Category Archives: lectionary

Like stars in the darkness

In the midst of the terror in Paris and Beirut in the past week, while thousands flee the violence in Syria, while many remember the terror and the killings in Kenya and Nigeria, while war and bombing continues to kill many in the Middle East and elsewhere, while hospitals are bombed, while violence and hunger leaves many victims throughout the world, many feel as if the end of the world is at hand. Many feel, as we read in today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel 12: 1-3, that we live in a time “unsurpassed in distress.”

Many have felt this throughout history. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem felt like the end of the world to the Jews. The fall of Rome to the “barbarians” felt like the end of civilization. The black plague led many to think that the end of the world was at hand.

But Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, Mark 13:32, that no one, but the Father, knows the day and the hour.

Yet, I ask, what can we do in the midst of the darkness?

The last line of the reading from Daniel can give us hope and also challenge us:

Those who lead the many to justice
will shine like the stars forever.

There are many voices that would lead us to the supposed justice of vengeance and extermination of our “enemies.”

But there are voices that urge us to the justice, the righteousness, of God, a justice that seeks to offer a different vision of the world, that refuses to demonize even those who commit terror, that challenges us to be creative, loving, and merciful.

The violence of terror is meant to leave us paralyzed by fear. But the justice of God is meant to guide us to new ways of living and loving.

I don’t have answers, but I think that we do have a guide – Jesus. We also have guides among us who offer us a different vision of justice.

Last night I noted that several persons have recalled the Last Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé, one of the Trappists kidnapped and killed by extremists in Algeria in 1996. The full text can be found here, but a few phrases might help us to meditate in the midst of the darkness

I ask them to associate [my] death
with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference
or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.

I should like, when the time comes,
to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart
the one who would strike me down.

Dom Christian is one of those stars who can guide us to the true Justice, the God of mercy and all-embracing love.

May we see his light and follow him on the way to real peace.

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Rich and poor

we want to make “the rich poor and the poor holy,”
and that, too, is a revolution obnoxious to the pagan man.
Dorothy Day, November 1949

Servant of God Dorothy Day was born on this day, November 8, 1897.

In today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 38-44, Jesus is contrasting the religious leaders and the rich with the poor, especially a poor widow.

The religious leaders “devour the houses of widows.” In the days of Jesus, the Roman and the temple taxes would have made life difficult for the widow who had little or nothing to live on and depended on her children and the kindness of others.

But, according to Jesus, the religious leaders often do not note the poor.

But Jesus does, sitting in a place in the Temple where he can see how people give.

In this he notes the poor widow who gives just two small coins. “She, from her poverty, has given all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Whether she was giving because she had to and was thus using up all her resources, which were being devoured by religious leaders or whether she was giving all she had out of her sense of gratitude to God for all she had received – little though it may have been, Jesus sees her as a sign of the reign of God.

She is the one who gives all she has and, hopefully, lets God and the community support her.

Would that we who have much can learn that poor widow – how to give to God all we have and all we are, trusting in the providence of God and finding in the community the source of all we really need.

In such a way we can change from being the rich who devour the homes of widows to being the “poor” who share all we have.

Encountering the lowly

Do not be haughty
but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12: 16

 Today’s lectionary reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (12: 5-16b) is full of extraordinary advice for us who seek to follow Christ. But it is the final verse that struck me, “associate with the lowly” partly because of my situation here and partly because that is what Pope Francis calls us to do.

Pope Francis has, from the start, called for a “culture of encounter” (The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], ¶ 220).

Giving to the poor and even advocating for justice on their behalf are not enough. For, as Pope Francis also wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 88:

…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

We are called to encounter the lowly, to associate with them, because that is what Jesus has done. He became flesh to associate with the poor and the lowly, those at the margins.

Jesus normally does not heal from a distance but touches the sick, speaks with them, and calls them to new life.

This is not easy but it is possible when we open ourselves, as Pope Francis has noted, to encounter Jesus.

But it has to be personal.

In Bolivia Pope Francis spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements and noted the importance of this face-to-face solidarity:

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drug-dealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

We can follow the example of these secular movements and join with them in real solidarity with the poor and humble, following in the footsteps of a God who became poor.

Today, fittingly, is also the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Dominican lay brother who served the poor in Lima, Perú, and was known as “the father of the poor.” He is also the patron of social justice – a quite fitting reminder of the admonition of St. Paul to “associate with the lowly.”

By the side of the road

In today’s Gospel (Mark 10: 46-52), the blind beggar Bartimaeus is seated at the side of the road outside of Jericho.

Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem – where, as he told the apostles, he will be put to death. It’s a perilous journey.

But Bartimaeus has nothing to lose in recognizing Jesus, the Son of David. And so he cries out, begging for mercy, addressing Jesus in Messianic terms, which would get Jesus in trouble in a short time.

But people tell him to shut up. The truth of his message is all too dangerous.

Yes, some might have not wanted to have Jesus bother with this blind beggar, this riff-raff. But I wonder whether Bartimaeus’ naming of Jesus as Son of David didn’t also bother them.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote in his commentary on today’s readings:

Recognizing Jesus as the Christ comes from the last ones in society, from those who are the side of the road, from those whom some seek to shut up.

The powers of the world want us to follow along, to be afraid to speak the truth, to be afraid of the powers that can put one to death.

But a blind beggar at the side of the road has nothing to lose and so teaches us the way, the road, to fullness of life.

When Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus jumps up. He is willing to approach this dangerous man who will soon be crucified.

When Jesus asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus tells him that he wants to see.

But hasn’t Bartimaeus already “seen” the truth?

Today, I pray that we may be more like Bartimaeus, willing to make a nuisance of ourselves in proclaiming the One who brings life and healing and, above all, mercy.

Then we might accompany Bartimaeus following Jesus on the road – to Jerusalem.

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A different reflection on today’s Gospel can be found here at Deacon Greg Kendra’s blog.

Giving voice to the voiceless

Today’s Gospel, Mark 7: 31-37, is full of surprises, revealing a God who acts in new and imaginative ways.

The man who is deaf and has trouble speaking does not come to Jesus on his own. Others bring him. Did he fear coming to Jesus, not being able to tell Him what he wanted? Or did he not realize his condition and therefore did not see the need to come to Jesus for healing? Or did he not think that Jesus could or would heal him – after all he’s just another deaf-mute?

But Jesus takes him apart and heals the man, touching his ears and putting spittle on his tongue. A word was not enough. Jesus touched him.

And then Jesus called to him “Ephaphatha – be opened.” And he heard and “spoke plainly.”

The man’s voice was returned to him.

The people marveled at this and noted that “He has done all things beautifully. He makes the deaf hear and he makes those who do not speak speak.”

The Greek of the last line struck me: ἀλάλους λαλεῖν. It could easily be translated as giving voice to the voiceless.

Jesus opened the ears of the man so that he could hear the words of God to “open up,” to listen to the Word of God, a word that calls us to live our true dignity as children of God.

But he also gives the man the gift of being able to speak rightly, clearly. He restores his true voice to the man.

So many people do not have a voice in this world.

Sometimes we do not speak up because of fear, because of timidity, because we have not listened to the Word of God and heard the cries of the poor and vulnerable.

But so many are without voice, not heard, not listened to. Or their voices are muffled. Or they have given up speaking because of the indifference of others. Or the hears of those who could hear are closed to them.

But Jesus heals and gives the poor back their voice – if we would listen.

This is what I think people like Monseñor Romero did for the people of El Salvador in the late 1970s, letting them lift up their voices. He is often called “the voice of the voiceless” but he was also one who affirmed the people when they raised their voices against the repression.

This is what I think the Guatemalan bishops just did when they supported the people of Guatemala who were calling for an end to corruption and impunity and then took to the streets to call for the resignation of a corrupt president.

This is what I think Pope Francis is trying to do and what he did when he held the open meeting via ABC News with refugee families in Texas, with homeless people in Los Angeles, and with poor young students at Cristo Rey school in Chicago.

It’s what God can do with us, letting us listen to the poor, the refugee, the marginalized and letting their voice be heard.

Daily life and Saint Bartholomew

Today is the feast of St. Bartholomew, the apostle, often identified with Nathaniel.

In John’s Gospel 1:45-51, Philip finds him seated under a fig tree and calls him to come and see this Jesus. A little skeptical – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – Bartholomew follows his friend and then follows Jesus.

He is called in his daily life and he lives a life which was probably not full of moments of grandeur, but full of the concerns of daily life, even the daily life of a disciple and a missionary. And I can attest that the life of a missionary is not all excitement; it’s full of the ordinary.

But it’s in the ordinary where we can begin to live out faithful discipleship.

Benedictine Daily Prayer offers part of a sermon of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman for Vigils. This section spoke to me today.

…sometimes we are led to think we ought to be useful on a large scale, and go out of our line of life, that we maybe doing something worth doing, as we consider it.

Here we have the history of St. Bartholomew and the other apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to God, if improved duly. Indeed, it affords means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an apostle. Bartholomew read the Scriptures and prayed to God; and thus was trained at length to give up his life for Christ, when he demanded it.

We are trained at length in the little things, the constant repetitions of daily life. There we learn how to follow, how to “Come and see.”

Radical choices

Decide today whom you will serve?
Joshua 24:15
Will you too go away?
John 6:67
Submit to one another out of reverence of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21

Today’s readings are hard.

We live in a culture where we want to keep our options open.

But Joshua and Jesus are calling us to make a decision.

“Who’s your God?” Joshua is asking: The gods of power, wealth, and pleasure or the God who rescued you from slavery?

“Will you follow me?” asked Jesus. His words are Spirit and life but Jesus offers Himself for us, He is willing to hand Himself over to death and to give Himself to us as food.

The God of Joshua is a God of freedom and justice – but freedom and justice for all, not just the freedom to the “good” and comfortable  life.

Jesus is a God of self-gift, of commitment to all, to life.

But then Paul tells the Ephesians, “Submit to one another out of respect for Christ.” This could also be translated as “Be subordinate; defer to each other; obey each other; give way to each other; be subject to each other.”

However you translate it, it is grating, challenging.

But what would the world be like if we deferred to one another, to we listened to each other (which is the etymological root of obey)?

It would be a lot different, I think. I would not be looking out for myself. I would be looking out for others, for the ways in which the Reign of God can become real for all of God’s people.

As I discern the call to the permanent diaconate, one of the concerns has been the promise of obedience involved. I have been a “free agent” for so long that “subordinating myself” to the “discipline” (or, better, “discipleship”) of the Church seems scary.

But perhaps that is what I need to open myself more to where God calls and not where I want to be.

May God give me the wisdom and the courage to make the right choice.