Bloom Where You're Planted

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March 24, 2019 – Third Sunday of Lent - Luke 13:1-9

For centuries fig trees were highly valued in the Near East. Their broad branches provided much-needed shade in hot weather and their fruit was highly prized. When ripe, figs had high sugar content, so they offered a rich source of energy for daily life. They could even be baked into bread and preserved for a long time. Wine could also be produced from ripened figs. Everyone in the time of Jesus would pay close attention when he mentioned fig trees. People knew of their importance for survival.

He pointed to the fig tree as an example of something that was intended for the many uses just mentioned. But he added that if a fig tree did not deliver, it was to be cut down. A fruitless fig tree had little value, although some people might have thought that “next year” it would be better. Jesus recommended more decisive action. All of God’s creation has a purpose, he taught, and if anything fails its purpose, immediate action had to be taken.

Jesus used the fig tree as an example of us. We were not created by God to just sit around and do nothing. God has expectations for each one of us.

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Recognizing God

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March 17, 2019 – Second Sunday of Lent - Luke 9:28-36

I live in the shadow of two mountain ranges. So, when the gospel describes an event happening on a mountain top, I can easily picture it in my mind. I also recall earlier biblical mountain-top moments, like when Moses was given the Ten Commandment. You can expect something special to happen when on a mountain-top. Perhaps it’s closer to heaven.

We have heard about the Transfiguration of Jesus many times. It is described to us at least once a year during the Mass readings and it is a common event that has been captured by Christian artists over the centuries. It’s a rather remarkable event, unlike any other in the life of Jesus. Some scholars suggest that it happened in the presence of the closest of the disciples of Jesus because they would be tested later during his passion and death. We might recall that Peter himself, who witnessed the transfiguration, still failed Jesus in those last days.

One feature of the story that I think important is the desire on the part of the disciples who were there to “freeze-frame” the event. It was so wonderful that they wanted it to continue. They desired to create a lasting memorial of the event, like a church or a shrine or some kind of permanent expression of what they experienced.

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What Are You Giving Up?

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March 10, 2019 – First Sunday of Lent - Luke 4:1-13

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and its powerful ritual of receiving ashes on our foreheads. While not an official Holy Day, it is one of the most-attended Catholic masses of the year. I even know non-Catholics who attend Catholic Mass that day to receive ashes. And what’s the message of Ash Wednesday? We are made from dust, and in a sense, we will return to dust. Of course, the focus is on the bodily aspect of our existence. In spirit we are created by God to live forever. Still, Ash Wednesday is a good reminder that we are not the source of our lives. God is.

Most of us are “seasonally aware” of Lent more than any other season of the Church’s year. For some this awareness began when we were children and were directed to “give up” one thing or another during Lent. For me, this meant no candy. I had a very sweet tooth.

As the weeks passed, I accumulated candy (I don’t recall how) and stored it in a container on a kitchen shelf. When Lent ended, I quickly collected my stash and consumed it all at once, which resulted in my developing my biggest sugar-high of the year. What this all had to do with being a good person or a devoted Catholic is not easily shown. All that I recall is that I was conscious through Lent of how many more days I had to wait until …

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Witness to Truth

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March 3, 2019 – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:39-45

Recently I was having a routine medical exam that involved an analysis of my blood. Before sharing the results of the test with me, my physician asked me if I wanted to really know the results. I was a bit taken back by her inquiry, so I asked her why she asked me. She smiled and said that some patients seem to prefer good news to truthful news. Especially when it involved themselves and their health.

Her insight into human nature came to my mind in reading today’s gospel. Jesus is teaching his followers (us) about honest communication. Full communication, he noted, includes being honest with oneself. He uses that great image of the log and the splinter. We tend to clearly see the tiny splinter in our neighbor’s eye but fail to see the giant log (or beam) in our own. Honesty with oneself can be challenging. Especially if we have something we would rather hide.

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Our Best Efforts

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February 24, 2019 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:27-38

In today’s gospel we find the well-known Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do unto you.” And it also contains some rather difficult challenges. Here are a few of them: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. Lend to others whatever they ask and expect nothing in return. Don’t judge and don’t condemn others. Forgive everyone. No exceptions.

Taken together, these demands are among the most difficult of Jesus. Some would say they are impossible to enact. But wait. More must be said because in no way should they be dismissed, or worse, ignored. That’s because Jesus said that’s the way God is. Our God is absolutely kind to all and more merciful than we can imagine.

But you may say that we are not God, and that is so true. Nevertheless, we’re called to be like God as much as we can. Which we can never do perfectly. However, we can move in that direction. We can seek “perfection,” knowing full well that we will never fully achieve it. And God does not expect us to be “perfect.” But God does hope that we will try!

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Jesus' Action Plan

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February 17, 2019 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 6:17, 20-26

In the air these days in the United States is talk about potential candidates for the next presidential election. All candidates ask themselves how they might best address the American People. What can they say to gain the most votes? They want a popular message, one that will stir the hearts and minds of voters, especially those who vote more for the candidate than for a political party. The so-called “independents.”

Today’s gospel summarizes the “campaign” message of Jesus. He lists a series of positives that he will help create in our world. Read in that light, how would you judge the possibilities of his success?

He begins by affirming three planks in his platform: (1) Further lack of resources for the poor, (2) continued hunger for those not having enough to eat, and (3) more sadness for those who are mourning the difficulties of their lives.

Wait a second, you say. That kind of political platform will get no votes. He’d better change his approach if he wants to be popular. But there’s the catch: Jesus is not after popularity. He’s about offering to his listeners, then and now, directions on how you, your family and friends, really anyone, can enter and live more fully in God’s kingdom.

 

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God of Surprises

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February 10, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 5:1-11

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book about the spiritual life called, The God of Surprises. Reading this work reminded me of a couple of important things that I tend to forget. First, I am not fully in change of my life. God is. And second, I may well be surprised what God has planned for me. It might often be more challenging, more demanding, and more wonderful than anything I might have expected.

This element of surprise is manifest in the narrative presented in today’s gospel. It is sometimes called “The Great Catch.” It describes a time when Jesus told Peter and his fishing crew to head out for the deeper waters. Then he told them to drop their nets, and let’s see what happens. It turned out that a whole lot of fish suddenly filled their nets. So many, in fact, that they had to call for another boat to help them bring in their haul. Peter and his fishing buddies were really surprised.

Having had such a great catch that day, Peter couldn’t wait to get out on the water the next day. Fishing was his business. It gave him and his family a livelihood. If he could get a similar catch the next day and the next day, well, he would be among those who could boast that they were quite successful fishermen.

Then came another surprise.

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Hard News

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February 3, 2019 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 4:21-30

You have probably heard that the word gospel means “good news.” That might give the impression that everything we read about in the gospels, especially the words of Jesus himself, will be good to hear and read. We will readily accept and agree with all of it. We imagine that the gospel message should not make us feel uneasy or disturb us. It will all be good for us and we will be glad to apply it to our everyday lives.

And it seems that when Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth, that’s what his hearers wanted from Jesus. Just the good stuff. Like they imagined, like what they thought he had said in the nearby town of Capernaum. Tell us what you told them. Do here what you did there. We want to be your followers, too. Lead us to the promised land.

Apparently, Jesus did not fulfill their wishes. That’s because his message was challenging, and at times, quite difficult and demanding. His description of what was “good” likely differed from theirs. We don’t know the details, but we do know that he would say such things as, “Love your neighbor. Do good to those who hate you.” Or “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” So, when he told them what they might not have wanted to hear, they rejected him. Since Jesus failed to deliver the goods they wanted, they turned on him and “drove him out of town.” So much for “home-field advantage!”

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Time to Do Our Part

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January 27, 2019 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Over these first weeks in January, on successive Sundays we have been hearing about various “firsts” in the life of Jesus. His first miracle was described last week at the wedding feast at Cana. The week before we were informed of his first awareness of being loved by God. And this week we hear described his first liturgical act, which happened is home town of Nazareth.

I present here part of the words from Isaiah that Jesus read at the synagogue in Nazareth, a reference to the hoped-for Messiah. According to Isaiah this person would be filled with God’s Spirit and would (1) bring glad tidings to the poor, (2) liberty to captives, (3) sight to the blind and (4) freedom for those who are oppressed. Certainly, all those who heard these words, then and now, would be in favor of all this happening. And they would also be alert to judge whether they were happening.

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Life of the Party

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January 20, 2019 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time -
John 2: 1-11

There might be a bit of humor hidden in today’s gospel. Immediately after mentioning that the disciples of Jesus came to the wedding feast at Cana, the account states that “the wine ran short.” Could that have happened because the disciples of Jesus caused the wine shortage by drinking a little too much? Perhaps.

But let’s move on to matters more significant. For instance, John’s gospel is filled with “signs” indicating the presence of God’s involvement in the life of the world - the establishment of God’s Kingdom. For centuries, the Jews hoped for the beginning of this entrance of God into their history.

From the perspective of John’s Gospel, it began with the coming of the Christ. But how would the reality of God’s Kingdom begin in earnest? With a victorious battle over the Romans? With spectacular heavenly events? With an earthquake or another natural event?

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