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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091116.cfm
It seems to be part of the human experience that at times we misplace or lose things. And losing something can be an annoying, and sometimes even a traumatic experience. In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus tells two familiar parables about people who have lost things --- a shepherd who has lost one of his sheep and a woman who has lost a coin. In the first case the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep, and goes in the search of the one that has wondered away. In the second case, the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the house in a diligent search for her lost coin. And in both cases once the lost has been found a celebration ensues.
What are we to make of these parables? If we are honest, we need to admit that on the surface it makes no sense at all to leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep and go in search of one that wondered away. It also seems odd to expend so much time and energy looking for one lost coin. The thing we need to remember about parables, though, is that they are meant to tell us something about God or something about our relationship with God. From this perspective these parables remind us that we are so important to God that if we wonder or stray, God doesn’t simply wait for us to come back. Rather God comes looking for us. God seeks us out. And when we allow ourselves to be found by God, it is cause for celebration.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Exodus. It is the story of the Israelites turning away from God and worshiping a golden calf. God says to Moses: “Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” In response, Moses acknowledged that the Israelites had strayed, but reminded God of the promise God had made to Abraham. As a result, “…… the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy. In the section we read this Sunday, Paul, while acknowledging his sinfulness, also recalls God’s salvific will. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Can you recall a time when you were lost? What do you remember about the experience?
- If you can remember what it was like to be lost, and then read these parables from that perspective, does that make a difference in regard to how you understand these parables?
- When have you found something that had been lost? What do you remember about the experience? What does that tell you about God finding us when we are lost?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Our Gospel this Sunday addresses the issue of the “cost of discipleship.” At the beginning of this Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” After telling two brief parables, the first about knowing the cost of building a tower before undertaking this endeavor, and the second about gauging the likelihood of victory before going into battle, Jesus concludes by saying: “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciples.”
What are we to make of these words of Jesus? Clearly very few of us “hate” our friends and families and/or have renounced all our possessions, and yet we still identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Is this a case of selective hearing on our part? Do we get to choose which words of Jesus to follow and which to ignore? In response we need to understand that Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. We can’t call ourselves his disciples and then live however we want. Jesus wants us to commit ourselves completely to him. Nothing is more important than our relationship with him. We need to let go of anything and everything in our lives that diverts us from that commitment.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom. It reminds us that God’s ways and thoughts are beyond our comprehension. “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon. This is Paul’s shortest letter. It was written to an individual, Philemon, who was a Christian, and whose slave, Onesimus, had run away. Onesimus had been converted to Christianity by Paul, and now Paul was sending him back to Philemon with the plea. “So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.” This request placed Philemon in a difficult position. If he didn’t punish Onesimus he could be regarded as “soft” by his peers and by his other slaves. On the other hand, after Paul’s request, if he punished Onesimus, he could be regarded as not a true Christian. This brief letter reminds us once again that there is a “cost” to discipleship.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Many people either ignore or dismiss the words of Jesus in our Gospel today. Why is this?
- What do you think Christ is asking you to give up to be his disciple?
- Have you ever been in Philemon’s position, where you have had to make a public decision about how to live out your discipleship?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082816.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday we are told that Jesus noticed how those who had been invited to a dinner “were choosing places of honor at the table,”. In response to this he told a parable about places of honor at a wedding banquet. After the parable Jesus suggested that “When you hold a lunch or a dinner do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have no repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
In these words, Jesus was not inviting us to feign humility. Rather I think he was inviting us to engage in humble service of those around us, most particularly the poor and lowly. An axiom attributed to James Forbes, the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City is: “Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor!” The humble service we provide those in need is really a measure of our discipleship.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach. It shares the theme of the Gospel. It exhorts us: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”
In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews. It is composed of two very long sentences. The opening sentence refers to the Jewish people gathering with Moses on Mount Sinai. This image is contrasted in the second sentence to the heavenly Jerusalem, where we will be gathered with “God the judge of all” and “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.”
Questions for Discussion/Reflection:
- Why are the poor so important to Jesus?
- Why is our concern for the poor so important?
- What’s your image of the heavenly Jerusalem?
A few weeks ago on the Friday evening of the Block Party, I got home a little after 10:00pm and being too wound up to go to bed, I turned on the television and read the paper. As I was flipping through the channels to see if there was anything worth watching, I came across an old episode of Perry Mason that was just starting. For those of you too young to remember, Perry Mason was a television show that ran from the late 50’s to the mid 60’s. The title character played a fictional attorney, who always got the charges (almost always a murder charge) against his client dropped. The show brought back a wave of nostalgia that swept over me. When I was growing up, watching Perry Mason was kind of a right of passage. It meant that you were too old for cartoons and were ready for more adult things.
As I watched Perry Mason that night, not only did it bring back memories, but I was also struck by the fact that it was in black and white. I suspect at some point they switched to a color format, but this must have been one of the earlier shows. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that being in black and white was especially appropriate for Perry Mason. In the show there were good guys and bad guys, and there was never any argument about who was who. The good guys always triumphed and the bad guys were always exposed and punished.
While there are times today when I would like to go back to that black and white world, the reality is that life was not and still isn’t that simple. Rarely are our motives and intentions entirely pure, and there always seem to be mitigating circumstances to explain inappropriate words and actions. Moreover, I think that seldom do people set out to deliberately do something wrong or bad. Rather we end up making bad choices that often have a negative impact on others. Sadly too, sometimes inappropriate words and actions follow from misunderstanding someone else’s words or actions, or misinterpreting a situation.
Now certainly there are some things that are always clearly and demonstrably wrong. Taking an innocent life is always wrong. We can’t pretend otherwise. I have come to believe, though, that there are shades and hues in most of our behaviors and words that aren’t immediately obvious. And if we take the time to recognize and appreciate this we would be far more understanding and far more forgiving of others and of ourselves.
The above is something I have been working on for a while now. Some days I think I am making good progress, but then I will find myself falling back into being judgmental or intolerant. I suspect it will be this way until the day I die.
Living in a black and white world certainly can make our life easier, but that is not the world we live in. And so, while I suspect there will always be times when I struggle to understand another individual’s as well as my own actions. I trust that the God who created me knows my struggles, accepts my failings, forgives my sins, and continues to love me and all of us in spite of everything.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082116.cfm
This Sunday’s Gospel opens with someone asking Jesus: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus, as often is the case, doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead he told a parable about the master of a house who, after locking the door for the night, refused to open it when someone knocked and said: “Lord, open the door for us.” In replay the master said: “I do not know where you are from.” And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evildoers.’” Jesus closes with the words: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
What are we to make of Jesus words in this Sunday’s Gospel? Well I think they tell us three things. 1. Despite what some people would suggest, there is no set number of people who will be saved. 2. A passing familiarity with Jesus isn’t enough to assure salvation. We are called to know Jesus, not just know about Jesus. 3. There is an amazing breadth and depth to God’s salvific will. People from every corner of the earth will be offered a place at the table in the kingdom of God --- perhaps surprising those who thought their place at the table was assured.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Like the Gospel reading it speaks of God’s universal salvific will. “They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord…………….”
We continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews for our second reading this Sunday. In this Sunday’s section we are reminded that discipline from God is not a bad thing. “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines:” When speaking of discipline, it is important to remember that discipline and discipleship both share the same root. It is through self discipline that we become disciples.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In the Gospel Jesus doesn’t answer the question as to how many will be saved. Why do you think this is?
- It is one thing to know about Jesus. It is another to know Jesus. How does one come to know Jesus?
- What “discipline(s)” have helped you to be a better disciple?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081416.cfm
What happened? I suspect that might be the question in the back of people’s minds when they read/hear the opening sentence of this Sunday’s Gospel. “Jesus said to his disciples; “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” Jesus goes on to say: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” He then speaks of the divisions that will result because of him. When we hear these words I suspect many of us rightly wonder what happened? Why the change of tone. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we heard Jesus tell us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves?
To understand today’s Gospel we need to remember that in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is always on his way to Jerusalem. And it is in Jerusalem that Jesus will face his passion and death. Chapter 12 is the halfway point in Luke’s Gospel, so Jesus is starting to prepare his disciples for these events. Jesus is not suggesting that his disciples seek out conflicts and division. Rather he is trying to help us understand that following him at times might put us at odds with or even separate us from others. Discipleship is not always easy and sometimes it may even cause division.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel. The princes of the people said to King Zedekiah: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city and all the people by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” Clearly Jeremiah’s words as a prophet had put him at odds with the princes, and because of this they sought his death.
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the letter to the Hebrews. In the section we read this weekend the author exhorts the people: “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there every been a time when you have seen someone give witness to their beliefs even though it has set them at odds with others?
- Has there been a time when your beliefs as a Christian have set you apart from others?
- What burdens/sins to you need to rid yourself of in order to “persevere in running the race that lies before us?”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080716.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel and our first reading this Sunday focus on the need for preparedness. In the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be “like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Those who are prepared will be well rewarded for their master will “gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.” While this last sentence clearly is an exaggeration, the point is important. Those who are prepared for the master’s coming will be rewarded. While it would be nice to know the precise day and hour when the master will return, this information is not and will not be available to us. So instead of wasting our time and efforts trying to determine when the end will come and the master will appear, it is far preferable simply to be prepared. This doesn’t mean that we have to be “spiritual insomniacs.” Rather we are called to live our lives in such a way that we will be ready whenever the master comes.
Our first reading this Sunday shares the theme of preparedness --- not for the master’s coming, but for the Passover --- when the Jews were led out of Egypt. The opening sentence of this reading, though, seems to suggest that this night was known beforehand: “The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.” This sentence is not meant to suggest that they knew the exact date, rather that they were sure of their eventual deliverance.
The opening sentence of our second reading this Sunday is one of my favorite scripture quotes. “Brothers and Sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seem.” This is an eloquent description of faith, and a reminder that faith is about things beyond our senses and outside of our logic and rational explanations.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- How does one be prepared for the master’s coming?
- How would you describe faith?
- When have you “known” something by faith?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste in into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/073116.cfm
Our Gospel this Sunday begins with someone asking Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied: “Friend who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Initially this response may seem harsh, but from the parable Jesus told next, it could be argued that Jesus was inviting the individual to approach the disputed inheritance in a different way. That parable is the story of a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do; I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now, as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’”
The problem with the man in this parable was not his wealth (he was already rich before his bountiful harvest); rather the problem was that his wealth was his sole source of security. He thought of nothing and no one else --- not even God. At times we too can make this same mistake when we look to things other than God to be our ultimate security.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes. This weekend is the only time in our three year cycle of Sunday readings when we read from the Book of Ecclesiastes. This reading shares the theme of the Gospel reminding us that “All things are vanity!” While this message sounds distressing, it is meant to remind us that striving to amass material wealth is futile and pointless.
In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. In it Paul reminds us that because we have put on Christ, we are to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when you have put your trust in something other than God?
- My grandfather once told me that when he was young he felt safe and secure when he had $200 in savings. When the depression came he had to look to something else to provide that sense of safety and security. He found this in the church. Has there been a time when what you thought would provide safety and security failed to do so?
- I find it hard to keep focused on “what is above.” What helps you to keep focused on “what is above”?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072416.cfm
Our Gospel this Sunday comes in three sections. In the first section, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. In response, Jesus taught them the Our Father. In the second section Jesus tells the parable about a person who wakes up their neighbor at midnight to ask him to loan him three loaves of bread because an unexpected visitor had arrived at their home. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” The third section of the Gospel begins with what seems like an outrageous promise. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” The Gospel concludes with Jesus’ words: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
What are we to make of this Gospel? Well, I think there are three important things this Gospel tells us. 1. God is so close to us that we can call on God as “Father.” (Incidentally, this word is not meant to convey gender, but intimacy of relationship.) 2. Notice that Jesus does not say “ask and you will receive exactly what you asked for.” Rather he merely says “ask and you will receive.” We need to be open to how God responds to our prayers. 3. While God will not always give us what we want, God will always give us what we need.
In our first reading this Sunday Abraham seems to be negotiating with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually God tells Abraham that if there are at least ten innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah, God will not destroy the city. While this story seems to be saying that we can “negotiate” with God, I think its real message is how very patient God is with us in our sinfulness.
Our second reading this Sunday is again taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians. In the section we read today Paul reminds us of God’s loving forgiveness. “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever prayed for something only to discover that your prayers were answered in a way you hadn’t expected?
- Being persistent in prayer is important, not because it sometimes takes us a while to get God’s attention, or to change God’s mind, but rather because sometimes it takes us a while to recognize how God is responding or has responded to our prayer. When has your persistence in prayer been helpful for you?
- Has your prayer ever helped you to experience God’s forgiveness?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071716.cfm
Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary. We are told that Martha was busy with the details of hospitality, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha came to Jesus and said: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” In reply, Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Since I identify much more with Martha than Mary, I have always struggled with this particular Gospel. That is why many years ago when I was on retreat, and my retreat director asked me to meditate on this passage, I resisted. My retreat director, however, was insistent. And so, I took this passage to prayer and in my prayer it suddenly occurred to me that from my perspective three words were missing from Jesus’ response: “at this moment.” I inserted these three words after “There is need only of one thing, at this moment…………” Mary had realized that at that moment the important thing was attend to the Lord. Martha, rightly concerned about hospitality, had allowed that concern to become dominant, and as a result she missed the opportunity to attend to the Lord. I believe something similar occurs in each of our lives. We can become so focused on something --- sometimes things that are good and important --- that we can fail to be conscious of and attend to God. The challenge for us is recognize the moments of God’s presence when they occur, and then, like Mary, to attend to them.
In our first reading this Sunday Abraham extended hospitality to three visitors who were passing by. At some point, Abraham recognized that God was one of his visitors. As a result, as often happens after a divine visitation, there is an announcement: “One of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.’” Abraham’s generous hospitality had resulted in the announcement that in her old age, Sarah would have a son.
In our second reading this Sunday, Paul wrote from prison to the Colossians. Paul is clear that even in our suffering Christ is “the hope for glory.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Can you think of a time when you have been so preoccupied that you almost missed a moment of God’s presence?
- Has there been a time when in extending hospitality you have felt the presence of God?
- In times of pain or suffering have you ever found hope in Christ?