Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reminds me of a sound bite for the evening news. Taken out of context, Jesus is denying his family. And not only that, but Jesus now has “brothers,” so what happened to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary? Sound bites cause nothing but trouble because you don’t have the context to know what’s really being said. These sound bites take a whole lot of explanation, and the ones we have in today’s Gospel are certainly no exception.

First of all, let’s tackle the idea of Jesus having brothers. Many ideas surround that issue and have developed over time, as I am sure you can appreciate. One idea says that St. Joseph was an older man, and had sons by a previous wife, now dead. These would be Jesus’ half-brothers. Another idea comes from the fact that the Greek word translated “brothers” here is general enough that it might also refer to cousins or some other close kindred. So the brothers here would be close family members, not necessarily brothers. In either case, the Church affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary and this Gospel is making a different point.

The second sound bite is that Jesus seems to turn away from his mother and his relatives and claims that his family is those who hear the word of God and act on it. Well, Jesus certainly wasn’t turning away from his beloved mother or any of his close relatives. We know for a fact that Mary was the first of the disciples. Jesus seems to be more widening his family relationships than restricting them to just those related by blood. Which is good news for all of us who are now included in that family. Giving ourselves to the Word of God, hearing it and living it, we are mother and brother and sister to Christ. Praise God!

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’ve all heard this gospel parable about the sower and the seeds dozens of times. We know, then, that the seeds are the Word of God: not just some words, but Word with a capital “W,” which is Jesus himself, God’s eternal Word, spoken to bring life to a world dead in sin. We know that the seeds are that presence of Christ which fall on hearts that are variously rocky, or thorny, or rich and fertile. We’ve heard the parable, with Jesus’ own explanation, as well as homilies about it, so many times.

But what got me wondering as I read the parable in preparation for this morning’s Mass, was why – why are we hearing this parable now? The liturgical cycle usually conforms to the calendar, more or less, and so why this parable about sowing seeds now, on this day of the autumnal equinox, of all days? Nobody in their right mind sows seeds in autumn!

But God does. He sows the Word among us all the time: every day and every moment. It’s not just once for the season, and if the seeds don’t grow, then try again next year maybe. He is constantly sowing the seeds in us, urging us to make of our hearts rich, fertile soil for the Kingdom. And we do that by enriching the soil through reception of the Sacraments, participating at Mass, enlivening our prayer life, being open to the Word.

The Sower is out sowing the seeds of his Eternal Word all the time. Let’s give him fertile ground, that we can yield a rich harvest.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, leave the same way we came, ignoring what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s a little Christian Science church in the town where I grew up, on Main Street, just north of the downtown area.  They don’t anymore, but they used to list their upcoming sermon topic, followed by the line “All are welcome.”  Imagine my surprise when one day, the topic was going to be eternal punishment.  So the sign read: “Eternal Punishment.  All are welcome.”  Yeah, I had to drive around the block to make sure I read that right!

But that sign came to mind this week as I was preparing the readings for today.  There is a strong theme of welcoming, of hospitality, in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  But it’s not just a matter of saying to someone who’s new, “Hey, how are you?  Welcome here!”  The hospitality that we’re being called to in the readings today is a welcome of the Word of God.  And that sounds much easier than it actually is, so hang on to that, because we will come back to it.

In our first reading from the second book of Kings, Elisha the prophet is extended hospitality by the Shunemite woman.  Beginning by giving him food, eventually she builds a little room on the roof of her house so that Elisha could stay there whenever he was travelling through town.  We don’t know if she was a believer or not, but she recognizes that Elisha is a holy man and uses her influence and means to see that his prophetic ministry could flourish.

The true prophet, of which Elisha was one, always brings the Word of God.  The Shunemite woman reacted to the Word of God by making it welcome, in the person of Elisha.  She is a model for us of the hospitality and welcome of the Word that we are asked to consider this day.  So we too have to feed the Word and make a home for the Word.  We can feed the Word by exposing ourselves to the Scriptures in prayer and reflection.  I had a professor in seminary who used to beg us to read the Bible every day – even just a few verses.  He would say, “Then, brothers, when you close your eyes in death, you will open them in heaven and recognize where you are!”  When we feed the Word, we are able to grow in our faith and the Word will bring life to our souls.

