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Gospel Reflection for February 24, 2019, 7th Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Feb

Sunday Readings: 1 Samuel 26.2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 16.45-49; Luke 6.27-38

“Love your enemy and do good to those that hate you. Bless those who curse you and pray for those who insult you. When people slap you on one cheek, turn and give them your other cheek. When people want you coat, give them your shirt, too. When someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. Do to others what you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6.27-32

Jesus’ teachings don’t get harder than the challenge to love our enemies. Much in our culture reinforces a win or lose, destroy your enemies point of view. We mark our history by our wars. Video games develop skills to blast, shoot, shatter, and kill rather than negotiate conflicts. What if we practiced making friends of enemies? What if games challenged players to find the mutual interest opponents did not recognize they have or to get out all the facts so the game can move on to the negotiation level? What if players scored points for creative and cooperative solutions to real-life problems?

To love our enemies is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It is the challenge to which Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. gave their lives in our times. Ultimately our identity and self-worth are at stake in our conflicts.

When and how have you successfully negotiated a conflict or difference or made a friend of a seeming enemy?


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Gospel Reflection for February 17, 2019, 6th Sunday Ordinary Time

16 Feb

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 17.5-8; 1 Corinthians 15.12, 16-20; Luke 6.17, 20-26

“Blessed are you poor because yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungering now because you will be filled. Blessed are you who are weeping now because you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, insult you, and throw out your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for your reward will be great in heaven. This is how people treat the prophets.” – Luke 6.20-23

The gospel writer Luke confronts us repeatedly with questions of Jesus’ identity. Who is this person who breaks rules and seeks out those whom others wish to avoid? What kind of world will people inherit if others follow his path and break the rules of tradition and culture? The beatitudes show us the world Jesus envisions in which the poor are blessed, the hungering full, those in mourning filled with laughter, and the persecuted rewarded in heaven.

Jesus’ beatitudes in Luke are a strident warning about the danger inherent in prosperity and abundance. That abundance is not blessedness is a shocking idea then and now. Jesus overturns the popular and comfortable idea that poor people somehow bring on their own circumstances and that rich people deserve their abundance. In Luke, Jesus supplies four woes paralleling the four beatitudes and challenging us to become participants in his vision for the world and shape our priorities accordingly.

When have people who are poor, hungering, weeping, or persecuted blessed you? What concrete actions can you do this week to share what you have with those who have little?


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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

21 Jan

“We may have come on different ships,
but we’re in the same boat now.”

– A favorite saying of Dr. King

January 15 was the 90th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday we celebrate in his honor has become for many a day of service. Let us remember in gratitude the blessings of our lives in America and pledge to open more opportunities for those who share our boat. Greet each other this day, as St. Paul says, with a holy kiss.

Gospel Reflection for November 18, 2018, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

15 Nov

Sunday Readings: Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14,18; Mark 13.24-32

“The heavens and the earth will pass away but my words will not.” – Mark 13.31

Sunday’s gospel contains two answers to the question of when Jesus will come again. One answer is very soon, in this generation, and the second is no one knows. We live during the no-one-knows time. Mark writes just after the Romans destroy the temple and end Jewish temple-centered religion with its prayers and sacrifices. That world ends. But Christian faith and the Judaism we know today are just emerging.

The destructive effects of our lifestyle surround us–global warming, droughts, terrible storms, oceans that teems with plastic, species going extinct. The news reports the power of trees and winter crop cover to absorb carbon and lessen the greenhouse effect that is warming the atmosphere. Jesus directs to watch the fig trees green and recognize God is always here.

What has come to birth for you out of change and seeming chaos?


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Gospel Reflection for November 4, 2018, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time

1 Nov

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 6.2-6; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 12.28-34

A scribe ask Jesus, “What is the greatest of all the commandments?” Jesus answers, “The greatest of all the commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone. Therefore, love the Holy One your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ That is the greatest and the second is, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Mark 12.29-30

For Jesus as for all good Jews, there was no religious obligation more sacred than to keep the Law of Moses, the commands of the Torah, all 613 of them as spelled out in the first five books of the Old Testament. Which is most important? A group of Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees set Jesus up with this question.

