Tag Archives: lectionary

Thunderstruck

This past Sunday I preached in a small town about 40 minutes away. I also preached at the 7:00 pm Mass in Dulce Nombre. I wasn’t going to share this except that as Padre German approached the altar to offer the gifts he whispered to me, “Hablaste del corazón” – “You spoke from the heart.” Here are some notes – in English – from my homilies.

I approach preaching today with trepidation. The first reading (Deuteronomy 18: 15-200 has a message for all of us who preach.

“…if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.”

Am I preaching me? Or am I transparent – allowing the message of Jesus and the Reign of God to come through? Do the people hear God or just my words.

There are so many people who speak in the name of God but are held in the embrace of the powers of this world, the economy, political parties, racist ideologies. Their preaching serves not God, but an idol.

The Gospel (Mark 1: 21-28), on the other hand, recalls Jesus speaking, preaching, in the synagogue. The people are amazed. We don’t know what he said, but his very manner of preaching moved people.

There was a coherence between what he said and who he was. He, the Son of God made flesh, lived the Reign of God and made it present. Thomas Merton once wrote, “The saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and talks, the way he picks up things and holds them in his hand.”  I image that is what the people saw in Jesus – holiness made present in living form. He is truth and love made flesh. His words spring from his heart.

But then something happens in the synagogue. A man tormented by an unclean spirit begins to shout. The unclean spirit cannot take the truth and the love that is there present before him.

The words of Jesus threaten this spirit who cries out: “Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus responds simply: “Be quiet. Get out of him!”

The words of Jesus are words that generate hope and heal wounds. They are words that give life. The spirit leaves, convulsing the man and making a racket. The convulsion within the man is brought out into the open and the man is healed.

But what strikes me about this reading is that the people are amazed at the preaching of Jesus and are “amazed” that unclean spirits obey him. The Spanish lectionary states that “todos quedaron estupefactos” – all were stupefied (or thunderstruck).

How often do we come into church, awaiting a boring sermon and not expecting anything new, anything that will shake us up.

But with Jesus, all is wonder.

Would that we lived with a sense of wonder, a sense of letting ourselves be surprised by the marvels around us – the marvel of Word and Eucharist in church, the marvels of love between spouses and among parents and children. But all too often our hearts, as well as our eyes and ears are closed to the marvels, the wonders around us – the wonders of creation, the wonders of people caring for the sick and elderly, the wonders of people working hard and with a spirit of joy.

And so I pray that God will open our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts so that we may let ourselves be thunderstruck by the marvels God shows us every moment of every day.


With gratitude for the commentaries of José Antonio Pagola:
http://iglesiadesopelana3b.blogspot.com/2017/11/j-pagola-ciclo-b-20172018.html

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Complain or empty myself

DSC02907This morning, the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, I prayed the readings for the feast of the Holy Cross, thinking these would be the readings for Mass today. I’ll be going to the 4 pm Mass in Bañaderos and will probably preach there on the readings in the booklet we use. But here are some thoughts on Numbers 21: 4-9, Philippians 2: 6-11, and John 3: 13-17 – readings that touch me deeply.

It’s so easy to complain. Something’s wrong and we are frustrated. So we complain. What does that do? Does it help resolve the problem? Or does it isolate us in our complaining?

Sure, there is a lot to complain about – the cold or a cold, racism or repression, poverty or poor roads.

But if we just complain, isn’t that like a snake bite, that poisons our bodies and our souls?

But what is the response of Jesus?

He empties himself, in the face of suffering and pain. He identifies with our suffering and with the suffering of the least among us. He does not pull back, holding on to his position as God. No, he becomes one of us, feeling our pain.

But even more he gives himself over in love.

Feeling pain for Jesus meant healing, touching the outcast, going where those in power dare not go. Even to death, where love leads him.

God so loves us that He comes among us, suffers with us, dies with and for us.

And what are we called to do?

Love, give ourselves, empty ourselves of all that keeps us from loving God and the least among us.

Lord, empty me, fill me with love, send me out to give myself for others.

