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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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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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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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Gospel Reflection for August 30, 2015, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

25 Aug

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8; James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

“Nothing that enters a person from outside can make a person impure; it is the things that come out that defile.  It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

(Mark 7.18-21)

Every generation has to discern which traditions are life-giving and which are no longer helping us become holy.  What traditions come from God and what are simply human rules?  In Sunday’s gospel Jesus is breaking down the wall of the law that protects Jewish identity.  He declares all foods clean and insists laws that last must lead to the praise and glory of God and justice and peace toward neighbor.

What rule do you practice that keeps you open to God and neighbor?  What is the most life-giving rule you learned in your family?

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Running Toward

17 Jul
via Flickr user Lawrence OP

via Flickr user Lawrence OP

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things. –Mark 6:30-34

Can you feel Jesus’s fatigue in this passage? I can, viscerally. It is so important to retreat, to regroup, to recharge. It is so important to eat and rest and spend time in deserted places when your work is in high demand. These first verses need to illicit real fatigue in us, the readers, in order for the story to work. Then, when we get to the end of the passage, we are truly struck by Jesus compassion. Instead of getting upset and being short with the people, like I would if I were in dire need of retreat and it was ruined by a mob of needy people, he is moved. They move him to be more open. He takes a deep breath and continues to teach. Thank goodness.

For they were like sheep without a shepherd. This visual is so strong for me. I see this in the teenagers I work with. They are in a developmental stage when it is healthy for them to question authority and be critical of institution. They are beginning to define themselves against their peer group instead of their families. They are forming herds, and it feels exciting to them to move as a herd without a shepherd. Many of them turn away from religion, the church, the stories their parents taught them. They want to be free from these things, that all of a sudden feel suffocating, restricting, confining. They have a deep desire to wander the field without direction. I encourage young people to go, wander, frolic, play. Enjoy what it feels like to run away without heeding the call back. Often their instinct is healthy. They are running from what they see as hypocritical in the church, in organized religion. They are running from the ways that we as humans fall short. So run, I tell them. Run from those things. Just make sure you are running toward something good. Don’t mistake the love of God with the sin of humanity. Wander, frolic, question, yes. But run toward love, beauty, forgiveness, truth, and you will find Jesus again.

This is not just a teenage tendency. Don’t we all get lost? Prone to wander, as the hymn says. Prone to leave the God I love.

We may not be running from authority, but we allow our busy lives, our ego, our pain to pull us away. Maybe we get so swept up in thinking we don’t deserve love or forgiveness that it is too hard to stay. Or maybe we don’t want to admit that we need a shepherd’s help. We all have times when Jesus pities us, seeing us like sheep without a shepherd. And it’s okay, as long as we can hear the sound of his voice, feel the compassion of his love, and know when it is time to wander back into the unending fold of his care. There is no fatigue there. Jesus is ready to teach us many things.

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me. –JN 10:27

Repentance Preached

10 Jul
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. –Mark 6:7-13
     I’ve read the Gospel for this Sunday numerous times, and each time something different comes to light. This week, it is the last three lines that are replaying in my mind and turning over and over again in my heart. It struck me that they went off to preach repentance. Often we hear that the disciples preached the good news, which I think of as an announcement, a truth, a reality. Jesus died and was raised from the dead. Life wins. God loves us. We are promised eternal life with God. It is too good to be true, so the disciples must preach it over and over again so we remember to live out of that radical joy.
     Repentance I think of as an active verb. It is something we do that leads to deep transformation in our hearts and in the world. It is part of our faith practice, part of what Jesus calls us to do, but the wording here in Mark puts it at the utter center of what it means to follow Jesus. The disciples went out to preach repentance. How interesting to think of our preachers now focusing week in and week on repentance. How curious to think how repentance and the good news may be connected and at times interchangeable.
     And then we learn in the following lines that demons were driven out and people were cured in this preaching of repentance. It is easy to hang onto anger without realizing it, or shutting out the hurt we have caused others. Not tending to these times when we have fallen short, the hurt can fester and grow methodically. We can think too highly of ourselves. We can live without letting God in to refine our being. Repentance is difficult, messy, time-consuming, and often scary. There are real consequences in the work of repentance. We can find healing and rest. We can know peace. We can retrieve joyful quiet in our minds and hearts and bodies. There is real physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation in the act of repentance. God offers us freedom.
     The Gospel of Mark is calling me to focus on repentance this week. What demons am I clinging to? What healing can I know and claim if I am brave enough to ask for forgiveness and be open to the change of heart that will flow from God’s unconditional love?

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