Author Archive: kafesk

Commentary on 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The 1st Reading — Amos 6: 1, 4-7

Amos is continuing to lament and grow weary of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  The rich are basking in the glow of their wealth, even drinking wine out of bowls!  Scholars think the reference to David is trying to be ironic.  Unlike David who used his musical talents for praising God, the wealthy of Israel were dabbling in the art simply for their own entertainment and enjoyment.  The prophecy of the rich going into exile first does occur.  In 722BC Assyria attacks the northern Kingdom (Celebration, Sept. 1998).  Their complacency did not benefit them in the end.  What happens when we become complacent and take for granted what we have?

Contrast this image with St. Teresa of Calcutta. In a general letter she wrote to her sisters in July 1961:  My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption.  Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death…Only by being one with us He has redeemed us.  We are allowed to do the same:  All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it.  Pray thus when you find it hard – “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them – to take upon me something of their suffering.”  Yes, my dear children – let us share the sufferings – of our Poor – for only by being one with them – we can redeem them, that is, bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.

The 2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 6: 11-16

This passage tells us clearly how and what we are to be. It is an exhortation not just for Timothy, but for every baptized person. Our faith is a living relationship of love – with God and with others  (Celebration, Sept. 2001).  What wisdom do you find in this passage?  What do you make of the writer saying we should, “Compete well for the faith,”? 

Paul bases his moral motivation on belief in eternal life.  Upright conduct springs from a belief in life which will not end, (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 639).  We often reverse this.  We “try to be good in order to go to heaven”.  Paul is telling us to remember that we are called to heaven, and that belief helps us be good.  This is a profound shift!

The Gospel — Luke 16: 19 – 31

This gospel reading is challenging us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to those around us. Let not our possessions and comforts blind us and deaden us. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this parable comes when the rich man, suffering now himself, raised his eyes and saw Lazarus. But even then, he only saw him as someone who could meet his needs — not as a person in his own right with needs. The rich man has no name (although he is sometimes called Dives, a Latin word for rich); the poor man is given a name and an identity: Lazarus, which means the one God helps or loves. (Celebration, Sept. 2001)

From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 221-222:  The details in this parable are very important. The rich man had great luxury: garments of purple and fine linen.  The word that is used for feasting is one that is used for a glutton who feeds on exotic and costly dishes – everyday. His self-indulgence seemed to give him no time for work while his servants must have slaved to keep him fed. Also, in those days’ food was eaten with the hands. In very wealthy houses, the hands were cleaned by wiping them on chunks of bread. The bread was then thrown away. These were the ‘crumbs’ that Lazarus longed to be allowed to eat. The rich man was not deliberately cruel; nor was he accused of being the reason for Lazarus’ poverty. His sin is his blindnesshis lack of even noticing another’s need. That lack of human concern for anyone outside of himself was a great chasm that separated him from love, life.

From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 169-170:   Hades (netherworld) is the abode of the dead. It does not necessarily coincide with our term of hell. In this story there is a big chasm separating those who respond to and with God’s love and those who do not. The ‘hell side’ is the state of being where you don’t love – where you find yourself cut off and where non-life is chosen. This parable is not supposed to convince us that God’s justice is served by physically punishing people.  The story is supposed to open us to the true way of life – listening to God’s Word and letting it guide our life and our choices. We are to choose life – love – sharing – communion. We need to choose the good because it is good – it leads to life. Such choice leads to dignity and goodness. There is, as Abraham says in the story, a ‘great chasm’ between heaven and hell – between fear and faith, between death and life. This story was meant to help us overcome the chasm – not to deepen it.  Notice Jesus’ audience…

Commentary on the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Amos 8: 4-7

Amos was a native of the village of Tekoa located 6 miles south of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean wilderness. He made his living as a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. What is translated as sycamore is probably a type of mulberry that produced a type of fig-like fruit. They had to be punctured or pinched at exactly the right moment in its growth cycle so as to release the insects that infested it. Insect-free fruit would then grow to ripeness so that the poor, for whom the fruit provided some meager sustenance, could gather it up and be fed. Although Amos thought he was not suitable to be the prophet God called him to be, perhaps his job with these trees had actually prepared him well to pinch and puncture the greed and dishonesty that infested the hearts of some of the rich at that time. The greedy rich did not even like the Sabbath rest, for it kept them from their unscrupulous business practices. These heartless and disreputable merchants actually sold the poor into lives of slavery because of their greed. Amos understood the lives of the poor; he spoke out vehemently with condemnation toward those whose greed continued to force the poor into more and more difficulties. We need to allow Amos’ words to pinch and puncture us so we too are open to God’s ways of love and truth, not selfish greed. God still hears the cry of the poor; he is not fooled by superficial piety. (Celebration, Sept. 2001 and Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept. 1998)

According to a quick Google search, an ephah is about a bushel, and a shekel is worth about $.28.

There is a sense that nothing is hidden from the Lord.  All of our actions are noticed and have meaning.  Sometimes we don’t even give thought to how our actions have impact on others, such as the food or clothing we buy from a company that doesn’t practice fair wages.  In what ways can you be more mindful of your actions?

2nd Reading — 1 Timothy2: 1-8

Some in this community were succumbing to Gnosticism, and so the letter is countering that.  Gnosis is Greek for knowledge.  Gnostics thought they possessed special, mystical knowledge that they received because they were an elite group.  They believed all matter is evil, so our bodies are evil and our spirits must escape them.  In order to be liberated from our bodies, a spiritual messenger must come and awaken us from our sleep.  This messenger brings gnosis.  For Christian Gnostics, that messenger was Jesus.  But because they believed bodies were evil, they rejected the idea that Christ had a body like ours  (appeared to be human but not).  So there were theories about Jesus’ birth, incarnation and resurrection that threatened Christian doctrine  (Gonzalez, JL, The Story of Christianity Vol I, pgs 58-61).  In this letter to Timothy, “Paul” writes how EVERYONE is to be saved, there is ONE mediator and he is a ransom for ALL.  What do you make of this in our world today? 

The Gospel – Luke 16: 1-13

This whole section is tied together by the theme of wealth and the danger it poses for discipleship.

Luke is always very concerned about this problem.  Don’t you wonder why Jesus advises that we

should make friends with dishonest wealth?

Jesus’ audience (and Luke’s) would have expected the steward to be jailed immediately.  When this didn’t happen in the parable, their imagination was captured.  The underdog seems to be getting the better of the person in power!  In actuality, the master is a man of mercy.  The steward knew that, since he wasn’t jailed, and decided to capitalize on that.  When he lowered the renters’ ransom notes (connect this ransom with the one in the previous reading!), the renters believed it was with the master’s approval and so he is a hero.  It would look bad if the master changed this.  The steward hoped that even if the master did not reinstate him, he would be welcomed and employed by others in the community.  The steward relies heavily on the fact that the master is generous and merciful.  God is the master, and we are God’s stewards.  We are completely dependent on God for life itself.  Only God can save  (Birmingham, M, Word and Worship, p. 481).

As disciples, we need prudent decisiveness. We must take our identity so seriously that it defines how we live. We are not going to live in this world forever. We or our profits are not the source and security of our lives; God is. We had better take God’s priorities seriously. We need to realize that all our choices in daily living are actually choices for eternal life. And, our Christian way of living – our Paschal Mystery living – isn’t simply a matter of surrendering to the self-sacrificing possibilities that come our way in the normal course of living. We must be clever and smart about searching out such opportunities to live Jesus’ proactive way of love. This passage in Luke’s gospel is really challenging us with the question: How smart are you? We need to know who and what we are. We need to face our gifts and shortcomings honestly. It does not do ourselves or anyone else any good to live in fantasy. We need to face our abilities and the real situation with clarity. Such realism is an asset in many a crisis. It enables us to come up with real solutions to the problems. It is only practical, real-life wisdom that brings true insight.  (Pheme Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, 165-171, & Living Liturgy, Cycle C, 2004)

Being double-minded is not having a singleness of purpose.  It is as if we are at war with ourselves.  We cannot serve two masters, as the Gospel says.  Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea.  He said, “If it is possible that a [wo]man can will only one thing then he must will the good.  For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (From his essay on “Purity of Heart Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits” in A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271-272).  For Kierkegaard, even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.  This is singularity of thought.  This is living authentically.  It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able.  Can you recall a time when you were divided in either making a decision or applying your time?  How could this Gospel message and commentary help?

Commentary on 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14

In this story we find Moses foreshadowing the role of Jesus as a mediator before God on our behalf. Jesus like Moses prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Here is a God who is willing to forgive even though his anger is great at the evil that has been done. And, of course, we believe that Jesus shows us the fullness of the real God – the visible image of the invisible God.  (Reginald Fuller, “ Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

This event is an example of how religions can confuse the voice of the people with the voice of God.  Any religion has the capacity to produce a “calf” to meet the needs of the people who are in opposition to the will of God.  Need does not create religion.  Although Aaron had ordered the making of the calf in a dubious effort to salvage the faith of his people, all that resulted was a compromise that threatened the integrity of their relationship with God, (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 472).  How often do we place our needs in the way of God’s will?  Maybe more often than we think.  Yet our God listens to us.  Moses intercedes for his people, and God hears. Compare this dubious effort with the effort of the prodigal son in the Gospel we will soon hear.

Notice too how God tells Moses they are “your people”, like an angry mother telling a father what happened with the children while he was away at work.  Does the angry mother’s love ever diminish for her children?  She is there for them anyway and loves them completely, no matter what they do.  How much more God is. 

