Monthly Archives: August 2014

22st Sunday of the Year. A. Thinking Like Human Beings

 

To listen to this weeks homily just select the audio below:

Last week in the gospel Jesus called Peter the rock on which he would build his church. Today he calls him “Satan” and tells him to get away from him.

In the gospels Peter is usually the voice of common sense. That’s what you would expect from a fisherman making his living on the sea. When storms come, get out of their way and head for port.

And so when Jesus speaks of the storms of suffering and death he will face on his journey to Jerusalem, Peter advises him to turn away. “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” The voice of common sense.

But Jesus reminds Peter (and us along with him) that he is thinking “as human beings do.” He even calls him “Satan.” He tells Peter, and all of us, to think as God thinks.

Our readings today remind us of the limitations of human thinking. Jeremiah the prophet says to God in our first reading “You have deceived me.” “You have let me down; you don’t love me; you don’t care.” We only see so far as human beings. When the mystery of the cross casts shadows of sickness, failure and disappointment over us, it’s hard for us to say “I see, I understand, your will be done.”

We’re limited in the way we think. How, then can we think as God wishes us to think? Certainly we can’t know all that God knows. God’s thoughts, God’s mind is infinitely beyond ours.

Thinking like God means knowing the world God made and living in it as God wants us to.

I wonder if the signs of the bread and the wine we bring to the altar can help us see what it means to know the world God made and live in it as God wishes us to live in it.

As we offer the bread to God at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread is a sign of everything, of all creation, we say, creation as it has been given to us by God and creation our hands have fashioned.

Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago.

About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The universe is represented in this bread; it holds the story of the universe.

About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in this bread. Our lives are part of the human story.

We believe that God created our world and it’s is good. The Book of Genesis tells us that. God has a plan for this universe. The scriptures say there’s wisdom and love in that plan. His kingdom will come.

We all have to care for this world, each of us has a part to play in that greater plan.

But we also know the mystery of evil is at work in our world and the mystery of evil is also represented in this bread.

When Jesus took bread into his hands at the Last Supper we have to see the magnitude of that action. He took all created reality, all human existence, the goodness and evil of life in his hands. He was a sign of God’s love and care for all of it. He took it in his hands and gives it to us, in turn, blessed by his presence.

“This is my body.” “This is my blood.”

How significant it is that he gives himself to us in bread and wine. It’s an invitation to live in this world, depending on his wisdom and power. He will show us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Augustine

Augustine

The Word of God, maker of time, becoming flesh was born in time.

Born today, he made all days.

Ageless with the Father, he was born of a mother, entering our years.

Man’s maker became man; the ruler of the stars sucked at a mother’s breasts,

Bread hungered,

the Fountain thirsted,

the way was wearied by the journey,

the truth stood accused by false witnesses,

the life slept,

the judge of the living and the dead was judged by a human judge,

justice was condemned by injustice,

the righteous was beaten by whips,

the cluster of grapes was crowned with thorns,

the upholder of all hung from a tree,

strength became weak,

health was stricken with wounds,

life died.

He humbled himself that we might be raised up.

He suffered evil that we might receive good,

Son of God before all days, son of man these last days,

from the mother he made, from the woman who would never be, unless he made

her.  (Augustine, Sermon 191, 1; PL 38, 1010)

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God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written around the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In many ways, Paul’s letters help us to understand the gospels. That’s because the gospels reflect the church of Paul’s time as well as the time of Jesus. For example, you’ll notice in Paul’s letters the build up of antagonism between Jews and Christians. When Paul went to different places in the Roman world, he usually went into the Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Some accepted his message, some did not.

Still, as Christianity grew and attracted new members, Jews and Greeks, the Jews who remained faithful to the old law became more opposed to this new movement. They sharply confronted Paul himself in the places where he went, even to the point of beating him and trying to kill him. The Pharisaic element in Judaism led the opposition. Paul himself was a Pharisee who actively persecuted Christians before he was dramatically converted.

The growing Jewish opposition influenced the way Matthew pictures Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. If you read only passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel you would think that the Pharisees were Jesus fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees became his most important followers, like Nicodemus and Paul himself. The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to him in his lifetime; Jesus was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message. But did he see them as mortal, eternal enemies? No, he didn’t.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written and the audience they were written for. It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

But there’s another lesson to learn from readings like these. Be careful not to demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world and the build up of controversy between them and us. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring all of creation, not just a part of it, for God to receive. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

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21st Sunday of the Year: Listen to the Prayers

 

To listen to the audio for the Homily, please select the link below:

One of the most important things we do as Catholics is to come to Mass and pray. I’d like to reflect on the prayers of the Mass, in particular the Eucharistic Prayer. They’re good guides to prayer at Mass, but before reflecting on the prayers themselves I want to say something that has to be said today.

