Tuesday, October 29, 2013

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The theme for this week is Justification… but what exactly does that mean?  According to Merriam-Webster, "justification" is “the act, process, or state of being justified by God”.  Looking more closely at the root word, “justify”, means “to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.”  So it begs the question… what is right or reasonable by God?  How do we justify ourselves before the Lord?  Let’s see what our readings have to say…

The Word for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
       Wisdom 11:22-12:2
        Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
        2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
        Luke 19:1-10

Our first reading this week comes from the Book of Wisdom.  Similar in style and teaching to the Book of Sirach (which you may recall dates to about 150 BCE), the Book of Wisdom is newer (dating to about 50 BCE), and comes from the Jewish community in Alexandria instead of Jerusalem.  What makes Wisdom stand apart from Sirach, however, is its perspective from a people who are being oppressed.  By the time of the writing of the Wisdom, the geo/political winds had changed, setting up the conflicts that eventually blossom in the New Testament with the rise of Roman authority and the eventual fall of Jerusalem.  The Jewish people in Alexandria are suffering, a feeling to which early Christians can easily relate.  From this standing as a people feeling persecuted, it’s easy to understand their need to reach out to God, and the Book of Wisdom delivers.  Our passage shows the depth of God’s love for his people and his creation.  By this passage, it would not be unreasonable to say that our mere existence, as God’s creation, is enough to be justified.  That does not mean we are without fault, but because we are God’s own, he is patient with us, giving us time to turn away from sin and believe in Him.

Our second reading gives us an excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.  Though not intentionally related to our theme, this opening passage has Paul reminding us that we should not be “shaken or alarmed” with regard to the second coming of Christ.  The community in Thessalonica is concerned about news they have heard and read from those not associated with Paul or the other Apostles.  This is not unlike the fear stoked by many others today with their predictions of the end times and the rapture.  As Catholics, we embrace the coming of Jesus.  We don’t fear it.  This is the message that Paul wants to convey to the Thessalonians… that through our faith, we are justified.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are justified.  Those doing their best to live as Jesus taught have nothing to fear, because as the Book of Wisdom has taught us, God’s “imperishable spirit is in all things, ”and can “loath nothing" that He has made.”

This same spirit is evident in our Gospel.  In another story unique to Luke’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates this justification… this love… to someone whom others would marginalize.  Many of Jesus’ detractors criticized the company he kept, spending time with what they considered the dregs of society (tax collections, prostitutes, the sick) who are unworthy of his attention.  Jesus, however, recognized that these people too are justified in the Lord, and if anything  are in more need of this “good news” than others.  The story of Zaccheaus is just such a story.  The gospel tells us that Zaccheaus was the Chief Tax Collector and a wealthy man.  If that were not enough to alienate him from the rest of the people, we are also told that he was “short of stature.”  Yet something within him made him eager to see Jesus as he was traveling through town.  So eager he was that he climbed a tree just to get a look.  Jesus, in seeing this, stops, recognizes him, and invites himself to stay with him.  The crowd grumbled about this, seeing Zaccheaus as unworthy of this honor, yet Jesus sees an opportunity to reclaim one more lost sheep… an opportunity that leads to his salvation.

So our lesson is clear… no one is unworthy to hear the Good News.  No one is to be marginalized, for we are all created by God, infused with the Spirit of God, and all worthy of redemption.  All they need do is ask.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As you may be aware, Halloween is next week.  While some of our Christian brothers and sisters have developed a disdain for the holiday, we Catholics choose to join in the celebration while also reminding ourselves of the holiday’s uniquely Christian origins.  What was called All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated the night of October 31st as the vigil celebration of All Hallow’s Day… what we now call All Saints Day… which is celebrated November 1st.  This is followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd.  These three celebrations together form the triduum of Hallowmas, a celebration that honors the dead (saints, martyrs, and all the dearly departed).  Our neighbors in Mexico celebrate this time as Dia de Muertos… Day of the dead.  All these traditions have their origins in pagan mythology, but as with many pagan celebrations, they translate to Christian theology in a way that enlightens our faith, while maintaining certain cultural heritages.  But for now, we still have our session for this week to discuss… so on to this week’s readings:

The Word for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
        Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
        2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
        Luke 18:9-14

This week’s readings complete our trilogy on the theme of prayer.  Instead of focusing on a particular type of prayer, we discuss how we approach God in prayer, that is, with humility.  Our first reading from Sirach is an example of this where he reminds us that all our prayers are heard by God, but those coming from the most humble among us “pierce the clouds”.  The book takes its name from its author, Sirach in Greek, but in the original Hebrew, would be called the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Yeshua, son of Eleazar, son of Sira).  Ben Sira was not a prophet, but a sage who lived in Jerusalem in the early 2nd Century BCE with a love for the Wisdom tradition, the law, the priesthood, and divine workshop.  Like most of Wisdom literature in the Bible, the Wisdom of Ben Sira is a sort of catechism used right before and during the life of Christ, but was ultimately not selected for inclusion in the Hebrew canon.

Our second reading concludes our 7 week journey through the Pauline letters to Timothy.  As we know, Timothy was a protégé of Paul’s, a young priest in search of guidance, which he receives in these letters.  This week’s excerpt has Paul continuing our theme of humility as he draws his second letter to Timothy toward a close.  He has suffered to bring the Gospel, but has no regrets.  You can hear Paul’s sadness as he acknowledges he is nearing the end of his life, but this is anything but a lament... he is proud of the work he has done, and as always, offers himself as an example to his younger charge.

We then hear from Luke’s Gospel where we pick up right where we left off last week (with the dishonest judge).  In yet another story unique to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus turns from his disciples (who just heard the last parable) and faces the larger crowd (no doubt with some Pharisees among them) and gives them two examples of examples of prayer – one from a supposed holy man, and the other from a supposed sinner.  But which is the holy man, and which is the sinner?  Jesus gives us the answer… the one who’s prayer is honest is the one who will be saved.  Honesty and Humility work hand in hand as we face the Just Judge in prayer.  One other point to note from this parable:  The Pharisee, in making his prayer, compared himself to the tax collector, while the tax collector, in making his prayer, made no such comparison.  Humility demands that we not make such comparisons.  God doesn’t grade on a curve.  Instead, the Just Judge views each case on its individual merits.

Catholic Update:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As for this week’s readings... we  continue our theme of prayer.  Last week we focused on prayer of thanksgiving.  This week we focus on petition and intersession… in other words, making requests of God, either for our benefit, or the benefit of others.  There are actually two types of intercessory prayer:  One is praying directly to other souls to intercede on our behalf to God, such as in a prayer to Mary or one of the saints.  The other is us praying on behalf of others, such as what the lector or the priest does at Mass during the “prayers of the faithful”.  In this second case, we are the soul interceding on behalf of someone else.  So as you can see, we can serve both as the intercessor, and the intercessee in this type of prayer.

The Word for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Exodus 17:8-13
        Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
        2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
        Luke 18:1-8

As for our readings, we open with Exodus.  Moses and the Israelites are pushing into the Southern Canaan where they are experiencing resistance from Amalek.  Amalek is the nation inhabiting this region, and the name suggests a relationship to Esau, Abraham’s other son (though this may just be a literary device).  Moses holds out his hands (in a prayer position) and the battle goes in favor of Israel, but as Moses grows tired, the tide of battle shifts.  With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses is able to keep his arms up so that Israel wins the day.  There are actually two important points made with regard to prayer in this reading.  First is persistence:  As long a Moses persevered in his prayer, the Lord responded in kind.  Second is help from others.  As Moses began to tire, Aaron and Hur were there to hold up his arms, acting as intercessors in his prayer, and reinforcing the idea that we all need the help of others from time to time.

In our Gospel from Luke, we hear another story of how one’s persistence in prayer can be beneficial.  Continuing from where we left off last week, we get yet again another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Here a widow (part of the underclass) keeps pressing her case with a dishonest judge.  Her perseverance ultimately leads the judge to rule in her favor, if for no other reason than to get her out of his hair.  Jesus’ approach is a little unusual (typical of Luke), but he uses the widow as an example of how we need to be persistent in our prayers to God if we are to be heard.  Is persistence necessary in prayer?  There are some interesting ideas to explore here… not the least of which is “does God even hear us?”

In our second reading, though not specifically related to our theme, continues with our examination of the 2nd Pauline letter to Timothy.  Here again, we see the need for persistence, but in this case, not necessarily in prayer, but in the fulfillment of his ministry.  As Paul continues to exhort his younger charge to persevere, he also tells Timothy that the message of Scripture remains true.  In fact, this passage from Paul sets the precedent for how the Church views scripture and how it has become one of the pillars of our formation.  It is also an example of how we are never left to deal with issues on our own.  Even in his absence, Paul is telling Timothy that he has the scripture to fall back on and to support him in his ministry.  For us today this is fairly easy to understand and accept, but in the first century this was not necessarily the case.  It is also important to note here that the scripture Paul is referring to is fact the Hebrew Bible… the Christian scriptures as we know them didn’t yet exist.  Not only did Paul’s teaching encourage us to keep reading scripture, but his ideas encouraged the young Church to document their own testament.

Catholic Update:

Also in keeping with our theme on prayer, we will spend some time with the Rosary.  A prayer that is uniquely Catholic, the rosary holds a special devotion for many.  It has an interesting history, with roots that go back to some ancient forms of prayer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Thank you.  It’s a phrase we (hopefully) hear and/or express daily.  Sometimes it’s used so often it tends to lose its meaning.  Similarly, there are times when it should be or could be used, but doesn’t, diminishing its importance.  This week our readings remind us of the power and importance of the need to give thanks...

The Word for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        2 Kings 5:14-17
        Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
        2 Timothy 2:8-13
        Luke 17:11-19

We open with a reading from 2nd Kings.  Naaman, a Syrian military commander, seeks to thank Elisha for curing him of his leprosy (an act that King Joram of Israel is not too keen to happen).  Not only does he wish to give thanks to Elisha, but also to his God.  This is nothing short of a complete conversion for Naaman, who not only sees the glory of God, but recognizes the importance of the land in this covenant relationship.  He asks for two mule loads of dirt to take back to his homeland in order to worship God on his land.  Naaman’s experience shows us several lessons:  First, of the need to show gratitude and thanks.  Second, is both recognizing and giving honor to God.  Third, it is an example of a theme that is often played out in the story of the prophets… where a foreigner finds greater insight (and favor) with God than do his own chosen people.

All these themes are also reflected in our Gospel.  In another story that is unique to Luke’s Gospel (and a continuation from where we left off last week), we are told Jesus is traveling through Samaria and Galilee (the equivalent of the “outback”) on his way to Jerusalem when he happens upon ten lepers.  They ask Jesus to have pity on them, whereupon he tells them to go show themselves to the priest.  As they go on their way, they are cured of their affliction.  When this happens, one of the men, a Samaritan, runs back to Jesus to thank him.  Once again, the one who is a foreigner demonstrates a faith stronger than the others, and is blessed for it.

In our second reading, we continue our study of the 2nd letter to Timothy, where an imprisoned Paul urging Timothy to persevere in his call to Christ.  The message is clear… stick with Christ, and you will be saved;  deny Christ, and he will deny you.  It’s a harsh testament, but one must also realize that Jesus is also our advocate, our champion to the Father, willing to forgive us our sins if we stray.  To deny Christ completely so that he denies you would take a lot of effort, but we must always remind ourselves that it can happen.  Paul’s words are meant to inspire us while shaking us out of our complacency, fear, or guilt.  Paul himself would remind you that even a sinner such as himself can be saved.

Catholic Update:

Youth Update:

While our readings teach us about prayers of thanksgiving, there are also other types and forms of prayer.  Prayer is an essential part of our faith life, yet for many it is one of the most misunderstood and often elusive aspects of their Christian experience. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Much of what we read in the Bible is where the Lord (through the prophets) tells us how special we are... God's chosen ones, a people he has taken unto himself.  Sounds pretty good, right?  But then there are those other parts of the Bible where the Lord tells us that we have no right to claim any special privileges... even though we've been chosen.  What's going on there?  Sounds to me like our Scripture is giving us mixed messages... is it?  Let's see what our readings tell us this week... 

The Word for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
        Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
        2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
        Luke 17:5-10

Our opening reading from Habakkuk shares the same passion employed by Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to condemn the social abuses of their day.  To put this into context, Habakkuk’s ministry started about 140 years after Amos’ ministry.  Amos, a Northern prophet born in the South, spoke of the fall to come.  By the time of Habakkuk, Israel (the Northern Kingdom) had already fallen, and Nebuchadnezzar's forces are on Judah’s doorstep (although this is not clear on the reading of these passages).  The “violence” Habakkuk is referring to is the immanent destruction of Judah which in this case has the enemy acting as the hand of the God for the sins of Judah.  Habakkuk is crying out to the Lord for help, a complaint that lasts the remainder of the chapter as our text jumps ahead to the next chapter where the Lord answers, and assures Habakkuk all is not lost… “the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”  The words echo what the letter to Timothy said last week… “compete well for the faith.”  A theme that is carried forward to this week.

Our second reading continues our study of the Pauline letters to Timothy, moving to the beginning of the 2nd letter where Paul prays that his words will reassure Timothy in his mission.  But what is his mission?  While we know from the 1st letter that Timothy is a leader in the community and a “man of God,”  we don’t learn that Timothy is actually a priest until today’s reading from the 2nd letter.  How do we know he is a priest?  Because the text reminds him to… “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”  This action – the imposition of hands – is the sign of Timothy’s call to the priesthood, and  also provides us with our primary topic for the week… the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Our passage for this week is meant not only a reminder of what Timothy was called to do, but that he can also find strength in that calling… as can we.

Our Gospel is again a continuation of where we (pretty much) left off last week, and like the previous weeks, gives us another story and parable that are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Here we have the Apostles asking Jesus to, “increase our faith.”  Jesus responds by saying that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed (reminding us of the parable of the mustard seed several chapters back), they would be able to do great things.  In other words, a little faith goes a long way... yet the Apostles seem to want more, so he gives us the Parable of the Master and Servant.  It is a difficult parable and requires some unpacking, but the idea is that we should not anticipate reward for doing what is expected.  This is more than just humility… it is a reminder that those who serve should not expect special treatment.

So... no special treatment?  Aren't we the chosen ones?  Why go to all this trouble then?  Look back at what Habakkuk says... "the vision (eternal life) will not disappoint."  It's also like we learned from the Parable of the Prodigal Son which we heard a couple weeks ago... when the father tells the eldest son that, "everything I have is yours."  As God's chosen, he's told us what we can expect, but that doesn't excuse us from out duties... from keeping up our end of the covenant... to love our neighbor, to serve... and in doing so, we learn that we need nothing else.

Catholic Update:

Catholic News Service: