Tuesday, August 27, 2013

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

If you had to describe this week’s readings with one word… it would be “humility.”  In our first reading from the book of Sirach, the author states this very clearly in the opening lines of the passage:  “… conduct your affairs with humility.”  Why is this important?  First, it’s good to remember that the book of Sirach falls under the category of “wisdom” literature in the bible, and because of it’s relatively late writing (around the 2ndcentury BCE), has been excluded from the Hebrew and Protestant bibles.  Catholics, however, find the work to be inspired and includes it in our Canon.  Like all wisdom literature, it is a cross between popular non-fiction and catechetical text.  In today’s reading, the author reminds us that the more we humble ourselves, the greater favor we will find with God.  And this humility isn’t limited to just how we approach God, but everyone, an idea Jesus himself codified when he taught us to “love our neighbor.”

Turning to our Gospel from Luke, Jesus gives us an example of this through his Parable of the Conduct of Invited Guests and Hosts (a prelude to the Parable of the Great Feast).  While dining at the home of the leading Pharisees, Jesus notices the guests jockeying for preferential positions at the table.  He uses this observation for a catechetical or “teaching” moment, and so as not to offend anyone directly, uses the form of a parable.  In the story, Jesus encourages guests not to take the highest spot at table, but rather, take the lowest.  Why?  If the host sees you in the wrong spot, placing you higher at the table would be an honor, whereas moving you further down the table would be an embarrassment.  In other words, we should not assume our place at table (or the heavenly kingdom), this is for our host (God) to decide.  Going back to our lesson from Sirach, letting humility be our guide, we should take our place last in line, and not presume that our place should be higher (for that would be a selfish indulgence).  Jesus doesn’t stop there, however.  He goes on to say that those who are in need (the poor, crippled, lame, blind…) should be invited as well, for as Jesus notes, the host would be blessed for their righteousness.

Not only does Jesus remind us of the need to be humble, but he reaches back to the core of the Mosaic Law, and reminds us that it is how we treat the underprivileged (the widow, the foreigner, the orphan), is how we will be judged.  In Christian theology, we call this “a preferential option for the poor.”  Those in need require our special attention.

And what of our second reading?  Here we continue our study of the Letter to the Hebrews.  This Sunday’s passage reminds us that through Christ, God is accessible.  No longer should God be feared (as it was with the Israelites in the time of Moses), but instead, wants to be with us.

Catholic Update

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time: 
        Isaiah 66:18-21
        Psalm 117:1, 2
        Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
        Luke 13:22-30 

Our first reading opens with the prophet Isaiah with a passage from the closing chapter. These later Isaiah passages speak of a new Heaven and a new Earth, and here the Lord says he will send fugitives to all nations to proclaim the Lord’s glory and lead them to the new Jerusalem. The choice of the word “fugitives” seems odd, but is a bit more understandable when you consider that the passage is from, for lack of a better description, Isaiah’s Final Judgment discourse. While what we read here seems pleasant enough (God calling all nations together), it is part of a larger prophecy that reminds us that not all will be coming to this new Jerusalem (using a rather unpleasant example of what happens to those who rebelled against the Lord.

Our second reading, a continuation of our journey through Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, telling us not to “disdain the discipline of the Lord…” noting that it is discipline that brings the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Then in our Gospel from Luke, we have another reminder that not everyone will be saved. You may recall that we’ve spend the Summer traveling with Jesus as he makes his long journey to Jerusalem. As he continues his travels, some asks him if only a few will be saved, to which Jesus replies that many will not be “strong enough” to get through the narrow gate (again, an interesting translation with the phrase “strong enough”).

Our readings these past few weeks have been difficult. Challenging. Challenging to our complacent notion of God’s seemingly infinite capacity for forgiveness. Challenging to our relatively comfortable lives and times. Last week we had Jesus calling for the Earth to be set on fire and dividing households. Now Jesus, reminiscent of this week’s final chapter of Isaiah, tells us that there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth” as not all are let into the Heavenly banquet.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t sugar-coat this for you... Following Jesus…living the Christian life, is not easy. While we Catholics tend to shy away from the “fire and brimstone – hell and damnation” preaching of many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, favoring instead to focus on God’s love for us, we can’t and shouldn't forget that we will be judged by how well we follow God’s command… which Jesus taught us - Love God and love our neighbor. It sounds easy enough when we’re in the moment… but this is the Law that binds us continuously. Not “once in a while.” Not “when I have time.” Always. What we did yesterday only counts for yesterday. What are we doing today? Tomorrow? God wants us to better ourselves, to stretch ourselves. He wants us to overcome every new obstacle, to reach new heights. To never stop growing... evolving... because it will bring us ever closer to him.

Jesus came to challenge the status-quot. To shake us out of our complacency. To stir us to action. The Second Vatican Council taught us that we need to be active participants in our faith… not just watching on the sidelines, but getting into the game. Our readings this week shouldn't cause us to be afraid or discouraged, they should be reminders to push us forward, to do better, to rouse us to action. Does God expect perfection? No. Is God willing to forgive us our sins? YES. But God also wants us to learn from our mistakes and move on. The past is the past… not only for our sins, but for our accomplishments. What have you done for God today? What have you done for your neighbor today? This is the ongoing challenge of the Christian life. But the beauty is that we don’t travel this road alone. God and our neighbors are with us… we journey together.

