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.

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.

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Scripture Readings for November 21, 2017

2 Maccabees 6: 18-31, Psalm 3:2-7 Luke 19: 1-10

Today’s Gospel is about how Zacchaeus, a very rich man, forgets about his wealthy trappings and climbs a tree just to get a look at Jesus and then is changed when Jesus comes to his house. It is a story that says if Jesus comes to stay with us anything is possible. Even rich people will become generous. It says salvation is the work of God.

So maybe we should look at the first reading to see what it might tell us and perhaps it will add something to the Gospel story. The reading from Maccabees is very focused and detailed. It tells us about one incident in the life of one man. Eleazar, an old man and a scribe, is asked to eat the pork of a pagan sacrificial offering. He is respected and a friend of the king’s officials and they give him a way to get around the king’s rules. They offer him a way out … bring some of your own meat and pretend it is from the sacrifice. Eleazar however understands how pretending to comply compromises everything he stands for. To pretend to eat the forbidden meat although not actually doing it is to say that the king’s rules are more important than what God asks.  It sounds like a clever legal maneuver. Look like you’re complying but don’t actually do what is being asked and therefore satisfy your conscience while giving the larger society what it demands, the appearance of compliance.

His friends are trying to help but they don’t understand the deeper issue. For Eleazar’s friends it’s only appearance that counts. So if you look like you’re doing the things others expect then even if you’re actually doing something else, who cares?  I think we see a lot of this today. Public figures in sports, politics, and entertainment seem to only be concerned with appearances. What records they can break, whether they are elect-able, what the press says about them, that is what counts not their actual behavior or positions or values. Each situation seems to be guided solely by how much a person can get away with. Clever words and phrases seem to do a slight of hand. They spin the facts. Public behavior like that suggests we would be foolish not to act the same way.

It is here that I think we can connect with our friend Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the rich man was changed by having Jesus come to his house but Zacchaeus showed who he was long before Jesus actually came to his house. Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, certainly didn’t worry about what people would think when he started running ahead of the crowd and enthusiastically climbed a tree. Zacchaeus acted on something that called him to discover what was new with this Jesus. Zacchaeus, like Eleazar, wasn’t constrained by what his friends in high places would say. He wasn’t guided by appearances. He didn’t have to give up his life like Eleazar but he was abandoning any pretense of reserve or wealthy position or even ordinary decorum Zacchaeus went with his heart, his excitement. His unabashed eagerness took him to a new life. In much the same way, Eleazar’s enthusiasm for God took him to a new life.

We may never be asked to give up our life as a sacrifice to be Christian but we may have to reveal and act openly on the commitments we have and the values we hold. Let’s pray we can break from the crowd and climb whatever it takes so we will be able to see what life is asking of us.

Memorial, St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Scripture Readings for November 17, 2017

Wisdom 13:1-9, Psalm 19: 2-5, Luke 17:26-37

It took me awhile but after working through today’s readings a couple times I came to the conclusion that they are mostly about our missing the point. The readings from Wisdom and Luke’s Gospel seem to come together around how even lovely and pleasant everyday things can distract us from our ultimate objective. Do we notice God behind the scenes or are we simply caught up in the beauty and utility of life around us?

The reading from Wisdom is quite elegant in describing how fire, wind and the luminaries of the sky were thought to be gods in and of themselves. The author names the issue explicitly, “they are distracted by what they see.” The beautiful and powerful forces of nature can be appreciated for themselves but we shouldn’t stop at a superficial analysis. We should acknowledge the even more powerful and inspiring God that created them.

The same is of course true when Jesus is talking about how we live our lives. It is easy to be so caught up with buying, selling, eating, drinking, getting married, caught up in all the good things, that we miss the point of the exercise. Doing what God put us here to do. What’s more we can’t be clever about picking and choosing our time for compliance. There’s no radar detector that will tell us when the state trooper is waiting to catch us speeding. We have to adopt an ongoing attitude of care for others, which is the way God operates, or we are likely to get caught at the most ordinary of moments with the call to eternal life.

