Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, November 2, 2014: I shall raise him on the last day...

What do you fear most?

We celebrate this weekend the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls, a memorial that can’t help but put us in mind of end times – our own, as well as those of the world – and we tend to fear death...  Yet the message that Jesus came to bring is that death cannot conquer love:  everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, he says in our gospel reading from John.  If we believe in that love, it can change the way we see, for we see not with the eyes but with the heart, opening the eyes of our hearts to the a truth that we can only find in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Choosing love is choosing a life of grace – and it is a choice we have to choose willingly.

Our first reading, from Wisdom, offers a message of hope:  The souls of the just are in the hand of God; in other words, immortality is the reward of the righteous, those in right relationship with God.  Moreover, they are in peace – for God has removed the fear of death that previously undermined the relationship between God and God’s people.  Instead, those who die will abide with him in love and understand truth; they will know God’s care.  Hence there is no reason to be afraid.  Fear of death can only lock in our fear of loss of love and life, making us grasp for what is not eternal, for what will ground us in the moment.  Faith, on the other hand, gives us the opportunity to step away from this limited viewpoint, so that fear no longer rules our lives.  Thus, we can trust in God’s grace and mercy, because we know that, even as we walk in the valley of darkness, we need fear no evil, for God is with us (Psalm 23). 

And while we remain in this world, Paul tells the Romans, our hope is to die with Christ (we are baptized into his death), dying to the slavery that is sin such that sin no longer drives our desire – God’s love does.  When our desire is focused on the love of God, our consummate need for control falls away, and all we need is that love.  It is ours if we are open to it, and respond – and in so doing, know that fear no longer stands between us and the perfect union God has in store for us, united with Jesus in the resurrection. 

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture's class.
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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Not-so-Social Gospel (Fr. James Martin)

How would the Gospels read if Jesus hadn't loved everyone, loved them equally?  

Fr. Jim Martin, S.J., takes a shot at answering this question in his highly ironic Not-so-Social Gospel in America Magazine.  You can read Fr. Jim's article by clicking here.  

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 26, 2014: You shall love...

Whom do you love?

Concern for others has long been a tenet of social justice, even before the term social justice came into existence.  In our reading from Exodus this Sunday, Moses is charged with bringing the Law to the people of Israel, a Law that spells out what their interactions with others should look like.  Concern for aliens, widows, and children is paramount:  If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry… The same holds true for their treatment of all of their neighbors:  they are to live as if others in this world matter, because they matter in the eyes of God, the Lord tells Moses.  And your relationship with Other has everything to do with your relationship with God.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus condenses four entire chapters of Exodus into two fundamental commandments that ultimately say the very same thing:  You shall love the Lord, your God… and your neighbor as yourself.  These two laws define all the rest:  God demands that we love God and other, both.  If you love God with all that you are, you can’t help but love your neighbor as well.  If you don’t extend love to your neighbor, then you probably don’t love God entirely.  Yes, we should exclaim, as the psalmist does in Psalm 18, I love you, o Lord, my strength, but we must also open our hearts to those around us, our neighbors … all of our neighbors. 

The Thessalonians understood this message:  their love for God is so utterly grounded in their love for Other that it is recognized everywhere they travel to proclaim the word:  they themselves openly declare, Paul says, what sort of reception we had among you.  The Thessalonians are living the love Christ brings; they have opened their hearts, and their lives, and that openness is proclaimed throughout the region. Isn’t this precisely what we as Christians are meant to do?  To open our own hearts so that we might transform the existence of those around us by bringing the love – and the Word – of God to bear upon others’ lives, and hearts?

Whom do you love enough to transform with the love God has for you?

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver)

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what it is you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
--Mary Oliver

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 19, 2014: I have called you by your name...

What defines your relationship to God?

In our reading this Sunday from Isaiah, God has allowed a foreign king, Cyrus, to play a role in saving Israel.  The image is a powerful one:  God grasps Cyrus’s right hand, empowering the human king with new authority to accomplish God’s goals.  This gesture radically alters the Israelites’ understanding of their own relationship with God:  I am the Lord; there is no other.  It is a clear statement of monotheism:  our God is the God, the only God, a fact celebrated in Psalm 96:  For all the gods of the nations are things of nought; hence the people are called to Give the Lord glory and honor.

By Jesus’s time, monotheism has taken firm hold, but what it means to be in relationship with that one God is still subject to definition.  In their attempt to trap Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees in fact trap themselves.  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?, they ask, providing the coin Jesus asks for and thus demonstrating they are guilty of the idolatry associated with carrying Caesar’s image.  Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar is Jesus’s way of saying, don’t get caught up with trivialities like coins; give Caesar his coins and give God your heart!  That is the mark of true relationship:  not that we quibble about arcane rules, but that we concern ourselves with grace, with God’s dwelling among us, paying close attention to our covenant relationship first and foremost.  All human politics are insignificant in comparison. 

That grace – God dwelling with us – is the very same that Paul wishes on the Thessalonians.  We can live under foreign domination – Cyrus, Caesar, whomever – so long as we allow the peace that comes from that indwelling of God to permeate us, so long as we open ourselves to the faith, hope, and love that will bear good fruit.  If God – the one God, Lord over all, rules our lives and governs our existence, then we will know the grace and peace of a strong relationship with the Lord, who calls us by name, every single day.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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Monday, October 13, 2014

He will destroy death forever (Stellan Sagvik)

Swedish composer Stellan Sagvik has written a beautiful choral piece based on our reading from Isaiah this past weekend.  You can access the mp3 online, or see a video version by clicking here.  (The Youtube version wouldn't load to the blog, but the link below might also work in your browser.)

MP3 version
Fandalism video
Youtube video
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 12, 2014: Behold, I have prepared my banquet...

Have you RSVP’d to the eternal banquet yet?

Feasts pervade our readings for this Sunday, as we ponder the question:  what does it take to have a seat at God’s eternal banquet for us in heaven?   To start with, Matthew’s gospel presents yet another parable designed to disconcert the Pharisees:  Jesus tells the story of the king’s banquet, to which those who were invited were not fit to come, at which point said king opens his invitation to the entire community, bad and good alike.  It’s not enough just to show up, though:  the man who arrives without the appropriate wedding garment – the man who has not worked for right relationship with God – is cast out; he is not spiritually ready for salvation.  To wear the wedding garment is thus to demonstrate you have taken up the work of God, opening your heart to allow his love to flow through your life. 

Writing to the Philippians, Paul gives concrete witness to the love he has allowed to flow through him.  He has known abundance as well as want:  I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry.  What is that secret?  That, no matter the circumstances, God is there for him, so long as righteousness – right relationship with God – remains his goal.  Open to that relationship, Paul can anticipate the (to his mind, imminent) abundance of the end time without concern for the feasts or famine of his current circumstances:  My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah’s description of this wonderful repast includes rich food and choice wines, a state of abundance where no one will want for anything.  Even the fear of death has been removed, for God will destroy death forever.  Psalm 23 extends this imagery to suggest God’s ultimate fulfillment of the covenant:  God as Shepherd provides ample food, water, and protection for his flock; then, the psalmist anticipates an abundant victory banquet reminiscent of Isaiah:  my cup overflows.  Thus may the psalmist know God’s goodness and kindness – when he has remained in right relationship to God, faithful to covenant. 

Are you ready to open your heart to right relationship with God?  Answering ‘yes’ to this question is tantamount to an RSVP in the affirmative:  let your love flow through me, o Lord, that I might dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come!

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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