Tuesday, Thirty-First Week, Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings for November 6, 2018

Philippians 2:5-11, Psalm 22:26-32, Luke 14:15-24

 

When I sat down with today’s readings the closing phrase in our first reading from Philippians, “to the glory of God the Father” is what caught my attention. Paul wants the Philippians to adopt the same attitude as Jesus had, one of selflessness. He uses a hymn that speaks of Jesus giving up his role as a divine person to become human and be like a slave with no role but obedience and to die humiliated on a cross. Why? So that God would be glorified. That isn’t usually what I think about as the purpose of Jesus life on earth.

I’m usually thinking about how God loves us. How God is selfless and wishes to share life. That’s the basic reason for creation and our existence. Jesus lives on earth as part of God’s effort to teach us what life is all about, loving and sharing what we have been given so that all the world can be a good place, perhaps even a heavenly place.

So that makes me big on gratefulness, giving thanks to God for all sorts of good things: sunny days, people who are friendly, time to read, my wife and kids, special times and even some surprising moments when the sheer beauty of something overtakes me. But I haven’t really thought much about it all “giving glory to God.” It hasn’t seemed to me that God needs to be given glory. God has it all, so to speak.  Yet today it also felt like something important. Something I should pay attention to.

So I noticed that the Psalm hit the same theme, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations shall bow down before him.” That’s pretty explicitly worshiping God, glorifying God. It feels more intense than gratitude or just saying thanks for a good day. I think I am somewhat uncomfortable with this unabashed worship of God. Another line from the Psalm seems to say what bothers me, “To him alone shall bow down all who sleep on the earth.” It seems subservient and I’m resistant to that.

It gets even more interesting then to read the Gospel. It’s the story of a man giving a dinner and many of his invited guests are making excuses about why they can’t come. But this isn’t just any dinner, it’s a story in response to a guest at the dinner with Jesus who has just equated being righteous with dining in the kingdom of God. Someone no doubt resistant to blatant worship of God. In Jesus’s story people invited to dine in the Kingdom are turning down the invitation because of things they think are more important. So the person throwing the dinner fills it with others who are usually excluded. These are people who normally don’t have access, people who have barriers to what others have, to what others are able to do. But it is just these excluded people who are brought in to the dinner.

None of these people deserved to be invited. They are dependent on the largesse of the person giving the dinner. I think this is an image that describes us as well. This dinner is also a world of God’s making. As much as we may think of ourselves as independent and capable, we are, in fact, totally dependent on God for our place at the table. We certainly are responsible for the choices we make but the source of our life and the value of our efforts and sacrifices are all related to God’s gift to us. We have to acknowledge that, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves and have a real relationship with God. Otherwise we are likely to think we have more important things to do than accept our role as guests. We need to let go of the attitude that our responsible behavior has earned us an invitation.

To sacrifice our standing, as Jesus did, is a tribute to God’s gift, God’s love, God’s power to bring us all together. If we can accept our role as guests of God, the one who provides, then I think we can join in joyful song and praise as the Psalm says, “May your hearts be ever merry,” and wouldn’t that, in itself, give glory to God.

Memorial, St. Benedict

Scripture Readings for July 11, 2018

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8 12, Psalm 105:2-7, Matthew 10:1-7

Today’s readings are about being chosen, and I would say, the challenge of being chosen.

Hosea speaks of the heartbreak going from being faithful to God and then being defiant. Matthew’s gospel tells of those men chosen to be the Apostles and given a big job to do as a result. Even here with Jesus doing the choosing there is literally a Judas in the group. Choosing and being chosen doesn’t always yield the expected results.

My observation is simply that today these readings are about each of us. As Christians we believe we are all individually chosen by God. We are all asked to accept that we are loved and cared for. We know that like the Apostles, we don’t always live up to the gifts God has given us. However, that should not dissuade us from following the advice of today’s Psalm:

“Look to the LORD in his strength, seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought, his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.”

Perhaps by remembering the message Jesus gave to his Apostles, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” we can more easily live into that heavenly reality of being chosen, a beloved one of God.

Good Friday

Scripture Readings for March 30, 2018

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25,

Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9: John 18:1-19:42

 

Good Friday recounts Jesus death on the cross. This happens because people killed him. It didn’t happen to pay off a God who had been tracking human offenses and needed repayment. It did happen because God had been trying to save humanity for centuries and people didn’t understand the true implications of the message from prophets, priests and history. Jesus dies because people’s hatred and fear destroyed the best efforts of the Son of God. Except, of course, people didn’t really destroy those efforts they only managed to kill the messenger, as we so often do.

What we are still trying to take to heart communally is that God wants to give us a life of beauty and peace. We generally find it hard to believe that offer is real. So some person, a real, in-the-flesh human being, had to demonstrate the peace and love of God’s presence so the rest of us could recognize what God’s peace, love and joy would look like. By doing that, Jesus literally changes history, changes the reality we live in by accomplishing what God has wanted since Adam looked across the garden. In Biblical terms, Jesus does what Adam failed to do. People now live in a world where God’s will has been done. At least once.

The problem is, it cost Jesus everything to do it. So it doesn’t look like a victory. Only Easter solves this problem. But that’s a discussion for another day. Today, he dies brutally because by remaining faithful to a life of love, mercy and generosity the political and religious powers of the time were threatened. Today too, radical Christian living threatens the status quo. People in power want to keep it. Privilege expects to keep privileges and doesn’t worry about those damaged in the process. This is the weight of human sin that fell on Jesus and everyone else who now knows there is divine value in living out of love. Jesus came to show us a God that literally lives with us and he was therefore subjected to all the tragic evil a defensive human race could muster.

It’s crucial that we get this right because otherwise we twist the message into a horror. God’s message is that God is with us, takes on our sins, our failures, our fears and hatred in order to give us a chance to live freely, generously and happily. This death of Jesus isn’t about God exercising justice because of humanity’s failures, it’s about God absorbing the consequences of human injustice. God will take and transform the worst we can dish out into a glorious tomorrow. (OK, that is Easter.) Jesus’ death is the demonstration that God means business, “I do what I say,” in this case, that God’s life lives with us.

This is not an easy message. Because Jesus does absorb everything the Romans could do to him. He died. That means being a Christian, one that is trying to live as Jesus did, can be a dangerous and costly life choice. Jesus death doesn’t fix the human condition. It only succeeds in establishing the possible. That’s why the St. Paul warns “we are baptized into his death.” Living a Christian life should change us and it will cost us something. How much depends on what each of us can manage to risk, to love, to give of ourselves accepting that what happens may not look like success. The key is that we live out of love, giving as Jesus did, and therefore, establishing that no matter what life often looks like, God’s love, care and generosity do exist in this world.

Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent

Scripture Readings for March 13, 2018

Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3,5-6,8-9, John 5:1-16

Every time I read this passage from Ezekiel I love the image. The water that flows from the temple gets deeper and deeper, wider and wider and transforms the desert into a place of abundance even changing the salt water in the sea into fresh. It suggests to me the abundance that comes from God. It says abundance is what God wants for us. A place where there is new fresh fruit every month.

I believe the challenge for us to recognize the gift and appreciate the source. Clearly according to the Gospel not everyone is willing to rejoice over good things. A man who has been lame for 38 years is cured but Pharisees are angered because he picks up his mat on the Sabbath. It makes me wonder if there are good things that we miss because we’re too focused on something else. Are there things we decide are wrong, over react to, while good stuff escapes our notice? I know my personal issue is poor driving behavior. I can become obsessed with other drivers for not following the rules of the road. This includes when people stop the flow of traffic to let others in or let other cars turn into traffic before making their left turn off the road. They are probably trying to be nice. Sometimes I can let it go but other times I find myself upset that they are making up their own rules. So this is a very odd little example but I want to suggest that we all have things that we think of as right. We would say this is the way it’s supposed to be and that righteous attitude blocks our ability to actually experience the fullness of what is happening at the time. I suspect we all have some attitudes like that. The question is, if we can box ourselves in with petty little concerns like that, could we also be missing the big picture? When do our pre-conceptions interfere with what else might be happening. More simply, are we too quick to judge. Do we need to be more open?

I know of only one way to go after this kind of thing. Prayer. Praying to God about all of our life and its experiences. Talking to God and then listening to God’s response. We’re in Lent so this is a great time to put aside some additional time to spend in prayer. Maybe a kind of prayer we haven’t tried before. If you are a rosary person try praying with scripture. If you are great with scripture start examining your everyday experiences and talking to God about them. If you do lots of conversational prayer try the rosary as a meditation. In the end, it is about spending time with God so we can see the world in which we live as a person who has a deep trust in God’s involvement in our life and the lives of everyone around us.

If we’re going to get better at recognizing this world in all its aspects as something God gives us every day we have to spend more time deepening our relationship with God. Because on our own we’ll just reinforce our own prejudices. We’re like the lame man by the pool for 38 years, until Jesus comes along he can’t make it to the healing water in time. Jesus is the one who can heal us. Time spent in prayer is the flowing water that will wash us, heal us and quench our thirst.

Monday, Third Week of Lent

Scripture Readings for March 5, 2018

Kings 5: 1-15, Psalm 42: 2-3, 43: 3-4, Luke 4: 24-30

These two readings try to tell us that God’s loving care is extended to everyone, that God doesn’t play favorites. There is no “inside track” for some people to be in God’s favor while others are on the outside.

Since Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown the townspeople no doubt thought that they had a real “inside track.” Surely Jesus would do some spectacular miracles here just as they had heard he had done in other places. But that isn’t what Jesus talks about, instead he reminds them of the Hebrew scripture stories in which God had saved and healed outsiders, people who were not Jews, who were not “the chosen people.” They got so angry they tried to throw him down the hill.

This is not so different from our first reading. Naaman wants to be cured of his leprosy. This is obviously a big deal and Naaman wants Elisha to make it a big deal by a special display of invoking God. He is looking for something extraordinary just as the people of Nazareth were looking for something spectacular. They both want contact with God to be something special, to be “out of the ordinary.” Instead both these stories say God’s presence is available to everyone which means its available everywhere, in all the ordinary aspects of daily life. We don’t have to be special to get God’s attention.

What we have to ask ourselves is, in what ways are we acting like the Nazareans and Naaman? Do we expect God to be a spectacular, extraordinary God? Can we envision a God that is part and parcel of everyday life? Does God act in our everyday life or do we save God for special concerns, dire circumstances and times when there is nowhere else to turn? Is God our personal safety valve?

Instead, can God become, for us, our companion? Someone with whom we talk over how our day went. Someone to be consulted when we find ourselves confused or worried. Someone with whom we share good news and surprises. Someone we just spend time with, as the kids would say, hang-out together?

These readings suggest that God is a lot more available than we might think. Remember who pointed out to Naaman that he would have done anything extraordinary that the prophets asked? It was his servants who “reasoned with him” so that he would follow Elisha’s instructions. And who was telling the people of Nazareth that the day of God’s favor had dawned on them. The home town boy, the one they all knew from when he was a kid. These are the people we least expect to carry the wisdom we are seeking. It suggests that God is embedded in the ordinary things and people we live with every day.

In Church language we say God is immanent. It is also called the sacramental principle. God is here with us in the concreteness of our lives. It’s why we have Lenten practices that are concrete things to do. Pray more, give to the poor, sacrifice something you like. In other words, do something that changes, even in a little way, the way you live. If you make real changes, even little ones, you will be changed as well. If we don’t start with the little stuff, we’ll be waiting for some spectacular event, some fireworks, something big to make it obvious what we should do. We want the big event to make the change for us.

Today’s readings say, the spectacular isn’t going to happen. Not because God isn’t offering us the salvation, the care and the love we are looking for but because we are looking for God in the wrong places. Look at home, look at family, look at work, look at friends, that’s where you will find God and all God’s blessings.

Tuesday, Second Week of Lent

Scripture Readings for February 27, 2018

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20, Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23, Matthew 23:1-12

When I first read today’s readings my reaction was, boy this is really heavy Lenten stuff. The readings present a clear challenge of turning our lives around. Turning from bad behavior to good behavior. But then I got defensive about it, I don’t know that my behavior is all “that bad”. I don’t think I have lots of really crimson sins or scarlet letters that need wiping away. Getting defensive kind of stopped me. Then after a little bit of time I read it again.

This time I noticed the very first words of Isaiah, “Hear the word of the Lord” and I noticed that what the Lord was saying was, “Come now, let’s set things right.” I realized that the readings weren’t so much about us and what we may or may not have done in the past. These readings are about moving forward and how God views our lives. When Isaiah talks about crimson red becoming white as snow or scarlet becoming white as wool it seems to me he is talking about the change itself. The subject is who we are now and not what we have done in the past. It suggests that what is important is our responding to God in this moment regardless of past behavior. That’s why even the worst of sins, those crimson and scarlet things, can become white as snow, because God wants us to be part of God’s plan, part of God’s life right now and going forward.

I think the message here is God doesn’t carry a grudge but makes all things new in this moment. We simply have to listen to God’s instruction today and respond. To do otherwise is to give past behavior power over our present. Worry and guilt about what we’ve done or should have done creates a burden God doesn’t see. It’s why Jesus in the Gospel is so hard on Pharisees and Scribes because they had gotten all caught up in what is required, rules that meant listening more to other people instead of God. As leaders they worried about what other leaders would say, they looked for approval from others and therefore became more concerned about how things looked than for the real needs of other people. They were being hypocrites, betraying their tradition by letting the past tradition supplant what God was doing in the current moment, what people needed right now.

So Jesus’ advice is that we simply work together as servants of each other to help where needed, since none of us has the final answer or the ultimate truth. Our challenge is to “hear the word of the Lord”. That word can come to us in lots of ways: a reading from Scripture, a surprising family situation, a person in need, a friend offering to help. Life itself presents God’s word to us and we have to be ready to grasp it and respond. We have to do what the Psalm says, “Go the right way” and I would add, do it right now. Go the right way, right now. In the present moment respond to what God is asking of us and don’t worry about what came before. When we do that it will be like we wash ourselves clean and as our Psalm says, encounter “the salvation of God.”

 

Ash Wednesday

Scripture Readings for February 14, 2018

Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-14, 17, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2,

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Is anyone confused by today’s gospel? Jesus says in three different ways, don’t parade your religious practices around for others to see: don’t trumpet your alms giving, don’t make a show of your praying, and when you fast don’t make it appear like you are fasting. Yet here we are at Ash Wednesday and many of us will receive a great big cross of ashes on our foreheads. That isn’t exactly praying behind closed doors where no one will see. You can be sure everyone is going to see ashes all over your forehead.

So why does this reading question public displays of almsgiving, prayer and fasting when that is exactly what Lent asks us to do? Perhaps this story of Jesus teaching about traditional acts of piety isn’t about being modest or unassuming in our religious practices?

The first thing I noticed when I spent time praying with this reading was the repetition of the word, hypocrites. We have three different religious practices, almsgiving, prayer and fasting. But we have one type of behavior that keeps getting criticized, being a hypocrite. Whatever Jesus may be saying about almsgiving, prayer and fasting we know he finds fault with hypocritical behavior.

Every time the almsgiving, prayer or fasting is secret or hidden, it is rewarded by God.  When it is done for others to see, it is considered hypocritical behavior. I think, Jesus is saying the key to the value of our actions is the attitude we have in doing it. Unlike the hypocrite, our thoughts, our feelings, the hidden inner, secret part of us should match what we do in the open.

Jesus isn’t promoting hiding our almsgiving but rather a giving to others that expresses our real concerns. Jesus isn’t against public prayer, he wants our prayer to be about who we are. Jesus isn’t worried people will know we are fasting, he wants us to fast as a way to focus on what we may too often ignore, those inner feelings or attitudes we hide even from ourselves. Jesus wants us to ask ourselves, are we hypocrites? Do we live based on what we believe? Or do we cover our true feelings with phony behavior? Perhaps, it is what we hide deep inside that should concern us most?

So how does Lent and receiving ashes today help? Why the emphasis on almsgiving, prayer and fasting during Lent? The practices of Lent are meant to break into our patterns of behavior. Just as Joel called for trumpets to blow, just as Paul said this was the day of salvation, we need something to get our attention. Coming to get ashes, not eating meat today and on Fridays in Lent, giving money or our time to others, adding a time to pray or changing how we pray during Lent gets our attention so we can practice doing what God’s asks of us. We are being asked to make it intentional so it can become part of who we are.

 

To use a baseball analogy, think of Lent as our annual spring training. Lent is about getting ready for the regular season. In every sport we understand that to play the game involves learning the skills, doing the drill to get it right. We need to practice what we are going to do during the game so it is part of us. Lent is practice for the game of everyday Catholic life.

We all know everyday life is responsible and rigorous. It is taking care of our children, making decisions at work, building loving relationships, figuring out what is the most important use of our time. The question Jesus poses is: will what we do each day match our Catholic faith? Will what we do, match our innermost feelings and attitudes? What we do with Lent could make a difference. Make the decision to do something different in Lent, put in the practice it takes to make a difference every day from now on.