Piety

Reflection on the readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 608, James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

While going over the readings for this Sunday I started reflecting on piety and how it is interlaced in these readings so I thought I would look deeper into piety.  According to Keith R. Barron piety “…perfects the moral value of religion by engendering within the human person a filial affection for God and a loving regard for all people as fellow children of God.”  Harriet A. Luckman lists some of the attributes of piety as “…to denote a type of tenderness, fidelity, reverend, obedient, commitment and affection for one’s family, religion and state.”  Further she notes  “Piety was made evident by the acts one did to show reverence for God and gain purity of heart.  These actions included fasting and abstinence from food, drink, sexual relations and other bodily pleasures.  They also included almsgiving, the recitation of prayers, and attendance at the liturgy.”  Other acts of piety include visiting pilgrimage sites, special prayers like “Stations of the Cross” family rituals and more.  However, piety can be viewed negatively by those observing the pious.  Barron points out “The formalistic and legalistic observance of the law, however, sometimes encouraged the projection of a mere façade of piety.”

In our first reading this Sunday from the book of Deuteronomy Moses has given the Hebrews the teachings that was given to him by God.  In another translation of this passage these are listed as “statues and ordinances.” He notes these teaching are from wisdom and intelligence and that if the people observed them they will be truly a wise and intelligent people.

In the Gospel Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees and scribes who have observed that Jesus’ disciples do not wash their hands before eating therefore they do not follow the tradition of the elders.  It is interesting that this is not a law but a tradition, yet these religious leaders seek to scrupulously follow all the traditions as well as the teachings and ordinances handed down to Moses by God.  Jesus response is to say that it is not what goes into the body that is profane but what comes out of the body.  These Pharisees and scribes are meticulous about following the outward signs of the law but not the inward signs.  Of particular note is the inability of the poor or low level labors in the fields or fisherman to wash their hands before eating.  

These inward signs are what St. James calls us to follow in the second reading.  He reminds us that it is not enough to be hearers but must be doers of the word.  He reminds the readers that God calls all of us to care for the orphans and widows, a phrase that covers all those in need.

When we practice pious actions such as prayers, visiting pilgrimage sites and, most of all, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist we gain strength to do the works God and St. James call us to do.  As it says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we are called “…to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison.”  These are the highest of all pious actions.

Bibliography

Barron, Keith, O.C.D.S (1993) Piety. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (pp. 741-742) Collegeville, The Liturgical Press

Luckman, Harriet A. (2005) Piety. In The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (pp. 491-492) Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press


						

Choices

Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b, Ephesians 5:21-32, John 6:60-69

When I was stationed in Germany my wife and I became very active with our parish youth group which was called “Choices.”  This name for young people was very appropriate as youth are constantly having to make choices such as what courses to take in school, do I want to go to college or take up a trade, etc.  In our readings for this Sunday making good choices is at the center of our relationship with God and others.

In the first reading Joshua has led the chosen people into the promised land.  He realizes that none of them had lived in Egypt, all they knew was the desert experience.  During the desert journey they experienced God’s saving power as He provided food and water for their journey.  Nevertheless, they knew of the ancient gods Abraham had known in his home country of Ur.  Now they were sharing the land with other people who worshipped other gods.  It would be easy for them to follow either of the gods of their ancestors or the local gods.  Joshua was encouraging them to make a choice, which gods would they follow.  Joshua knew the God he and his family would follow, which gods would the rest of this group follow?  Which gods do we follow?

In the second reading the writer of this epistle is addressing the mystery of the marriage of a man and woman and the marriage of Christ and the church.  For the loving couple he maintains the custom of the time putting the husband in charge, yet the husband must make a choice on how he will relate to his wife.  Will he be a dictator or a loving companion.  The couple must make a choice.  Today we encourage couples to chose the latter but sadly many still abide by the ancient traditional relationship. 

Previous to today’s Gospel reading Jesus had told his disciples  that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  This was hard to take and many found it too difficult and dropped out of his group.  Jesus then explains that his flesh and blood are Spirit and life.  He then asks the Twelve if they would leave.  Peter, speaking for those who were left says that they will stay with him.  They don’t understand him but have faith in him and that he has the words of eternal life.  They made a choice that we often faith.  Do we fully understand what our faith teaches us about God and Jesus?  We must make our choice like Peter in the faith that God will provide us and sent His Son Jesus to show us the way even though we don’t fully understand the way.

We are so often confronted by these same options.  Is it too difficult to follow the teachings of Jesus?  Is it too difficult to follow the God of Spirit and life?  Each day we must make choices on who we will follow.  Like the Israelites moving into a new land with inhabitants who worship different gods, will we remain faithful to the God we read about in the Bible or will we follow the gods of money, addictions, adultery etc.  Often these other gods look so inviting.  Jesus offers us His body and blood to guide us in the decision making.  His body and blood that we receive in each eucharistic celebration gives us strength to make the right decisions.

(c) 2021

What the Broom Tree Teaches Us

Reflection on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, John 6:41-51

In the first reading we learn that Elijah had all but given up his prophetic ministry.  He ran away into the desert and told God that he was a failure and wished to die.  He then laid down to die under a broom tree.  I find the broom tree to be interesting in the  Bible.  When Sarah told Abraham to send her slave girl, Hagar with the boy Ishmael which Abraham had fathered by Hagar, she is sent away into the desert and thinks she and the boy will die so she laid down under a broom tree.  The typical broom tree would provide significant shade in the desert. 

According to Diane Bergant the broom tree “… is common to the wadi, a watercourse that is dry except during rainfalls.  Then it can become a raging torrent.”  Rain only occasionally falls in the desert and quickly sinks into the depths of the barren soil.   Desert plants adapt with specialized vegetation to take advantage of every drop of water.  Some, like the broom tree, grow long tap roots to reach down to water stored in the ground.  

The broom tree can teach us to grow where we are planted, how to withstand the hostile environment we may be in, and to have long roots to tap into what gives it the ability to survive.

The seed that eventually grows into the broom tree does not chose where it will grow.  The wind blows it around until somehow it starts to grow and take root.  However, it seems to only grow in a desert environment.  It grows where it is planted.  When we are born we don’t choose who our parents will be, or where we will live.  Indeed, as we grow up we often stay in the neighborhood where we were born and raised.  Some people, for various reasons, will move to another location, maybe several locations, but most people will find a place and stay there.  Even if we move around we tend to remain in the faith tradition and politics of our parents.  Unlike the broom tree we can choose the environment we want to live in, but we will still be faced with many obstacles just as the broom tree. 

The broom tree has adapted to the environment it grows in.  That environment is hostile to all living things.  It is hot, dry, windy and not fit for just about anything.  Yet the broom tree, like a few other plants, have learned how to exist and even grow in the environment.  I suspect many broom tree seeds never make it into a tree, but those that do grow and provide a great deal of shade for the desert animals and the few humans that meander by.  After a good rain the tree will even produce a very attractive flower.  Often, those of us of faith, find ourselves in a very hostile environment.  People scorn us for the beliefs we hold and for the moral ethics we adhere to.  Like the broom tree we need to maintain faith in our beliefs in the midst of very hostile environments.  In this Sunday’s second reading St. Paul is encouraging the readers to remain imitators of Christ by doing away with all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling among many other things.  Our spiritual tap root needs to reach deeply into the faith that is contrary to these examples of bad behavior.  In this way our faith will grow stronger and we will resist all assaults on our faith.

To survive the broom tree has long roots that reach down to where it often finds water.  For us to survive in the hostile environment we live in, we too, must have deep roots into our faith.  The deeper our roots the easier it is to confront the hostile winds that we experience in our faith lives.

It is ironic that Elijah has come to the end of his tap root and is ready to give and sits under a tree that persevere through drought, wind, sand storms and more.  Elijah, and us, need to be encouraged to become like the broom tree and flourish in the social and political desert we live in.

Confronting Change

Reflection on the readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15, Ephesians 4:17, 20-24, John 6:24-35

“Look, I am doing something new,..”  Isaiah 43:19

In our readings for this Sunday we are called to reflect on three cases of change and the reaction to change.  In the first reading the Israelites find themselves in a new location.  In the second reading St. Paul calls on those listening to the reading to put on their new selves, and in the Gospel Jesus is calling the people to look beyond the bread and see what it is pointing to.