Jesus chooses wisely. His answer is what his life and teachings are all about. These are the words Jews nail on their doorways and bind to their wrists and foreheads. They are the words Jews pray every day much as Christians do the Our Father. Love is a a verb, a word we live among our neighbors and kin, especially this week of before the election with its bitter, too-often hateful debates. Jesus is debates and disagrees but without hate and demonizing.

What actions do the two great commandments inspire in your this week?


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Abuse Survivors and Faithful People

26 Oct

With all the endless inches of copy poured out about #MeToo and the recent Congressional hearings for the supreme court nominee, this homily offers reflections I want to share and five things to do at the end.

– Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ.

Abuse Survivors and Faithful People

HDS alumna Anne Marie Hunter, MDiv ’86, director of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse, delivered the following remarks at Morning Prayers in Harvard’s Memorial Church on October 12, 2018:

This morning’s reading features Psalm 22 interwoven with the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I cry by day, but you do not answer, and at night, but find no rest.

Ford: “I am here not because I want to be. I am terrified.”

Psalm 22: O God, I am a worm and not human, scorned by men. All who see me mock me.

Ford: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laugh—the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”

Psalm 22: They wag their heads: “She committed her cause to the Lord, let God deliver her.”

Ford: “I was calculating daily the risk/benefit … of coming forward, and wondering whether I would … just be personally annihilated.”

Psalm 22: O God, be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help.

Ford: “I did not want to tell my parents … I convinced myself that … I should just move on and … pretend that it didn’t happen.”

Psalm 22: Many bulls encompass me, they open wide their mouths at me, like a roaring lion. 

Ford: “My greatest fears have been realized. I’ve had to relive this trauma in front of the world.”

Psalm 22: O God, I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My strength is dried up. I am laid in the dust of death. 

Ford: “I thought he was going to accidentally kill me.”

Psalm 22: O God, a company of evildoers encircle me. 

Ford: “This assault drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details.”

Psalm 22: O God, be not far off. Deliver my soul from the sword and my life from the mouth of the lion.

Ford: “The details about that night … I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory, and have haunted me … as an adult.”

May God bless those who wrestle with these words.
 
There is a crisis in the United States today. One in four women and one in 10 men will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence. 20 to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of sexual assault (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Multiracial and American Indian/Alaska Native women disproportionately experience sexual assault, while 6 percent of LGBT individuals are assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (NSVRC).

Every survivor in the country watched Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony with their heart in their throat, hoping that this time it would be different, this time the survivor would be believed, not blamed or made fun of. Instead she was called a “hoax” and a “pawn in a vast political machine.”

We can do better.

I’m going to assume that faith is important to each of you because you are sitting in Memorial Church early on a Friday morning. And I’m going to assume you are leaders because you are at Harvard. Survivors need your help. When survivors reach out for help, they are more likely to reach out to family, friends, or a trusted person of faith for help than they are to call police or a hotline (Georgia Domestic Violence Coalition). Abuse is a spiritual as well as a physical and emotional crisis, and healing and justice often have spiritual components. So survivors turn to faithful people for help. That makes us all “first responders.”

Audre Lorde says that social change happens when people move from silence to naming to action (Sister Outsider). We have had generations of silence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the #whyIstayed, #whyIleft, and #metoo movements, as well as the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, have begun to name our experiences. It’s time for action.

  • Learn more. Start with the Safe Havens website at interfaithpartners.org.
  • Break your silence. Make your support of survivors visible. Wear purple on October 18, put up a poster, take a stand.
  • Listen to and believe survivors. David Augsberger says, “Being listened to is so close to being loved most people can’t tell the difference.”
  • Dismantle the racism, classism, and privilege that make victims from marginalized communities especially vulnerable.
  • Support local services. We should ALWAYS refer survivors to local sexual and domestic violence services, and to do that we need strong local services.

As people of faith, we have a unique role to play in responding to victims, educating our communities, and speaking out to end intimate partner and sexual violence. We are the ones, and we will do it.

