Ephphatha – Be Opened!

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…


23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

In Mark’s Gospel, miracles are often hard work.  That is not the case in other Gospels such as John’s where it appears Jesus’ mere thought can heal someone.  But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is physical; he gets into the mud, he touches and transforms.  The difference is like the two stories of creation in Genesis.  In the first, the Lord speaks and light appears while in the second God makes mud and breathes into the man to create Adam.  Mark’s Jesus is more evocative of the second story and the result is a portrait of Jesus that is personal and intimate as in the tale we hear today.

Jesus is moving through gentile territory but the people are still aware of his power.  They bring before him a man who is deaf and suffers from a speech impediment.  Jesus takes him aside, away…

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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Isaiah 50: 5-9a

This passage is also the appointed reading for Palm Sunday.  This is the third servant song from Second Isaiah.  The people are still in the throes of captivity yet reject the prophet’s message of hope.  The exile continues and the people are getting tired of this prophet saying there will be a positive outcome (Birmingham, W&W, 642).  Yet he must be heard!  Isaiah is adamant that his voice must be heard because God is by his side.  What faith.  How does this speak to you?  When have you felt this boldness to pursue what is right and important to you?

Christians, of course, saw in these songs the picture of Jesus, our Christ.  In fact they were used to help them pray about and understand Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. They also contained an inherent challenge for Jesus’ disciples – and for us. (Celebration, Sept. 2006)  How do they challenge you?

2nd Reading – James 2: 14-18

This letter is getting down to the brass tacks of our faith.  If we have faith, what are we going to do about it?  How does this reading inspire and/or challenge you?

There was quite the debate in the early church community about faith and works.  Paul often spoke as faith being God’s gift to us, and so many thought Paul was in opposition to James’ letter.  But both can work together.  “To be Christian means to act upon the Word as our response in love,” (Birmingham, W&W, 643).  Who inspires you as someone who balances their faith and works?  

The Gospel – Mark 8: 27-35

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus questions.  Jesus in his humanity is revealed in this question.  Jesus first asks what others think of him, but then he gets to what he really cares about…what do his friends think of him?  Revelation literally means an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of something previously hidden.  Jesus is God revealed:

  1. Revelation is God’s own self-disclosure.
  2. Revelation points to particular events and particular people through whom God has communicated in decisive ways with humanity.
  3. Revelation calls for our personal response and appropriation.  True knowledge of God is a practical rather than a merely theoretical knowledge.
  4. Revelation of God is always a disturbing, even shocking event.  Look at Jesus!  He ate with sinners-this was shocking at the time.
  5. Revelation transforms the imagination…it stretches our understanding.

Taken from Faith Seeking Understanding by D. Migliore, p. 24.  Who is Jesus to you?  How does He reveal himself to you in these different ways?

Notice how Jesus speaks openly, but Peter immediately turns defensive.  Jesus does not shy away from confrontation.  He walks right into it.  Jesus is clear about what the future brings for him, and it will mean suffering.  But through human weakness, the strength of God abides  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 642, 645).  Jesus challenges us to find strength in our weakness…to be open when we are hurting and sad.  Can you do that?  Can you live a life openly like Jesus did?

Jesus:  divine AND human?  We question this (like Peter) because we are trying to understand who he is.  Our love for him makes us WANT to know him.  In the end, there will always be some mystery in the knowing.  Like with all of us, we may never truly understand and know each other completely.  St. Augustine said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.”  But does that stop us from loving anyway?

How do we lose ourselves to save ourselves?  It is the cost of discipleship, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say.  When friends were trying to convince him to stay in America while National Socialism raged in his homeland of Germany before WWII began, he refused.  “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.  Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization.  I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.”  Bonhoeffer did return to Germany, where he was eventually arrested and executed in a concentration camp.

Some Thoughts on the Abuse Crisis BY: Angie Marczewski

The Book of Ecclesiastes, Ch. 1, verses 9-10 states:

“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages which preceded us.”

It goes on in verse 11 to say that—and I paraphrase here—we just tend not to remember what transpired in ages past, and future ages will tend not to remember what happens now.