In the first reading the Israelites had prayed to God to be freed from the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians.  God heard their plea and sent Moses to lead them out of slavery.  The trip out of slavery was not without drama as the Egyptian army caught up the Israelites at the Reed Sea but the hand of God drowned the Egyptians and the Israelites were able to go free.  But after the crises were dealt with they then realized they were in a desert with little water nor much food.  What were they going to do?

In the second reading the writer of the letter to the Ephesians realizes the people he is writing to have become Christians but still live in the pagan world where morals were not what Jesus would have expected.  As they changed to become Christians they would have to deal with relations with people with very different beliefs and loyalties.

In the Gospel last week Jesus fed the people with bread, in today’s reading they are following him hoping for more.  The feeding was a sign pointing to something bigger.  Jesus offers them himself as the bread of life.  They are clearly having trouble understanding what this means.  Here the bread of life is from the wisdom tradition and points to living a moral life along the teachings that Jesus and the the Israelite prophets had taught.  They will have to change how they will live their lives.

At baptism, although most people are baptized as infants, the baptized are changed into followers of Jesus and the Christian way of living.  We all live in a world that often lives contrary to those teachings and we are constantly tempted to do what is easy, to follow the crowd and not Jesus.  As we reflect on this we should reflect on whether we are following the way of the Lord or the way of the crowd.

What Are We Holding Onto?

On July 22 we celebrated the Feast of Mary Magdalen.  The readings for this Mass are interesting and somewhat perplexing.  One choice for the first reading is from the “Song of Song.”  In this reading the woman is searching for her lover.  Many scholars have wondered why the Rabbis chose this reading to be in the Old Testament canon as it doesn’t even mention God.  To me this leaves the meaning of the reading up to the reader.  In my mind the woman is us and we are searching for our lover, that is the true love of the universe, God.  She finds her lover, have we?

The Gospel reading is from John and it has one line that I find worth pondering.  When Mary realizes it is Jesus and that he is alive, Jesus says to her “Do not hold on to me…”  I have looked up this line in the commentary by several biblical scholars and they note that they can not determine a precise meaning for this line.  Once again, I will argue, the meaning is left up to the reader.

In that case I will share my thoughts on this particular statement.  For his whole ministry the disciples, which includes Mary, have depended on Jesus for everything.  He led them, he taught them, he sent them forth to cast out demons and to spread the good news.  But he is going to ascend and won’t be nearby to tell them what to do.  Mary and all the disciples will be on their own.  In that process there is a potential draw back.  If they focus all their attention on Jesus they will miss his instructions to go into the world and spread the good news.  We see them doing this especially after Pentecost where they receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered to go forth and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison (cf. Matthew 25:35-36)

In our modern world we do have to make a choice.  We can hold onto Jesus by putting worship, liturgy, prayer as the focus of our ministry or we can do what Jesus called us to do.  Pope Francis highlighted this in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” when he wrote:

“At the same time, the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization.  As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a calling of fervor.” (78)

In the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” we read:

“The Eucharist is the’ source and summit of the Christian life.’  ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (1324)

Through the Eucharist we do hold onto Jesus, yet by consuming Jesus we pray to be consumed by him, to be strengthened in our efforts in ministry.  The Eucharist gives us the strength to go into the world we live in and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.  By going into the world we search for God and we find God in the poor, the outcasts, the disabled, these are the ones we are called to love.

(c) 2021

Walls

Reflection on the readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34

In the Letter to the Ephesians the writer states:

 “For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two.”

The key issue is breaking down the walls that divide.  This was probably a reference to several walls.  In the temple in Jerusalem the inner court was reserved for Jewish men.  The next court was for Jewish women and the outer court was for gentiles.  In this passage the indication that by making all people equal whether male or female, or Jew or gentile he broke down these walls.  There is also the reference to breaking down walls created by the law.  Specifically that Jews were not to eat with gentiles.  According to St. Paul Christ broke down that wall as well.

We are called to break down walls and we have so many walls in our lives.  Racism, language, economic status, education and more.  As we relate to people different from us do we these walls to come between us or do we break down those walls?  Jesus is clearly calling us to break down those walls.

Prophets and Prophesy

Reflection on the readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 2:2-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Mark 6:1-6

In our readings for this Sunday the focus is on Prophets and the hard life of a prophet.  In the first reading Ezekiel is called by God to be a prophet, in the Gospel Jesus who is a prophet is not honored in his home town, while in the second reading Paul has to defend his qualifications to speak for Jesus and God.  So, who are the prophets and what are the words they speak.

John Donahue wrote that “The term (prophet) comes from the Greek, prophetes—literally, one who speaks ‘on behalf of.’  A prophet speaks on behalf of God, as God’s messenger and on behalf of those who have no one to speak for them, giving a voice to the voiceless (for example, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger in the land).”

True prophets arise during times of social upheaval, whether economic, political or religious and the prophet spoke on behalf of God.  The prophetic word railed against the religious society of Israel which was failing to abide by the covenant that God had made with the Israelites.  Specifically it listed failure to care for the poor, for corruption among leaders and even sometimes delving into political relations with other countries.  The prophetic word was always relevant to the historical moment of proclamation.  Because the prophet openly criticized the political and religious leadership of the time he faced misunderstanding, rejection, persecution and even death.

So what kind of person would want to become a prophet?  In his book “The Prophets” Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the prophet as one who speaks for widows, orphans, against corruption and on affairs in the market place, he takes us to slums.  He is the voice of God and speaks  for the plundered poor.  His is an iconoclast who challenges the apparently holy, revered and awesome, the cherished beliefs and certainties. It can be safely said that the true prophet spoke for those without a voice.  He had to be a persistent thorn in the side of the political and religious leaders who were oppressing the poor. 

The Catholic Church believes that John the Baptist was the last true prophet, yet I argue there have been many men and women since the time of John who have spoken what one might call prophetic words, and many of them were women.  In many ways Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, Thomas More, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa of Kolkata  and more spoke prophetically against the leaders of their times who were not focused on serving God.  In our modern time people like Daniel Berrigan and Martin Luther King Jr. even Pope Francis have spoken out against injustice, lack of care for the poor and more. 

As this weekend we are celebrating the Declaration of Independence  we might discern some prophetic words in this document.  Notably the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At our baptism we were all anointed as “priest, prophet and king.”  As we celebrate our independence let us reflect on our prophetic vocation and ask if our society, country, culture is what God called us to be?  How are we dealing with such things as racism, financial inequality, corruption, the environment and more.  Are we responding to God’s call, and the prophetic words in the Declaration of Independence, the call for the unalienable Rights for all people?

Bibliography:

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Prophets,  (1962) Peabody Massachusetts. Hendrickson Publishers.

Cook, Joan S.C. (2006) Hear, O Heavens and Listen, O Earth. Collegeville, Minnesota.  Liturgical Press.

Donahue, John R. S.J. (2004) Hearing the Word of God Reflections on the Sunday Readings Year B.  Collegeville, Minnesota.  Liturgical Press

© 2021

Crossings

Reflection on the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Job 38:1, 8-11, 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, Mark 4:35-41

In the Gospel Jesus told his disciples to go to the other side of the lake also known as the Sea of Galilee.  He asked them to leave their side of the lake which is linguistically, culturally and religiously familiar to them.  On the other side of the lake were foreigners, that is gentiles or Greeks.  The disciples didn’t know much about them.  Many of the disciples were fisherman who had fished the lake for years. I wonder if they had ever crossed to the other side of the lake.

Then as they crossed the lake a storm came up and threatened their lives.  Strangely, Jesus slept through most of the storm.  The disciples were in fear of their lives and turned to Jesus.  Jesus calmed the wind and storm then asked the disciples why they didn’t have faith.  The disciples understanding of Jesus crossed to a new sense of who he was and His relationship with God.

In the book of Job we have a man for whom everything was good.  He had many children, he was wealthy and had good health.  In the afflictions God allowed Satan to affect upon him he crossed to the other side.  He found about a life of poverty, loneliness and pain.  He had to learn how to deal with suffering.

In the second reading Paul is writing to a community that crossed from either an Orthodox Jewish community or a pagan community to follow Jesus.  In their case getting to the other side meant changing the way they saw things, how they should relate to each other and how they should behave.  They crossed to a new life.

Jesus calls all of us to cross from our lives where we are comfortable to a place that is new and different.  Let us cross over and meet people of different racial backgrounds ethnicities or language.  Let us cross over to meet with the poor, the hungry, those in prison.  Jesus calls us to spend time with them and understand them and welcome them into our communities.

(c) 2021

Holy Covenant

This Sunday we celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  The readings are Exodus 24:3-8, Hebrews 9:11-15, and Mark 14:12-16, 22-26.  Because the focus of the celebration is on the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, a foundational dogma of the Roman Catholic Church it is easy to overlook a very important aspects of the readings and that is the role of Covenant in all three readings.

According to the New Dictionary of Theology “A covenant is a binding agreement or bond between two parties.”  The first covenant that was made by God was with Abraham.  In that covenant the demands made by God were that the Israelites should believe in God, to walk before God and to be perfect.  The sign of the covenant would be circumcision.  In the reading from Exodus that we read today, Moses relates that God had established a new covenant.  In this covenant the Israelites were to abide by all the ordinances of the Lord.  In Fr. John Donahue’s words “The Sinai covenant recalls God’s rescue of the people from slavery (Exod 19:4-6), and the people respond by committing themselves to God’s Torah or way of acting as a grateful and liberated people.”  This covenant was sealed with the blood of sacrificial animals which Moses splashed on the altar he built for God and on the people.  This covenant was just between God and the Hebrew people.

In the Gospel we read one of the final discourses Jesus had with His disciples before He was arrested, tried, convicted and shed his blood.  In this reading he established a new covenant.  In establishing the covenant he offered His body and His blood to seal the new covenant between God and all people.  In the words of Diane Bergant:

“In the final verse of this reading, the author continues the a fortiori argument, insisting that as noble as the first covenant may have been, it was not able to accomplish the deliverance from sin that Christ’s sacrifice achieved.  The connection between sacrifice and covenant is then underscored.  Since some kind of sacrifice is the foundation of any covenant, the action of Christ not only atones for sin but also inaugurates a new covenant, one that promise an eternal inheritance.”

The new Covenant is for all people, not any one or more groups and it includes salvation, redemption and eternal life.  But it also reminds those of us to proclaim, like the people in the first reading, “…will do everything that the Lord told us.”  Jesus reminds us that to be His followers will not be easy and may well require sacrifice on our part to maintain our commitment to this new Covenant.

In the Gospel of John 6:57 we read “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.”  Therefore each time we come forward at Mass to receive the Body and Blood of Christ we are reaffirming our commitment to the new Covenant established by Jesus at His last supper.

(c) 2021

Memorial Day Reflection

Servant of God Emil Kapaun

Chaplain (1916–1951)

Army chaplain Emil Kapaun, a priest from Wichita, Kansas, shipped out to Korea in July 1950, soon after the outbreak of war, along with the Eighth Cavalry Division, Third Battalion. From the moment he arrived he shared every danger with the troops, often rescuing wounded soldiers under fire and taking his turn digging latrines.

On November 2 the Eighth Cavalry was overrun by Chinese troops near the Yalu River. As they fought their way into retreat, Kapaun and an army doctor volunteered to remain behind with the wounded, allowing themselves to be captured. At great risk, he intervened when their captors prepared to execute the prisoners. Instead they were marched eighty-seven miles to a North Korean prison camp.

In the camp the prisoners endured freezing cold, subsisting on starvation rations. Kapaun devoted himself to raising morale. He was also adept at scrounging or stealing contraband—serving up hot water with a few beans or grains of millet, likely saved from his own rations, and calling out, “Hot coffee!”

Much of his time was spent ministering to the sick and dying. Eventually Chaplain Kapaun, skeletally thin, his feet frozen, suffering from dysentery and pneumonia, was among them. Sometime in May 1951 the guards carried him to an empty shelter called “the hospital,” where he died on May 23.

In 1993 his cause for canonization was accepted by the Vatican. In 2013 Kapaun, the most decorated chaplain in U.S. history, received the Medal of Honor.

“Oh God, we ask of thee to give us the courage to be ever faithful.”

Copied from the May issue of “Give Us This Day.”