Monday, August 19, 2013

RCIA Summer Field Trip 2013

On Saturday, August 17th our RCIA group went on a summer field trip. The day started meeting in the OLR Church Parking lot to carpool, then we hit the freeway to head to downtown Los Angeles to visit Our Lady of the Angles Cathedral. We walked around the inside of the Cathedral admiring the archeticture and artwork. We also explored the Mausoleum, garden and gift shop.

 Exterior Shot of Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral

The outing continued with lunch a few blocks away at historic Philippes for some famous French Dip Sandwiches. Then we hoped back on the freeway for a few minutes and headed towards Mission San Gabriel.

 Exterior entrance to the Mission Church.

 Inside the Mission Church

Vines of growing grapes!

 Exterior of the Mission featuring the Mission Bells.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
        Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
        Hebrews 12:1-4
        Luke 12:49-53

We open with a reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Our scene opens with the princes of Judah looking to King Zedekiah to have the prophet Jeremiah put to death. The princes throw him into an empty, muddy cistern to die, but the king orders that he be taken out. What’s going on here? Clearly Zedekiah doesn’t want Jeremiah to die, but there’s much more going on here. We need to remember that Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. The northern kingdom fell to Assyria only some 25 years before, and it was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar himself that put Zedekiah on the throne in Jerusalem in an attempt to create an ally in the region. Since then, however, the princes have been plotting against him, scheming with the weak remains of the Egyptian empire to put down Nebuchadnezzar and win freedom from Babylon. Zedekiah feels he’s caught in the middle, and it is Jeremiah who is trying to tell Zedekiah that his best and only option is to surrender to the Babylonian forces. What we have here is a battle of forces and of wills, but the circumstances have gotten so muddy it’s hard to tell which side is right. Not sure? Trust the word of the prophet who speaks the Word of God.

Our gospel, a continuation from where we left off with Luke last week, is even more confusing, if not disturbing. It has Jesus saying “I have come to set the earth on fire,” and declaring that families will be divided. Jesus is starting to sound a lot like king Nebuchadnezzar instead of the peaceful Good Shepherd. What gives? This passage would seem to indicate that Jesus came to create discord within the world… quite a different message than we are used to from the prophet who asks us to “turn the other cheek.” It reminds me of the quote from the Bhagavad Gita, made famous by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer or worlds.” Is this what Jesus came to do?

This is one of those passages where you need to pause and pray, and realize that there is something much bigger going on here. Jesus did come to create discord. To shake up the status-quot. To rattle both the people and their leaders out of their complacency or their perceived understanding of how things should be. To shed light on the hypocrites and embrace the marginalized. To recognize that their fight wasn’t with the Sanhedrin or even the Romans, but something much larger… the fight of light and good against the forces of darkness and evil.

Evil and darkness are real, made worse by the fact that it’s grasp is slow, seductive, and methodical. It can grab you without your even knowing it, with all good intentions, but once you recognize it has you, it seems too late to turn back (Breaking Bad anyone?). Once again I think St Paul saves the day with our second reading: “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us… keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” Sometimes with so much activity swirling around us, we don’t know where to focus. Don’t know which way to go. Paul reminds us to “not grow weary and lose heart,” and keep our eye on the prize. Keep your eye on Jesus. At the risk of sounding cliché… ask yourself “what would Jesus do?” Follow the light.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As we continue our long Summer journey through Ordinary Time, sometimes you hit a sequence of readings where you are forced to ask the question… what does this all mean? What am I supposed to get out of this? For me, this coming Sunday is one of those times. Perhaps with a little unpacking, we can find a theme we can grasp onto.

The Word for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Wisdom 18:6-9
        Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
        Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 (or short version Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12)
        Luke 12:32-48 (or short version Luke 12:35-40)

We open with a reading from the Book of Wisdom. First, it’s important to remember that this book dates itself to some 50 years before Christ… making it contemporary literature for the Disciples. Based on the date alone it’s no surprise that we see a lot of its teachings reflected in Christian theology, but even more poignant is that its message addressed to an oppressed minority. Using images of the Exodus, it stands as a reminder to remain faithful to the Lord. Our passage for this Sunday is just such an example, calling to mind the Passover, reminding us that it was the steadfast faith of their ancestors in the Lord that won them their freedom. An important memory to recall for a post-Exile people who see their faith being challenged both internally and externally.

Our Gospel from Luke, a continuation of Jesus’ travels on his journey to Jerusalem, also reflects the memory of the Exodus through phrases like “Gird your loins and light your lamps.” In this case, however, Jesus gives us concrete examples of what it means to be faithful to the Lord. Jesus reminds us that we need live like vigilant servants… to always be prepared, because we know not the hour when the Son of Man will come.

I think it is our second reading, however, that helps us pull together these readings: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for…” Hope is what drives us. Hope is what sustains us. Hope in the salvation that was promised to Abraham, and is waiting for us through the risen Jesus. Staying faithful to our Christian ideals is often difficult, and sometimes monotonous. We can easily find ourselves asking “what’s all this for?” especially when we see those of little or no faith seeming to fare better than us. But at what cost? The loss of one’s ideals? The mistreatment of others? As we focus more on ourselves, we lose sight of the true nature of love… that of sacrifice. Of giving to others. Whether rich or poor or somewhere in between, always living as the servant. For in that is the hope of salvation.