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 Timothy 2: 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 crises. 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?
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
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” What does this personally mean to you?
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)
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 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 gauntlet the village has prepared for the wayward son. 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?
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 an things which have to do with God, and to lead 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/23OrdC090510 ) How 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 cross 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).
Fr. Bob’s homily 8/18/2019…
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Every year when we go on vacation, my friend Fr. Tim and I hear the Gospel and think if we were glad or sad that we did not have to preach. This Gospel makes me feel like I wish I had left yesterday and not today. (Actually, this week left me feeling I wish I had become vicar general next week and not this one.)
It is jarring to hear Jesus say, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Or “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And yes, and although the other fifteen times he speaks of peace in the Gospels, he claims to bring peace, it makes it all the more significant when he does not. It reminds…
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Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. I have to admit, I always have a little trouble with this holy day. It is the day we celebrate Mary’s whole body going to heaven. I mean, who really saw this? Legend has it that Thomas the Apostle did and caught her girdle on the way up. Really? It just seems a little too out-of-this-world to fathom. But that said, it would be just like her, wouldn’t it?
There is something profound about Mary giving her whole body to what she loves, which is being with God and her son. She is fully committed.
And when you think of Mary’s body, it wasn’t the porcelain white, manicured hands, chiseled jaw body that we often see in art. It was a body that had birthed and nursed a baby. It was worn with hard work. There were lumps and bumps, scars and maybe wrinkles. This lived-in, woman’s body is what was assumed into heaven. As she said in her canticle, her soul doth glory in God’s love – fully! There is a completeness, body and soul, to her self-giving. There is a singularity of purpose. “Here I am, Lord. Take me as I am. I am yours.”
What could we learn from this? We can try to live with this kind of focus. Do everything with a love of the Lord. We can try to give ourselves freely to what is life-giving in our lives. Live without fear when we open our hearts. And we can live in hope that one day we may be whole-ly – and holy – with God too, body and soul.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
Fr. Bob’s homily 19th Sunday OT…
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock.” Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment Jesus shares with us? Sometimes I just love these sweet, tender and intimate words – like a mother speaking to her children. And sometimes, when fear increases and darkness approaches, I need these words. I need them when in Dayton and El Paso there is the tragic confluence of hate and violence – at once mindless and frighteningly purposeful. I need it when we are reminded of the sins of our Church and our failure to respond adequately, as well as the price we must now pay. I need it, and we all need it, when the darkness in the world reminds us of our own hurt, of the times we were used and abused, of our loss. I then NEED to hear from the Lord, “Do not be afraid…
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Fr. Bob’s 17th Sunday OT homily…
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” When things are going well, those words seem to perfectly depict our life with God. But things do not always go well. We know our prayers are not always answered. Anyone who has had it rain every day of their vacation knows this. There is not a fan of the New York Mets who believes that every prayer produces a positive result.
(Long aside. People always think that I pray for the Mets. That is inaccurate. When I was ten years old, I told God that I would ask just once in my life for something for the Mets and I expected the correct response. I waited until I was 21 years old and the sixteenth inning of the National Championship series. The Mets had…
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Fr. Bob’s 16th Sunday OT homily…
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
At my parish on Long Island, a new prayer group had started and it was greatly influenced by the charismatic movement. My mother joined and heard of amazing spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues. Mom said she did not share in those experiences, but she felt closest to God in serving the poor. A person in the group said, “Some of us are just Marthas.” It was not a compliment.
Inevitably, the story of Martha and Mary plays out as a choice between two ways of life; as kind of a Catholic personality test. You are either a Martha (practical and task driven) or a Mary (contemplative, spiritual and prayerful.) The history of the interpretation of this passage has favored Mary. However, for most of us, our sympathy flow toward Martha. We have all felt we are doing all the work and…
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Fr. Bob’s most recent homily…
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time C
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” There is where I should and traditionally would launch into a plea for more priests, deacons and more men and women in religious life. And of course we should pray for that. But inevitably, whenever I hear this quote, my mind goes to the very honest St. Gregory the Great who, with this Gospel passage in mind, once wrote, “Indeed, see how full the world is of priests, but yet in God’s harvest a true laborer is rarely to be found.” Snap!
When Nathaniel first came to our parish, I would give him a weekly pep talk and the first one was, “The Church does not need more priests, it needs great priests.” The time of the mediocre priest is over…
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Serve one another (Mark 10:45). With one simply quote from Mark’s Gospel we are called to ministry as Jesus commanded. You may ask yourself, “who do I serve?” The answer is we are called to serve those we know, the stranger, the lost, the sick, the hungry, the marginalized…basically everyone. Seems rather daunting, doesn’t it. Lucky for us, Jesus did not ask us to abandon our current lives to live one of complete service. He is calling us to minister in our day to day lives which includes serving others.
The St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish is blessed by the people who make up our loving community through their service in parish ministries as well as the community at large. As the parish staff liaison for Christian Service, my path crosses quite frequently with the paths of these dedicated individuals who serve meals, visit the sick and homebound and who strive to educate us all on how we can be better stewards of our environment. Almost wistfully, I read bulletin updates on the activities of where one group or another is going; and wonder when I will find the time to get my own hands dirty doing these same good works. After a bit a reflection, it was time to stop wishing. It is time to start doing. And not only for myself but to include my colleagues in the parish office who also work earnestly to keep the parish mission moving forward. With my servant’s heart awakened, eager to live my life of service more purposefully, I arranged for the parish staff to make and serve the daily lunch at the Schenectady Salvation Army Soup Kitchen on Wednesday, June 19th. The timing couldn’t be better. Pentecost was the previous Sunday; and with the joyous liturgical celebration; Father Bob invited the congregation to DO something new!
Hair nets✔ Groceries to feed 100✔ Joyful spirit✔ We were focused on working together; we had one goal: to prepare a delicious and filling lunch for anyone who is hungry. Our staff found their rhythm in the browning ground beef, slicing cakes and pouring juice. Being at the soup kitchen was a new experience for most which added an eagerness and anticipation to the work. Each doing their very best and willing to learn something new so lunch would be ready to serve at 12 o’clock sharp.
And precisely at noon, the doors opened; quickly the room was full of people and voices. Ready or not, we began to serve lunch. When leading young people in service, we ask two questions, “When were you Christ for someone?” and “Where did you see Christ present in your work?” The easy answers were feeding the hungry and in the faces of others at the Salvation Army who serve the community each day. Stopping to ponder these questions, I thought of this passage from John 21: 15-17. Jesus says: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep”. Jesus was speaking Simon Peter but he is also speaking to each one of us. By serving the meal we provided an immediate need to satisfy the hungry. By our words and actions, we are nourishing the soul. Hunger has a face. The face of young, old, the sick and the able bodied and the lonely. It has the face of Jesus.
For us, Christ was present in the meal served on June 19th in the love poured into preparing the meal; the hands both serving the meal and receiving the meal. We were Christ for each other like the disciples who shared their bread and fish with the multitude and when Jesus accepted the towel from Veronica. Giving and receiving with love and without prejudice.