Author Archive: kafesk

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Ezekiel 2: 2-5

Abraham Heschel describes a prophet as, “a person, not a microphone.  S/He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness –but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality.  It is not only what s/he said but also what s/he lived.  The prophet was an individual who said No to his/her society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism,” (The Prophets, p. x-xv).  Do you recall instances when you were called to be a prophet?  What was the experience like?

When have you been obstinate of heart?  Did you wish God set your feet straight?  What prophets are among us now?  How are we prophets?

The daily reflection from http://onlineministries.creighton.edu says, “We are prophets when our lifestyle reflects an alternative to the easy conformities of our cultures.”  We must live as we are meant to live.  But the right way to live isn’t always the easy way.  Ezekiel is trying to convince a people who see God as a tyrant that he is a prophet for them.  Not an easy task.

The term “Son of Man” gives emphasis to the human being who is to be the bearer of the divine message. Ezekiel saw himself as called to this title; so did Jesus.  (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

What do you make of this?  It is questionable what Paul’s burden is, but we all have our own weaknesses and burdens.  Some commentators say he had epilepsy, some an ophthalmic condition or maybe depression.  From http://liturgy.slu.edu, “But if, like him, we learn to be ‘content with our weakness, for the sake of Christ,’ we may one day find ourselves unleashed, our hearts emboldened, our words firm and free.”  Think of St. Kateri and her suffering from small pox and not being able to see well.  She is quoted to have said, “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus.”  Are you willing to give yourself over completely, weaknesses and all?    

But Paul did not use excuses to limit his life. He knew vividly his own problems and difficulties – he even begged many times to be relieved of the ‘thorn in his flesh.’ But perhaps through his prayer he came to realize that none of his ‘work’ was about his weakness – but it was about trusting that God’s grace was sufficient for whatever was necessary. He learned to be content with weakness for the sake of Christ “in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” Like Paul, when we are weak, it is then that we are strong – in and with the Lord.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel —  Mark 6: 1-6

Do you find this true in your own life, when you return to your hometown or see friends and family from your past?  Where are you in this story?

Most scholars think that this passage has a ring of historicity. It is probably unlikely that the early church would have told stories about Jesus being rejected in his own hometown if it were not based on a real event. It was probably a very important story for them because they themselves often experienced rejection of their own when they tried to share ‘the Jesus story’ with their families and close acquaintances. And, of course, as Jesus will soon begin his journey to Jerusalem, this rejection will culminate in the horrible rejection of the cross. But even that horror will not end the truth and power of his life and word.  (R. Fuller, OSB, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In Jesus’ culture there was no expectation of ‘doing better than one’s parents.’ In fact honor required that a person stay in their inherited status and make no effort to improve on it. Any effort to ‘better oneself’ was seen as a threat to others. So Jesus aroused anxiety on this point alone. Then, craftsmen at this time – especially those who lived in small hamlets like Nazareth – had to leave home to find work. They had to leave their women and children at home without proper male protection. Such craftsmen were, thus, looked upon as ‘without shame.’ How could such a one have such power and wisdom? “And they took offense at him.”  (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”  http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From Jesus:  A Pilgrimage by Fr. J. Martin:

In consulting with 1st century archeologist Jonathan Reed, a Jewish village of that size at the time would not have had a synagogue.  There has been no evidence discovered yet.  People would have most likely gathered outside, like an open space in the village, or maybe the courtyard of a wealthy homeowner (115).  Picture Jesus in that setting.  It is likely that Jesus knew how a message of openness to the Gentiles would be received in his hometown.  Nonetheless he is fearless.  How?  Courage from grace, yes.  But he also had a freedom from any desire for approval from the people in Nazareth.   He needed only to be true to himself.  He loved the people of Nazareth, but he saw beyond that (125).  How often do we worry about what people think of us?  Does it keep us from moving forward?

Commentary on 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

A reading from the Book of Wisdom (1: 13-15; 2: 23-24)

This passage echoes the Eucharistic Prayer 3 in the Catholic tradition.  It ends, “Therefore we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”  All good things are from God.  God wants good for us.  It is not only death of our living that is spoken about in this reading but the death of a good idea, the death of a hope for something, the death that can be found in negativity.  How might you find LIFE, goodness, wholesomeness, God’s own nature in you? 

In Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si’”, he says, “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement,” (#5).  How might we appreciate and protect all of creation so that it is seen as this gift that God intended? 

A reading from the 2nd Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (8:7: 9, 13-15)

The Jerusalem Church was struggling at this time in severe poverty. Paul had promised after his meeting with the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem (in probably the year 49 AD) to try to collect money for those in need. This passage shows some of his efforts. For Paul, this collection was a matter of great importance. He urged generosity for he wanted to promote the unity of the church, and to overcome the barrier between Jewish and Greek Christians.   (J Dwyer, Church History, 43-44)

Generous people are primarily grateful people – people who know that ‘what they have’ is gift. We are creatures; we did not create ourselves. While we are responsible for how we use our gifts and talents, we are in the end never ‘self-made’ women or men. Thus, we are called to live with generosity. We must be people with open hands and hearts – not clinging to our wealth, but using whatever we have for the good of our families and others. This is what Paul it talking about here. In Jesus the Word of God ‘gave up’ the richness of divinity to embrace the poverty of human life, creaturehood. By so doing, Jesus showed us what God is like and what we are to be like, created as we are in the image of this God. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2000)

The passage references Exodus 16:18:  But when they measured it [the manna] out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little.  They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat.  Do we think this way? 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (5: 21-43)

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 104-105:

In Jesus’ day professional physicians hesitated to actually treat anyone (for they were held responsible with their own life if the treatment did not work). They preferred to just discuss illness in a rather philosophical way. Faith healers were far more common, and it seemed that Jesus was identified by people as one of these. It is hard to ‘get at’ the real history of these ‘cures’ for we have no factual evidence of any of these diseases since no one knew about germs or viruses etc. “But in the same terms, Jesus definitely healed all who wanted to be healed. Healing is the restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be. Curing may be very rare, but [for those who reach out to Jesus] healing takes place infallibly, 100% of the time.” Because of Jesus this woman is welcomed into community, even though she violated the purity codes, and so did Jesus. The ‘other daughter’ is then restored by Jesus to her rightful place in community which is signified when Jesus commanded that she be given something to eat.

From Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 551:

The number 12 is of great significance; it pulls the two stories together. Jesus not only restores the older ‘daughter’ to fullness of life after 12 years, but he takes the hand of the 12-year-old and raises her up to new life. She ‘was asleep’ but is then restored. Perhaps she represents the 12 tribes of Israel. Mark’s Jesus believes he is presiding at the collapse of the social order determined by Jairus’ Judaism. The 12-year-old daughter of privilege is dead.  The outcast woman violates the purity codes and reaches out to Jesus. She sought fullness of life. Jesus responded to her need. Israel must also embrace the reign and power of God in their midst. The walls of social and religious status must be torn down.  Jesus can raise up what is lost. He gives life to the little girl prefiguring the salvation that Christ will offer through his own death and resurrection.

Jesus does not appear to have a plan but is simply and clearly available to the people.  Notice how Jesus follows Jairus.  Here Jesus is exemplifying what he talks about so often:  the leader must become the follower.  There must be no clinging to status nor lording it over others.  But then we are interrupted.  A woman, who had nowhere left to go.  But she had heard about Jesus, and she listened and understood.  She would have been socially “dead” (see 1st reading!) being isolated from everyone, since she was considered unclean.  Her faith was strong enough that she spoke up, against her fears, and didn’t fall into the trap of considering herself as good as dead.  And what does Jesus call her?  Daughter!  She is no longer an unknown woman, but family.  Jesus was committed to doing holy things, making things and people holy.  He felt that flow come out of him (Do we?).  The story hurries on (That’s Mark for you!) and now Jesus is leading Jairus.  Jesus uses the local dialect to raise his daughter from the dead.  The story ends with Jesus involving the family and community in her rehabilitation by getting her something to eat.  We all need to bring about the kingdom.  (From A. Gittins’ Encountering Jesus, p. 23-30)

But I Like Dogs…by Kris Rooney

Seriously, look at that face! This is our new dog Copper, and he is inquisitive, trusting and lovable. He also has a bunch of needs; my family and I are doing our best to figure him out and help him have his best life. So when I read today’s Gospel reading, it actually kinda hurt. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces, ” Matthew 7:6.

This is a hard one. Why would Jesus say this, when he mostly hung out with people who may have seen themselves or were even called dogs or swine? Is Jesus saying holy things are only for the good ones? And who are they? Part of me wants to imagine Jesus never saying this at all. Could Jesus look at Copper’s face and turn away? Usually when a Bible verse is bothersome like this, it can be a clue that God wants us to dig deeper into what may God may be trying to say to us right now. And since God is love, it is always good to err on the loving perspective.

To put this passage in context, there was a real divide between the Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ day. They really didn’t mix, so maybe this is the human side of Jesus speaking as a Jewish person. Maybe he hadn’t grasped yet that Gentiles could handle the holy stuff too. This passage is also part of the Sermon on the Mount, so it is right after Jesus calls people blessed when they try to do good and right after he says not to judge people. Again I am confused why Jesus would then set a judgment with dogs and pigs. Since this is a Bible passage that will never be heard on a Sunday, my guess is the liturgical people are as confused about it as I am.

But when I pray about it and think about God’s love, I wonder if this reading is more about doing holy things together. It’s hard to fully embrace the holy all by ourselves. Can it even be done? Maybe Jesus was saying don’t just give the pearls of holiness to dogs and pigs for them to figure out by themselves. We need to share the holy together. Life can be so hard, right? Even figuring out the divisions is exhausting. It is time to just share our goodness with each other. You’ve probably experienced it already. When you have shared something deeply about yourself with someone, and that someone really hears you and shares something back that helps in some way. It touches the heart, right? That’s Jesus at work. We grow when we give back AND forth with each other. There is a holiness – and wholeness – in the exchange. In a way, we become more like Jesus when we share ourselves with each other like that. It can be risky, but love always seems to be that way.

Just like Copper is also helping me and my family live our best life too. The holy is simple love. Beautiful possibilities happen in its sharing.

Jesus, our loving friend, help us to share ourselves with each other even when we are afraid or unsure. Help us to do hard things together with love. Open our hearts to you, to all that is holy and good. Amen

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s allegory of the cedar tree is one source for the imagery of the mustard bush in the gospel reading. The cedar stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The shoot or twig (see Isaiah 11:1) refers to a descendant of Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king before the exile. The beasts and birds represent the nations of the earth. This indicates that the prophecy expects the kingdom after the return from exile to be more than just the mere restoration of the status quo before the exile; in fact, it is to be the realization of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore legitimate to say that this prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, of which the church on earth is a foretaste. (R Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_indepth.html)  

The cedar forests of Lebanon enjoy the unique distinction as the oldest documented forests in history.  The cedars made a special contribution to the development of the Phoenician civilization by providing the timbers with which they developed their famous sea-going merchant boats -thus becoming one of the first, if not the first, major sea-going trading nation in the world.  The Phoenicians transported the cedar to Egypt, until Egypt conquered Lebanon and gained direct access to the forests, which were highly prized for building temples and boats.  Later the Babylonians took a similar interest in the cedars and obtained them for use in building the fabled city of Babylon.  The expansion of the Roman Empire into Syria and Lebanon had a detrimental effect on the cedars until the Emperor Hadrian installed markers around the boundary of the remaining forests and declared them as Imperial Domain.  In modern day Lebanon, the legendary cedar is still revered and remains prominent in the minds of all Lebanese. The cedar is featured on the national flag, the national airline, Government logos, the Lebanese currency and innumerable commercial logos. (http://www.shoufcedar.org/)

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life.  He is, he says, in good heart.  The reason is that even here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, the first installment of the life to come.  It is given to the Christian to be citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 205-6).  Isn’t this hopeful?  We must look for the good.  Life is in the decisions we make.  Right now.  We must live in the present, but with a foot in the future, knowing we are accountable for our actions.  What we do makes up who we are, and affects others around us.  Does this stir something up in you?

The Gospel – Mark 4: 26-34

The seed symbolizes the word of God.  It doesn’t take much effort to understand how a word can be planted in the mind.  That’s precisely what Jesus intends to do – plant a word in us to make us think about the mystery of life and growth.  Listening to his word, in turn, obligates us to witness to and proclaim it.  Otherwise the seed grows old and sterile.  But how does this really work?  Jesus skips the details.  First the farmer broadcasts the seed over the land, then he whiles away night and day, during which the earth produces a harvest “he knows not how”.  Once the harvest is ready, the farmer loses no time to reap it.  Sometimes we can’t easily access growth in ourselves, in our society, or the progress of the Church toward the kingdom.  Jesus wants to alleviate disappointment at the lack of visible growth or progress in the spiritual life by telling us that, without any outward intimation of it, there’s bound to be a glorious finish, (J. Fichtner’s Many Things in Parables, p. 11-12)

The combination of the prophetic cedar and the proverbial mustard seed is almost comic.  Cedars did not even grow in Israel.  They had to be brought from Lebanon.  But mustard bushes could grow up in anyone’s field.  Here’s your national destiny, then – a mustard bush.  Not as grand or glorious as the cedar, but consider what happens to all the dilemmas about the rule of God and national destiny if the nation is a mustard bush.  It still can shelter the birds.  The rule of God in the world is only a problem for those who think that his people have to be “top cedar”.  This reduction also has significance for Jesus’ own ministry.  Willingness to stay with the small scale, the people and natural processes of the village, makes it possible to point to the presence of God’s rule in a context which is quite unmessianic – messianic hopes tended to be cast as great cedars, not bushes.  Jesus is taking on the most serious questions people had about God’s rule over the world and the destiny of those who knew themselves to be his chosen people.  God’s rule does not have to appear in the grandiose; a mustard bush will do just as well, (P. Perkins’ Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 87-88).

Commentary on the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle B

1st Reading: Exodus 24: 3-8 

Why was it necessary to ratify a covenant in blood?  The fact that the covenant was sealed in blood indicated not only that it was an agreement to follow the Law, it was also an agreement to allow it to be the center of life – it was an agreement to share life.  Recall that blood was a sign of life force – life was believed to reside in the blood.  The people were willing to enter into covenant, an intimate binding relationship, with Yahweh.  The blood ritual only took place once.  It would not be repeated again until the blood sacrifice of Jesus  (W&W Wkbk Yr. B, p. 759).

What rings true for you in this reading, since we don’t go around throwing blood?  It does show great commitment to try and follow God’s will.  But there is no way to absolutely know what God’s will is for us.  As we pray and discern, we try to figure it out.   Participating in Eucharist – remembering the blood sacrifice of Christ – keeps us on the path.  Does Eucharist help you feel closer to God?

2nd Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-15

Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI) Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):

     In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’

This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.

The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice… In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.

Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.

In traditional reflections on the passion, the question turns up again and again: what is the relationship between pain and sacrifice? And it was often assumed that the intensity of Jesus’ pain gave it salvific value. But how could God take pleasure in human pain, or find in it the reconciling act which must be offered to him? If this picture were true, then it would be Jesus’ executioners who make the sacrificial offering . . . but in Jesus God’s creative mercy makes the sinful human being belong to him, giving life to the dead.

What do we think of this in relation to the reading?

The Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu:  In Jesus’ culture grain, oil, and wine were the staples, with grain and its products – especially bread – being most important. Bread provided about ½ the caloric intake for the ancient Mediterranean world, with wheat being considered superior to barley and sorghum, the food of the poor.  

Another point from John Pilch:  Drawing water and carrying it was a woman’s task in Jesus’ culture. Any man present at a well would be a challenge to the honor of all the fathers, brothers, and husbands in that village. If a man did carry water it was in a skin not a jar. This man carrying a water jar was certainly a cultural anomaly: easy to spot

In Jesus, God has come to be with us where we are. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to find in his death a new definition of ourselves – a new understanding of the meaning of success and failure, of the meaning of life and death, of what it means to be a human person . . . the Eucharist is the call which frees each of us from the false self, the most tyrannical master of all . . . At Eucharist we become gifts of God to be enjoyed and put at the service of the neighbor. We are freed from the radical insecurity and false pride that is at the heart of all evil. We are freed to be realistic and intelligent about how we use the gifts God has given us while recognizing that our true call is to find life by giving it away . . . (John Dwyer, The Sacraments, “Chapter Eight: the Eucharist” p.129-130)

The Hebrew word for the Greek anamnesis is zikkaron, meaning a sacrificial term that brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or brings God into favorable remembrance with the offerer.  When Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it, he was identifying with the Israelites and their covenant.  He was being a good Jew.  He was making a new covenant, saying, “I am united with my ancestors.  This is now me.  I am Passover.”  So now the Church identifies herself with Christ.  We are Christ to the world.  Now it’s our turn to be united in covenant with God and give of ourselves.  Like the Israelites, it will move us from captivity to freedom, from sin to repentance  (taken from Fr. Vosko lecture).

Commentary on the Most Holy Trinity readings for Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Deuteronomy, or “second law” in Greek, is a later book composed as a reflective speech of MOses which sums up the meaning of the exodus event and the desert journey, and reaffirms the importance of the covenant law as a guide for Israel’s life in the promised land.  It is Moses’ “farewell speech” and supposedly taken place just as the people are ready to invade the promised land, “(L. Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 89-90)  

How does this reading speak to you about our God?  Moses speaks ardently about the people’s relationship with God, which is really what covenant is all about.  What is it for them to fix their experience of God in their hearts?   What is it for us?

Through the act of amamnesis (the remembering of things from a previous existence) we remember the saving action of God.  We remember and make present the gratuitous action of God in the salvation of the world.  This gratuitous action was and is made freely.  Thus, in times when there is great temptation to forget God, to doubt that God will act, we are to call upon our corporate power of remembering that God can, does, is, and continues to act in the lives of human beings, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Yr. B, p. 752).  Why might amamnesis of how God has worked in our lives be helpful to us now?  How does this relate to Trinity?

2nd Reading: Romans 8: 14-17

From Celebration, June 11, 2006:  Paul here is using Roman law and customs to explain how God wishes to relate to us. According to Roman law, the father’s power over the family was absolute. A son never came of age; he was always under the control of his father. To adopt a son was a major undertaking. It followed a long and exact ritual. But once done, the adopted person belongs forever to the new father. Here are some of the consequences of these legal adoptions: 

  1. The adoptee gave up all rights in his former family and gained all rights and dignity of a legitimate child in his new family.
  2. The adoptee became the legal heir of his new father and even if others are born afterwards, his rights could not be affected.
  3. The old life of the adoptee was wiped out and all debts were cancelled.
  4. The adoptee was regarded as a new person and a true son/daughter. 

What do you find most important in this reading?  How does it feel to know you are a child of God (Family!) and able to ENTER INTO this trinity?

Fr. Richard Rohr recently reflected on this unity with God in his Daily Meditations (5/26/2021):  To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people.  We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship.  When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune.  The recognition of the Spirit of God as the unifying principle of all life becomes at once the most crucial experience of humanity.

The Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

Matthew’s gospel began with the story of Jesus’ birth saying “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” (1:23). Now with this ending passage, Matthew has Jesus again assuring the disciples who are sent out to all the world (no longer to just fellow Jews) saying: “And behold, I am with you always . . .” 

What strikes you most about this gospel?  Isn’t it interesting that the moment the disciples doubted, that’s when Jesus sent them off with work to do?  None of us are completely prepared, but we are sent anyway.  Just as we are.

  • This took place at the Ascension…think of the difference between a vertical relationship with God to a now horizontal relationship.
  • The Trinitarian formula reminds us that God wants FULL relationship with us in every way.  The love within the Trinity is what God wants us all to enter into.

There are 2 ways to look at trinity:  economic trinity and immanent trinity.  The “immanent trinity” is God in relation to God’s self.  It is internal.  The “economic trinity” is God in relation to the world, (Introduction to the Trinity, L. Lorenzen, p. 45).  St. Augustine in De Trinitate came to this understanding of trinity:  The Father is the Lover, the Son the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit the mutual Love that passes between Father and Son…the human soul and its faculties is the best mirror of the Trinity that is available.  And so…this is the outward divine activity…that we move from the “economic” to the “immanent” tripersonal God.  (The Tripersonal God, G. O’Collins SJ, 135-142).  In other words, the more we have-our-being in God  (behave, relate, move through the world), the more we enter into God’s very self.  This is all very theological, but take time to consider what this might mean in your life.  What is it to live a Godlike life? 

Commentary on the Readings of Pentecost

The Hebrew word ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the Latin spiritus all basically mean “air in motion,” “breath,” or “wind.” The root word is power. Apart from human and animal power, wind was the main observable energy source in the ancient world. Wind was seen as the ‘breath of God – our own breath coming from that life-giving Breath. It is also interesting to note that in the ancient understanding of wind and water and fire – and thus spirit – we find them possessing what we consider to be properties of liquids. Thus we have the idea of the spirit being poured out. (The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p. 88-89)

1st Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Pentecost (50 days since Passover; 7 weeks since planting time) originally was an agricultural feast of thanksgiving for the 1st grain harvest.  Later, it came to be also a celebration of the gift of the Law to Moses on Sinai.  Because it was the second of Judaism’s three major feasts (The others being Passover and Sukkoth, or Tabernacles.), Jews from all over Palestine and the Greek territories (the Diaspora) would have traveled to Jerusalem. Luke wants us to notice how this diverse group is the perfect place for the Spirit to be present in power.  (Celebration, May 2002)

Luke is also telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing is to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is Spirit!  (Birmingham, W & W Wrkbk Yr A, p. 336; Celebration, May ‘02)

2nd Reading: Galatians 5: 16-25

Here are some thoughts on Paul’s 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.  In Romans (8: 6-9), Paul says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace . . . the flesh is hostile to God . . . but you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.”  Because of such passages and such translations, 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.  If we allow ourselves to trust in our weak and corruptible self or other weak, corruptible selves, we miss living a life in tune with the God revealed in Jesus.  As our reading says, we are called to belong to Christ and to live in his Spirit.  (P. Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133 and The Eternal Now, 48).  

Consider these fruits of the Spirit and how they take root in you.  Consider also how you see these fruits in each other, and in our church community…

The Gospel: John 20: 19-23

Jesus’ words in this Gospel apply not only to priests or to all believers.  As Christians, we are to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness.  How did He treat His friends after they deserted Him?  Jesus forgives and brings us into communion with God – Source of all life  – powerfully present in all life.  Jesus’ Way, Truth, and Life sets us free to BE Christ-in-the-world:  As disciples we are called to bear witness to His risen life by breaking the barriers of sin and division in our hearts and communities. True peace can only begin when we each begin to work with the Spirit to create situations around us of justice, dialogue, and truth – situations that lead to peace. The power of Spirit can enlarge and expand our hearts if we allow the Spirit of Jesus to grow within us – to breathe into us the power of forgiveness – the power to welcome others in his name – the power to transform the world one heart at a time – starting with our own. (Celebration, May 2002)

From John Kavaungh, “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :  If Pentecost was the start of the church, it was a birth out of frailty. The believers were huddled in fear behind closed doors. Yet Pentecost unleashed a courageous power. Driven by wind and fire, the followers of Jesus were set loose upon the world to make bold proclamation. The Spirit brought unity, not only in a shared sense of poverty and smallness, but in the common experience of one God in Jesus, one faith, and one baptism. It was a faith that also put believers in touch with their deepest humanity. They would now speak a universal tongue, in a way which could touch the hearts of people from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.  The unity of faith in Jesus is a subversive power; since Christ is our primary reality, his Spirit is a force that liberates us from any other bondage. 

“whose sins you retain are retained”  That night Jesus gave the Church the ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles (cf. CCC, no. 1461). By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests continue this ministry to forgive sins“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this Sacrament, the priest acts in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church, to reconcile the sinner to both God and the Church. “When he celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. . . . The priest is the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (CCC, no. 1465).

Commentary on the 7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26

The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states: 

“All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” 

So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06)  How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?

It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’  That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died.  These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )  

It feels good to be picked out, chosen.  Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him.  But we aren’t always picked.  Poor Barsabbas.  What do you think became of him?  Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas?   How did it affect your life after? 

2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19

Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same community. 

God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love.  God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of our God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )  

We see Spirit at work through its fruits:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life.  Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.

We are consecrated with God’s truth.  What does that mean to you?  How does this relate to Mass?  It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table.  We are all made holy through the grace of God.  We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.  

Karl Barth once referred to the period between the ascension and Pentecost as a “significant pause.”  It is a pause between the actions of God, a pause in which all the community can is wait and pray.  It may seem paradoxical, but although the Spirit came, in Johannine language, ‘to remain with us forever,’ the Church nevertheless has to pray constantly, Veni Sancte Spiritus.  The gift of the Spirit is never an assured possession but has to be constantly sought anew in prayer, (M. BIrmingham’s W& W Worksbook-B, p. 417).

