Seeds of Growth

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June 17, 2018 –11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 4:26-34

What a great teacher Jesus was! And this is shown in no small way by the way he taught his first listeners (and now us) by using stories and images to help us understand the deep truths that he wanted us to know. We might also think of him as a great poet, one whose “poems” till speak to us today. And this is well illustrated by today’s gospel where he likens the Kingdom of God to the growth process of a mustard seed. Very small at the start and magnificently large and abundant in the end.

I have held mustard seeds in my hand. A diaconate student of mine runs a mustard seed business and one day he brought a small bag full of these remarkable seeds for everyone to inspect. They were indeed tiny and they would, if treated properly, result in becoming a giant bush. We were all impressed as were those who heard Jesus using this image in his teaching.

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Members of the Family

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June 10, 2018 –10th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 3:20-35

Today’s gospel provides us with one of the few appearances of Mary, the mother of Jesus, during his public life. Jesus is teaching near his home town, so it is not surprising that his mother appears on the scene. He is inside and she is outside and he is told of her nearness. His response is not easy to understand. Some have thought of it as a rebuke, a distancing of him from his mother. But I don’t think it is. In fact, I interpret his words as high praise for his mom.

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Receiving Jesus

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June 3, 2018 –The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

Each year the Church creates a Sunday for us to celebrate and reflect on the meaning of the Eucharist. Our gospel reading for our annual meditation is the brief account of the Last Supper from Mark’s gospel. This meal with the Lord might also be called “the First Supper of the New Covenant” established through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is one of those feasts (like Christmas and Easter) that is a bottomless reservoir for our reflection. Here are some ideas for this year’s celebration.

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In the Name of Jesus

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May 27, 2018 – The Most Holy Trinity
Matthew 28:16-20

A common phrase that often occurs in the Bible is that activities of one sort or another are to be done “in the name of ….” In today’s gospel the disciples of Jesus are told to baptize new followers of Jesus “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We all recognize this statement as the “sign of the cross.” Let’s explore what it means to do something “in the name of.”

In the Bible there are countless references to doing something “in the name of God.” When something was done in that way, God’s own presence and power was said to operate. Clearly, using God’s name in that way was not to be taken lightly. One of the Ten Commandments forbids “using God’s name in vain.” At times, faithful Jews would not even mention the name of God because of the great reverence they had for it.

When I was first taught the basics of Catholic faith, we were told that the name, Jesus, was not to be used in inappropriate ways. For example, when accidently hitting one’s thumb with an erratic hammer blow, we were not supposed to say that name.

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Now It Is Your Turn

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May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday - John 20:19-23

It always brings a smile to my face when I read about the appearance of Jesus to his disciples who had locked the door. They were fearful of outsiders. Jesus had been crucified by the authorities. They must have wondered whether they were next.

Suddenly, Jesus was standing there with them inside the locked room! They must have been startled, amazed, a little scared, probably confused and befuddled (such a wonderful word!). Jesus calmly says, “Peace be to you.” They responded, “What?” (I added that.)

Jesus appeared to them because he still had to inform them of a few matters that they might not have grasped before his death. Or, at least not the full implications of what they needed to know. His additional message went something like this.

The work I came to accomplish is not finished. You can think of it as chapter one. You (and those who follow you) are the main characters in chapter two. So, go out to the whole world telling everyone what I have taught you. Tell them about what you experienced with me. Tell them about how much God loves them. Mention the new life I have brought to you: life abundant here and life with God forever. Baptize them into this new life of grace. What I have begun, you are to complete. All of you. Now, get going.

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By Our Side

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May 13, 2018 – Seventh Sunday of Easter - John 17:11-19

Back in the last century, when I was a young lad, I learned in catechism class that there were two spirits that were always at my side. While this was a rather large idea for me to swallow, I did believe it. After all, my teacher was a nun and I believed that all nuns told the truth. Just like we read in today’s gospel reading that Jesus always told the truth.

I was taught that one of those spirits at my side was good (an angel) and the other was bad (a devil). So someone (or something – this was a little unclear for me back then) was drawing me toward doing good acts and someone was pulling me in the other direction. I believed without a doubt that these two forces were part of my life. I still do.

Pope Francis recently wrote about these forces in a document called “Rejoice and Be Glad.” (It’s available on the Vatican website. It’s free and well worth reading. Our pope has a way of expressing complex ideas in clear language and images.) As is his custom, he reminded us to remain joyful in our struggles with good and evil. God remains close to us and God’s help is always available to us.

 

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Unfailing Love

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May 6, 2018 – Sixth Sunday of Easter- John 15:9-17

Quiz: It is insured for over $800,000,000. It is the best known and the most valuable painting in the world. Years ago, I stood in line for over three hours to walk by it as it was on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I could look at it for all of five seconds. It had been briefly loaned to us from its usual display in the Louvre Museum in Paris where it has been hanging for the last 220 years. Can you name this painting? Of course, you can. The Mona Lisa.

Here’s a second question. What is she, the Mona Lisa, thinking about? What was going on in her mind that so mystifies us? What state of mind was Leonardo da Vinci capturing in this incredible portrait? Many have guessed what it might be, but the debate continues. All agree, however, that she not thinking about what’s for dinner. It’s much deeper than that.

In today’ gospel we have something similar being shown to us. Through his words, we are allowed to see into the mind of Jesus. We are given a peak of what Jesus thought about not only when he said these words at the Last Supper, but also what is on his mind and in his heart every day. Even right now, as he exists, risen and living in our midst.

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Growing in the Vineyard of God

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April 29, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:1-8

Jesus was a brilliant communicator. He illustrated his teaching of deep truths using images, symbols and examples that his listeners could understand. Last week, it was sheep and shepherds. The week before the gospel featured broiled fish. This week we find ourselves in a vineyard. His home land was dotted with vineyards. Not like the large commercial vineyards of California and Washington. But much more local. A few vines connected with ordinary homes. They might be called “backyard wineries.” They produced just enough for the family and maybe a few extra containers for neighbors and friends. Still, the vines were precious to those who had them. And they were carefully attended to.

People knew how important it was to care for both vine stock and branches. The substance of the grapes came out of the soil, through the vines and into the branches. Eventually the grapes benefited from this wondrous system of production. All of this needed year-round attention. Nourishing the soil, protecting the vines and pruning the branches could not be overlooked. There was a direct connection between caring for the vines and branches and the wine that would reach the family’s table. This was common knowledge.

When Jesus wanted his listeners to understand and appreciate the vital connection between him and them, what better image to use than the connection between a vine and its branches? No one would say that they didn’t understand his point.

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Learning to Trust God

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April 22, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-18

There are countless artistic renditions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have one framed in my study. It shows Jesus holding a young lamb next to his face. The image is one of tenderness and love. I think of this lamb, safely held touching Jesus, as just having been found. For a time, it was a lost sheep, a fearful sheep, one that had wandered from the flock. We know how Jesus felt about lost sheep. They were to be retrieved. Even at the risk of losing 99 other sheep. The logic of the gospels can confound us. At times, it can seem almost foolish.

In another part of the New Testament we read that the wisdom of the world is not to be equated with the wisdom of God. God’s ways can appear foolish to certain mind-sets. The greatest act of worldly foolishness was Jesus dying on the cross. People who witnessed this act couldn’t believe their eyes.

 

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Fed by Jesus

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April 15, 2018 – Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:35-48

Throughout the gospel we are given many examples of Jesus taking care of others. He cured their illnesses. He drove evil spirits from them. He gave sight to their blindness. He spoke words of God so that they would understand the deep truth of their lives. He even died for them. As later theologians would put it, “He was a man for others.”

In this Sunday’s gospel we come across a delightful example of Jesus asking for and receiving something from others. Specifically, it was from the two disciples with whom he “broke bread” at Emmaus. Luke states that they are back in Jerusalem with the other disciples.

Suddenly Jesus, the Risen One, was also among them. As proof that it was really him in their midst, he told them to look at his wounded hands and feet. He was not a ghost or a spirit. And after they realized it really was him, out of the blue he asked them,” Do you have anything to eat?” He noticed that they had recently baked some fish. Perhaps he could smell the smoke. Perhaps Jesus thought that good smoked fish is always delicious.

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