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Gospel Reflection for October 11, 2015, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Oct


Sunday Readings: Wisdom 7.7-11; Hebrews 4.12-13; Mark 19.17-27

“All things are possible with God.”

(Mark 10.27)

More than half the world people live on $2-$10 per day.  In our country we hear calls to keep our economy humming, to buy and consume.  Now the Catholic Church has a leader who comes from a continent where most people fit this low-income category.  In his new encyclical on climate change Pope Francis repeatedly gives voice to people who are poor and quotes the words of other bishops from the developing nations of the global south.

Pope Francis is calling us to protect our common home, to find ways to reduce climate change and its imperiling effects on Earth’s poorest people.  The pope urges peoples, nations, and multinational corporations beyond borders and self-interest to pursue the most basic of common goods — a home for future generations.

What have you experienced of how people live in developing countries or of living at a low-income level $2-$10 per day?  How has this affected your outlook on climate change?

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When God Says No

1 Oct
Photo via Flickr user admitchell08

Photo via Flickr user admitchell08

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

–Deuteronomy 34:1-8

It is moments like these, when we realize we have been clinging to our own expectations, that God surprises us. We must dig deep, let go of our own dreams, and feel grateful for the story that is ours.

Stand with Moses for a moment, looking at the promised land. He has overcome his own insecurities to lead his people. He has escaped slavery. He has suffered in the wilderness for years. If anyone has earned the right to step foot in the promised land, it is him. He thought his role was to lead his people there, and that part of that role was arriving with them and celebrating. What a storybook ending it could have been for Moses, after all he has been through, to step onto the land that will be home to his descendants and to be buried there, brimming with fulfillment and closure and peace. It just seems right that he should have be able to die there. When his people were complaining again, when he was tired and hungry and scared, how many times must Moses have pictured that moment of reaching the destination when it would all be worth it? How sweet, to finally arrive home.

But it was not to be.

We have all had moments like Moses’. We look out and see the future we thought was ours. It’s so close we can taste it. We see the promised land we thought was our ultimate destination. A job we are excited about. A baby we thought was on the way. A friend we thought would walk with us into old age. And the Lord says, “No.”

It is moments like these that I think of Moses, looking out to vast land, realizing he would never know what it felt like to stand on that ground. It is these moments when God says No that we see what we are really made of. The shift, the letting go comes with great grieving. We mourn the story we thought would be ours. We must decide if we will walk into our actual story bitter or grateful. Are we willing to change roles? Adjust our narrative? That we can control. “I let you see it with your eyes,” the Lord said to Moses. Will we allow that to be enough?

Gospel Reflection for October 4, 2015, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep
Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Sunday Readings: Genesis 2.18-24; Hebrews 2.9-11; Mark 10.2-12

“Tell us, does the Law allow a husband to divorce his wife?”

(Mark 10.2)

Marriage is the topic in Sunday’s gospel.  In Rome this Sunday the Synod on the Family begins.  Second marriages is one topic on the agenda.  Many people in the pews pray the Spirit will breathe the embers of Vatican II into flame again.

Church documents praise the family but not in the everyday language we might use.  The Church describes the family as —

  1. a domestic church.
  2. the living cell of society and church.
  3. a school for social virtues.
  4. the first school of faith.
  5. a cradle of life.
  6. a value and goal most people seek.
  7. an icon of the Trinity.

How does your family fit the Church’s descriptions?  Who do you consider family members?

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Gospel Reflection for September 27, 2015, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Sep

Sunday Readings: Numbers 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-48

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

(Mark 9.40)

Jesus claims broad middle ground in this saying.  Often activists, liberal or conservative, reverse Jesus’ saying and eliminate middle ground.  In mobilizing advocates for change in public policies, they insist whoever is not for us is against us.  Middle ground is valuable space to preserve.  There we can explore what we have in common with others, what they have experienced, why they think the ways they do.  Middle ground is where people share their stories.  What is the experience of a stay-at-home suburban mom, a refugee from violence in Syria, an undocumented immigrant working a minimum-wage job at a hotel, or an African American nurse who has experienced people shunning his or her touch?

Middle ground is where real people meet and liberate each other from the demons of prejudice and unexamined certainty.  Middle ground is where someone else’s lived experience can broaden and transform our own.

What experience of middle ground becoming common ground have you had?

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18 Sep

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5: 24-34

In Jesus’ time, things like nosebleeds and hemorrhaging marginalized people. Strength and health were associated with dryness. You were supposed to be contained. Bleeding showed signs of being out of control, irregular, weak, and feminine. Like so often still today, a hemorrhaging person would have been avoided as cursed, fearing contamination or contagion.

We can imagine, then, that this woman had been shunned for twelve years. She was so desperate for wholeness, love, healing, and touch that she snuck up on Jesus. And how interesting that Jesus shows his own porousness in healing this bleeding woman. In the story, he did not consciously heal the woman, he just felt the power flow from his cloak. It seemed to alarm him a bit, yet when he saw the freedom that the seeping power offered to her through restoration, he was at peace.

Have you felt the porous nature of love? We call it lovesick when we can’t sleep or focus due to daydreaming about a new person. We extend ourselves out of love. Teachers stay late to help struggling students. Activist march and fast and cross lines in the name of what they believe. Mothers know a messy love. In pregnancy, where does one body stop and the other begin? Or take breast feeding, for example. In The Stranger, Angela Garbes writes:

To produce breast milk, mothers melt their own body fat. Are you with me? We literally dissolve parts of ourselves….

Mothers dissolve their bodies to feed their children. The porousness runs deep:

When a baby suckles at its mother’s breast, a vacuum is created. Within that vacuum, the infant’s saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals. This “baby spit backwash,” contains information about the baby’s immune status. Everything scientists know about physiology indicates that baby spit backwash is one of the ways that breast milk adjusts its immunological composition. At the same time that it is medicine, breast milk is a private conversation between mother and child.

We are still encouraged, in today’s society, to be self-contained, clean, dry and put together. Yet so many forms of true love undo us. When we deeply love another, it is not clean and contained. We do become more porous. Boundaries dissolve, leading to freedom. When love leaves me a little tired and drained, a little messy and undone, I think of Jesus love and ministry, so generous that it flowed from his being and his clothes.

Gospel Reflection for September 20, 2015, 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 2.12, 17-20; James 3.16-4.3; Mark 9.30-37

“Whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all.”

(Mark 9.35)

When Jesus begins to tell his disciples that suffering lies ahead, that he will be put to death and rise again, they find themselves too afraid to ask questions. But they did not feel too afraid to argue who among them was greatest. So Jesus has to sit them down and explain that in his company those who serve are greatest. He uses welcoming a child as an example. In the ancient world children were invisible, non-people. To receive a child is to receive him. Jesus’ teaching gives us a very different picture of Christian community than the hierarchical one in which we live. Often those who live Jesus’ teaching are invisible to us.

Whose service is vital to your day to day existence at home, at work?

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Good Food

11 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

In a Work of the People video “The Gospel is Good News,” Shane Claiborne chews on an idea he heard from a rancher. The rancher explained that there are two ways to contain your herd of animals. One way is to build fences, but that is not the best way. The more effective way is to have a really good food source. Shane goes on to talk about how human beings and the human church like to build fences, and maybe we should focus harder on studying, nurturing and tending to our amazing food source.

I don’t think Shane meant good food literally, but it played out beautifully that way in the Season 3 finale of Orange is the New Black, of all places. The show follows a slew of characters in a women’s prison. One of the characters, Cindy, pretends to be Jewish so she can get the kosher meals. The meals are so much fresher and tastier, that several inmates follow suit. The staff brings in a Rabbi to assess if the women truly are Jewish. Cindy recites some Annie Hall and Yentl, which fail to impress the rabbi. Undeterred, Cindy plans then to convert to Judaism so she can continue to receive the kosher meals.

Cindy’s commitment to kosher meals becomes more complex with a flashback to her childhood where her father uses the Bible to berate her at the family dinner table for eating before prayer. In her quest to trick the rabbi into letting her eat kosher, she liked what she learned. What started out as commitment to good food turned into something more. By the season finale, Cindy realizes she actually wants to convert for more than food purposes. Through tears she says:

Honestly, I think I found my people. I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell, and if I was good I’d go to heaven, and if I asked Jesus he would forgive me and that was that. And here you all say there ain’t no hell, you ain’t sure about heaven, and if you do something you have to figure it out on yourself. And as far as God’s concerned, it’s your job to ask questions and keep learning and keep arguing. It’s like a verb. It’s like you do God. And it’s a lot of work, but I think I’m in it.

It is an extremely vulnerable moment, where Cindy articulately conveys where she has found a place in the struggle, in the work, and in the grey area of theology. God is a verb. You do God. What started out as good food turned into conversion for her. Instead of building fences, the rabbi said, “Yes. Join us.”

Shane and Cindy’s character challenge us to continue the work of taking down fences and focusing on really good food. We don’t have to have the answers, but a fertile ground for people to come, enjoy, be fed, and feel at home.

Year of Mercy

10 Sep


Corporal Works of Mercy are those that tend to bodily needs of others. In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus tells his followers they will be judged on six specific works of mercy, the first six below.  The last work of mercy, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit.[3][4]

To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned.
To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy relieve spiritual suffering. They come to us from Tradition.

To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive offenses willingly.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.

Gospel Reflection for September 13, 2015, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user *Nom *Malc

Photo via Flickr user *Nom & Malc

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 50.5-9; James 2.14-18; Mark 8.27-35

“Who do you say that I am?”

(Mark 8.29)

Mark’s gospel explores how the faith of Jesus’ disciples matures.  For all of us faith develops across the life cycle.  As children, our brains limit our understanding.  As adolescents, we share the faith  of our families, neighbors, and the church in which we grow up.  As adults, some of us never examine the faith we receive.

Peter professes Jesus is the Messiah in answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  But when Jesus predicts his suffering and death, Peter objects and clings to his received idea that the Messiah will be a great warrior who restores Israel as a nation.  Only Jesus’ death destroys Peter’s idea.  His resurrection radically transforms his disciples’ understanding.

Ultimately faith transforms us into the one we follow.  For Mark, faith is a transforming lifelong practice, not just an idea.

How do you respond to Jesus’ question?

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Gospel Reflection for September 6, 2015, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.4-7; James 2.1-5; Mark 7.31-37

“He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

(Mark 7.37)

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus heals a man who is deaf.  His lack of hearing separate the man from his society.  He experiences the world as silent.  Worse, his deafness impedes his speech and silences his voice in the conversation of the human community.  These challenges marginalize the man and leave the seeing of his eyes and the commitments of his heart without words.  Yet this man communicates.  He has friends.  His friends beg Jesus to lay his hand on him.

Jesus opens his ears.  The miracle shows us in cameo that God wants wholeness for people.  It shows Jesus reaching out to the marginalized.  It invites us to identify who is silent in our society.  Active listening shows value for others’ words.  We can listen others into speech.

Who have you listened into speech?

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