Monthly Archives: July, 2020

Commentary on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: 1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12

What is wisdom – or an understanding heart? It is the God-given gift of knowing how to live, how to distinguish between good and bad, what is beneficial from what is harmful, what is authentic from what is false. Wise people are aware that the true value of everything and everyone is measured rightly – only in terms of eternity. In other words: what will this person, this experience, this joy or suffering mean to us in the end? What value will be there on the other side of death?   (Celebration, July, 2002)

In light of all this, what do you think of Solomon’s request?  Solomon (known also as Jedidiah, Hebrew for ‘the beloved of God’) succeeded his father David as king reigning for about 40 years during the 2nd third of the 10th century B.C E. He was a talented and charismatic leader who was able to keep the tribal alliance together that his father, David, had begun. He also established trade routes linking his country to Africa, Asia, Arabia and Asia Minor. He was a ‘lover of women’ with 700 wives and 300 concubines – or so the story goes! But this talent was more than just sensuality, because these connections also brought close political and cultural ties. Yet, some of these connections also brought corruption, diluting and perverting Israel’s faith. Besides all this, Solomon’s numerous building projects brought great hardship to his people through high taxes and forced labor. (7 years were spent building the Temple and 13 years building his palace complex! Then outside of Jerusalem, Solomon built fortifications and ‘chariot cities’ to protect the trade routes.) This reading shows us the ideal Solomon—the real Solomon was not always so ideal! — and the goodness that God wishes to offer all of us – not just Solomon. (Celebration, July 2005;  Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 143-145)

2nd Reading: Romans 8: 28-30

What does Paul mean by predestined?  Raymond Brown describes it as proorizein, “to decide before”.  This passage has fed into important debates about God’s predestining those who would be saved.  Brown cautions that a specific problem of the time was that most of the Jews who had been confronted with the revelation in Christ had rejected him (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 582).  So Paul may be saying that salvation may be theirs too.  That salvation is God’s first thought. Sr. Kitty Hanley says, “God won’t let us screw it up!”  God continually works in us when we let God.

What does Paul mean by justified?  By NT Wright:  “God will put the whole world right at the last.  He has accomplished the main work of that in Jesus and his death and resurrection.  And, through gospel and spirit, God is now putting people right, so that they can be both examples of what the gospel does and agents of further transformation in God’s world.  This is the heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification…It isn’t about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we humans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (“righteousness”) and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf.  It is about the VOCATIONAL framework in which humans are called to reflect God’s image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that, (Paul, A Biography, p. 407-408).

Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law.  He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus.  For Paul, faith is that response to this free gift offered to us by God.  Like all gifts it cannot be forced.  It is a matter of life for those who now live in Christ.  It reconciles us with God by accepting his love and trusting it with our lives.  And it empowers us to be reconciled to each other – and to be ambassadors of reconciliation for others.

The Gospel: Matthew 13: 44-53

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?  There are no boundaries to God’s Kingdom.  Not just for the future… God is PRESENT and AT WORK right now.  From Vat II:

  • “In Christ’s word, in his works, and in his presence this Kingdom reveals itself to us…”
  • “…the mission of the church has a single intention; that God’s Kingdom may come.” Has ALREADY come through Jesus Christ.

From Larry Gillick, S.J.:  We have three  parables to ponder in our Gospel for today. The kingdom of heaven is a kind of treasure which a person, just digging around, happened to find among the other “stuff” buried in the field. Some questions arise in my mind. What was the person looking for in the first place, and what was the treasure? Why did he bury it again and go to buy the whole field? The finding is one thing, but buying the whole field is the center meaning for me. No matter what we are searching for, if we keep digging we will find God. Buying into God’s being God and all that this relationship invites us to, is buying the whole field including those things we do not understand or want. The person bought the field for what he believed to be treasure and later could have found other things which time revealed to him as perhaps even more a treasure.                                                                                                 The second parable pictures a merchant who knows what he wants – a pearl – and he finds it and the other possessions he sells off to buy the pearl. My question of this parable is about what the merchant was going to do with the newly-purchased pearl. I suspect he will gain something even more important to him by selling. . . The kingdom of heaven, that is, the ways of Jesus required for entering, a letting go or selling off of the importance of “pearls” for the great pearl of allowing Jesus to be Savior and Lord.                                                                             The Gospel ends, as a professor might end his/her semester. Jesus asks if the disciples understand these teachings, even the last parable about the net’s catching all kinds of good fish and less good. They answer they do. They do for now, but will learn the deeper realities as they walk along with the Master. He tells them that like a good storekeeper, He brings out the good of the old and the good of the new. Jesus is not negating the former revelations, but building on them and the disciples will be the scribes of the new who cherished the old. So the question for the last parable is about the ultimate worry. Is each of us a “good” or a “bad”? Do we get placed in the heavenly “bucket” or thrown into the fiery ocean and grind our teeth for eternity without any Novocain? The net is the words of Jesus, but who are the bad? Can anything be bad that God made? Parables are meant to help us ask questions and try to come up with answers based on the call of Jesus to allow Him to be our Savior, Instructor, and priceless pearl, treasure and bucket.        

