Tuesday, August 26, 2014

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

What is the cost of discipleship?  Since the beginning of their journeys together, Jesus has been teaching his disciples of the difficulties they face by following him.  They will need courage, and strength of conviction as they continue to follow him and preach the Gospel.  Our readings for this 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us that following Jesus is not only difficult, but can come at the cost of our very lives.

The Word for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm: 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

We open with a reading from the prophet Jeremiah.  In a passage that is typical of what I call “the prophet’s lament,” we hear Jeremiah complaining to God about how he has been duped.  His life as a prophet has brought him nothing but derision and reproach, yet he cannot help himself… he still must preach God’s message.  The pain of holding back is still greater than the pain he must endure by those who don’t care for his message.  While we feel for Jeremiah, his complaint is nothing new.  All the prophets that came before him, and all those after him all face similar difficulties.  Speaking truth to power is both challenging and dangerous, yet God’s voice compels them to carry on.  Jeremiah, who’s ministry saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the fall of Jerusalem was perhaps the most tumultuous of times for the people of Israel, yet against great opposition Jeremiah continued to prophecy on behalf of the Lord.

Our Gospel from Matthew, which picks up right where we left off last week, also reminds us that the cost of discipleship can be great.  Jesus is telling them that they must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer greatly and be killed for what he has to say.  Peter, who just moments before was praised by Jesus for recognizing him as the Christ, now calls him “Satin” for suggesting that nothing bad would happen.  Jesus reminds them all that if they wish to follow, they must deny themselves and “take up your cross,”  an admonition he’s given them before, but now made all the more real by learning what fate awaits him in Jerusalem.  Though their path will be arduous, however, Jesus also reminds them that he will “repay all according to his conduct.”  That is to say, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits.

This is the same message we here in our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In the opening of Chapter 12 Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  Paul is well aware of Roman ways, and reminds these early Christians not to “conform yourselves to this age,”  but instead “discern what is the will of God.”  We are similarly challenged in our own age.  Much of what modern American society preaches and projects runs counter to the Christian message of loving God and loving your neighbor.  In a society that values self-interest and personal success, it is hard to explain the joy of living a life of service to others, and in accepting that the neighbor Jesus wants us to love is not necessarily the one we like or even want as our neighbor.  Yet even in this age great prophets continue to spread the message of the Lord.  Living the Christian life means sacrifice… bearing our own crosses.  But Jesus also reminds us that through our suffering there is redemption…  That we will be repaid, if not in this life, then the next.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

Who’s in charge?  Whenever we find ourselves working in a group situation this is a very fundamental question.  While all the members of the group may have certain skills they can bring to the table, it takes a leader to effectively marshal those skills (and individuals) to their goal.  In fact, it’s built into our human nature.  Think about any crisis situation… without someone to step in and take charge, chaos reigns.  Yet when it comes time for someone to step up, many people also find comfort in letting someone else do it.

When it comes to Church, however… the People of God, the question of who’s in charge is both simple and complex… and is the core question considered in our readings for this 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:

The Word for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22:19-23
Psalm: 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

Our first reading comes from a rather obscure passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  In fact, this passage is so obscure it only appears in our lectionary this once throughout all the Sunday and Daily reading cycles.  Upon first reading, without recognizing the characters nor understanding the context of the situation, it is still clear that God is not happy with Shebna, and intends to replace him with Eliakim.  This situation is not new or unique in scripture… in fact, God has made use of his prophets on many occasions to condemn leadership and anoint another in their place.  In this passage (and the many others like it in scripture), our initial question (who’s in charge) is answered quite plainly… It is the Lord God who is in charge, and God will appoint whomever he feels is best suited to lead his people and carry out his command.  While I find the deeper context of this passage quite compelling, in this rare occasion I can say that having a deeper understanding the characters and the situation is not necessarily relevant.  The “key” point of the story for this Sunday is in the line, “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder.”  God has said that Eliakim is now in charge.

These very same “Keys to the Kingdom” is what connects this passage with our Gospel from Matthew.  We continue our Summer-time journey traveling with Jesus and  his disciples. 

This week we find ourselves in Caesarea Philippi, the area located some 100 miles North of Jerusalem, about 25 miles North of the Sea of Galilee, in the modern area of the Golan Heights.  The name alone tells us this is primarily a Roman city, no doubt with a majority Gentile population.  Here Jesus is compelled to ask his disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  After getting some of their answers, he then asks the disciples directly, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon, without hesitation, answers that he is the Christ, Son of the living God.  At hearing this Jesus is pleased that God has revealed this to him and gives him the name Peter (meaning Rock), making him the foundation of his church and giving him those same “Keys to the Kingdom.”  Following in the same tradition of the other great prophets, Jesus has put Simon Peter in charge.  Jesus knows his days are numbered, so he is taking this moment to establish how his Church will continue and grow once he is gone.

