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REFLECTIONS

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The main person, offered for our consideration, this second Sunday of Advent is John the Baptist.  He is featured next Sunday too.

The prophet Baruch and the prophet John the Baptist speak of preparations being made.  Baruch makes a person out of Jerusalem and gives her preparation guidelines.  John speaks about preparing the way of the Lord.

In the Second reading Paul reminds the Philippians that God has begun a good work in them and will bring it to completion.

This year’s Gospel readings are from Luke’s Gospel.  Luke places God’s salvation coming directly into political history and into the lives of individual people.  Only Luke tells us, “ . . . the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” But first Luke places John in his chronological time, in political time, in religious time and in geographical space.

Luke gives more personality to John than do the other Gospel writers.   He goes into great detail to give the setting into which John comes.  He also gives John’s preaching more content than the other Gospel writers.  We hear some of it this Sunday and more of it next. 

The parallels between John and Jesus are many.  Birth announcements, and birth narratives, both thought to be prophets, both known as holy men, some of their preaching the same (Matthew puts the same words on the lips of John and Jesus:  “Reform your lives! The Reign of God is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2 John, Mt. 4:17 Jesus)  Both were arrested on flimsy grounds, both betrayed, both executed by public officials, both had disciples who after their deaths retrieved their bodies and “laid it in a tomb.”  Both had disciples.

It seems clear that some people thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah.  But though we don’t  read the fire and brimstone preaching of John during the Sunday preparation Masses for Christmas, John is a fire and brimstone preacher:  Lk 3:7-9 “He would say to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him: you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?  Give some evidence that you mean to reform.  Do not begin by saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.  Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And at the end of the passage which we will read next Sunday: “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

We are also reminded of the visual picture painted by Mark and Matthew:  “John was clothed in camel’s hair, and wore a leather belt around his waist.  His food was grasshoppers and wild honey.” (Mk. 1:6)  He is a desert wild man.  His preaching is fire and brimstone.

Even in chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel his disciples are sent to Jesus to ask:  “Are you He who is to come or do we look for someone else?"

I believe that John had read the prophecies (particularly of Isaiah) very selectively.  John emphasized a rigorist and hard Messiah.  Jesus came and ate with sinners.  He was in the company of prostitutes.  He spent time with women.  These actions would have been difficult for John to reconcile with his idea of Messiah.

People came to Jesus and said, “John’s disciples fast frequently and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees do the same.  Yours, on the contrary, eat and drink freely.”

The people of Jesus’ time, who followed even so great a person as John the Baptist had to adjust their ideas of the Messiah-God.


Our ideas of the kind of God we are preparing for this Advent are very important.  Sometimes we make God in our image and likeness.  This Advent calls us to examine our ideas of God. I recently read this quote: "Don't be preoccupied with putting Christ in  Christmas, be preoccupied with putting Christ into Christianity." Aberrant practices of Christianity abound in our time.  Some preach the Messiah as understood by John the Baptist.  Some see President Trump as the 'Chosen one', some preach the prosperity Gospel.  We need to engage the Scriptures which tell us the concerns, values and deeds of Jesus. This Advent calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. We do this by imitating the way of Jesus "who came to serve, not to be served."  What in my life needs to be straightened or leveled or changed?  Our efforts to prepare for the coming of Jesus will allow Jesus to work in our lives the wonders that only the new life in Jesus with his power and grace can bring.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT






Can we recover the authentic sense of Christmas and rescue it from Consumerism?

Remember, Prepare, Live
 
Usually the prophet Isaiah appears in the first reading for the season of Advent.  This year is different.  We will hear from four different prophets: Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah and Micah.
 
This Advent in celebrating the birth of Christ among us we recall that CHRIST HAS COME.  And yet the second reading and the Gospel remind us that CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN.  At every Mass the priest greets us with the words, “the Lord be with you.”  CHRIST IS PRESENT AMONG US.
         
