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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?

Joy in Jesus’ Good News

23 Jun

by Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Joy brims over in our circles of sisters and associates that gather on Wednesdays to talk about Pope Francis’s exhortation Joy of the Gospel.  Spreading joy is his intent.  Its source―“a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” or at least opening ourselves to let Jesus encounter us.  His writing infects us with hope, Catholics and Protestants alike in our groups.

What is so infectious?  Francis writes out of his real life, what he prays and lives daily.  God loves us.  This is what Pope Francis wants us to experience and teach our children.  No one can take way the joy that God loves us.

The cross he wears images Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a lost sheep.  Francis identifies with the lost sheep.  “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking mercy.  Time and again Christ carries us on his shoulders.  No one can strip us of the dignity of God bestowing boundless, unfailing love” (3).

Francis wants an evangelizing church that shares the joy of God’s love for us, a Church that is poor and for the poor.  Sharing our joy is really how Francis defines evangelization.  Joy attracts others.  It bubbles over into love of neighbors.  It infects us with hope.

“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.  That is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (23).

God excludes no one, which is why Francis goes on to call for a global economy of inclusion.  “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh Christ in others” (24).  Francis wants us to smell like the sheep.

If you want to start talking about Joy of the Gospel, just type in the title online and print a copy or buy a book copy at your local Catholic bookstore or on Amazon.  Here are the questions we used to talk about paragraphs 1-49.  This blog will continue with other chapters.

1.    What joy do you experience in the Gospel, in your relationship with Jesus?  How does your experience compare with Francis’s description?  (paragraph 3)

2.    What does Francis think threatens our capacity for joy?  What threats do you experience? (2)

3.    What call do you hear in Francis’s urging us to become evangelizers who “take on the smell of the sheep?”  What sheep do you or should you smell like?  (24)

4.    How have base communities or small Christian communities helped sustain your commitment as a Christian?  How can parishes contribute to renewal?  (28)

5.    What message is “most essential, most beautiful, most grand, most appealing, and most necessary” in your mind? (35)  What communicates the gospel today?  What burdens people?

6.    “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.  …The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (47).  What changes does Francis want to inspire in the church?

Gospel Reflection for June 15, 2014, Trinity Sunday

10 Jun

“God so loved the world, that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”

John 3.16

God is the shared life at the heart of the universe, three in one love.  We must constantly be aware that when we use language to name God, we are using metaphors.  When we call God father, we are saying God is like fathers we know.  We, and the scriptures, also call God mother, friend, and lover.  These, too, are only images.

Many people, especially women, experience a problem in our use of so much male language to name God.  Sometimes maleness seems the essence of the triune God.  As some theologians point out, if God is male, then the male is God.  None of us wants to limit God to being in our own image, and especially not to just one gender image.  It is important to name God as richly and fully as we can.

What names of God have meaning for you and have helped you call on God in times of difficulty or joy?

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Gospel Reflection for May 25, 2014, Sixth Sunday of Easter

20 May
Jesus told his disciples, “And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate to abide with you always: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees nor recognizes the Spirit; but you know the Spirit because the Spirit abides with you and will be in you.” 

John 14.16-17


Jesus assures the disciples that they will have everything they need for their lives and mission after he is gone. Furthermore, if they stay open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will continue to experience divine presence.

How would you feel in the disciples’ place?

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Gospel Reflection for May 18, 2014, Fifth Sunday of Easter

16 May

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered, “All this time I have been with you, Philip, and you do not know me? Whoever sees me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’”

John 14.8-9


In responding to Philip, Jesus shifts the conversation from seeing to believing, from insisting “whoever sees me sees the Father” to asking Philip, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” In this passage Jesus speaks not only to disciples who like Philip once saw and knew him face to face, heard his words and observed his deeds, but also to all of us who believe on the strength of the written testimony in the gospel.

What do you see in Jesus that helps form your image of God?

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Self-sacrifice and Motherhood

8 May

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. (1 Peter 2:20B-25)

via flickr user VinothChandar

via flickr user VinothChandar

These lines from this coming Sunday’s second reading jumped out at me this week because this coming Sunday is also Mother’s Day. In the cultural imagination in the United States, this image of patient suffering for the good, of following in Christ’s footsteps of self-sacrifice, of giving of the self to the point of giving the self away for the sake of others is often equated with being a “good” mother. On a more personal level, these are also the images that I have held myself to over the past six years as I have parented my two sons; yet they are images with which I struggle mightily. On the one hand, it is hard to ignore the centrality of self-sacrificial love in the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Certainly patient suffering and giving the self away for the sake of others is part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

On the other hand, I have begun to question the wisdom of holding up self-sacrifice as the quintessence of Christian love. This reflection has been spurred by the marked ambivalence I feel as I anticipate the addition of a third child to our family in a few months and the return to the intense care-giving that goes with having an infant. Certainly, I feel blessed that we will welcome a new person into our family, yet alongside this gratitude is no small amount of terror. As I have worked to understand this fear, I realize that a large part of it is related to the ideal of self-sacrifice to which I have held myself during my tenure as a part-time stay-at-home mother to my first two sons. Since I feel fortunate to be in a financial and career situation where I am able to be at home part-time, I keep quiet about how excruciatingly boring this has been at times and how isolated I feel, convincing myself that this is simply the price I have to pay for spending time with my children. Used to being “successful” in the professional realm, I project an image of a successful caretaker, not letting on to the constant questions about doing and being enough for my kids that plague me day in and day out. Another sacrifice for the greater good. Taken in by the idea that mothers are supposed to give everything of themselves to their children, I have ignored my own likes and dislikes and played chess with my three-year-old following the real rules and one-on-one football with my five-year-old, even though I despise these activities enough that I cannot make it through them unless I am accompanied by a pocket full of M & M’s (a sign of an eating disorder that I am just beginning to understand). At base, the trepidation associated with having a third child is grounded in a sense that if I keep sacrificing myself this way, I may completely lose myself and may never be able to get it back.

So how is a good Christian mother, who wants to walk in the footsteps of Jesus without losing herself, supposed to deal with the ideal of self-sacrifice? In her wonderful book Caretakers of Our Common House, Christian educator Carol Lakey Hess offers what I believe is an important proposal: change the ideal and put self-sacrifice in its proper place. Drawing on the work of theologians like Louis Janssens and Don Browning, she argues that rather than self-sacrifice being the essence of Christian love, “Mutuality and equal regard constitute both the essence of love and the ethical vision for community life” (p. 95). Equal regard includes regard for the self and regard for others. If we are called to treat others with respect because they are human beings, made in the image of God, then we are also called to extend the same respect to ourselves. The temptation of sin in a world where equal regard is the ideal is not only that we would operate with inordinate self-regard; it also is that we would operate with inordinate other-regard that risks sliding into unthinking giving that can harm ourselves. As Hess articulates, when mutuality and equal regard are the ideal, self-sacrifice still has a place; it becomes “the extra mile we must travel to help bring a situation of conflict and disharmony into mutuality again” (p. 95). Rather than being constitutive of a relationship, self-sacrifice can be a gracious catalyst for restoring relationships of mutuality, reciprocity, and respect. To bring it closer to home, self-sacrifice should not be the only way in which I relate to my children. More accurately, it is part of a larger vision of harmonious relationships in which all parties, including myself, are treated with respect.

Gospel Reflection for May 11, 2014, Fourth Sunday of Easter

5 May
Jesus said, “The one who enters through the gate is shepherd of the sheep; the keeper opens the gate for him.  The sheep hear his voice as he calls his own by name and leads them out.”

John 10.30-31


The shepherd allegory offers the intimacy between shepherd and sheep as an image of the relationship between Jesus and believers.  The sheep know the shepherd’s voice.  The shepherd and sheep walk and pasture together, live together, make life possible for each other.

How do you shepherd others in your life?

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