Gospel Reflection for August 9, 2020 – 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.9,11-13; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.22-33

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14.27

Both the prophet Elijah and the apostle Peter 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?

Like them we may find God when we are hearing no answers or when we are in over our heads. When Jesus invites Peter to walk toward him on the water, Peter steps out of the boat but the strong head winds and great waves take his attention off Jesus. He cries out in fear. In faltering he finds Jesus’ present.

The risen Jesus is not with his followers in the same way the historical Jesus was.  Matthew pictures Peter in a community struggling between the experience of having Jesus among them in the flesh and the promise of his risen presence. How does Jesus continue with this community? Is he a ghost, a memory, a real presence?

The boat full of disciples is going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Gentile territory. As Gentiles become Christians conflicts arise with family members and with what practices Jewish Christians expect them follow. Today the Church faces headwinds and cross currents on a global scale. 

To escape with his life, Elijah runs to Mt. Horeb where God gave Moses the commandments. He does not hear God’s voice in the old ways–thunder, lightning, earthquake. Instead Elijah hears God is sheer silence, encounter God’s voice within, speaking within the interior silence of his consciousness.

What waves of uncertainty do you face? What are you crying out about? What do you hear in silence?

July 26, 2020, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 3.5,7-12; Romans 8.28-30; Matthew 13.44-52

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13.44

Sunday’s gospel begins with two parables about finding, selling, and buying. A farmer finds a treasure in a field and a merchant finds a pearl of great value. Buying the field and the pearl totally realign their lives and resources. What treasure is worth selling all one has to find joy? What has the farmer found? What pearl is worth every thing? What is the merchant really looking for?

Jesus lets us reveal ourselves in what we imagine the treasure is. Is it family, spouse, purpose? Is it Jesus? The parables make most sense if we understand the treasure or the pearl as a relationship. I find a person who becomes an abiding source of joy in marriage. I find a purpose worthy of my life, love, and energy.

The first Sisters of St. Joseph describe themselves as seized by God’s love. The love that seized them not only engaged them wholeheartedly but also revealed a treasure within each one, a passion for ministering to poor people in their midst.

When African slaves encountered Christianity in America, the gospel delivered a message radically different from the docility slave owners intended. The slaves heard that God loves all people and that Jesus has died and risen to new life for all people — slaves and free. God’s love seizes them and gives them dignity.

Black Church grows up around a liberating God who knows and hears the suffering of slaves. The gospel empowers them to sing their suffering and look over Jordan in hope, to resist debasement and work toward freedom.

Faith in Jesus costs nothing and everything. To follow Jesus requires a wholehearted willingness to love others as Jesus as loved us.

How has God’s love seized you? What treasure do you seek? What does it reveal about you? What gives you joy?

Celebrate Women of the Gospel

Today, July 22, is the feast day of Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is first witness to Jesus’ resurrection in all four Gospels. She was among the women from Galilee who follow Jesus and provide for him out of their resources. From early Christianity she has been called “the apostle to the apostles”, the bringer of good news to them and to us all. You can read her story, as well as the stories of 14 other women of faith, in Sister Joan Mitchell’s book Holy Women of Luke’s Gospel.

Gospel Reflection for July 19, 2020 -16th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Wisdom 23.24, 26-29; Romans 8.26-27; Matthew 13.24-43
Jesus put another parable to the crowd. “The householder’s slaves came to him, “Master, did you now sow good seed in your field? Where did these weeds come from?” The master answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said, “Do you want us to go and gather them?” The householder replied, “No, in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with the weeds. Let both of them grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13.24-30  

His disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable about the weeds. The interpretation turns the parable into an allegory with double meanings. The sower is the Son of Man, a messianic title. The field is the world. The good seeds are children of the kingdom; the weeds are children of the evil one. The harvest is the end of the age, a scary time when weeds get burned and wheat gets gathered into barns.