I don’t think we should interpret this as God’s effort to catch us when we least expect it. No, Jesus is trying to restate and make it clear for human relationships what Wisdom has already said, that beneath the surface of all that happens, God is part of the picture. I think today the question could be: Are we noticing God and God’s desire for us as we go about each day’s activities, each day’s decisions. If we think we can wait until later or another time to bring God into the picture, there’s no way to go back and rescue what we have neglected. All we can ever do is deal with what is presented to us today. Are we acting now, the way we know God asks us to act? Are we paying attention to the needs to which love and justice expect us to respond? Who crosses our path that we could help? What happens in our part of the world that we could change? God may not expect us to change the whole world. However, God does expect us to live in our part of it as one who cares and sacrifices to make it better.

Let’s not miss the point of our life, let’s go below the surface and recognize all that God provides and all that God asks us to do as well.

Thursday, Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings

Ephesians 1:1-10, Psalm 98:1-6, Luke 11:47-54

All this week in the Gospel readings Jesus has been criticizing the Pharisees for being insincere and taking advantage of their positions. Not surprisingly at the end of today’s Gospel Luke makes the point, “the Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him … they were plotting to catch him in something he might say.” No big surprise, given Jesus’ treatment of them.

Also remember that Pharisees, Scribes and Lawyers were the privileged, the religious elite of their day. They made the rules. So we know Jesus wasn’t afraid to be blunt about things he thought powerful people were doing wrong. But the question is, what does this Gospel have to say to us today?

Of course, nobody today is oppressing others by creating unrealistic demands on them. Nobody puts down people they have power over … wouldn’t that be nice? We are certainly aware of prejudices in society at large, but do we recognize that behavior in ourselves?

Let’s consider, for a moment, Galatians and the Psalm for today. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells about how God has chosen us and saved us through the action of Jesus. We have come to believe that we are forgiven for things we do wrong and Jesus’ life was an announcement of God’s intention for us to be free, and happy together. If we want to know what is important in this life we simply need to look at Jesus, he sums it up in the way he lived and what he said.

The Psalm is essentially a celebration of the same thing. God saves us from guilt and fear and we should be really happy about it. We have reason to be pleased about our faith, to feel that God has blessed us. That can be a good thing.

I think the question that Jesus is pointing to in the Gospel is this: the Pharisees, Scribes and lawyers all knew the details of their faith, they too knew the history. The prophets were their own people. In fact, they were building monuments to them all the time. But these same Pharisees weren’t paying attention to what that history and what those prophets had to say. They were burying them all over again. They liked the privileges, the power and the prestige that comes with office, they liked knowing they have been saved by their religious practice, by their faith. Or so they thought.

We may not be people who wield political or religious power but we may have to be careful we don’t get too smug about what is ours, whether it’s what we believe, what we think we have or what we have accomplished. We need to remember that Jesus was always fighting for people who were at the edge of society. The people who were outcasts, people who were looked down upon because of how they lived, who they were related to or what they didn’t know. We have to take that seriously. We too, probably have groups of people with whom we are uneasy. People we might refer to as “those people” when we’re with friends. That’s not good. That’s what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees excluded people because “they” didn’t measure up. That’s what we have to think about. I think we have to be very careful about the status quo and what we think is appropriate and proper and required of others before we would accept them. Like asking them to dinner. You may have heard about the 1967 movie, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” It was about a young white woman who is engaged to a black man and has to bring him home to meet mom and dad who don’t know he’s black. That might be a good way for us to picture the situation. Who would make us uncomfortable if they were seated around our dinner table? And when we consider who might be in that group, let’s just remember that for the Pharisees, at least one of “those” people was Jesus! That’s the mess we get ourselves into when we become privileged.

