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god listensThursday, October 21, 2021

Psalm 66

Praise of Goodness

But truly God has listened . . .

There are so many times when we feel as though we are abandoned or that our petitions go unattended; yet we cannot know or understand the mind of God.  This psalm is divided into two distinct sections: thanks for God’s power that has saved the nation, and an individual vow to thank God in a liturgical rite.  The entire psalm focuses us on the necessity of thanking God properly because he has arrived as our savior – a foreshadowing of Jesus’ human presence among us.  Footnotes connect us with Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:1 and 6:5-8 in which we read that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices before God, just as Christ has done for us.  (THE PSALMS 165)  The psalmist here does not complain of the difficulties suffered; rather, he sees them as part of a required rite of passage, as a stage in his discipleship, as a badge of honor.

But truly God has listened . . .

Giving thanks – even for the difficulties we have just undergone – is our appropriate stance in all things.  Paul reminds us through the Thessalonians, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.  Do not put out the spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold onto the good.  Avoid every kind of evil.  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18-24)

It is not until a storm has been safely weathered that we can see where we have arrived.  It is not until we have lost what we thought was ours that we understand what we fully have.  It is not until we suffer that we become wholly understanding of the force of goodness; and it is not until we experience evil that we altogether understand the necessity for and the magnitude of God’s goodness in the world.  While we are undergoing trial we can barely breathe and we can think of nothing but survival; but after crisis mode, we must always re-set our markers and look carefully at our new surroundings . . . otherwise we might miss the fact that truly God has listened . . .


THE PSALMS, NEW CATHOLIC VERSION. Saint Joseph Edition. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 2004. 165. Print.

A Favorite written on October 30, 2009. 

Image from: http://christianmotivations.weebly.com/christian-motivations-blog/archives/01-2014/47


christ heals crippled womanWednesday, October 20, 2021

Luke 13:10-17

Set Free

When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said . . .

Jesus heals in the moment he sees suffering. Let us also heal one another with kind words and acts of mercy.

“You are set free . . .”

Jesus speaks in the simplest of terms the words we long to hear, “You are set free!” Let us also keep our hearts simple and our minds open for possibility.

He laid his hands on her . . .

Jesus does not fear interaction with the stranger. Let us also extend ourselves to those we meet in our daily journey, especially the broken-hearted and the down-trodden.

At once she stood erect . . .

Jesus brings healing to those who suffer. Let us also offer hope and love and faith to those who are troubled or oppressed.

But the leader, indignant, said . . .

Jesus is condemned by those who want to regulate or limit God’s infinite love. Let us also remember that discipleship is a difficult road.

“Why heal today when there are six days to heal . . . ?”

Jesus is challenged by stiff necks and narrow minds. Let us also offer Christ’s goodness and power against the stinginess and cruelty we meet in these words.

And Jesus said . . .

TwoBrothers_BentWoman_710Jesus so often answers a challenge with a question. Let us also offer up a question rather than argument to those who would bend the world to their will.

“Does not each of you untie an ox on the Sabbath . . . ?”

Jesus is so sensible and concise in his replies to those who wish to silence him. Let us also remember to keep our dialogs simple, our prayers intense, and our eyes always on the Lord.

It is in this way that we set one another and ourselves free of terror, oppression and fear.

Amen.


Click on the image above to see a video clip from the Jesus Film Project posted on YouTube, or visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_80Xpyqibr0

For commentary on these verses, click on the carving above or visit: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1753


James Tissot: Jesus Appears to the Holy Women

James Tissot: Jesus Appears to the Holy Women

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Mark 12:18-27

A Prayer for Resurrection

On this All Souls Day we remember those who have gone before us . . . as we listen and watch for the resurrection that we are promised.

On All Souls Day we celebrate those who are yet to come as we watch and wait for the resurrection that is freely given.

On All Souls Day we call forth the great cloud of witnesses as we wait and work in the resurrection kingdom.

On this All Souls Day we praise God’s goodness and mercy as we work and witness to the healing of the resurrection.

On this All Souls Day we rejoice with the faithful as we witness and we pray for the transformation of the resurrection, so that we may not be greatly mislead.

Amen.

In the northern hemisphere days shorten and nights lengthen. In less than a week we will move back to standard time and celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. As we watch, wait, work, and witness, we prepare for these feasts that anticipate the great feast of salvation that we will celebrate at Easter. 


Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Appears_to_the_Holy_Women_(Apparition_de_J%C3%A9sus_aux_saintes_femmes)_-_James_Tissot.jpg


Monday, October 18, 2021

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part IV: Witnessing 

Are you not mislead because you do not know the power of God?