2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 1: 12-17

The Pauline authorship of this letter and the rest of the so-called pastoral letters (2 Timothy, Titus) have been disputed since the 19th century. Regardless, the letter is emphasizing that Saul-Paul was like the elder brother of the gospel story who had been desirous of punishing the ‘brothers’ he deemed to be unfaithful and heretical. By the glorious grace of the God he found in the Risen Christ, he recognized the error of his ways. He began knowing God in an entirely new way, a way that leads to new life, not judgment and death.  (Celebration, Sept. 2001)

How does this passage lead us into the parables of lost sheep, lost coin, lost son?

“There is something good in the worst of us and something bad in the best of us.” We may not be Paul, a former blasphemer and ‘thug’ – we may not be worshipping molten calves in a frenzy – but we can all be overwhelmingly grateful for the merciful love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Repentance is always the start of good news.  (Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

St. Therese of Lisieux, “The one thing which is not open to envy is the lowest place.  Here alone, therefore, there is neither vanity nor affliction of spirit.  Yet sometimes we find ourselves wishing for what dazzles.  In that hour let us in all humility take our place among the imperfect, and look upon ourselves as little souls who at every instant need to be upheld by the goodness of God.”

The Gospel – Luke 15: 1-32

Here is the whole chapter from Luke on the ‘lost and found’. It is sometimes called ‘the gospel within the gospel’ because it so profoundly shows us the essence of the good news we find in Christ Jesus.  What do we find good in these parables? What do you find challenging?

From Living Liturgy, 2004: This parable reveals the dying and rising of the paschal mystery at work.  The prodigal son is brought to repentance because he is in dire need; he is “dying from hunger.” There is nothing he does to deserve the father’s response except return. Yet, his decision to repent (turn from death) is met with warm, welcoming love and feasting – at least from the father. For all of us, the invitation to repent is always there – to turn from dying-ways to new life and feasting.  What can bring us – and the elder son – to the feasting?

Notice also, that sin is ‘going away to a distant land’ – it is about losing who and where we are called to be. Repentance is about ‘coming back to our senses.’  Sin is an alienation from ourselves, like the son who no longer deserves to be called his father’s son.  Sin affects our relationships – with the father – and with others (the elder son). But in the father, we find a love that bridges the gap.  

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu:  In this culture fathers were greatly discouraged from distributing inheritance before their death. The younger son acts very shamefully by effectively wishing his father dead. The elder son is no better. He makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as the culture demanded. When he ‘comes back to himself’ and repents, the younger son is willing to become a servant and take the rejection and physical abuse that the village will heap on him for his shameful behavior. In this, he does show some measure of honor. But then the father acts totally out of cultural character. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the village gauntlet to meet the boy. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him, giving him the best robe (which certainly would be the father’s), putting a ring on his finger (a sign of trust), and sandals on his feet (a sign of a free man not a slave). Killing the fatted calf means that the whole village will be invited to come and accept this son and celebrate. (This size calf could feed 100 people.) And then, what does the elder son do? Instead of honoring his father’s wishes, he publicly insults and humiliates his father. Yet, the father also goes out to him (another shameful thing for the father to do). The parable ends here with the father pleading with his son . . . what did the elder son do? What would you do?

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Wisdom 9: 13-18b

From Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 465:  It was a popularly held belief that this book was written by Solomon, but scholarship maintains that it was written long after his reign by an anonymous writer.  The most we can ascertain is that the writer was a learned Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher.  He was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy, rhetoric and culture.  A burning issue of those times was how is it that the just suffer and the wicked prosper?  Skepticism and individualism were rampant.

Sound familiar?  It is so hard to discern God’s will for us.  There are no billboards.  We wrestle with what we think is right for us vs. what God may think is right for us.  We also wrestle when bad things happen, and we try to wrap our minds around how that can be.  In the end, the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom to us when we allow Spirit in.  Margaret Silf from Inner Compass (p. 92) says, “God’s will – his desire for me – and my own deepest desire (when I am really living true) are one and the same thing!”  Yet we are so burdened by our “earthen shelter”.  How does this reading speak to you in where you are in your life right now?   We ARE body and soul, so we must make our decisions with our whole self…do you have a process that helps you make decisions in a “whole” way? 

