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1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 9:8-15

Thomas Green, an educator and spiritual director, says that ‘floating in the sea’ can be a kind of spiritual growth lesson.  Floating is difficult for most of us because “it demands much letting go.”  The secret of floating lies in being willing to take the risk and do the opposite of what comes instinctively.  We tend to keep ourselves rigid in the water, ready to save ourselves from the waves breaking around us.  As a result, we end up swamped by the waves.  Yet, if we relax and float, we are buoyed up by the rolling sea.  We learn to float when we relax and entrust ourselves to the water.  Similarly, people learn to pray and commune with God when they are willing to risk letting go in order to be at home in the sea that is God with no visible means of support except the constant buoyancy of God’s grace and presence.  The authors of the story of Noah were trying to teach us a similar lesson.  Noah’s contemporaries resisted God’s ways and refused to hear God’s voice; yet, Noah freely cast himself into the sea of God’s mercy and compassion.  With their faith and trust in God, they were saved.  It is a story of conversion – leaving behind the ‘old way of life’ and trusting God to help us float above the waters of chaos and come to safety. (Celebrations, March 2000)

Ancient people imagined their world completely surrounded on all sides — up, down, and around — by water.  Their world was flat with waters below, the source of springs.  A dome topped their world, holding back the waters above.  This is the firmament God creates on the second day in Genesis 1:6.  They feared floods the way we fear nuclear war or global warming — it is the ancient fear of extinction. The rainbow: ancient people thought this to be a divine ‘bow’ or weapon that gods could use against humans. But in this story the rainbow becomes a promise of love.  (Sunday by Sunday, March 9, 2003)

Flood stories were prevalent among ancient people.  The Noah story is very similar to the Babylonian Myth of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh was searching for immortality. He consults one of his ancestors who had become immortal.  According to the story, the council of the gods had whimsically plotted to destroy humankind by flood. Ea, the god of wisdom, warned him to build a boat to save his family.  After the storm, the boat safely came to rest on a mountain; birds were sent forth to see if the waters had ceased.  Then sacrifices were offered to the gods who offered him immortality.  The Genesis authors adapted this flood story for their own use.  It featured the one and only God.  The flood was not the result of capriciousness, but viewed as punishment for sin.  Noah was granted a covenantal bond with God which would be life-giving.  (Celebrations, March 2003)

The ark is a symbol for a sanctuary and a haven.  The Hebrew word for ark (tebah) was also the word for the basket that carried baby Moses to safety (Exodus 2:3).  It was also the name for the tent that housed and carried the tablets of the Law, the visible presence of Yahweh and the covenant.  The ark became the symbol of God’s protection and salvation (fullness of health).  It is not surprising that Christians who had been Jews would see in this story a type of baptism.  The church became another ark — families clinging together with their faith in the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  Here the waters become neither punishment nor cleansing.  They are a passage into a new life.  Note, also, that this story is not about God’s covenant with humanity alone.  It is about God’s covenant with all of creation.  (Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B)

2nd Reading –1 Peter 3: 18-22

This letter presents itself as being written by Peter who now regards himself as an elder in the church.  He is sending it from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor.  Tradition holds that Peter was martyred in Rome under the emperor Nero, that he was put to death by crucifixion, and specifically, that he was crucified upside down.  Scholars remain divided over the question of whether this letter is pseudepigraphical, but it is a reflection of “Petrine perspective” associated with Rome in the last third of the 1st century (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 464-466).

The readers of 1 Peter are Christians in process, or “under construction”.  A key word for such people is hope; the readers can look back on a futile and dubious past, and then they can look forward to an absolutely certain future, but the present is a time of “living hope” (p. 475).  Baptism, which is our spiritual coming to life, is our way of ritually participating in Jesus’ death.  As Christ died in the flesh and was made alive in the spirit, so converts likewise put off fleshly sins in baptism and live irreproachable lives through Jesus’ resurrection (Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 76).

The Gospel –Mark 1: 12-15:

We are back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, right after Jesus’ Baptism. Mark’s story of Jesus’ desert-time is short and tense.  Here we see Jesus faced with a time of choosing

God says to Jesus:  “Take my love to humans. Conquer them by this love. Even if they crucify you, set up a Kingdom of Love.”

Satan says to Jesus: “Use your power to obliterate – to impress –to win by might and power.”

This is the temptation that Jesus will face time and time again:  What kind of a messiah am I to be?  How does God wish me to proclaim his Good News?  We are faced with similar questions.

