In the first reading Ezekiel (Ez 2:2-5) learns that he will go speak to the Israelites in words that they do not want to hear. Psalm 123 urges us to keep our eyes on the Lord “till he have pity on us.” In the second reading Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:7-10) that he must accept his frailties and weakness “for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” In the gospel Jesus came into his hometown and found that people did not accept his authority.
“So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus were faced with a task that would be hard, or impossible to do. All they had to do was accept that fact and move ahead. Simple, but not easy for any of them.
Remember that when we pray the Serenity Prayer, the key word is the second one:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can and
The wisdom to know the difference,
Tremendous freedom follows acceptance of the fact that we cannot change something, someone else, or even ourselves. Once we accept this we can, like St. Paul, begin to turn that something, someone, or aspect of ourselves, over to the power of Christ. We gain the freedom to act on those things that we can change and freedom from worry and resentment over the ones that we cannot change. While the action is simple and even easy to understand, it is not easy to do. It usually takes a long time and many attempts before we accept the reality that some things are beyond our control. Even that acceptance is a gift from God. That is why we ask that God grant us serenity.
Note: the Serenity prayer is attributed to Reinhold Niehbur and comes in a complete version”
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can and
The wisdom to know the difference,
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
I like the complete version. As far as I know there is no definitive scholarship documenting either the attribution or the complete version.
The scripture readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time turn on the healing power of touch. The importance of Jesus' touch is clear from considering the opposite: to be untouchable. In today’s culture the word “untouchable” has several meanings. We had a TV series about the Untouchables, law enforcement officers of high ethical standards who could not be “touched” or bribed. In other parts of the world “untouchable” referred to the lowest class of people. The religious attitude in Jesus’ time held that the sacred should be separated from the world. Ritual laws held that certain things should not be touched. If one touched a ritually unclean object a purification would be necessary before approaching the temple. Sometimes this was necessary. Burying a body was necessary - and a religious duty. However, ritual cleansing would be necessary.
There are two opposing spiritual traps here. The first is that, as a result of trying to live good lives, we begin to think of ourselves as “untouchable” - i.e we are incorruptible. Our view of self is that we are good persons and contact with bad persons will somehow render us unclean. The second, is that our self esteem is so low that we don’t believe anyone wants to touch us.
Mark’s gospel (5:21-43) gives us a different perspective: Two linked cases in which Jesus is touched by a woman suffering from hemorrhages and in which he goes to touch a girl who has died. In both cases his touch is a healing one. Fully human, Jesus is aware of the sufferings of the woman, the girl and her parents. His touch is more than healing. It is transforming.
There is a transforming lesson for all of us in this. We are all “touchable.” First, we are touchable in the sense that we can be induced to make ethical compromises. Second, with the aid of grace, we can become aware of our own weaknesses and shortcomings. As we do, we can recognize that these are capable of healing.
There is a way out of this. When he wrote Amazing Grace, John Newton got it right:
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved….”
Once we are aware of our own weakness can begin to accept the weakness in others and to extend to them a healing touch.
On the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 21, 2015) the readings for Mass will include a selection from Job and Mark’s account of the disciples frightened by a sudden, squall breaking over their boat. In the first reading (Job 38:1, 8-11) the Lord answers Job, speaking from a storm. Here is Job, who has spent his life doing the right things and doing them right. In spite of this he loses everything and suffers. Refusing to admit that he has done anything wrong he demands an answer. His answer comes in verses omitted from the lectionary reading for the day.
3 Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers!
4 Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
It is not for Job to know. God has plans for him and Job must learn trust and acceptance.
In the gospel reading (Mk 4:35-41) the disciples are again doing the right thing and doing it right. They are experienced sailors, traveling with the Lord. Yet they find themselves in the midst of a life threatening storm. Even their sailor’s skill will not save them. Even worse, their suffering continues just as Job’s did, until they are mortally afraid. Then:
They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
They are filled with awe, when He wakes, rebukes the wind and orders the sea to “Be Still.”
So it is for many of us. We are going through life doing what we think we are supposed to do and doing it well. Life is good and were are happy. Then a storm comes and we say to the Lord: Where are you? I’m doing my job. Why don’t you help? Don’t you care? The answer is that, of course the Lord cares - but we should not be so sure that we are doing the right thing and doing it well. Sometimes it takes a storm for us to finally learn that we are not in charge of our own lives.
The first reading for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 7, 2015) is taken from Ez 17 and describes how Jerusalem will be taken as a tender shoot of cedar and become a majestic tree sheltering birds of every kind. This is a comforting and hopeful image. The picture of “birds of every kind” tells us that all nations - foreign and pagan - will be sheltered and at peace.
If we look at the preceding texts in Ezekiel 16 and 17 we get a much more dramatic picture. Ez 16:1-14 portrays Jerusalem as an newborn infant whose parents exposed her in the wilderness so that she would die. The Lord however protected her and she grew into a desirable young woman. The Lord covered her with his garment - taking her as a bride - and made her into a beautiful queen. Ez 16:1-14 is IMO, the most vivid, explicit and passionate image of God's love:
16 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.
8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
9 “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Jerusalem, however, deserted the Lord by worshiping the gods of alien nations. The Lord, as a hurt lover, compares this betrayal as prostitution. Jerusalem becomes a city of shame.
Yet all is not lost. Then in Ex. 16:60 we read that:
“But I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young; I will set up an everlasting covenant* with you.”
Ezekiel’s vision promises that eventually Jerusalem’s disgrace will be removed. In our first reading (Ez 17:22-24) Jerusalem is compared to a tender shoot of cedar, planted on a high mountain:
“It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs….”
The gospel reading (Mk. 4:26-34) will take up a similar image. The smallest of seeds - a mustard seed - becomes a short of shelter so that birds of the sky can be sheltered in its shade.
This is, IMO, the bible’s most dramatic story of rescue and redemption. God’s love for Jerusalem is portrayed in intimate, passionate sexual imagery. Even as lover scorned and betrayed, God remembers his covenant, Jerusalem is not just restored to her former glory. She becomes a city in which all can live in peace and be restored to intimate relationships with the Lord.
The scripture readings for the day emphasize the Covenant made with Moses and sealed with the blood sacrifice of bulls. (Ex 24:3-8). In the gospel (Mk 14:12-16, 22-26) Jesus recalls this sealing and tells the apostles that his blood will seal the covenant for the multitude.
What is the impact of this on our personal lives? lIt is in the second reading (Heb 9:11-15) that we can find the impact:
“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”
These works are past deeds that remain on our consciences, dragging us down and preventing us from making changes in our lives. The author of Hebrews tells us that our consciences are cleansed. Once we accept this we will reach a point where we do not regret the past but can leave the door open to any lessons it may have to teach us.
“Son,'he said,' ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, "We were always in Hell." And both will speak truly.”
Yogi said that “it ain’t over till it’s over.” For some people the past is never over. It is a continuing source of regret and resentment. My reading of Hebrew tells me with a cleansed conscience the past is really over. Actually it is more than that: with a new conscience we can see the past as a starting point on the path to heaven.
Trinity Sunday (May 31st) is always a challenge for homilists. Some in the congregation may sit and wonder about this year’s attempt to treat the scriptures for the day with the profound teachings of the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Just as many of the preachers will do, I’m going to dodge the challenge. Instead, here are some quotes from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for May 12, 2015.
He quotes physicist Niel’s Bohr: the universe is
"not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think."
A major part of the challenge is that the Western Church has striven to think with great precision about a mystery that is “stranger than we can think.” The Eastern Church, particularly the Cappadocian Fathers were much more fluid in their approach. Western mystics also tended to evade precise definitions in favor of a fluid description of the Trinity as an ongoing dynamic relationship. (In defense of the Western approach, it does set boundaries. For example if we are Orthodox Christians we will maintain that God is One, no matter how we explain the Trinity.) Western mystics are much closer to the Eastern Church in their descriptions. Rohr quotes Richard of St. Victor (d 1173):
“…for God to be truth, God had to be one; for God to be love, God had to be two; and for God to be joy, God had to be three!”
Rohr comments: Any true Trinitarian theology will always offer the soul endless creativity, an utterly open horizon, and delicious food for the soul. Trinitarian thinkers do not seem to have much interest in things like hell, punishment, or any notion of earning or losing. They are only overwhelmed by infinite abundance and flow.
Our former Pastor, Fr. Bill La Fratta used to say that “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.” As we live out our lives in relationships we open ourselves to the Trinity.
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
At the time he disciples were thoroughly discouraged, deflated and fearful. (This is often a precondition for a spiritual experience.) We can take the image of the wind filling the room as the Spirit “inflating” the apostles as a group and as individuals. The image of being inflated, however, does not mean having an inflated ego. Nor does it mean becoming larger while losing value as does inflated currency. What should a disciple who is inflated by the Spirit look like?
Acts tells us that the apostles went into the crowd preaching to foreigners in language that they could understand. In the second reading (1 Cor 12:3B-17, 12-13) we will hear that there are:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
Some of the disciples will evidence their newly inflated status with the gift of wisdom. Others with faith, healing, mighty deeds, discernment, or tongues. Some will become quiet and contemplative. Others will be dedicated to the active life.
You won’t be able to spot the “inflated people” by looking or listening to what they proclaim, especially if they proclaim about themselves. You will be able to tell by their fruits.
On Ascension Sunday (May 17) the readings for Mass will tell us of the disciples standing confused as they watch the Lord ascend (Acts 1:1-11). In the gospel these same disciples who would be “standing there looking up at the sky” would be urged to:
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”
How could they move from a state of timidity and confusion and begin an effort that would lead to an amazingly rapid spread of Christianity?
We get an answer in our second reading - a prayer that Paul sent in his letter to the Ephesians:
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power."
Once enlightened and filled with hope they could go forth and preach with fire and passion.
Sadly, too many of us approach the study of faith (i.e. theology) with the eyes of our minds alone. (I certainly did.) Our religious education tends to focus on the law and abstract truths. While there is value to law - it can set boundaries that will protect us from harm. We know of many young people and adults who have come to grief by transgressing boundaries. However, when we become overly focused on the law, we cease seeing the world through the eyes of our hearts. Then we look on transgressors as people who deserve the suffering they now experience. Even more sadly, we can look on ourselves as sinners who deserve our current suffering.
The way out of this is to see through our hearts as well as our minds. A heart enlightened with hope can look on others with gentleness and mercy. We will see sufferers through hopeful eyes, helping them to find a safe path out of suffering and move onto the “glorious inheritance among the saints…”
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 10) the scriptures for Mass include a gospel reading that brought memories of my Cursillo in 1973. One verse changed my view of the faith. The first reading from Acts 10 tells the story of how Christianity began to spread to the Gentiles. The second (1 Jn 4:77-10) emphasizes love:
"….In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him…."
Had I heard this at the time, I would have thought: “that is true, heard it before, but it doesn’t change anything for me.”
However, the gospel (Jn 15:9-17) includes this:
“Jesus said to his disciples…I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father…”
For me, the concept of a God high in the sky filled with wondrous power, however loving, seemed abstract and impersonal. However, a God who approached on foot and speaking of friendship was accessible and words of friendship were moving.
The entire weekend had faded into memory. This Sunday’s gospel reading brought it back. I’m grateful.
In the scriptures for Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 3) the word “remain” will be repeated 10 times. (Twice in the second reading (1 JN 3:18-24) and eight times in the Gospel (Jn 15:1-8).
Maybe we should pay attention. Clearly something more than a metaphor is intended. I can think of ways in which loved ones and friends remain in my consciousness even when we are apart. I am aware of their idea’s, attitudes and opinions, taking them into consideration as I go through the day. This means more than a common experience of friendship. The word menein is also translated as “abide” or “dwell.”
Whatever the translation, this is an astounding claim. I am not about to claim that God remains, abides, or dwells in me while standing on the street corner or visiting a neighborhood picnic. We all have character defects and shortcomings that keep us from believing that we are good enough for God to dwell within us. Our minds search for an interpretation of the word that lessens the impact. Yet the scriptural evidence is abundant. The Contemplative Outreach site lists seven texts from the Gospel of John alone.
Perhaps it is best to avoid focusing on the indwelling, accept it as best we can and draw hope from two other portions in Sunday’s readings:
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 JN 3:21-22)
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. (JN 15:7)
These are also astounding claims. The best we can do is go forward in hope and trust that they will come true in their own way and their own time.