Only Matthew’s gospel includes this parable and its fiery ending, making this a parable of judgment rather than pastoral patience. Who are the weeds and who are the grains of wheat? Matthew writes about A.D. 85 as Jews who follows Jesus and Jews who follow other rabbis are forming separate groups. Or perhaps Christian Jews and Gentiles belong in the same communities but have differences. Perhaps some resist Jesus’ example in eating with outcasts and sinners and extending God’s love for everyone. The parable suggests the patience of God in allowing weeds and wheat to grow together util the harvest forebodes an eventual sorting. The parable is both about being pastoral and about judgment.

Pope Francis encourages a pastoral approach  in the first of his apostolic exhortations The Joy of the Gospel. “Time is greater than space,” he writes, giving priority to processes that build and develop communities over time and that allow time for healing and grace in relationships and families. “Unity is greater than conflict,” he insists. “The Spirit can harmonize every diversity.” Most of us recognize we so often magnify difference when we have more in common than divides us.

Sunday’s gospel also include short parables about mustard seed and leaven. A tiny seed grows into a great bush, a home for the birds of the air. Leaven invisibly transforms wheat flour into large, airy nourishing bread dough. Both parables suggest the mystery of God at work in our lives. Life takes time; God’s reign will take time. In the end human wisdom is not God’s wisdom. 
What judgments about yourself, other people, or about the Church have you made that proved wrong? What changed your perception? What leaven do you hope you are in your community of faith?

Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Today is the feast day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was declared a saint in 2012. We invite you to celebrate and learn her story.

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Gospel Reflection for July 12, 2020 – 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 55.10-11; Romans 8.18-23; Matthew 13.1-23

“Other seeds fell on good ground and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” – Matthew 13.8

Jesus’ parable of the sower is prophetic. It promises that Jesus’ word will yield a thirty, sixty, hundredfold harvest. The yield, however, does not happen in the gospel narrative. When Matthew’s gospel ends, Jesus is commissioning his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (24.19). The seeds have yet to grow and yield.

Within the gospel narrative, Jesus’ teachings fall well-worn paths, on rocks, and in weedy patches where in each case 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, who name means Rock, is like the rocky ground where seed grows up quickly but dries out for lack of soil in which to root. Peter enthusiastically affirms Jesus is the messiah but then rejects a messiah who suffers and denies he even knows Jesus during his trial.

The rich young man in Matthew 19.16-23 is like the seeds shown among thorns. The lure of wealth spoils his yield.

Before his death and resurrection Jesus’ word doesn’t take deep root, even among his disciples. They mistake who Jesus is and don’t stand by him. Only after the community experiences Jesus’ risen presence do the teachings take root and the disciples begin spreading the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The yield is among the hearers of the good news in every generation, today among us.
What kind of soil are you most like? What has hearing the gospel yielded in your life?

The Summer day

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

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Gospel Reflection for July 5, 2020 -14th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Zechariah 9.9-10; Romans 8.9, 11-13; Matthew 11.25-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11.28
The Wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible personify our human capacity of knowing as Lady Wisdom, who is with God from the beginning and in whom God delights as a partner artist and artisan. Wisdom begins in awe, a sense of the holy in the diversity and beauty of creation, the experience of amazement at the observable order in days and nights, seasons, the growth of seeds, the cycles of rain. All creation is Wisdom’s home and school for revealing who God is.

Sunday’s gospel echoes the teacher Sirach, who describes the blessings of Wisdom, “Come to her with your soul, and keep her ways with all your might.  Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her, do not let her go” (Sirach 6.26-27).

Jesus speaks as wisdom’s prophet and teacher. Like Wisdom Jesus seeks to reveal God and the goodness of creation to all. He invites us all to Wisdom’s table, the simple and the wise, the weary, the burdened, the lowly and least. Jesus refers to his teachings, his new law, as a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. His teachings lighten, refresh, and restore our spirits; they give life. The rest Jesus promises is stopping to let indescribable beauty soak in. Rest is existing in right relationship with all that is, acknowledging ourselves and all that is as God’s gift, welcoming and blessing even the least among us.
Where do you find rest? What and who revives you? What is easy and unburdening about Jesus’ teachings? 

Hildegard of Bingen: Patron saint of green and growing

Hildegard was only five years old in 1098 when her parents brought her, their tenth child, to the monastery of St. Disibode. A holy woman named Jutta took the little girl in and taught her Latin and music so she could sing the psalms with the monks and nuns. Jutta also taught Hildegard everything she knew about herbal medicine. At age 15, Hildegard decided to follow the Benedictine way and become a nun. When Jutta died, Hildegard became the prioress of the community.

Hildegard was a mystic, a person who experiences extraordinary communion with God. Hildegard wrote down her understandings of God in vivid pictures. Many women were attracted to her teaching about God and came to join her monastery, which grew so large that Hildegard started another monastery near Bingen, a nearby city. She continued to write and teach. Here is one of her poems.

Again I am in turmoil.
Should I speak, or must I be silent?
I feel like a gnarled old tree, withered and crooked and flaky.
All the stories of the years are written on my branches.
The sap is gone, the voice is dead.

But I long to make again a sacred sound.
I want to sound out God
I want to be a young juicy, sap-running tree
So that I can sing God as God knows how.

O God, you gentle viridity
O Mary, honeycomb of life
O Jesus, hidden in sweetness as flowing honey,
Release my voice again.

I have sweetness to share.
I have stories to tell.
I have God to announce.
I have green life to celebrate.
I have rivers of fire to ignite.

Hildegard made up the word viridity. It means greening, the life power of God that is in everything. For Hildegard the Word of God is greening; it has the power to create Christians. A tree growing and branching out is greenness in motion. Love is green. Jesus is greenness incarnate. Sin is not green. Sin is drying up, losing one’s ability to create.

• Read the first two verses of the poem again. When have you felt your sap is gone, your voice dead? What or who helped you know you could sing again?

• Does Hildegard’s way of calling on God, on Mary, on Jesus resonate with you? Can you read the last verse of the poem as your own song?

If Hildegard were alive today, she would sing about God’s work in the unfolding of creation in evolution. “O Holy Spirit” she writes, “you make life alive, you move in all things, you are the root of all created being, you waken and reawaken everything that is.”

For her teaching, Pope Benedict named Hildegard a Doctor of the Church. This means she is one of the Catholic Church’s greatest teachers. There are four women Doctors—St. Hildegard, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux.

• Make a resolution to see the Holy Spirit greening the earth around you. Pray a thanksgiving prayer each day for one beautiful thing you see.

“I am a feather on the breath of God.”

Gospel Reflection for June 28, 2020 – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 2 Kings 4.8-11,14-16; Romans 6.3-4,8-11; Matthew 10.37-42

“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will find it. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Matthew 10.38-40

Sayings multiply because the comparisons and wordplay that make them memorable tend to generate additional versions. Sunday’s gospel applies the same point in several ways. Faith is a wholehearted entrusting of one’s self to whom or what one considers ultimate. The men and women who followed Jesus during his public life left their homes and walked with him. To believe in Jesus is a relationship so fundamental that it claims allegiance deeper than family ties. We choose self-giving as our way of life as it was for Jesus. It means taking up Jesus’ cross. Discipleship demands willingness to walk the walk Jesus did and trust God that one will find one’s life in giving it.

The hospitality sayings apply the principle of reciprocity. The way we welcome people to our homes is the way we welcome Jesus. When violent acts dominate the news the threat of violence can seem pervasive. Every stranger becomes a threat rather than potential friend. To rebuild community in our urban and suburban neighborhoods, we need to learn our neighbors’ names and those of their children. We need to exercise safe ways to welcome new people into our lives. Human and Christian community depend on hospitality. It is the means for gathering all into communion at God’s table.

What is an example of a relationship in which giving of yourself helped you find yourself? What strangers in your neighborhood do you fear? How might friends work together to welcome them in safe ways?

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