Gospel Reflection for October 7, 2018, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

4 Oct

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

“God made humans male and female, and for this reason men and woman leave their fathers and mothers and the two become one.”  – Mark 10.6-8

Some Pharisees ask Jesus in Sunday’s gospel, “Does the law permit divorce?” This question is still controversial today. The law of Moses does permit men to divorce their wives. To repudiate a wife puts her outside the family social structure, in effect impoverishing her.

Jesus endorses marriage by quoting Genesis 1 that the Creator makes humankind in the divine image and gifts them with sex, “male and female God created them” (1.26.27). The creation story in Genesis 2 describes men and women made of the same bone or essence, equally human and made for becoming one. Jesus insists that in the case of adultery wives should be able divorce their husbands just as men can divorce their wives, a move toward equality.

This Church teaches marriage is indissoluble. Marriage is the most common way Christians live out their discipleship. Marriage builds bond of blood and networks of love and friendship–the social weave that holds us together. In countless daily ways spouses build their union and at the same time their individual wholeness.

Today Pope Francis recognizes the general rules in regard to marriage don’t fit every situation. He wants to make room for conscience and for grace. For him, mercy is the beating heart of the gospel. He cautions in his exhortation Love in the Family, “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete significance. It’s the worst way of watering down the gospel” (#311).

What do you value about marriage? What is hardest?


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Gospel Reflection for September 30, 2018, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 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

Often in our disgustingly polarized times, activists, liberal and conservative, reverse Jesus’ saying and eliminate the middle ground. They insist whoever is not for us is against us. Middle ground is liminal space, valuable to preserve for exploring what we have in common with others, what they have experienced, why they think the way they do. Middle ground is where real people replace stereotypes and liberate each other from the demons of prejudice and unexamined certainty. In the news the future of our democracy depends on finding common ground and common good, cups of water in Jesus’ name all around for all in need.

To what and to whom does the name Christian obligate us?


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Gospel Reflection for September 2, 2018, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

30 Aug

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

“You forsake the commandment of God and hold to human tradition…It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” – Mark 7.8, 21

Rules tend to multiply, and traditions accumulate. The Pharisees in Sunday’s gospel question why Jesus’ disciples do not follow Jewish traditions about washing their hands. In response Jesus raises a vital question: Are these rules human made or God-given? Do these rules lead people to God? Or, do these rules create unnecessary burdens? Jesus defends as more essential the moral law that declares greed, arrogance, deceit, murder, and adultery unholy. Declaring that the dietary laws have outlived their usefulness sets Jesus apart from all the authorities in the temple and synagogue. Laws like those of the Pharisees and many of the customs of the pre-Vatican II Church create a fence that was meant to keep people from even thinking about real hurtful, evil, destructive sins. Sunday’s gospel asks us to evaluate whether our rules help us become holy, open our hearts, and keep us from arrogance and obtuse spirits.

What rule do you practice that keeps your heart open to God and neighbor?


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Gospel Reflection for August 5, 2018, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Aug

Scripture Readings: Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4.17,20-24; John 6.24-35

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” – John 6.28

Jesus interests the crowd that he fed the day before in working for the food that endures for eternal life. Eternal life is the lure. That is why they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Believe in the one whom God has sent is Jesus’ answer. The abundant bread proved no sacrament to them. They fail to catch on that it points to who Jesus is. They fail to see that Jesus’ teaching, healing, loving presence is the sign of God among them. The crowd wants another sign if they are to believe Jesus is from God. They are hungry for more than food?

For what do I hunger? Of what do I want more of? In a budding friendship each person wants to discover who the other is, what he or she is about, what and who is important in the other’s life? We yearn to know one another more deeply. A new book entices us to join a book club. An encounter with a neighbor leads to a joint gardening project. You try volunteering and find a whole new purpose. Faith may become a hunger that leads to a prayer group or to bible study. A hunger for justice may lead us to work for legislative action.

Who do you feed in your daily life and work? For what do you hunger?


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