Author Archive: kafesk

Commentary on the 3rd Scrutiny (John 11: 1-45)

Let us pray:

God of all creation,

We seek hope in your living Word.

In your Spirit we cling to the promise

that we are your children,

the first fruits of your Spirit.

Lift us out of our graves and restore us to life

as you raised Lazarus, our brother.

Allow your Word to penetrate our hearts and minds,

that we might, with Martha, be able to confess,

“Yes, Lord, I believe!” Amen

The Gospel According to John (11: 1-45)

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him. ”So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her,

“Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him. So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said,

“Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Some thoughts to consider:

The cast of characters…

Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss: “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”

Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.

The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless.

Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. (The Greek word is a strong one, ebrimaomai, meaning frustrated, angry, sometimes used to describe a horse snorting) Why? No easy answer.

If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God? Where do you see yourself in the story?

Jesus waited. Scripture uses the word remained, which gives the waiting an intentionality. Lazarus was dead for four, long days. All hope was lost. But everything is possible with God, right? As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans a couple weeks ago, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (5:5). It was for the glory of God. God’s time is not our time. What wonderful things may lie in wait for you if you hope in the glory of the Lord?

Martha is worried about the stench in the cave when Jesus approaches (as, of course, Martha would!). And don’t we sometimes get stuck in the details of life instead of the bigger picture? Jesus waves her off and focuses on why he is there, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is not afraid to come to our stinky, dark places and breathe new life into us! And actually, Jesus does not go into the cave but calls Lazarus out. Jesus calls us OUT of ourselves. And he calls others IN to help Lazarus with the bandages. We need the support of our community to jump in and be there with us. Jesus is in the midst of it all. Do you see yourself in this? Our church?

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:

John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”

Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.

Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him. Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.

Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection.   (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)

Let us pray…

Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of self-sufficiency wherein you do not admit your need for God and for one another.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of preoccupation with yourself and open your eyes to the needs of others.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of excessive busyness; take time to think, to listen, to be quiet and to pray.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of self-imposed obligations; untie yourself from the unimportant, the fleeting and the material so as to be free to experience the essential, the eternal and the spiritual.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb dug deep by apathy and ignorance and be newly awakened and sensitive to the plight of the poor, the oppressed.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of hopelessness and skepticism and be renewed in the knowledge that you are mine, I am yours and we are God’s.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of needless worry and undue anxiety. Know the love of a devoted God. Find courage and freedom here.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of sin and guilt and grief. Know the truth of forgiveness — received and given.

“Come out,” says Jesus,

from the tomb of death and share God’s eternal life and forever love. Amen.

Commentary on the 2nd Scrutiny (Gospel for this Sunday, cycle A)

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Let us pray:
Lord, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Open our eyes to your wisdom and goodness.

We bring you our cowardice and fear; bring us your Spirit of service and care.

Shine your light, Lord, upon us – so it may shine out of us to others.

Anoint us, Jesus, with the ‘mud-paste’ of your love:

Let us not be blind to the beauty around and within all that is.

Light up every sorry place – and every wonderful face – with your grace.

With your help. Lord, we will not be hindered by the Christian message

from improving the world, but, on the contrary,

we are bound [and empowered] to do just that. AMEN

*from the Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, #34, translated by Bill Huebsch, Vatican II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p.150.

The Gospel — John 9: 1-41

In John’s gospel ‘miracle stories’ are never simple and are never called miracles. They are SIGNS that reveal Jesus. What do you make of this sign or teaching? What do you make of the mud/saliva paste?

e.e.cummings wrote a poem on spring; he called it ‘mud-luscious.’

Jesus spits – he mixes this part of himself with the clay of the earth. (Spit, saliva, in Jesus’ day was thought to have healing properties; it actually does.) He then smears (the Greek word used means anointing) the man’s eyes with this paste and tells him to go and wash. Ordinary, even crude, elements become ways for Jesus to work. This is the essence of our sacraments.

From Celebrations, March 10, 2002:

We are to be like this mud-paste; Jesus mixes into our ‘earthiness’ the healing substance of himself. We are to be people molded by Christ’s truth, transformed by his words. As this ‘mud-paste’ we are to be helping to ‘heal’ the world by being in it: we are ointment not pipelines. We help others to see Jesus more by how we are and how we live than by what we pass along.

The word Siloam means ‘Sent’ – so does the word apostle. Sacraments are ‘signs’ – rituals – that send us forth; every Mass also ends with a sending forth . . . What does it mean to you to be sent?

The story is about the struggle to see –what does this mean? Have you ever struggled to see?

At first, the blind man only knew Jesus as a man, then as a prophet; at the end he calls him, Lord – a beautiful growth in faith . . .What did knowing Jesus as Lord ‘cost’ the man? What does it cost you?

From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

The original story in this gospel might have simply been about how a man was born blind and was healed by Jesus. This story was then later expanded due to the suffering and needs of the community for which John was writing. He was taking an experience of Jesus and applying it to the present situation. Isn’t that how the Spirit of the Risen Lord usually works? So John’s gospel has a trial and expulsion from the synagogue of Jewish converts to Christianity. This did not happen in Jesus’ day, but it did happen to those of John’s community. For this community to live through this very difficult time, Jesus must be seen and accepted as the true Light of the World that can help them overcome the darkness in which they were living. The washing in the pool of Siloam also suggests a further connection with baptism since the early Church often called baptism an ‘illumination” (photismos).(Also, from Celebration, March 10, 2002)

From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Why is this reading presented during Lent? Because it is pointing to the even greater healing that Easter offers us. We need to prepare for this. Jesus himself will suffer from the blindness of the world and will die because of the blindness of evil. Jesus will descend into the unseeing darkness of mortality, death, and by doing this he will show that love – God’s love –is stronger than death. By his death the world can be healed of its hatred, fear, insecurity; it can finally, once and for all, be assured of God’s love and power to bring good out of even the worst of evils. For, it is the crucified One who is the Risen One. We need to admit that we are like this blind man; we cannot see very well. Our eyes need to be opened. Due to Jesus, we can begin to glimpse and trust God’s answer to blindness, suffering, and sin.

Martin Luther Kin Jr. says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Her teacher Anne Sullivan signed the word ‘water’ as she pumped from the well. It was in that moment that Helen had comprehension that words stood for things. She says, “She (Sullivan) awakened in me a long forgotten memory…the realization of that word…the touch of the water called my soul to life…she brought me into the light again.”

Some thought from Henri Nouwen in Here and Now:

. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (p. 47)

“What really counts is our willingness to let the immense sufferings of our brothers and sisters free us from all arrogance and from all judgments and condemnations and give us a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Jesus, “ (p. 78).

Let us pray:  

O Lord of life,

touch our hearts and minds

with the light to seek after Light.

We grow too use to the comfort

of our lies, our shadows and our masks.

Make us uncomfortable

with all that does not lead us to You.

Fill us with the grace of your courage

so that our very lives

will testify to the truth of your love. Amen.

1st Scrutiny: The Woman at the Well (John 4: 5-42)

“God thirsts for us so that we may thirst for God.”  ~St Augustine

Opening Prayer:

Lord, giver of living water,

Quench my thirst.

Open my heart and fill me with your presence.

Give me a bucket so I may draw from the well of You.

Help me share this water with others

just be being the person you made me to be.

Open my ears to what you are trying to teach me

through the Samaritan woman.  AMEN

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John ( 4: 5-42).

What does water mean to you?  Think about a time when you have been very thirsty . . .Jesus is the one who can give us the living water that can soften our hard hearts.  How can our experience of water speak to us about the life Jesus offers us?

+What do you make of the setting – a well at noon, and this well is not the local well, but one that is ½ mile away?

+Jesus is thirsty – he is human and in need.  Perhaps the human Jesus also speaks to us of God’s thirst as he begins an encounter with this woman.  For what or whom do you think the God-in-Jesus ‘thirsts’?

+This story was a very important one for early Christians – especially as they prepared people for baptism.

What does it say to you about faith and baptism?

This woman appears to be a moral outcast for she is not comfortable going to the well in her village of Sychar. She is even not comfortable going to this one except at noon, during the heat of the day when she thinks that no one else will be there. The conversation that John gives us must have been only a brief report of a much longer encounter with Jesus. But however it took place, it seems that here this woman (this outsider) has found someone with kindness in his eyes; to this one she could open her heart. In this story we see three characteristics of Jesus:

  • his humanity
  • his warmth and compassion
  • his ability and courage to breakdown barriers.