Thursday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings

Galatians 3:1-5, Luke 1:69-75, Luke 11:5-13

These are amazingly strong readings about the Holy Spirit. So much so that for the Psalm we have the words of Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit after he gets his voice back when he names his son John. It is a classic example of being given the Spirit and a change of heart. The other readings are just as pointed. Paul adamantly questions what’s wrong with the Galatians, why aren’t they being faithful to how they received the Spirit in the first place. Jesus says praying is about stepping up and doing it with persistence. The result is receiving the Spirit.

I believe the Spirit is especially important today because the Spirit is God’s presence among us. Seeing that presence as part of our experience is key to living a life of faith, which often takes strength, courage and compassion. That is what Paul is yelling at the Galatians about. They have gone back to some practices dictated by Jewish law as if that is necessary for maintaining their connection with God. Paul is reminding them that their experience of the Spirit and “the mighty deeds” the Spirit worked among them didn’t come from following the law but believing in Jesus Christ.

The issue that is relevant for us today is thinking about the Spirit too narrowly. As if the Spirit only comes to really holy people like saints or in dramatic biblical events. I would like to take the Spirit out of the interventionist highly demonstrative category and place Spirit into the everyday operating category. Let’s consider God’s Spirit as a presence that empowers and emboldens us to live and do things we might otherwise fear or dismiss as beyond our abilities. Also think about Spirit as a calming, reassuring presence that can bring peace and joy into the midst of everyday activities.

The Psalm is thanking God because God “has come to his people” to make us “holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” Wouldn’t that be an amazing gift if we accepted that we’re OK? If we accepted our own value before God as good? Wouldn’t that be a “mighty savior” who enabled us to worship God and live “without fear?” Jesus lived that way but it’s only the Spirit that can transmit that gift to us today.

Which brings us to Luke’s Gospel and Jesus telling his disciples and us to persevere in prayer. Not so God will improve our situation or even heal someone who is sick but rather send the Spirit to give us the best gifts of all. Aren’t what we really want “things” like confidence, peace, courage, insight, happiness, patience, appreciation, etc. That’s what Spirit is about. The challenge is, will we ask for this kind of help? Will we acknowledge the kinds of “things” we’re missing so we even see the need to ask? The man in the Gospel knows he needs three loaves of bread because he has a visitor at home who he can’t feed. He knows what he needs and why. It’s night time so finding the bread isn’t going to be easy or convenient yet the man is out there knocking on doors, probably being embarrassed. However, if he wants that bread he has to do it. That’s the persistence Jesus is talking about. Not “I wish, I wish” but taking the steps to find the help we need. If we do that, the Spirit of God will already be there giving us what we need.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s Scripture Reading

Isaiah 49:1-6, Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17 John 13:21-33, 36-38

We are in the midst of Holy Week. This week contains the events that are the core of our faith. Jesus goes to Jerusalem to announce the coming of God’s reign and the authorities are so challenged by him that they successfully organize his death on the cross. What looked like the end of Jesus turned out to be the beginning of God’s reign, where life triumphs over death.

However, the story of Holy Week is more than a retelling of an historical event. It is God trying to tell us something about what God wants. So let’s begin with the first reading which is part of the scriptural groundwork for the events of Holy Week. Today’s reading from Isaiah is the second of four descriptions of the servant of God. We hear Isaiah tell of the servant being called from the womb from the very beginning of life, about being formed as a weapon of God, about calling Israel back to God, about toiling in vain but then with God as his strength being a light for the world. As Christians we have come to apply all this to Jesus as the ideal servant of God. That certainly is a valid understanding. However, I want you to notice that this section is written in the first person with only the end being the voice of God. What I want you to consider is that the wording makes it easy to apply what is said to the reader, to each of us. The reading says, “The Lord called me.” We need to take that seriously, each one of us. We are the ones who God has honed into a sharp edged sword and protected so we could bring distant peoples back to God. We have been made glorious in the sight of the Lord and God is our strength. The scriptures always tell us what God wants for each of us. Jesus is the perfect example of what Isaiah is describing but it didn’t end with Jesus. If it had we wouldn’t be believers today. We are the people of far distant lands. From Jerusalem, Massachusetts is pretty much the end of the earth. Jesus was only the first of the servants of God, we need to continue what has been passed on to us. We need to hear Isaiah and John as a personal message directed at us.

