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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.

Commentary for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

(CNS file photo 3/7/03)

Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life’s work was to oppose, at great personal risk, the tyrannical repression in El Salvador.  He was a humble man, and yet he spoke out for what he believed was truth.  He directed himself to all the people in El Salvador, people from the left as well as people from the right, people supportive of the guerrillas as well as people in the government and the army, people who were being killed as well as their killers, the oppressed as well as the oppressors.  He was killed during Mass by his enemies; he is now a martyr and saint in the eyes of the church.  What he spoke and lived is an example for all of us.  His life exemplifies the readings for this weekend.

1st Reading – Isaiah 58:7-10

This is from 2nd Isaiah, written after the Babylonian Exile.  Jerusalem had been destroyed, but this is meant to be encouraging.  Right before this section, Isaiah spoke of fasting and how it shouldn’t be done in a showy way.  This is misdirected; use that energy to help the poor and those less fortunate.  Spirituality that is other-centered shines like a beacon in the midst of the darkness  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 380).  Are we a community that is like a beacon?  How could we be better?

” We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, as though dealing with irrational beings, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone…Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.”  Oscar Romero 7/10/1977

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1-5

Don’t we sometimes think we are the ones that have it right, that there is only one way to solve a problem – and it’s yours?  True human wisdom is pure gift from God (One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!).  Who could ever look for God’s wisdom and power within an instrument of capital punishment and torture?  Yet that was exactly what Paul was demanding that followers of Christ do if they wished to know true, divine wisdom.  Paul proclaimed the power of the cross (p. 381).

“God willed to reveal himself and manifest the mystery of his will.  Through Christ and with him through his Spirit humans can attain the Father and share in the nature of God…He wanted to teach us that we must live in continuous converse with him and that we must live by his life, that we must lose ourselves in the beauty, in the sublimity of God, giving him thanks for favors received, begging pardon for our infidelities, praying to him when the limitations of our power clash with the greatness asked of us.  We must learn to understand that we have such a capacity and that God desires to fill up that capacity.”  Oscar Romero 8/13/1978 

The Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16

When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, it was the highest compliment.  Salt was highly valued:

  1. It stood for purity (its whiteness).
  2. It was a common preservative.  It kept things from going bad  (preserves from corruption).  Do you know someone who makes it easy for you to be good?
  3. It gives flavor.  A Christian should be full of vigor and life!  Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers, (Barclay on the Gospel of Matthew, Vol I, p. 119-121).

Jesus called himself a light to the world, so here he is complimenting the disciples again by referring to them as he would himself.  We do not produce our own light but reflect the light of Christ.  Lamps in those days were like a bowl filled with oil and the wick floating in it.  It was hard to rekindle a lamp, so when it was not on the lampstand, it would be protected under a bushel basket, (p. 122-124).  The light’s purpose is to shine.  We are meant to shine too!

“To believe, to hope:  this is the Christian’s grace in our time.  When many give up hope, when it seems to them the nation has nowhere to go, as though it were all over, the Christian says:  No, we have not yet begun.  We are still awaiting God’s grace.  With certainty, it is just beginning to be built on this earth…That time will come!  For me, this is the greatest honor in the mission the Lord has entrusted to me:  to be maintaining that hope and that faith in God’s people and to tell them:  People of god, be worthy of that name.”  Oscar Romero 9/2/1979

Oscar Romero said in a homily:  As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.

Commentary for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

1st Reading:  Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.”  The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp.  Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off.  Morals were suffering.  People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphan and the foreigner.  For Malachi, this moral slide began in the temple (Guentert, US Catholic, p. 22).  Compare this with the Gospel!

St. Jerome identified the messenger referenced in this pericope as the prophet Ezra.  Jesus adapted the words to John the Baptist  (Mt 11:10, This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”)  (Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 400).  The imagery of lye and fire is meant to be transformational.  When we allow God to come into our life and our decision-making, we can be refined and transformed!  How have you found this to be true in your life?

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 2:14-18

In this part of the letter, we understand that God made Jesus “perfect” through suffering.  The verb translated ‘make perfect’ in Greek is teleiounIn the New Testament, this word has special meaning, that the thing or person so described fully carries out the purpose for which designed.  So, the verb teleioun will mean not so much “to make perfect” as “to make fully adequate for the task for which designed”.  So, then, what the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that through suffering Jesus was made fully able for the task pf being the pioneer of our salvation.  Jesus Christ fully identified himself with humankind by becoming a man, and suffered like humans do.  Jesus also sympathizes with humankind, feels with them.  It is almost impossible to understand another person’s sorrows and sufferings unless we have been through them.  And because he sympathizes Jesus can really help.  He has met our sorrows; he has faced our temptations.  As a result he knows exactly what help we need; and he can give it, (Barclay on The Letter to the Hebrews, p. 26-28).

Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:  22-40

It is by the wisdom of elders that our eyes are opened to what Jesus’ purpose will be.  Anna’s name means “grace”.  Like Simeon, she has spent her life in awaiting the Lord, (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 75).  The reference to “a sword will pierce” is why Mary depicted as Our Lady of Sorrows is generally illustrated with swords  (see Union Street church window!).

The requirement for the wife only to be purified after childbirth is found in Leviticus 12:1-8.  Since Mary and Joseph could not provide a lamb, they make the offering of the poor.  The family of Jesus is here seen as totally observant of the law, (p. 74).

Only at great cost would Jesus carry out the purpose for which he was born.  Both he and his mother would know suffering – but that suffering, as Anna the prophetess would affirm, would bring about the redemption of Israel while offering the light of salvation to the gentiles.  As we celebrate this feast, let us present ourselves to God, as Jesus did.  Offering all we are, all we have and all we will become; let us, like Jesus, be willing to go forth from this place determined to be a source of light and healing in an often dark, broken world.  Let us grow strong and wise, knowing that the favor of God rests upon us, (Sanchez, NCR for Jan. 17-30, 2014, p. 25).

Consolation as defined by Margaret Silf, Inner Compass:

  • Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
  • Lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
  • Bonds us more closely to our human community
  • Generates new inspiration and ideas
  • Restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
  • Shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
  • Releases new energy in us (p. 53)

Compare this to the consolation of Israel.  How can Jesus help you find consolation?

Catholic Schools Week

Fr. Bob’s “Catholic Schools Week” homily…

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time A: Catholic Schools Week

This is a historic day.  It is the first Word of God Sunday.  It was proclaimed by Pope Francis in September to honor the Bible and Holy Scriptures in our lives.  We have several days set aside to celebrate the Eucharist, but this is the first day dedicated to the word of God, the other “leg” on which we stand.

And what a blessing that it occurs simultaneously with Catholic Schools Week for in our schools we learn, celebrate and follow the word of God.  It is what sets us apart and fills our schools with nothing less than the character of Jesus Christ.  The word of God comes alive in Catholic schools.

The Word of God comes alive because we teach it.  I have felt sorry for many of our teachers because they are trained to teach so many things…

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Jesus Christ: Superhero

Fr. Bob’s homily 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, cycle A

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Have you ever thought of Jesus as a superhero?   I think he checks off many of the boxes.  Does he have other worldly origins? Check.  Does he have an intriguing birth story? Check.  Does he emerge suddenly in early adulthood with mysterious powers?  Check.  Do crowds marvel that he has done things no one has ever seen before?  Check.  Indeed, Jesus does seem to pass the test.  He has that wow factor; a charismatic figure some people fawn over, some dispute and enemies despise.  (This is likely true because superheroes are Christ figures and not the other way around.)

He also shares the most important trait – he has a mission.  Every hero has a mission and Jesus’ is spelled out by John the Baptist.  Jesus “takes away the sin of the world.”  Look carefully; he takes away implies that someone already has…

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Commentary on 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A: Now Word of God Sunday!

1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3

Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways.  It brought darkness and destruction to both.  The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people.   King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling.  He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’.  These hopes were not realized.  Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)

The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)

What dispels your darkness?  Isaiah seems to think joy has something to do with it.  Henri Nouwen describes joy as, “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing –sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”  He goes on to say, “Joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day,” (Here and Now, p. 30-31).  Can you say more about the joy you experience in your life and what God might have to do with it?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17

This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)

Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)

Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic?  It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ.  But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division.  Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation.  “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another.  Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a tone and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude.  There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).

The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.

(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary!  He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.”  The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

Other interesting ‘fish’ facts:  A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S.  These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR”  (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)

The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross.  This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)