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REFLECTIONS

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
In today's Gospel we hear from the 10th chapter of
Matthew, his mission discourse.  In the course of this discourse he has
been sending the apostles to continue his mission, but also telling them
they will experience rejection as he did. 
 
In the first reading we hear from Jeremiah on his living of the
mission he received from God.
 
The book of the prophet Jeremiah is a long one and a bit
difficult to follow.  It is comprised of some biographical material
about Jeremiah but also puts together his preaching and oracles.  When
Jeremiah was called he was a reluctant prophet.  He protested that he
was too young.  But he did accept this mission.  When he preached he
called for the people to turn from the false gods and return to Yahweh. 
He didn't experience a pleasant reception.  People threw him down a
well, put him in prison, in stocks, mocked and derided him.  He told God
that he wished he had never been born.  He wanted to give up his
preaching mission but said that once he decided this he felt a burning
in his bones that he could not resist.  He did arrive at a point of
today's gospel when he retained confidence in God despite opposition.
Jeremiah is a man of powerful emotions and poetic expressions.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us not to be afraid.  He states that the
Gospel will triumph.  He tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill
the body but not the soul.  He has concern for the sparrows who are sold 
very cheaply.  Not even one of them falls to the ground without God
knowing of it.  We are worth more than a whole flock of sparrows.  He
also tells us that our hairs are numbered.  We should not be afraid but
then he tells us words that can make us afraid.  If we acknowledge him
he will acknowledge us before the Father, if we deny him, he will deny
us before the Father.  He is a God of love and mercy but also of
justice.

During this month of the Sacred Heart we can understand Jesus under
the title of the Sacred Heart.  The founder of the Priests of the 
Sacred Heart (SCJs) Fatheer Dehon invites us to
not just look at the pierced heart of Jesus, but to enter into it.

Have we ever suffered for living out the gospel or Jesus values?  I
remember turning down an offer of a membership in a country club in
Mississippi .  This country club  would not admit black people.  I remember
taking a special interest in a group of people that were considered
thieves and gypsies. Some people did  not like that.  I remember
preaching what I thought was the Gospel and people leaving that church
for another.  There is a cost of discipleship.  There is also the danger
of preaching our own selfishness and not the teaching of Jesus. 

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

(I have been following the meditations of Fr. Jose A. Pagola.  His meditation on this feast says so many of the things I experience and have tried to say.  Pardon my reproducing his meditation for this Sunday.)

Sociological studies point out with hard facts that Christians in Western countries are giving up Sunday Mass.  The structure that the celebration of Mass has acquired over the centuries is no longer capable of nourishing the faith of people or bringing them to bond with the community of Jesus.


The surprising thing is that we are allowing the Mass to be lost to us without this fact causing hardly any reaction among us.  Isn’t the Eucharist the center of Christian life?  How can we remain passive without being able to take any action?  Why does the hierarchy remain silent and stuck?  Why don’t we believers express our concern and pain more forcefully?


The dislike for the Mass keeps growing even among those who unconditionally take part in it in a responsible manner.  It is the exemplary fidelity of these minorities that sustains communities, but can the Mass continue to survive based on preventive measures to assure compliance with the present rite?


Inevitably these questions must be asked:


Does not the church at the center need an experience of a livelier and culturally adapted supper of the Lord than the present liturgy provides?

Are we so sure that we are doing today what Jesus wished us to do in memory of him?



Is the liturgy we have been repeating for hundreds of years the best way to help believers live what Jesus lived in that unforgettable supper in which is concentrated, recapitulated and manifested what he lived and died for?


Is it what can most draw us to live as his disciples at the service of his project of the kingdom of God?

Today everything seems to be working against the reform of the Mass.  Yet reform seems more necessary than ever if the church wishes to live in vital contact with Jesus.  It will be a long journey.  The change will come about when the church feels an urgent need to remember Jesus and live by his Spirit.  For that, even now, it will be most responsible not to absent ourselves from Mass, but to contribute to the conversion to Jesus Christ.

 

TRINITY SUNDAY

TRINITY as revealed in the Creed by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson


For years I have found myself wondering what Catholics receive from the recitation of the Creed at Mass.  Most of my experience is of people rattling through the Creed perfunctorily.  Therefore I found it fascinating that in a talk to the two major organizations of women (LCWR) and men (CMSM), Sister Elizabeth Johnson gave a talk titled “The Banquet of Faith” (8/2/2008)   This talk was structured around the Creed.
           
She began with a brief look at the opening words “We believe”.  She then reflected on the creed’s three affirmations 1) “We believe in one God”; 2) “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ”; 3) “We believe in the Holy Spirit”.  The talk in written form consists of 8 single space pages.  But I doubt very much whether anyone was looking at their watch as she proceeded.  I will simply quote some of her reflections.


1)    “We believe in one God” creator of heaven and earth of all things visible and
invisible. “In the thirteenth century, the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure observed this sharply:  ‘Whoever is not enlightened by the splendor of created things is blind; whoever is not aroused by the sound of their voice is deaf; whoever does not praise God for all these creatures is mute; whoever after so much evidence does not recognize the Maker of all thing, is an idiot.’ This relationship of creation sets up the sacramental principle, whereby God’s gracious presence is communicated through visible things.

I think Elizabeth must have already in 2008 been doing research for the book that came out in March of 2014, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love.  She spends extensive time and space telling of various contemporary scientific discoveries that bring exciting insights about creation and its Maker. She then states, “When theology dialogues with this scientific story, at least two major insights emerge. First, we see that the Maker of heaven and earth is still in business. . . . .This story of continuous creative action leads to a second crucial realization.  Far from being created merely as an instrument to serve human needs, the natural world enjoys its own intrinsic value.

2)    “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” . . . When theology dialogues with thegospel story of Jesus, at least two major insights emerge.  First the following of Jesus raises up a terrific countercultural challenge.  . . . This reading of the ministry of Jesus and its implications is giving rise in theology to a second insight regarding his death.  One of the worst theological ideas to take hold about this event is that God needed and even wanted the sacrifice of Jesus’ death in order to forgive human sin. This idea gained legs in the 11th century when the theologian Anselm of Canterbury crafted the so-called satisfaction theory to prove the necessity of the cross . . . . Today, criticisms of this idea that God required the death of Jesus in order to forgive sin are many.  Among them: it makes it seem that the main purpose of Jesus’ coming was to die, thus diminishing the importance of his ministry and ignoring the resurrection.”

 3)    “We believe in the Holy Spirit” . . . When theology dialogues with this neglected tradition of the life giving Spirit, many insights emerge.  We focus here on two, having to do with anger and grief.  Regarding the first, to zero in on our own situation, I will focus on the church.” She illustrates with the example of what happened to moral theologian Charles Curran who was condemned as a Catholic theologian and fired from his faculty position.  She states, “Forgiving does not mean condoning harmful action, or ceasing to criticize and resist them.  But it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred.”  (In March 2011 the USCCB Committee on Doctrine condemned her book Quest for the Living God. )  “A second insight from this course of the feast addresses our grief, grief at the loss of beloved persons, of personal energies, of cherished patterns of life. . . . In the end, the Spirit moves again in a new act of creation that carries persons through their earthly perishing into new life.  …hope in eternal life for oneself, others, and the whole cosmos is not some curiosity tacked on as an appendage to faith, but is faith in the one living God brought to its radical conclusion.

The entire address can be found here:http://www.cmsm.org/forum/forum_fall08_banquet.html   

 

PENTECOST

(Adapted from a previous post: 2015)


“Breathe gently on her face.” This was the advice my sister gave me many years ago when I could not comfort my inconsolable newborn daughter. 


I did what my sister suggested and was as startled by my baby’s response as she apparently was by my breath. Her crying stopped, and she inhaled, deeply. I might have imagined it, but I recall being rewarded with a squishy little newborn smile. Amazing. My breath calmed her.


Any new parent knows that some infants continue to cry even after every possible need has been taken care of. Babies cry. It’s what they do. Unless there is some kind of health problem, newborn crying may just be related to the developing central nervous system; some experts suggest that parents should, on occasion, allow an infant to “cry it out.”


I was convinced that my daughter’s distress was more about her adjustment to life outside my womb, so I carried her in a baby sling wrapped tightly against my chest. Now it seemed that my breath had the ability to calm her as much as the warmth my body and the sound of my heart did.


I later learned that this breathing technique is used in “water babies” swimming classes to teach infants how to take a deep breath and hold it. I’m sure there is a physiological reason for this response, but I believed my ability to calm my newborn daughter with my breath had less to do with science and everything to do with her recognition of me through it.


The breath and its cosmic cousin, wind, have a significant presence in the Bible, and for Christians, no day expresses the power of both more than the feast of Pentecost, the day on which Jesus’ Holy Spirit was poured out onto the disciples.


The Christian Liturgy for the feast of Pentecost includes two distinct accounts of this event: one is dramatic and fiery, and the other is quiet and instructive. In both instances, the disciples were in Jerusalem, together in one place, grieving their beloved friend, Jesus.


The first account comes from the Acts of the Apostles. It takes place after  Jesus’ ascension, seven weeks after the Passover on the festival of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, which commemorates Yahweh’s giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.


The second account comes from the Gospel of John. It describes the first appearance of the risen Jesus to the group of disciples “on the evening of the first day of the week” following his death. Recall that the grief-stricken, and confused disciples were hiding in fear for their lives after having witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion just days before [John 20:19-23].


In Acts, the appearance of the Holy Spirit is described metaphorically. For example, the disciples experience a noise like a driving wind that filled the house and, what appeared to the disciples to be tongues of fire parting and resting on every person. In John’s Gospel, there is no metaphor. Jesus simply appears. He stands in their midst and says, “Peace be with you,” and after showing them his wounds, Jesus breathes on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.”


The symbols of noise, wind, fire and breath would not have escaped the attention of Jesus’ disciples, nor would they have gone over the heads of John’s or Luke’s astute readers. Fire is a Judaic symbol for the Torah, the written law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Also, the Rabbinical interpretation of the Moses event describes Yahweh’s voice as looking like a “fiery substance” which then split into seventy languages.[1] Further, a noise like a driving wind recalls the great theophany which announced Yahweh’s appearance to Moses [Exodus 19:16-19]. These shared symbols served as links between the disciples’ Pentecost experience and the Moses event and pointed to the manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit in a new time and place.

Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in John’s gospel, although calm and reassuring, has the same powerful effect as the wind and flames in Acts. Jesus breathed on the disciples, and with his breath and accompanying words, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus renewed, reassured, and empowered his disciples to go out in the world, to do what he had done, and to be what he had been.


Recall the second creation story in Genesis where God blows the breath of life (Ruah) into the nostrils of the man:


Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. —Gen 2:7


For Jesus’ disciples, the communities for whom Luke and John wrote, and all Christians ever since, Jesus’ act of breathing mirrors the creation: He gives new life.

In both accounts, the disciples responded with joy and readiness. Acts describes the disciples’ realization of their ability to preach the Good News in a manner that transcends language barriers. They go out and “speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” [Acts 2:4]. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ gift of the Spirit sends the disciples, now renewed and empowered, out in the world to fulfill the mission for which he chose them. With this, the church was born.

The memory of my inconsolable newborn daughter being calmed and reassured by my breath makes me wonder what it felt like for the disciples to have the risen Jesus breathe on them. I wonder what it would be like to have Jesus breathe on me today. I hope that I would recognize him. Do we recognize the breath of the one who gives us new life?


[1] Rabbi Moshe Weissman, author of “The Midrash Says”


Reflection by: Dave Jackson

 

ASCENSION

The conclusion at the end of Luke’s Gospel contains a surprise. “While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”24:51.


Why were they full of joy at his definitive departure? They are obviously convinced of a new presence of Jesus.  He has a new manner of presence with them.

This feast teaches us about our final destiny and our present mission.  Our final destiny is union with the Risen Lord with his Father in the glory of heaven.  Our present mission is to bear witness to the Word of God.


Jesus came into the world, was born, lived, suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended into glory.  In his glory with the Father he sent the Holy Spirit.  We too have been born, live, suffer, will die, share in Christ’s resurrection and go to our glory too.  For too many people birth, life, suffering and death are experiences apart from God.

St. Paul writing to the Christians of his time, prayed: “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what the hope that belongs to his call is, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe in this age but also in the one to come.”


For St. Paul life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ was special.  Life with Jesus was like light, life without Jesus is like darkness.  We are called to know this life with Jesus; we are called to know his light and life.


Jesus said “Wait for the fulfillment of my Father’s promise, of which you have heard me speak.  John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,.”  the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  If someone were to ask you if you have been baptized, you would say yes.  Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?  The Acts of the Apostles speak several different times about baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We know that heaven, glory, being with God is our final destiny.  But sometimes we are like the apostles in the first reading of today.  We sometimes “stand looking up at the skies.”  The apostles are told, “This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw him go up into the heavens.”  Like the Apostles then we must be about our present mission.  We should not be overly concerned about the time of the Second Coming of the Lord.  We should be concerned about receiving “power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.”  Isn’t that something?  We who are gathered here have received this witness going all the way back to Jesus and the Apostles.  We too are to be witnesses of Jesus in our own time and in our own city. Pope Paul VI said, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."  Pope Francis has repeated these words.  We too are to know the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our final destiny is not yet.  We are a pilgrim church, a people on the way.  We will experience in our life, sufferings, disappointments, discouragement, mistrust, broken promises, frustrations, etc.  All of this will continue to be part of our life.  We are “not Yet” at our final destiny.  We must look forward in hope to the time of glory when every tear will be wiped away and we will see you our God as you are.  We realize that eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it entered into our hearts the things God has prepared for those who love him.  But we must not stand gazing heavenward to the detriment of carrying out our witness in the world today.  Besides our final destiny, being a Christian means living in the here and now. We are to live in contact with Christ ascended.  We are to work for the building up of Christ’s body.  We are to love one another.  We are to receive the power of the Holy Spirit for this work.  Let us ask God to help us to prepare for the Feast of Pentecost.  Let us ask God to send the Holy Spirit into our lives.  May we be strengthened for our present mission of witnessing and look forward with hope to our final destiny.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

A friend of mine began his homily for this Sunday (6 years ago) with these words: "For me, personally, Jesus never spoke more tender, affirming, and consoling words than the one's we hear in today's gospel when he addresses his disciples before his execution.  Those words are now addressed to us, his disciples here and now: "I will not leave you orphans."  He went on to point out "Parents are those who give us roots of security."  He experienced this reality while working in Haiti at the clinic hospice that he helped to establish for orphaned and abandoned children.  This was before the recent earthquake death and devastation.

"I will not leave you orphans . . . " My friend continues: Jesus so understood the potential dynamic of being present to his disciples, his "little children," as he called them, with the immanence of his pending execution.  It's a dynamic none of us should ever forget in our life  Christ followers, students of the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.  There isn't any one of us  here that deserves to be abandoned at any time in our journey through life.  It's the primary reason for the church, for us to be in relationship to one another, and not just Eucharistically.  The Eucharist should remind us of our responsibility to one another and our need for each other while it pronounces the sacred text over and over in our hearts and heads, "I will not leave you orphaned . . . "  It also provides us with the dictum to see to it that justice is accomplished in our world for the sake of those who are bereft of work, or health, or medication, or home, or food, or family, or friends . . . . Revenge is the ugly American sin and our culture is steeped in violence.  Note the movies and play station antics and cartoon magazines our young people are subject to.

To me it was a sign of hope that over 70 theology teachers sent a letter to John Boehner, speaker of the house of Representatives, decrying his budget cut proposals as "Anti Life."

Each of us may be called this day to decide what we can do to make sure that the many orphans in our world are not left without supportive Christians who live out the commission we have received from Jesus.


Jesus tells his apostles and us: "Whoever has my commandments and observes them, is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."

Do you want Jesus to be revealed to you?  He tells us how.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson