Job Suffering and Salvation

Reflections on the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 7:1-4, 6-7, 1 Corinthians 9:26-19, 22-23, Mark 1:29-39

There is a story about a man, lets call him Bill, who prayed to God constantly that he could win the lottery.  One day God spoke to him and said “Bill if you want to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket.”

Our readings today cover several interrelated issues.  First Job relates to us that suffering is part of our human dimension.  In the Gospel we read how Jesus relieved the suffering of Simon’s mother-in-law and others.  And in the second reading how Paul, an example of a true disciple preached Jesus’ message of salvation to the rich and to the poor.  I will take a closer look at these issues and see how they apply to us.

Today we are in a once in a century pandemic where there is much suffering for the families that have lost a loved one to the virus, for those who contract the virus and for those who are taking steps to avoid catching the virus.  There are also the people who have lost their jobs, have been evicted or may be evicted from their homes.  In the midst of the pandemic we became painfully aware of the racial issues that plague our nation.  In the last month we experienced a near insurrection and some said they were acting in the name of Jesus.  The list goes on, it is safe to say we are experiencing a very high level of stress and suffering in our communities and in the country.

In the first reading Job found himself in a similar situation.  He was afflicted with a series of tragedies.  Although not in today’s readings we know that all his children were killed and all his livestock stolen.  Then he was afflicted with a number of illnesses that incapacitate him.  Three “friends” came to sit with him, at first to commiserate with him but then to find out what had caused all his suffering.  They believed that he had done something bad that had displeased God.  Their philosophy is rooted in the concept of retributive justice, that is if you do bad you get bad, if you do good you get good.  But Job counters that he had not done bad.  That he had never cursed God and had never done anything that would offend God.  Why was God punishing him?  This was also the issue that Rabbi Harold Kushner took up in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  Kushner lost a son to a little known disease which caused him to age rapidly and he died of old age when he was only a teen.  Neither Kushner nor the book of Job answers the question why, but we do learn that God loves us if when bad things happen to us.  God is in charge, God has a plan we just don’t know what it is.  In the end Job was saved by his faith as God restored his family and fortune.

In his first noble truth the Buddha states that there is suffering.  Mary Ann Fatula, OP describes suffering as “…the disruption of inner human harmony caused by physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional forces experienced as isolating and threatening our very existence.”  Today we see much suffering in family abuse, bullying, verbal marginalization, racism and the disruption in our lives and economy caused by this pandemic.  In these we clearly see the disruption of inner harmony which often leads to depression and suicide.

Because God became one of us through His son Jesus, He knows our suffering. God loves us so much He sent His son to release people from their demons and bring healing to those who are ill.  Jesus plunged himself into the depths of human suffering.  Through the life of Jesus God has shown us His unconditional love and self-giving.  God doesn’t want us to suffer.  Jesus came to create the Kingdom of God.  To create that He needs to expel all that is bad and evil in the world.

As followers of Jesus we are called to learn about and understand human suffering and not to be indifferent to it, especially the causes of personal and social sin.  Through the documents of Vatican II the church has encouraged us to focus our attention on the meaninglessness of human suffering.  Christians are called to alleviate suffering especially from unjust social and political structures, and eradicate the causes of inequality, racism, family abuse and the many evils that plague our world today.

Our christian understanding of human suffering is aided also by our awareness to the inseparable interplay between spirit and body, between spiritual, mental and emotional deprivation, and bodily illness.  In His preachings Jesus taught the interaction of these through His healings and also His prayer life.  In today’s Gospel we see Jesus bringing His healing power to Simon’s mother-in-law.  When she got up she served those in her household but in a deeper reading of her actions she ministered to them.  She had felt the healing power of Jesus and she then shared the knowledge of that power with others.

Later in the day many people came to Simon’s house with their sick and those possessed by demons and Jesus healed the sick and expelled demons.  The next morning He needed to unite Himself with His Father through prayer.  Today we are rediscovering the healing power of spirituality and the restorative power of the sacraments and prayer.  Help can also be found through medical and psychological counseling to lessen the weight of suffering.

As Jesus spread the good news in His time His disciples were called to continue His teaching.  In the second reading we reflect on St. Paul’s struggles to share the good news with the people of Corinth.  Like Jesus he identified with the slaves, the weak, the brokenhearted, that is all those who knew the harshness of life.  The message that Paul preached was associated with the realities of life.

Now it is our turn.  We are the disciples who must bring the good news to the broken-hearted, to those in prison, to those who suffer from prejudice and discrimination, to those who are weak.  We must become the voice of Jesus proclaiming the good news through word and action.  We are the ones who must share the blessings of this good news.

