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Gospel Reflection for July 23, 2017, 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

17 Jul

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 12.13,16-19; Romans 8.26-27; Matthew 13.24-43

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are children of the evil one.” – Matthew 13.37-38

The gospel last Sunday took us to the parable section of Matthew’s well-organized narrative, chapter 13. We heard the parable of the sower. This Sunday we hear the next three parables: the risk of weeding wheat, the promise of growth in tiny seeds, and the effect of leaven in bread dough.

When Jesus interprets the weeds and wheat parable for his disciples, he recommends letting them grow together until the harvest. This means separating sinners from righteous folks bis not our work. Similarly Pope Francis insists, “Time is greater than space,” and gives priority to processes that build and develop communities over time rather than pass judgment. The mustard seed suggests how an insight, a moment of grace can grow with time. Another of Pope Francis’s pastoral principles is  “unity is greater than conflict.” Most of us recognize how easily we magnify differences rather when in fact we have more in common than divides us. “The Spirit can harmonize every diversity,” says Pope Francis.

Life and growth take time. God’s reign takes time to grow in each of us just as leaven takes time to transform bread dough. In light of our daily breaking news, it’s comforting to imagine all the daily loving actions Jesus’ disciples do invisibly in our world.

What leaven do you hope you are in your neighborhood? What small effort do you hope grows much bigger?


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Gospel Reflection for Sunday, May 7, 2017, 4th Sunday of Easter

1 May

Sunday Readings: Acts. 2.14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2.20-25; John 10.1-10

“I came that my sheep might have life and have it more abundantly.” – John 10.10

Walking together is what tracts Pope Francis to the good shepherd image. In speaking to parish priests, Pope Francis reflects, “What could be more beautiful than this: walking with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes behind: in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and at the back in order to keep it united and so that no one lags too far behind.”

Pope Francis sees another reason for walking together. It is “because the people have a ‘nose’! The people scent out, discover, new ways to talk; it has a sensus fidei as theologians call it.” Sensus fidei means sense of the faithful. In the countless ways Christians live the gospels in our time, we the people teach and lead.

Where does your nose sense the gospel leads us today?

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Gospel Reflection for January 15, 2017, 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time

11 Jan

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 49.3,5-6; 1 Corinthians 1.1-3; John 1.29-34

“The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is he who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen for myself and have testified, ‘This is God’s chosen one.’” – John 1.33-34

What is the story in which we live? Who tells it? What motivates the characters and moves the plot—greed, lust, power? Do the perils for Earth and Earth’s people from climate change testify to human self-absorption? Is profit our only moral compass? Is the human story ultimately tragic?

Pope Francis insists that we Christians are resurrection people. New action and attitudes can arise. What is the story we personally live? To what values do we give witness day in and day out?

A woman I know recently took light rail home from the airport. A homeless man came walking slowly down the aisle. He was missing a shoe. While she watched, a woman wearing nursing scrubs sat down beside the homeless man. “I think my shoes will fit you,” she said and put the shoes on his feet.”

The man thanked her but she was in a hurry. “This is my stop,” she said and stepped off the train in her stocking feet at the Veterans Administration hospital, a stunning witness.

Who have you witnessed living Jesus’ story? What is the story you live?

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The Role of Women

18 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

On his recent flight from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters, “Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands.” He added that it is not likely to ever change. The clarity of the statement surprised some in part because Pope Francis has been so supportive of the ministry of women in the church. He said, in fact, that “women can do many other things better than men.”

Are there fundamental differences in men and women that require such different roles in ministry? Making a gender role distinction by restricting women from overseeing word and sacrament, limits women, but also may limit men in the congregation. In a recent interview with Salt and Light, for example, Stephen Colbert shared a story about witnessing a female priest oversee Eucharist:

When I heard a woman say ‘This is my body,’ the freshness of hearing a woman say that gave the message a universality that it always should have — and I’m not saying it doesn’t coming out of a male priest — but it opened my ears to the possibility that it is also my body. That in my participation in the Eucharist, I participate in the gift that Christ gives me …

Saying women are better than men at many things also limits men. When he says women are better than men at some things, is it really because men are less capable of these things or is it because of society’s role restrictions? Take Glennon Doyle Melton passage from her latest book, Love Warrior, as an example:

God created woman as a Warrior. I think about the tragedies the women in my life have faced. How every time a child gets sick or a man leaves or a parent dies or a community crumbles, the women are the ones who carry on, who do what must be done for their people in the midst of their own pain. While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope. They keep showing up for their lives and their people with the odds stacked against them and the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never stop singing songs of truth, love and redemption in the face of hopelessness. They are inexhaustible, ferocious, relentless cocreators with God, and they make beautiful worlds out of nothing.

It is a beautiful passage that made me nod my head and smile. It’s true. Women are amazing at this kind of love. I see it all around me. I think she is getting at what the Pope means when he talks about the essential ministry of women in the church. I have to wonder, however, aren’t these actions human actions, not feminine ones? Society calls on and expects women to hold families together, but that is not to say that men can’t.

Pope Francis’ statement about female ordination seems to carry some finality. Yet, in our love of God and neighbor, in our love of Christ and the Church, and in light of our recent presidential election, I believe it is essential now more than ever to continue to ask critical questions about how gender roles in our church and our world limit us all so that all of God’s children can flourish.

Gospel Reflection for November 20, 2016, Christ the King

14 Nov

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 5.1-3; Colossians 1.12-20; Luke 23.35-43

“Jesus is the face of God’s mercy,” Pope Francis writes in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy that ends this Sunday. “These words might well sum up the mystery of Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.” In Sunday’s gospel Jesus shows us mercy is his signature act; he forgives the good thief on the cross. Forgiveness is the balm of mercy that Pope Francis hopes has reached everyone this year.

In this crucifixion scene the evangelist Luke gives us the gospel in cameo. Luke tells the community for whom he writes and us that Jesus is God’s Spirit-filled prophet, innocent of charges brought against him. He brings good news to people who live in poverty and hope to those burdened with debt and exploited for profit. Jesus is our kin, who knows our sufferings and seeks to heal people and set them free. This is the mission we continue — kinship or solidarity with all.

To whom have you yet to show mercy in this year of mercy? Who among the kin of God or kin of Jesus stretches who you regard as kin?

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Reconciliation Among Christians

4 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Chris-Håvard Berge

Photo via Flickr user
Chris-Håvard Berge

On October 31, Pope Francis joined leaders from the Lutheran World Federation in Sweden to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also celebrates the ecumenical work accomplished by Catholics and Lutherans over the last fifty years.

Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 thesis to a church door. He was excommunicated, and Catholics and Lutherans have been persecuting each other ever since. The focus of the event in Sweden is to name and ask forgiveness for this schism between the Lutheran and Catholic churches while committing to move forward, praying together.

“There was corruption in the church, worldliness, attachment to money and power,” Francis told reporters this summer. They are the same abuses Francis has criticized in the 21st-century Catholic Church he now leads. —Associated Press

I, for one, see the reconciliation event as both refreshing and necessary. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. I then attended a Lutheran college and graduate school. I have taught theology at a Catholic high school and a Lutheran church. Both Catholics and Lutherans have fed and nurtured me greatly. Both churches still hold serious misconceptions and reservations about the other. In all of these settings, Jesus is at the core of the mission, and Jesus did not spend time on the particulars of dogma or focus on the specific religious affiliation of people. Yet our human need to draw lines and remember the past holds us back from true ecumenical communion and dialogue.

Movement within institutions keep those institutions alive. The Reformation, pushing a Counter-Reformation, made the Catholic Church better and stronger. The Pope’s acknowledgement of that is hopeful. In a time of great national and global polarization and conflict, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches coming together shows communion and reconciliation we are hungry for.

Mother, Now Saint

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

A mere 19 years after her death, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint last week. In his homily during the ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis commended Mother Teresa for her generosity of mercy and for defending the discarded of society.

Indeed, in her tireless work, Mother Teresa gave people dignity by seeing their full humanity. She called urgent attention to the hideous and unnecessary poverty plaguing our globe. Taking Jesus’ gospel call to advocate for the poor quite literally, she devoted her life to the daily work. Rightly, Pope Francis lifted up Mother Teresa as a model of holiness.

And then, also rightly and with so much style we have come to expect of him, Pope Francis served pizza to 1,500 homeless Italians who were bused in for the event.

The declaration of Mother Teresa’s sainthood is exciting. In elevating our heroes, it is also important to remember their humanity as well. I can distance myself from them, venerating their holiness, while excusing myself from the call. We are all capable of making a life-long commitment to advocate for the vulnerable members of our society. I read the same Gospel that she did, one where Jesus models mercy, compassion and ministry to us. She was a mere mortal who had the same choice I do as to how to live out our daily lives.

I remember as a young child, being taught by nuns, I was curious about the monastic lifestyle. I wondered, “What would I do with my time if I committed to a simple, celibate life? What life would I build? Who would I love?” Now, with a spouse, children and a job, I must ask other questions. Mother Teresa’s sainthood throws back into relief for me the importance of doing Gospel work in my daily life, here and now, in any way I can. Instead of allowing her holiness to distance herself, I can pray for her holiness to call me to a life of mercy and compassion, too.

Gospel Reflection for September 11, 2016, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

7 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Marcia

Photo via Flickr user Marcia

Sunday Readings: Exodus 32.7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-32

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep…..Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.”

(Luke 15.6, 9)

Losing, finding, rejoicing — that is the pattern in each of the three parables Jesus tells in chapter 15. Who doesn’t bother to look for the sheep that has wandered apart from the hundred and has not just strayed but is lost? Who forgets a lost coin and doesn’t bother to retrieve 10% of current assets? The lost sheep and lost coin invite us to hear the story of the man with two sons with the questions, “Who is lost?” Is it the party son who wastes his inheritance and comes home to his welcoming father or is it the responsible son who resents his father’s mercy? Which son am I? Let us rejoice in Pope Francis’ reclaiming in this year of mercy the deepest mystery of who God is.

Which son are you? How are you benefiting from this year emphasizing God’s mercy?

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Gospel Reflection for September 4, 2016, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Othree

Photo via Flickr user Othree

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 8.13-18; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“None of you can be my disciple if you do not renounce all your possessions.”

(Luke 14.33)

Proclaiming the good news of God’s abundant loving kindness toward all people contradicts conventional wisdom that there is not enough love or anything else to go around, so it must be reserved for our own kind.   Healing the sick free of charge, no matter who they are or where they live or how they got that way brings condemnation from those who despise the afflicted or aim to profit from their misery.

In his best paradoxical fashion, Jesus insists, “Less is more.”  Possessions, however many, are never enough.  The generous economics of discipleship turn accepted economic theories on their heads.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged.  The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order'” (#93).

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Gospel Reflection for July 10, 2016, 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Jul

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 30.10-14; Colossians 1.15-20; Luke 10.25-37

“But a Samaritan who was journeying along came on the beaten man and was moved to pity at the sight. He dressed his wounds, pouring in oil and wine as a means to heal. He then hoisted him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, where he cared for him.”

(Luke 10.33-34)

A marginalized person is often caught in cultural conflicts at the boundaries of society and communities. The Samaritan in Sunday’s gospel has compassion for a stranger left on the side of the road. During Jesus’ time Samaritans were the marginalized people in Israel, a heretical group detested and despised by Jews and pagans alike. For Jesus to hold up a Samaritan as a truly compassionate and wise person was to send religious and cultural shock-waves through his listener’s ears. People must have thought, “How could anyone make a Samaritan the hero of the story, a person obviously so unworthy and unacceptable?

Another unsung hero in the gospel is the donkey. The Samaritan acts out his compassion with the help of his animal. Pope Francis calls out our kinship with the whole of creation and its creatures in his encyclical Laudato Si’ on the environment. Jesus’ parable doesn’t tell us how far away the inn was or how big the injured person was. We do know the Samaritan couldn’t call 911 on his cell phone. He puts the injured person on his own animal that usually carries him or his loads. Together they help the wounded man.

When have you felt marginalized by economics, gender, sexual orientation, race, or personal crisis?

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