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Gospel Reflection for February 18, 2018, 1st Sunday of Lent

15 Feb

Sunday Readings: Genesis 9.8-15; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15

“Immediately after the baptism the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.” – Mark 1.15

The whole of Mark’s gospel unfolds what awakens in Jesus after living in harmony with God and all creation in the desert. “God’s reign has come near,” Jesus announces. God is near, within, and around us–the reality in which Jesus lived in the desert.

Jesus’ relationship with God mirrors the relationship to which he calls us. We are God’s beloved. The Spirit drives us, too.

What if Jesus’ time in the desert evokes in us the value of time alone and the heightening of our senses that comes from slowing down?

What if it is our affections that pull us more strongly to accomplish our commitments than the ascetic disciplines we undoubtedly consider each Lent?

What if our senses are not the problems, leading us into temptation at every side, but are doorways to community?

What if we need to fall in love again with those closest to us, giving them time and ear to re-engage? What if we make a point this Lent to do with family and friends what unfailingly brings us joy and recharges our batteries?

What if we need to fall in love again with Earth, its beauty, diversity, and unfailing burst each spring into new life?

With whom or what might you fall in love again this Lent?


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Gospel Reflection for February 11, 2018, 6th Sunday Ordinary Time

5 Feb

Scripture Readings: Leviticus 13.1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10.31-11.1; Mark 1.40-45

“A leper came to Jesus, imploring him urgently and kneeling as he spoke, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘I do choose. Be made clean.'”  – Mark 1.40-41
 
In Jesus’ time leprosy made its sufferers outsiders, obligated to stay away from others. Leprosy lumped together various skin conditions that like race, gender, age, and other realities show visibly on the body. Poverty can show in missing teeth and listless faces.

On the basis of appearance, we human beings start setting up boundaries between people like us and people like them, insiders and outsiders. We tend to stereotype and even demonize groups we don’t know. The voices of outsiders call for belonging among us, for equality and inclusion. The voices of those left out call us to widen our tents and lengthen our tables. In claiming justice and equality, people express their dignity as human begins made in God’s image and likeness. In healing the leper, Jesus gives voice to God’s intent for us all–wholeness and the communities love forms.

With who might you build a bridge from isolation to participation in economic life, parish life, neighborhood life, or family life?


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Gospel Reflection for February 4, 2018, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Jan

Scripture Readings: Job 7.1-4,6-7; 1 Corinthians 9.16-19,22-23; Mark 1.29-39

“On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. Jesus came, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her and she began to serve them.” – Mark 1.29-31

Peter’s mother-in-law survived in the oral traditions of the early Church and claims two verses in Mark’s gospel, the first to be written. We don’t know her name but she become the first woman disciple. The New American Bible, the translation Catholics hear in church, translates the Greek word diakonie as “began to wait on.” The word means serve, including providing for physical needs and serving the table. The word deacon, an office in the Church, comes from this same word. Jesus gives the word serve additional meaning when he equates serving with giving one’s life. He says of himself, “For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). Peter’s mother-in-law responds to Jesus’ act of raising her up by serving him and his four new male disciples–Peter, Andrew, James, and John. She becomes a disciples who give herself to Jesus and his mission. Women disciples appear at Jesus’ crucifixion. Like Peter’s mother-in-law these women serve Jesus and follow him. They accompany him from Galilee to Jerusalem (Mark 15.40-41). Perhaps Peter’s mother-in-law is one of the many unnamed women who follow and serve Jesus to the end.

Who models a discipleship of service that you try to follow in your life?


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Gospel Reflection for January 28, 2018, 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Jan

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 18.15-20; 1 Corinthians 7.32-35; Mark 1.28

“What is this?  A new teaching–with authority!” – Mark 1.27

An unholy spirit cries out in the synagogue where Jesus preaches in Sunday’s gospel. Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, a word that also means to silence, muzzle, tie shut. The unclean spirit will not be Jesus’ herald. The unclean spirits are right to ask Jesus if he has come to destroy them. The answer is yes. The gospel challenges us to discern the spirits that drive us.

Ambition may drive us, the desire to achieve and advanced degree or a high-paying job. Desire for security can drive us, a willingness to do whatever a boss asks in order to pay the bills and provide health benefits for the family. Alcohol or chocolate can possess us, becoming a comfort in our stress or pain more perfect and pliant than any human friend. Fear can stifle our creative selves or choke our voices.

What clamors for attention in yourself? What erodes your wholeness or the wholeness you seek?


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Gospel Reflection for January 21, 2018, 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

15 Jan

Sunday Readings: Jonah 3.1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” – Mark 1.17

The gospel writer Mark includes few details in the spare story of Jesus calling four fishermen to follow him. Jesus’ call is direct; their responses, quick and decisive. They do not become full-fledged disciples as fast as this, however. Mark cares about how faith develops and matures. Jesus’ disciples leave their old lives behind quickly but their faith journeys twist and turn as they walk with Jesus through fear, flight, sleep, denial, and failure. They take up their work of fishing for people only after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the end they give their lives for the gospel.

What is your vocation in life? What have you learned through persisting in a call?


If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection, please visit the Sunday By Sunday page to order a subscription or request a free sample. Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Mark’s Gospel: The Whole Story

8 Nov

Mark’s Gospel is the first to be written and the shortest of the four Gospels. Sister Joan’s introduction to Mark is ideal for Bible study groups. The 11 short chapters and the questions in each chapter make this book ideal for small groups, RCIA candidates and sponsors, and parish staff involved in Sunday worship preparation.

We began reading from Mark’s Gospel at Sunday Eucharist during Advent and continue in all of 2018. You will enjoy seeing Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection through Mark’s eyes. Check out the table of contents, introduction, and a sample chapter.

All this for only $10.00 per copy. Order online or call 800-232-5533 today and get your group going with Mark.

Visit goodgroundpress.com for daily prayers, free online retreats, and Advent resources.

Image 18 Oct

Urgent Love

8 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Tara Hunt

Photo via Flickr user Tara Hunt

In John Lewis’ Walking With the Wind, there is a great scene where the Big 6– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph and Whitney Young– are discussing plans for the 1963 March on Washington. They are arguing about the word “patience” as it played out in one of the speeches.

John Lewis, the youngest leader by far, despised the word. He didn’t want to be strategic . He didn’t want to compromise or take the long view. He wanted the rights he deserved now. Today. Immediately. He was sick of waiting. The older men, who had been working for black rights for decades, warned against his urgency.

The more seasoned leaders won out. The word patience was used in the speeches. The scene is powerful in how it pits veteran experience with idealistic vision. Movements that bring about truth and justice at the policy level, changing heats, minds and laws, take both strategies. The civil rights movement needed Lewis’ drive. I have to respect Lewis’ young, energized, righteous impatience. There is a time and a place for urgent love.

Mark’s Gospel is written with a sense of urgency. The beginning is curt and brief:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So is the ending:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mark portrays a Jesus that is constantly moving. The word “immediately” appears 40 times. Jesus moves from one act to the next with haste, humanizing those who feel abandoned and isolated. Their ailments, their sickness, their loneliness matters to Jesus. Mark’s writing style shows us Jesus’ unconditional, urgent love.

In a recent Easter reflection, my friend made the distinction between urgency and haste stating:

I will love with urgency, but not with haste. Urgency feels like saying, “You are important and I want to see this relationship progress and grow because I find you utterly fascinating.”

Haste is reckless, rushed, and stays on the surface. Haste makes mistakes. Urgency, conversely, is intentional. It honors, validates, moves, showers and shows passion. Who and what deserves our most urgent love? Today, how can we accept the urgent love of Jesus and use that love with others?

 

Tall Buildings

18 Mar

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” –Mark 13:2

Sky scrapers are powerful modern day metaphors. We build them higher and higher, competing to have the highest. They make us feel powerful, invincible, protected, successful, prospering. They represent our ego, our desire to leave a tangible mark on the world, our fortress from our own mortality and suffering.

Lent is a time to take our buildings apart, one brick at a time, and let our souls flap in the wind. It is a time to be vulnerable to the elements, to come out of hiding and admit that our buildings cannot protect us. Maybe we are better off without protection. Maybe God is outside the walls. This verse in Mark rings in my heart. Not one single stone will be left. This world is temporary. Our buildings cannot protect us. So maybe power, invincibility, protection, success and prosperity are not, actually, what we should be focused on.

Sadly, it sometimes takes our buildings to literally crumble to remind us. How do we not go straight to memories of 9/11/01 when we watched our great buildings come crashing down? We worked hard and quickly to rebuild, to show our strength, to sharpen our weapons so that we might feel protected. Arthur Waskow reminds us that fortresses won’t protect us:

In 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Jewish community celebrated the harvest festival of Sukkot. Many did so by building a sukkah– a fragile hut with a leafy roof, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, since its roof must be not only leafy but leaky enough to let in the starlight and gusts of wind and rain.

In our evening prayers throughout the year, just as we prepare to lie down in vulnerable sleep, we plead with God, “Spread over us Your sukkah of shalom—peace and safety.”

Why does the prayer plead for a sukkah of shalom rather than a temple or fortress or palace of shalom, which would be surely more safe and more secure?

 Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable. 

For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness:

Pyramids, Air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers

But the sukkah reminds us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If as the prophet Dylan sang, “A hard rain’s gonna fall,” it will fall on all of us. And on 9/11/01, the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah. Even the wildest oceans, the mightiest buildings, the wealthiest balance sheets, the most powerful weapons did not shield us. 

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: It is a statement of truth like the law of gravity. However much and in whatever way I love my neighbor, that will turn out to be in the way I love myself. If I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me. 

Only a world where all communities feel vulnerable, and therefore connected to all other communities, can prevent such acts of rage and mass murder.

The sukkah not only invites our bodies to become physically vulnerable, but also invites our minds to become vulnerable to new ideas. To live in the sukkah for a week, as Jewish tradition teaches; would be to leave behind not only the rigid walls and towers of our cities, but also our rigidified ideas, our assumptions, our habits, out accustomed lives. 

 “The Sukkah of Shalom,” Arthur Waskow, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, Ed Paul Loeb. Basic Book, New York City: NewYork, 2004, pp. 106-107.

This Lent, I’m trying to identify the ways I build tall buildings around my body, mind and heart. I’m trying to be brave enough to dissolve the walls and build a sukkah in its place so that I may come to feel more connection to my God in my vulnerability.

Stuff Barrier

19 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Jed Sullivan

Photo via Flickr user Jed Sullivan

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. –Mark 10:21

I find stickers in my back pocket. Drum sticks in the middle of the kitchen floor. A little stuffed giraffe propped up in the corner of the couch. A figurine, affectionately named Gordon, in my shoe. These sacred sprinklings are welcome signs of my son’s presence. Joyful, silly, unexpected interruptions in my adult life that fourteen months in, still feel new. These days will not last forever.

At times, when I see one of these objects standing on its own, I cry. They are infused with Simon’s affection, so now I find they are meaningful to me. I adore them because he has chosen them to be special objects in his life.

In my life, I have tried to travel lightly and not cling to things. I try to be a conscientious shopper and an active purger. So this emotional, already nostalgic attachment to a few of Simon’s things has been a surprise to me. This Lent, I’m thinking about the rich man. I’m thinking about my possessions.

We see in the rich man’s grief that he is clinging to his possessions. He doesn’t want to let them go. Jesus sees rightly that they are what is truly holding him back from following Jesus, knowing Jesus. Instead of owning his possessions, his possessions own him. So often, people who have too much stuff are the ones who struggle to give that stuff up.

I asked high schoolers what they would save in a house fire. A writing and sketching journal. A blanket from childhood. A cello. A phone, because on it she has voicemails saved of important voices in her life. These objects have been infused with meaning over time. And I don’t think they pull these youth further from God. In fact, I’d argue these object bring them closer to God.

It is a good Lenten practice to take inventory of our stuff. Stuff is not inherently bad. Some of it, over time and due to love, have become so infused with meaning that they can invite us into thin spaces of gratitude. It’s the stuff that takes us away from God, the stuff that owns us, the stuff that distracts us and keeps us focused on this world that we need to worry about. Are there possessions that are holding us back from following Jesus to the cross?

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