As I look at how we must respond to the pandemic I see a parallel to how we must respond to Jesus’ call to action.  Reflecting on Bill who must buy a ticket if he wants to win the lottery, if we want to be safe from the virus we must wear masks, wash our hands, stay six feet away from others and to get the vaccine.  If we want to experience the Kingdom of God our faith calls us to be to commit ourselves to doing the work of God in our communities.  

This is summed up in prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila: 

 Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours

Yours are the eyes with which He looks

Compassion on this world

Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are His body.

Christ has no body now but yours.

Unclean Spirits

In the the Gospel passage for Sunday January 31 Mark writes “In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit.”  (Mark 1:23) In our Bible Study this week we wondered what is meant by an “unclean spirit.”  We sort of saw this on two levels, one a spiritual level and one on a behavioral level.  Here is what is meant.

According to Marie Noonan Sabin in her commentary on the Gospel of Mark she wrote: “Mark’s text does not use the word ‘demon’ here but ‘unclean spirit.’  The use of this term indicates the perception that possession by evil is an unnatural or pathological state,…”  It may be more appropriate to use the term “psychopathology” than the general term “pathology” to describe an unclean spirit.  There does seem to be an association between “unclean spirit” and “demon.”  According to Richard Woods, OP  ”… that by the beginning of the christian era, such demons had been spiritualized, organized under the headship of Satan, and identified in their opposition to the Reign of God principally by possession, which caused seizures, frenzy, aggressive violence, obscenity, and sometimes paralysis in its victims.”  As a psychopathology this would include mental or social disorders or behaviors seen as generally unhealthy, or excessive in a given individual. (Pathology) However you perceive a demon it turns normally good people away from God and into sinful or anti-social aggressive behavior.

To generalize the terms we can see that someone with an unclean spirit is anyone whose behavior is contrary to accepted practices, that they may be against christian teachings and behavior, but also against political and social norms.  Using this more generalized term we can think of many people who fit the description of being possessed by an unclean spirit.  This could be a criminal, or someone who disturbs a lecture, a political rally, religious service, doesn’t take their faith seriously etc.  Lots of people fit this category.

Then I asked the Bible study if any of them had expelled a demon from someone?  Of course they didn’t think so.  I then related the times I think that I had a hand in  exorcising an unclean spirit.  I related about a young man in a Confirmation class I was helping with.  He was going through the motions because his parents were making him.  Yet, after his confirmation he became very active in his faith and started saying rosaries outside an abortion clinic.  Did we cast out an unclean spirit?  Then I related my participation in two Kairos in Prison retreats.  This is an ecumenical retreat for men (and women) incarcerated for various crimes.  The men in the retreats I participated in were mostly for drug abuse, abusive action and one was for rape.  The retreat takes four days, by the end of the retreat you could see a change in the way the men looked at themselves and their faith.  Statistics show that inmates who participate in a Kairos retreat have a significantly lower recidivism rate, that is a lower rate of committing another crime, than the average inmate.  I think we cast out some unclean spirits.  If you go to YouTube and search “Kairos in Prison” you will see many testimonials by harden criminals whose lives were turned around by participation in a Kairos retreat.  I am sure there are many other examples of how we can cast out unclean spirits.

As I reflected on this Gospel passage I realized that we encounter many people that are possessed by unclean spirits or demons.  Some are mentally ill and need professional help, others may just feel outside the mainstream of society and can be brought back.  We are called to reach out to all those who seem to be possessed and work to cast out their unclean spirits.

Bibliography:

Sabin, Marie Noonan. (2006) New Collegeville Bible Commentary The Gospel According to Mark.  Collegeville, Minnesota. Liturgical Press.

Woods, Richard, O.P. (1987) in The New Dictionary of Theology, editors: Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, Dermot A. Lane.  Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press.

Pathology (2020). Wikipedia. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathology

What Does Jonah Have to Say to Us?

The first reading this Sunday (January 24, 2021) is from the book of the Prophet Jonah.  This is the only time in the three year Sunday Cycle that we read from Jonah.  Too often we pass by this writing as we focus on the three days in the whale.  As all scripture was written and preserved for our instruction there has to be a good reason why the Rabbis who compiled what we call the Old Testament included it in the canon.  So lets take a few minutes to look more deeply into what this prophet experienced.

A quick overview of the story, the prophet Jonah is given a task by God to go to the gentile city of Nineveh and give them a simple message, “Forty Days and Nineveh will be destroyed.”  As Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, an empire which had a reputation of extreme cruelty Jonah was reluctant to go.  Indeed he booked passage on a ship that was going in the opposite direction.  God was not pleased and sent a storm to the ship.  The crew fearing for their lives threw their cargo overboard and prayed to their gods, this did not work.  They then asked Jonah to pray to his God and even offered sacrifice to his God.  This didn’t work.  Finally Jonah told them he was the problem and they should throw him overboard which the did and the storm let up.  God wasn’t through with Jonah.  He had Jonah swallowed by a big fish.  In the fish Jonah prays to God to save him and essentially agrees to his mission.  God has the fish throw Jonah on the shore and reluctantly Jonah went to Nineveh and preached the shortest prophecy in the Bible; “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  Led by their king the Ninevites  repent and God forgives them and repents of His impending punishment.  The story does go on to show that Jonah was not pleased with God for not destroying Nineveh and there is a give and take between God and Jonah.

There are at least three things, for me, to take away from this short story.  It is about the call, the message and the response.

Jonah is called by God.  Unlike the other prophets who are called to prophesy to Israel Jonah is called to prophesy to the non-Israelite city of Nineveh, a city known for its cruelty.  Jonah, for reasons known only to him, rejects God’s call and heads in the opposite direction.  God wasn’t finished with him, God caused the storm, used the fish to save his life and finally got Jonah to go to Nineveh.  We are all called by God through our baptism.  God probably isn’t as persistent with us as he was with Jonah, but God still expects us to prophesy in the world we live in, at least by our actions.  As the phrase attributed to St. Francis says, “preach the Gospel always, use words if you have to.”

Although the prophesy of Jonah was only that in 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed the king and his followers realized that their destruction was probably based on their behavior and that if they repented by covering themselves with sack cloth and sitting in ashes God may forgive them.  God is constantly sending us messages when we are not following the way He charted out for us.  When we stray from our covenant relationship with God we often find ourselves facing some sort of very negative results.  It could be destroying a relationship with a loved one or financial difficulty etc.  We must have an ear to hear the word of God and more importantly to do it. 

When faced with these subtle messages from God how do we respond?  Are we like the Ninevites who repented and indicated they would change their ways or do we keep doing the things that strain our relationship with God?  When we receive messages from God warning us of our bad behavior we should respond and repent, bring ourselves back in line with the way of the Lord.

The story of Jonah has a great deal of instruction from God.  Like the prophesy of Jonah we need to reflect on our lives, have we responded to the call of God?  Do we understand what God is calling us to do?  Are we doing what God is calling us to do?  Following the way of the Lord through repentance will bring us back into a good relationship with God and those we live with.

3rd Sunday of Advent

Joy, Pray, Thanksgiving

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  This is the Third Sunday of Advent and it is called Gaudete because it is the first word in the Latin text of the Introit or opening antiphon for the Mass this Sunday.  The Latin word “Gaudete” means “rejoice.”  This antiphon is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4 which reads: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.”  This sets a tone of joyful expectation for the Lord’s birth and his Second Coming, as do the rose colored vestments worn by the priest and the rose colored candle we light on the Advent Wreath. Gaudete Sunday provides a break about midway through a season which is otherwise of a penitential character, and signifies the nearness of the Lord’s coming. The spirit of the Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the feast of Christmas as well as for the second coming of Christ.

Clearly the theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is Rejoicing as articulated in the first reading but more especially by St. Paul in today’s second reading and also in the Entrance Antiphon I described above.  To rejoice is to feel or show great joy.  St. Paul lists several other aspects of Christian faith which contribute to joy.  Among these are prayer and thanksgiving.  As we continue on our Advent journey it is a good time to look at Prayer and Thanksgiving and see how they contribute to our joy.

First we must look at what we mean by joy.  In their commentary on the Letter to the Philippians by Bonnie Thurston and Judith Ryan they note “…all rejoicing is ‘in the Lord,’ and Christians should find their satisfaction in him.  The source and end of Christian joy is the hope Christ offers in one’s personal relationship with him.”  Earl Richard in his commentary on the First Letter to the Thessalonians notes that “…in the first instance they ‘accept the word with joy inspired by the Spirit…” and later to welcome the activity of the Spirit in their midst.”  Don Saliers notes that “…joy in the Christian life refers to a basic disposition and a fundamental attunement to the self-giving of God in Christ.  Later he notes “Every activity and relationship in service of God and neighbor shares in a joyful quality.  Serving the neighbor becomes an ‘enjoyment.’…joy is not contingent upon fortune, good or bad but is grounded in faith that God is Creator and Redeemer of the world. Indeed,  Paul’s encouragement for rejoicing comes while he himself is in prison and yet his faith in Jesus brings him great joy, it overshadows his personal issues as he seeks unity with Jesus.  