Commentary on 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19

The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written.  It makes use of the philosophical arguments found in Philo of Alexandria, Egypt in the first century BC, and employs many Greek oratorical devices of the same period.  Chapter 12 in particular is a long review of the history of Israel up to the exodus as evidence of God’s mercy on Israel, (Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, p. 488).

According to LR Farnell, The Attributes of God p. 174:  Plato’s theory of human punishment had the intention of reformation and remediation only.  In Homer’s Odyssey (1, 31), the gods send no evil to men either in this life or in the next; however, the purpose of punishment is retributive and deterrent.  For the Greeks, justice was the retribution that countered wrongdoing.  Thus, justice and revenge are not very different.  Applying this to the text, words like “condemned”, “might”, “mastery”, “judge” make more sense.  But the author also describes a God of leniency, caring, kind and full of hope.  What do you make of “repentence for their sins”?

“History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss.  There is always a way that leads out of guilt:  repentence, turning to God.  The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay.  Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day,”  A. Heschel’s The Prophets, p. 185.  How can this help us now?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 26-27

From R Fuller, :  The inward groaning of those who possess the first fruits of the Spirit is assisted by the Spirit, who intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words” (v. 26; the word for “sighs” is akin to “groanings”). Herein lies the clue to Paul’s meaning. It is not that the speech of the Holy Spirit is in itself encompassed with infirmity and therefore itself groans or sighs in an unintelligible fashion (in glossolalia, for instance); rather, Paul’s thought is that the Spirit condescends to take up our infirm prayers and to bear them up to God and to present them before God in the form of intelligible speech. Here the Spirit acts as a Paraclete or Advocate, as in the Fourth Gospel, although Paul does not actually use the word.

From J. Finley’s podcast, “Turning to the Mystics:  Theresa of Avila, Session 1”:  It’s a sacrament that God sees you, that you’re God’s beloved, that God sees in you the God-given, Godly preciousness of you in which the very depths of God by the generosity of  God has been given to you as the very depths and reality of the mystery of your own soul in the presence of God.  God sees that.”  This is a mouthful, but it relates to this important passage on prayer.  God-within-us can pray the prayers of our deepest desires for us to the God-outside-of-us, because God knows us so well and loves us so.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 24-43

  1. HISTORICAL: The weeds, or tares, were known as bearded darnel.  When it is sprouting, it looks very much like wheat.  It does not look different until it is at a more advanced stage.  At that point, it is too late to pull it out because the roots have intertwined with each other.  A grain of darnel was slightly poisonous, caused dizziness and sickness and was bitter in taste.  Because of all the problems with the darnel, it was against Roman law to sow it with wheat, (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 72-74).  The landowner knows the wheat will tolerate the weeds and so he is willing to be patient; but this is not to be underestimated.  Everyone would be able to see that he had weeds in his field.  What shame!  BUT, the landowner would have the last laugh.  Not only would the wheat still be collected, but also the weeds would be burned as fuel.  In a sense, the weeds would be put to good use too.  There is no retaliation toward the enemy in this story.  There is only satisfaction in the goodness that resulted from the situation (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 113).
  2. LITERARY: There is an irony in this story that makes the listener pay closer attention.  It is unexpected that the landowner would allow the weeds.
    • There will always be weeds. Evil exists and so we must stay alert.
    • It is hard to know who the weeds are and who the wheat is. It is easy for us to judge first and ask questions later.
    • God judges people on their whole life, not an individual act. Leave the judging to God.
    • Judgment will come for all of us in the end.
    • Let God be God, (Barclay, p. 73-75).