We are called to REMEMBER, Christ has come.
We are called to PREPARE, Christ will come again.
We are called to LIVE, Christ is present.
 
1) The first part of Jeremiah’s life was lived in turbulent times.  He was called to announce and denounce.  He suffered for it.  In his time foreigners came and destroyed the city and the temple.  After this took place his preaching changed.  He began to utter prophecies and promises of hope.  Today’s passage is one of these promises:  “I will raise up for David a just shoot.”  The house of David was thought of as a great huge tree.  But the tree had been cut down.  Only the trunk was there.  It would appear that the trunk was dead, but out of the trunk a shoot would come forth.  The shoot is Jesus.  He came in the past.  We REMEMBER.
 
2) He will come again.  We heard in the Second Reading, " . . . At the coming of  our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”  We also heard in the Gospel,  " . . . The Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory.”  So we believe that Christ will come again.  Protestants speak of this second coming as the Parousia or the Rapture.  Some preachers try to scare us into being good by interpreting signs of the End in our present time. (It seems that many fundamentalist Christians are supporting President Trump because he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  They support this move because they believe it will hasten the end of the World.)  Besides this letter to the Thessalonians that we heard today, Paul wrote a second.  In it he tells the people not to be overly disturbed.  They should not act as some in the community have.  They quit working and went around sponging food.  We do not know when the end will come.  The more important question is:  Will I be ready?  WE PREPARE.



3)  We believe that Jesus lives in our midst.  We believe that he lives in our scriptures, in our Eucharist, in our Communion that we receive.  But we can still live like the people of Thessalonika or those mentioned in the Gospel, “ . . . drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of life . . . ”  St. Paul cautions the people of his time and us, “ . . . that as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more.”  Jesus and Luke tell us in the Gospel, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”  So we are to live in the present Advent season, watching, examining our life, praying to change what needs to be changed.  We strive to make greater progress.  We are journeying with our ancestors in the faith, Jeremiah, the Thessalonians, the community to whom Luke wrote.  We are journeying to Christmas. 
 
SOME AFTER THOUGHTS


The real audience Luke has in mind for the close of this apocalyptic discourse is the church in his own time.  It is members of the church who are in danger of being distracted by the pleasures and business of life so that they cease to wait in joyful expectation for the return of the Son of man. 


The human race will consequently not be destroyed by present wars and tumults, nor by the final cataclysm.  It will abide to meet the Son of man coming in a cloud (21:27) and only then, in the future age, will historical life and the sons of this age be transformed into the life of the resurrection (21:32b; see 20:34-36).
Given these assurances, Christians must look to their present preoccupations.  Dissipation, drunkenness, the cares of this life, indeed all escapist behavior, are altogether inappropriate and will not avert the reality of the end which will spring on those who indulge in these like a snare (21:34).  (from Laverdiere’s commentary on Luke), p 249 

What are the forms of escapist behavior that we can name besides those mentioned in the Gospel?  Alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addiction, consumerism (buy, buy, buy), Masks and games.  John Powell’s book, WHY AM I AFRAID TO TELL YOU WHO I AM, toward the back has a listing of masks that people wear to escape:  Always right, braggart, egocentric (I, I, I),
Messiah (Don’t you think?), the clown (can never be serious), Body Beautiful, flirt, sex bomb, predatory male, Cynic (world going to hell in a handbag), Gossip, Indecisive, Uncertain, Inferiority Complex, Poor mouther, Inflammable (short fuse), Loner, Martyr (poor me), Prejudice and Bigotry (always putting others down), Procrastination, Strong Silent or Willing and Wordy.  We can make our own list.

The Good News is that in each of these escapes there is also the potential for Giftedness. (This is also part of the theory of the Enneagram.)
 
WE HAVE A CHOICE:

“ . . . die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world . . .” 

          OR 
         
“ . . . stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” 
         
Be trapped  OR  be redeemed. 
         
WHAT IS MY STANCE OF WAITING THIS ADVENT?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

CHRIST THE KING

Today is the feast of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday.

1) Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson title their reflection on this Sunday:

"Confronting Empire with the Word"

They end their reflection this way:

As we move through the dark stillness of late autumn, may we live in eager anticipation of the Advent of the Human One, whose kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. May we, like Mary, respond to the angelic invitation to participate in Jesus’ reign by saying, “May it be done to me according to your Word.”

(Every time we pray the Our Father we say, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.") 

2) Another commentator ends her reflections this way:

Now the works of mercy may seem like a tall order but we help bring about the Reign of Christ, with each act of kindness and love, each act of creativity, each act of speaking truth. It is small acts performed in our daily lives that reflect God within us, God who is Love, Creativity and Truth beyond our comprehension. Each prayer and action for more peace, love and justice in our world is the Spirit of God working in us; the Spirit of God working in us to bring about the Reign of Christ.

3)  I personally have been profoundly moved by two books I have read, studied and marked up: The First: 'COME OUT MY PEOPLE' (God's Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond).  The Second: 'EMPIRE BAPTIZED (How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected 2nd-5th Centuries.)  Both were written by Wes Howard-Brook. 

Both of these books distinguish between the "religion of empire" and the "religion of creation."  This distinction is on powerful display under the Trump administration.  An article titled THE DEATH OF CHRISTIANITY speaks to the religion of empire. This appeared in Baptist News Global. The author (Miguel De La Torre professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo.) begins thus: "Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate. To my amazement the author ended by declaring: "As a young man, I walked down the sawdust aisle at a Southern Baptist church and gave my heart to Jesus. Besides offering my broken heart, I also gave my mind to understanding God, and my arm to procuring God’s call for justice. I have always considered myself to be an evangelical, but I can no longer allow my name to be tarnished by that political party masquerading as Christian. Like many women and men of good will who still struggle to believe, but not in the evangelical political agenda, I too no longer want or wish to be associated with an ideology responsible for tearing humanity apart. But if you, dear reader, still cling to a hate-mongering ideology, may I humbly suggest you get saved." The entire article is well worth reading: https://baptistnews.com/article/death-christianity-u-s/#.WhnapVWnGM8    

There is a clear distinction between the religion of empire (some would call it the religion of Satan) and the Kingdom of God or the reign of Christ.  Matthew’s Gospel tells of the separation of the sheep and goats. On clear display are the list of what we will be judged on:

'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. 
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink? 
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? 
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'
Then they will answer and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.'
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."

 Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The first and third readings of Today’s Mass use language which is described as “apocalyptic”.  We are only hearing a few verses of chapter 13, a chapter that must be read together.  We are coming to the End of the Church year.  In this chapter Jesus speaks of the End of the Temple and of the End of Times.
 
In this Chapter 13 (kind of a) sermon Jesus:  1) speaks in veiled terms of trials and difficulties the disciples (the community) will endure.  In all probability Mark’s community was already experiencing these realities.  2) (Jesus) proclaims a vision of the future that belongs to the Lord of Glory, “the Son of Man will indeed come” vs. 26, 27. 3) Jesus urges a call to vigilance, alertness.

Jesus first predicts the destruction of the Temple.  This destruction which took place in 70 A.D. was in a certain manner, the “end” of the Jewish world.  It therefore was not difficult to pass from the end of “a” world to the end of “the” world.  This is similar to what happens to us at times.  When our hurting is very powerful, it seems like everything is falling apart.  Things seem darker.  We get disoriented.   We may even wish for the end of everything. 

The disciples had questioned Jesus, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?”  Their question appears to be asking directly about the destruction of the temple.  In Matthew the second part of the question is phrased quite differently:  “and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age.”


By the end of Mark’s chapter 13 Jesus tells us:  “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” vs. 32,33.  Mark is now clearly talking about the end of the age.   And when that will happen, no one knows, only the Father.  But Jesus advice applies to us as well, constant vigilance.


The second part of the disciples question is:  “what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?”  Jesus answer seems to include more than the destruction of the temple.  He responds with images which come from early prophetic tradition (Isaiah) and the apocalyptic tradition as found especially in the book of Daniel.  The central message is very precise.  That which will come to pass at the end is simply the definite triumph of the Son of man and all those who have remained faithful.  It is a message of life and hope.  There will be an end.  This end will supply the definitive coming of the kingdom of God.  The good and the bad therefore are not equally powerful.  The last word of history is the triumph of the Son of Man.


Jesus message about “the end of the world” is a double message:  it is an announcement of our finiteness (I am limited and my life is journeying toward death) and it is also an announcement of hope (good will triumph over evil, God will triumph over those who oppose his emphasis on life).  Am I in agreement with this message?  Do I integrate into my life this dimension of finiteness, of my relentless journey toward death while living this life?  Am I living my life while clinging to the Cause which will finally triumph, i.e. Life? Pope Francis has said: "This is not an era of change, this is a change of era." This gives a sense of urgency to recall our finiteness (limitations) and hope (good will triumph over evil.)

My friend Fr. Sebastian Muccilli sent me this prayer/meditation which he prayed daily as he aged.  It comes from The Divine Milieu by Teilhard de Chardin, SJ:


"Now that I have found the joy of utilizing all forms of growth to make you, or to let you grow in me, grant that I may willingly consent to this last phase of communion in the course of which I shall possess you by diminishing in you . . . ."

"After having perceived you as he who is 'a greater myself', grant, when my hour comes, that I my recognise you under the species of each alien or hostile force that seems bent upon destroying or uprooting me.  When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind); when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me; when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old; and above all at that last moment when I feel I m losing holf of myself and am asolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God grant that I may understand that it is you (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself."

 
GOD FATHER AND MOTHER OF THE COSMOS, OF THE EARTH, OF HUMANITY:  YOU ARE THE MYSTERIOUS ORIGIN OF THE STARS, AND THE CERTAIN END OF THE UNIVERSE, GIVE US A HEART SENSITIVE TO UNDERSTAND HOW LITTLE OUR LIFE IS AND A HEART THAT WILL BE ANIMATED TO BE PUT AT THE SERVICE OF LIFE WHICH YOU ARE AND TO WHICH YOU CALL US.  WE ASK THIS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Two unnamed widows are featured in the readings today.  They are offered to us as persons who are examples of generosity.  From the little they have to survive on they are willing to give. Yet in the Gospel Mark places two incidents together which give us something more to think about.

In the first part of the Gospel we have some of Jesus’ strongest words in condemnation of those who love to walk about in long robes, love greetings in the marketplace, and love the first bench in the synagogues and the first couches at dinners.  The scribes are caricatured as wishing special privilege and status at every stage of social life.  These are hard words.  But the words get even harder.  “They devour the houses (estates) of widows and, as a pretext recite, lengthy prayers.”  Jesus says of them:  “They will receive a very severe condemnation.” 

Protection of orphans and widows was according to the Jewish religion to be a special concern of all.  The widows (who are a socially vulnerable class in this male oriented society) are exploited while the scribal class is further endowed.  Some have said that Jesus debunks scribal piety because it is simply a thin veil to conceal their economic opportunism and exploitation.  Mark tells us their prayers are a pretext.  The site of scribal prayer is the temple, and the cost of this temple is devouring the resources of the poor.

When my mother became ill and I began paying her bills and opening her mail I felt that I was in contact with a similar phenomena.  How many appeals my mother received from so many causes?  So many of them arrived under the shield of being religious causes. Jesus criticizes "piety" as a mask for "robbery."

One scripture scholar has said of this Gospel passage:  “The story does not provide a pious contrast to the conduct of the scribes in the preceding section (as is the customary view); rather it provides a further illustration of the ills of official devotion.  Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament¼Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.”  In this interpretation the Temple is robbing her of her very means of livelihood. He considers this an example of "the devouring of a widow's house."  The Temple, like the scribal class, no longer protects the poor, but crushes them.  In this context Jesus words are seen as a lament not as praise. Recently there was a post about the wealth of some prominent preachers.  To me the numbers were staggering. I think Jesus' words apply here as well: Jesus criticizes "piety" as a mask for "robbery." There continue to be "ills of devotion's".

We know we are living in an aging society.  How many of you have received from AARP an application for membership when you were just 50?  In our political campaigns the issues of the elderly are prominent: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, cost of medicines, etc.  We even have a national collection to seek financial aid for the communities of nuns who have an aging membership with few new recruits and sources of income.  This is also a reality for priests.  Our bishop has an annual dinner to seek funds for the retired priests.

Each of us needs to reflect on the elderly in our midst.  What are their needs and how are we treating them?  We must first examine how we personally are treating them.  How are we doing as a parish in showing concern for our elderly?  What could we improve? 

But how are our social institutions (Adult Day care, SunGlo, TLC, etc.) treating them?  How are our health care facilities treating them, our doctors’ offices and doctors, our home health care groups, our hospitals, our clinics?  How is our government treating them, local government, our county government, our state government and our federal government?

That our elderly are generous is a given for most of us.  But that’s not enough.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday’s Gospel takes place after Jesus has finished his journey on the “Way” and he has arrived in Jerusalem.  Jesus enters the city not as a pilgrim, but rather as a popular king.  He receives the acclaim of the crowds.  But this entrance is immediately followed by a series of conflicts.  Today’s Gospel is the culmination of this series.  But it is a bit ambiguous.  Is the scribe who comes to Jesus hostile to him, as were the Pharisees and some of the Herodians who tried to trap him, or the Saducees who came to challenge him? 

The key to the Gospel is Jesus’ answer to this scribe. Jesus gives his answer to the question ""Which is the first of all the commandments?" But then Jesus adds something no one has asked him "The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. He brings together two widely separated commands (the first is found in the book of Deuteronomy, the second in the book of Leviticus).  While each of these is warmly commended by the Rabbis, so far as is known no one save Jesus has brought them together.  Surprisingly the scribe not only appears to agree wholeheartedly with Jesus’ assessment but reinforces it with allusions to the scriptures that give priority to obedience over the Temple cult.  The scribe is willing to go this far.  Jesus recognizes that he is “thoughtful” (he answered with understanding).  The scribe has intellectually grasped what Jesus has said.  Though Jesus praises his understanding, he does not invite him to follow him.  The reason is that the scribes are committed to a system that oppresses. According to Mark's narrative, exploitation is precisely what is perpetuated by the system the scribes uphold. The sovereignty of God demands more than orthodoxy and intellectual assent;  there must be the practice of justice. The risk of perverting life by living a selfish religion is always great. "The love of God which excludes the neighbor comes down to a lie.  If we do not love our neighbor, we do not love the Father of all." It would seem to me that those who proclaim the "prosperity gospel" are attempting to live with this contradiction. I read a post recently that said "don't proclaim: 'put Christ back into Christmas' but: 'put Christ back into Christianity.' In a scathing article a disgusted Evangelical Scholar, Berny Belvedere, explains how political operatives have managed to slip new ideas into the evangelical belief system--such as a staunch belief in unfettered capitalism--that are nowhere to be found within the Bible. "Within American conservative Christianity, what these leaders do is funnel biblical content, cultural distinctives, and national tropes in a mix that ordinary believers imbibe as what it means to be authentically Christian. . . . And it is this essential corruption of the basic tenets of Christianity that have opened the door for evangelicals to embrace Trump.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 


 
   

 

 

 
 
 
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