 

The name of mercy

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast solemnly celebrated by the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

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The name, Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” was given by the angel Gabriel, as a sign that God had come among us, born of the Virgin Mary.

DSC00827The devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was spread by the Franciscan reformer, Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). Reading one of his sermons this morning at Vigils, I was stopped by these words:

“Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power, let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice. Give us the name of mercy. Let the name of Jesus resound in my ears…”

The name of Jesus is not a word of power, of vengeance, even of political justice. It is the name of mercy. Our God, made flesh in a poor weak babe in an occupied land, brings mercy.

Each morning I begin my prayers with a form of the Jesus prayer, a prayer that is a mantra, repeated over and over.

The long form of the prayer, profoundly biblical, from the Orthodox monastic tradition, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The shortest form is just repeating the name “Jesus.”

I have my own modified form, “Jesus, Lord, be merciful,” which I occasionally pray in Spanish, “Jesucristo, ten piedad.”

I don’t know when I began using this prayer, but it has accompanied me for decades. At times, I wake up praying the Jesus prayer. Many times, whether in church or just working, I find myself praying the prayer. I am not grateful enough for this gift.

But now what is important for me is the mercy of God. In the face of the violence and unrest here, in the fears of nuclear war and the abandonment of the poor in the US, the mercy of God should pervade us – and move us to be instruments of mercy.

Who are you?

In today’s Gospel (John 1: 19-28) John the Baptist is clear.

I am not the Christ, the Messiah, the savior. Neither am I Elijah or one of the prophets.

Who are you? Who am I?

When I first read Thomas Merton’s novel, My Argument with the Gestapo, I was moved by this passage:

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is…. I am all the time trying to make out the answer as I go on living. I live out the answer to my two questions myself and the answer may not be complete, even when my life is ended I may go on working out the answer for a long time after my death, but at least it will be resolved, and there will be no further question, for with God’s mercy, I shall possess not only the answer but the reality that the answer was about.”

But yesterday I read a short essay on Facebook by a friend, Rachel – a mother raising three precocious girls alone. I haven’t met the girls but I hope one day to meet these incredible young women.

In her essay Rachel mentions the importance of accompaniment in her life and notes, “Accompaniment is an act of resistance.”

This morning, asking who I am, I pondered how much accompaniment is a part of my life – or, at least, of my vision for my life.

A companion is one who shares bread with another. I hope and pray that I can grow into this. I tend to want to just sit at home and read and work on the computer. But I feel a call to accompany even more the people I live among, listening to them, accepting invitations to share a meal in their homes.

This is an act of resistance – to thinking and acting as if the world revolves around me, to the attitude of self-sufficiency – that I can do this by myself, to the blindness in the face of the suffering people at our door, to the principalities and powers of this world who want to ignore the weak and the vulnerable, to the forces that want to deny the possibility of the Beloved Community.

I did not make a New Year’s resolution yesterday, butI think I have one today:

May this year be a year of more accompanying, more sharing of tortillas at the table of the poor.

 

Meditating with Mary

Mary is a juggler who reveals the face of God.DSC06035

After hearing the report of the shepherds who had come to worship her Son, she treasures her experiences and throws them together in her heart. (Luke 2: 19)

The usual translation is that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. But the Greek συμβαλλειν means to “throw together.” But I think it’s more like juggling – continuing to keep things together while keeping them moving.

Sometimes when I sit down and pray over the Gospel of the day, I find myself throwing together the words of the scripture, the events happening in the world, and my personal feelings.

This morning I find myself contemplating the “face,” the Rostro, of God. God wishes to shine his face upon us – with love (Numbers 6: 22-27).

It is not the face of domination, of power, of violence, of control. It is the face of the vulnerable, the weak, the face of a child – revealed to the outcasts, the shepherds – lying in a feed trough.

When I allow myself to contemplate the face of the poor, the outcast, to listen to them – to accompany them – then I can see the face of God and recognize the presence of the vulnerable God, Jesus, in our midst.

This happened one day this past year.

It was a busy day. In the course of the day our pastor asked me to sit in while he spoke to a couple whose adolescent son had been abused. Later, listening to a woman concerned about her son who seemed to be suffering severe depression, I heard her speak of the abuse she received at home. I felt helpless before such pain, such violence. Later that night, back home, I dropped in to the Holy Hour. Sitting in the back, ignoring all the words, I could only place all that I had heard that day in the hands of a vulnerable God, who had made Himself present to me in the suffering and who was present in the Host – how vulnerable is a piece of bread. God shined his face on me and gave me peace – even though, or maybe because, I felt weak and helpless.

I pray that this year I may recognize the face of God shining on me, offering me peace, and calling me to share these marvels to those I meet.

This will require some juggling.


 

The photo is a close-up of the Icon of Mary, Virgin of Tenderness, in St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Ames, Iowa, written by Yaroslava Sumach Mills.

The wedding garment of love

Matthew 22: 1-14

To be invited to a wedding feast would be a surprise for most of the poor people who came and listened to Jesus. A wedding feast would be beyond the means of most of them and you got an invitation to the feast if you were one of the friends of the king.

But Jesus also addressed the parable of the banquet to the religious leaders who would probably get any number of invitations to banquets.

In the parable the invited make all sorts of excuses to avoid the banquet; some maltreat and kill the king’s messengers. So the king sends out his servants to invite those in the highways and byways – not ordinarily invited to banquets. And the hall is filled.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like that kind of banquet where God does not want any empty seats. For the peasants of Galilee this would have been an impossible dream – but it is the dream of God.

Yet there is a discordant note. There is a man without a wedding garment.

The poor invited to the banquet would obviously not have good clothes to wear. I believe, the king would have offered everyone a tunic to wear, where all would be equal.

But what is this wedding garment?

In this both, Saint Augustine and Blessed Monseñor Romero agree.

The wedding garment is love.

In Sermon 90, Saint Augustine preached:

“Whatever can this wedding garment be? For an answer we must go to the apostle [Paul}, who says, ‘The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.”

In his homily on October 15, 1978, Monseñor Romero said:

“God desires the garment of justice. God wants Christians to clothe themselves in the garment of love.”

All are invited; all are welcome; but the God of Love, who offers us love and will fill us with love, asks that we put on love.

Love.

 

 

Saying yes to being a slave

The great mystery of God’s compassion is that in his compassion,
in his entering with us into the condition of a slave,
he reveals himself to us as God.
Henri Nouwen

Sunday I preached in two different communities.

Though I referred to the Gospel and the reading from Ezekiel, I concentrated on Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 1-11. It is a marvelous reading to share with a community, especially communities struggling with divisions. Deepen my joy, Paul tells the Philippians by having the mind and heart of Christ – being one in spirt, one in love, one in your aspirations. Christ didn’t cling to his divine power but, emptying himself he became a slave.

Yes, the Greek word is slave, δοῦλος – not servant/attendant, διάκονος. We often hear it as servant, which is fine, but “slave”? You’ve got to be kidding? That’s nearly incomprehensible.

As Henri Nouwen well puts it, but in terms of “servant”:

Our God is a servant God. It is difficult for us to comprehend that we are liberated by someone who became powerless, that we are strengthened by one who became powerless, that we find new hope in someone who divested himself of all distinctions, and that we find a leader in someone who became a servant. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 24)

But I was not ready to be taught what this means.

In the morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word and Communion in the village of San Marcos Las Pavas. It is one of most remote communities in the parish, about an hour from my house. The final leg of the journey is an uphill ride with lots of curves. As I turned the curve before the church. I was stopped in my tracks. The road was impassible; because of the heavy rains a landslide left only a small, muddy path to get to the church.

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When I got the church my hands and shoes were muddy. As I stopped to wash my hands, an older man who I think is mentally challenged asked to wash my shoes. At first, I was reluctant and even began washing them myself. But then I remembered that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Whom am I to not let this humble man serve me?

As I preached later about Jesus the servant, the slave of all, I made a reference to this man. He showed me the face of God – not in his poverty, but in his service. He is teaching me to drop on my knees to God as well as to wash the feet and shoes of others. He is teaching me to let myself be served, to let myself be vulnerable. He is opening me to see Jesus in entirely new ways.