to loosen the bonds or fetters, to relax, to be released from prison – unyoked, free, unfettered. (Celebration, Oct. 1998)  This is often a reading at funerals.

From Celebrations Oct. 2004:  Scholars suggest that the abandonment that is referred to in this reading happened at the end of Paul’s life, during his second imprisonment in Rome under Nero. Even though there was a sizeable Christian community in Rome, no one appeared at Paul’s preliminary hearing to encourage or to defend him. Paul who had brought countless numbers of people to Christ, found himself alone, with no one other than Christ to strengthen and support him. Paul likens his death to a sacrifice or a libation. Libations of wine and oil were done sometimes by Jews, but even more often by Greeks and Romans. Before meals and, at times, in between courses, as well as at religious ceremonies, a goblet of wine was poured out on the ground as a gesture of homage to the gods.

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Remember, Paul had entered ‘the race’ only after he met the Risen Christ and realized that all his accomplishments were so much rubbish. He gave up the pretense of being a self-made, self-righteous man. In Christ, he learned the freedom and the gift that is God’s grace poured out for us. The mercy of the Lord was his hope, his joy, his faith.

Gospel:  Luke 18:9-14

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Prayer, most surely, is not about trying to change God’s mind or heart about anything. It is about changing us. And that is why the Pharisee’s prayer is so meaningless. There is nothing in his life to be changed – no empty spaces to be filled up. Remember Mary’s Magnificat: God fills the hungry and the ‘full’

(the rich) go away empty . . .” (Lk. 1:53)  If the cries of the poor are to be heard or the orphan or oppressed are to be cared for, it will not be by some magic changing of God’s mind.  They will be heard and served by concerned people who can recognize their needs and decide how to respond to them.  Prayers can indeed be answered by a God who can ‘get through’ to prayerful people. We need to open a place for God’s entry into our lives.  This is true prayer.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu : To strike the breast is a Middle-Eastern gesture that was usually used by women. It was used by men only in extreme anguish, so it is touching that this tax collector uses this gesture.  The closing phrase (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”) is one of those ‘floating sayings.” It occurs also in Lk 14:11, Mt 18:4: 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6. Most of us go through life tallying successes and failures. God’s ways are not like that. With God’s help, we can discover even in our so-called failures examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture, new life after hitting a dead-end. What looks like a set-back, can be an opportunity for growth. This is the Paschal Mystery: new life from death.

Will the Son of Man find Faith on earth? — bobblogobucco

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time C “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” After a funny parable and an encouraging promise of God’s ability to respond to our needs, that line seems to come out of the blue. I think it is the most haunting question in the New Testament. […]

via Will the Son of Man find Faith on earth? — bobblogobucco

Commentary on 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st  Reading — Exodus 17: 8-13

Amalek incurred God’s wrath for attacking the Israelites when they were faint and weary on their journey out of Egypt. (Just before this passage is the section where God provides food as manna, and drink as water from a rock.)  Amalek had set upon the most vulnerable and weak, the stragglers who were too exhausted to keep up with the rest.  Amalek did not fear (respect) God.  His sin is not unlike that of the corrupt judge who “feared neither God nor humans” who we will hear in the Gospel.

Picture Moses: he is sitting on a rock holding up the staff of God with his tired and aching arms supported by fellow believers. This is not meant to be seen as magic or ritual superstition; it is symbolic of the powerful presence of God in our midst. Remember also, that Joshua, whose name in Latin is Jesus, is the one who defends the people against the aggressors.  Who supports you in prayer?

*How do you pray?  Do you kneel down?  Clasp your hands?  Bow your head?  Our posture can be a part of our prayer.  Being mindful of our body and what it is saying about our attentiveness to God can make our prayer more holistic.  We should be in a state of openness.  Henri Nouwen says, “Praying demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very center of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in the darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched.  The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists…When you are invited to pray, you are asked to open your tightly clenched fists…Each time you dare to let go and surrender one of those many fears, your hand opens a little and your palms spread out in a gesture of receiving.  You must be patient, of course, very patient until your hands are completely open.  It is a long journey of trust…”

2nd Reading:  2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2

Do you have a favorite verse or phrase that you find helpful – hopeful – faith-filled?