We move toward that joy through prayer.  Prayer in the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux is “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”  Prayer is the act by which one enters into conscious, loving communion with God.  Prayer acknowledges the existence of a relationship between  God and humanity.  It is entreaty, supplication, and petition and is the introductory phase of approaching the One who is infinite power and limitless goodness.  St. John Damascene said “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”  Many see prayer as a conversation with a friend, in this case God.  It’s purpose is to establish or renew a relationship with God our friend.  Through prayer we feel the presence of God wherever we go and in whatever we do.  It is establishing a personal relationship with God’s son Jesus.  It is a relationship with someone with whom we trust and to whom we turn to for advice.  In that relationship we find joy and it will sustain us through the most difficult times of our lives and during the best times.

Through prayer and by experiencing the joy of God’s presence we also give thanks and gratitude to God.  In Christian prayer, thanksgiving, adoration, praise and blessing are intimately related.  Thanksgiving seems, more than any other form of prayer to be Paul’s answer to the question of how to pray without ceasing. Gratitude and thanksgiving are based on the belief that all creation is from God.  Yet while it is true that all prayer, in some sense, consists in thanking God for everything, it is also true that thanking God for everything means maintaining precise attention and clarity in prayer.

During this pandemic it is often hard to find joy in our lives and to give thanks to God through our prayers.  Yet, through the history of our faith  things were never as bad as they seemed and that we still can find joy in the little things in our lives and give thanks to God for those little gifts.  As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus we are reminded that God came into the world through a little child born in a barn, born into poverty yet grew to teach us how to live in adversity and to find joy in each day.  May God fill us all with the joy of his coming and remind us to be ready when he comes again.

2nd Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer

Jesus, my Lord, as you brought light into the darkness of an old and weary world, light and you and energy, guid me through this dark and dreary time of the year and bring me to the joys of Christmas and the promise of spring to one with a heart filled with laughter and love.  I ask this of the Father in your name.  Amen

Let us take a moment and reflect on a very important event in our lives.  It may be your wedding or attending a very important dinner.  As you prepared for the event you took care to make sure your clothes were just right, that your hair was in order etc.  We want to make sure we make a good impression on our Lord.  Advent is something like this, we are preparing to welcome our savior into the world and at the same time preparing ourselves so that we will be ready when the Lord comes again.  We need to make sure our moral and spiritual lives are in order so we may confidently join our savior in heaven.

The readings for today cover a broad range of life.  From Isaiah welcoming the Hebrews back to Jerusalem after they did their penance in Babylon to 2 Peter warning us to get ready for the end time.  In the middle we have John the Baptist encouraging us to prepare the way of the Lord, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.  Al are asking us to check on where we are in our relationship with God.  Then we must repent for those we do that strain that relationship and finally we must take actions to repair our relationship with God.

Isaiah is sending a message to the people of Israel who were taken into exile in Babylonia.   In a sense their world had been destroyed by the Babylonians who not only defeated them in battle, they took their leaders into exile and burned down the city of Jerusalem and many of the cities in Judea.  In exile the Hebrews realized this was God’s punishment due to their inequities.   While in exile they realized their relationship with God had become strained.  The rich were getting rich at the expense of the poor.  Other prophets had warned them that this would lead to their destruction but they chose not to listen to those voices as it interfered with their rich lives. Now they have repented and reestablished their relationship with God.  Isaiah is offering them comfort, that God will work out the details of their release and then their return to Jerusalem and Judea.  Although the trip from Babylon back to Jerusalem would be made level, when they arrived in Jerusalem they would be faced with the task of rebuilding the city as the Babylonians had burned it to the ground.

The writer of second Peter sees the world as we know it will come to an end through a violent and fiery destruction.  That the worthy will be saved from the destruction and live with God into eternity.  He encourages all to reform their lives so that they will be made worthy to be taken into the kingdom of God at the end time.  It is a rather scary image!