Jesus is weary and thirsty and exhausted – yet he does not mind reaching out to this woman – and even letting this woman help him. She seems to sense his compassion and care, for she finds it easy to talk with him once she overcomes the shock that he reaches out to her. But besides being a Samaritan, this one is also a woman. Most Rabbis’ in Jesus’ day would not even talk with their own wife or daughter in public, much less a stranger and one with a notorious character. (Pharisees were often called ‘the bruised and bleeding’ ones because when they saw a woman on the street they would close their eyes which often led them to bump into walls or trip over stones!) (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol.1, p. 147-164)

Although this is the year of Matthew, we will hear from John’s gospel for the next three weeks.  Matthew’s gospel was probably written by and for Jewish Christians who were trying to integrate their belief in Jesus with their Jewish traditions and beliefs. John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century when many Christians had faced intense persecution and were disappointed that Jesus had not returned in the Second Coming. In this faith crisis, they asked “Where is the Risen Christ?” John’s gospel tried to help them see that the Risen Christ is right in their midst – if they could but see! John uses a different type of writing from the other gospels. He wanted to encourage people to think allegorically – to see more than one level of meaning in what he is saying. So he often ‘plays’ on double meanings of words: being born again – water and thirst – light and darkness – food, bread and hunger – sight and blindness – life and death . .  .    (Share the Word, March, 1999)

The Samaritans were a people who, like the Jews, awaited a Messiah; they looked for a teacher rather than a ruler.  They had once been a part of the Jewish people, but now they were shunned. When they had been conquered, they chose to intermarry. They were seen as unclean. When after the Jewish Exile, they had offered to help the Jews rebuild the temple, they were rejected. Hatred grew on both sides. Sometimes the Samaritans worked with the enemies of the Jews. During their separation from the Jews, the Samaritans worshipped the idols of the pagans with whom they had intermarried.  The Samaritans had five false gods (the Samaritan woman had five husbands). They even built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. In 128 B.C. Jews had retaliated by destroying this temple. Both Jews and Samaritans had great hostility toward each other — their hearts were hardened. In this story Jesus challenges us to overcome such hardness.    (Celebration, Feb. 2005)

Notice that the Samaritan woman names Jesus the Messiah when she goes into the city.  Once the disciples caught up with Jesus, they call him Rabbi.  Perhaps they are not ready to see Jesus as the Savior like she is.  Think about people in your own life that you see all the time and yet may not really SEE them.  Yet the Samaritan woman does see.  She experiences conversion.  Hear what Jesus says.  Some people imagine eternal life as a future reality, too shadowy to have any real meaning.  Jesus is speaking of something quite different, something that is already beginning now.  He also calls the Samaritan woman to an authentic, personal encounter.  He asks her to believe HIM, not simply his words.  She most likely had plenty of relationships, but no true encounters up to this point in her life  (Gittins, A., Encountering Jesus, p. 110-113).

Here Jesus is also ‘breaking down ’gender barriers.’ This person not only comes ‘to know Jesus’ as a prophet and the Messiah, but she goes forth – leaving behind her water jug – to invite others to come and know Jesus.  She acts like an apostle. She illustrates what we are all called to do by our baptism. She is not even deterred by the ‘shameful parts’ of her life – nor is Jesus. It seems that John’s gospel is confirming women’s roles as important ones. (The Cultural World of Jesus Cycle A, John Pilch, 56)

Reflection Questions

Consider what the Woman at the Well might teach us about faith.

1. Define “faith” in a word or phrase that comes to mind.
2. Where are you today in your faith relationship with God?
3. What obstacles hold us back from responding to God’s gift of faith?

Wants, Needs and Love

Fr. Bob’s homily 1st Sunday Lent A

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1st Sunday of Lent A
Let’s talk about Monothelitism, everyone’s favorite ninth century heresy. Monotheletes believed that Jesus had one will while the Church believed and believes that he had both a human and divine will that co-existed. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is absolutely essential that we know that Jesus had a human will – that he indeed experienced the same emotions, desires and challenges we face. 0therwise, when we hear a story about temptation, we might think Jesus just “Godded” himself out of difficulties.
I have been thinking about this week when I asked myself what was the difference between Adam and Eve’s failure to resist temptation and Jesus’ success. I feel badly for Eve in the story of the fall because she is matching wits with the serpent, a master manipulator who already knows her vulnerabilities and uses every tool in the…

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Commentary on 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

1st Readings: Genesis 12: 1-4

Abram was 75 when he heard God’s call to “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk.”  He gathered his family and things and ‘hit the road.’ Much would happen after this: the great famine, the sharing of bread and wine with Melchizedek, the birth of his son, Ishmael from his slave woman, his pleading on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the tragedy of Lot and his wife. It would take 25 years more for the promised covenant even to take shape. He would be 100 when his wife’s name would change and still later when he would finally hold his son, Isaac. It is sort of an epic story of the one called God’s friend who would listen and trust, bargain and plead with this God. This is the great hike of hope that should inspire all of us as we tread this earthly road. We, too, need to trust in the ‘slow work of God.’ There is no need to rush it all. God’s love is a forever thing. (John Kavanaugh, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

“All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”  What a beautiful thing to say about a person.  What does that really mean?  Who in your life brings you blessing?  How do you bless others by what you do?

2nd Reading — 2 Timothy 1: 8b-10

This is one of the Pastoral Letters. It is concerned for the care of new communities and their leadership. They were probably written toward the end of the 1st century by a Pauline disciple who wished to ‘keep Paul alive’ by using Paul’s words and his life story. The reading is meant to encourage the reader to live and act in hope that comes from their faith in Jesus. Hope is not a passive thing. Augustine said that hope has two beautiful daughters: anger at things that are wrong and courage to make them right. Our hope does ultimately rely on God, but it also depends on our own honest efforts. Hope should draw us forward by its allure. Hope does not push us, it pulls.  Vaclav Havel, philosopher and leader in the Czech republic, says that hope “is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Let us listen to Jesus and find in that listening a faith and hope in the love of God that is forever with us.  (Celebration, 2/99, 05)

What are some ‘hardships’ that we are called to bear to bring the good news (the gospel) of God’s love to others?

The Gospel – Matthew 17: 1-9

Mountaintops have often been symbols for peak spiritual experiences. Moses, the freeing lawgiver, and Elijah, the wonder-working prophet, met God on Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb (two names for the same mountain). At Sinai the Hebrew people had been wanderers who lived in tents. A tent became the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s sheltering presence in the wilderness.  As they traveled, God went with them, a cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 40).  The booths that Peter wants to build symbolize this sheltering presence of God.  (Sunday by Sunday, 2/28/99 from http://www.goodgroundpress.com )

Is your experience of God’s presence this Lent more like a mountaintop or a journey through a valley – or desert – a cloud?  What does it mean to you to have God’s favor rest on Jesus – on us?  After the ‘vision’ of Jesus shining like the sun, they heard these words:  “This is my beloved Son with who I am well pleased; listen to him.”  These words were also spoken at Jesus’ baptism.

After this awe-inspiring experience, Jesus comes to them, touches them and says:  “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Then they saw no one, “but Jesus alone.”  As soon as they come down the mountain with Jesus, they are faced with a young boy in need of healing. This follows with another mention of the coming suffering. What do you make of this?

All of Lent is about either preparing for baptism or learning to live our baptism more fully. We are called to listen to Jesus – to journey with our God – to grow in holiness. All of this will mean a share in God’s glory – God’s own life, but it will also mean an embrace of suffering. God’s presence can help us with real life, but it does not deny it.

Remember, Peter, James and John not only experience the mountain top with Jesus and the glory of God’s presence-in-him, but they are also the ones who were called to be close to him in the garden of Gethsemane. Both the glory and the suffering are necessary parts of Jesus’ message of love salvation. Both messages are meant to be ours as we heed the voice of God and listen to Jesus. (Celebration, Feb. 2005)

Have you ever experienced a transfiguration? Have you ever seen a plain girl become a radiant beauty when she is seen through the eyes of love? Have you ever seen a timid, ordinary person become a ‘lion’, a hero, when someone was in need of help?  Have you ever met someone who appeared to be rather ordinary only to discover how extraordinary they really are? Have you ever felt tired, discouraged, and alone only to quietly, but deeply begin to feel God’s presence and care? Afterwards, you can’t really doubt that it was from God, even though you may still not understand it. These experiences may help us to understand a little better the gospel experience, (J Foley, S.J.  http://liturgy.slu.edu ).

Love our Enemies: Not an Option

Fr. Bob’s homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

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7th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

The most difficult of the Lord’s commands is also the most important question facing the world today. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies.”  This great challenge is needs to be understood and obeyed hate seems to be growing and threatening.  Our politics are more combative and less sysmpathetic.  We see the vicious hurt of racism on the rise and the scourge of anti-Semitism has shown itself in our communities.  And this hatred is a global problem.  Let us not forget the new age of martyrdom inflicted upon Christians all over the world.  Eighty percent of religious violence occurs against Christians.