Commentary on the 6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Reading I:  Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

Before this passage, we learn about a man named Cornelius who is a Roman centurion (so a Gentile) who believes in God.  He has a vision from an angel of God that he is to call on Peter.  Peter also has a vision where a voice tells him it is okay to eat unclean meat because it is still from God.  He was perplexed by this when Cornelius’ men arrive.   Once Peter meets Cornelius and they share their visions, it becomes clear that Jesus was not meant to be just for the Jewish people but for all people.  However, the big questions were:  Were Christians bound by the Jewish rules?  Should the Gentiles be received without first becoming Jews (i.e. being circumcised)?  This was never resolved in Jesus’ lifetime.  It makes one consider how many try to resolve issues today in the church using Jesus’ words and deeds.  If Jesus did not solve the most fundamental question of the Christian mission, we may well doubt that his recorded words solve most of our subsequent debated problems in the church  (Brown, R., A Once-and-Coming Spirit at Pentecost, pgs. 61-62).

God shows no partiality.  The root of all the readings this week (and always with the Word!) is love.  How often do we feel completely affirmed to the core of our being?  Do we ever get to a point where we have arrived in feeling absolutely loved and accepted for who we are?  Are we worthy?  We have a deep desire to be loved.  Carl Jung said, “What we’re about as humans is a constant and consistent movement toward wholeness.”  We are wired to be connected with something that is other and beyond.  As St. Augustine said, “My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God.”  This love that is God is offered to all, with no partiality.

Reading 2:  1 John 4:7-10

Love has a double relationship to God.  It is only by knowing God what we learn to love and it is only by loving that we learn to know God.  Love comes from God, and love leads to God.  So the effect of God is love.  It is when God comes into a person that s/he is clothed with the love of God and the love of people.  So we must live a life of love.  What better example for us than Jesus, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 97).

From Creighton University Online Ministries:

I like to think, and I pray God’s fingerprints are on me and the prints I leave behind are just as noticeably God’s prints.  For me, leaving behind a trail of God’s fingerprints is not easy, but God’s prints are readily identifiable.  It is God who intrudes and rifles my heart.  It is God who sets things right.  God dwells among us.  God dwells in me.  God’s fingerprints are everywhere.  Just like fingerprints on a window can only be seen in the light, I also have to stand where the light can shine through me.  God’s love-ly fingerprints are smeared and permanently stuck to me.  How do you leave your love-ly fingerprints?

Gospel:  John 15:9-17

We do not earn God’s love, and we do not initiate love and goodness ourselves.  Everything comes from God…freely given; we can accept or reject. (At Home with the Word, p. 87)   Can you think of times when you have accepted or rejected God’s love in your life?  The love in the Trinity is the love that God wants to have with us.  It completes the circle.  Jesus came to be one with us…completely human.  To the point that he calls us His friends.  He chooses us.  How does that make you feel?  This love for one another brings life…IN ABUNDANCE!  But what Jesus is telling us isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling…it is a commandment:  love one another.  Can all of us do that, all the time?  “The relationality of the three bonded in the one Love spills over into a relationality with the world, thereby making it possible for human persons to enter into this communion in the one Love, “ (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 60).  We are meant to be intertwined with God in God’ Trinity.  How do we do that?

Commentary on 5th Sunday of Easter, cycle B

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31

Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is.  The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation.  As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise.  We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)

For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.

Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas.  The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him.  It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown).  Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit.  Aren’t these related?  When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us.  When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way.  Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25).  Do you find this to be true in your life?

Why was Paul sent to Tarsus?  NT White says, “It’s hard to know what the Jerusalem community thought would happen next.  They were in dangerous, unmapped, new territory.  Saul of Tarsus, still on fire with having seen the risen Lord, eager to explain from the scriptures what it was all about, apparently careless of the hornets’ nests he was stirring up, was one problem too many.  [Perhaps they thought] ‘Let him go back to Tarsus.  They like good talkers there.  And besides, that’s where he came from in the first place…’,” Paul, A Biography, p. 67-68.

2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24

Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of salvation if they follow the command to love one another.  Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another.  Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives.  (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)

Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words.  Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness.  (Celebration, May 2000)

The Gospel – John 15: 1-8

The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”

is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John.  Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?

The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God.  Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)

John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people.  Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love:  the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us.  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love.  Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.”  Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus.  We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Love forgives a multitude of sins.  M. Birmingham, W and W rkbk for Year B, 387-388

For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)