“Repent and believe the Good News!” Mark summarizes for us Jesus’ person and purpose: God is among us. Believe that and live accordingly.  After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Drove is a harsh, forceful word.  Jesus has put himself completely at the power of the Spirit of God. Evil will confront him — in the desert, and in his ministry.  But on the cross, evil will be defeated..

Both floods and deserts are things hostile to life. Floods can strip us of everything, even the land to stand on. And yet, water, despite its chaos, is the promise of life. The desert has its own chaos and danger. Dreadful and waterless, empty and dry, one can only survive a desert if one traverses it. To stop is to succumb to death. The Hebrew people learned in the 40-year desert journey that God was their only security and guide. Jesus now spends 40 days in the desert of radical dependency. The will of God will be his only nourishment. We, too, are invited to ponder this journey: what is it all for?  Lent invites us to enter the water – to walk the desert. God incarnate invites us. And, he himself walks all the deserts of our lives to be the path through exile serving as food and drink along the way.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,”  http://liurgy.slu.edu)

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Holy Land Part 6

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We began our last day of touring at the Mount of Olives. Beyond its stunning view of the holy city, the second highest mountain of the city located east of its walls, has been the base for pilgrims, processions and conquerors for centuries. In the life of Jesus, it was precisely all those things, although his conquering was through sacrifice, not arms.
For once we traveled down a hill after nearly a week of straight ascent. Yet, while less arduous, this proved tricky over the pavement slickened by a steady drizzle. From the top of this mountain, probably roughly along the path we walked, Jesus made his palm strewn entrance into Jerusalem aboard a mule, a messianic sign. To this day, pilgrims and locals commemorate this march on Palm Sunday down the slope of the mountain. From the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus ascended into heaven. But our…

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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st   Reading – Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46

Biblical leprosy was any fearful condition that was of unknown origin and could possibly contaminate others.  It ran the gamut from acne, psoriasis, boils, ulcers, rashes, even dandruff to serious malignancies. Leprosy was another name for the community’s fear.  Lepers were not only sick, but also condemned as sinners.  They were called ‘the living dead.’  A healing was considered as difficult as raising the dead to life.         (Exploring the Sunday Readings, and Celebration — Feb. 2000)

Have you ever been able to identify with this leper?  Perhaps you didn’t have anything visibly embarrassing on your person, but maybe you were self-conscious about something?  Or felt the world knew something wrong about you?  We sometimes have a little voice inside of us that counts us unworthy, unclean, unlovable.  But Jesus saves!  We must turn to Jesus’ voice, and He will make us feel worthy, clean and lovable again.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10: 31- 11: 1

This reading is dealing with the problem of whether it was all right to purchase meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols. Was it okay for Christians to eat this meat? Some thought it was since the idols were not real anyway. Paul is trying to help this community see that while the meat might be fine to eat, one should not cause undue scandal to those who were more scrupulous. Paul is trying to encourage them to follow Jesus’ example by being concerned for the well-being of others. God is glorified when we freely live lives of love and service. We become better and so do others!   (Celebration, Feb. 2000, and Mary Birmingham, W & W Year B, 485)  Paul more fully comes to explain himself in chapter 13 when he discusses love: “Love is kind. Love is patient.  . . . etc.”

Paul has personally experienced the risen Christ; as a result, his life mirrors Christ, who is himself the image of God.  Christ has so taken possession of Paul that his own life is now that of Christ.  The Christian communities identified with Paul did not have the same experience.  His uniqueness as an apostle rested on his direct experience with Jesus.  Therefore, he calls on the communities to imitate him as they move toward their sole model, Christ himself, (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 159).

Gerald Fagin SJ says this of glorifying God:  The goal or end of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God, and to come to eternal life.  All of God’s gifts are means to achieve this goal; we should use them accordingly.  “From this it follows that I should use these things to the extent that they help me toward my end, and rid myself of them to the extent that they hinder me.” (Sp. Ex. 23)…it means being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal.  It means magnanimous generosity, abandonment into God’s hands, avallability, (Putting on the Heart of Christ, p. 41-43).

The Gospel – Mark 1:40-45

Last week, we learned from Simon Peter’s mother-in-law that when we are touched by Jesus, we must ‘rise up and serve.’  Now we see a leper proclaim freely the good news of salvation (full health and life).  We find the love of God in Jesus.

 “Moved with pity” – sometimes translated “Moved with anger” – literally this phrase means to have one’s intestines turn over . . .Yet, this leper had dared to ignore the law’s strict rule of quarantine.  So did Jesus. The passion and sympathy that moved Jesus from deep within showed how he empathized with this man’s blight. Jesus’ passion for the suffering of others challenges us, his followers, to also be stirred and motivated by similarly powerful mission. Jesus’ was willing to touch so as to comfort and heal, touching even those who were condemned as outcasts. This is an example we, too, must follow.     (Celebrations, Feb. 2000, 2003; and Quest, Spring, 2006)

Jesus also spoke sternly toward the man commanding him to tell no one anything, but to see the priest.  The literal translation of this is that Jesus ‘snorted’ or ‘puffed’ – a way that was often used to confront evil in his culture. Mark’s messianic secret seems to be an important motif here. Fantastic miracles do not seem to be why Jesus came. He came to break down barriers between the clean and uncleanbetween the insiders and the outsiders. Eduard Schweizer says that Jesus is horrified at the misery of this man’s condition and isolation for it is contrary to God’s plan for creation.  Also, of course, there is irony in the way Mark tells this story for the healed man is so full of good news that he cannot be silent! God’s kingdom is breaking through! It is just too good – too real – to be concealed.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we kept such goodness to ourselves? (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu;  E. Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, 58-59)

Society tends to exclude people and treat them as social lepers today no less than in the time of Jesus.  At that time, justification could be found in the law for a certain measure of separation.  While Jesus shows a basic respect for the Mosaic law, he never fails to respect primarily the worth of the human person as transcending every other religious or social consideration.  We have many examples of exclusion of people on the basis of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class.  It is Jesus’ over-riding love for the human person, virtuous or sinful, without qualification, that is his greatest challenge in any age or culture  (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 160).

Holy Land Part 5

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Holy Land Part 5
Jerusalem. What word conjures such holiness, division, hope, despair, healing and pain? All that deriving from its history, its politics, current, past and ancient and its religions. Jews have claimed that it is the center of the world. A couple of days of walking through the streets, hearing its sounds and feeling its thick religiosity make that statement hard to argue. It is reflected in all pilgrim experiences in the holy city of extremes.
Jerusalem is a strange place to want which makes it ironic how deeply it has been and is desired. Far from the water or easy access to commerce, this isolated city was chosen for political reasons rather than natural resources. The Jebusite people controlled it until King David conquered the city that had never known Jewish rule. This made it a perfect place to build the new capitol since neither the Southern…

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Holy Land Part 4

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A Day by the Galilee
We ended Friday night in Tiberias, a Roman city then and not a New Testament town, but now a thriving tourist destination. Our first glimpse of the Galilee was ringed by lights a night from our hotel room, but its beauty truly transfixed us in a morning of bright sunshine amid temperatures in the lower fifties. The first thing to know about the Sea of Galilee is that is not a Sea, but a lake. Actually, I think it looks stunningly lie Lake George surrounded either by mountains or villages.
Jesus came to this area after the crowd at the synagogue in Nazareth not only rejected him but attempted to thrown him down a “hill” which turns out to be a precipitous cliff of hundreds of feet. He came to the shores of Galilee and began his ministry to the world. It is here that…

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5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Job 7: 1-4, 6-7

In this reading, Job is answering his friends who say he is suffering because of his sin.  What do you make of his words?  What dialogue do you have with God concerning suffering?

The Book of Job explores but does not resolve the fact of suffering. With Job, we see the dark and seamy side of suffering – and Job rails against the injustice of innocent suffering. His ‘friends’ are telling him that his sufferings must be a direct punishment for sin. Job vehemently disagrees. This passage is one of his lengthy, descriptive laments. In the end, after a series of intense, poetic exchanges with God, Job accepts that his suffering cannot be explained away or completely understood. His ‘friends’ are wrong; God harshly corrects them.  As the book ends and Job is restored, suffering is still seen as an intrinsic part of the gift of human life. Job learns to accept what he cannot understand and to trust in the inscrutable wisdom of God. (Preaching Resources, Feb. 9, 2003)

The mystery of pain…Why does God allow it to happen?  There is no satisfactory answer to that question.  But as Christians, we believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word.  We have hope.  We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings; ours is a God who has lived a human life and knows suffering.  There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society.  (Fr. James Martin in the New York Daily News after the Newtown school shootings)

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22-23

This is the cost of discipleship.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said:

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate,

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

From Bonhoeffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship:

“…what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what would Jesus Christ himself wants of us.”  (p. 37)

“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world.”  (p. 60)

“He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.”  (p. 67)

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 84:  We can never attain to any kind of evangelism or friendship without speaking the same language and thinking the same thoughts as the other man.  So long as we patronize people and make no effort to understand them, we can never get anywhere with them.  Paul, the master missionary, who won more for Christ than any other, saw how essential it was to become all things to all .  One of the greatest necessitites is to learn the art of getting alongside people; and the trouble so often is that we do not even try.

The Gospel – Mark 1: 29-39

Before this passage, Mark tells of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and casting out demons (last Sunday’s gospel), and then the day goes on with this reading –Mark is presenting dramatically a ‘typical’ day in the life of Jesus who is intent upon proclaiming and ‘preaching’ God’s Kingdom.  What do we see of God’s kingdom here?

John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture Peter’s mother-in-law should have been living in her husband’s family home – or — if he was dead, then, she would be with one of her sons. The fact that she is in Peter’s house suggests that she may have no other living family members to take care of her. This woman may have known a lot more sorrow than just this fever. When Jesus touches her, she rises up with energy and purpose in her life. Jesus seemed to have helped her regain her meaning in life. This was beautifully expressed by her eager service.  What do you see in her story?

From Celebrations, Feb., 2003:

Comfortable Christianity is an oxymoron.  We like to imagine those in a deep relationship to God to be peace-filled . . . But to be honest, the most ‘responsive,’ committed Christians . . . are often ‘driven,’ compelled –with at least some measure of agitation and turmoil . . .the calling [from God] deep within – if heeded – is almost guaranteed to increase sensitivity to the demands that abundantly present themselves!  There are always more hungry mouths to feed, more injustices to deal with, more violence to be overcome, more broken hearts to be healed . . .Yet “while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  It was from that quiet place that he moved on . . .

“I’m living in a broken world, and there is holy work to do.”  Rabbi Ronnie Cahana

Light Surrounds Us, by Kris Rooney

Did you see the moon yesterday?  On my morning run, a beautiful, golden moon kept showing its face as the group and I turned on to different streets.  And once it was behind us, we were then faced with a sky of blues, purples, pinks and yellows as the sun began to peek out over the trees.  It really struck me how much light wants to overcome the darkness.  The light was behind us and in front of us and, in a very gentle way, pushing out the black sky.  That simple morning exercise creates our days.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons [and daughters] the redemption of our body.  For in hope we have been saved…we wait eagerly for it,”  (Romans 8:22-25).

And so we wait in hope, not only to be saved in death but saved in life too.  There are little deaths that happen to us.  Job lay offs.  Sickness.  Relationships that aren’t what we wish they were.  A harsh word.  These little deaths can turn us inward.  They cause an ache.  Our hearts can go dark.  It may sometimes feel like the light will never come.  But it always does.  Jesus promised a happy ending.  It is in hope we have been saved.  How different our lives are if we constantly look for the light.  We will find it is behind us and in front of us.  It is never far away.  It has been there the whole time.  It groans to be with us.  Hope is knowing the light is there, even when we can’t see it.  Light will always overcome the darkness.  We (I) must trust that it will and look for it.

Holy Land Part 3

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Ein Karem
Our day began in Ein Karem, the hometown of John the Baptist which makes it the center of all the events surrounding his birth and Mary’s visit to his mother Elizabeth. The church of John the Baptist is another simple church which takes claim to the title by being located in the Judean hills as the Gospel states and by tradition. As Catholics we count on tradition a great deal and the holy land is actually affirming of this as time and again the traditional sites are verified by archaeology. The church focuses on the miraculous events of John’s birth to elderly and supposedly barren parents and John’s father Zachariah who thinks the angel is crazed who told him of the remarkable child to be born and is silenced until in obedience he insists the child’s name shall be John, upsetting traditional naming customs. Then his tongue is…

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Holy Land part 2

Another blog entry while Fr. Bob is in Israel. He flies home today.

