Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To The Upright I Will Show The Saving Power Of God.

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Amos 5:14-15, 21-24
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
Then truly will the LORD, the God of hosts,
be with you as you claim!
Hate evil and love good,
and let justice prevail at the gate;
Then it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will have pity on the remnant of Joseph.

I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the LORD,
I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
Your cereal offerings I will not accept,
nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.
Away with your noisy songs!
I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.
But if you would offer me burnt offerings,
then let justice surge like water,
and goodness like an unfailing stream.
Today we have another appeal for people to act with a sense of justice. The passage begins with a rather generalised exhortation to “seek good and not evil”. To “seek good” is, of course, to seek the source of all Good, God himself and to stay away from everything that is contrary to his nature.

Then we can truly claim that “the Lord, the God of hosts” is with us. God, in a sense, is everywhere, in and through everything but for him to be fully in me, my heart must be fully open for him to enter and for me to experience the power of his love. And, if we do genuinely try to seek him, then he will truly be with us. But how that is to be done is yet to be spelt out by the prophet.

That spelling out begins when Amos says that to “hate evil and do good” means, among other things, to “let justice prevail at the gate”. In the cities of the time, local government functioned in the large open space inside the city’s gate. The implication is that justice does not always prevail. But only if the ‘remnant of Joseph’ can behave consistently with justice will they experience the Lord’s compassion. The ‘remnant of Joseph’ refers to those from the tribe of Joseph who are still remaining in the Northern Kingdom after it has been depleted by successive punishments from Yahweh, through the instrumentation of various invaders. This is the first mention of the ‘remnant’ of Israel in the prophets.

There is an implication that a change even now would benefit the individual survivors of the disaster, though the nation as a whole was doomed to perish.

In the second half of the reading, to make sure that there is no misunderstanding about what seeking good and seeking God entails, Yahweh, in the prophet’s name, denounces the plethora of feasts and liturgical festivals scattered throughout the year.

It is an attack against identifying religious with rituals and liturgical practices. The prophets often attack religious hypocrisy, the conviction that all is well, provided external forms like sacrifice and fasting are observed, even when the most elementary principles of social justice and neighbourly love are neglected. The Psalms lay emphasis on the inner dispositions that must lie behind acceptable sacrifice: obedience, gratitude, contrition; the Books of Chronicles, too, insist on the part played in sacrificial worship by the liturgical chant as an expression of inward sentiments; these authors also protest against a religion of mere form.

The Christian Testament will formulate the distinction even more definitively. In attacking the Pharisees who laid great emphasis on external ritual and the cleanliness of vessels used even in ordinary eating, Jesus had said: “Give what is in your cups and plates to the poor, and everything will be ritually clean for you” (Luke 11:41-42). “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do” (Matthew 7:21). In John too, in speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus tells her that true worship is not in a particular place but only in Spirit and truth (John 4:21-24).

Amos puts it in even stronger language: “I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities.” These verses summarise and reject the current practice of religion in Israel. The institutions were not wrong in themselves; it was the worshippers and the way they worshipped that were wrong. The people had no basis on which to come to God, because their behaviour reflected disobedience of his law. What value then could be given to empty ritualistic practices?

Examples given are ‘cereal offerings’, samples of the harvest offered in thanksgiving; ‘stall-fed peace offerings’, specially fattened cattle also offered as thanksgiving for good herds and flocks; ‘noisy songs’ and ‘melodies of your harps’ accompanying the liturgical rites. On their own, these are of little value although there are many who believe that participation in these activities is equivalent to holiness and union with God.

But the only real holocaust the Lord wants is that “justice surge like water and goodness like an unfailing stream”. These are the prerequisites for acceptance by God but they are what Israel is rejecting. Justice is to flow like a never-failing stream in contrast to river beds that are dry much of the year. As plant and animal life flourishes where there is water, so human life flourishes where justice and righteousness are constantly practised.

On the one hand, it would be quite wrong to deduce from this reading that we go to the other extreme and to think that, provided we are engaged in acts of love and justice, we can dispense with all liturgical rites, that we can forget about our Sunday Eucharistic celebration.

On the other hand, there is a real danger that we can measure our service of God by our regular attendance at Mass, even daily Mass, and the regular saying of certain prayers or involvement in certain devotions and novenas. “He is a very good Catholic; he is a daily communicant.” That will only be true if, first of all, there is a genuine participation in a community-centred liturgy and, secondly, if church attendance is part of a life totally dedicated to the living of the Gospel, especially those parts of the Gospel which call for personal involvement in serving the needs of those around us and, indeed, of people in other parts of the world too, who are in need of any kind.

The sacramental liturgy plays an absolutely central role in our Christian lives but only when it is in close dialogue with lives based on love, justice and compassion. Each one reinforces the other.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 50
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Hear, my people, and I will speak;
Israel, I will testify against you;
God, your God, am I.”
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold.”
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“For mine are all the animals of the forests,
beasts by the thousand on my mountains.
I know all the birds of the air,
and whatever stirs in the plains, belongs to me.”
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“If I were hungry, I should not tell you,
for mine are the world and its fullness.
Do I eat the flesh of strong bulls,
or is the blood of goats my drink?”
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Matthew 8:28-34
When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes,
two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him.
They were so savage that no one could travel by that road.
They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God?
Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”
Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding.
The demons pleaded with him,
“If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.”
And he said to them, “Go then!”
They came out and entered the swine,
and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea
where they drowned.
The swineherds ran away,
and when they came to the town they reported everything,
including what had happened to the demoniacs.
Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus,
and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
Matthew’s version of this strange story is quite different from and much shorter than Mark’s. It is usual for Matthew to pare down stories just to the essential details while Mark tends to give a more dramatic presentation. In Matthew’s version, too, there are two possessed people instead of just one. (Similarly in his version of the Bartimaeus story told by Mark [10:46ff], Matthew [20:29ff] has two blind men.)

In the previous story about the calming of the storm we saw that Jesus and disciples were crossing the lake. They now come to their destination, a place known as the Gadarenes. It got its name from the town of Gadara on the south-east side of the lake.

Here Jesus was met by two people possessed by demons who completely controlled them. Unlike many of the ordinary people, the demons in these two men have an insight into Jesus’ identity although they may not recognise it fully. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” Jesus usually refers to himself as Son of Man and never as Son of God. “Have you come here to torture us before the time?”

There was a belief that demons would be free to roam the earth until the Judgment Day came. They did this by taking possession of people. This possession was often associated with disease, because disease was the consequence of sin and a sign of being in Satan’s power. That is why when Jesus expels a demon there is often a cure as well. By driving out these spirits Jesus inaugurates the Messianic age which many of the people do not recognise but which the demons do. Later Jesus will hand over this exorcising power together with the ability to effect cures to his disciples. We will see that in the discourse in chapter 10.

The demons then begged Jesus to let them go into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus consented to this. As soon as they had entered the pigs, the whole herd rushed headlong over a cliff and into the water below. The swineherds rushed off to the nearest town to tell what had happened.

The townspeople immediately came out in search of Jesus and, not surprisingly, begged him to go somewhere else. It might seem rather high-handed of Jesus to destroy a whole herd of pigs in this way. We have to remember, however, that in Jewish eyes these pigs were abominably unclean. There was not a better place to put demons and it was they who really brought about the destruction of the animals. But, understandably, the owners of the pigs found it difficult to see things in the same way.

The purpose of the story, of course, is to focus on Jesus’ power to liberate people from evil influences which were destroying their lives. What these men were suffering could not be compared to the loss of the pigs’ lives and these would have ended up in a cooking pot anyway.

We, too, need to ask Jesus to liberate us from any evil influences or addictions which enslave us and prevent us from being the kind of persons he wants us to be.*

The Irish Jesuits

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Will Give You The Keys Of The Kingdom Of Heaven.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Mass during the Day
Reading I
Acts 12:1-11
In those days, King Herod laid hands upon
some members of the Church to harm them.
He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews
he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
–It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.–
He had him taken into custody and put in prison
under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.
He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
Peter thus was being kept in prison,
but prayer by the Church was fervently being made
to God on his behalf.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
“Get up quickly.”
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him,
“Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so.
Then he said to him,
“Put on your cloak and follow me.”
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening
through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm  34
The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.

The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me
the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 16:13-19
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
We celebrate today the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The readings are fairly sober in that they speak of events that relate to both disciples’ end of life experiences.

In the first, from Acts, St. Peter is in prison under unusually heavy guard and secured by chains when he is miraculously freed from his chains and led out to freedom. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul reflects on his long life of service to the early churches as “being poured out like a libation.” He has “fought the good fight” and he has “kept the faith” and he now looks forward to the “crown” that awaits him with the Lord.

Both readings speak of the apostles being rescued by the Lord. Both, too, are the founders of the early church in Rome due primarily to the reality of their experiencing themselves as one with Christ by their service of others. Indeed Christ is the very center and purpose of their lives devoted to bringing the gospel to the world.

The Christ who rescues them is the same Christ whom they followed as a disciple. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus himself is approaching his own cruel death as he nears Jerusalem and he asked his friends/companions/disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is praised by Jesus not only as the “correct” answer, but that the answer itself comes to Peter as God’s own revelation. Jesus promises that Peter will be the rock on which Jesus’ church will be built.

As we consider the character of both these early founders of our church we are impressed by the fact that they as individual people they are not the source of the goodness that flowed from and through them; that strength and goodness was God’s gift they would experience throughout the course of their magnificent service to others. Both had their huge flaws: Peter was impetuous, strong-willed, and often obtuse to the message that Jesus was trying to give him; Paul started off as a persecutor of the church. Seemingly not a very auspicious beginning for them!

Yet, each of them was open to being “rescued” by Jesus and each recognized that he was privileged to work side-by-side with Christ. They both, tradition tells us, were martyrs for Christ and as such models for our own privileged witnessing as members of the Risen Body of Christ.

What do their lives say to us, today? That we, too, are called by Jesus into service and that our service, however small and meager it appears to us, is the gift of God as well as an ongoing invitation to us to follow Jesus as his disciples today in our difficult circumstances. Just like Peter and Paul, we are witnesses for Christ to those we come in contact with. Our “witnessing” probably will not lead to our cruel martyrdom as Peter and Paul’s (and Jesus’), but we too can “pour ourselves out” as Jesus (and Peter and Paul) did. We can, like them “fight the good fight” and, most importantly, “keep the faith.”

Tom Shanahan, S.J.
Daily Reflection
Creighton University's Online Ministries

Monday, June 28, 2010

To Them That Go The Right Way, I Will Show The Salvation Of God.

Monday of the Thirteenth Week In Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Reading I
Amos 2:6-10, 13-16
Thus says the LORD:
For three crimes of Israel, and for four,
I will not revoke my word;
Because they sell the just man for silver,
and the poor man for a pair of sandals.
They trample the heads of the weak
into the dust of the earth,
and force the lowly out of the way.
Son and father go to the same prostitute,
profaning my holy name.
Upon garments taken in pledge
they recline beside any altar;
And the wine of those who have been fined
they drink in the house of their god.

Yet it was I who destroyed
the Amorites before them,
who were as tall as the cedars,
and as strong as the oak trees.
I destroyed their fruit above,
and their roots beneath.
It was I who brought you up
from the land of Egypt,
and who led you
through the desert for forty years,
to occupy the land of the Amorites.

Beware, I will crush you into the ground
as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves.
Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong man shall not retain his strength;
The warrior shall not save his life,
nor the bowman stand his ground;
The swift of foot shall not escape,
nor the horseman save his life.
And the most stouthearted of warriors
shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD.
For the next eight weeks we shall be reading from Old Testament prophets. The first of these is the prophet Amos. He was a shepherd from Tekoa in the southern kingdom of Judah. From there he travelled north to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and to the great cult centre which was the shrine of Bethel. There around 750 BC he scolded the people for their hypocritical religious devotions while ignoring the demands of social justice around them. He was finally expelled from the sanctuary by the priest in charge.

His poetry is filled with imagery and language taken from his own pastoral background. The book we have is an anthology of his oracles and was compiled either by the prophet or by some of his disciples.

Amos is a prophet of social justice. He is strongest of all in his condemnation of those who make ostentatious displays of religious piety while acting abominably with their less fortunate brothers and sisters. For a small amount of wrongdoing, the prophet says in God’s name, God’s promises will not be revoked from his people. But he then goes on to list what seems to be widespread and outrageous behaviour, especially towards the more vulnerable members of society.

They are willing to sell an otherwise good man into slavery just for the money they can get and they will sell off a poor man and be happy to take just a pair of sandals as payment or sell him into slavery when he could not repay a debt for which his sandals had been given in pledge. They constantly trample on the poor and the weak and hold them in utter contempt.

The avarice of the already rich and of men in power is a constant preoccupation of the prophets. That avarice is still with us. To care for the poor and the oppressed and to protect them from injustice were clearly commanded by Israel’s law and, indeed, throughout the ancient Near East, kings were supposed to defend such people.

He further charges that there are cases where both father and son have sexual relations with the same woman. She might have been a slave in the household or perhaps a temple prostitute. Sacred prostitution was a feature of Canaanite worship which contaminated Israel.

Or it may even have been an incestuous relationship: father with wife and daughter, son with mother and sister. According to the law, to have sexual relations with a woman meant an obligation to marry her, while father and son having sexual relations with the same woman was strictly against the law and there were severe sanctions for such behaviour.

Clothes which have been taken as a pledge against borrowed money are then worn by the lender during religious ceremonies. There may even be an implication here that the borrower was left with nothing to wear. The law prohibited keeping a man’s cloak overnight as a pledge, or taking a widow’s cloak at all.

Wine demanded of those against whom (perhaps false or extortionate) charges of damages were made is then piously drunk at the ceremonial banquets following the offering of sacrifices. The “house of God” then is effectively reduced to the “house of their god”.

Such behaviour, Amos says, is a flagrant act of ingratitude to their God who helped them wipe out the Amorites, that is, the inhabitants of Canaan, on their arrival in the Promised Land. It is a display of thanklessness to Yahweh who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the land of Amorites after accompanying them for 40 years in the desert. God’s care and providence for them should now be reflected in their care and providence of their community, most of all, the weak and the vulnerable.

Because of their shameless behaviour, they can expect the worst to happen to them. They will be crushed as a heavily laden wagon of corn crushes what is beneath it. Those who can run fast will find they cannot escape from the approaching disaster. The strong will find themselves weak. The soldier will lose his life and the archer be unable to release his arrows. Even the bravest of warriors will not have time to dress and will flee the approaching threat naked.

“On that day” - the day God comes in judgement, as he as he did through the Assyrian invasion that swept the northern kingdom away never to recover.

Obviously, the prophet is saying that there is a remedy and that is to heed the prophet’s warnings and to change their ways.

This is a very powerful passage and is as meaningful today as when it was first written. Allowing for some changes of time and place, there is a distressing familiarity with the prophet’s accusations for things have not changed very much in nearly 3,000 years (this was written about 750 BC).

At least, let us look into our own lives and see if any of these accusations could even be remotely thrown against us. And, where we can, let us work together with others to remedy the situation. Our relationship with God is not measured just by our attendance in church or the carrying out of religious obligations. There can be no love of God, there can be no true religion where there is no practice of justice and loving concern for the weak and marginalised.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 50
Remember this, you who never think of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
Remember this, you who never think of God.
“When you see a thief, you keep pace with him,
and with adulterers you throw in your lot.
To your mouth you give free rein for evil,
you harness your tongue to deceit.”
Remember this, you who never think of God.
“You sit speaking against your brother;
against your mother’s son you spread rumors.
When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.”
Remember this, you who never think of God.
“Consider this, you who forget God,
lest I rend you and there be no one to rescue you.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way
I will show the salvation of God.”
Remember this, you who never think of God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 8:18-22
When Jesus saw a crowd around him,
he gave orders to cross to the other shore.
A scribe approached and said to him,
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”
There are times when Jesus goes out of his way to meet the crowds. On one occasion we are told he was filled with compassion because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. But today, he gives orders to cross the lake apparently to avoid the crowds pressing in on him.

The crowds represent two kinds of people: those in real need of teaching and healing and those who are simply driven by a kind of curiosity for the unusual. Jesus is not particularly interested in the second kind; they represent a false interest in Jesus. For them he is just a sensation, a wonder-worker, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.

Similarly, when a scribe approaches Jesus and says, “Teacher, wherever you go I will come after you.” It seems like a generous offer but Jesus reminds the man of just what that may entail. “Foxes have lairs, birds in the sky their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

To follow Jesus means, like him, to be ready to have nothing of one’s own. As Jesus said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot at the same time serve two masters. To be with Jesus is to accept a situation where we may have nothing in the way of material possessions. Our security will be elsewhere.

We do not know whether the scribe took up the challenge or not. It does not really matter. Jesus’ words are recorded mainly for us to hear them. What do I think when I hear them? Have I made the choice between having Jesus and having things? Or do I think I can have both? Do I want to have both?

Another person, described as being already a disciple, asks for permission to go and bury his father first before following Jesus. It seems a fairly reasonable request and Jesus’ reply sounds rather harsh. “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” Both the Jewish and Hellenistic world regarded this as a filial obligation of the highest importance. (I knew a man who asked to delay his becoming a Catholic until he could give his father a Buddhist burial; in the event he never did become a Christian.)

There are two ways we can understand this reply. In one case, the man is asking to postpone his following of Jesus until his father dies and he can bury him. But to follow Jesus is to enter a new family with a new set of obligations. It is not that the man should not honour his father but, in the meantime, there are other things of much greater importance that need to be done. In the new family, of which his father is just one member, there are more pressing obligations. It is another way of Jesus letting us know that our following of him has to be unconditional. We cannot say, “I will follow you if…” or “I will follow you when I am ready…” When he calls we have, like the first disciples, be ready to drop our nets, our boats and even our family members.

Another way of understanding Jesus’ words is to see his call as a call to a way of life. Those who want to go their own self-seeking ways belong to the spiritually dead. Leave the burial of the dead to them. The rituals of society, including burial, have their place, an important place but for Jesus the call to the Kingdom represents a commitment to a more important set of values.

We must put all these statements in their context. They make clear that following Jesus involves a radical commitment but it does not mean that that we act in ways that are inhumane or unreasonable. Soon after Peter and Andrew had abandoned their boats and their nets to follow Jesus, we find Jesus in their house tending to their mother-in-law who had fallen sick (Mark 1:29-31). There was a time when some religious sisters were not allowed to attend a family funeral. That has now changed - and rightly. At the same time, the call of Jesus still involves a total commitment.*

The Irish Jesuits

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lord, You It Is Who Hold Fast My Lot. You Will Show Me The Path To Life.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
The LORD said to Elijah:
“You shall anoint Elisha,
son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah,
as prophet to succeed you.”

Elijah set out and came upon
Elisha, son of Shaphat,
as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen;
he was following the twelfth.
Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said,
“Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,
and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back!
Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him,
and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them;
he used the plowing equipment
for fuel to boil their flesh,
and gave it to his people to eat.
Then Elisha left
and followed Elijah as his attendant.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 16
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.”
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand
I shall not be disturbed.
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence
because you will not abandon
my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one
to undergo corruption.
You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again
to the yoke of slavery.

For you were called for freedom,
brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.

I say, then: live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not
gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit,
you are not under the law.
Luke 9:51-62
When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they journeyed to another village.

As they were proceeding on their journey
someone said to him,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

And to another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him,
“Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said,
“No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today’s gospel begins with a very significant moment in the life of Jesus. “As the time for him to be taken up to heaven came near, Jesus resolutely took the road to Jerusalem.” In Luke’s gospel, Jerusalem is the focus of Jesus’ public life, the center from which the redemptive mission of Jesus unfolds. After Jesus returns to his place at the Father’s right hand, it will be in Jerusalem that the disciples will form a new community to continue the mission of Jesus, and it will be from Jerusalem that it will spread to every corner of the world.

Jesus sets his face “resolutely” toward Jerusalem, because he is ready to undergo whatever is necessary for his mission to be accomplished. In doing so, he sets an example to his disciples – then and now – to join in his work, and to be prepared for whatever comes in our accepting our part in his mission.

On the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus and his companions pass through a Samaritan village, where the people would not welcome them, because they were going to Jerusalem. Apparently, their motive was religious bigotry, but the purpose of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem was to put an end to such divisions, to knock down all the barriers dividing people, and to bring peace and reconciliation. When the Sons of Thunder, James and John, want to call down fire from heaven to consume the village and its people, Jesus rebukes them, and they continue their journey toward the Holy City.

There is a further irony, since it will be to Samaria that the early Christians will flee when persecution begins in Jerusalem, and it will be from there that the infant Church will begin its mission to the four corners of the world.

Now we come to the core of today’s Mass theme: our response to Jesus’ invitation to join him. As Jesus continues on his way to Jerusalem (and all that will happen to him there), several people express the desire to join him. Clearly, they do not fully understand what “going to Jerusalem” truly means for Jesus, and for whoever chooses to follow him. Let us look more closely at these three would-be disciples, since one or another of them represents me – and you.

The first one says, boldly and generously, “I will follow you, wherever you go!” He is very enthusiastic, but he may not be aware of the realities facing him. Jesus pulls him up short: “Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but the Son of May has nowhere to call his own.” He has no house, not property, no money. As Winston Churchill told the British people at the beginning of World War II, he has nothing to offer but “blood, sweat and tears.”

We have to be aware of what is expected from a disciple. Am I ready to let go of people and things, of strings and props that are obstacles to following Jesus wherever he leads? Or do I carry all of that baggage with me, when I decide to follow him?

The second one also wants to follow Jesus. He starts by making what seems to be a reasonable request: “Let me go first and bury my father.” The reply of Jesus sounds harsh: “Let the dead bury their dead. You, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Yet we should not conclude that this would-be disciple’s father was already deceased. He may have been saying that he would be ready to follow Jesus only after he had fulfilled his duties to his father during his lifetime.

Of course, Jesus is not way that we shouldn’t love and respect the members of our family. Rather, he is asking where our priorities in life really are. He is saying that, if we wish to be his disciple, we can’t make our own arrangements first, and then, only when we are ready, go and follow him. The Kingdom of God, the world of truth, compassion, justice, freedom and peace, which we are called to build, comes first.

The third fellow says that he wants to follow Jesus, but first, he wants to say goodbye to his family and friends. This is not unlike the second case. I want to follow Jesus, but first I want to live my own life. As Saint Augustine wrote, “Crastina, Domine”. [Tomorrow, Lord.] But, to be a disciple of Jesus, I cannot hesitate, or delay. The call is NOW, today, and the response must be now, today. As Jesus reminds us in the last verse of the gospel, if you put your hand to the plow and keep looking back, your furrow is going to be anything but straight.

Jesus’ mention of the plow is clearly a reference to the First Reading, the call of Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet in Israel. Elisha also wanted to say goodbye to his parents. “Go back”, Elijah said. But then, Elisha thought better of it. He slaughtered his two oxen, took his plow and used it to make a fire, cooked the meat, and gave it to his men. Now, empty-handed but totally free, he followed Elijah.

We do not need to take these images literally; they are intended to help us reflect on the various influences – material, emotional, intellectual – that may be obstacles to our answering the call of Jesus to follow him. There are many desires and attachments in life, many anxieties and fears. We may be moved to regret or to feel nostalgic about what we have done in the past, or worry about what might happen in the future. Much of the time, we may be living only half a life, or even, living someone else’s life and not our own.

That is why Paul, in today’s passage from Galatians, emphasizes freedom so clearly. “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free.” Some of the Galatian Christians were Jewish converts, and it seems they were being urged to go back to their former religious customs. The irony is that, like many people today, they were afraid of really being free.

I am a fully free person not when I defy authority, or take drugs, or blow clouds of tobacco smoke into other people’s faces, or turn up my radio or my hi-fi to ear-shattering volume, or drive my car aggressively with no respect for other users of the road. I am truly a free person when I really care for my neighbor, seem him or her as my brother or sister, and when my neighbor’s needs become my needs.

To be free, as Paul reminds us, is not an excuse for self-indulgence, although some seem to think that freedom is expressed by doing whatever I please, without regard for anyone else. To be free is not to escape from the realities of life, but to face up to them. It means not clinging to external props and securities like money, property, status, success, and the like. To be fully free is to take full responsibility for one’s own life. It is to be – or to become, one day at a time – the person that God wants me to be.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Christ Took Away Our Infirmities, And Bore Our Diseases.

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
The Lord has consumed without pity
all the dwellings of Jacob;
He has torn down in his anger
the fortresses of daughter Judah;
He has brought to the ground in dishonor
her king and her princes.

On the ground in silence sit
the old men of daughter Zion;
They strew dust on their heads
and gird themselves with sackcloth;
The maidens of Jerusalem
bow their heads to the ground.

Worn out from weeping are my eyes,
within me all is in ferment;
My gall is poured out on the ground
because of the downfall
of the daughter of my people,
As child and infant faint away
in the open spaces of the town.

In vain they ask their mothers,
“Where is the grain?”
As they faint away like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
And breathe their last
in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I liken or compare you,
O daughter Jerusalem?
What example can I show you
for your comfort,
virgin daughter Zion?
For great as the sea is your downfall;
who can heal you?

Your prophets had for you
false and specious visions;
They did not lay bare your guilt,
to avert your fate;
They beheld for you in vision
false and misleading portents.

Cry out to the Lord;
moan, O daughter Zion!
Let your tears flow like a torrent
day and night;
Let there be no respite for you,
no repose for your eyes.

Rise up, shrill in the night,
at the beginning of every watch;
Pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your little ones
Who faint from hunger
at the corner of every street.
“The Book of Lamentations contains five poems of sorrow over the destroyed Jerusalem. Written probably by an eyewitness, these words express a poignant grief that the chants of Tenebrae [in Holy Week] put to music.” (Vatican II Missal)

Today’s reading is from the Book of Lamentations. We have come to the end of our readings about the history of the Kings, contained in the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. We began with Saul and finished with Zedekiah, a puppet king installed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Our reading today is taken from chapter 2 which speaks of the Lord’s anger against Zion, that is, Jerusalem. In this chapter the author describes the wretched fate of kings, priests, prophets, elders, children and then, addressing Zion, he reminds her how the false prophets have lied, and urges her to bewail her fate before God.

The passage reflects the bitterness and suffering of the people in Jerusalem undergoing the effects of a terrible siege. The buildings of the city have all been torn down. The king and his family have been humiliated and take into exile. The men of the city, in penitential sackcloth and ashes, sit in silent misery on the ground. The women are bowed down to the ground.

The author, perhaps an eyewitness, is overcome with bitterness as he sees children and babies die of starvation. Piteously they ask their mothers for food. But there is none. Eventually they die in their helpless mothers’ arms.

There are harsh words for false prophets, the propagandists of their day. They denied the reality with idealistic and misleading or specious visions, instead of pointing to the real cause of the people’s sufferings - their infidelity to their God, to the true and the good. Jeremiah frequently denounces false prophets. The word ‘misleading, specious’ in the Hebrew comes from the same root as that underlying the word ‘banish’ in Jeremiah 27:10,15. In other words, the lies of false prophets “mislead” the people and thus lead to “banishment” by the Lord - so they are “banishing” in their effect.

“Cry out to the Lord, O daughter of Zion”, a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The people indeed have much to weep for, both for their present miseries and the reason for them. Their only remedy is to turn to their God in prayer. “Rise up, shrill in the night, at the beginning of every watch.” There were three watches in every night so the whole night could be spent profitably in prayer.

Let them pour out their hearts like water. That is, let them pour out their hearts in prayer and petition. Let them lift up their hands in supplication especially for the lives of their little ones, the victims of their parents’ wrongdoing.

It is a sober reflection that there are still so many places and times in our contemporary and supposedly technologically ‘sophisticated’ world where people are in similar and even worse circumstances, where children walk around naked and in a daze, so long deprived of food that they do not even know they are hungry.

And the causes are still the same: the sins of people, the sins of greed and neglect and a failure to see each other as brothers and sisters and to accept responsibility for them. Cain’s question is still being cynically asked: “Am I my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper?”*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 74
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Why, O God, have you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smolder
against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your flock which you built up of old,
the tribe you redeemed as your inheritance,
Mount Zion, where you took up your abode.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Turn your steps toward the utter ruins;
toward all the damage
the enemy has done in the sanctuary.
Your foes roar triumphantly in your shrine;
they have set up their tokens of victory.
They are like men coming up with axes to a clump of trees.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
With chisel and hammer
they hack at all the paneling of the sanctuary.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
the place where your name abides
they have razed and profaned.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
Look to your covenant,
for the hiding places in the land
and the plains are full of violence.
May the humble not retire in confusion;
may the afflicted and the poor praise your name.
Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.
+++     +++    +++    +++
Matthew 8:5-17
When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him
and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home
paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy
to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this,
he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you,
in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the Kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion,
“You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.”
And at that very hour his servant was healed.

Jesus entered the house of Peter,
and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
He touched her hand, the fever left her,
and she rose and waited on him.

When it was evening, they brought him many
who were possessed by demons,
and he drove out the spirits
by a word and cured all the sick,
to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
Today we read the second of the 10 miracles of Jesus described by Matthew after the Sermon on the Mount. It is a story also found in Luke and John but, strangely enough, not in Mark.
The significant element in this story is the fact that the person asking for help is a centurion, a soldier and presumably not a Jew. Yet he has this great faith in Jesus. It is a sign of the future role of Gentiles in the originally all-Jewish Christian community.
He asks Jesus to cure a servant who has become paralysed. Jesus immediately responds that he will go and cure him. “No, no,” replies the centurion. “I am not worthy that you should come to my house. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Words very familiar to us from their paraphrase used in the prayers before sharing in Communion.) And he goes on to say that as an army officer, he just has to give commands and they are carried out on the spot. When it comes to healing, he knows that Jesus can do the same.
Jesus is astonished at the faith of this pagan: “Nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this!” And he foretells that this is a sign of what is going to happen in the future when Gentiles from all over the world will enter the Kingdom while many of Jesus’ own people will be left outside. What is more they will become God’s people sharing glory with the Jewish ancestors: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a sad theme running through the whole of this gospel: the rejection of Jesus by so many of his own people and their self-chosen exclusion from the Kingdom.
The faith that Jesus expects is not an acceptance of religious doctrines. It is rather an act of total trust and surrender by which people commit themselves to the power of God - in this case, the power of God in Jesus. “Christ asks for this faith especially when he works his miracles, which are not so much acts of mercy as signs attesting his mission and witnessing to the kingdom; hence he cannot work miracles unless he finds the faith without which the miracles lose their true significance.” (Jerusalem Bible)
For this reason this faith was not easy to give, especially for many of Jesus’ hearers who could not see the presence of God in Jesus and hence could not commit themselves to him. Even the disciples were slow to believe. We see this especially in Mark’s gospel. But, once present, such a faith can bring about the transformation of a person’s life, as many converts to Christianity can attest.
Turning to the centurion Jesus says, “Go back home; you have believed, so let this be done for you.” The servant was cured at that very moment.
What is clear from this story and from many other healings by Jesus is the crucial element of faith in the one approaching Jesus. It is the only condition necessary - racial origins are irrelevant. Luke will tell us that Jesus was restricted in the help he could give to the people in his home town of Nazareth because they simply did not have faith in him.
Let us pray that we may never lose that gift of faith which has, in the mysterious ways of divine Providence, been given to us. And let us remember that, without that faith, God will be hampered in reaching out his healing love to us.*
The Irish Jesuits

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lord, If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean.

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 25:1-12
In the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign,
on the tenth day of the month,
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and his whole army
advanced against Jerusalem, encamped around it,
and built siege walls on every side.
The siege of the city continued
until the eleventh year of Zedekiah.
On the ninth day of the fourth month,
when famine had gripped the city,
and the people had no more bread,
the city walls were breached.
Then the king and all the soldiers left the city by night
through the gate between the two walls
that was near the king’s garden.
Since the Chaldeans had the city surrounded,
they went in the direction of the Arabah.
But the Chaldean army pursued the king
and overtook him in the desert near Jericho,
abandoned by his whole army.

The king was therefore arrested and brought to Riblah
to the king of Babylon, who pronounced sentence on him.
He had Zedekiah’s sons slain before his eyes.
Then he blinded Zedekiah, bound him with fetters,
and had him brought to Babylon.

On the seventh day of the fifth month
(this was in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar,
king of Babylon),
Nebuzaradan, captain of the bodyguard,
came to Jerusalem as the representative
of the king of Babylon.
He burned the house of the LORD,
the palace of the king, and all the houses of Jerusalem;
every large building was destroyed by fire.
Then the Chaldean troops
who were with the captain of the guard
tore down the walls that surrounded Jerusalem.

Then Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard,
led into exile the last of the people remaining in the city,
and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon,
and the last of the artisans.
But some of the country’s poor,
Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard,
left behind as vinedressers and farmers.
We come to the end of the sad story of Israel’s degradation and humiliation.

Yesterday we saw how Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah, had been made a puppet or vassal king of Judah, the southern kingdom, by Nebuchadnezzar. He was no improvement on his predecessors. The passage which comes between yesterday’s and today’s readings is as follows: “Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem… And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them [the two kings] out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” - a bad mistake on his part (2 Kings 24:18-20).

It was in the ninth year of his reign that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem with his army and, for the second time, laid it under siege. Earlier, he had subdued all the fortified cities in Judah except Lachish and Azekah (see Jeremiah 37:7)  A number of inscriptions on potsherds were found at Lachish in 1935 and 1938. The Lachish ostraca describe conditions at Lachish and Azekah during the Babylonian siege.

Jerusalem, built as it was on an outcrop of high rock with steep sides, was not an easy city to capture and was able to resist for more than one year into the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign. But eventually, with the people starving, the walls were finally breached. (Did some desperate citizens deliberately bring this about to bring the siege - and their starvation - to an end?)

However, the king and his soldiers escaped from the city by night. Because of the surrounding armies, they had no option but to head for the Arabah, a desolate area in the Jordan valley. But there was no escape and the hapless king was caught, near Jericho and abandoned by his troops.

He was brought into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence where sentence was passed on him, as a rebellious vassal. His two sons (his potential successors as king) were killed before his eyes while Zedekiah himself then had his eyes put out and was brought to Babylon. Ezekiel (12:13) had prophesied that the king would be brought to Babylon but would not see the city. Jeremiah had advised Zedekiah what to do to avoid his own punishment and the destruction of the city but the king had not listened (see Jeremiah 38:14-28).

Finally, Nabuzaradan, the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, took control over Jerusalem. He proceeded to wipe out every vestige of its past by burning the Temple, the king’s palace and every large building in the city. In the previous siege, the vessels of the Temple had been taken away but the building had remained. Lastly, the formidable walls which had protected the town were torn down.

The remainder of the population, those who had gone over to Babylon’s side and the last of the artisans were all carried off into bitter exile. Only the very poor were left behind to take care of the vineyards and the farms. They would form the remnant which would maintain the continuity of the city of David with the future.

Otherwise, it was an ignominious end of the kingdom originally established by Saul. With the outstanding exception of David - and even he had done some pretty bad things - the dynasty had a pretty dismal record as viceregents of Yahweh.

The lesson of the reading is very similar to that of previous days. God does not take vengeance as we humans do but, on the other hand, we do reap the natural consequences of immoral behaviour.

At the same time, even the most negative experiences can be turned round. A good example of this is to be found in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where he shows that those who survived best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who found positive meaning and something to live for even in the utter degradation of their surroundings. Frankl himself was a clear example of one such person. And out of all this corruption and immorality will come David’s descendant, Jesus the Christ. God certainly does write straight with crooked lines.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 137
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
Though there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 8:1-4
When Jesus came down from the mountain,
great crowds followed him.
And then a leper approached,
did him homage, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I will do it. Be made clean.”
His leprosy was cleansed immediately.
Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one,
but go show yourself to the priest,
and offer the gift that Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”
The two chapters (8 and 9) following the Sermon on the Mount include a long list, ten altogether, of miracles performed by Jesus. They are seen as a confirmation of his authority to teach because they are so obviously the work of God himself. The man who can do these things also has the right to be heard and followed.

The first story is the cure of a leper. It is told with the usual brevity and lack of detail characteristic of Matthew (compare Mark’s version, 1:40-45). A leper begs to be healed. His faith and trust in Jesus is revealed by his saying, “If you want to you can heal me.” Jesus replies, “I do want to.” And he cures him instantly. We may note the simplicity of Jesus’ act. In this, the healing miracles of Jesus contrast with the fantastic stories from the Hellenistic world and those sometimes attributed to Jewish rabbis.

But Jesus’ miracles also differ because of the spiritual and symbolic meaning attached to them. They often have the quality of a parable and frequently the words that accompany the miracle are of greater significance. As in this case, where the healing of the leper has wider ramifications as indicated below.

While compassion is often the motive behind a miracle, most often they are seen as strengthening a person’s faith. Jesus, too, is very selective in the miracles he performs and often demands secrecy from the beneficiary. Jesus does not want to be the centre of any sensational wonder-working. It will be the miracle of his resurrection that will be the really determining factor of Who he is.

Soon, we will see Jesus sending out his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom and giving them his own powers of healing. Their mandate will be to do the same work that Jesus has been doing. The 10 miracles recounted in chapters 8 and 9 will be the kind of thing that the missionary successors of Jesus will also do.

After the healing, Jesus then he instructs the man, in accordance with the requirements of the law, to go to the temple to get a certificate from the priests as proof of his return to health. Only with this official documentation will he be allowed to re-enter society.

The leper was a particularly unfortunate person in ancient society. It was known that through contact with a leprous person one could contract the disease, so they were kept isolated from the rest of society. There was, of course, no known cure and the person’s body just gradually rotted away.

What was probably more tragic was the fact that many people with other kinds of similar-looking skin diseases which were not at all infectious could be branded as lepers and condemned to the same policy of isolation.

The healing of the leper by Jesus was then much more than a physical healing. It meant that the man could be fully re-integrated into normal society.

In our time, the leper can be a symbol for all those who are marginalised by our societies for one reason or another - foreigners, people of a different colour or culture or religion, drug addicts, alcoholics, AIDS/HIV victims, gays and lesbians.

We Christians have a special responsibility to be agents of healing to re-integrate such people and accept them fully as brothers and sisters.*

The Irish Jesuits

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Child Grew, And Became Strong In Spirit, Until The Day Of His Manifestation To Israel.

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Reading I
Isaiah 49:1-6
Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 139
I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
I praise you for I am wonderfully made.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks
that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
I praise you for I am wonderfully made.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
I praise you for I am wonderfully made.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Acts 13:22-26
In those days, Paul said:
“God raised up David as king;
of him God testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse,
 a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.
From this man’s descendants God,
according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming
by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course,
he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am?
I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’

“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.”
Luke 1:57-66, 80
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs,
asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.
The Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist challenges us in a particular way if we understand what the Church offers us in the celebration of the Feast. When the Church celebrates a Solemnity (highest level of festival) which also includes a special Vigil Eucharistic Liturgy for the evening before, we are invited to pay attention to the celebration and consider what such a festival means for us in grace. There are only six of these celebrations in the liturgical year. Three of them are obvious both in the central importance of the specific mystery they invite us to experience and in their importance in expressing the whole of the Paschal Mystery that is at the heart of all Christian Liturgy: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost each have Vigil Eucharistic liturgies (celebrated the night before) that are distinct rites from the Masses for the three Feast days. Three other less obvious solemnities also have Eucharistic Vigils and they well might surprise us: The Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24), the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), and the Assumption of Mary into heaven (August 15). Note that none of the other major and minor feasts such as the nativity of the Blessed Mother (September 8), the Conception of Jesus, that is the Annunciation, March 25, and the “big” Christological Feasts of Christ the King, The Feast of the Body and Blood, and Holy Trinity, nor all other Marian or saints days have Eucharistic Vigils.

Why do these six celebrations call attention to the task of “waiting in joyful hope” when other solemnities do not?

I think a clue can be found in the question “for what common grace do we wait in these celebrations?” I would suggest that the answer is they mark a pivotal step in the implementation of the “plan of God hidden for generations past and now revealed” as Paul has told us. Each of these festivals marks stages in the inbreaking of the “New Creation” that is so central a theme to the New Testament writers. What God has done in Jesus Christ is so utterly new, so absolute, that whatever came before is a mere foretelling or foreshadowing of what God has in store for those who love him. The Birth of John the Baptist then, is one of these events that mark the beginning of something utterly new in the whole of creation – it is the opening act in the great drama of salvation that changes humanity from being merely the highest order of creation, to being participants in the very life and being of the Creator. I tremble in wonder at the implications of this mystery.

The Vigil liturgy clues us to the importance of the feast and the fact that it offers a new beginning; the biblical word which is presented at the liturgy on the Solemnity itself opens us to understanding ever more clearly the role that John played in God’s plan. Note how God takes direct action in the conception, birth and mission of John. The Gospel account from Luke is a kind of parallel to the birth of Jesus – because John is the last (and Jesus says, the greatest) of the old creation. John stands at the pivotal moment of human history and directs men and women toward Jesus and his message. John is the essence of self-effacement as he labors not for Israel, but for the one who is to follow who will change all of human history and the reality of creation into something entirely new.
In the rational and scientific culture that we dwell in, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God does directly intervene in history when it is in the Divine interest to do so. John was planned by God for centuries, whole generations awaited his coming to announce the good news of the coming of the Messiah. One could assume that from the fall until his birth God knew who John would be and that he would serve willingly with his whole heart – even to giving his life.

John’s birth marks the beginning of the great events of salvation. The Church places his feast at the height of summer to indicate that the old order that John represented is passing away – is waning. There is a new and glorious creation coming to birth and John’s birth is its conception in a way.

We rejoice that God formed John in Elizabeth’s womb when she and Zacharias conceived him in their love. We rejoice that God called John to announce the saving deeds of Jesus. We rejoice that John responded to God’s call to bring to completion the promise of Israel to be the Light to the Nations. On June 23 let us wait in joyful hope for the completion of God’s work begun in the Birth of John that we celebrate on June 24. As we see the sunlight begin to wane in our Northern hemisphere we turn our thoughts toward God’s promise fulfilled in Christmas . . .

Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Daily Reflection
Creighton University's Online Ministries

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them.

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
The high priest Hilkiah informed the scribe Shaphan,
“I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD.”
Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.
Then the scribe Shaphan went to the king and reported,
“Your servants have smelted down the metals
available in the temple
and have consigned them to the master workmen
in the temple of the LORD.”
The scribe Shaphan also informed the king
that the priest Hilkiah had given him a book,
and then read it aloud to the king.
When the king heard the contents of the book of the law,
he tore his garments and issued this command
to Hilkiah the priest,
Ahikam, son of Shaphan,
Achbor, son of Micaiah, the scribe Shaphan,
and the king’s servant Asaiah:
“Go, consult the LORD for me, for the people, for all Judah,
about the stipulations of this book that has been found,
for the anger of the LORD has been set
furiously ablaze against us,
because our fathers did not obey the stipulations of this book,
nor fulfill our written obligations.”

The king then had all the elders of Judah
and of Jerusalem summoned together before him.
The king went up to the temple of the LORD
with all the men of Judah
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
priests, prophets, and all the people, small and great.
He had the entire contents of the book of the covenant
that had been found in the temple of the LORD,
read out to them.
Standing by the column, the king made
a covenant before the LORD
that they would follow him
and observe his ordinances, statutes and decrees
with their whole hearts and souls,
thus reviving the terms of the covenant
which were written in this book.
And all the people stood as participants in the covenant.
In today’s reading we have moved about 100 years on from yesterday. King Josiah is now on the throne of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Hilkiah, the high priest, tells Shaphan, an expert in the Scriptures, that he has found the “book of the law” in the Temple. “This ‘Book of the Law’,” comments the Jerusalem Bible, “is certainly Deuteronomy or, to be precise, its legislative portion, the main statutes of which form the guiding principles of the subsequent reform. It was the sacred law of the Temple of Jerusalem, hidden or lost or at least completely forgotten during the reign of the impious Manasseh.” However, other interpreters think it may refer to the entire Pentateuch (the books attributed to Moses which are also the first five books of the Old Testament).

Shaphan in turn brought the scroll to the king and read it out to him. When the king heard the contents, he tore his garments. He realised just how much the statutes of God’s law had been neglected and violated. He now understood how the misfortunes of the people were the signs of God’s anger “furiously set ablaze against us”. Perhaps the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and/or Deuteronomy 28, climaxing with the threat of exile, were the statements that especially disturbed Josiah. We can contrast Josiah’s reaction with that of Jehoiakim to the words of the scroll written by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 36:24). On that occasion, Jehoiakim treated the text with contempt and burnt it passage by passage as it was read to him by the prophet Baruch. Needless to say, he paid a high price for his arrogance.

Josiah then gave instructions to a number of important people to consult the Lord on what was laid down in these writings on behalf of himself, the people and all of Judah. Among them were Hilkiah, the priest already mentioned, Ahikam and Acbor. Ahikam was the father of Gedaliah and later appointed governor of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He was also the protector of Jeremiah when his life was threatened during the reign of Jehoiakam (see Jeremiah 26:24). Acbor’s son, Elnathan, is mentioned in chapter 24.

These people, together with some others, went to consult a prophetess in Jerusalem called Huldah. She confirmed that the terrible threats on those who had broken the law and worshipped idols would be carried out as foretold. However, King Josiah would be spared this fate because, after hearing the contents of the document, he had expressed deep repentance and grief and rent his garments. He would go to his grave in peace and would not live to see the awful punishments that would be visited on Jerusalem. (These particular details are omitted in our reading.)

The whole population, including priests and prophets, is then gathered together to have the whole “book of the covenant” read to them. This was another name for the book of Deuteronomy which claimed to be the code of the covenant of the people with Yahweh (Deuteronomy 5:3; 28:69). Whatever else the scroll contained, it clearly included the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and/or Deuteronomy 28.

The king then, as the Lord’s representative, renewed the covenant of God with his people, promising to observe “with their whole hearts and souls” all its requirements. As he did so, he stood “by the column”, that is, one of the two bronze pillars in the portico of the Temple. Josiah fulfilled the role of one mediating a covenant between God and his people just as Moses, Joshua, Samuel and King Jehoiada had done before him.

The people then pledged themselves to obey the covenant. It is likely that some sort of ratification rite was performed, in which the people participated and pledged by oath to be loyal to their covenant obligations. Whether this was done symbolically or verbally is not said.

It is good for us, too, regularly to go through the New Testament and especially the Gospel and renew the promises we made in our Baptism. We might ask ourselves, too, how much real attention we give to the Word of God proclaimed to us at every Eucharist in which we participate. And we might seriously consider spending some time each day reading and studying the Scripture. A careful reading of the Gospel will often reveal to us just how far we have strayed from the call of Jesus to be his disciples.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 119
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to gain.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Turn away my eyes from seeing what is vain:
by your way give me life.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your justice give me life.
Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 7:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets,
who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes,
or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”
Sermon on the Mount (continued):
Our reading contains a warning which must have been very relevant in the early Church but has not lost its meaning in our own day.

Prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the outside, they seem to have the image of Jesus, his gentleness and love, but in fact they are religious predators, using people for their own ends. There have been unfortunate examples of this in some so-called ‘televangelists’ who, in the name of the Lord Jesus, ripped off countless numbers of trusting people, many of them elderly and not well off, by making them pledge large sums money they could not afford.

How can you recognise them? By their ‘fruits’, by the way they behave and not just by what they say or the claims they make. It is not that difficult to separate the genuine from the false. As Jesus says, it is not possible for a bad tree to consistently produce good fruit nor for a genuinely good tree to produce bad fruit. Very often we have to admit that we try to make a good impression on people and we often try to hide from others what we believe to be our weaknesses.

Integrity and transparency are precious qualities to be found in any person and they are not easy to achieve. Most of us wear masks of some kind. Most of us can identify with the title of John Powell’s book - ‘Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?’ In fact, people can often identify more easily with a person whose faults are admitted. They feel that they are dealing with the real person and not a phoney. This can apply very much to pastors and other religious leaders.

Jesus is calling on us today to be really genuine people. Take care of the inside and the outside will take care of itself.*

The Irish Jesuits

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do To Others What You Would Have Them Do To You. This is the Law And The Prophets.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36
Sennacherib, king of Assyria,
sent envoys to Hezekiah with this message:
“Thus shall you say to Hezekiah, king of Judah:
‘Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you
by saying that Jerusalem will not be handed over
to the king of Assyria.
You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done
to all other countries: they doomed them!
Will you, then, be saved?’”

Hezekiah took the letter
from the hand of the messengers and read it;
then he went up to the temple of the LORD,
and spreading it out before him,
he prayed in the LORD’s presence:
“O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim!
You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.
You have made the heavens and the earth.
Incline your ear, O LORD, and listen!
Open your eyes, O LORD, and see!
Hear the words of Sennacherib
which he sent to taunt the living God.
Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria
have laid waste the nations and their lands,
and cast their gods into the fire;
they destroyed them because they were not gods,
but the work of human hands, wood and stone.
Therefore, O LORD, our God,
save us from the power of this man,
that all the kingdoms of the earth may know
that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Then Isaiah, son of Amoz, sent this message to Hezekiah:
“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
in answer to your prayer for help
against Sennacherib, king of Assyria:
I have listened!
This is the word the LORD has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, laughs you to scorn,
the virgin daughter Zion!
Behind you she wags her head,
daughter Jerusalem.

“‘For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant,
and from Mount Zion, survivors.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.’

“Therefore, thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria:
‘He shall not reach this city, nor shoot an arrow at it,
nor come before it with a shield,
nor cast up siege-works against it.
He shall return by the same way he came,
without entering the city, says the LORD.
I will shield and save this city for my own sake,
and for the sake of my servant David.’”

That night the angel of the LORD went forth and struck down
one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.
So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, broke camp,
and went back home to Nineveh.
Having overcome the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians now turn their attention to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. What happens is almost the exact reverse of yesterday’s reading.

The famous Sennacherib, the one who “came down like a wolf on the fold”, is now the Assyrian king. He sends a letter to Hezekiah, king of the Southern Kingdom, demanding surrender. There is no use, says Sennacherib, their appealing to their God. All other countries have fallen before the Assyrian juggernaut; why should Judah be the exception?

Hezekiah has only one option - to pray to his God for help. He calls on his God who alone is God over all the kingdoms of the earth and has made them all. True, says the king, the Assyrians have carried all before them. They laid nations to waste and tossed their gods into the fire. They could do this for these gods were just human artefacts of wood and stone.

But Hezekiah’s and Judah’s God is different. “Save us from the power of this man, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God,” the king prays.

At this point Isaiah, the prophet, intervenes with a long (verses 21-31) oracular message from God (and, except for its final verse, not included in today‘s reading). Part of it is addressed to Sennacherib and the second part to Judah. It is a mocking statement directed against the Assyrians and guaranteeing that, no matter what happens, “out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant”.

Isaiah interprets this as saying that Sennacherib will not reach Jerusalem; he will not attack it nor be able to institute a siege against its walls. “He shall return by the same way he came without entering the city.” The city will remain safe from attack. “I will shield and save this city for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And that very night 185,000 of the Assyrian army were mysteriously struck down and Sennacherib had no option but to return to his capital at Niniveh. What seems to have happened is that the Assyrian army was struck down by some virulent infection or plague which swept through it like a forest fire. Soon after his return, we are told in the following verse that, while worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons who then fled into Ararat. Another son took over the throne. A further example of what happens to those who attack God’s people.

Here, as yesterday, we see that things do not happen by accident. The destruction of the Assyrian army may be attributed to purely natural causes but the eyes of faith see there God’s protecting hand for his people and especially for the city of David to which he had made so many promises. Nevertheless, Jerusalem will not remain unscathed. It will be, as Isaiah foretells today, not utterly destroyed but reduced to a remnant. From that remnant will come a descendant of David.

Let us, too, see the hand of God operating in all the details of our lives - both the joyful and painful - and discern what he is trying to tell us.*
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Psalm 48
God upholds his city for ever.
Great is the LORD and wholly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.
God upholds his city for ever.
Mount Zion, “the recesses of the North,”
is the city of the great King.
God is with her castles;
renowned is he as a stronghold.
God upholds his city for ever.
O God, we ponder your mercy
within your temple.
As your name, O God, so also your praise
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Of justice your right hand is full.
God upholds his city for ever.
Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not give what is holy to dogs,
or throw your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them underfoot,
and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad
that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted
the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few.”
Sermon on the Mount (continued):
Today’s passage contains three apparently unrelated teachings of Jesus. Verses 7-11 on prayer, which intervene, are omitted. (We need to remind ourselves that the Sermon on the Mount is not a verbatim record of a “sermon” preached by Jesus. It is a highly edited collection of sayings on the general theme of the qualities to be found in a true disciple of Jesus.)

a: “Do not give to dogs what is holy.” That is, consecrated meat from animals sacrificed in the Temple should not be given as food for dogs. We need to remember that for the Jews (as for the Muslims) dogs are unclean animals, so that is an extra reason for not giving them meat consecrated for purposes of divine worship. We may remember the remark of Jesus to the Syro-phoenician woman about not giving the food of children to dogs, a reference to Gentiles who were also thought to be unclean. Or the humiliation of Lazarus in Luke’s parable who was so helpless that he could not prevent dogs licking his sores.

Similarly something as precious as pearls should not be given to pigs, another unclean animal. Again we remember in the parable of the Prodigal Son, how after hitting rock bottom the only job he could find was to feed pigs and he was so hungry he would have eaten the pigs’ food.

In other words, Jesus is advising his followers not indiscriminately to expose their beliefs to all and sundry. While, in one sense, the Christian way is for all there are people who are not ready to hear it and will not just reject it but subject it to ridicule. This would especially apply to certain Christian practices such as the celebration of the Eucharist or other sacraments. We do not accept people into the Catholic community except after a long period of formation and initiation. Faith in Christ is a gift and not everyone receives it at once.

b: The second saying is the famous ‘Golden Rule’, which is not exclusive to Christianity or the Gospel. It is known in other cultures. What might be emphasised here is its being expressed in positive terms. There is also a negative form, ‘Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you’. There is a difference between the two. You can observe the negative maxim by doing nothing at all. The positive can only be observed by doing some good action to others and is therefore much more in line with the general teaching of Jesus.

c: The contrast between the narrow gate and the wide road. To follow the wide road is to do just about anything you feel like doing. It is to follow your likes and dislikes, your instincts and whims wherever they lead you. That is going to include following roads of greed and self-centredness, of lies and deceit, perhaps even of violence and hurt. It is clearly not a way of life.

The narrow gate is not to be narrow-minded. It is rather to be very clearly focused on certain very specific ways of thinking and acting, having one’s life guided by a clear set of truths, principles and values, those truths, principles and values which form the core of the Gospel’s teaching. In other words, the Way of Christ. It is a way that leads to life.

It is a hard road only in the sense that it requires discipline and it is true that relatively few people find it. In the long run it is the easier way because it conforms more to the deepest needs and desires of the human person. (It is important to be aware that the Way of Jesus is not an eccentric choice of lifestyle, one religion among many, but that it is in total harmony with all that human life is meant to be.) But there is no doubt that the wide undisciplined road is the easier one to follow even though in the long run it does not bring happiness.*

The Irish Jesuits