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Our Gospel this Sunday contains the well known story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this story in response to a “scholar of the law” who approached Jesus wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked the scholar what was written in the law and he replied: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” We are told that Jesus approved this answer, but then the scholar of the law asked a follow up question: “And who is my neighbor.” In response, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
There are three things to note in this story. First, there was a great deal of antipathy between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were those Jews who stayed in Israel during the Babylonian captivity. The Jews thought the Samaritans had polluted the Jewish religion. The Samaritans believed something similar about the Jews. The two groups hated each other and had nothing to do with one another. Second, it is possible that the priest and the Levite passed by the man because they thought he might be dead. Contact with a dead person would have rendered them ritually impure and unable to fulfill their temple obligations. Third, notice that the scholar of the law couldn’t even use the word Samaritan to name the man who had helped the victim of robbers. Instead when Jesus asked him who of the three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim he replied: “The one who treated him with mercy.”
It is easy for all of us to find excuses for not extending a helping hand to those in need. Jesus is clear, though, that our “neighbor” is anyone who is in need.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses tells the people that the commandments and statues of the law are not “too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky ………. Nor is it across the sea………. No, it is something very near to you already in your mouths and in your hearts.”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. In it Paul reminded the people of the preeminent and unique role of Jesus. “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created through him and for him.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Who has been “neighbor” to you?
2. To whom are you being called to be “neighbor?”
3. What excuses do you make for not being “neighbor?”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070316.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday, we are told that Jesus appointed 72 of his disciples and “sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” (These 72 are in addition to the 12 disciples he had sent out in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel.) In sending out the 72 he gave them clear and specific instructions. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” Further, they were told: “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” When the disciples entered a town if they were welcomed, they were to “cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.” If a town didn’t receive them they were to “go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’”
At first glance, the instructions to take nothing with them and not to move around if they find better lodgings might seem a bit severe. I think the reason for these instructions was twofold. First, the disciples were to rely solely on God. Taking nothing with them reinforced this. And second, the reason for their mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God. They were not to get caught up in their own needs and wants.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the final chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. In the section we read this weekend, the message is clear. Despite their exile, God continued to love and care for his people, and offered them another chance to live in the covenant God had made with them. The people were called to “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her………………...Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.”
In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians. In the selection we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his reason for rejoicing: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…………”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In our Gospel this weekend Jesus is clear that nothing is to hold his disciples back from proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Is there something that holds you back from following Christ?
- What does the Kingdom of God mean to you? How are you called to proclaim it?
- What do you think Paul meant when he talked about boasting in the cross of Jesus?
On a warm and humid night a few weeks ago, I finally got around to viewing, “The Revenant,” starring Leonard DiCaprio. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is set in the 1820s and it follows a fur trapper and frontiersman played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after he was mauled by a bear. The cinematography was wonderful. It really captured the bitter cold of winter and the stark conditions of the frontier (although the night I watched the DVD was hot and muggy, it actually looked kind of inviting). The movie was a wonderful tale of survival. It really captured the desire to survive and the will to live. As a story of vengeance, though, it left me with questions and concerns. Perhaps though, that was what it intended to do.
Maybe I have not been hurt deeply enough, but I have never had or felt a consuming desire for vengeance. To be sure, there have been times when my immediate response when someone has done something that has hurt or offended me was the desire to retaliate or get even with them. But those feelings/thoughts didn’t linger for very long, and I was able to move on fairly quickly. The overwhelming desire for revenge, though, is foreign to me.
Now as I was writing the above, it occurred to me that perhaps I am letting myself off the hook too easily. To be honest, I have been known to nurse a grudge. And my old Irish pastor taught me that I should, “bury the hatchet in a shallow grave that is well marked.” I’d like to think, though, that there is a big difference between nursing a grudge and the overwhelming desire for revenge. Perhaps the difference is more in degree than type, but I think there is a difference.
Specifically, I think that when we nurse a grudge there is always the possibility that God’s grace will find an opening, however slight, into our hearts. It seems to me, though, that a consuming desire for revenge omits this possibility. This might sound like I’m splitting hairs, but in my own life I have discovered that when I have been hurt or offended by someone, while this takes up a few bytes of memory, it is not ever-present and all consuming. The desire for vengeance on the other hand seems more intense and in its worst form can be overwhelming. And when something is that consuming, there is no room left for anything else even and perhaps especially God’s grace.
God’s grace is always being offered to us. I believe this is particularly true at those times when we have been hurt physically, emotionally, or spiritually and we want to retaliate. At those times, if we can pray for an openness to the grace God wants to offer us, perhaps our hurt won’t turn into a desire for revenge. And maybe, just maybe if we continue to be open to God’s grace, one day we might even forget where we buried the hatchet.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062616.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two sections, and it is tied together by the overarching theme of “the cost of discipleship.” In the first section James and John wanted to “call down fire from heaven” because a Samaritan village refused to welcome them. Jesus rebuked them for this suggestion. In the second section three people approached Jesus inquiring about following him. They discover, though, that the cost of discipleship was perhaps too steep for them.
The point of this Gospel is that following Jesus is not always easy. There are certain “demands” that are part and parcel of a being disciple of Jesus. While some of these demands are the same for everyone, (e.g. love one another, forgive our brother or sister from our heart, share with those who are less fortunate), some are specific for particular individuals. The challenge for each of us is to be realistic and honest about what Jesus is asking of us if we are to follow him.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the first book of Kings. It is the story of the call of Elisha to be a prophet to succeed Elijah. It parallels the theme of the Gospel in that Elisha realized that being a “prophet” brings with it certain demands.
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In the section we read today, Paul responds to certain Christians from Jerusalem who have followed him to Galatia and have urged the Galatian community to adapt certain parts of the Mosiac Law. Paul is clear and blunt: “For freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What specific thing(s) is Jesus asking of you in order for you to follow him?
- Of the “demands of discipleship” that apply to all of us, what do you find most difficult?
- In the closing sentence of today’s second reading Paul says: “But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” How does one know, though, that they are being guided by the Spirit?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061916.cfm
I suspect at one time or another most of us have been put in that uncomfortable position when someone asks us what people think of them or what people are saying about them. These moments are awkward at best, particularly because most of the time the people asking the question suspect that something is amiss. In our Gospel today Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” I suspect the disciples were more than happy to fill Jesus in on the local gossip, particularly since it reflected well on him. “They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Jesus, though, was not satisfied in knowing what others thought of him. In fact, His next question was very personal. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied: “The Christ of God.” Jesus then went on to tell them that he must suffer greatly and be killed. He then told his disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus was clear with his disciples. It is not enough to know what others are saying about him. We are called to know Jesus in our own life. As importantly, Jesus reminds us that the cross is not an optional part of following him.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah. It is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death. “and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.” It reminds us that Christ’s life, death and resurrection was part of God’s plan from the beginning of time.
We continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians for our second reading this Sunday. It reminds us that there are no distinctions or degrees among the followers of Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- If Jesus were to ask you “Who do you say that I am?” how would you respond?
- Luke is the only evangelist who includes the word “daily” to Jesus admonition to take up your cross and follow him. Why do you think this is?
- Have you ever heard someone try to make distinctions among the followers of Christ?
A few weeks ago I read, “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee for my book group. While much ink has been spilled in debating how it compares with, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” clearly that is not my area of expertize, so I will not venture into that discussion. I did enjoy the book, and it was a source of a good discussion for my book group. Very specifically, though, I was particularly struck by one sentence near the end of the book. Jean Louise was involved in a long conversation with her uncle Jack around the issues of race and prejudice. At one point her uncle, Jack, said to Jean Louise: “Prejudice a dirty word, and faith a clean one, have one thing in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
When I read these words I was struck by their simplicity, but also their truth. Both prejudice and faith are not grounded in reason or logic. They are an act of the will that has no logical explanation. Now, I suspect some people would argue that with both prejudice and faith there is some rational explanation for them, or that they have their roots in experience and/or knowledge. I believe, though, that when push comes to shove, the proof for this position is elusive and vague.
In speaking of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Faith is confidence reassurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice that there is no reference to reason or logic, no attempt to explain faith or give a rational explanation for it. Faith is not a “provable” proposition; it simply is. I think something similar is true in regard to prejudice.
While there are times when I wish there would be some “proof” for my faith, I have come to believe that if this were to occur, I would be very disappointed. Because faith has to do with things beyond our human awareness and comprehension, by its very nature it can’t be proven or gotten to by reason or logic. Faith like prejudice begins where reason ends.
On one level it does bother me a little that faith and reason have in common the fact that they begin where reason ends. On a deeper level, though, I am grateful that faith is not an easy or provable proposition. I want and need something to believe in that is greater than myself and beyond my comprehension. Additionally, though, I am also embarrassed that at times prejudice has crept into my life disguised as insight or knowledge. With both faith and prejudice, the challenge is not to try to use reason as their basis, but to remember that they both begin where reason ends.
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061216.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel this Sunday taken from the Gospel of Luke. It is the well know story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and then anointed them with oil. Observing this scene, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner said to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” The Pharisee’s thoughts prompted Jesus to tell a story about two people whose debts were forgiven. He then asked the Pharisee: “Which of them will love him (the creditor) more?” The Pharisee rightly answered: “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” Jesus then went on to say of the woman: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” Interestingly, the Pharisee could only see the woman as a sinner. Jesus on the other hand was able to see her as woman of great love. The story invites us to remember and to trust in God’s mercy. It also challenges us to reflect on those times when we have pigeonholed someone based on an impression we have of them.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the second book of Samuel. In it the prophet Nathan, speaking in the name of the Lord, rebuked David for taking Bathsheba to be his wife after having conspired to have her husband, Uriah, killed. When David acknowledged his sin, Nathan responded: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In it Paul reminds us that we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ, and not by any actions of our own. Paul summarizes this belief succinctly: “We who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in the Christ Jesus and not by works of the law. Because by works of the law no one will be justified”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you experienced God’s forgiveness in your life?
- When have you been able to forgive someone else? What made it possible for you to forgive?
- Justification by faith in Jesus Christ sounds kind of protestant, doesn’t it? What does this mean to you?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060516.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus encounters a widow who’s only son had died. We are told that “As he drew near to the gate of the city, (Nain) a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Certainly the loss of a child is a tragedy, but in this case the tragedy was compounded by the fact that the woman was a widow and it was her only son who had died. He was probably her sole source of financial support. We are told that Jesus was moved with pity for the widow so he “stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said ‘Young man, I tell you arise.’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” In response the people were seized with fear “and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’”
This story is a wonderful illustration of Jesus’ compassion. A couple things should be noted, though. First, notice that no one asked Jesus to raise the dean man to life. Jesus assessed the situation and took the initiative to respond to the woman’s great need. Second, this story is about resuscitation, not a resurrection. There is a difference. The young man was restored to this life. He was not given eternal life.
The first reading this Sunday is taken from the first Book of Kings. It is the story of Elijah restoring to life the son of the widow of Zarephath. While it bears similarities to the Gospel, an important difference is that Elijah did not restore the child to life; rather he prayed to God to restore the child to life. And God did. “O Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child. The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body and he revived.”
The second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians. In the section we read this Sunday Paul explains the source of his call. “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Jesus’ recognized and responded to the need of the widow of Nain without her ever having to say word. Has God ever responded to a need you had before you prayed about it?
- The people in today’s Gospel responded to the raising of the widow’s son with fear and praise. How do you think you would have responded?
- Have you ever felt called by God to do something?
A few weeks ago, while I was on my way to visit someone in the hospital, a car pulled in front of me that had a bumper sticker that read: “Got Jesus.” My immediate reaction was a strong sense of discomfort. Not being particularly pleased with that reaction, I decided the bumper sticker merited a little prayer and reflection on my part.
After spending some time reflecting on the bumper sticker, it dawned on me that the source of my discomfort was the fact that from my perspective it was asking the question the wrong way. The question should not be whether we have “got Jesus,” but rather has Jesus got us. From my perspective this is an important distinction.
Implied in the question of whether we have “got Jesus” is the idea that somehow Jesus is our personal possession. This in turn can lead us to make Jesus into what we want Jesus to be rather than allowing ourselves to be formed into what Jesus would have us be. In my own life, I have discovered time and again how easy it is for me to confuse God’s will for me with my will. If I let myself believe that I had “got Jesus,” I worry that my will and God’s will for me would be nearly indistinguishable. I suspect this is true for all of us.
On the other hand, when Jesus has “got” us, this causes us to see things from a different perspective, to acquire a new way of thinking. I believe this was what St. Paul was getting at when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. In that letter, Paul was urging the new Christians at Ephesus to live no longer as the pagans did. “That is not how you learned Christ! I am supposing, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus; namely that you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new person created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth” (Ephesians 4: 20-24).
We don’t “get Jesus.” Rather our challenge is to allow Jesus to “get” us. We will know this has happened when we find ourselves acquiring the fresh spiritual way of thinking that St. Paul wrote about.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052916.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This feast celebrates our belief that in the Eucharist we celebrate and share in Jesus’ name and memory, Jesus Christ is really and truly present. We offer no proof for this belief. This is no logical or rational way to provide evidence for this belief. For us, as Catholics, the Eucharist is a matter of faith. And as we read in the beginning of chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”
Our Gospel this weekend is from the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke’s version of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Because of the abundance of nourishment provided for the hungry and expectant crowd, this miracle is seen by some as a prefiguring of the Eucharist. While there is much to comment on in this Gospel, two points in particular stand out. First, notice that Jesus started with what the disciples had --- “five loaves and two fish.” Second, notice that he took the loaves and fishes, “said the blessing over them, broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” I have a friend who likes to say: “See what happens when you pray before you eat.” But I think a more important lesson is the way Jesus handled what could have been a difficult situation. He started with what the disciples had, blessed it, but then gave it back to them to distribute. I think this is a wonderful illustration of the way God works in our lives. Often in our prayer we want God to do things for us. However, in our prayer if we can offer to God what we have (minimal though it may seem), allow God to bless it, God will give it back to us ---------- and marvelous things can happen as a result.
Our first reading this weekend from the Book of Genesis tells the story of Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He shared bread and wine with Abram (later Abraham) and together they gave thanks to God. As with the loaves and fishes, we would see this as a prefiguring of the Eucharist.
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. It is Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist. It ends with the words: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- It is our belief that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist ----- not present merely symbolically, or spiritually, or in our memory ----- but really and truly present. How would you explain this belief to someone?
- Do you pray that God will do things for you, or do you pray that God will give you the grace, courage, insight, and strength to do things?
- What is your favorite memory in regard to the Eucharist?