One can argue that the destruction that Peter sees in a somewhat less violent manner happens from time to time through out history.  For instance in our time we saw the massive destruction of World War II and the introduction of the Atomic bomb.  After all this destruction a new order came out of the war.  An order led by the United States and the values that we as a country have held since the beginning of our country and the establishment of the United Nations to try to maintain peace in our time.  In the time of John the Baptist he was seeing massive changes as well.  First the Babylonians had conquered the Hebrews and taken their elite into exile.  Then God raised up Cyrus, leader of the Persians, to defeat the Babylonians and send the Hebrews back to their homeland.  Then Alexander the Great rose to power and imposed Hellenist culture on the middle east and it was overthrown by the Romans.  In the time of John the Baptist there was great instability in Israel.  Many in Israel sympathized with the Romans for political and financial gain. Others rebelled against the the Romans these were called zealots, often committed violent actions against the Romans and Roman sympathizers which did nothing to reduce the Roman oppression which was aided and abetted by the Hebrew religious and political elite.  I think that John sensed that one of those tectonic shifts in the history of Israel was about to happen and was encouraging people to be ready for it.  That their only hope was to be in right relationship with God.  No matter what happened at least they would have the solace of being one of God’s chosen people.  Indeed some forty years after John’s preaching the inconsistencies within the people of Israel led to a military uprising against the Romans which was violently put down.  Many of the Christians in Jerusalem at the time saw the impending signs of destruction and left Jerusalem.  Many who lived in Israel did not heed John’s call to repent and suffered the fate of those who did not believe.

Today we are faced with a pandemic that is threatening our way of life.  It has brought death, suffering and misery among those who contract it.  It has also created great inconvenience to those who take steps like wearing masks, staying away from groups and staying six feet apart.  Those who believe in the science work to limit the virus those who don’t believe will suffer the consequences of their lack of faith.  I do think it may not be a coincidence that during this time of hope vaccines are coming on line and will begin to push back the pandemic.  After the pandemic is over I suspect and hope our world will be greatly changed.  It will take time for those many businesses that failed to come back.  It will be a long time before we will experience what we call a “normal” life.  During this pandemic we are called to have faith in the God to see us through this difficult time.

As we celebrate Advent and look forward not only to the coming of the baby Jesus but also his second coming we are called to renew our relationship with God so that whatever happens we will be at peace.

Advent

Opening Prayer

Advent Wreath at St John the Evangelist Parish Columbia Maryland

Opening Prayer for today’s Mass

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

Advent

This weekend begins the season of Advent. Advent literally means “coming” and applies to our liturgical calendar as the season when we celebrate the first coming of Jesus and to prepare ourselves for his second coming.  The first two Sundays of Advent highlight Christ’s Second Coming; and the last two Sundays revolve around incarnational themes, that is the birth of Jesus.  The fourth Sunday also focuses on Mary’s role and her response to the Annunciation.  Advent is a time to reflect on our inner longing for the greater love for God.  It also is a time to reflect on why we haven’t responded to that inner longing.  There is an expression, “…if you aren’t as close to God as you used to be, who moved?”  In preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world and in anticipation of His second coming, Advent is a time to reflect on our relationship with Jesus and God and why we aren’t as close to them as we should be and what we can do to change that.

Advent, a Time to Prepare Ourselves

Advent is a time to focus on where our spiritual life has been and where it should be going.  To do that we must take quiet time to reflect on where our spiritual life is.  We must be patient and be awake to what is happening in our lives.  During Advent we are invited to build a strong and regular prayer life, and we are invited to put the teachings of Jesus into practice in our daily lives.  One way we can do this is to gently question our need for instant gratification and quick answers in all areas of life. How many of us today are bound by our smartphones? We are losing the sense of wonder and contemplation, unable to read the signs of the times because of distractedness.  Distraction has permeated our daily lives so completely that intellectual, spiritual and emotional focus can no longer be taken for granted. Distractedness does not allow us to wait; it does not allow for patience, for it wants what it wants now. We need to adopt an internal quiet to wait for Jesus. Constant access to information and sources of knowledge are not a substitute for wisdom. It can draw us away from real thinking and contemplation and lead us to ignore our need to be prepared to encounter Christ. Patient waiting allows us to contemplate our lives and consider how we will prepare to greet the coming of Christ during Advent, to wonder about the signs of God and what they are saying to us.  We must be awake and watchful, to listen attentively to Scripture and what it is saying in the church and in the world.

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser adds: “By staying awake to the truth that God is with us even when most everything in our lives and in the world seems to belie that. By staying awake to the only things that will really matter when we say farewell to this world and our loved ones: love for each other, faith in God, and a heart grateful enough to let go and forgive all the angers, bitterness, and frustrations we had in our lives. Advent invites us to be watchful and awake to what ultimately matters in life.”

In all three readings for this Sunday the writers are writing to communities who are in turmoil much of it based on their impatience.  The readings call those they are writing to and us, to be awake, to be patient, and to be prepared.  The first reading is a communal lament and a prayer that recounts events in the history of the nation.  The Hebrews had strayed away from their worship of the one true God and became lax in their faith.  This led to their defeat in battle and exile in Babylonia.  The people felt abandoned by God, and so they cry out to God, whom they call father…Here ‘father’ is linked with ‘redeemer.’”  The reading is a broader communal lament in which the community appeals to God to intervene and act powerfully on its behalf.  It is reminding them and us to be patient.  God does not work on our time or Cronos time, but God works in Kairos time, Kairos is uncommon time, and uncommon events occur within it.  God has His own timeline; we need to patiently wait in God’s time.  The reading concludes with that image of God the potter shaping each of us.  Just as a potter gets dirty because of his willingness to engage in the messy business of shaping and reshaping the clay, our Potter God is immersed in the shaping and reshaping of our human clay.

The second reading may sound like everything was going well in the Corinthian church, but to read the Letter in its entirety makes it clear that the Corinthians were also experiencing crises.  They needed to be awake to the problems in their community which was plagued by internal rival factions, deviant sexual practices, marital difficulties, disputes about liturgy and community roles, they too needed to be encouraged to use the gifts of the Spirit that they had received in baptism, and so recognize the revelation of Christ and endure in fidelity to him.  When they first met Jesus through the teachings of Paul, they were enthusiastic.  Paul had promised the second coming of Jesus would be soon.  As time went by and Jesus did not come again their enthusiasm waned and they rationalize themselves into unacceptable behavior.  They were not patient.

St Mark was writing during the early years of the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire.  As such it was persecuted from many directions.  There was much turbulence among the Christians.  In today’s reading Jesus is intimating that he has gone away but he will be back.  He has left his servants in charge and warned the gatekeeper to be watchful and the people to be prepared.  During the persecutions it must have been hard remaining faithful to the way of the Lord.

Today we are confronted by many things that distract us from our Christian faith.  It is easy to wonder where God is during this pandemic. With worshipping via streaming, we pray that we don’t fall away from our faith.  As this pandemic has gone on for almost nine months when we are warned not to gather in large groups it is easy to lose patience and gather with friends without masks and social distancing.  Yet, when we do, we risk getting or spreading the virus.  We are called to increase our faith so that we will be awake to the problems around us, patient in God’s work in our lives and prepared to be God’s servants in the world. 

In closing I will share today’s entrance antiphon:

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.  In you I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.  Nor let my enemies exult over me; and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

Whose Got Talent?

The Gospel for Sunday was about the master who was going on a journey and give one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents and a third 1 talent. First, remember a talent was a large sum of money. The servants with 5 and 2 talents doubled their talents while the servant with 1 buried his and gave it back and the master threw him out. This parable has troubled me as I have read several commentaries, some lauding the ambitious servants who doubled their money while others noted the master and the two servants who doubled their money were greedy and may have taken from the less fortunate. Today a read another reflection which I share below. I read this in my favorite prayer book on the readings for each day “Give Us This Day” https://giveusthisday.org

Who’s Got Talent?

You have no doubt heard it said about Sunday’s parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) that we must use the personal gifts we have been given (our talents) and develop them to increase their effectiveness. What could be simpler? A parable with an obvious meaning!

Not so fast. A talent (Greek talanton) was originally a measure by which very heavy objects—often gold or silver—were weighed (see Exod 25:39 and 38:27; 1 Kgs 20:39). From there it acquired the meaning of a very large amount of money. In 2 Maccabees 8:11, one talent is the price for ninety slaves.

In an earlier parable, Matthew tells of a debtor who owed 10,000 talents (18:23-35; the New American Bible’s “a huge amount”). Such an outrageous amount tells everyone that this is exaggeration to make a point. One estimate is that it would take a day laborer about one thousand years to pay it back! By contrast, a denarius was usually one day’s wage (see Matt 20:2, the NAB’s “usual daily wage”). So the one hundred denarii that a fellow slave owes him could probably be saved in a few years (Matt 18:24, 28). In Sunday’s parable, the slaves are given amounts of five, two, and one talent, far more money than they would otherwise ever hope to see. A talent—or two talents or five talents—is a big deal!

On Wednesday of this week, we hear Luke’s version of the same story line (Luke 19:11-28). But rather than talents, Luke speaks of the mina, a Semitic word adopted into business Greek, equal to one hundred drachmas (“gold coins”). Like the denarius, each drachma is roughly equivalent to one day’s wage. Luke’s story lacks the clean lines of Matthew’s version, however. He attempts to blend it in with another about a nobleman who imposes his rule on unwilling residents. Though the nobleman gives ten coins to ten slaves, only three report back: one with ten more coins, one with five more, and another with just one.

Before we assume that the master in these parables stands in for God, notice that in both Matthew and Luke, the master/nobleman harvests where he did not plant and gathers where he did not scatter, an admission of abuse of power. Luke’s character commands that those who did not want him to be king should be slain in his presence. What kind of a God figure is this?

Moreover, we should question whether a God figure would willfully ignore the biblical injunction against charging interest on a loan (cf. Exod 22:24; Lev 25:36-37; Ps 15:5; Ezek 18:13; and many other examples). Both masters praise their slaves who have invested the money and gained more. Both condemn the slave who carefully guarded what was entrusted to him, lest it be lost. The Matthean master explicitly asks why this slave did not invest the money to earn interest with the bankers, who were considered exploiters of the poor. There is a natural storytelling structure of three examples, with focus meant to be on the third (“a priest, a minister, and a rabbi . . .”). If the slave who made the most money did the right thing, why is he first and not last? If the first and second slaves, who invested at interest, are examples of doing right, then this is the only biblical passage that approves of charging interest, this on behalf of a man who admits he is unjust and rewards his slaves for further enriching him.

Not such a simple and obvious parable after all.

—Sr. Carolyn Osiek

Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ, is Charles Fischer Professor of New Testament Emerita at Brite Divinity School and archivist for the Society of the Sacrd Heart, United States-Canada Province

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today, November 9, we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica also known as the Basilica of St John Lateran, which is the Cathedral for the City of Rome and is therefore, the Cathedral for the Bishop of Rome who is also the Pope. Here is a reflection from the “Give Us this Day” on this feast and on the cross.

Lateran Basilica or Basilica of St. John Lateran

Walking the Cross of Christ in St. John Lateran

Among Flannery O’Connor’s memorable remarks was her assertion about faith: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” O’Connor would probably have enjoyed a walk inside the Basilica of St. John’s Lateran.

Although most ancient Roman churches have retained their basilica shape (rectangular with the semi-circular apse at one end), the Church of St. John Lateran is in the form of a cross—made so by Pope Leo XIII. Walking into the pope’s cathedral in Rome, we step into the cross of Christ—the cost of our faith. Above our heads, a statue of Christ rises over the Lateran’s façade. His right arm is extended to welcome us; his left arm embraces the cross. “Come inside” the cross-bearing Jesus bids us, “walk around inside my cross, my church.” Dare we enter? Dare we walk into the cross of Christ? Would a big electric blanket be preferable?

Stanley Hauerwas, in his Unleashing the Scriptures, tells the story of two brothers, Clarence and Robert Jordan. In 1942 Clarence founded the Koinonia Farm, an interracial community near Americus, Georgia. He sought his brother Robert’s legal talents to help protect his controversial community. Robert refused: “I follow Jesus . . . up to a point,” he explained. “Could that point . . . be the cross?” Clarence inquired. “Yes,” Robert confessed, arguing that if everyone followed Jesus to the cross, “we wouldn’t have a church would we?” To which Clarence pithily responded, “The question is, ‘Do you have a church?’ ” Clarence Jordan, Flannery O’Connor, and Pope Leo XIII understood that to have faith and to build a church means walking in the cross of Christ.

On the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, we hear from the prophet Ezekiel. Six centuries before Christ, Ezekiel preached to a community of exiles in Babylon. Early in his prophecy Ezekiel slams the religious practices in the Jerusalem Temple: “see the evil abominations they are doing here” (Ezek 8:9). The Temple rituals did not reflect God’s hope for humanity. So Ezekiel visualizes the dawn of a new Temple from which issue forth the rivers that flowed from the garden of Eden and gave life to the earth at the dawn of creation (Gen 2:10). These rivers will give life even to the famous Dead Sea (what Ezekiel calls the “arabah”), filling its once lifeless waters with abundant fish.

In the Gospel, Jesus enters the Temple area and notices people changing Roman coins to pay the Temple tax and selling animals for sacrifice. Such services were an added convenience for pilgrims who otherwise would have had to drag an animal from home. Lost in the bustle was the sacrality of Ezekiel’s life-giving Temple that, in Johannine language, becomes Jesus own body, crucified, raised, and giving life to the world. Jesus’ interlocutors are baffled (joining Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, and Peter at the Last Supper), so the Gospel writer intervenes to ensure that we get it: “He was speaking about the Temple of his own body.”

From Ezekiel’s new Temple flows the waters that give life to the people of Israel. From the Temple of Jesus’ body, crucified and raised, flow the life-giving waters of baptism. The cruciform design of St. John Lateran reminds us of the cost of that baptism. So let’s accept Jesus’ invitation to enter the pope’s cathedral and marvel at its beauty, knowing that with each step we travel deeper into the cross of Christ.

—Fr. Craig E. Morrison

Craig E. Morrison, O.Carm., teaches at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and lives at the ancient Roman parish dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.

All Saints Day

Here are two reflections I ran across while praying today. The first is taken from “Give Us This Day” a monthly pamphlet with the readings and reflections for each day of the week. This one is by Pope Francis and was found on the reflection for November 1. The second is taken from the Midwestern Jesuit’s prayer site which can be found at: https://jesuitprayer.org

Welcome the Light of God

The Solemnity of All Saints is “our” celebration: not because we are good, but because the sanctity of God has touched our life. The saints are not perfect models, but people through whom God has passed. We can compare them to the Church windows which allow light to enter in different shades of color. The saints are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God in their heart and have passed it on to the world, each according to his or her own “hue.” But they were all transparent; they fought to remove the stains and the darkness of sin, so as to enable the gentle light of God to pass through. . . .

[T]oday in the Gospel, Jesus addresses his followers, all of us, telling us we are “Blessed” (Matt 5:3). It is the word with which he begins his sermon, which is the “Gospel,” Good News, because it is the path of happiness. Those who are with Jesus are blessed; they are happy. Happiness is not in having something or in becoming someone, no. True happiness is being with the Lord and living for love. . . . [The] ingredients for a happy life are called Beatitudes: blessed are the simple, the humble who make room for God, who are able to weep for others and for their own mistakes, who remain meek, fight for justice, are merciful to all, safeguard purity of heart, always work for peace and abide in joy, do not hate and, even when suffering, respond to evil with good. . . .

This is how the saints are: like everyone, they breathe air polluted by the evil there is in the world, but on the journey they never lose sight of Jesus’ roadmap.

Pope Francis, Angelus, November 01, 2017

Prior to being elected pope on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Life in the Kingdome of God

The saints were all happy people. Jesus promises us that we too will be “blessed,” or “happy,” if we remain poor in spirit, meek, merciful and hungering for righteousness. Righteousness means being what God has made us to be, for “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph 2:10).

The will of God is near at hand each moment. We need only remain “pure of heart,” attentive to God’s Spirit within us, ready to do what good we can, and we will be at peace, living in the kingdom of God even in this life. 

—Fr. Jack Zupez, SJ, is a member of the Jesuits Central and Southern Province. He lives at Jesuit Hall in St. Louis and has served in full-time prison ministry. 

What Belongs to God

A MESSAGE FROM FR. PETER“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.” (Mt 22:21)

The readings this Sunday speak of a God who is active in history and desirous of our salvation. The Jewish people experienced God’s presence in the benevolence of a foreign king who had no knowledge of Yahweh, while the early Christian community came to know God’s presence through the working of the Holy Spirit.

The Prophet Isaiah (45:1, 4-6) describes God acting through Cyrus of Persia. His victories have been part of God’s plan to return the Jewish people from exile in Babylon to the land of their ancestors. While Cyrus did not know Yahweh, the source of all goodness, he was an instrument of God’s salvific plan for history.

In Mathew’s gospel (Mt 22:15-21), the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to entrap Jesus about the census tax of the Roman Empire. If he favors paying it, he will lose the support of the Jewish people. if he opposes it, he will run the risk of antagonizing Caesar’s representatives in Israel. Jesus answers without fear. Those whose lives have been given over to God can love even their enemies. Therefore, to give to Caesar what is of this world is of little concern to Jesus who has given his life in service to the kingdom of God.

Paul (Thess 1:1-5) greets the Thessalonian community, recalling the Holy Spirit’s presence among them through their faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ. He praises them for their witness to other churches through the suffering they have endured for the gospel. In doing so, they have imitated not only Paul, but the risen Christ, whose salvific offer they seek to embrace. 

God acts to create and redeem humanity anew each day in the ongoing flow of history. While God’s salvific plan exceeds our understanding, we are called to participate in it by offering the gifts of our lives on behalf of the common good of all. We may never see the fruit of our labor. Nevertheless, we are instruments in God’s hands, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit help to move this world little by little towards its ultimate end in the fulness of God’s love.

Let us live not just as hearers of God’s word, but as contributors to a new world order that gives to God what is truly of importance to God. In doing so, may our faith in God’s salvific plan for all be proclaimed; may our hope be nourished by the signs we experience of the coming kingdom of God; and let our love extend to all God’s people, regardless of race, religion, color, or sexual orientation.