This reading reminds us that as long as we are laboring at faith, faith is winning. We just need to stay at the task, living with trust in God’s love and doing as God would have us do-  when it is easy and convenient-and when it is not. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )  We all “preach the Gospel” in our own way.  We should do it however it feels most life-giving to us, as long as we do it!

Again Henri Nouwen says, “Often I have found myself saying:  ‘The Gospel that I read this morning was just what I needed today!’  This was much more than a wonderful coincidence.  What, in fact, was taking place was not that a Gospel text helped me with a concrete problem, but that the many Gospel passages that I had been contemplating were gradually giving me new eyes and new ears to see and hear what was happening in the world.  It wasn’t that the Gospel proved useful for my many worries but that the Gospel proved the uselessness of my worries and so refocused my whole attention,”  Here and Now, p. 127.  Does Scripture do this for you?

The Gospel – Luke 18: 1-8

This judge is obviously corrupt – nothing like God.  God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures speaks on behalf of the oppressed and the widowed.  The word ‘widow’ in Hebrew, admanah, means unable to speak, a silent one. Chera, meaning forsaken or empty, was also often applied to a widow. The prophets always challenged the people and leaders to care for the widow and orphan, those without power. See Isaiah 1:23; 10:2; Malachi 3:5; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 68:6; James 1:27,  (J Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,”http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Luke’s gospel is often called the gospel of prayer.  What does prayer have to do with faith?

How do you see prayer as important?  How do you keep from ‘losing heart’ about problems?

More thoughts from John Pilch:  The word that is translated, ‘strike me’ literally meant to “give a black eye.” It was used also to imply a public shaming. In other words, this pestering widow puts the ‘fear of the Lord’ back in this awful judge due to her persistence and public pressure! The point of this story is that if a helpless widow can get what is needed from a shameless judge, how much more can we trust that our ever-loving, honor-sensitive God will be with us to help us.

If you are feeling like your prayers are not being heard, don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Don’t relent to your fears.  It is in the persistence.  “Perseverance in prayer is more than true grit that will never quit; it is trust in a God who will never abandon or ignore those who entrust themselves to the divine power, care and mercy in prayer.  With this assurance, perseverance in prayer without losing heart becomes not only possible but a permanent practice in the life of the believer.”  (Celebration, 10/21/01)

In and through the person of Jesus himself the reality of the kingdom is already present and available.  When we recall how Jesus presents himself constantly, if indirectly, as the Son of Man, we catch the sharp bite in the question:  ‘When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?’  The Son of Man has come and is there, right in front of his audience.  What does he find on earth – faith or a terrible lack of faith?  We don’t have to wait for his final coming to put the question, but must ask now:  What does Jesus find on earth today?  (Following the Way, G. O’Collins SJ, p. 137.

On Hope

Fr. Bob’s homily for 10/6/2019…

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27th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Let me begin with something controversial.  The Yankees have no hope!  Now that might sound a little ridiculous given that they won 105 games in the regular season, clinched like in July and swept the Twins (a team that shrinks to the size of a mustard seed every time they see an interlocking NY.  Gospel allusion!)

But the Yankees have no hope.  They have something most would prefer.  They have got great baseball players.  The reason people like the Yankees’ chances is not something inherent in our souls; they believe because of Judge, Tanaka and Torres.  There is a reasonable expectation that they will succeed.  They have talent and tradition.  I, on the other hand, root for the New York Mets.  We have to have hope for we have so little else.

And that tells a tale.  Yankee fans are optimistic.  Optimism is…

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Commentary on 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading —  2 Kings 5: 14-17

Some talking points to this story:

  • It is a small Jewish girl that suggests to Naaman (head general) to go see Elisha. She is a slave from a country they have raided.  This is a story, like so many others in the Bible, of the underdog.
  • The king of Aram wrote to the king of Israel that he was sending Naaman, who laughed and thought it was a trick. When Elisha overheard, he intervened and said to send him to me.
  • When Naaman first arrives to see Elisha, Elisha doesn’t even come outside to greet him. Naaman at first gets angry and turns to leave, but the servants (again) convince him to stay and give Elisha’s suggestion of dousing in the river a try.
  • In this time period, there were localized deities. Each tribe had land and they had a god.  So if you were traveling or at war, you had to think about how that god would react.  The idea of the Jewish people that we all come from 1 God, that we are all brothers and sisters and we could actually live in peace was BIG.
  • Notice in the last line that Naaman now refers to himself as servant. All power is temporary.  Why does he want Israel’s dirt?  Because Israel dirt = Yahweh dirt and that is what he wants to worship on.  Naaman is enlightened by being healed, but he is still using his old, familiar categories (Don’t we all do this?).

Continue reading the next 2 lines of this passage (2 Kings 5:18-19)  Elisha is concerned about what’s going to happen when he returns home and has to worship his tribal god again, Rimmon.  Rather than admonish him, Elisha tells him to go in peace.  God is with us in the complexity of life.  To reflect on this further, listen to Rob Bell’s Podcast #34:

http://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-34-enough-earth-for-my-mule/?token=0d737ef271d3d8973ab856a97fd069fe

2nd Reading —  2 Timothy 2: 8 –13

This letter in the name of Paul assures us that though he was ‘chained’ and eventually killed, “the Word of God is not chained” and that the God we find in Jesus Christ will be forever faithful – even when we are not.  God continues to work and inspire even our stage of reading and interpreting – helping these words live for us – enfleshing His love and presence in us.

“The Bible is not a book to be read,

but a drama in which to participate.” Abraham Heschel

How can the word of God free you?  William Barclay says, “Jesus must always be our own personal discovery.  Our religion can never be a carried tale.  Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing a person,” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 121).

Margaret Silf says, “God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands, “(Inner Compass, p. 110).  How do we DO that?  Perhaps the leper teaches us…

The Gospel – Luke 17: 11-19

The leper was healed while ‘Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.” This is what happens to us when we walk with Jesus even to and through the difficult times and places of our lives.  We are healed each time we come to Eucharist praising God and becoming more perfectly a part of Christ’s body. We are healed each time we put others ahead of ourselves. We are healed each time we choose to forgive those who wrong us, even as we try to overcome the evil.  We are healed each time we pause a few seconds to ‘give thanks to God’ for the many blessings of each day. Such gratitude makes our faith a vibrant and growing reality: we owe all to God who gives us everything that is good.  Faithfulness and thankfulness go (grow?) together (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.224-227).

Jesus as healer was constantly challenging existing boundaries and pushing them ever outward.  Sinners, the blind, the lame and lepers were welcome within the boundaries of the holy community Jesus was forming.  Now that the lepers were healed, they are restored to their communities. The nine that left may have gone to the priests to thank God there.  The Samaritan leper could not enter Jerusalem, so he couldn’t do that.  He recognized Jesus as being one with God, and so he thanked him personally.  The other nine lepers may actually bump into Jesus again…do you think they might thank him later?  The Samaritan grabbed his opportunity while he had it, (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 150).  What opportunities do you have to thank God?

From A. Gittins’ Encountering Jesus:  Poor people and sick people are often overlooked or forever pushed around, sent here and there with vague promises of redress or assistance.  Theirs is a never-ending round of deferrals and dead-ends.  They become used to excuses or prevarication from bureaucrats or people without compassion.  We have to wonder what these ten lepers must have felt when Jesus appeared to dismiss them and send them on their way without really having encountered them.  Did they set off with a spring in their step, or simply accept another rebuff, and go their way with no intention of heading for the priests?  We cannot know, but we can imagine (p. 66)…According to Luke’s story, all 10 lepers were cured of their condition.  And, only one was also truly healed:  restored to a full relationship with God through both divine initiative and human response (p. 67).

Commentary on the Readings for this Weekend (27th OT, C)

1st Reading — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4

From Celebration, October 2004:

If scholars are right, Habakkuk might have been a contemporary of Jeremiah. He is probably here lamenting the destruction of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army. He is probably also lamenting the corruption that took place in Judah before the fall. Yet, he is told that he must trust in a vision that can yet come to be. With this vision comes an assurance of God’s love and care even though there is destruction and suffering. He was told to write down this vision; in other words, make it permanent. And, it is to be in large, legible letters so that all the people may see it, read it, hold on to it – a public display of faith in the midst of tragedy. This is faith that gives life.

Br. David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness, the heart of prayer:

How difficult it is to live in the creative tension of hope, the tension between not-yet and already!…Some people imagine that hope is the highest degree of optimism, a kind of super-optimism.  I get the image of someone climbing higher and higher to the most fanciful pinnacle of optimism, there to wave the little flag of hope.  A far more accurate picture would be that hope happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism.  We have nowhere to fall but into the ultimate reality of God’s motherly caring  (p. 126, 136)  Can you go to that difficult place inside of you and feel the same lament as Habakkuk?  Have you sensed God there too?  How does faith help us in these moments?

2nd Reading – 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14

By the time of this writing, many have given their lives for the faith in Christ; others have endured increasing difficulties and hardships. (Some have also fallen away or fallen into heresy –see 1:15, 2:17-18 and 4:9) This writer wants to use the example of Paul’s imprisonment and suffering along with some of perhaps Paul’s own words to encourage others to use their faith to live with courage, power, love and self control.   (Celebration, October 2004)

We hear Paul telling Timothy to seek God’s help through “the imposition of my hands” and “the sound words that you heard from me”.  In other words, Timothy should feel hope in the Lord because of how the Lord works through Paul.  Don’t we often find hope in the Lord through each other too?  The warmth of a loving touch and comforting words can be all we need to get through a really hard day.  It gives a whole new meaning to “being there” for someone.  We bring God into that accompaniment when we have faith.

What does “stir into flame” conjure up for you?  Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God, It will flame out like shining from shook foil.”  Some reflection questions around fire:

  • What is the invitation of fire for you this day?
  • What is blazing in your heart?
  • Where do you need the fire of courage in your life?
  • What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
  • What ignites you with sacred passion for the world?
  • What would it mean for you to truly become fire? (Questions taken from C. Paintner’s water, wind, earth & fire, p. 61)

R. Rolheiser in The Holy Longing describes spirituality as, “about what we do with the fire inside of us, about how we channel our eros…It is the principle of energy. Life is energy. There is only one body that does not have any energy or tension within it, a dead one.  The soul is what gives life.  Inside it, lies the fire, the eros, the energy that drives us,” (p. 11-12).

The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10

This whole chapter in Luke’s gospel is about “the decisiveness and urgency of discipleship.” We cannot just wait (or even pray) until we have enough faith, for then we may never begin living as the servants we are called to be. A seed is small, but it is filled with potential ‘power’ for growth. Jesus wants to convince us that our faith is like this.  We must ‘burst open’ like a planted seed allowing growth and new life to begin.

“We must use what we have.” Jesus then shows us what the faithful disciple looks like – one who not only works the fields, but also serves at table. In fact, as we put this all together we see that serving at table is as great as moving trees – and other more amazing feats of faith! Jesus, like many good preachers of his time, loved to use hyperbole and humor to get his point across. (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.220)

What do you think of the phrase “unprofitable servants”?  The Greek adjective that is used here actually means “without need.” Although it is translated here as ‘unprofitable’ it seems to mean more that this servant is without the need for ‘pay.’ He is not motivated by reward or recompense.  As servants of an all-merciful and loving God we need to do everything with gratitude that we have been called to serve such a ‘master.’ We are servants that are ‘due nothing,’ because all we have has been given to us with love. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context, liturgy.slu.edu)

Mammon

Fr. Bob homily for 25th Sunday in OT, C…

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  Mammon is a funny word.  You tell it is difficult because they did not try to translate it.  It is a Greek word adopted from a similar Hebrew and Aramaic word and then dropped into English as is.  We don’t have a word to express what it means.  It is that which you place your trust in or give allegiance to.  In other words, mammon wants to be treated like God.  That is why Jesus speaks of mammon as a false God.  You have to choose God or mammon.

Sometimes money is depicted as mammon, but that is not quite right.  It is rather a symptom of mammon.  Money demands our attention and its pursuit takes up much of our time.  It is very important, yet when it becomes our main priority, it becomes mammon.  As…

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