Praying at Mass begins with us being there. Praying at Mass begins with us showing up.

Someone once said “Most of life is showing up.” I don’t think we realize how much we need each other “showing up” in church. Suppose the music ministers didn’t show up, the readers, the ministers of communion, the altar servers, the ushers, the deacon, the priest didn’t show up?

We notice people at Mass week after week, year after year. We encourage each other. I often feel in awe watching someone coming into church in a wheelchair or on oxygen support, or mothers and fathers dragging their kids in. Showing up together is a key to praying at Mass.

We’re at Mass to give thanks. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the priest says at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. When we celebrate Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God together.

What does it mean to thank God? The English writer, C.S. Lewis, has a wonderful reflection on thanking God in a little book he wrote on the psalms. (Reflections on the Psalms) Lewis turned away from God for awhile. When he returned and began to pray again he was bothered by the way our prayers urge us again and again to thank God. Why do we keep on praising God, he wondered? Was God a “prima donna” or a dictator looking for our adulation?

After thinking about it, Lewis said he realized that thanksgiving and praise are embedded in ordinary human life. To be thankful and to praise are actually signs of a healthy life. Ordinary life rings with praise and thanksgiving, he wrote:

There’s “…praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars.”

Healthy people praised most, Lewis noticed; cranks and malcontents praise least. He came to the conclusion that praise and thanksgiving are indications of an “inner health made visible.”

That’s true, isn’t it? People who are inwardly healthful praise most; cranks and discontented people praise least. The self-absorbed see only themselves and their little world. Those who lose an appreciation of life because of hurt, loss, or disappointment can lose the ability to enjoy and give thanks and praise.

When we come to Mass, it seems to me, we’re looking for the inner health God wants us to have. It’s so easy to sink in smallmindedness, self-absorption. It’s so easy to let the hurts and sufferings of life get us down. We need to be lifted up to a higher vision of things.

That’s what happens in the mystery of the Eucharist. Do you remember the prayers at beginning of our Eucharistic prayer, the little dialogue that introduces the prayer?

“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.”

“Lift up your hearts.” “We have lifted them up to the Lord.”

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” “It is right and just.”

The Lord is with us, lifting up our hearts and minds to a greater world that God wants us to see. Like the water poured into the wine, we enter the prayer and vision of Jesus Christ and are lifted up into another, higher world, the world of God’s creation. We give thanks to the Lord, our God in that world, and it’s the right thing to do.

In the Eucharistic Prayer we give thanks for the special gift of the God of Creation: Jesus Christ, who came into the world as God’s Son. Remembering the mysteries of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection, we give thanks for him. And he blesses us with the blessings of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection.

He refreshes us by these mysteries. We’re fed by them. They’re food from heaven that gives us a heavenly vision.

Listen carefully to the prayers of the Mass and make them your own

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Water and Wine

A woman at the church where I go on weekends stopped me recently and asked for the pope’s address; she wanted to write him about something. I was curious and enquired what it was about.

 “The prayers at the offertory of the Mass are so beautiful,” she said, “and I want him to tell all the priests to recite those prayers out loud so we can hear them.”

 I’ve heard comments like hers lately; people are listening to the prayers at Mass and elsewhere and want to know more about them. There’s criticism of the present translations of our Mass texts, of course, but still the prayers and actions of the Mass remain the best ways we have to understand the mystery we celebrate.

The woman was especially touched by the mingling of water with the wine that takes place after they’re brought to the altar. As he pours a little water into the wine, the priest says:

“By the mystery of this water and wine

may we come to share in the divinity of Christ

who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

The wine represents the humble Christ who comes into our world that we may share in his life. The water, so insignificant, represents us who become sharers in his divinity in this mystery.

A priest I know helped out in one of Mother Teresa’s missions in India for awhile and when he was leaving, he told her he was going to pray for her and her sisters. “Just remember us when you put the little drops of water into the chalice at Mass,” she told him.

We’re the water mixed with wine.

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Little Prayers

Little prayers are just that–the small, taken-for-granted prayers we use all the time. Like “Amen.” How many times do we say that word in prayer? Usually we end all our prayers with it.

What does it mean? I suppose we could say it means “yes” in English. “Si” in Spanish or Italian. “Ya” in German. If you look it up in the dictionary, you find it traced back into the Greek and then to the Hebrew. Amen means “so be it”; a strong “yes,” and it’s been part of the language of our faith for centuries.

Here we are in the 21st century using a word generations before us have used; we draw on the faith of generations before us to say “Yes, I believe,” “Amen” to God’s word to us and our word to God.

“The Lord be with you,” “And with your spirit.” Another little prayer, wishing that God be with us and bring us together in faith. We can trace that little prayer back generations too.

Little prayers can give us a way to express what we can hardly put into words or understand. Besides words, they can also be simple gestures, like the Sign of the Cross; they can be moments of listening or seeing and waiting in silent attention before God.

Psalm 23 describes a servant waiting and watching before her mistress.

“To you I lift up my eyes,

you who dwell in the heavens.

My eyes like the eyes of slaves

On the hand of their lords.

Like the eyes of a servant

On the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes are on the Lord our God

Till he show us his mercy.”

 

Little prayers can be a cry or even tears.

“I cried to you, Lord, and you heard me,” the psalmist says in Psalm 30.

Remember the simply cry of the Canaanite woman: “Have pity on my, Son of David…Please Lord.” (Matthew 15,21)

Little prayers are important, they’re not little at all.

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Where did the Mystery of the Assumption come from?

Someone asked where in scripture or elsewhere do you find the story of the Assumption of Mary I related in my blog for her feast.

The account of the death of Mary isn’t found in scripture, but in the apocryphal body of literature called the Transitus Mariae, originating in the Christian churches of the east from the 5th century. These imaginative accounts describe the return of the apostles to Jerusalem for her burial and their discovery that her body was taken up to heaven. The accounts may contain material from earlier sources.

The accounts are not the basis of our belief in the Assumption of Mary and they’re not historical writings as we understand history today, but they do witness to belief in the Assumption in some parts of the early church.

In its liturgy for the feast, the Roman church doesn’t emphasize the apocryphal sources, but rather looks to scriptural sources like I Corinthians–the second reading for August 15th–to understand Mary’s Assumption.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the year 56 AD to Christians who are wavering in their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Their precise difficulty seems to be that they saw only the soul surviving death and not the body, a common conception fostered by the Greek mind-set of his day. With that belief came a low appreciation of creation. The created world wasn’t worth much and was passing away. Let it go.

Paul counters that wavering belief with the faith he has received. Interestingly, it’s a faith preached, not written down. The gospels and other New Testament writings were not in written form yet.

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” ( 1 Corinthians 15, 3-6)

Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, Paul affirms, and we will rise bodily too. Jesus is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The church sees Mary’s Assumption as an affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Because of her unique role in the drama of redemption, Mary is among the“first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” She affirms that we follow in the steps of Jesus who rose body and soul. Her Assumption, body and soul into heaven, is a resurrection story.

Bodily life here is important, the bodily resurrection of Jesus says. We must live in the created world, accepting it, loving it, caring for it according to God’s plan. However difficult it may be, we have a body from birth to death; it’s the seed planted in the earth that will develop in a risen life we cannot imagine. ( John 12,21-26)

In her prayer, the Magnificat– the gospel for her feast– Mary accepts her mission from God to live in the world of her day, accepting its limitations, its misunderstandings, its lack of appreciation, its sufferings. She accepts fully the mission to follow her Son, the Word made flesh.

We know the realization of the mystery of the Assumption grew gradually in the church. Christians of the 3rd and 4th centuries confronted Gnosticim, which placed before them a temptation to depreciate creation and human existence similar to what the Christians of Corinth faced. Gnosticism promised a higher life beyond the limitations of this life. It offered an escape from life as it is. Human life and creation itself didn’t matter.

The Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of the Assumption November 1, 1959, on the Feast of All Saints. It was a century when human life counted for little and the planet itself was in danger. World War I ended in 1918 after four years of bloody conflict when millions perished. World War II ended in 1945. Conventual war and later nuclear weapons brought the real threat of mass destruction to the human race. Millions of lives were taken in the Holocaust.

As we enter the 21st century, the threats to human life and creation continue. Wars and now terrorism are with us. Besides these threats, our planet faces new dangers from climate change and widespread poverty.

The Assumption of Mary is a sign from God. Far from being a pious legend, it tells us to look seriously at the sacredness of human life and creation. We believe in the resurrection of the body according to our ancient creed. God commands us to honor and preserve the human body and all creation for its final destiny, a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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