This can be comforting, because if we do look back at history we clearly see that our generation is not the first to be scandalized by members of our beloved church. Going all the way back to the beginning, we find the very first scandal; one of Christ’s own chosen inner circle betrayed him to his death. We don’t stop and think much about this aspect of Christ’s betrayal, but I’d be willing to bet that the other eleven apostles and the rest of Jesus’s followers also felt very betrayed by Judas, who was one of their own. As we progress throughout history, we see the church embroiled in scandal after scandal. The Holy Roman Empire was created by Constantine’s forced conversion on its citizens under threat of death. Moving on, we find soldiers representing the church at the behest of the popes, looting and killing in the “holy wars” against Muslims, the Crusades. The Great Schism found eastern and western branches of Christianity excommunicating each other in fights over words in the Creed and other, mostly political, differences. Yet further along, we come to the Spanish Inquisition, with church leaders literally murdering people, who did not accept or dared to question official church positions, the most famous example being the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, later declared a saint. Great scientists and thinkers, even theologians, have been silenced or excommunicated for grappling with important questions about the universe. Think Galileo, condemned by the church for centuries, because God’s great gift of his scientific mind led to questions about whether the earth really was or was not the center of the universe. He, too, has now been vindicated. The point, my friends, is that scandal is not new to our beloved church— not by a long shot. We have faced many scandals throughout history and this is simply one more—no doubt, there will be others in the future.

Scandal at one time or another enters into any human institution. And even though the church is a divine institution, its day to day affairs are left in the hands of human beings. And human beings are always tempted by power and control. There is much truth to the old adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No one knew that better than Jesus Himself. That’s why he made it clear to his disciples that they were not to lord it over anyone, but rather were to be servants of all. And make no mistake; contrary to popular belief, this sexual abuse crisis and any cover-up it has engendered are in no way about sexuality; they are entirely about power and control—power and control over oneself and over others.

But let us not fall into the trap of negativity. If we do that, evil will have won. Though our history is filled with scandal, it is also filled with much good and we have tried to learn from our mistakes. Our history clearly shows that our church has survived all the scandals of history and it has prevailed. We will again prevail. We may not be able to see, right now, how or when or what the future will look like, but the church has survived every scandal throughout history and we can say with assurance that it will survive this one, too!

So, let us never give up. Some of our leaders may be flawed, as all humans are flawed, but they are not the church. We all together are the church. Without a community, there would be no need for leaders of any kind. Yet every successful community needs leaders, and there are many good leaders among us. Let us work together with these good leaders to continue to build the church and to move it more in the direction that God is leading it. And if we let God and ask for God’s help, God will lead us!

If this crisis teaches us anything, let it teach us that human beings make up the leadership of our church; let us no longer expect them to be super-human. Let us no longer place them on pedestals from which they must look down at us and from which it is nearly impossible to relate to the rest of us as equals and in a healthy manner. Let us turn this crisis into something positive, by using it as an opportunity to create a system which better nourishes our good leaders, and helps them live the ideals for which we all strive as Christians. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us always—till the end of time. Jesus and His Holy Spirit always keep God’s promises! So let us never despair!

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Let us pray…

In this time and in any time, our deepest hope,

our most tender prayer,

is that we learn to listen.

May we listen to one another in openness and mercy.

May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect.

May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness.

May we listen to God in quietness and awe.

And in this listening, which is boundless in its beauty,

may we find the wisdom to cooperate with the healing Spirit, the divine Spirit,

beckoning us into peace and community and creativity.

We do not ask for a perfect world.

But we do ask for a better world.

We ask for the gift and the grace of deep listening.  AMEN

1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a

This section of the Book of Isaiah was added to the earlier part of the book. It probably is prompted by the Babylonian exile which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country now lay in ruins and many of the people were back in slavery. The writer of Second Isaiah wants to inject hope and fearlessness born of faith: a trust in the God who “will come with vindication.” It speaks for all of us who believe in a God who is greater than all evil and whose grace is more powerful than any affliction.  (Celebration, Sept. 2006)

Brother David Steindl-Rast in gratefulness, the heart of prayer talks about the difference between hope and hopes.  Hopes are for a particular thing, while hope is a virtue, a way of being.  Hope does not depend on hopes, because hopes don’t always work out.  Hopes can even get in the way of hope.  It makes a world of difference where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on the hope that is within.  A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes.  But those hopes do not tell us much.  The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered.  Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them.  A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over.  Do you want to be a person of hopes or hope?