Some thoughts on discernment you may find helpful:  Spiritual consolation is any affective movement or state that draws us to God or that helps us to be less centered upon ourselves and to open out to others in generosity, service and love.  Spiritual desolation is just the opposite.  It is any affective movement that draws us away from God and leads us to be self-centered, closed in and unconcerned about God or other people.  The process of Discernment of Spirits is looking at and sifting our present and past experiences, taking note especially of events, people and situations that are associated with or evoke the moods and feelings of consolation and desolation.  The crucial issue in interpreting and evaluating our feelings in discernment is not so much where the movement or feeling is coming from nor even what exactly the feeling is (joy, guilt, anger, etc) but rather the direction in which the feelings are leading – toward God and one another or away from God and one another.  (From Ears to See, Ears to Hear:  An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, David Lonsdale)

2nd Reading – Philemon 9b-10, 12-17

This is the only personal letter of Paul that has survived. Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, a Christian of Colossae. He had joined Paul in prison and under Paul’s influence Onesimus became Christian. Paul is sending him back as “no longer a slave but a brother.” Paul does not abolish slavery, it is true. That would have been impossible in the ancient world. But, rather, Paul transforms the relationship between master and slave with faith in Christ Jesus.  (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510 )

In a way, Paul is asking Philemon to forego his legal rights, ownership and cultural understandings in favor of God’s way of wisdom and love. Right in the middle of this Sunday’s readings, this passage is a powerful example of what the 1st Reading is saying and what Jesus will be asking of us in the Gospel.

What understandings do you have to overcome in order to truly be Jesus’ disciple?  Do you have a friend with whom you can share your heart like Paul and Onesimus?

The Gospel – Luke 14: 25-33

This gospel consists of a string of sayings on the cost of discipleship, followed by two parables to help illustrate what Jesus meant. ‘Hate’ is a very harsh word. Exaggeration was a common technique for preachers in Jesus’ day; in an oral culture one had to make important points with strength. The original Aramaic (Jesus’ language) might have meant simply to “love less than.” But no matter the translation, the meaning is clear: following Jesus means the surrender of the whole of one’s life. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/23OrdC090510How does this challenging gospel speak to you? Why not talk it over with Jesus?

Jesus speaks of preparing ourselves for following him.  We must let go of our attachments.  We must make the commitment.  We must move forward.  All of this is part of the discernment process too.  In making decisions in life, are you moving toward God or away from God?  Is this choice life-giving, even if it’s hard?  Are you willing to see it all the way through?  Does it help others?  Does it make you feel thankful, loving and open to serve?  God wants what is our deepest desire.  We are all called to be the most of who we are…what is that for you?

St. Oscar Romero said, “We should not wonder that a church has a lot of crosses to bear.  Otherwise, it will not have a lot of resurrection.  An accommodating church, a church that seeks prestige without the pain of the cross, is not the authentic church of Jesus Christ,” (2/19/1978).  He also said, “A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – what gospel is that?  Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be.  Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.  They don’t have Peter’s courage, who told that crowd where the bloodstained hands still were that had killed Christ:  ‘You killed him!’  (Acts 2:  23).  Even though the charge could cost him his life as well, he made it.  The gospel is courageous; it’s the good news of him who came to take away the world’s sins,” (4/16/1978).

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Isaiah 66: 10-14c

This is the last chapter of Isaiah, written by the 3rd Isaiah source and after the exile.  The people were facing the difficulties of the restoration.  There is a mood of disillusionment in the Trito-Isaiah chapters.  2nd Isaiah brimmed with hopeful expectation of the imminent return; Trito-Isaiah lived with the reality of what is.  Things were not as the people hoped.  There was controversy in the Palestinian community.  Those who had returned from exile were eager to get back to their orthodox way of life.  Those who had remained in Israel during the exile had become enculturated with the conquering peoples and were not so eager  (This is similar to the divisions in our own country and the Catholic Church.).  But God comforts God’s people as a nursing mother.  Belief in a future life, a new age, and a new creation sprouts forth (M. Birmingham’s W&W Wkbk for Year C, p. 414-415).  When there are conflicting ideologies, how does God comfort us?  What can we do to recognize that comfort?  How does the image of God as mother resonate with you?     

2nd Reading – Galatians 6: 14-18  (Paul’s closing remarks to this letter)

For Paul, everything rests on the power of the cross.  NT Wright tells us in speaking about Paul, “God has accomplished, and will accomplish, the entire new creation in the Messiah and by the spirit.  When someone believes the gospel and discovers its life-transforming power (As Paul himself did!), that person becomes a small but significant working model of that new creation…the point of being human is to be an image –bearer, to reflect the praises of creation back to God, (Paul, p. 407).  Jesus’ death on the cross makes this possible.  His love overcame evil, and that means everything.

There is a balance between living a life detached and living life fully immersed in love.  Detachment is approaching life freely.  You are okay with however things work out.  This is hard because we want our own way!  And culture encourages decision-making or choosing sides.  It is also hard because we love.  We want things to work out well for those we love and we cling to what we achieve.  But God is here to help us with this balance.  This is why Paul says no one will make trouble for him again, because he bears the marks of Christ.  It is through Christ that we receive consolation.  Can you think of a time when you detached from something, trusted in the Lord and it worked out?    