On this earth, there is good and evil.  Both are present among all people and within all people.  Wheat and weeds grow together.  There is a sense of hope in this.  Richard Rohr says, “If we have to eliminate the weeds before we can love the field, you know what?  You’ll never love anything!”  Although we have sin, all are welcome to be part of the kingdom that is God.  It is not a select group of ideal people that are called.  It Is up to us to see God’s grace in our lives and know God means for us to choose the good.  Just like the landowner, we must be patient with each other and ourselves.

How does the mustard seed and the yeast or leaven speak to you of God’s kingdom and power?

Wonderful and Awful by Kris Rooney

Woodcock Preserve, Clifton Park

Have you thought about how these states of being can exist at the same time, wonderful and awful?  They seem like they should be at odds with each other, but so often they happen at the same time.  Here’s what I mean.

Corona-mania is awful.  There has been so much death, so much change, so much fear and for so long.  Awfulness.  There have also been new ways of being (live-streaming Mass), time for reflection (while doing puzzles:  who knew?), and wonderful discoveries that may not have been found otherwise.

You may have heard by now that the previous pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, Fr. Alan Jupin, has been added to the List of Offenders.  Awfulness.*  Yet, I have heard from others and experienced myself good moments with him, like the baptism of my son Nolan.  Terrible awfulness that sits with a wonderfulness.

My son Matthew was born too soon and died 3 minutes after life.  He would have been 21 this year, so my husband and I went to his grave to share a drink with him.  Awful.  Yet in his 3 minutes of life he blinked at me.  I felt God in that moment of wonder, and it brought me to ministry today.

I could keep going but you get the point.  I’m sure you can reflect on your life and find the wonderful and the awful (and please do take that time).  It is a deeply-rooted teaching from Jesus that it will never be all roses and sunshine.  It is the path of discipleship.  There will always be a dying with the rising.  It’s what life is.  But what do we do with that?

Fr. Richard Rohr says that, “…it is a holding of a real tension, and not necessarily a balancing act, a closure, or any full resolution.  It is an agreeing to live without resolution, at least for a while.”  He goes on to say it is the very name and description of faith.  We must, “open up (faith), hold on (hope), and allow an infilling from another source (love),”  (The Naked Now, p. 107).

I interpret that as just continuing to breathe, knowing God is here.  How else do we get through the awful except through the wonderfulness of God?  Even if you can’t see the wonderful yet because of all the awful – and I know this is where many parishioners are right now – please trust and know that grace is there for you.  For all of us.

Listen for it in the 2nd reading this Sunday by St. Paul to the Romans:  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (8:23).

So we groan with all creation.  But we also wait (in hope!) for the wonder of good that God so wants us to see and feel and know in our hearts.  Wonderful and awful.  We can do this.

*Note:  Father Bob and I will be available this Monday and Tuesday 5-6pm in the Rosa Road Church to meet (socially but not compassionately distant) with anyone who wants a listening ear.

Commentary on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In the biblical world rain was precious. The total rainfall averaged 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?  How important is your word?  How does God work through our words? 

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

“Eager expectation” is from the word apokaradokia, meaning the attitude of a person who scans the horizon with head thrust forward, searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn break of glory.  The Christian does not see only the world; s/he looks beyond it to God.  The Christian waits, not for death, but for life (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 110-111).

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)

“We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh.  While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures.”  Wendell Barry

  1. HISTORICAL:  Consider other scripture passages and compare:  Isaiah 55:  10-11, 1 Corinthians 3:  6-9, Sirach 6:  18-21.  In Palestine, the field is unplowed, people have trod a path or paths through it, here and there rocky ground or limestone rises through, and thorns and stubble have been growing out of it.  The farmer broadcasts the seed atop the earth before he plows it under.  Planting proceeds plowing.  That’s why seed sprays on pathways, rocky ground, among thorns and on good earth, (Fichtner, Many Things in Parables, p. 15)  Considering the audience of this story, these early Christians were a persecuted people.  The oppression they experience and the cares of the world are not to be allowed to dampen their faith, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 81).
  2. LITERARY:  This is more an allegory than a parable, since it has more than one point of comparison, (Fichtner, p. 15).
  3. AESTHETICALLY:  There will be severe problems:  frustrated starts, failures, smothering opposition and trials galore.  Yet, despite all the obstacles met in sowing the seed on various kinds of soil, the farmer’s work will succeed,”  (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 88).  The emphasis on our response to that seems to be the point of the parable.  It is the SEED that has to deal with what it is given, not the sower.  Consider this quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”  What kind of seed are you?  Perhaps circumstances have changed you as a seed over time?  What are other influences in your seed life?  Do the various soils bring other examples of people (seeds) to mind?

Commentary on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Zechariah 9:9-10

Thus says the LORD:  Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

This reading is often associated with Palm Sunday. What meaning does it have for you during this time of summer?

From M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 442:  Scholars tell us that this book was probably written over a period of a few centuries by at least two authors. Chapters 1-8 were most likely written following the Babylonian exile. This section is a word of hope and reassurance to the returning exiles. Chapters 9 to 14 were perhaps written by disciples of Zechariah and possibly composed during the time of Alexander the Great. Persian rule was replaced by Greek domination. People were tired of foreign control. Hopes for a messiah had all but vanished. This writer took it upon himself to try to restore this lost vision.

Also the word ‘meek’ comes from the Greek and means ‘not easily provoked’. The Greeks understood meekness to be a balance between extreme anger and the total absence of anger. A meek person is in full control, not acting out of weakness, but out of controlled power. It is a power that is receptive to knowledge and to God. Those who are arrogant are incapable of learning.  Discipleship requires this virtue.  What does this mean to you?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 9, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:  You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The word sarx, “flesh,” does not indicate the same reality as soma, “body.” Soma is far more integrative and unifying than sarx. But the human body (person), soma, can be jailed in the prison of mere flesh if it is without the liberty of the spirit. Sarx is the debased, sin-ruled body; it is earth-bound human existence left to itself. It is thus dominated by the ‘natural’ drive for self-maintenance and enhancement, even at the expense of others. Paul’s psychology is fully enhanced by his belief in the Spirit of Jesus. Read all of Chapter 8 and rejoice that the Spirit makes us adopted children of God and that all creation is in birthing pangs of love and eager expectation. Nothing then can separate us from the eternal love of God we find in Christ Jesus. With Spirit, sarx becomes the soma, a body inspirited temple – it can sing of love, play in joy, console with gentle compassion, touch with kindness. With the Spirit our very bodies can be revelatory of God. (John Kavanaugh, ).

In other words:

For Paul the words ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ did not designate two distinct aspects of human nature, but two ways of living. Flesh is turned in on self; self becomes the center of all wants, decisions, and values. To live according to the Spirit is to live free from this bondage to self and sin. Paul’s life is an example of one who lives by the Spirit as an adopted child of God, living with joy, commitment, and love. Rather than self-centered, Paul becomes Christ-centered, even anticipating eternity in the here and now. Thus, he could face even death with joy and peace.             (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

“Holiness rests in becoming persons conformed to the image of God in us, being toward and for another, for others, and for God…authentic Christian holiness is realized by living in communion as Christ’s Body through the Spirit amidst the vicissitudes and interruptions of life in a highly complex and fragmented world,”  Michael Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 106-107.

The Gospel – Matthew 11: 25-30

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The yoke that Jesus imposes is one he wears himself. In Jesus’ day, a yoke was a common wooden device that paired two oxen and made them a team. The ever-approachable Jesus invites us to become his ‘yoke-mate’ — and with him and in him, to find our burdens lessened and our sorrows shared. The One who called us into being wants to shoulder our troubles as his own. (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

From John Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 106:  Jesus reminds us that his Father is like a Mediterranean patron, a godfather.  This is the meaning behind the title, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” which tells us that Jesus’ Father is truly in charge of human existence, of all creation.  Jesus is his broker, who mediates between the patron and the clients.  As everyone in the Mediterranean world knows, a patron is someone who freely selects clients and then decides to treat the clients “as if” they were family…What is peculiar about this patron?  Who are his “favorites”?  The simple or powerless people, those unable to do or obtain anything for themselves.

Jesus teaches and demonstrates a way of life, a yoke, that differs markedly from the one other Judean leaders taught.  He promises a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.  The peasants found this enormously appealing.  Peasants always had a yoke.  Their lives as tenant farmers were governed by the wills and whims of the landowners.  Religious leaders grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the Temple instead of redistributing to the needy, (p. 107-108).  Jesus offers a whole new way.