Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – September 30, 2012

 

The Book of Numbers 11:25-29

The Letter of James 5:1-6

The holy Gospel according to Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

The first reading from the Book of Numbers and this Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark are closely related in theme.  In each, underlings think their masters, Moses in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel, are being threatened by unauthorized people exercising charismatic gifts.  Eldad and Medad who were not present when God shared the spirit that was on Moses with the seventy elders.  With that spirit, the elders prophesied, that is, uttered messages God wanted the people to hear.  Joshua is scandalized when Eldad and Medad exhibit the same gift of prophecy and wants Moses to silence them.  Joshua seems to think that Moses will be slighted if the people think there is another source for the gifts than Moses.  Joshua was the trickle down theory to be obvious.  Joshua wanted it to be clear that God gifted Moses and through Moses, the seventy elders received the gift of prophecy.  And it stopped there.  But Moses sees things differently.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the people gave that evidence of God’s influence in their lives and became prophets?

In the gospel, John is upset.  The disciples have been out on a mission and while they were away they saw someone who was not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  John tried to stop him because he thought the man’s actions were scandalous since he wasn’t known to be a disciple.  But Jesus corrects John by telling him that if someone performs good deeds in Jesus’ name he can’t be against Jesus and his disciples.  He has to be for Jesus.  The fact is that if someone acts kindly toward another because that one belongs to Christ the benefactor will be rewarded.  Jesus might tell John something similar to what Moses told Joshua.  John, wouldn’t it be great if everyone started doing heroic deeds in my name?  Could the Kingdom be far away then?  

There always seem to be those who want to control God’s gifts and make it clear that those acting have the blessing of the one in authority.  The actions of those from another group or sect are suspect and not to be encouraged.  By whose authority do you do what you are doing?  Then follows the effort to silence the outsider.  The lesson of Pentecost hasn’t been grasped.  That violent wind and those tongues of fire could not be controlled.  All those caught up in the storm and licked by the fire went out and announced Jesus.  The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills and the result is that those affected change and bring God’s blessings to those in need.  When starving children are being fed and girls are being rescued from prostitution rings, when medicines and serums are stemming the tides of HIV/AIDS and sleeping sickness, when these good things are happening, there ought to be rejoicing regardless of the source.  Good deeds are signs of God working through people to lift up the lowly and embrace all with God’s love.

The gospel text shifts suddenly and the theme is no longer about those who act righteously but becomes a warning to those who give scandal and lead others into sin.  It would be better for one to die than scandalize the vulnerable.  It isn’t clear to whom Jesus is speaking.  He could be talking to the apostles or the leaders among the disciples, those with authority.  He could be speaking to the whole community of believers.  Certainly the message applies to anyone who wields authority over others, be they parents or teachers or pastors or political leaders or anyone else who can say to one, do this and he does it.  All should take their authority seriously and take whatever means necessary to avoid giving scandal.

Jesus’ teaching is grim and should cause the hearer to wince.  Cut off your hand, or cut off your foot, or gouge out your eye if it will cause you to sin.  I don’t think these words are meant to be taken literally.  The point is, be willing to take drastic measures to avoid giving scandal.  Remove from your life anything that gets in the way of your being an effective witness to Christ.  Hell awaits those who don’t.  That’s harsh, I know, but that seems to be what the Lord Jesus is saying.

The second reading from James does not directly relate to the first reading or the gospel.  We’ve been listening to James for several weeks now and this will be the last we’ll hear from him until we return to these B Cycle Sundays three years from now.  What we hear this Sunday seems particularly apt given the state of the economy and the increasing evidence of the growing chasm separating the wealthiest 1% from 99% less endowed and the growing number of impoverished people.  It seems clear what James would say about the so-called American Dream.

Don’t misunderstand.  James is not saying that wealth and finery of themselves are evils.  He would rejoice with those who have if what they have has not become their god, blinding them to the needs of others.  The so-called entitled can ride roughshod over others and create havoc along the way.  The wealthy James is denouncing have gotten where they are by exploiting those beneath them.  They haven’t paid just wages to the workers or done anything to ease their sufferings.  They lived in luxury and pleasure while others languished in abject want.  Read the finance pages and the scandals covered there and you can put contemporary faces on those James excoriates.  Remember the collapse of Enron?  Those at the top walked away with millions while the majority of their employees lost everything.  Banks’ questionable practices seem to have defrauded many from their homes.  Think of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and all those broken by his duplicity.  All the victims cry out and James says that the Lord hears.

Those who believe in Jesus need to hear the message and heed the Church’s Social Gospel.  The wealthy have a responsibility to the poor.  Workers have a right to a just wage.  The vulnerable should be shielded and protected.  First World countries have a responsibility to aid Developing countries, or Third World Countries as they used to be called.  Pope Paul VI said people do not have a right to excess wealth when there are those who are in dire poverty.  From a faith perspective this is so because we belong to one family.  The poor are God’s beloved ones, too.  There is a lot to ponder here, and to pray about.

Where is the answer?  What are we supposed to do?  As Catholic Christians practicing our faith we come together to celebrate Eucharist.  All about us are signs of our unity with each other in Christ.  We are the Body of Christ called to live the Mystery, imitating Christ whose Body and Blood we share.  When we take the Cup and drink from it that is a sign of our willingness to be poured out in service for others the way Christ pours himself out for our salvation.  We must become more obviously a servant church and dare to let the implications of our Baptism and our reception of Holy Communion compel us.

Who knows where the Spirit will lead us?  Who knows what changes the Spirit will inspire us to make?  In these days we need to pause and pray.  We need to plead with God to show us the way.  Fear of hell may be a motivator.  But I believe that the love of Christ is stronger.  Don’t you?

Sincerely,

Didymus

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

We had exchanged greetings as he and his family came into the church for Sunday mass.  His wife walked beside his powered wheelchair.  Sometimes the younger of their two children sat on his father’s lap as they wheeled up or down the ramp of the side entry.

“If you have time one of these days,” he said, “stop by for a cup of coffee.  It would be good to visit with you and talk over some things.”

“One day this week,” I said.  “Will Wednesday early afternoon work?”

I watched as they approached their van and waved as they drove away.   What a great family, I thought.  They always seemed so positive and to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.  A visit will be fine.

When I arrived at their home it was clear that the purpose of the visit was for the two of us to be able to talk.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and his wife took the two children out in the front yard for them to play.  She sat on the porch and watched them as they splashed in a rubber pool.

He was 32 years old and a paraplegic.  Shelves on the wall were filled with trophies and pictures that marked the progress of a young athlete from Little League to college sports.  You could trace the development of his grin also, beginning on the face of a shy 10-year-old and blossoming into the confident, tooth-filled smile of an able-bodied collegian.

We talked about faith in God and faith in Jesus.  He said sometimes he had difficulties with faith and had to fight against doubt especially when he felt himself sinking into depression as he struggled against succumbing to the temptation to feel sorry for himself.  He told me that so many things had been coming his way before the accident.  People who should know had told him he would have a career in professional sports.  He was a gifted athlete and someday he would be a wealthy man able to have at his disposal all the luxuries money could buy.

As someone who has never been accused of being an athlete, such possibilities fascinated me.  He showed me different trophies and autographed pictures of himself with nationally known sports figures.  Each trophy, each picture had a story.  I’ve noticed that athletes can recall significant moments in their games with great precision and vivid detail.  He could do that as if the games in question had been played just hours ago.  He had pictures of himself with priests and nuns.  He said that when he was growing up being a Catholic was important to him.  He never missed Mass on Sunday.  To this day he prays every night before going to bed.

One night during his senior year in university his life changed forever.  He was walking along the street toward his apartment on campus.  Rain fell and it was later than he liked to be out.  He had his hood up as he slogged along.  It never occurred to him to be wary.  The streetlights illumined the way and glinted off the dappled puddles before him.  He liked people a lot and even now can never resist the urge to greet passersby, strangers though they be.  The more distant the presented the bigger the challenge he felt to win them over.  Someone walked up behind him, swung a club and hit him in the small of his back and, as he was falling, hit him on the head.  No warning.  No words.  Days later he woke in a hospital bed in an intensive care unit, paralyzed from the waist down.

Those were terrible days, those first weeks following what he called the accident.  The hardest adjustment for him to make was to being completely dependent and terribly vulnerable.  In the beginning he had hoped his condition was temporal.  Someone would be able to do something to help him get his strength and mobility back.  He was thrilled the first time he experienced phantom pains.  He was sure they meant life was coming back to his limbs.  The phantom pains passed.  Nothing changed.  Sometimes well-meaning people told him he should not give up hope.  They were sure a cure was not far away.

Time passed and hope faded.  One cold night he lay awake in his bed and wept.  He knew he would never walk again.  He would never be an athlete again.  Through his tears he cried out to God, “Where are you?  Why did you let this happen to me?”

We sipped coffee and nibbled chocolate chip cookies while his emotions cooled.

“More coffee?”

“I’m fine.  The cookies are superb.”

He had a way of laughing to ease tensions.  “Imagine,” he said, “I actually blamed God for this.  Then the thought came to me that all this must be my fault and a punishment for having committed some sin that I could no longer remember.  Or maybe I was being punished for sins my ancestors committed.  You know, the sins of our fathers.

“Catholics are good at feeling guilty, aren’t we?  Even though I doubted, I never lost my faith.  Or maybe I should say that after the dark days of depression that preceded my crying jag, I got my faith back.

“I remember the morning.  I had finished my shower and was shaving.  I stopped and stared at my lathered face, my razor poised to square my sideburn.  I rested my elbows on the counter.  As clear as I can hear your voice, I heard a voice within me say, ‘Suffering is part of the journey.’”

He rolled his chair to the window and looked out at his children playing in the pool.  His wife, their mother, had moved closer to the children.  She had a towel in hand just in case.  She looked up toward the house and their glances met.  She waved.  He waved back.

“You know,” he said, “sometimes I wonder about the person who did this to me.  I never saw him.  I never heard the sound of his voice.  I don’t know for sure it was a he.  I suppose an angry woman could have done this to me.  The police never caught the perpetrator.  That’s what they are called, isn’t it?  People who commit crimes like these?  The police never caught him to punish him for what he had done.

I have fantasized about meeting him someday.  When the phone rings and the caller says he dialed the wrong number or hangs up without saying anything, I wonder if it is the culprit suddenly afraid to admit to what he did.  I’d like to think he has a conscience and rues what he did.  He could think about atonement, don’t you think?  I’ve thought about how I would react were he one day to ring the doorbell and introduce himself as the one who changed my life and spoiled the chance for me to achieve most of my dreams.  It isn’t that I long for revenge.  What would punishing him accomplish?  But I would like to ask him why he did this to me.  Because if I knew why, maybe I could forgive him and I would be free.”

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – September 23, 2012

 

The Book of Wisdom 2:12, 17-20

The Letter of James 3:16-43

The holy Gospel according to Mark 9:30-37

 

Sometimes we forget how countercultural Christ’s call to discipleship is.  This Sunday’s readings will confront us and give us an opportunity to examine our consciences, as it were, to see just how authentic our response to that call is.  The readings will also give those Catechumens on their journey toward Baptism and their commitment to discipleship the chance to ask themselves if what Jesus holds up, as the model of discipleship is a life that they want to embrace.

What is so counter cultural about being Jesus’ disciple?  Think for a moment about our cultural values, what is important for most of our fellow citizens.  What is put before children as incentives to pursue excellence in their studies?  Aren’t they challenged from the time they enter grade school to strive to be the best in their class so that they will be able to go to the best high schools?  If they excel in high school they will be able to go to a prestigious university from which they will graduate and secure the best jobs in firms so that they can climb the corporate ladder and, arriving at the top, be Number One again.  Then there will be ample financial remunerations that will allow them to live in splendid mansions, to drive the finest cars, to have servants to tend to their every need, and on and on, to be one of the elite and so have the best that this world has to offer.  Why they could even be president of the United States if they want it bad enough.  Wealth, position, and power – don’t we call all that the realization of the American Dream?

Bring those goals to Jesus.  Dare to ask what he would say about them.  You might be startled at what you find, especially if position, power, and bling are motivating factors in your life.  Are those the carrots dangling before you as incentives in life?  In spite of what you might hear from some of the tele-evangelists, it’s quite clear in this weeks readings that those are not what Jesus promises those who would be his disciples.  None of them was a goal he ever pursued.  Only the will of the Father urged him on to announce the Good News of salvation and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is proclaimed in conjunction with the Passion Narrative during Holy Week, as was last week’s first reading.  It is easy for us to hear the reading and know that the Just One rejected by the wicked is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Just One is rejected precisely because his values and what he preaches are a reproach to the evildoers.  Translate evildoers as those who are in power.  They have heard that the Just One relies on God who is his vindicator.  They want to take him at his word and see whether or not that vindication will come about.  Will God take care of him even if they impose a terrible death on him?

It is reference to that terrible death that opens the gospel.  The Son of Man is to be handed over to people and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.  Translate Son of Man as I.  This is Jesus’ second prediction of his destruction.  Last week, Peter protested the Master’s impending doom.  And you remember Jesus’ rebuking response to Peter.  This week, the disciples hear the dire news and again are shocked into silence.  They were afraid to question him about what they did not understand.  Bear in mind that there have been some rather extraordinary events to which the disciples have been witnesses.  It wasn’t that long ago that they marveled that even the wind and the waves obeyed him.  Remember the feeding of the five thousand?  That was impressive, too, and seemed to indicate that the long awaited Messiah was here.  In the verses immediately preceding this reading, Jesus cast out evil spirits from a mute child.  These extraordinary events seemed to confirm the clear and vivid picture they had of what the Messiah would be like and what he would accomplish and, more importantly, where they would figure in his reign.

Have you ever noticed that when you don’t want to know something you avoid anything that might access the unwanted information?  We joke about putting our heads in the sand, imitating the ostrich.  I don’t know if the ostrich does that or not.  But we do that when we flee from the truth.  The disciples were afraid to question Jesus not because he would be harsh in answering their question but because they did not want to know the veracity of what they were beginning to suspect.  They did not want their dreams dashed on the shoals like a storm-tossed boat.

What follows is curious.  It seems that while the disciples did not dare to question Jesus about his being killed they were not reluctant to discuss his successor.  When Jesus is killed who will be the next to be in command?  That argument occupies them on their way back home.  Good teacher that he is, when they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus confronts the issue.  What were you arguing about on the way?  This time they are not so much afraid as they are ashamed to answer.  Even they seem to be aware of how far such a discussion takes them from the Master’s teaching.

Are you prepared to hear what Jesus says to the Twelve and through them to us?  Those who wish to be first shall be the last of all and the servants of all.  Theoretically that is why the pope is called the servant of the servants of God.  In other words, the higher one climbs in the hierarchy of the church the more obligations of service that one incurs.  And nothing is said about rewards.

Again, good teacher that he is, Jesus uses an example to flesh out his imagery.  We can get all dewy-eyed at the thought of the child placed in the midst of the Apostles.  We cherish children and see hope for our futures in them.  That was not so in Jesus’ time.  Children had no rights.  They had no legal status and could do little on their own.  They were the epitome of the vulnerable.  Make no mistake about it.  If you are called to discipleship you are called to service, not position, not power, not wealth.  In fact each of the three will thwart effective discipleship.

Who has primacy in terms of importance in the community?  The child.  After all, if you receive one child such as this in my name, you receive me; and if you receive me, you receive not me but the One who sent me.  Be careful who dazzles you.  Be careful over whom you fawn.  That may be the biggest indicator of how far you are from being the disciple Jesus has in mind – or how close.  The same can be said for that to which you aspire and why.

All of this says a lot about what our parishes should be like and how countercultural they should be.  It speaks of what people, especially the least significant people and the most despised or shunned should experience as they enter there.  First of all, the parishioners’ experience ought to be one of having their priesthood of the baptized empowered.  Each of the baptized, from the youngest to the eldest, from the strongest to the most infirm, from the wealthiest to the poorest has a capacity for ministry.  That doesn’t mean all have the same ministry.  It means each has a ministry in keeping with the God-given gifts and talents that one has for ministering.  Not all should be lectors.  Not all should be singers.  Not all should be greeters or ushers or Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  But in every parish there are enough with those various charisms and talents to fill those ministries so that they can minister to all who come among them.

In the midst of the Assembly there ought to be seating to accommodate the specific needs of the disabled so that they can be seated in the midst of the assembly, in the midst of their families and friends.  The space should be thoroughly ramped for wheelchair accessability – even to the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist.  Being in a wheelchair ought not render that person incapable of being a lector or Minister of Holy Communion.  None ought to be made to feel embarrassed by his/her disability.  Even someone with Tourette’s sundrome or any other embarrassing disorder ought to feel loved and welcomed in the assembly.  And there ought to be a ministry for him or her to carry out.  Praying for the needs of the Assembly is a ministry.

Years ago, Jean Vanier commented in effect that until our parishes evidenced all types of people, the able and the disabled, the young and the old and the multi ethnic groups that make up society, until then the parish would not be reflective of the Body of Christ.  Our parishes ought to welcome that diversity and recognize it as the blessing that it is.

That is a lot to digest, isn’t it?  If you ask who can do this, who can aspire to be nothing more than a foot-washer, the servant of all, I hope you realize that on one’s own, no one can.  But remember that this is a graced calling, something that begins with God and is empowered by the Spirit.  AS you make your way in the Communion Procession, keep reminding yourself that you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you.  And receiving his Body and drinking his Blood will be all the food you need to strengthen you for the rest of the journey.

Sincerely,

Didymus