It is for this reason, by tradition, that we Catholics consider Peter to be the first Pope (though this isn’t a title that Peter himself would have recognized).  It was understood by Jesus’ followers that Peter had been placed in a special position of leadership, a leadership we see blossom in the Acts of the Apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit.  His position among the Apostles was so notable that upon his martyrdom in Rome the early Church fathers felt the need to appoint Linus to take his place, and so began a long line of succession which we honor today with our current Pope Francis.

The Petrine ministry – the Papacy – is one of the traditions that make the Catholic Church unique among the world’s religions, yet its purpose and authority can easily be misunderstood.  Everyone knows that the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.  But if you ask those same Cardinal electors that same question, their answer will likely be that it is “the Holy Spirit”  who gives us the next Pope.  Following the same prophetic tradition of the scriptures, our modern-day prophets gather to discern who is being called to lead the Church.  Who does the Lord feel is best suited to continue Peter’s mission of spreading the Gospel to the people of this age.


But how is it that they know who God is calling to be the next Pope?  I think our second reading holds the key.  In our continuing study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we learn that we need to trust in “the depth of riches and wisdom and Knowledge of God!”  This wisdom survives in our scriptures, from Moses, to Isaiah and the other prophets, to Jesus himself.  The beauty is that not only does God provide us with the love to know what is right, but he also shrouds us with his mercy when we fail and seek his redemption.  So while Peter and his successors my hold the “keys to the kingdom,”  they are also eager to share and give us a copy.  For as Jesus himself taught us, if we love God and love our neighbor, we too can unlock the gates of Heaven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Series: Catholicism

This summer RCIA will be hosting a summer series in which we will be going through the 10-episode series Catholicism by Fr. Robert Baron. For more information and to sign up please visit the Catholicism Series Page. Questions please email us at ourladyofrefugercia@gmail.com

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014


Who is God for?  EVERYONE!  The answer is almost automatic for modern day Catholics… one barely even needs to think about it to know this is true, yet our scriptures for this 20th week of Ordinary Time remind us that this understanding was not always so obvious nor accepted.

The Word for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Psalm: 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah… Trito-Isaiah or 3rd Isaiah to be more precise, authored during the post-Exile period.  This week’s passage has the prophet telling us that God will accept the sacrifices of all peoples… that is, people who are not of Israel.  The God of Israel is telling his people that he’s not just the God for them, but for all others who follow his commands.  The foreigner, the Gentile, also have an open invitation to join in the Covenant.  There are two ways to look at this passage.  On one side we see this a generous offering by a generous God… A God who wants to extend himself to all his creation.  The other side of this coin, however, is one of betrayal.  In the eyes of many Israelites, this could almost be seen as God reneging on his covenant… a covenant he made with Israel… not anyone else.

The idea wasn’t a new one… having been revealed not only to Isaiah but earlier prophets as well… but that didn’t make the idea any less controversial with the people of Israel.  One can almost hear them crying out, “he’s our God… not yours… you can’t have him.”  Yet in a post-Exile world… and to our own modern ears, this sounds much like the ravings of a toddler.  In a world in which a Gentile King,  Cyrus, is called “great” by the people of Israel for his defeat of the Babylonians and repatriating them back to the land of Israel, the world is becoming a much smaller, inclusive, and spread-out kind of place.  As the Assyrian and Greek empires spread, so do the people, including the people of Israel.  The God of Israel is becoming known, but Israel herself isn’t always ready or willing to share, and not without good cause.  Yet scripture is very clear on this issue, as our Psalm sings “O God, let all the nations praise you.”  God may have chosen the Israelites as his people, but it’s clear that invitation is open to everyone who believes.

Our Gospel from Matthew reminds us of this same conflict among Jesus himself and his disciples.  While traveling in the region of Tyre and Sidon (along the coast of modern day Lebanon), a Canaanite woman cries “have pity on my, Lord, Son of David,” looking to Jesus to drive out the demon from her daughter.  At first, Jesus is reluctant, claiming that he was sent only to save the children of Israel, not anyone else.  The woman, however, is both persistent and persuasive.  Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.  At first reading, Jesus sounds like a bigot… all but calling the Canaanite woman a “dog” and being dismissive of her.  Upon deeper reflection, however, it’s easy to see (as is so much the case) that Jesus’ actions speak louder than his words.  First, we need to look at where Jesus is… As the gospel states, he’s traveling through Tyre and Sidon… areas much farther North than even Samaria…. well past the Judean border.  Yet this is where Jesus has chosen to spread his gospel message.  Jesus, a noted Jewish prophet, is preaching in an area populated mostly by Gentiles.  The encounter with the Canaanite woman wasn’t a surprise… one could even say it was expected.  Matthew is using this encounter to show his audience (a primarily Jewish audience) that if Jesus’ heart can be changed, so can theirs (and ours).

Our second reading continues our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  This week’s passage reflects the same sentiments as our other readings: that God’s mercy is for all.  Paul is addressing a largely Gentile audience, calling himself the apostle to the Gentiles, while at the same time admitting that he has taken on this mission to “make my race jealous.”  Paul, that devout Jew and former persecutor of Christians has become the voice that rallies the cause of Christ for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.  It is Paul’s teaching, supported by the teachings of Isaiah and many more prophets that have us singing God’s mercy and praise to all the nations.  Let us all join the chorus!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Revelation.  The word itself is a noun formed from the verb “to reveal,” and for Christians, the revelation is that Jesus is Lord.  This is one of the most basic truths of Christian theology, yet for the average Christian (and for many non-Christians) the word revelation is not always understood.  Putting grand theological ideas aside for the moment, revelation, simply stated, is the act of how God reveals himself to us.  To help us understand this idea of revelation, we turn to our readings for this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

The Word for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm: 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

We open with a reading from the 1st book of Kings.  We enter the passage with great prophet Elijah as he is seeking shelter in the sacred mountain in the Sinai (mount Horeb).  While in the cave God tells him to stand outside, because the Lord will be passing by.    A strong wind comes, but that was not the Lord.  An earthquake comes, but that was not the Lord.  Finally, Elijah hears a tiny whispering sound, grabs his cloak, and stands ready.  What does this tell us?  That God reveals himself in the most unexpected ways.  Our expectation is to see God’s power and glory in storms, earthquakes, and choirs of Heavenly hosts.  Instead, God often is found in the less obvious;  A tiny whisper.  A feeling.  Not always a grand gesture, but in an intimate, quite way.  God is as much present in the stillness as in the noise… and how he chooses to reveal himself is as varied as there are individual souls.

Our Psalm takes this idea of revelation one step further.  If we hear God, we see his kindness and mercy.  God proclaims peace and salvation… not death and destruction.  For those who “fear” him, that is, respect him, love him, follow his covenant, salvation is theirs.

Our Gospel from Matthew is also a story of revelation.  Picking up where we left off last week (with the miracle of feeding the five thousand), Jesus sends his disciples ahead in the boat while he retires  to the mountain for some prayer and peace.  That evening, while Jesus is alone on the mountain, the boat that the disciples are in is getting tossed around by an angry sea.  In seeing their distress, Jesus walks out to help them… walking on the water.  The disciples think they’re seeing a ghost, but he calms their fears by calling out to them and telling them to take courage… to not be afraid.  But Peter is hesitant, so he cries out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus does, and Peter comes, but fear soon overcomes his amazement and he begins to sink, whereupon Jesus leads him back to the boat.  Back in the boat, the waters calm, and the disciples are amazed, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  Up to this point in the narrative the disciples have been traveling with Jesus for a while now.  They’ve heard him preaching and teaching.  They’ve witnessed his healings.  Clearly they saw something in him to have stayed with him this far, but now they are convinced.  This is their moment of revelation.  Jesus is Lord, the Son of God.

Rounding out our readings for this week is our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In this opening to the 9th chapter, Paul is lamenting how his own people, the Israelites, can’t see Jesus for who he is:  the Christ.  With all the prophecy, the Law, the covenants, from the patriarchs all the way down through history, Paul is willing to give up his own salvation if his people could see Jesus for who he is.  This just goes to show that even if all the signs are right in front of us, we can still not see it.  Paul’s own revelation is one of the most powerful and transformative in Scripture, yet even his own testimony isn’t enough for his own people.

How God reveals himself to us is as much an individual experience as it is a communal experience.  As we join with others in faith and worship, we can see the Holy Spirit at work, and seeing that Spirit at work can reveal God to us.  But it is also that personal calling, which isn’t always instantaneous, isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes the truth is revealed on a stormy sea.  Sometimes the truth is revealed in a tiny whisper.  The key is keeping ourselves open to seeing it, to hearing it, to feeling it, so when it makes itself known, we won't miss it.