The Gospel – Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

Only Luke uses this story of Jesus sending out 72 to go ‘ahead of him in pairs.” What do you make of this gospel story as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem?  Do you think any of the appointed were women?

From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 137-138:  When Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven,” it is a difficult phrase to understand.   It may mean that he saw evil being overcome by their proclaiming God’s kingdom. But it could also be a warning against pride. The legend was that it was pride that caused Satan to rebel against God; it was Satan’s pride that cast him out of heaven. Jesus may be telling them to be careful of the same pride and overconfidence. They had been given great power, but it was a gift. Our greatest glory is not what we can do, but what God has done for us – ‘your names are written in heaven’ – sinners saved by God’s free gift of grace.

From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 137-142:

Luke’s Jesus sends the disciples out in two’s. By doing so, Luke is telling us that the gospel happens between people – it doesn’t happen in your mind. It is through a sacrificial love – being in right relationship with at least with one other person (the only real ‘test’ of God’s Spirit being present).  Only then do we begin to understand ‘salvation.’ Salvation is not antiseptic, unreal and sterile. “Person-to-person is the way the gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Spirit is so beautifully present . . . Restraint and passion – that is the paradoxical experience of the Holy.” We grow into our ability “to love another in a way that totally gives” ourselves and entrusts ourselves to another while respecting the other person and standing back in honor of them. Jesus is also trying to console them even as he is ‘toughening them up’ for the job. He warns them not to feel defeated when rejected. If they do not accept your peace, it will return to you.  If they accept you, then let your presence as another Christ bring God’s goodness to them.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – 1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21

Elijah has just finished a very difficult time, facing down the false prophets of Baal and then running for his life from Queen Jezebel. He is tired and asks the Lord to relieve him of his burdens – even his very life.

Then the Lord agrees to have Elijah pass on his role as prophet to Elisha.  It is interesting to think that God’s call to Elisha comes to him right in the middle of his ordinary life. And – once he understands the call, he responds with profound commitment. This is quite a powerful story!  What do you find thought-provoking in this passage?

From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Wrkbk for Yr. C, 409:

A cloak symbolized the personality and rights of the owner, as well as the owner’s protection. The gift of a cloak was a sign of unity and friendship.  It was also a sign of one’s function or charism.  Elisha, though a very wealthy man (most people would own only one oxen) responds wholeheartedly with a grand gesture of total commitment to the cloak and the call.

Here’s another way of using this story as a means to pray and be open to how God might be speaking to you through it  (from Margaret Silf, Inner Compass, p. 13-14):

After reading the passage of 1 Kings 19:19 about Elisha, imagine yourself in a field. The field is being plowed, and you have your own furrow to plow. The field is the field of the world . . . Your hands are on the plow and your feet are heavy with the earth. Perhaps you feel that you are carrying out this gigantic task all alone. But look ahead of you. See the eleven teams of oxen that Elisha saw. You are not alone. You are a part of a long line of life and meaning. But this is not just any line of oxen. It is your own personal line . . .

Who or what is in your line of oxen teams? Think of significant people who have made a difference in your life. Some may have helped provide the pulling power for your plow and its progress. Remember also the important moments, events, decisions or experiences that have formed your furrow. Notice the landscape of your part of the field. Think of how a farmer plows a straight furrow by keeping his gaze on a fixed object ahead. 

How has Jesus been your fixed object? He needs to be at the head of each one of our personal lines of oxen teams. It is his risen life and energy that provide the power for our every moment. Think of how he has been both your beginning and your end – both your starting point and your goal. Talk with Jesus about this. As you finish your prayer time, ask Jesus to help you to know –deeply—that you do not plow alone . . .

2nd Reading – Galatians 5:1, 13-18

What did Paul mean by ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’?  These terms, flesh and spirit, which are often used to translate the Greek sarx and pneuma, have caused tragic misunderstandings of Paul’s theology.  Paul has often been blamed for seeing the body and sex as sinful  — evil.  This is unfortunate for it is far from what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, sarx.  He does not mean the physical, sexual part of a human. Sarx refers to the WHOLE human as he/she is enslaved to weakness and corruption.  (Even when Paul lists sexual ‘sins’ with prominence, he is saying that sexual abuse and misuse are symptoms of the whole person’s disorientation away from God, the true source of life.)  The pneuma, or spirit, on the other hand, is the full human who is open to being influenced by God’s Spirit and charis, saving power.  Our whole being “every cell of our body, every moment of our mind is BOTH flesh and spirit.”  We are enslaved by the power of sin.  Or, we are liberated to grow into the image of God that we are intended to be.  (Paul Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133, and The Eternal Now, 48).  Paul might have seen much of his own theology in this story. 

RH. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” www.liturgy.slu.edu & M Birmingham, W&W YrC, 409-410:

The freedom that Paul talks about is a freedom grounded in love – for others.  We are freed from our small, crippled, self-centered ‘false’ selves – it is false because this is not the way that God has called us to be. The Spirit of Love – which is the Spirit that God freely gives us – provides us with a set of antennae enabling us in each concrete situation to live a life that love requires, without a lot of rules and regulations. Once we are open to God’s Spirit, then – while we may still struggle with the ‘flesh’ (the old, weak, unredeemed self – the self that is resistant to God’s life and freedom)  we will have in the Spirit an indwelling strength and understanding that will help us to live this new life, a life of true love and freedom.

The Gospel – Luke 9: 51-62

Why do you think Luke has this right at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem?

Here Jesus is emphasizing the primacy of commitment to God’s reign, God’s kingdom. All else is secondary. The imagery used is typically Semitic and strongly worded to drive the idea home. Details should not be pressed. To break the saying down into fractions is to lose their impact. The main point is clear: human considerations are insignificant . . . families ties must be seen in connection to our commitment to Jesus. The Palestinian one-hand plow cannot be easily guided without full attention given to the furrows. So, too, the reign of God calls for undivided attention and commitment . . . Every day of our lives presents new challenges, new problems. There is always the unknown lurking about . . . Yet, in the face of the unknown, Jesus never wavered. We are asked to follow him. We are to walk with the Spirit that gives life, not with the flesh that tires, doubts, and becomes easily discouraged.  (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p.456)

Commentary on the Most Holy Trinity Sunday, cycle C

On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the very essence of God – and how we experience this essence. And so, by this celebration we hope to come to experience this mystery more deeply within our real and everyday lives. This God of love, truth and life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be loved, experienced, and lived.

From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God, “Trinity: The Living God of Love”:  Christians do not believe in three gods but in one. What is particular to this faith is the belief that this one God has graciously reached out to the world in love in the person of Jesus Christ in order to heal, redeem, and liberate… It lifts up God’s gracious ways active in the world through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, and finds there the fundamental revelation about God’s own being as self-giving communion of love . . .  This is about “an encounter with divine Mystery” . . . experiencing the saving God in a threefold way as beyond them, and with them, and within them . . .

Our “God is not two men and a bird” even though artists have often depicted the Trinity this way. This art is a meditation not a photograph. (207-208)

God is love – God lives as this mystery of love. We humans are created in this image. “Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others.” “The church’s identity and mission pivot on this point . . .  Only a community of equal persons related in profound mutuality, pouring out praise of God and care for the world in need, only such a church corresponds to the triune God it purports to serve.”  (223)

“The point is, with the three circling around in a mutual, dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being but a plenitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate.  The whole point of this history of God with the world is to bring the world back into the life of God’s own communion, back into the divine dance of life  (p. 214).

1st Reading – Proverbs 8: 22 – 31

The Book of Proverbs is sort of an ‘Owners manual for the Jewish mind, heart and hands. All the chapters tell the reader about a spirit of right living: a life of discipline, restraint, just judgment, and relational sensitivity. This passage is a poetic presentation of how Wisdom assisted in creation. The goodness of creation and of ourselves is affirmed so that we reverence and use well all of that creation.  Larry Gillick, S.J., http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistr/053010.html

This passage in the Old Testament is considered typology…a foreshadow or hint of what may be understood further in the New Testament.  Trinity is not a concept that was revealed well in OT, but this is a prefigurement:  the idea that the Father had company in creation. 

2nd Reading – Romans 5: 1-5

Paul insists that standing firm in the midst of trials yields to endurance and a firm hope.  For Paul, the assurance that salvation was a free gift for all inclusively was based on his belief in God’s love shown to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was Paul’s firm belief in the triune nature of God that would later be the foundation upon which theologians based the doctrine of Trinity.  For Paul it was the Christian anchor:  hope and endurance come through faith in the Triune God’s transcendent power!  (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 554)  How has hope and endurance helped you in the midst of trial?

The Gospel – John 16: 12-15

This passage continues the Farewell Discourse of the Last Supper that Jesus has with his disciples.  Note how gentle Jesus is in not wanting to overwhelm them by only feeding them bits of information that they are able to understand  (Think of how we teach our children!).  “Spirit” in this piece of scripture in Greek is “paraclete”…one who stands by us.  We have a God that stands forever with us.  How does this speak to you?

6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 15: 1-2, 22-29

Compare this with Galatians 2: 1-15.  This is Paul’s account of what happened. Remember, Paul is writing about what he himself had experienced, while Luke is writing later about things that happened to others.  

  1. Why Paul attended the Council:  Luke (author of Acts) says he was sent by the community in Antioch, while Paul says he went on his own initiative.
  2. The Discussions at the Council:  Luke implies that the meeting was calm and serene with Peter and James making the decision, while Paul makes the discussions sound more lively and that there was a common agreement.
  3. The Decision:  In Luke, a selection was made from elements of dietary, ritual, and marital law, and this selection was to be imposed on the Gentile congregations.  Paul is very clear that the Gospel is the good news, freely given, and that we are saved without the works of the Law. 

In the end, it was Paul’s view that prevailed.  But at this time of the early church, perhaps it was necessary to have these few rules for Jewish/Gentile Christians  to feel united, (Dwyer, John, Church History, p. 40-43).  What can we learn about the early church in all this?  What do you see of how the Lord’s Spirit works?

2nd Reading – Revelation 21: 10- 14, 22- 23

By the time this was written, Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by Rome.   The mention of the twelve tribes suggests that the city represents the gathering of a people, like church.  But there is no temple in this vision…meaning God and God alone who continues the relationship with his people face to face.  God dwells WITH us!  How does this vision speak of the fullness of God’s presence for you?

From William Barclay, The Revelation of John, p. 212:

Consider the dimensions of the heavenly Jerusalem – each side was 1,500 miles long and the total area of the city was 2,250,000 square miles (These verses were omitted.)! A city with that area would stretch from London to New York. Surely we are meant to see that in the holy city there is room for everyone. Then when we come to the wall it is only 266 feet high – not very high by ancient standards (the walls of Babylon were 300 feet high). Certainly, there is no comparison between the walls and the size of this city—here again is symbolism. It is not meant to keep people out – it is perhaps simply a delineation. God is much more eager to bring people in – to let them know they are safe within his peace – than to shut them out . . .

How is God like a light for us?

The Gospel: John 14: 23- 29

The Spirit that filled Jesus of Nazareth throughout his life, death, and resurrection is the same Spirit that is now available to us as a free gift.  Jesus made this Spirit an historical reality for us.  What means the most to you in this reading?  How do you find Jesus’ Word and love and peace connected?

The word, “Advocate,” is sometimes translated “paraclete,” “counselor” or “comforter” – the Greek word used basically means a legal term that is for the “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” From its use in the gospel it seems that it has three functions or activities.

1) It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after his life/death/resurrection/ascension experience.

2) It is a truth-telling Spirit (14:17; 16:13) assuring us that Jesus is not a shameful failure, but the beloved of God.

3) It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16: 12-14).

In other words, this Advocate represents divine presence and guidance.  It is all we need!

There were 2 things happening in the Johannine church that contributed to the understanding of the Paraclete.  Jesus’ return was not as imminent as was once believed.  This caused confusion.  Eyewitnesses to the Jesus event were no longer alove, thus making human authentication next to impossible.  The Paraclete answered both problems.  The Paraclete was the real presence of the risen Christ in the midst of the community.  The community was experiencing realized eschatology. They were living in the reign of God in this realm as they awaited the next.  Through the Paraclete, God’s people would continue to encounter the presence of Christ, (M. Birmingham’s Word and Worship, p. 301).  So are we!

5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles 14: 21- 27

Paul and Barnabas are here retracing their steps back to the first community in Antioch.  This was brave of them to do.  Remember last week, they were persecuted for preaching to the Gentiles.  They shook the dust off their feet.  Now they are going back.  A church is actually formed now.  Think of how the news has spread so quickly post-resurrection.  What does this mean in your life?  Have there been times when you were told to stop doing something but, because of your belief in it, soldiered on and saw it blossom?  Think of Milton Hershey, who continually made bad candy and went through all of his money before finally resulting in a product that we all love!  Not that he did it alone.  Like the disciples, he had a community of people to help him.  Who is that kind of support for you?

Notice “what God had done with them” vs. what they did themselves.  Everything is because of God.  This is what it is to follow the will of God:  to have a single purpose.  Dag Hammarskjöld, second Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “I don’t know Who – or what – put the question.  I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”  How does this speak to you?

2nd Reading: Revelation 21: 1-5

 “And the sea was no more” . . .  Wm. Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2:  The sea was a place of fear and evil. The end of the sea is the end of a force hostile to God and to humans. (198-199) In this passage we also see that God will make his dwelling-place with humans. The word for dwelling-place is skene, which means literally a tent, but also came to mean a tabernacle. This dwelling place contains the shechinah – the glory of God. It is God’s goodness and love shining forth into our lives. This goodness will wipe away all tears and create life anew – with no death or mourning or wailing or pain (p.202).  Has God ever “made all things new” in your life, bringing beginnings out of endings?

Compare this to Isaiah 25:  7 – 8 and Isaiah 43:  18 – 19.  This section of Revelation closes with the vision of a new heaven and earth that replaces the old creation, which has finally passed away.  The author is not interested in the implications of the image of a new creation which he has taken from Isaiah.  The real centerpiece of the new creation is the new Jerusalem.  The holy city will be the true dwelling place of God and also of the bride in the final section of the work.  The throne voice announces that the promises of divine presence are fulfilled in this city.  This city of divine presence and peace forms a striking contrast to the fallen Babylon.  In Isaiah, the Lord tells Israel not to remember the old things, since he is doing ‘a new thing”.  Revelation proclaims that that promise is finally fulfilled.  God is making all things new (Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 79-80).

The Gospel: John 13: 31-35

This gospel passage comes right after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and Judas’ leaves to plot his betrayal.   Judas thinks that things end in death when, in reality, the death ends in life.  Death simultaneously reveals Jesus’ glory and the full measure of his love for us:  Jesus is willing to suffer and die not only so that he might live, but so that all of us might share in that same glory and new life (Living Liturgy, p. 124)

 

From “Working with the Word,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:   How is Jesus’ commandment new? Even in the Old Testament the commandment to love was known.  First, the standard and model of love is Jesus himself: “As I have loved you . . .” Jesus himself, in his life, service, and self-giving death, models what it means to love one another. Second. This love means service – the washing of feet – the caring for another – and this kind of service-love is evangelization – a way of life that announces to all people that a new way of life characterized by love is possible.  All of this passage is also in the context of the Eucharistic Last Supper. Our Eucharistic meal is supposed to be the expression of our love for the God we find in Jesus and each other. That does not mean we always ‘like’ each other and even agree with each other.

In one of Father Bob’s homilies, he said that when he places Jesus in our hand, we are being placed in Jesus’ hand.  How does this speak to you in this context?

From Living Liturgy,2004, p. 125, and Celebration, May, 2004:  John’s gospel is often divided into two main parts: The Book of Signs and The Book of Glory. This week’s gospel is the beginning of the Book of Glory. It is ironic that here in the midst of betrayal, denial and approaching suffering and death, there is an announcement of Jesus’ glorification. Jesus’ moment of exaltation will be accomplished in being lifted up in shame and pain to death on the cross as well as in his being lifted up to life and glory and union with God forever. On the cross Jesus is the full revelation of God – the distinctive definition of love.   It is here that we see, once and for all, the glory and love of God made visible.

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

1st Reading – Acts of the Apostles 13: 14, 43-52

Paul’s life and energy were focused by Jesus on the words that are quoted from Isaiah 49: 6: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles . . . an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” What impresses you the most in this reading?  How is the Lord a light for you?


The Jews had a custom of shaking the dust from their feet when returning from pagan lands.  It was a sign that they were purified from the contamination of foreign people and lands.  Paul’s and Barnabus’ similar actions against the Jews was a major affront.  In essence they were calling the Jews pagans!  There was no greater insult to a Jew of Paul’s time (Birmingham, W&W, p. 286).  Think about what YOU would boldly stand up against with YOUR LIFE.    

2nd Reading – Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17

William Barclay says this: “The shout of the triumphant faithful ascribes salvation to God . . . God is the great savior, the great deliverer of his people. And the deliverance which he gives is not the deliverance of escape but the deliverance of conquest.” It is not a deliverance which saves one from trouble but which brings one triumphantly through trouble. “It does not make life easy, but it makes life great.” It is not Christian hope that we be saved from all trouble and distress. It is Christian hope that we can in Christ endure any kind of trouble and distress and remain erect through all of them, coming out with a glorious and eternal life in the end. (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 27)

William Barclay also points out that for the Hebrew blood was not primarily about death; it was about life. It was the very life-force of a person or animal. So the blood of Christ stands for his very life-force – all that he did and said and was — both in life, death and resurrection. What does it then mean to you to ‘wash’ your robe white in the blood of this Lamb? We must actively immerse ourselves in the very life of Christ – it is our baptismal promise and life.  (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 31)

The Gospel — John 10: 27-30

“No one can take them out of my hand.” Hands are often used as strong symbols.  Hands are a sign of connectedness, reassurance, care, and hope; they represent our basic need for interrelationships: a loving caress, a gentle stroke, a healing massage, a handshake. Hands are used in all of our sacraments. Four sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Sacrament of the Sick, and Holy Orders) actually call for an imposition of hands that involves actual physical touch.  Three sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Marriage) use extended hands to ‘call down’ the Holy Spirit in blessing or consecration.    (Living Liturgy, 2004, 121,123)

Imagine the scene.  It is first-century Palestine.  Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance.  At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves.  Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first.  He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure, Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep.  The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else.  Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd…Jesus is the model Good Shepherd.  He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice.  There is ownership.  Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name.  He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good.  We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death…The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock.  The word pastor was derived from this image.  (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 378- 379) What do you think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd?