Tag Archives: Gospel

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

As we all know, not very many young men and women are entering seminaries and novitiates these days to prepare for priesthood and vowed religious life. But, at the same time, other forms of service to the needy and the poor have emerged. Not very long ago I was visiting the grandfather of a beautiful young woman who had entered the Peace Corp and would spend two years as the only Westerner in a little village in Benin, East Africa. She would sleep in a mud-floored hut, eat what the natives ate, and assist especially the children and their mothers with the skills she took with her.

When I attended her departure party, I asked her about her long-term dreams, which she quickly identified as including a husband and children and a house with a white-picket fence and an SUV in the driveway! But for now, she said, this Peace Corp mission was what she had to do. Somehow she knew beyond all doubt that this was her present vocation, her call from the condition of the world at that time and her ability to respond to it in a helpful, life giving way.

When Jesus says, “Come, follow me”, he means now. It’s an invitation to a journey that may not relate directly to my vision of the future.

What does anyone get in return for following those Gospel invitations, those subtle directives from the Holy Spirit that the receiver can hardly explain to him- or herself, much less to others. At first, oftentimes, a lot of trouble: confusion, disturbance of mind, sleepless nights while trying to arrive at a yes or a no. An interruption — possibly an abandonment — of one’s most cherished plans and dreams. The discomfort of putting up with what people are thinking. Upsetting changes in one’s lifestyle.

The new life we take on in Baptism is for the most part lived out in quite ordinary circumstances, but it requires us to apply ourselves wholeheartedly to the process of growing out of the natural selfishness in which we were born, and lived as infants, and into loving and caring relationships with our fellow human beings. “Love one another,” he said, “as I have loved you.”

In the stark, almost harsh words in today’s gospel excerpt, Jesus is not asking us to despise or reject or betray our parents and relatives, but to make our most fundamental pledge of loyalty to him. In other words, our total, uncompromising attachment to him, to his teachings and his values and his ways, is to make possible in us a higher form of behavior and response. It is not enough that we be loyal to our race or our sex or our nationality or our church; we must discern what is the will of God for us now, at this moment, and pursue that as best we can.

We are to forgive everyone, to give to those in need, to welcome the foreigner, to shift constantly between two economies — the one by which we acquire and save and enjoy the good things of life; the other by which we risk and sometimes lose what is dear to us as we do what Jesus would do at any given moment.

That cup of cold water Jesus spoke about isn’t asking much of us at all — it’s almost nothing. But it can take many other forms of increasing value. We are to remain always alert to whose desperate thirst Jesus wants us to slake in his name and how we shall go about doing that.

20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

The feeling that you are at odds with a beloved member of your family over religious or moral points of view is a special kind of sadness.  We all want to be of one mind & heart with those who are closest to us concerning the most important issues of life.  When we discover that we are not, it’s as if a chasm has opened up between us.  We find it disturbing that this other person does not see things the way we do.

It’s apparent that Jesus foresaw that possibility and accepted responsibility for it.  He said, Don’t think that I’m here to establish peace among you.  Quite to the contrary, I will be the cause of serious divisions, side-taking, bitter arguments, and long-lasting separations right within your families.

But why?  It’s much easier to understand when it is a case of two opposing camps, one of which accepts Jesus and the other rejects him.  But when, instead, it involves good and sincere people on both sides of the issue at hand who acknowledge Jesus as their savior, who listen eagerly to his gospel and try to live by it, it’s difficult to identify the cause of division and dissension.

But isn’t that what is happening today?  The conspicuous crucifix on the young, leather-clad motorcyclist, for example, may mean something entirely different from the gold cross around the neck of his grandmother.  Those two persons very likely represent two different approaches to Jesus, two different interpretations of his gospel.  And yet there is only one Jesus, one cross, one gospel.

To muddy the waters further, Jesus says, I have come to divide you, even mother against daughter.

What is he saying?  I think he is saying that loyalty to him and his gospel will sometimes require of us that we stand up firmly, whatever the personal cost may be, and respectfully confront persons who we think are not really following him either deliberately or mistakenly, but in either case are badly misunderstanding his teachings.

We simply have to be willing to antagonize others unintentionally in our common pursuit of truth.

And, of course, it all comes down to conscience once again, personal conscience.  We Catholics have not been taught or encouraged to follow our consciences in making important decisions affecting ourselves and others.  We were taught instead that the highest virtue is that of unwavering obedience to the authority of the church.  And so I remind you once again, and over & over, that the official church itself now teaches, at its highest levels, that each of us must work diligently at forming as good a conscience as we can and then must follow its direction even when that conflicts with the official teachings of the church.

Most people, I find, welcome that major change in our individual responsibility; a much smaller number of faithful Catholics do not accept it.  It seems to them to be a much too radical departure from the past.  I hope that you are peaceful about it and grateful for it and that you recognize it as the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our time.

We are constantly growing in age and wisdom and grace before God and others.

4TH SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015

You know that our word “Gospel” means “good news” and comes from the Old English word “Godspel.”  Hearing the Gospel over & over as we do all our lives, we might wonder how much “news” there can be in it for us.  Who, by this time, doesn’t know, for example, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and its meaning?  And who hasn’t heard Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception and birth?  In our TV-radio-newspaper sense of the term, there doesn’t seem to be much real news in the Gospel.  We’d be more inclined to revere the Gospel for its durability rather than for its immediacy or novelty.

But look at it from another point of view.  Think of the tremendous power of a single word.  Start with the negative: when was the last time your day – or night – was spoiled by a disparaging word from someone close to you?  Has a note or a letter ever left you limp, sick in body and in spirit?  I’m sure you’ve had such experiences.  I have, often.  And there will be more to come, I’m certain.  Words can be as deadly and as hurtful as bullets, especially when they are fired at us by someone we love.

On the other hand, words can also be powerful life-givers.  “I love you” can take a human being out of the doldrums of passing depression to heights of happiness and confidence.  “It’s alright – I’m here” destroys fear and instantly reassures.  There are words, spoken from the heart, that affirm and heal and praise and promise and permit, words that welcome and accept.  The loneliest persons on earth are not necessarily those who have no family and few friends, but those who never hear life-giving words – like the inmates I correspond with on death row in a loveless Georgia prison.

Many years ago, at a regional conference on education, I heard a presentation by the then-famous Dr. Sidney Simon.  In the course of his scholarly and very practical talk, he mentioned that his favorite time of day is mail time, the arrival of the letter-carrier, because he always looks forward to the good surprises it brings as well as the letters he is eagerly expecting.  I realized how true that is for me, too – that even on a day-off, no matter where I may be, if I am within reasonable driving distance from home, I frequently go back to my mailbox for the day’s infusion of life from family and friends.  I open my computer and iPhone several times a day for the same reason.

Regardless of what our personal status may be – position, wealth, seniority, talents, whatever – the circumstances of our life can overtake and victimize us and cause us pain and worry.  It’s then, above all times, that we desperately need a word that is more powerful than the forces that are crushing us.  We believe that we have that word in the person of Jesus, who promised to be with us, every step of our journey in the often dark and frightening valley through which we have to walk.  He said he’d be with us always.  He is the word that will not return unfulfilled to the one he called Father.

I think that is news every time we need such a word.  It has to be proclaimed constantly, as we do at every Mass, because we do not live in it naturally or habitually – we are too easily distracted, too easily thrown off course, when the pressure is on.

From Mary’s womb on Christmas Day, the Word – powerful, loving, gentle – became audible and visible and present.

Let’s move on to the place of his birth!