From feeding the Word, we then have to build a little room for it, on the roof of our spiritual houses.  It’s instructive that Elisha’s room was build on the roof, because then the Word of God was over everything in the Shunemite woman’s life.  The Word of God was the head of her house and the guiding principle of her family life.  When we build that room, figuratively in our own lives, it must take top precedence for us too.  Jesus makes that a commandment in today’s Gospel.

And so we feed the Word and give it a home in our lives, and then it becomes the guiding principle of our own lives, as it should be.  But here’s the thing about that, and maybe this is why so many people don’t want to do this.  Because there is a cost to welcoming the Word of God.  Remember that the prophets were not always as welcome as Elisha was in the Shunemite woman’s house.  The prophets were often berated, ridiculed, even imprisoned, beaten and murdered, because the Word of God isn’t always welcome.

Because the Word of God calls us to live a certain way.  The Word of God wants us to be open to change, the Word of God actually usually demands that we change.  The Word of God wants us to be Christ to others, because Christ is the Word of God.  And so we must be forgiving of those who harm us, loving to those who test us, reaching out to those who need us (even when it’s inconvenient, or they’re not the people we want to be around), welcoming of those who are different than us.  Welcoming the Word of God means that we have to take up our cross and follow our Lord, meaning that there will be death involved and we might have to give up a whole lot.

We may have to die to what we think is important, die to our own self-interests, die to what makes us feel comfortable.  That’s what giving up one’s family meant in Jesus’ day: being cast out of the family was a form of death.  So not loving mother and father and son or daughter more than Christ meant dying to life in this world.  And dying to life in this world is exactly what welcoming the Word of God will cost us.

But giving up our lives will not be without its reward.  The Shunemite woman was rewarded with a child, even though her husband was advanced in years.  Jesus says the same.  Giving the Word of God even just a cup of water to nourish it and let it grow will be rewarded in ways we cannot even imagine.

So welcoming the Word of God will definitely cost us something, but it will also change everything.  Are you willing to embrace the cost and build a home in your life for the Word of God?

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.” It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus. We disciples are to take care how we hear. Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.
So how do we hear the words of the gospel? Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us? Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other? Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, seeming to ignore what we’ve just heard?
Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord? Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up? Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing? Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society? We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us. If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.
Take care, then, how you hear.

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Fulfilled in Your Hearing!

Today’s readings

I want to begin my homily by reminding you of the words we heard in our first reading from Nehemiah:

He read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.

So when you think Mass is too long, just think about that! We could be going from daybreak to midday!

Today we’re talking about teaching and the Scriptures, which is to remind us that we are all, always and forever, in the “school” of the faith. We don’t ever graduate from that school, until, of course, that great day, when we stand before our Lord to be judged, relying on his mercy and on our relationship with him, which is always a gift. Those who unite themselves to our Lord in faith throughout their lives, those who continue to study the Scriptures and see them fulfilled in our hearing, they have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Saint Jerome underlined this for us. He said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, because for all of us who did not live in the same time as Jesus, we rely on the Scriptures not just to tell us who Christ was, but also to have a relationship with him, remembering that Jesus is always present in the proclamation of the Word of God.

There are three Scriptural moments in today’s Liturgy of the Word. First, the Word is proclaimed. Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers. Finally, the Word is fulfilled. So first, the Word is proclaimed, and we see that twice. In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand. It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation. The second time we see this is in the Gospel reading. Jesus takes the scroll of the law, and finds a particular passage from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims it. He too provides an interpretation, in the form of his very life.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers. For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response. The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep. The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments. I think we might have that same reaction sometimes, and when it produces repentance, that’s really not a bad thing at all. But Nehemiah instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy. In contrast, we don’t get any idea of how the rest of the congregation at the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah in the Gospel reading, but one would think that it would have been a pretty tame reaction until he announced that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. Then we can imagine they had a lot to say and a perhaps indignant reaction.

Finally, the Word is fulfilled. Jesus’ instruction in the Gospel that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in the synagogue-goers hearing tells us that Word is never intended to be a static thing. We do not just passively sit through the proclamation of the Word, nod our heads, and move on to the Eucharist. The Word is a living thing and it is intended to have an effect on its hearers. Indeed, the Word is always proclaimed with the intent that it be fulfilled, and that fulfillment began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his person, all of the promises of the Old Testament are brought into being, and the real hope of the world begins.

We continue to celebrate the Word in those three moments. We come now come to this holy place to hear the Word proclaimed, and have it interpreted in the homily. Our Liturgy of the Word, then, goes back to ancient times, and looks much the way Ezra proclaimed the Scriptures. Except, of course, it’s a lot shorter now! We continue to be affected by the Word’s proclamation. We too may be moved to tears as we hear of God’s goodness, and think of the way we have fallen short. We too need to hear Nehemiah proclaim that the preaching of the Word is a time for great joy. Finally, the Word continues to be fulfilled among us. Having sent his Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to be the fulfillment of Scripture, every time someone hears the Word and acts on it.

I want to try a bit of an object lesson. Jesus, quoting from Isaiah, said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. That is true too for all of us who have been Baptized and Confirmed, because we receive the Holy Spirit in both Sacraments. So I would ask all of you to close your eyes for a minute and listen to these words from Isaiah spoken not just to Jesus, but also to all of us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
because he has anointed you
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent you to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

You may find yourself ill-equipped to break people out of prison. But I know that you know at least one person who is in some kind of prison. Maybe they are imprisoned by illness or old age. Maybe they are imprisoned by fear of acting to better their lives. These people need you to journey with them and be present to them, thereby setting those captives free. You may not be too sure about how you can proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Maybe you don’t even know anyone who is physically blind. But you probably know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Or maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are suffering from an addiction of some sort. Maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that someone they are close to needs them in a special way. You may even know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are a beautiful, gifted, and beloved son or daughter of God. You can be present to these who are blind and to gently but firmly lead them to recovery of sight. Finally, you probably have no idea how to let the oppressed go free. But you may have an hour or two to serve a hot meal to those oppressed by homelessness at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You may be able to spend some time occasionally with those who are oppressed by not knowing how to read. By giving of yourself, you can let these oppressed go free.

We have been anointed with the Holy Spirit in order to bring glad tidings to the poor. By acting selflessly, we can turn things around in our own little corner of the world. By hearing and acting on the Word, we can proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. May the Words of this Holy Book be fulfilled today – and every day – in your hearing.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.” It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus. We disciples are to take care how we hear. Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel? Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us? Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other? Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, seeming to ignore what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord? Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up? Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing? Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society? We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us. If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, seeming to ignore what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

Psalm 19 says, “your words, Lord, are spirit and life.”  We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – Respect Life

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word is kind of a homily about the Liturgy of the Word.  We hear in the readings about how powerful the Word of God is, and what an important part of our lives hearing those words is for those who believe.  Our first reading and our gospel reading both show moments where the word is proclaimed.

In the first reading, the people are returning from a disastrous exile in Babylon.  Because they had not previously acted on God’s word, the Babylonians overtook them, and the cream of their population was carted off to exile.  The religious and political leaders, the learned teachers, the strong soldiers, all of these were taken from their midst.  So today’s reading finds them on the other side of that event: they are returning and beginning to think about the daunting task of rebuilding their society and its infrastructure.  They pause at the beginning of that to remind themselves of the words of Scripture that had been so important to them.

The gospel reading finds the Israelites at a much later time, obviously, a time where the Temple had been destroyed.  In order to preserve their religion, the practice of meeting in synagogues had come about.  There, the words of Scripture would be read, and someone would give an interpretation of those words.  This time the proclaimer and interpreter is Jesus himself.

What is common in these two readings is that each of them shows us three Scriptural moments. In the first moment, the Word is proclaimed. Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers. Finally, the Word is fulfilled. So first, the Word is proclaimed. In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand. It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation. This went on most of the day, I might add, so don’t complain if my homily is more than nine minutes!  The second time we see this is in the Gospel reading. Jesus takes the scroll of the law, and finds a particular passage from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims it. He too provides an interpretation, in the form of his very life.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers. For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response. The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep. The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments, and remembered that not following those commandments is what cast them into exile. Ezra then instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy. We don’t get any idea of how the rest of the congregation at the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah, but one would think that it would have been a pretty tame reaction until he announced that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. Then we can imagine they had a lot to say and a perhaps indignant reaction.

Finally, the Word is fulfilled. Jesus’ instruction in the Gospel that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in the synagogue-goers hearing tells us that Word is never intended to be a static thing. The words of Scripture than made the Israelite’s weep in Nehemiah and Ezra’s day are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ and continue to be fulfilled in our own day.  We do not just passively sit through the proclamation of the Word, nod our heads, and move on to the Eucharist. The Word is a living thing and it is intended to have an effect on its hearers. Indeed, the Word is always intended to be fulfilled, and that fulfillment began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his person, all of the promises of the Old Testament are brought into being, and the real hope of the world begins.

The Word of God, we are told, is a living and active thing.  The Word leads us to a certain way of life, a belief that God is among us, and that he gifts us overwhelmingly every single day of our lives.  This time each year, we pause to be reminded particularly of the gift of life.  Perhaps we might find ourselves of the same mind as the Israelites who wept when they considered how far they had been from keeping God’s law.  The same could be said of our own society, which seems to value life less and less all the time.  Against this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (CCC, 2258)

This past Friday was the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that in effect legalized abortion in the United States.  The Church teaches us that abortion is a violation of the fifth commandment, which states: “Thou shall not kill.”  Participation in an abortion – which includes having one, paying for one, encouraging one, performing one, and helping in the performance of one – is a mortal sin.  Because we oppose abortion, we as a Church are committed to making alternatives to abortion more available, including adoption, financial assistance to parents and especially mothers in need, and education about the sanctity of life.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, our society has tumbled down the slippery slope of devaluing life and we are seeing the rotten fruits of it all over. War, violence, hatred, lack of concern for the poor and needy, lack of respect for the elderly and terminally ill, all of these things are symptoms of the culture of death that surrounds us. Far from liberating women and giving them choice over the use of their bodies, the legalization of abortion has driven many women to have an abortion simply because they thought that was their only option or because it was more convenient for family or the father.

But respecting life goes beyond merely opposing abortion.  Our Church teaches us that we cannot claim to be Pro Life if we are in fact only anti-abortion. Our claim to righteousness has to be based on more than never having had the disastrous occasion of having to choose to participate in an abortion, or it’s not really righteousness at all. If we pray to end abortion and then do not attend to our obligation to the poor, or if we choose to support the death penalty, or if we engage in racial bigotry, then we are not in fact Pro Life. Every life, every life, every life is sacred, no matter what we may think of it.  It’s sacred because God created that life after his very own image and likeness.

And I say all this not because I don’t think that abortion is anything short of a disaster: it most certainly is.  Abortion ends the life of a child, it ruins the lives of everyone involved, it damages society in ways we may never fully know.  I say this because it’s way too easy for us to oppose abortion and then call ourselves Pro Life and then go out and violate life in some other circumstance. We must be very careful of doing that, because not being completely Pro Life weakens our witness to the sanctity of life.  The world is watching us closely.  And we absolutely cannot be at all weak in our witness for life: our society needs our strength and passion for life so that there can be conversion and change and unity and peace.

The Word of God continues to be proclaimed, to have an effect on us who hear it, and to be fulfilled in our hearing.  Our witness for life is an important way that the Word is fulfilled in our own day.  The Scriptures tell us that the culture of death doesn’t get the last word – God does, life does.  And for that, as Ezra exhorted the Israelites, we should rejoice.

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Israelites wandering in the desert would seem to have had the spiritual life easy. How could they possibly miss God’s presence? There was a cloud to lead them to the Lord by day, and fire by night. But just like the stuff that ended up in the net in today’s Gospel, some people got it and some people didn’t.

The same is true for us. How hard can it be for us to see the Lord’s presence in our own lives?  Even now, some people get it and some people don’t.  And more than that, even the faithful among us sometimes get it and sometimes don’t.  I often think it would be good to have something as hard to miss as a column of cloud or fire to keep me on the straight and narrow.  Well, in a way – a much better way, actually –  we do: we have the Church, the Sacraments, and the Word of God, prayer that beckons us by day and by night. But even that doesn’t always light the way for us.  There are so many distractions.

The issue is urgent.  The Kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us today, will be like the fishmongers sorting out the fish from the seaborne refuse.  We don’t want to get thrown out with all that vile stuff.  So, may God lead us all to be among those who get it, those who follow the way marked out for us. After all, we have something way better than clouds by day and fire by night, don’t we?