I am afraid that Jesus is losing the argument that we should love our enemies.  You might think that Jesus in losing many arguments now…

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1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

1st Reading – Genesis 2:7–9; 3: 1-7

The Catholic approach to Scripture is not as literal history. We read this story as an allegory about how sin comes into our lives – innocent-seeming, a mere suggestion or conversation that soon develops legs – and lies — and walks away with our whole future. Sin is ‘clever’ that way. It asks us simply to say no to God — to believe a lie, rather than the truth of God’s Word. Once we’re willing to do that, anything is possible. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, Feb. 2005)

The Eden story was a drama woven of pretense and cover-up. Adam and Eve were like us willing to ‘bite on a big lie.’ There is a little fake in all of us. Freud said that the major barrier to healing is the wounded person who asks for help, but is secretly unwilling to face the truth that healing requires. Adam and Eve had everything they needed, and more. Their only ‘problem’ was their ‘creature-hood.’ When they did not want to accept this truth, they became susceptible to the Lie – to the serpent – to the attraction of having no limits. They refused to accept their need for God; they wanted self-sufficiency, self-made security. That is the root of human sinfulness. Through that same, one lie of self-sufficiency and pride, sin entered (and enters) the world. It looked so attractive, so desirable, so wise.   BUT in Christ we are able to accept the truth; to trust again in the true Word of God. Through Christ we have the grace, the power, the way to choose freedom, redemption. We can disown the big lie of Eden as we embrace the real truth of Gethsemane. This Lent let us pray for the grace to be able to say with Christ: “Abba. Let your will be my will,” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  (John Kavanaugh, S.J., http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The experience of Adam and Eve, mythic or not, has also become the experience of each of us. We are Adam; we are Eve; we have sinned and are culpable before God. But rather than succumb to the temptation to hide ‘behind fig leaves’, we can take this time of Lent to open ourselves to God – to ‘uncover’ ourselves in loving trust before God who knows us and loves us and who can heal us so we can better love God and others. (Celebration, Feb. 2005 & “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – Romans 5: 12-19

Sin can be contagious – BUT GRACE IS EVEN MORE CONTAGIOUS!!!  Paul wants us to know the Good News: Christ has come among us to break solidarity with sin – to dispel the darkness of sin. (Celebration, Feb. 2002)

This type of scripture interpretation that Paul is using is called typology. It was often used by early Christians to help them understand the ‘need’ for the Old Testament in the light of Christ. They would interpret earlier persons, things, or events from the O.T. as foreshadowing what later happens with Christ. For example, the story of Noah’s flood washing away wickedness becomes a foreshadowing of baptism (1 Peter 3: 20-21). Manna foreshadows the Eucharistic bread, and so on. Here Paul is doing the same thing. He is using the story of Adam as a type of foreshadowing of Christ. Both are seen as the beginning of different realities. Most of the time, typology stresses similarities, but here Paul is stressing the differences. The ‘Adam-type’ brings transgression, disobedience, sin, judgment, condemnation, and death. Christ brings the gift, obedience, righteousness, grace, acquittal and life eternal. In Christ the age-old enemy is defeated. A new age is dawning; the kingdom is drawing near. (“Working with the Word,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel – Matthew 4: 1-11

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert immediately after his baptism.  “This is my beloved, on whom my favor rests.”  Notice that these words of total acceptance by God are spoken before Jesus had done anything of great significance.  This is critical to realize and remember as we enter our own times of wandering in life’s deserts (Wandering with God, Feb. 1993, p. 8)

Why would the Spirit drive Jesus out into the desert, especially now after what just happened?  In Mark, it says, “the Spirit immediately drove him out,” (Mark 1:12).Did Spirit know what would happen there?  It sounds a little harsh, at first glance.  But Spirit is not way outside of ourselves.  Spirit is within.  It is our deepest inner desire that calls us outward.  So Spirit was driving Jesus out to the desert because that is where Jesus truly wanted to be.  Jesus wanted that space to himself.  He needed the stillness.  His ministry lay before him.  He had a lot to figure out.  He needed to keep it simple.  He needed less.  Intentions were good.  Satan seemed to have other plans, though.

The word, Satan, has been used in scripture to mean many things: the talebearer, the accuser, the seducer, the one or the thing that separates us from God, that which brings or likes darkness.  What do you make of the use of Satan here?  (“the Perspective of Justice,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

FASTING can be a form of prayer for God’s help when making a difficult decision.  The act of fasting redirects the heart away from worldly activities and towards the remembrance of God.  Jesus was faced with a life-changing decision, so he fasted, helping himself be open to God’s word and guidance.  From what can we fast that could help us hear God more clearly?

Jesus was tested in the desert. But even there he continued to listen to his Abba’s words and to trust in his love over possessions, honor, pride. Jesus held on to the great love of his life. This Lent let us try to be again more like Jesus. May we re-balance our priorities.  Jesus recommends this way: “Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”  (John Foley, S/J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The tempter beckons Jesus to choose a new center for his life instead of God:  power (bread into stones), influence and control (throw self off temple), and exalted recognition bought at the price of false worship (all these kingdoms can be yours).  Jesus lives in fidelity to who he is:  gifted for responsible choices.  He refuses the “easy way out,” which leads away from fuller human life.  What are some important choices you had to make this week?  Why is the desert necessary for full human living?  (Breaking Open the Work of God, cycle A, p. 43-44)

Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:

  1. His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
  2. He is called to serve, not to be served.
  3. He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.

The word for tempt here in Greek is peirazein, which actually means “to test”.  Here is a great and uplifting truth. What we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin.  It is not means to make us bad, it is meant to make us good.  It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal.  Temptation is not the penalty of being a human, temptation is the glory of being a human.  It is the test which comes to a person whom God wishes to use.  So, then, we must think of this whole incident, not so much the tempting of Jesus, as the testing of Jesus  (Barclay, Daily Bible Study Series, p. 63).

Other thoughts from Barclay:

  • We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts. It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be for ever on the watch.
  • No one can ever read this story without remembering that its source must have been Jesus himself. It is Jesus telling us his own spiritual autobiography.

Let us pray…

Remembering the sign of ashes as our call to repentance, let us sign ourselves as a reminder of our identity.

Let us place our right hands on our foreheads;

and we remember the Creator God, the Giver of Life,

the one who formed us, knows us, loves us.

And let us place our right hands on our hearts;

and we remember the Redeemer God, the Reconciler,

the one who offers freedom and peace to our hearts.

And let us place our right hand on our left shoulders;

and we remember the Sanctifier God, the Empowerer,

the one who inspires creativity, healing and wholeness.

And we place our hand on our right shoulders;

and we continue to remember the Sanctifier,

the one who offers us reason and faith.

And we bring our hands together;

we remember our identity as men and women

marked by the Sign of the Cross,

and together we can assent with an Amen.

Amen.

Commentary on the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18

The word holy means ‘set apart’.  What does that mean to you?  Holiness is a gift that is maximized when we choose good over evil in the various circumstances of our daily lives.  Grace, accepted and celebrated in a life of prayer, gives us the strength to be holy.  It’s hard to think about ourselves as holy.  We often don’t feel worthy to be called that.  How different would the world be if we considered ourselves sacred, by the grace of God?

Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance says, “…it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound (from vulnus, “wound”…think vulnerability).  But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility:  the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you.  But it is a felt risk every time,” (p. 57).  How does this relate to this reading?

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Paul tells us that we are the temple of God and God’s Spirit dwells in us; translated that means that God built the human heart ‘with a hole in it.’ We have a built-in openness for others, if we don’t block it with selfishness. We are to let God’s own self in – to let God stretch our stunted outreach to others so that we will truly give out of love. Love wants what is truly best for the other – as God wants what is best for us.  Real love is what we are to offer; real love wants what is healthy, good, life-giving for the other. (Fr. John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdA022011/reflections_foley.html )

Pope Francis said, “When the church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick.  Think of a closed room – a room locked for a year.  When you go in, there is a smell of dampness…The church must go out from herself.  Where?  Towards the existential outskirts.  I prefer a thousand times a church damaged by an accident than a sick church closed in on itself.”  How do we do in this as temples of God?

“First, wherever Spirit succeeds in opening human hearts to the divine, it brings about some kind of personal encounter with the personal God and not just a hazy religious consciousness.  Second, at the horizontal level, the Holy Spirit works against alienation, injustice, and violence to spread solidarity, justice, and peace,” (Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God, p. 169).  In other words, forming a personal relationship with God allows God to dwell in you.  It cannot be contained.  It flows outward.

In the end, we live for each other.  In verse 22, the Corinthians were seeking to give themselves to Paul, but Paul tells them it is he who belongs to them.  And by belonging to them, he now belongs to Christ and Christ belongs to God.  Paul wants them to imitate him in this way.  Whoever gives his/her

strength and heart to some little splinter of a party has surrendered everything to a petty thing, when s/he could have entered into possession of a fellowship and a love as wide as the universe, (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 35).  This reminds me some of the Fellowship of the Rings!

The Gospel – Matthew 5: 38-48

Thoughts from William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 166-175:

The ‘law of tit for tat’ was in fact the beginning of mercy, a limitation of vengeance. It was meant to stop blood feuds. It was also never a law for an individual to extract vengeance. It was how a judge in a law court must assess punishment and penalty. Even further, this law was never, at least in any even semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon the injury done was assessed at a money value; the value was assigned according to the injury, the pain, the healing needed, the loss of time to work, the indignity. Also, the OT has other sayings concerning enemies that go far more along with Jesus’ ideas: “Do not say, I will do to him as he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24: 29) Yet, Jesus does go further. He actually does away with the very principle of that law; retaliation has no place in the Christian life.

Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we love our nearest and dearest. The word that is used for love is agape (invincible goodwill) not phila (deep friendship) or storge (family love) or eros (sexual love). With our enemies love is not so much a feeling of the heart as it is a decision of the will. We are called to will ourselves into doing this with God’s grace. It is in fact a victory over that which comes instinctively to the natural person. We are called to have unconquerable goodwill even toward those who hurt us. It is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us. In fact, we can only have this kind of love, agape, when Jesus enables us to conquer our natural tendencies to bitterness and brooding. It does NOT, however, mean that we allow people to do absolutely as they like. No one would say a parent really loves a child if the parent lets the child do anything he likes despite the dangers. If we regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that discipline, even punishment, might be in order so that the person will learn what is best for themselves and others. The discipline would never be retributive – it must always be aimed at recovery – at remedial care. Lastly, Jesus says that we must pray for those who hurt us. We must take ourselves and those who hurt us to God. The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate.

Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; God is love itself. Everything God does flows from God’s love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is God’s nature and the expression of God’s being. God loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is God’s nature to love us, and God must be true to God’s nature and character.

Love Lifts Us Up

Fr. Bob’s homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
I spent my first eight years of my priesthood as a campus minister when I was a young and arrogant, well not arrogant, but more of a brash priest. It was a wonderful time in my life. But that said, because of the narrow range of ages, some issues tended to recur, and of course nothing was more prevalent than the college break up. I was blessed to work at an interfaith center with Protestant and Jewish campus ministry and we eventually decided that on the third break up with the same person, we handed them over to another minister. “I am done, go to the Protestant minister.” Young men and women would come to me with fairly dark stories about the problems with their relationships. They did not or were not allowed to see their friends. There was an obsessive and all-consuming nature…

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Commentary on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading; Sirach 15: 15-20

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes grouped together.  It was written between 190 and 175 BC.  For many centuries it was thought to be only in Greek in the Septuagint.  But a partial copy of the Hebrew original was found at the end of the last century hidden in a synagogue storeroom in Cairo, and another when archaeologists excavated Masada in Palestine in 1964.  A few fragments also turned up at Qumran in 1947.  Despite this evidence, it was never accepted into Jewish canon because it was not from the time of Ezra or before (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 487).  It is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant.

Sirach speaks of the choices we make in life and how we must trust in God when we make them.  This will help us choose what is good and life-giving for us.  We must have an openness to the working of God in our life.  In Ignatian spirituality, we must look at the “pushes” and the “pulls”.  Do you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please?  Or do you feel pulled, like a gentle invitation in love?  God pulls not pushes  (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin, p. 329).  In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius week #23, the advice is that it is God’s will to trust that which we faithfully choose to do.  What does this look like?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 6 – 10

Paul is talking about the meaning of the cross in salvation history.  The ‘mystery’ is that the crucified One is the Lord of glory. Many Corinthians thought otherwise. For them, the Cross was an unfortunate past event, the less said the better. All that mattered to them now was the risen Christ. He was now spirit, and as such, he could convey to them ‘secret wisdom’. Paul is using their terms in an ironic way, sort of turning them upside down to help them see where true wisdom is. By refusing to recognize the Lord of glory in the crucified One, they were in a sense aligning themselves with Pontius Pilate and Herod (the rulers of the day) who also did not recognize the One they were crucifying. Such blindness leads to horrible evil.

Why is God’s wisdom mysterious and hidden?  What does this mean for us?

We like to twist and turn reality in order to suit our opinions, don’t we?  It makes it easier for us swallow it.  We all do it, and sometimes it is completely innocent.  But life doesn’t work that way.  There are lots of times in our life when we have to trust that we don’t have to have it all figured up and wrapped with a bow.  There is mystery.  It doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept…we can still wonder and wrestle with reality…but we can sit with the tension and know that God is sitting with us.

