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Follow the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for the readings for February 16th
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells his disciples: “unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” As we read these words, it would be easy to think Jesus was criticizing the scribes and Pharisees because they were bad people or because they were doing bad things. The fact is, though, the scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of their time. They carefully observed all the laws and all the precepts of the laws. In fact, they were so intent on following the law that they constructed a “fence” around the law so that they wouldn’t accidently break it, e.g. they determined how may steps an individual could take on the Sabbath before they broke the commandment to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was not that they were bad people who did bad things. Rather, the issue was that they had turned their relationship with God into a set of rules and regulations. While their actions were always in accord with the law, their heart was not. They had forgotten that following the law was not an end in itself. Rather the purpose of the law was to help people grow in their relationship with God. Jesus invited them (and us) to recognize that while following the law is important, more important is that we do so because our hearts are set on doing God’s will.
Our first reading this weekend from the Book of Sirach reinforces the message of the Gospel. It reminds us that “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.” It reminds us that keeping the commandments will save us, if we trust in God.
In our second reading this weekend we are reminded of God’s mysterious wisdom. “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. In many ways a nanny and a parent both do the same tasks. The difference is the nanny does them because they are paid to do them. The parent does them out of love. I believe doing things out of love and not obligation is what Jesus was getting at in our Gospel today. Do you agree or disagree?
2. What does it mean to trust in God?
3. What words/images come to mind when you think of what God has prepared for those who love him?
For the past several weeks, Minnesota Public Radio, as well as other media, have run stories on the financial impact on our local church because of the recent disclosures of clergy sexual misconduct. These stories have in turn raised concerns about our Archdiocesan and parish finances. Specifically, concerns have been raised about secret accounts, hidden payments, generous severance packages, questionable business practices, and the impact this is having on parish finances. While the revelations contained in these stories have been painful, it is important that they be brought into the open. It is only in being open and honest regarding these matters that we can begin the healing process and move forward in faith and hope.
In reflecting on the revelations contained in these various stories, it seemed to me they left some questions unanswered, or with answers that were incomplete. Given this, I would like to offer some comments about our parish finances, our Archdiocesan finances, and the hidden accounts and secret payments that have been made.
In regard to our parish finances, I would note the following:
- Our Finance Committee is comprised of 18 individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Members can serve two consecutive three year terms and then must rotate off the committee. I, along with Terri Ashmore, our managing director, and Audra Johnson, our Director of Finance and Human Resources, also sit on the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee meets monthly except during the summer.
- At our meetings we review and monitor our monthly income and expenses to make sure we are on target in regard to our budget. .
- The Finance Committee has four subcommittees: Audit, Budget, Investment and Nominating.
- An audit is conducted each year by an outside independent auditor, and the results of the audit are shared with the Finance Committee and our Parish Council. For the past two years, a summary of the audit has been available on-line, and as I mention each year, copies of the full audit are available for anyone who is interested.
- Each parish is assessed 8% of its stewardship income to help run the Archdiocese. In the next year, this will increase to 9% for those parishes without a school.
- We work hard at being open and accountable for the financial support of our parishioners. Certainly we don’t do this perfectly. I think we do it pretty well, though, and we are always open to suggestions about how to do it better.
In regard to our Archdiocesan Finances, I would note the following:
- As it appears from the recent media reports, our Archdiocese has not done a very good job of being open and transparent in regard to its finances. There is no excuse for this. It needs to change.
- As it also appears from the recent media reports, our Archdiocese has not had a system of checks and balances in place to prevent embezzlement and other abuses of the system. Again, there is not excuse for this. All of us in the Church need to be transparent.
- In addition to the money received from parish assessments, the Archdiocese also receives income from investments, bequests, and special gifts. Our Archdiocese needs to be open and transparent in regard to these sources of revenue and how they are used.
- Money collected through the yearly Catholic Services Appeal goes directly to the programs, ministries and services that are funded through the Appeal. None of the money from the Catholic Services Appeal goes to the Archdiocese. This was reinforced this year when The Catholic Services Appeal Foundation was established to collect and disburse money collected through the Appeal.
Finally, in regard to the hidden accounts and secret payments that were made by the Archdiocese I would note the following:
- First, I believe we need to apologize that we weren’t honest and open about these payments. Frankly and bluntly, I believe this was wrong. It certainly is not consistent with the goal of transparency.
- In regard to people who have been victimized by priests, while nothing can undo the pain and harm they have experienced, I personally believe we must help them in any way we can, whether in the form of a settlement, payments for counseling, or other services.
- In regard to priests who have abused or victimized individuals, we need to be clear: because our church ordained them, we are responsible for them. While many people would like to see these men formally removed from ministry, this is a long involved canonical process that is expensive and can take years to complete. Most dioceses have chosen instead to reach settlement agreements with these men. These agreements remove them from ministry but also tie them to ongoing monitoring. It is my understanding that these agreements are negotiated with each individual priest, and are based on their particular needs and circumstances. Clearly some of these settlements appear to be overly generous. I don’t understand this. I do believe, though, ---- and I know many people will disagree with me --- that it is better to negotiate these settlements, and tie them to ongoing monitoring, than to go to the time and expense of trying to remove these priests from ministry through a canonical process.
The current crisis in our Church is painful to all of us. It is made more so by the fact that while our Archdiocese has talked about being open and transparent; we seem unable to do this. We continue to be reactive instead of proactive in our communication efforts, and, at least at this point, our words are not supported by our deeds.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, certainly the current revelations have been painful. It is important, though, that they be brought into the open. It is only in being open and honest regarding these matters that we can begin the healing process and move forward in faith and hope. I invite you to join your prayers to mine that this process will begin soon.
Click on the link below or paste it into your browser to find to the readings for this weekend: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020914.cfm
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” These words are so familiar that it would be easy to miss their meaning. Specifically, I think they remind us of two very important things. First, notice that Jesus didn’t say you “will be” the salt of the earth, or you “will be the light of the world. Rather he said: “You are.” This reminds us that in our lives --- in the here and now and not at some point in the future --- we are to be salt and light to the world around us.. Second, though, both salt and light have an impact, and it doesn’t take much of either for that impact to be noticed. A little salt can add flavor to a meal, while too much salt can ruin it. In the same way even a small amount of light can guide us on a dark night, while too much light can blind us. Clearly, even in small ways, we can be salt and light to our world and can make a difference.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel and tells us very practically how we can be salt and light in our world. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn………………… If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness,”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read this weekend, Paul reminds the people of Corinth. That he did not speak to them with “sublimity of words or of wisdom …………… so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Where are you called to be salt and light in your life?
2. What concretely and specifically do you need to do be salt and light?
3. Have you ever encountered someone who spoke with “sublimity of words and wisdom,” but really didn’t say much?
Readings: Malachi 3:1-4 Hebrews 2: 14-18 Luke 2: 22-40
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This Feast is celebrated on February 2nd each year. Our Gospel for this Feast is the story of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple in accordance with Mosiac law.
When Mary and Joseph came to the Temple they encountered Simeon, who was “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and then said to Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be sign that will be contradicted --- and you yourself a sword of sorrow will pierce --- so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary and Joseph were fulfilling the prescription of the law of Moses when they presented Jesus in the Temple. As is often the casein the scriptures, though, things have a much deeper meaning than is immediately evident. Simeon’s words prophesy both Christ’s ministry and his passion and death.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. In the section we read this weekend God announces: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me………” From our Christian perspective we see this prophecy as referring to John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for Christ.
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter to the Hebrews. It reminds us that Jesus “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, the he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered he is able to help those who are being tested.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Simeon said that Jesus was a “sign that will be contradicted.” What does this mean to you?
2. Have you ever waited, as Simeon did, and eventually found your waiting rewarded?
3. I loved the words from Hebrews that “because he himself was tested through what he suffered he is able to help those who are being tested.” When and how have you felt Jesus’ help in time of need?
When I was growing up, I was taught that there were four reasons to pray: 1. Adoration, 2. Contrition, 3. Gratitude, and 4. Petition. We still believe these four things are the reasons behind, as well as the motivation for our prayer. My problem, though, is that I never seem to adore God, or tell God I am sorry for my sins, or express my gratitude to God as earnestly or as deeply as I entreat God. My prayers of petition are long, heartfelt and sincere. My prayers of adoration, contrition and gratitude on the other hand, while sincere, tend to be brief and more often than not, superficial.
Now I know that adoration, contrition and especially gratitude are really what my prayer should be all about. God is so good, so faithful and so loving, that this alone should fill my life with thanksgiving, praise and sorrow. And yet I continue to be embarrassed at the many times I am indifferent and ungrateful. It is so easy for me to take God for granted, telling myself that God certainly must know how grateful and how sorry I am. And yet, while God does indeed know this, it is binding on me as one of God’s creatures to give voice to my gratitude, praise and sorrow.
I am not sure why it is easier for me to pray for the things I want or think I need, than it is for me to be grateful for the many blessings I enjoy in my life. I suspect, though, that a big part of the reason is that the blessings are so abundant and so pervasive that they sometimes become part of the background and they fail to stand out for me. If I only occasionally knew blessings, they would stand out much more clearly. Because I am surrounded by blessings, though, they don’t always, or even often, stand out as they should.
The fact is that we all live in a world imbued with God’s grace. God’s love for us is ever present and always being offered to us. We are always held firm in the embrace of our God’s love. If God should forget about us for even a moment, we would cease to exist. It is easy, though, to grow so comfortable and complacent with this, that we can forget that it calls for a response on our part. God’s love for us is not just to be enjoyed, but responded to. And our response needs to be adoration, contrition, and gratitude. Petition should follow after these three.
I suspect I will continue to petition God more than I praise, thank or tell God I’m sorry for my sins and failures. Prayers of petition are deeply rooted in my life.
I am hopeful, though, that as I grow older I will recognize the many blessings I enjoy in my life, the love that God constantly pours forth on me, and the forgiveness that is without end, and that this in turn might lead me to be more thankful and contrite, and lead me to give praise to the God who made all things possible.
Our Gospel this weekend comes in two sections. In the first section we read that Jesus “left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.” We are told he did this “that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light………….”
In the second section of this Gospel we read of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry with the call of Peter and his brother Andrew: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” and James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John: “He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” Notice that in both cases Jesus did not give them any information or even an idea of what following him would involve.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is the passage that was referenced in the Gospel. “First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.” The word “degraded” refers to the fact that these lands had been conquered by the Assyrians. In his prophecy, though, Isaiah foresees a time of restoration and glory for these lands.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read this weekend Paul, hearing of some rivalries and divisions within the community at Corinth, urges the Corinthians to be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When Jesus called his first disciples, why do you think he didn’t give them any specifics regarding what following him would entail?
2. Have you ever been surprised at what it has meant for you to follow Jesus?
3. Divisions within the Christian community have been around since the beginning of the Church. Why do you think this is?
Readings: Isaiah 49: 3; 5-6 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3 John 1: 29-34
For the next several weeks until the beginning of Lent, (Ash Wednesday this year in on March 5th.) we will celebrate what is known as Ordinary Time in our Church year. This time in our church year is the time between the major feasts and seasons..
This weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel is taken from the Gospel of John. In the section we read this weekend John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We are also told that “John testified further saying, ‘I saw the Spirit come like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,’ ‘On whoever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.’”
It may seem odd that John would say that he did not know Jesus. The fact is, though, the people of that time were looking for a messiah who was a powerful leader who would expel the occupying Romans and return Israel to a place of power and prominence on the world stage. Clearly this wasn’t the type of Messiah Jesus was. Thus John the Baptist had to adjust his expectations and only then could he see and understand that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from that section of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Christians see the suffering servant as prefiguring Jesus. In this weekend’s reading the servant is told: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Our second reading this weekend is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In these verses Paul greets the Church in Corinth with the words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In order to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, John the Baptist had to adjust his thinking and expectations. When have you had to adjust your thinking/expectations in regard to God?
- John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” What title/words would you use for Jesus?
- What does God’s grace and peace mean to you?
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Since Jesus’ Baptism took place when he was an adult, it may seem odd to celebrate his baptism so soon after we have celebrated his birth. The fact is, though, that other than the various infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there are no stories of Jesus’ years before his Baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. When you stop and think about it, however, there is a certain “rightness” to this. While it would be interesting to know about Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry, his mission and his ministry are far more important to us because they brought about our salvation.
Our Gospel this weekend is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism. Matthew is the only evangelist to include the verse that tells us that when Jesus came to John for Baptism, “John tried to prevent him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me.” Most scripture scholars agree that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he did not see Jesus as a sinner in need of Baptism. And while we believe that Jesus was without sin, we also believe that his baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. (As Christians, it is our belief that Baptism takes away original sin. We also believe, though, that Baptism begins our life in Christ, and as importantly that it empowers us to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus.) We are told that after Jesus was baptized, a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We believe that the Spirit is also given to us at our Baptism, and that we are all beloved children of God.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is taken from the section of Isaiah known as the “Servant Songs.” The servant is the chosen one of the Lord, and the song describes the characteristics and mission of the servant. We see the “servant songs” as prefiguring Jesus. In the section for this weekend we read: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In it Peter describes the mission of Jesus and reminds us that “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- We believe that the Holy Spirit is given to all the baptized. What is the Holy Spirit empowering you to do?
- If it is true that God shows no partiality, why bother with Baptism?
- Do you see yourself as a Beloved Son or Daughter of God?
Take, O take me as I am;
Summon out what I shall be;
Set your seal upon my heart
And live in me.
These simple and direct words are a very short song by composer John L. Bell. It is one of the best known and often-used songs from the Iona Community in Scotland. The Iona community is an ancient Christian community on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides Islands of western Scotland. I first heard this song many years ago and was struck by both its simplicity and its profundity.
For the past several years, I have used this song on an irregular basis as way of centering myself for prayer. It calms me and helps me focus. Recently, though — not intentionally, and certainly without any awareness on my part — I discovered that I had changed the last phrase. Instead of “Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.” I had unwittingly changed it to: “Set your seal upon my heart and let me be.” I was surprised and embarrassed when I realized my error, but at the same time it occurred to me that there must be an unconscious reason for the change. I decided that I needed to take this issue to prayer.
In my prayer over the course of the next few days, it became clear to me that the issue I didn’t want to deal with was forgiveness. It isn’t appropriate for me to go into the specifics, but clearly I didn’t want to forgive and by changing the last words of the refrain, I was telling God that I wanted to be left alone in the hardness of my own unforgiving heart.
I suspect there are times for all of us when, for whatever reason, we want God to just “let us be.” Like me, the issue could be forgiveness. Perhaps, though, it has to do with being more generous, more caring, or being less self-centered and more aware of the needs of others. It is not that we are great sinners. Rather, we get into comfortable ruts and don’t want to make the effort to get out of them. We want to be left alone.
Fortunately for us, at these times God continues to offer God’s grace to us. To be sure, God never forces God’s grace on us. Yet at the same time God is always offering us God’s grace and inviting us to get out of our ruts, grow beyond our complacency, re-group, and kick start our efforts to let God live in us. The challenge for us is to recognize when we have grown complacent and then open ourselves up to the grace God wants to give us.
The past few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to ask God to set “God’s seal upon my heart and live in me.” I’m hoping and praying that God will answer my prayer.
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6 Ephesians 3: 2-3a; 5-6 Matthew 2: 1-12
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The word epiphany means a revelation or manifestation. Today’s Feast celebrates the manifestation/revelation of Christ to the world. This manifestation is represented by the visit of the magi (The magi were foreigners, not Jews.) from the East to the newborn Christ child. In our Gospel this weekend, we are told that these foreign visitors said: “we saw his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” King Herod, though, “called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” Once the magi found the child, “they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod they departed for their country by another way.”
This story is both well known and important. Through the centuries, however, details have been added to it that were not part of the original. Thus, if you read the text carefully, you will note that the magi are never identified as males or as “kings,” and their number is never specified (We presume there were three because there were three gifts.) Additionally, the three “kings” we sing of comes from verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
Despite the discrepancies between the text of this Gospel and the details that have accrued to it over the centuries, its message is summed up in our second reading today from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians: “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is the section that Christians believe contains the prophecy of the visit of the magi. “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Does knowing that details have been added to this Gospel change its meaning for you?
- If Jesus is the savior of all people for all time, why do some people want to limit the offer of salvation to a select few?
- Has there been a time when you have experience an “epiphany” of God in your life?