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Bethlehem
The Holy Land is another world and Bethlehem is another country. I do not want to go on about the politics of the country, but there is always an admixture of holiness, history and politics in everything here. To travel the few miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, one must go through a checkpoint. Getting into Bethlehem is easy for us; leaving it to go to Jerusalem is almost impossible for its citizens. The security Wall built in the last ten years (called by our Palestinian Christian guide Rula, the Wall of Separation) is beautifully painted with depictions of hope including contributions from the renowned modern artist Banksy and one of a triumphant Muhammed Ali.
You wind up the main street of town, Manger Street, and at the top of the hill stands proudly the Church of the Nativity. It…

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4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

This book is a ‘second law, a second look’ at the covenant between God and his people. It was written after the exile when Israel was rediscovering their roots. It is in the form of an address written as if Moses is giving a final speech to the people before they cross the Jordan into the promised land. It is also his farewell speech to his people. He had led them out of slavery and now through the desert. They will enter the Promised Land without him, but not without teaching and guidance from the Lord. This book contains long speeches and sermons that are intended to help the people reflect further on the law, God’s teaching on how they are to live. There is a constant call to reform and to live faithfully the covenant between God and God’s people.  For Christians, we are reminded that Jesus was and is the new Moses, the ultimate one in whose words God’s authority and power lived – and lives!  (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 467-468)

We often picture Moses as Charlton Heston, someone confident and suave.  But he had to be talked into his role.  Remember he asked God to have his brother Aaron speak for him because he didn’t think his voice would carry?  Moses was one with his people, “from among your own kin”. He didn’t put himself above them.  Consider this relationship with Jesus too.  What does it mean for your life?  Is it easier to listen to someone who is one with you?  What about in your actions…do you place yourself at one with others if you are in a position of authority?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35

In order to understand this passage, it is important to read this part in connection with the rest of the chapter and the letter.  Taken out of context, it is very easy to misunderstand Paul’s words and to misuse these words.  Paul did seem to have a bias in favor of celibacy — maybe because he himself was not married, or because he was a widow, or because he truly believed that the second coming was imminent. He was also reacting here within the culture of Corinth that seemed to hold two extremes: one of sexual promiscuity, and one of sexual asceticism. When you read the entire chapter (and letter) you can see these important ideas coming forth:

1) Paul believed that our bodies were holy and that there was virtue in praising God with our total selves. 2) Paul believed in the mutuality of men and women and that there was to be a balance of rights between husband and wife. 3) Lawful, married sexual relations in no way prohibited a person from coming to God in prayer. While celibacy might be seen as a ‘gift’ to some, it was not intended for everyone. 4) Paul held sacred the human dignity of every person – men and women. Both are equal. Both husband and wife are to ‘please’ their spouse. This suggests a view of marriage as a union of sensitive friendship and respect.  (Birmingham, W&W Wrkbk for Yr B, 468-469)  In light of all of this, what meaning do you get from this passage?

The Gospel: Mark 1: 21-28

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B:  We see much of the ‘culture’ of the times here in this passage; spirits, both good and bad, were part of the belief system of Jesus’ time. It was believed that spirits also had much greater power than humans. Only God had more power. To call out the name of a spirit was to have power over it. So by shouting out Jesus’ true identity, the unclean spirit was trying to overcome Jesus’ power. Jesus was also ‘just an artisan from Nazareth.’ He was acting totally out of line with his inherited status – thus he astonished the people (Some translations say spellbound!). Yet, Jesus’ words are in line with his actions. So to those who could see this truth, he regained his honor and his “fame spread everywhere.” Even the man who had been filled with “an unclean spirit” was now released and reunited with his people.  Today, we no longer see illness as ‘demonic.’  We have other ‘demons’ for Jesus to overcome. (28-29)

From E Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark:  We also see in Mark’s dramatic story how God is speaking through Jesus in such a way that those who have been separated are brought back into fellowship with God and each other. In Jesus’ word, heaven actually breaks in and hell is abolished. Jesus’ words are action and life. (48-52)

From Celebration, Jan. 2006:  The word, authority, which in Greek is exousia means ex “out of” and ousia which means “being.” So Jesus taught out of his very being . . .

What do you think Mark meant when he used this word to refer to Jesus and his way of teaching?

“The teaching and the healing are inextricably connected.  Jesus’ deeds lend authority to his words, and authenticate them:  someone who can drive out demons is surely someone to listen to, and what he says must be true.  And his words help to explain his deeds; since his preaching is about the reign of God, his healings must somehow be a manifestation of the coming of that reign.  The crowd also must have marveled at the way the exorcism was accomplished:  without any of the complicated incantations or rituals that other wonder-workers used – without even a touch.  This man did this with just his words.  Jesus’ speech is more powerful than the demonic power.  And his words effect what he says.  No wonder they were amazed,”  Fr. James Martin’s Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, p. 148-149.