The Gospel: Matthew 5: 17 – 37

Now let’s take this gospel in parts to see what value and meaning we can gather:

First, what did Jesus mean by the law and its importance:

Jesus seems to say that the law is so sacred that not even the smallest detail (something as small as an apostrophe) should be discarded or ignored. Yet, again and again Jesus broke what some Jews called the law: handwashings, healing on the Sabbath, picking grain to eat on the Sabbath etc. In Jesus’ time it was popular to call the ‘scribal law’ the law along with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Scribes were people who made it their business to reduce the great principles of the Law into thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations. God’s Law was to rest on the Sabbath. They, however, spent hours arguing about whether it was work on the Sabbath to move a lamp from one table to another, if one could bandage a wound with or without salve, or could one lift a child? Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations. Jesus was highly critical of this. What Jesus was upholding here was the real meaning of God’s Law: to mold our lives on the positive commandment to love. Love that is filled with respect, reverence and compassion is the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and to our fellow humans. Our righteousness in this way must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. This law of love to fill our hearts and minds; it must be our sole motivation. We need to be people of gratitude that God has first loved us – and then people who generously give of that love to others. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.126-131)

Second, Jesus then gives examples of the kind of law and righteousness he means – that the law of love must penetrate to our hearts, our core. The only way to safety and security in society is not to even desire what is wrong. It also shows us just how much we need God’s help in this. We need God to transform us to be able to live up to this standard of love. For example Jesus says that anyone angry with a brother is liable to judgment. The word that is used for this anger is an anger over which a person broods and will not let go of –an anger that broods, that will not forget, that seeks revenge. It is an anger that insults and shows contempt. Raqa meant an imbecile; a word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. This type of anger leads to a hurt that is like a murder; we can ‘kill’ a person’s spirit and take his good name and reputation away from him or her. This makes us liable to fiery Gehenna, a garbage dump where rot burns and pollutes. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

The third point to consider is that when we come before to pray or to bring gifts to the altar to the Lord we must consider not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with others. A breach between a human and God could not be healed until the breach between humans was healed. Jesus emphasizes this: one cannot be right with God until we are right with each other. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.136-141)

Then Jesus deals with lust – looking at and thinking about another person as an object (not a person) of pleasure, an object to be used. Jesus is not talking about what is normal human instinct, human nature. He is talking about lust, where a person uses his eyes and thoughts to stimulate wrong desire – a desire to use someone even if it destroys their personhood and value. If we allow such desire to grow in us the most innocent people and things can become ‘used’ and abused. Jesus is vehement here using hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration, a very common teaching tool in this culture) to get his point across. When something is deadly, destructive – surgery is needed. In other words, to let such evil grow in us is worse that losing an eye or a hand. For such evil leads us into a garbage heap of burning refuse: Gehenna!

(Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p. 147-148)

Jesus then warns of the abuse of divorce. Ideally, Jews abhorred divorce. Marriage was seen as holy and as fulfilling God’s positive commandment to be fruitful. But by Jesus’ time the practice itself had fallen far short of this ideal and women were the victims of this abuse. In both the Jewish and especially the Greek culture of the day, women were at the absolute disposal of the males, her father and then her husband. She had no legal rights at all. A woman could be divorced with or without her will. All that had to be done was to hand a degree of divorce to the woman in the presence of two witnesses. The reason was to be for some indecency which could be serious – or just that she put too much salt in the food, or she spoke disrespectfully, or she was troublesome, or unattractive. Because of the ease of divorce at this time, basic family structure was threatened. (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1, p.150-153)

Jesus was for loving and caring relationships. This we must keep in mind. He was not for upholding abuse or condoning it. As disciples we must go that extra mile to repair fractured relationships and live according to God’s plan of love and life. Here is a caution to note: While this teaching points out God’s will for unity and love, there are times when a marriage is no longer real – or because someone is incapable of such a relationship – it never was a marriage. While every effort should be made to redeem fractured marriages, some must be acknowledged as beyond repair. In such cases divorce may be not only the lesser of two evils from the point of view of God’s ultimate will which is love, but also a positive step. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 391.

The last section of this gospel deals with our ‘public’ behavior. “Oath-taking” had greatly deteriorated into misuse in Jesus’ day.  Some resorted to frivolous swearing, by constantly ‘taking oaths’: “by my life…”  “May such and such happen to me if…” Still others used evasive swearing to avoid the truth.  According to this questionable practice, oaths which contained the name of God were considered binding and were rigidly kept; oaths that did not mention God were not considered binding and were easily changed.  Jesus advocated simple integrity in speech. (Celebration, February 14, 1999)

As Jesus’ disciples we need to live in such a way that falsehood and infidelity in our families and workplaces is eliminated. The Law of love is the only thing that works.