Archive for September, 2018|Monthly archive page

THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – SEPTEMBER 30, 2018

A reading from the Book of Numbers 11:25-29
A reading from the Letter of James 5:1-6
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

As is often the case, this Sunday you will notice a shared theme between the first reading from the Book of Numbers and the gospel reading from Mark.  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 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 other than Moses.  Joshua held the trickle down theory to be obvious.  Joshua wanted it to be clear that God gifted Moses.  Through Moses, the seventy elders received the gift of prophecy.  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, it is John who is miffed.  The disciples have been out on a mission.  While they were away, they saw someone who was not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  John had tried to stop him because he thought the man’s actions were scandalous.  He was not known to be a disciple.  But Jesus corrects john by telling him that if someone performs good deeds in Jesus’ name he cannot 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 have told 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 are always 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 has not 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.  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’s working through people to lift up the lowly and embrace all with God’s love.

The gospel text shifts suddenly.  The theme is no longer about those who act righteously; it 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 is not clear to whom Jesus is speaking.  He could be talking to the apostles, or the leaders among the disciples, to those in 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 elicit a gasp from the hearer.  Cut off your hand, or cut off your foot, or gouge out your eye if it will cause you to sin.  I do not think these words are meant to be taken literally, as I remember they were by a young man on a college campus who cut off his right hand.  The point to be heard 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 do not.  That is 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 to the gospel.  We have been listening to James for several weeks now.  This will be the last we will 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 1% wealthy from 99% less endowed and the growing number of impoverished people.  It seems clear what James would say to those presently in charge.

Do not misunderstand.  James is not saying that wealth and finery of themselves are evil.  He would rejoice with those who have if what they have has not become their god, blinding them to the needs of others.  Unfortunately, the so-called entitled can ride roughshod over others and create havoc along the way.  The wealthy that James denounces have gotten where they are by exploiting those beneath them.  They have not 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 faces on those James excoriates.  The present political climate seems to declare that it doesn’t matter how you get to the top or whom you crush to get there, all that matters is that your make it and keep it.  The poor are poor because they do not work hard enough.  Or worse, are poor because God is punishing them for their sins or their parents’ sins.  On the contrary.  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 are known.  Pope Paul VI said people do not have a right to excess wealth when there are those who are in dire poverty.  Pope Francis urges a poorer church to serve the needs of the poor.  From his perspective this is so because we belong to one family.  The poor are God’s beloved ones, too.  This is not a message that some want to hear.  But it is one that the Gospel proclaims.  There is much 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, to imitate 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.

Christ welcomed all to his table to the consternation of those in authority.  So must we.  Again, we must hear Francis remind us that God loves all the human family, be they Muslims, Jews, Christians, or atheists.  And every race, both genders, every orientation, the love of God comes to all through Christ our Lord.

Who knows where the Spirit will lead us?  Who knows what changes the Spirit will inspire us to make?  In these days we must pause and pray.  We must 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 yours in Christ,

 

Didymus.

Advertisements

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – September 23, 2018

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
A reading from the Letter of James 3:16-43
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 9:30-37

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

From time to time we must be reminded that the call to discipleship is counter cultural. This Sunday’s readings confront us and give us an opportunity to examine our consciences so that we can see how authentic our response to that call is.  The readings will give also those one their journey toward Baptism and their commitment to discipleship the opportunity to ask themselves if what Jesus holds up, as the model of discipleship is the life they want to embrace.

 

What is so counter-cultural about being Jesus’ disciple?  Think for a moment about what we put before children as an incentive to pursue excellence in their studies.  Are not they challenged to strive to be the best in their class so that they will be able to go to the best schools, and, upon graduation, secure the best jobs in firms so that they can climb the corporate ladder and, arriving at the top, be Number One again?  Of course there will also 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, and so have the best this world has to offer.  Why they could even be president of the United States if they want it bad enough. Do we not call all that realizing the American Dream?

 

Granted, there are those in the Mega Churches who preach the Gospel of opulence. Come to Jesus and you will be wealthy and successful, all this as a sign of God’s love for you.  And, of course, you must realize that the poor are poor because they are not in God’s favor.

 

Bring those lofty 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 wealth are motivating factors in your life, the carrots dangling before you as incentives in life.  It is quite clear in this week’s readings that those are not what Jesus promises those who would be his disciples.  None was a goal he pursued.  Only the will of the Father urged him on.  And as far as the poor and the outcasts of society are concerned, these were the ones whose company he sought.  These were the ones with whom he practiced table fellowship.  These were the ones who became the source of the condemnation that lead to his crucifixion.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

 

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is used in conjunction with the Passion Narrative during Holy Week.  We hear the reading and know that the Just One rejected by the wicked is Jesus.  He is rejected precisely because his values and what he preaches are a reproach to the evildoers.  Translate that to be a confrontation by 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.  This is Jesus’ second prediction of his destruction.  Last week, Peter protested the Master’s impending doom.  You remember Jesus’ response to Peter.  This week, the disciples hear the dire news and are shocked into silence.  They were afraid to question him about what they did not understand.

 

Bear in mind that there have been some extraordinary events that the disciples have witnessed.  It was not that long ago that they marveled that even the wind and the waves obey him. Remember the feeding of the five thousand?  That was impressive, too, and seemed to indicate that the long awaited Messiah was here.  These events fit with the clear and vivid picture they had in mind of what the Messiah would be like and what he would accomplish.  Then there was the matter of where they would figure in his reign.

 

Have you ever noticed that when you do not want to know something that you avoid accessing the unwanted information?  We joke about putting our heads in the sand, imitating the ostrich.  I do not know if the ostrich does that or not.  But we do when we flee from t he 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 have confirmed what they feared and suspected in their minds. They did not want their dreams dashed on the shoals like the waves in a storm.

 

What follows is curious.  While the disciples did not dare 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 is the argument that 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 an argument takes them from the Master’s teaching.

 

Are we 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 servant of all.  While it has not always been the case, with Francis we can see 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 reward.

 

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 the hope for our future 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 vulnerable.  Make no mistake about it.  If we are called to discipleship we care called to service, not position, not power, and not wealth.  In fact, each of those 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 what you aspire to and why.

 

All of this says much about what the parish should be like and what people, especially the least significant people, should experience as they enter there.  First of all, the parishioners’ experience ought to be one of having their priesthood as 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 does not mean that all have the same ministry.  It means each has a call to 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 the Eucharist. But in every parish there are enough with those various talents to fill those various ministries so that all who come among them can be ministered to.

 

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.  None ought to be made to feel embarrassed by his/her disability.  Even someone with Tourette’s syndrome or any other embarrassingdisability 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.

 

I have just received the news that Emeritus Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen has died. The years that he was the Chief Shepherd in Seattle were glory years in terms of the Gospel.  When we hear the challenges Pope Francis urges on the Episcopacy they were evident in Archbishop Hunthausen.  He came to Seattle with the vision of Vatican Council II.  He lived a simple life, unadorned by splendor.  He drove an ordinary car and lived in an ordinary dwelling.  He was an advocate for the poor.  He called for nuclear disarmament.  He allowed gay Catholic members of Dignity to celebrate liturgy in the Cathedral.  He withheld half his taxes as a protest for peace. Put all that together and you know that not everyone appreciated his witness.  He suffered the humiliation of an investigation by the Vatican and a suspension of part of his faculties as Archbishop.  In time all those were restored and he retired with full dignity. He lived the Gospel challenge that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel.  And we who were there at the time were blessed to have witnessed his pouring out of self for the Gospel.

 

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 pray 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 toward the altar, keep reminding yourself that you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you. And eating his Flesh and drinking his Blood will be all the food you need to strengthen you for the rest of the journey.