2nd Reading – James 2: 1-5

James is trying to move us away from our common tendency to favoritism. As Peter states in Acts (10:35) God shows no partiality and Paul says in Galatians (3:28) that we are all one in Christ Jesus – so James is encouraging the same idea. At this time, while by far most of the Christians were poor and just about all were powerless politically, they were a diverse social group. Jews and Gentiles, women and men, slave and free – and the rich and poor – all came together – and they were to come together in love. This was a challenge. It still is.

From Understanding God’s Word, September 10, 2006:

When God chooses the poor, it is not to set up a new, inverted pecking order. It is meant to eliminate the pecking order altogether. God gives privilege to the marginalized to abolish privilege. The biblically poor are not just those who are economically poor; it is anyone who lacks the power to protect their interests against misfortune (Who can we think of today?).  James’ advice gets set in Catholic Social Justice teaching with the phrase: ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’. Showing the poor this preferential option does not mean making them more dependent on others. It is about empowering them to stand on their own two feet, in love and dignity. This is what James means by calling the poor ‘heirs’ of the kingdom.

Notice the word LISTEN.  We must truly hear one another and be in open dialogue for change to happen and have a world with no partiality.  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of the other person.” 

The Gospel – Mark 7: 31-37

Helen Keller, much like the poor man in the gospel today, had been trapped in blindness and silence until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke open the world for her. Annie’s infinite patience, touch, and breathing-presence slowly, but eventually, revealed the world to Helen. Christ is that for all of us. He is that voice of the loving mother/father/teacher who calls us out of fear, darkness, chaos and frustration to freedom, thought, self-expression and an awareness of love. But it is not easy to be led out of darkness. We need to trust in the voice of love, the gentle, beckoning, patient voice of our God-in-Christ. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Mark gives further meaning to this story by where he places it in the overall gospel narrative. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples have been ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ word – lacking ‘insight’ and understanding. They and many others have been unable to make any confession of faith about him, Eventually, however, at Caesarea Philippi (after the feeding of 4,000, the blindness and deafness of the Pharisees, and the healing of another blind man at Bethsaida) their ears are opened, their tongues are released, and they speak clearly about Jesus as the Messiah through Peter, the spokesman.  But even here their faith is limited and blind when Jesus talks of suffering and rejection.  Jesus will have to walk with them further, talking, cajoling, correcting, and healing . . . Only on the cross will Jesus and God’s love be fully revealed. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In the Middle Eastern culture, spitting was a common precaution against evil. Traditional healers routinely used this strategy to ward off evil and thus heal. Hands were also the customary way that any therapeutic power was transmitted.  Also, the word, ephphatha, is an original Aramaic word. This was the language that Jesus would have used. It was believed that the actual word itself had power. So it was remembered and recorded.  (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

What if?

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus answers the question what defiles us. What makes something designed to be good to produce something bad and sometimes even rotten? How does it happen with our bodies, the Law or the church? I have been spending a lot of time thinking about that question in the last couple of weeks as the crisis in our church had deepened. However complicit I might be as a member of the clergy, I believe I share your anger and frustration. And those feelings are not abstract or theoretical. They are close, personal and intimate. It feels like when you have been hurt by someone or something you love. And there is nothing that wounds quite as deeply than being hurt by love. It is a different experience when it is love. We feel a sense of betrayal. We recognize the potential and all the good…

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8

The purpose of keeping the Law is not a matter of blind obedience (obedience entails listening that is suppose to give ‘sight’—insight). It is about growing closer to the God of love and liberation who has first come close to us. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

An Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy:  This book is written in the form of an address by Moses to his people just before they were to enter the Promised Land. It is written as if it was Moses’ farewell address. It contains many long sermons and speeches that echo a much later reflection on the law and covenant than would have been possible at the time of Moses. (This kind of pseudonymous writing was a common ancient practice of authors; they hoped that the name of the respected leader would bring authority to their material.) The name, Deuteronomy, even means a second law – it is not really a second law, but a second look at the law given in Exodus by God through Moses. The writer was calling for reform and rededication. It is used here today, probably because Jesus is seen as the new Moses in the gospel, the One who teaches with God’s authority and wisdom. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Cycle B, 467-468)

2nd Reading: James 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27

Though it is unmistakably Christian, this book has a very Jewish feel to it.  There are a lot of do’s and don’ts, like a guidebook down the path of life. There is still debate among theologians who wrote this epistle.  It is most widely attributed to Jesus’ “brother” James, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem – James the Just, not the apostle, (Powell, Intro. the New Testament, p. 445-450).  We don’t even know when it was written, whether 60s or perhaps later in the 80s & 90s.  Despite the reflection of Jewish Christian traditions, the writing itself suggests a Greek-speaking Jewish community because of its elegance (Perkins, Reading the New Testament, p. 297).

This ‘sermon’ addressed to the 12 tribes of the Diaspora (which refers to the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine after the Babylonian captivity and/or the Jewish communities living outside Palestine). It is asking them to translate their faith into good deeds. The vertical bond with God must also be expressed with horizontal sharing and caring about those in need. To be truly Christian is to act on what we hear, welcoming God’s word into our hearts, minds, and will. (Celebration, Sept.3, 2006)

The Gospel: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-22

What good news do you find in this gospel?

How is Christ speaking personally to you in this passage?

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 130 -132:  The ‘tradition of the elders’ was a set of practices that were defined, maintained, and practiced by elites who lived in the city. The Pharisees wanted everyone to observe this urban tradition. Peasants in the countryside or itinerants like Jesus would have great difficulty observing such traditions. Water was scarce and/or not readily available for such washings. Fishermen and other peasants regularly came into contact with dead fish, dead animals, and other ‘pollutants.’ Peasants had therefore developed the ‘little tradition’ which adapted the requirements of the ‘great tradition’ of the urban and more well-to-do people. Jesus, the artisan (carpenter), obviously sided with this little tradition; he knew first hand the realities and difficulties of peasant life.

What we ‘see’ in this gospel is the challenge and retort that was common in Jesus’ day. Questions were rarely inoffensive; every question was a challenge. There was always the hope that the one being questioned would not know the answer. Therefore, they could be shamed. The word, hypocrite, meant actor. In other words, Jesus was saying: “You actors! Scripture may be the lines you quote, but it is not the script by which you live.” It was considered particularly ‘honorable’ to be able to draw creatively and insightfully upon tradition or scripture in the heat of an argument. Some of us Americans are a bit dismayed by Jesus’ ability to confront and insult rather than using tact and diplomacy. Yet, what we see here was how a male would have to respond to ‘make a point’ and maintain his honor. Jesus also changes the topic (another clever refuting skill) by using a parable to teach about what really defiles a person. It is not what one eats that defiles, but what ‘comes out’ of a person that defiles.

This gospel is also about table fellowshipwho should be welcomed at ‘God’s table’ . . . The ‘unwashed hands’ are not only the hands of peasants, but in Mark’s early Christian community they would also have been the hands of Gentiles.  Mark is making an important point that Jesus does NOT exclude from table-fellowship those who do not keep all the purity laws. Jesus’ offer of salvation was not only to the ‘clean’ of Israel, but also to the unclean. He invited sinners and tax collectors to join him at table – and to feed on his word. He still does! It is interesting to think about this during our procession to and from Communion. It is itself symbolic of what is taking place: all of us, the able and the lame, the ready and the not-so-ready, the healed and those in need of healing. We all walk together to Christ’s table.         (Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 202)

Eucharist Part 4

The 4th and final of Fr. Bob’s homily series on Eucharist…


20th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
This is the fourth part of my homily series on the Eucharist. The Bread of Life discourse continues for a fifth week, but my reflection next week will be restricted to going to mass and playing golf in Canada. What is left is to ask why the Eucharist so powerful that it can fill our hungers.
I started listing to the cast recording of the musical “Hamilton” and as tends to happen with “Hamilton,” I have become a little obsessed. And there is no better song than “Satisfied” which details the thought that Alexander Hamilton would never achieve satisfaction and it serves as a sub-theme throughout the musical. For all his endeavors, his writing, his success and his astounding career, there was never a moment when he knew contentment. But that is not unique to him. It is really the human condition. We have…

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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading:  Joshua 24:  1-2, 15-17, 18

From Birmingham’s Word and Worship, p. 617:  This small, ragtag military band of Israelites accomplished great victories only because they were sustained and empowered by the Holy One of Israel.  Israel laid claim to all of the land because God was the one who helped them secure it in the first place.  Salvation history exalts the God who strengthened Israel in all its endeavors – deliverance from slavery and conquest of the Canaanite land.  But the inhabitants of Shechem worshiped a god called El-berith.  The Israelites worshiped Yahweh.  The covenant agreement reached by both groups was to worship the one God, Yahweh.  The liturgy in this passage remembers and celebrates the agreement made by the two groups of people.

What is it to serve the Lord and claim God as your own?  This is deeper than simply professing a belief.  As we will see in the Gospel reading, it is a transformation that some simply cannot accept.  Not only do we have to choose but we must continue choosing…daily!

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 5:  21-32

The Greek root of the word subordinate can be ‘to obey’, or ‘to listen’.  Doesn’t that change how we look at Paul’s letter?  We must listen to one another, in our marriages and in our church.  Notice Paul speaks to the husbands about their responsibilities too, to love their wives.  And also note that church is not formally formed yet; he is talking to communities of people bonded in faith.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 168-174:  This reading must be put in context.  The Jews has a low view of women at the time.  In his morning prayer there was a sentence in which a Jewish man gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”  In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing.  She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely her husband’s possession to do with as he willed.  And in Paul’s day, divorce was very easy.  All a man had to do was to hand a bill of divorcement, correctly written out by a Rabbi, to his wife in the presence of 2 witnesses and the divorce was complete.  The only other condition was that the woman’s dowry must be returned.  A woman really had no rights to divorce her husband at all.  So for Paul to talk about the relationship between husband and wife as being sacrificial, purifying, caring, unbreakable…this was a new idea.  And this is carried over into church life.

There is an ancient proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”  How do we do that in our marriages?  In our parish?

John 6:  60-69

We come to the end of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, but it is with unrest.  Murmuring, unacceptance, returning to former ways of life…the disciples are in a similar place as we are now in our Church!  With more sexual abuse allegations come to light, the priest shortage and dwindling congregations, we are also a murmuring people who needs consolation.  Thankfully Jesus tells us the words we need to hear, those of Spirit and life.  Peter affirms his belief in Jesus being the Holy One of God, and yet he denies him later.  We are hard to convince.  Roland Faley shares, “Faith is attained not by human effort, even though cooperation is essential, but by the action of God drawing the believer.”  We must be open to God drawing us in.  Perhaps we get in the way of God’s action when we try so hard?  Consider the murmurings you have with God in your own life.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 227:  The disciples were well aware that Jesus had claimed to be the very life and mind of God come down to earth; their difficulty was to accept that as true, with all its implications….If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance…The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.

Applying this to Eucharist, it makes all the difference.  Are we willing to let Eucharist change us, to bring meaning to our life, and to allow Spirit to flow?  Can we live so we convince others we are of God too?

On the Recent Scandals


This was a tough week to be a priest and a tough week to be a Catholic with the repercussions of the McCarrick scandal and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. And I hate it when it is a tough week to be a priest because I love what I do and I am sure that you hate it when it is a tough week to be a Catholic because you love your faith. But we need to look at stark reality.
As for the situation in Pennsylvania, for me it was both expected and shocking. As someone who has lived with this for such a long time, the numbers as horrifying as they are seem to be comparable to most dioceses, ours included based on the priests who have been removed listed on our website. And it is gratifying that things have improved since the implementation of “Charter for Protection…

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Eucharist: Part 3

Fr. Bob’s 3rd in his Eucharist homily series…


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
For the third part of our series on the Eucharist, let us look for see how Eucharist fills our need for justice and is at the goal of our never ending search for joy. But first let’s define these terms.
We all feel the need for justice in our lives. When we are wronged, we want it made right; when we are left out, we want to be included. And knowing we are one body, that sense of justice develops into social justice and is extended to all who are not treated fairly, whose dignity is impugned. Joy of course is that sense that is beyond and greater than happiness which we all know is fleeting. It is a sense of well-being and love that persists despite the circumstances that affect us. In Eucharist, we can have our fill of both.
To delve deeper…

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