So if we accept that Isaiah is calling us to be a light to the nations and continue to spread God’s salvation what can we take from today’s Gospel? I think it offers a view of the challenge of following Jesus. Judas and Peter have both been with Jesus as part of his inner circle of Twelve closest supporters. Individuals Jesus called personally, just like God has called each us to believe in Jesus. Yet now when Jesus is in Jerusalem to confront the seat of Jewish faith and to call them to reform, Judas can’t go along. He decides to abandon Jesus. He chooses another path. Peter on the other hand when confronted with the challenge of an unknown journey says he is ready for anything, even death to support Jesus.

I think we face these kinds of decisions all the time in our lives. We’re not sitting in a room with Jesus as he eats with us but we come to be fed by him and believe he shows us the way to a better life. The question is, can we be faithful, will we stay the course as events present themselves in our lives. We probably aren’t going to turn our backs on Jesus as Judas did. But it may be hard to remember that grand enthusiastic acts aren’t the answer either. Everyday decisions at home and at work may say more about the kind of person we are. We know Peter denied Jesus three times the same night he promised to fight to the death for him. So we may not always follow through as we would like but Peter is a great example of the ability to accept forgiveness and stay the course. We need not give up because at times we fail. Rather we should take to heart what Isaiah says, “Though I thought I have toiled in vain, and for nothing, spent my strength … I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord and God is now my strength.” We need to consider that we were made from the beginning to be servants of God, precious in God’s sight, formed and called by God. Can we accept God’s call? Can we see ourselves as precious and will we say, “Yes, I’ll try.”

Monday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Scripture Readings:

1 Kings 8: 1-7, 9-13, Psalm 132: 6-10, Mark 6:53-56

I find these two readings very impressive. They are filled with excitement and celebration and joy.

In the reading from Kings all the various parts of the Hebrew nation are gathering to celebrate the new Temple that Solomon has just completed. Priests, ancestral leaders, tribes and all the people have come to Jerusalem and they are sacrificing sheep and oxen that are too many to count. Here is the Temple that David had wanted to build but Solomon has finally completed and everyone wants to be part of it. This is the place where God will reside. It says to every Jew, God is here in our midst. The God of the covenant, the God of the ark and their journey from Egypt is now here in Jerusalem their capital city. God resides with them, lives with them and therefore is available to them. To use the words of the New Testament, God is “at hand.”

This same flavor is present in the Gospel. Jesus arrives at Gennesaret and people recognize him at once. What’s more they don’t just keep it to themselves and crowd around to see or talk to him but they take off to bring other people who are sick to be near him. Wherever he goes, people who are hurting come to him for healing. People are brought on stretchers and laid out on the ground so they can touch his cloak. People are excited that he is now here and available and they come to seek healing. And Mark says, “All those who touched him were healed.” What could be more exciting than that? People were excited because the presence of Jesus meant they could be healed. Just as the Israelites were excited to have God present in their midst through the temple, these villagers had something to celebrate.

My question is, “Are we that excited?” Do we see the possibility of healing available to us in Jesus’ presence? We know that sometimes amazing miracles have happened when people’s physical sicknesses have been healed. But have we considered the healing that can take place by reaching out to Jesus with less obvious emotional or anxious needs. The key is reaching for Jesus, seeking to touch him. How often are we afraid to ask for God’s help or help from another person? Wouldn’t you think we would be a lot more excited if we believed Jesus could make a difference? So what do we believe about Jesus and the presence of God being right here in our midst? It’s why we need to talk to each other about our faith and our experience of God because on our own we probably can’t be sure. But if someone came running up with a stretcher excited to take us to Jesus for healing, wouldn’t we go? Sometimes we just have to be taken by someone else. We need to hear another’s story. Perhaps once we have had the healing Jesus can give, we would be excited too?