 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

 

THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – September 16, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 50:5-9a
A reading from the Letter of James 2:14-18
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 8:27-35

 

Dear Reader,

 

Do you remember the last time you heard the opening verses of today’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah?  Every year it is the first reading proclaimed on Palm Sunday.  The reason should be obvious.  Jesus, in his Passion, is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Suffering Servant.  It is Jesus whose back is beaten and whose beard is plucked.  Jesus does not shield his face from buffets and spitting because he knows the Lord God is faithful to him.

 

There is something in Isaiah’s prophecy that we need to hear and take to heart, something that will become all the clearer when you hear the gospel.  But I do not think the prophecy is comprehended until you find yourself in the dire situation similar to that of the Suffering Servant.  What do I mean by that?  We have become used to this reading, just as we are used to accounts of the Lord’s Passion. Consequently, we are able to distance ourselves and objectify the readings and, at the same time, fail to see their application for our lives.  It is find to pray that such a situation never envelops you, to pray that you are never brought that low.  But just in case that should happen to you, take the readings to heart.

 

When you are powerless to defend yourself, when you are publicly vilified, when your dignity is taken from you and you cannot reclaim it, then you will be in the situation of the Suffering Servant.  When you have nothing but the Lord, then you will understand the confidence of the Servant and why he remains silent and does not shield his face from abuse.  His confidence is that the Lord will exonerate him.  That will be your confidence too, but only when all else has been stripped away.

 

I think of the Ugandan Martyrs in this context.  An irate king put 23 young men to death because they refused his sexual advances on them.  Some of the men were baptized.  Some were Catechumens on their way to Baptism.  All believed in Jesus.  The means of execution was horrific.  One was beaten and left to die by the roadside, where he sang hymns to his last breath.  For the others it was not a swift and sudden death, such as would have happened by beheading or a firing squad.  These men were wrapped in reeds and stretched out on a spit.  The reeds were lit at their feet.  The fire burned slowly up their bodies.  As torturous as this must have been, to a man there was no crying out in anguish or protest.  Each one sang hymns of rejoicing because he knew he was going to see the Lord.  The Lord God is my help; therefore I am not disgraced…He is near who upholds my right.

 

We are at a turning point in Mark’s Gospel.  It has been a remarkable time of late.  Jesus is riding the crest of the wave of celebrity in today’s parlance.  Remember the closing comment from last week’s gospel? He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.  The crowd was amazed at what Jesus said and did.

 

Jesus is looking for faith in those who follow him, but a particular kind of faith. That is why he asks the disciples and Peter what people are saying about him.  Who do people say that I am?

 

This is a people living under foreign rule.  Romans, Gentiles dominate them, rendering them slaves in their homeland. The Jewish people long for a deliverer, one who will drive out Caesar and restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus has been moving through the territory, preaching about the coming Kingdom of God and the deliverance of the poor.  Not only does he preach, but he works miracles as well.  Even lepers are cleansed making it possible for them to ritually clean and able to enter into temple worship.  Some grumble because he associates with and even touches lepers.  Not only that, but Jesus shares table fellowship with prostitutes, tax collectors, and others known to be sinners.  Now, who do people say that I am?

 

Jesus was not the first to come among the Jews and do wonderful things.  Taking all that into account, the disciples tell Jesus that people are drawing remarkable conclusions about him, numbering him among their heroes historic and current, from Elijah to John the Baptist.  The common folk believed that Elijah would return to die before the Messiah would come.  Some had thought John the Baptist was that incarnation.  He was beheaded.  Could Jesus mark Elijah’s return?  That is what the people speculated about.

 

But who do you say that I am?Remember, what others think is not enough, even if they had hoped that Jesus would agree to being either Elijah,  one of the Prophets, or John the Baptist.  It would be easy to wrap one’s mind around one of those concepts.  Peter speaks up and makes a bold statement for the rest of the disciples to hear.  You are the Christ.  The word Christ means anointed one, the one sent by God. The more common term at that time was Messiah.

 

Peter had suppositions about the promised Messiah.  Not only would the Messiah, the Christ, drive out the Romans from Jerusalem, but also he would set up a powerful kingdom and rule it.  Peter could well imagine himself occupying a prominent place in the kingdom, even his being second in command.  After all, he had let everything to follow Jesus. Surely there would be a reward. It was then that Jesus warned Peter and the others who may have nodded their heads in agreement with Peter, not to tell anyone about him.  Notice that Jesus does not deny what Peter proclaimed.  He just tells Peter and the others to keep it to themselves.  Why?

 

The problem is their understanding of Messiah.  The disciples must be led to a new meaning of the term.  The Messiah, the Son of Man, Jesus must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. Had we not heard these words so often and been familiar with the Passion, we would be stunned, too.  With that one sentence, Jesus strips away everything Peter had been convinced Jesus was about to accomplish.  Suffer greatly.  Be rejected by all the important people in their tradition.  Be killed.  Peter and the rest probably did not even hear the part about rising after three days.  What could that have meant, anyway?

 

Notice the word rebuke.  Peter is livid and sharply reprimands (rebukes) Jesus for the scandalous remarks he has made in the disciples hearing.  But there is an immediate turnabout as Jesus rebukes Peter. Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do!  Jesus is not about power or position, about worldly wealth, or lording it over others.  If people follow Jesus they should expect the same things that Jesus endured, even death.

 

Those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow me.  For those who wish to save their lives will lose them; but those who lose their lives for my sake and that of the Gospel will save them.  That is what the Ugandan Martyrs believed. That is why they could sing on their way to and through their executions.

 

What do we hear today?  Doesn’t it become clear that being a disciple of the Lord necessarily involves the Lord’s Cross?  We will hear many more times the directive from Jesus to take up the cross every day if we are going to follow him.  That is not likely to happen literally in our day and age.  What is likely, though, is our willingness to pour out ourselves for others the way Jesus shed his blood for us.  If we wish for anything other than to be feet-washers, servants of the poor and the outcasts of society, the refugees from across the borders, we have not heard Jesus.  Pope Francis echoes this as he pleads for a poorer church that serves the needs of the poor.  Those who are robed in majesty block the image of Christ that is meant to radiate from them.  We have the extraordinary example of Damien of Molokai who rejoiced when he discovered his own leprosy and could then completely identify as a leper with those for whom he spent his life in ministry.  There are countless others who minister in other fields and give their lives in witness to Jesus and the Gospel continuing to the present day. Even if the Church does not canonize them, those among whom they ministered do.  That is how saints were named from the earliest days of our faith history.

 

What about us?  How are we supposed to respond?  Certainly there continue to be those responding to that impetus of grace. They give themselves in imitation of Christ among suffering masses in Africa, Asia, India, Syria, Iraq and Iran, South America, Haiti and Puerto Rico.  And in our own country.  In the process, even if they are murdered, as was Archbishop Oscar Romero as he celebrated Mass, they save their lives.  That is what Jesus promised.

 

James, in the second reading, throws us a lifeline.  Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  He is saying that works of faith, acts of compassion and caring, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, welcoming the outcast, taking a confused, elderly man by the hand and helping him to cross safely to the other side of the street, those who do these things give evidence of faith.  If these acts are done in imitation of Christ, the cross is being taken up and Jesus is being followed.

 

That is why we are a Eucharistic people, a people who gather to celebrate as the Body of Christ, in imitation of Christ, to welcome all, especially those other communities condemn, expel or deny.  We gather and renew Jesus’ dying and rising in Bread and Wine.  We take and eat.  We take and drink – all in memory of Jesus who is in our midst.  We are strengthened by what we do to be sent out to continue the ministry until all have eaten and all have drunk and all know the love of God that come to them in Christ Jesus.

 

Then the Kingdom dawns.

 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus