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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/073017.cfm
Many years ago, after my mother died, we met as a family to share some of her personal items. There were no disagreements until we came to the crockery bowl in which my mother used to make bread. We all wanted it. Now certainly it wasn’t because the bowl had any monetary value. Rather, we all wanted it, because of its sentimental value. It reminded us not just of my mother’s bread baking skills, but also of her love for us. After discussing it, we decided that my sister --- the only one who lived in our home town of Anoka --- would get the bowl. To this day, though, I still cast a jealous eye on it whenever I visit my sister.
I would guess there are things in each of our lives that are very important to us. These things could have great monetary value, or they could be important simply because of what they represent. In either case, they are valuable to us and it is important that we have them. Our Gospel for this weekend contains two parables that both speak about things that have value --- a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. In both cases the individuals who discovered them sold all they had to possess them. Now, as with all parables, this one is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it reminds us that some things are worth possessing regardless of the cost. This is particularly true with regard to the Kingdom of God. The parable invites us to do all that we can to take hold of that kingdom when it is offered to us.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first Book of Kings. In it God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon did not ask for a long life or riches, or the life of his enemies. Instead he asked for an “understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” In asking for wisdom Solomon clearly knew what was important and necessary.
Our second reading this weekend is again taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In it Paul reminds us that “all things work for good for those who love God.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In your life, is there a “pearl of great price”
- Have you ever pursued something and then were disappointed when you got it?
- If God appeared to you and said “ask something of me and I will give it to you,” what would you ask for?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072317.cfm
Beginning last week and for the next two weeks our Gospels will consist of parables. Parables were simply stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God. We use stories all the time to help us understand each other. We say that “someone has a heart of gold” or “they would give you the shirt of their back.” We don’t mean these things literally. Instead they give us a picture of the individual. In a similar way, parables were not meant to be taken literally, nor were they meant to be deconstructed, and the individual parts analyzed. Rather they were to be taken as a whole. The challenge for listeners/readers was to discern what the story said about God or about our relationship with God.
Our parable this weekend is the story of a man who sowed good seed in his field and while he was asleep an enemy came and “sowed weeds all through the wheat.” “When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.” The man’s servants asked: “Do you want us to go and pull them up.” The man knew, though, that if they pulled up the weeds they might uproot the wheat along with them. So he wisely told his servants: “Let them grow together until harvest.” The point of the parable is clear. God is in charge. Good and evil will co-exist until the time of judgment at the end of the world, and judgment belongs to God alone.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Wisdom. It shares the theme of the Gospel, reminding us that God, though the “master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you.”
In our second reading this weekend we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read today we are reminded that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- If judgment belongs to God alone, why do so many of us feel the need to judge others?
- Why do you think Jesus used parables to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God?
- Have you ever felt the Spirit coming to the aid of your weakness?
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my appointment as pastor and rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary. And while I know I will never surpass Msgr. Reardon’s record of 42 years as pastor/rector of The Basilica, from my perspective 10 years is still a significant amount of time.
Much has happened these past 10 years. On the Archdiocesan level we have had three Archbishops. The sexually inappropriate behavior of many priests has been embarrassingly public, and our Church has had to candidly acknowledge our failings and errors of judgement. On the positive side, however, we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated. And while the Archdiocesan bankruptcy continues to be an issue, our hope and our prayer is that it will be resolved in the near future. Additionally, Archbishop Hebda is providing leadership that is practical, consultative, and pastoral.
In regard to our parish, during the past 10 years our parish has grown and remains stable at almost 6,500 households. Our membership reflects the diversity of both our city and our state. And although we no longer have an associate pastor, we are blessed by the services of Fr. Joe Gillespie as well as several retired priests who help us on weekends and during the week. Further, we have experienced remarkably little turnover in our senior staff these past 10 years. In fact, the majority of our senior staff have been at The Basilica longer than I have. Additionally, our parish has been blessed by the many, many people who have occupied leadership positions these past 10 years. They represent the best of The Basilica. These past 10 years, we have also continued to maintain, repair, and renovate the various buildings on our parish campus. We have also worked to build our savings, in case a financial emergency occurs. Additionally, with the help of a set percentage of the rental income from our school building, we continue to balance our budget every year.
During these past 10 years, the ministries, services, and programs at The Basilica have continued to grow, evolve, and develop. In a few instances, though, we have had to terminate some things that weren’t prospering, or were not doing what they had been designed to do. Additionally, we are always looking to improve what we do, as well as try to discern what new programs, ministries, and services are needed in our community. Perhaps most importantly, we continue to see the number of people volunteering to share their talents and abilities with our parish grow.
On a personal level, as I look back on these past 10 years, I must admit that being pastor of The Basilica is very different from being pastor of my two previous parishes. And in all honesty, these past 10 years have not been without their challenges, pain, and disappointments. Yet, more often by far, have been the times when I have been impressed by people’s generosity of spirit and humbled by their faith. More often by far have been the times when I’ve been witness to great hope in the face of a difficult situation, and great love in the face of indifference and even hate. And more often by far I have seen people live out their spirituality and faith in ways I can only hope to one day emulate. At these times, and many others, I have to admit that being pastor at The Basilica was not always what I had anticipated, but it has been more rewarding than I could have possibility imagined.
So, for weal or woe, whether it was by God’s design or the oversight of the Holy Spirit, I have been pastor of The Basilica these past 10 years. It was with great self-confidence and a sense of brash fearlessness that I undertook this responsibility 10 years ago. Now with the hindsight of 10 years, I realize that a little less self-confidence and a little more reliance on God might have been in order.
I am not sure what the future will hold for me or The Basilica, but I do believe in and have come to rely on God’s providence and grace. And I hold close and take great comfort in the words our God spoke centuries ago through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:11-14) Holding firm to this promise, I believe our future is bright.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071617.cfm
I have never been much of a gardener. I am lucky if I can remember to water the few plants I have. Our Gospel parable today, though, seems to suggest that there really isn’t much of an art to being a gardener/farmer. In fact, in this Gospel, the process of sowing seeds seems almost haphazard. We are told that when the sower went out to sow “some seed fell on the path and birds came and ate it up.” Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep and when the sun rose it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.” Given this random and seemingly chaotic sowing process, you wouldn’t expect much of a harvest. We are told, though, that the seed which fell on rich soil “produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” This is an extraordinary harvest. What are we to make of this?
First it is important to remember that parables were simple stories that Jesus used to teach his disciples something about God. They were not meant to be taken literally. Given this, we need to ask what was Jesus trying to tell us in the parable of the sower and the seeds? Well, we know from the interpretation of this parable that the seed represents the message of the Kingdom of God. The message of the Kingdom goes out to all people, but is received in a variety of ways. Ultimately, though, the Kingdom of God will flourish, despite any obstacles to its growth.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel and reminds us that the word of the Lord “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will achieving the end for which I sent it.”
In the second reading this weekend Paul reminds us that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”
Questions for reflection/discussion:
- In our Gospel parable I was impressed with the size of the harvest for such a haphazard sowing process. Usually sowing in the manner indicated in the parable would only produce a harvest of about 7%, but in this case Jesus talked of a harvest a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. What does this suggest to you?
- Have you ever experienced the message of the Kingdom taking root in your life?
- A friend of mine is fond of saying: “No crown without a cross.” Certainly we all experience some measure of pain and suffering in our lives. Does believing in the “glory to be revealed for us,” help you when you experience suffering?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070917.cfm
When I was growing up in Anoka, above the sanctuary in old St. Stephen’s Church were the words: “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As a small child I remember reading those words week after week and thinking “What a wonderful God we must have who will give us rest when we are weary.” As an adult I have come to know the truth of those words on occasions too numerous to mention. When we are weary or feeling burdened, God gives us the grace we need to carry on and not to give up or give in.
In our Gospel this weekend, though, not only does Jesus offer us rest in our weariness, he also invites us to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me ……………….. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” According to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, a yoke is a wooden bar or frame by which two animals are joined at the heads or necks for working together. What this suggests to me that when Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us it means that he will work with us to help us carry what ever burden we are called to carry. I find this thought very comforting.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah. In it Zechariah prophesized that the King will return to Jerusalem and that the “warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” We believe this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus who is meek and humble of heart.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In it we are reminded that “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever felt Christ giving you rest? How would you describe the experience?
- Can you recall a time when you have taken on Christ’s yoke? Did you feel Christ’s grace helping you to carry a burden?
- When have you felt the Spirit dwelling in 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/070217.cfm
Many years ago when I was in college, one of the books I had to read for a class was “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the book Bonhoeffer argued that in many ways Christianity had become secularized, accommodating the demands of following Jesus to the requirements of society. In doing this, he argued, the Gospel had been cheapened, and following Christ had become easy and without pain. And while following Christ doesn’t mean that our lives will be full of difficulty and pain, Bonhoeffer argued that there will be times when being a disciple asks something of us that we may not want to do. There is a cost to discipleship.
I thought of Bonhoeffer’s book when I read our Gospel for this Sunday. In the opening lines of that Gospel Jesus is clear that being his disciple means loving him above all, and then taking up our cross and following him. Jesus is also clear in the second half of today’s Gospel, that while following him may involve some pain or difficulty, we will also be rewarded. Jesus does not promise, though, that the reward will occur in this life.
Our first reading for this Sunday is taken from the second Book of Kings. We are told that whenever Elisha came to the town of Shunem, a woman of that town offered him hospitality. Because of her kindness and hospitality Elisha asked his servant, Gehazi if he could do something for her. His servant told him that she had no son, and her husband was getting on in years. Elisha then promised the woman: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read today Paul reminds us: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ………. so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you experienced a “cost” in following Christ?
- Like the Shunemite woman, it would be nice if we were rewarded in this life for our good acts. Unfortunately, most often that is not the case. What helps you believe that we will see the reward of our goodness in the life to come?
- What does it mean to live in the “newness” of Christ’s life?
It seems to me that in our world today there are often two competing visions of “Christianity.” On the one hand there are those who see Christianity as a set of beliefs and rules that believers are expected to accept and adhere to in order to live a good and righteous life, and so be fit for heaven (this is known as orthodoxy). On the other hand there are those who see Christianity simply as a loving way of life, in which we are called to live in common care and concern for one another (this is often referred to as ortho-praxy).
I think both of these visions, in and of themselves, are incomplete. It is not enough simply to give allegiance to a set of beliefs and rules. Somehow what we believe must have an impact on and find expression in the way we live. Likewise, while it is good and important to manifest a loving way of life, our lives must be grounded in faith, and in a set of beliefs. Without this anchor, it is too easy for a “loving way of life” to become whatever suits one’s fancy at a given moment in time.
Now certainly the above is not a new issue. It has been around since the beginning of the Church. In the letter of Saint James we read: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2: 15-18).
When we talk about a vision for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular we need a both/and, not an either/or approach. It is too simple to profess a set of beliefs without giving witness to those beliefs in the way we live. I have encountered too many people who were steadfast in the profession of their beliefs, but who were cranky, judgmental, and in some cases, downright mean. On the other hand, I have also encountered people who identified themselves as Christians, and who lived good and loving lives, but who, when pressed, couldn’t tell you exactly what they believed and/or why their beliefs made a difference in the way they lived.
Both orthodoxy and ortho-praxy are good, important, and necessary. We need to remember, though, that they go together. They are inseparable from one another. Whenever we overemphasize one, or worse, pit them against one another, we are going down a dangerous path. Jesus knew this. I think that is why, when he was asked which was the greatest commandment, he gave two and yoked them together. Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular require that we believe and profess our faith, and then give witness to it through our words and actions. This is what Jesus asks of and expects from all of 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/062517.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Ordinary Time is that time between the major seasons of our Church year --- Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.) In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs “the twelve” about their mission and ministry. There are three things to note in this Gospel. 1. Three times Jesus tells the twelve not to be afraid. 2. Rather, they are to be bold in their witness and fearless in their preaching. 3. For “even the hairs of your head are counted.”
Jesus knew that his disciples would face stiff resistance and even persecution as they sought to continue his mission and ministry. Given this, he wanted to be honest with them in regard to what was to come, while at the same time assuring them, that they would not be alone as they went forth. God would be with them
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the section we read today, Jeremiah has been imprisoned and beaten. He hears “the whisperings of many; “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him” And yet, even in this terrible situation Jeremiah is able to say: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”
In both our Gospel and our first Reading we are reminded that God never promised us a trouble free life of ease and comfort. God did promise, though, that He would be with us in the midst of our trials and sufferings.
Our second reading today is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read today Paul reminds us that although sin is a part of our world, “how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you experienced God’s grace in the face of difficulties or trials?
- During difficulties, has there been a time when --- only in retrospect --- that you were able to see God’s grace in your life?
- Where are you called to give witness to God in your life?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061817.cfm
Many years ago when I was growing up, my mother decided she would bake bread and rolls for our family rather then purchase them at the store. This practice stopped when my youngest brother was born. I think with 7 children, one of them being a new born, something had to give. For a few years, though, it was great to wake up to the smell of fresh bread a couple times a week. Even as a child, I knew that making bread was a way for my mother to express her love for us. Given this, it wasn’t difficult at all for me to understand that the Eucharist --- the Bread of Life --- was an expression of Christ’s love for us.
I mention the above because this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This feast celebrates our belief, as Catholics, that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is really and truly present. We offer no proof for this belief. There is no rational explanation for it. There is no way to logically reason to it. For us it is a matter of faith. And, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11.1)
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells the people: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” In these words we believe Jesus has promised to be with his people in the Eucharist that we celebrate and share in his name. Further, we believe that in the Eucharist not only do we share in Christ’s life in this world, but also we are given the promise of eternal life.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses reminded the people not to forget the Lord their God who “fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.” We see manna as prefiguring the Eucharist.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul reminded the people of Corinth that “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- How was the Eucharist explained to you as a child? How do you understand it now?
- How would you explain the Eucharist to someone who does not come from a Christian background?
- What is your strongest memory of receiving the Eucharist?
A few months ago I got together for dinner with a friend. During our dinner conversation he told me that on a recent trip to the East coast, he had seen GOD’S truck on the highway. Since I am not one to be easily taken in, I asked him what he meant. He said that while he was driving to the East Coast to visit some relatives and friends, in the distance ahead he saw a truck with the word G O D written in large letters across its back doors. He went on to say that as he got closer to the truck he realized that it wasn’t really GOD’S truck after all. Rather it was a truck with very large lettering that announced: Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. As he told this story we both had a good laugh. I then suggested that he get his eyes checked relatively soon.
As I reflected on my friend’s encounter with GOD’S truck, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a message in this experience. Specifically, it struck me that for most of us when we pray to God we often expect “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” in response to our prayers. We expect God to hear our prayers, to understand the wisdom, goodness, and unselfishness behind them, and then to respond to them completely, swiftly, and preferably overnight. The reality is, though, that God doesn’t operate according to our timeline and/or agenda.
Certainly this can be frustrating and it can cause people to wonder why many times their best and most unselfish prayers go unanswered. In some cases people can begin to wonder if they aren’t saying the right prayers, or if they aren’t praying hard enough, or if they just aren’t holy enough. Sadly, for some people, it can even cause them to give up on prayer all together.
The reality is, though, that it is fairly presumptuous of us to expect that God’s response to our prayers should take the form of “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery.” God is not under any obligation to respond to our prayers according to our timeline and in exactly the manner we want. This doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t respond to our prayers.
More times than I can count I have realized (most often in retrospect) that God had responded to my prayers, but in ways I hadn’t imagined or in ways I hadn’t been open to at the time. Often times too, instead of doing things for me, I have discovered that God has given me the strength, the courage, ability, and the grace to do something I had been praying and asking God to do.
God never promised Guaranteed Overnight Delivery in response to our prayers. If we can pray with open hearts and minds, though, and if we can trust and believe that God does indeed hear and respond to our prayers, we will discover that God has responded to our prayers. This response may not occur in the way we had wanted or hoped, but most certainly in the way we need.