On All Saints we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in their own act of witness. As we move closer to this celebration when we celebrate our own gift of sainthood, we recall words from the Letter to the Hebrews: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

In reflecting on the idea of resurrection, we have come to understand that it is not a possession that we might earn but rather a presence already in our midst. Christ is among us, healing and calling, soothing and loving. But we must be watchers with open minds.

When we consider the gift of resurrection, we have come to believe that it is not a privilege bestowed on an elite few but rather a gift already given to all. Christ is within us, restoring and renewing, transforming and changing. But we must be receptive with open hearts.

Once we understand that Christ is already among us and that we will glimpse him in the loving acts of another, we also understand that we must witness to this wondrous gift of self freely given. When we slip into the thinking of the Pharisees who say that in order to love God we must memorize a code and adhere only to this code without considering what results from our elitism, we know that we must watch for the healing hand of God who includes all and excludes none. When we find ourselves thinking as these Sadducees who doubt that the Living God exists and that he loves us to the point of taking us in, forgiving and holding us forever in love, we must be on watch for the Spirit who speaks ardently to those who fear or doubt.

And once we have watched, once we have waited, once we have worked as a response to the Gospel call, then we must call one another to faith. A faith filled with outrageous hope in new possibilities.

We must be on watch like the sentinel on the high city tower. We must wait patiently as the virgins who anticipate the coming of the bridegroom. We must work in the kingdom fields of mercy and compassion and healing.  And as we watch and wait and work we must witness as the risen Christ to one another as we call out to one another these truths we hold dearly and closely. We ask intercession from the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to help us as we run the race of life. In this way we might hope to avoid the fate of the Sadducees we see today. The fate of living a life that is greatly misled. 


Compare other versions of today’s citation and watch for the presence of the Spirit in your life today.

Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Woe_unto_You,_Scribes_and_Pharisees_(Malheur_%C3%A0_vous,_scribes_et_pharisiens)_-_James_Tissot.jpg


Tissot: The Pharisees Conspire Together

James Tissot: The Pharisees Conspire Together

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part III: Working

Are you not mislead because you do not know the scriptures?

In Acts 23 we see St. Paul pit Sadducees against Pharisees. He does this so well and he causes such uproar that the Roman commander “spirits” Paul away to hide him in the barracks out of reach from these dueling voices.  Earlier in Acts (Chapters 4 and 5) we read that the Sadducees go to their Roman overlords to silence Peter and John who are drawing large crowds by telling the good news of redemption through deeds and a personal relationship with Christ, and through their healing of people in Jesus’ name.  These two apostles who heal souls and bodies through the living presence of the resurrected Christ cause more turmoil than the Sadducees are willing to allow. Paul, Peter and John bring good news for all of us, and bad news for those who wish to control God’s abundance and love.

God says: When you see corrupt structures that appear to be immune from my justice, do not fret. When you encounter vertical hierarchies that obscure my message of life and love, do not worry. When you come up against closed minds and stiff necks, do not lose heart. I am always amid the storm. I am in the fire of the burning bush. I am in the pain of the thorns and cross. I am also in your heart and mind. Allow me to shoulder your burden. Give to me the anxiety that drains you and the fear that paralyzes you. I am the calm in the storm. I am the water in the desert. I am the shoulders that carry the world. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will carry you through all that threatens to extinguish life and light and love. When you are too weary to work in me . . . allow me to work in you. 

When we are too exhausted to think beyond ourselves we know that it is time to hand our troubles over to the one who sees and knows and understands all. When we find our work burdensome and too heavy to bear we know that it is the day to rely on the one who knows and sees and comprehends all.  When we find the vineyard too difficult a place to live and thrive we know that it is the moment to give all of our watching, all of our waiting, and all of our working to God.


Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

To explore Tissot’s depictions of the Passion of Christ series, visit: http://www.joyfulheart.com/easter/tissot-passion.htm  

Image from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/13462


Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

James Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part II: Waiting 

Have you not read . . .?

Yesterday we explored the clash of movements into which Jesus steps and we can see why certain sectors of ancient society might oppose the teachings of Jesus. He strikes at the root of power and influence. If we all have access to the temple through our personal relationship with God in the person of Jesus, we have no need of hierarchy. If we all have access to God through our deeds rather than through temple sacrifice, we have no need of priests. If we all have access to forgiveness and justice through God as sisters and brothers of Christ, then we have no need of a power structure’s intercession on our behalf. As siblings in one family, we are all called to intercede for one another. As children of the living God, we all have access to new life and new beginnings. This is, indeed, good news for us . . . but not for these Sadducees who challenge Jesus because they see in him an end of their hold on power, an end to their income, an end to life as they know it. We can understand their fear, and we might dig deep within ourselves to see our clinging to authority and structure. How much of the Sadducee hides within our own heart? How willing are we to wait on God’s plan? How eager are we to live in the Spirit of discipleship that holds little comfort and even less prestige? How prepared are we to step into the vineyard to gather the fruit of God’s harvest rather than the fruit of our own plan?

God says: I understand that the plans you make in my name are good and honest and that you see your ideas as an outflowing of my heart. I love the energy you spend on my work. I am enchanted by the care you take in the precision of your labor. I am in love with your goodness and mercy in my name. I also see much more than you can see. I understand far more than you can understand and this is as it should be. I created you. You do not create me. I love you and call you to goodness. This is all that I require: that you act in prudence, watch in hope, remain in faith and witness in love. You can give me no greater gift than the full and complete surrender of yourself to the work of my Kingdom.

Are we prepared to watch for the resurrection that in promised to each of us? Do we have waiting hearts and minds open ready to receive the gift of new life that comes to us without our asking?

Tomorrow, working . . . 


Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Pharisees_Question_Jesus_(Les_pharisiens_questionnent_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg


Tissot: Chief Priests Talking Together

James Tissot: Chief Priests Talking Together

Friday, October 15, 2021

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part I: Watching

You are greatly misled.

In today’s citation Jesus attempts to instruct the Sadducees about resurrected life, telling them that they have missed the Mosaic message and promise. The Sadducees were members of a priestly family descended from one of David’s high priests, Zadok.  King Solomon gave this group supreme control over the Temple and they came to form one of the ruling parties of Judaism from the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty around 146 BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 ACE.  They stood on the religious authority presented in the first five books of the Bible, The Torah, and were highly conservative; yet despite this leaning, the Sadducees were open to the Greek culture and may have been willing to sacrifice their beliefs for wealth and power. They took special exception to the belief in the existence of angels, resurrection, and life after death, beliefs held by the Pharisees, a religious reform movement that began in the century before Christ’s birth emphasizing fidelity to Jewish law through an elaborate system of oral laws that bolster the written Mosaic Law.  This movement found its base in the local synagogue where scriptures and traditions were studied, and a strong sense of piety was nurtured.  It is into this world of closely held ideas and tightly fought intellectual battles that Jesus comes to the poor and disenfranchised to turn the world order on its head.

For more on the similarities between the Pharisees and Sadducees, visit the Jewish Virtual Library at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sadducees_pharisees_essenes.html

St. Paul was a Pharisee who zealously defended the Jewish faith before becoming the feet of Christ to take the message of spiritual freedom into the world.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees jealously guarded the influence they had with the occupiers of their land; but we see without much effort the dichotomy between priestly sect and lay people, between temple and synagogue, between strict conservatism that sees the path to God through the temple sacrifice conducted by priests and the lay movement seeking to invigorate faith through instruction and fidelity to the Law.  Both groups saw Jesus as a threat . . . for he came to set the faithful free from narrow constraints and corrupt hierarchies. Jesus reminds us repeatedly that there is indeed, a true path to God, but it is open to all.  It charges no Temple tax and it requires only that its followers work in God’s vineyard to build God’s kingdom. The Temple is now Christ who lives in each of us. The Law of Moses is now fulfilled by the Law of Love that Jesus brings. The only tax we need pay is our allegiance to a loving God who welcomes all to the feast. And we will miss all of this if we are not watching for the resurrection that lives with and for and in us each day. When we focus on self, we become protective of all that we have built up like the Sadducees who question Jesus. We miss the truth that God uses each of us in God’s way to build The Kingdom that heals and saves. We miss the truth that Christ reveal to and in each of us . . . and we find that we have become easily and greatly misled.

Tomorrow, waiting for the resurrection . . .


For insights into Luke’s story of how Jesus interacted with his accusers, click on the image above or go to: https://www.lds.org/manual/print/new-testament-student-manual/introduction-to-the-gospel-according-to-st-luke/chapter-20-luke-23-24?lang=eng 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.Glossary 433 and 436. Print.   

Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

John 19:38-42: Burial


Thursday, October 14, 2021

John 19:38-42

descent from the cross

Roger van der Weyden: The Descent from the Cross

Burial

In this time of harvest when the northern hemisphere gives up her gifts of summer to prepare us for the cold darkness of winter, I cannot quite let go of the images and sounds of last week’s memorial Mass in which we celebrated the life of a young woman who died much too early. The gift of her life still rides with me as I journey back and forth to the school where she and I smiled at one another in the hallways and classroom. The wisdom of her youth still whispers to me as I greet and teach her grieving friends. The grace of her dying still accompanies me as I prepare lessons in the quiet evenings of the gathering autumn. Looking to meet the significance of this persistent presence, I go in search of a painting that soothes grief. As always, it reminds me of the wondrous sacrificial love that descends from the cross to offer itself when all else fails. And I come across this reflection written on September 25, 2008. I share it today with you.

Descent from the Cross

Detail frm Roger van der Weyden: The Descent from the Cross

Detail from Roger van der Weyden: The Descent from the Cross

One of my favorite paintings is Van der Weyden’s “Descent from the Cross”.  It lives in the Prado museum in Madrid, and when I travel there I like to spend as much time with it as possible.  It hangs alone on a large, pale wall . . . where the downward movement from the cross moves through Jesus . . . through his fainting mother . . . past Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and John, the Beloved Apostle to whom Jesus commends his mother . . . lingering with the brokenhearted women . . . hesitating with the grieving men . . . off of the canvas . . . and out of the room. 

Detail from Roger Van Der Weyden: The Descent From the Cross

Detail from Roger van der Weyden: The Descent from the Cross

It is as if all of the sorrow of the world falls away from us and into the pale, dead body of the Christ.  We can sense his downward journey into hell for the redemption of souls.  We can anticipate his return. 

St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:16: What agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: “I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people”. 

St. John reminds us in 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Through this Descent from the Cross we feel an abiding compassion that persists through the most difficult of circumstances.  We see an enduring passion that remains beyond all imaginings.  We experience a love that knows only intimate union through mercy and justice.  We sense that something will swing back through the red and blue and white of the canvas to leap out into us . . . to bring us in . . . to sweep us up into the arms now outstretched in death.  We gaze upon the hope that tells us we are redeemable and worth fighting for.

Detail from Roger van der Weyden: The descent from the Cross

Detail from Roger van der Weyden: The Descent from the Cross

And with faith . . . we know with certainty that this saver of souls lives.  We know that he acts in us and through us.  We know that he has returned to complete his mission of bringing fire and love to consume the world.  We only need open our hearts . . . and trust him to act in our lives. 

Amen.

Tomorrow . . . Resurrection


For more information about this masterpiece, visit: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/visit-the-museum/15-masterpieces/work-card/obra/descent-from-the-cross/ or http://hubpages.com/hub/Rogier-Van-Der-Weyden-Descent-From-The-Cross or http://hubpages.com/hub/Rogier-Van-Der-Weyden-Descent-From-The-Cross

 

To discover who is who in this painting and to learn about the symbolism used by the artist, visit: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/descent-from-the-cross-weyden.htm

To learn about the connection with Belgian crossbowmen, visit:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(van_der_Weyden) 


God-Loves-YouWednesday, October 13, 2021

Mark 8:14-21

Understanding

Reflecting on our passage through Jeremiah’s prophecy, we may want to know that even the apostles who lived with Jesus did not understand what he was really about.  When God calls, we struggle to hear, but we do not always discern.

Our world is one of instant messaging in which we are always expecting immediate replies to our questions.  And we want these replies to make sense to us.  We know that God is always with us, speaking to us, asking us to follow; and we are made to respond to this call. Yet, we so often lack something so simple but essential: understanding.

As we read this story from Mark that we have heard many times, we wonder if perhaps the apostles lacked understanding – and we as well – because we do not trust God.  Are we second-guessing God?  Do we believe that we have misheard God’s word to us?  Do we want to believe that the universe is one big coincidence rather than think that there is an immensity to creation which we have only begun to mine?

Today Jesus reminds his friends of the times that he has sustained them out of nothing and then he asks: Do you still not understand? We might have this conversation with God frequently, and we might believe that we have not heard or understood what it is that we are to do or not do, what we are to say or not say. Thinking that we have likely gotten something scrambled in our decoding, we re-question God and present our scrambled understanding.  This is the best that we can do.

Fortunately for all of us, God does not mind. In that infinite patience and wisdom that characterizes God, we are asked an unlimited number of times: Do you still not understand? 

Beyond this simple question, God continues to call, continues to love. What a great and glorious God have we that God’s understanding is so immense that it encompasses and transforms all of our many misunderstandings. And so, we await again God’s words to us that always arrives with a smile: Do you still not understand? As this beneficent face of a loving parent swims vaguely before us, let us focus on our own understanding of God’s plan for the Kingdom, rather than God’s apparent miss-understanding of us.


Adapted from a reflection written on September 9, 2009.

Image from: http://allenmjones.blogspot.com/ 

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