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Gospel Reflection for August 31, 2014, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 Aug

“Those who want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16.24

Jesus recommends denying oneself and taking up our crosses in Sunday’s gospel.  This saying packs Jesus’ whole life into a single sentence.  Jesus does not follow God’s will only in carrying the cross.  He comes among us to heal and reveal God’s nearness and love.  He lives his mission throughout his life, even unto death.

How do we imitate Jesus’ self-giving in our lives?  Slowly, over a lifetime, I’d say.  I resist a call to martyrdom. Most of us today see no need to invent suffering.  We give our energies daily to work and family commitments.  Young parents exhaust themselves with round the clock care for a new child.  Older spouses care for one another through doctors’ appointments, blood draws, and treatments in sickness.  Daily we give ourselves in loving one another.

In what ways has giving of your life helped you find you life?

 

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Gospel Reflection for August 24, 2014, 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

20 Aug
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Matthew 16.13


What are people saying about me?  Jesus’ question is a brave one.  It’s a great interview question for potential employees.  What do your colleagues or clients say about you?  What are you proud that they say about you?

Jesus’ question to his first disciples echoes down the centuries.  Who do we say Jesus is?  A prophetic reformer who hopes to breathe life into the legalistic religion of his day?  A revolutionary whose incendiary preaching catches him in the crushing gears of empire?  Is he the greatest party giver ever who invites everyone to come to his banquets?  Is Jesus the omega point in whom all creation will converge?

What do people say about you that indicates they see you are a Christian?

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Gospel Reflection for August 17, 2014, 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12 Aug

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15.26

 

Perhaps it is the rudeness of Jesus’ words that impels Matthew to edit Mark’s earlier version of this story.  Matthew provides a reason for Jesus’ refusal to help this Gentile woman, whose daughter is tormented by a demon.  Jesus’ mission is solely “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew also makes the woman clearly a believer.  She addresses Jesus as messiah, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Her faith is the reason Jesus frees her daughter and includes her in his mission.  Matthew makes specific that the table from which the woman seeks crumbs is the messiah or master’s table.

In Mark the woman sasses back when Jesus refuses to free her daughter of an unclean spirit and refers to her as a Gentile dog.  The woman says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  It is for saying that Jesus frees her daughter.

She counters the prejudice against her with the truth of her experience.  Unlike Jews for whom dogs were unclean, this Gentile woman has dogs as well as children at her table.  Her comeback makes space for all.

What boundaries or prejudices have you encountered and broken down?

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Gospel Reflection for August 10, 2014, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

6 Aug

“Lord, if this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14.28

Two spiritual heroes walk with doubt and despair in Sunday’s scripture readings.  Both the apostle Peter and the prophet Elijah live and lead in unsettled times and experience questions we are asking today.  Where is God in this mess?  Where is Jesus in this cross wind?

When Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea near his boat, he puts Jesus to a test.  “If this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come.”  Stepping into the water and the future requires faith for Peter and all who follow.  Boldly Peter steps out of the boat, outside the comfortable circle of friends and disciples.  Immediately strong head winds and great waves frighten Peter and he falters, crying out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus reaches out his hand.

Where are you in over your head?  What are you crying out about? 

Gospel Reflection for August 3, 2014, 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

31 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13.44


As a teaching method, Jesus repeatedly explores the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to real life stories and concrete images.  A parable links the daily and familiar with the mystery of God that is beyond all knowing.  This means our experience cracks open the door to they mystery of God.  It means we encounter God is our daily life.

To make Jesus known, to evangelize, Pope Francis challenges us to create a new language of parables in his exhortation Joy of the Gospel, “Be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word and different forms of beauty that are valued in different cultural settings (#167).

To what in your experience might you compare the kingdom of heaven?

 

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Gospel Reflection for July 27, 2014, 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

23 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good in buckets.  What is bad they throw away.

Matthew 13.47-48


Matthew never knows when to quit.  Rather than end his chapter full of parables with the promise of a hundredfold yield or with the farmer and merchant who find their treasure, Matthew includes in chapter 13 the story of a net full of fish that need sorting.  Perhaps the Christians for whom he wrote are sorting themselves out.  Some choose to open their hearts as good ground to receive Jesus’ word.  Perhaps some cannot see in Jesus a treasure worth their lives and wholehearted commitment.

Jesus’ parables don’t boss us.  Instead parables challenge us to work on what they reveal about ourselves.  They call us to throw out the useless in our lives and embrace all that gives life.

What treasure do you seek?  What does it reveal about you?

 

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Gospel Reflection for July 20, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 Jul Photo via flickr user Digital Temi

Master, did you not sow good seed in your fields?  Where did these weeds come from?

Matthew 13.27

Life takes time; God’s reign will take time.  In the end God’s wisdom is not human wisdom.  Some apparent weeds may be flowers.  The smallest of seeds may yet grow into a plant that provides hospitality for many creatures.  Leaven may be slowly transforming the world even though human eyes cannot see it working.  Such are the mysteries of the reign of God in the human heart and in all creation.

What weeds do you notice most in others? What weeds do you notice most in yourself?

Gospel Reflection for July 13, 2014, 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

9 Jul

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

Matthew 13.8

Jesus’ parable of the sower is prophetic but the promised yield doesn’t happen within the gospel.  There Jesus’ teachings fall on path, rocks, and weedy patches where the seeds fail to flourish.  The disciples who flee when Jesus is arrested are like the seeds on the path that the birds eat.  They vanish.  Peter, whose name means Rock, is like the rocky ground where the seeds grow up quickly and gets scorched for lack of soil in which to root.  The rich young man of Matthew 19.16-23 is like the seeds sown among thorns.  The lure of wealth spoils his yield. Only after his resurrection do Jesus words sown in the lives of his disciples take root and grow.

What has hearing the gospel yielded in your life?

Gospel Reflection for July 6, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

3 Jul

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11.28

The rest that Jesus offers has its origins in Sabbath, the seventh day on which God rests and enjoys all that has unfolded in the six days of creation.  Sabbath and rest are a pause to appreciate all that is, to appreciate the living God in our evolving world.  Rest is willingness to relax in the mystery of God as a swimmer floats in the bouyancy of water.  Rest is stopping to let indescribable beauty soak in.  Rest frees the imagination to sight heaven’s edge on the horizon.  Rest is existing in right relationship with all that us, acknowledging ourselves and all that is as gift, welcoming and blessing even the least among us.

Where do you find rest and experience the mystery of God?

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Take a Step Toward Jesus

2 Jul Joan Mitchell, CSJ
via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

 

by Joan Mitchell, CSJ

In Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis writes as a person who practices the Ignatian spirituality of the Jesuit society to which he belongs.  St. Ignatius teaches that an examen of consciousness is a daily prayer too basic to skip.  His method involves taking time each day to identify people and events that excite and energize us, and conversely, encounters that haunt us with regrets or fears.  An examen concludes with asking God’s help and expressing gratitude for God’s gifts.  Over time this simple practice helps the gospel transform how we live our everyday lives and makes us evangelizers who attract others.

In his recent exhortation Pope Francis calls us “to proclaim the gospel without excluding anyone, without imposing new obligations; rather to share our joy, point to a horizon of beauty and invite others to a delicious banquet” (14).  He testifies to his experience of joy in Jesus in the first 24 paragraphs of his exhortation.  Take a step toward Jesus; he’s already there (3).

The pope’s call sounds like the experience of our first Sisters of St. Joseph, who describe themselves as “seized by God’s love.”  They were responding to the preaching of our Jesuit founder Father Pierre Medaille, awakening to the difference they could make among the multitudes of people who are poor in France in 1650.

“We become fully human when we become more than human,” Francis says, “when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being” (8).

The first time I read Joy of the Gospel, I could hardly believe Pope Francis cites so many verses I have prayed and lived.  For example, for those suffering, he suggests two of my favorites from the Old Testament book of Lamentations.  This book vividly describes the ruined city of Jerusalem, then ends with the verses that helped me survive my mother’s death:

The steadfast love of God never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new each morning.
So great is God’s faithfulness” (Lamentation 3.22-23).

Our new pope comes from a new social location, not Europe, not a first world country.  He shows not only a Latin American sensibility for beauty and joy but a voice sharply critical of global capitalism that leaves vast numbers of people poor.  He describes his critique of an economy of exclusion as “an evangelical discernment.”

Pope Francis thinks the 5th commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” forbids an economy of exclusion and inequality.  “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?  This is the case of exclusion.  Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality” (53).

His questions give us in the United States lots to think about.  So does his description of a new economic tyranny.  “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.  This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.  Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.  A new tyranny is thus born…” (56).

Here are some questions for discussion:

  1. How does Francis view trickle-down economics and ideologies that depend on the absolute autonomy of the marketplace?  How does he view the relationship of inequality and exclusion to peace?  How can American Catholics respond?  #53-58
  2. Among the things eroding culture according to Francis in paragraphs #61-75, which seem threats to you?
  3. What would you say to Pope Francis in response to his comments on the importance of lay people and women in paragraphs #102-104?
  4. What call do you hear personally to become a more transforming evangelizer?
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