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Monday, February 16, 2015

15 February 2015 -- Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading:
Leviticus 13-:1-2, 45-46
Second Reading:
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Today's first reading from Leviticus sets the stage for today's gospel. It introduces us to what would be better translated as a “scale disease.” Scale disease includes a variety of conditions where the skin becomes scaly, for example, psoriasis. It is not the disease we know as leprosy today. Unlike leprosy, full recovery from scale diseases was possible. Still, Leviticus says one suffering from scale disease must live alone, separated from the community— and is unclean.

Today's Gospel tells us that Jesus ignores the cleanliness laws, takes pity on the man with scale disease, and touches him—and cures him. Jesus shows his respect for the Law by sending the healed man to the priest but he is also stepping on the priests' toes. According to the Law, by touching the man, Jesus renders himself ritually unclean yet he has the audacity to heal an unclean person “without a licence” so to speak.1

Jesus knew his actions would put him in disfavour with the religious authorities. But he also knew that by healing this man's physical affliction, he was also healing the man's isolation and estrangement from his family and community. Because of the man's overwhelming happiness at being cured and re-integrated into his community, he cannot help but spread the good news.

After curing the man, Jesus told him not to tell anyone. This literary and theological motif, found throughout Mark's Gospel, is called, “the messianic secret.” To grasp why the Gospel writer may have used this device, we have to understand that the Jews of that time thought the Messiah would be a political and military hero, who would free Israel from the Romans. But Jesus didn't come to free the Jews from the Romans but to teach people then and now how to live in right relationships.

By writing that Jesus asks others to keep quiet, Mark may have sought to convey Jesus' desire to teach people not to expect a military or political leader, but a spiritual one.2 Also Mark was writing to and for his Christian community. This motif could be used to counteract the glory-seeking members of his community. By using the "messianic secret" motif, Mark says in effect: "Do not concentrate on the glory and the power; remember rather the serving, the suffering and the dying of our Messiah; and remember that this serving, suffering and dying is God's way for us as well.”3

In the second reading, Paul tells us in effect, that we are to imitate Christ. Paul is advising us that we are not to cause harm to any person because of their ethnicity or religion; that we, like Christ, are to be of service to others. Like Jesus in today's gospel, we do this not for our own self-aggrandizement but so that we contribute to the well-being of others.

As followers of Christ, we will experience our own crosses but, if we are willing, our triune God always wills to make us whole. We imitate Jesus when we contribute to global wellness. Our responsibility is to spread the good news, not so much by our words, but in the way we live our lives; by our 'way of being' in the world. Whether we seek wholeness for ourselves or for another, our reward is community in the physical sense and in the spiritual sense. These are the thoughts I gleaned from today's readings.

Please reflect a moment, then, please share your thoughts?

1Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2010, p. 210.
3Martin, Raymond. 1984. "The messianic secret in Mark." Currents In Theology And Mission 11, no. 6: 350-352.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 1, 2015


First Reading:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Second Reading:
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

There have been many misunderstandings of today's second reading. These have had detrimental ecclesial and cultural effects. These were felt most profoundly in Roman Catholic cultures and circles. Things are changing now mainly because of the abuse scandals but traditionally in these cultures, people who took a vow of celibacy were seen to be closer to God or more holy than those who chose marriage or the un-vowed single life.

Not all adverse effect are as well known as the abuse scandals. For example, when I lived in Ottawa, I knew three nuns who where in the psychiatric ward at the Ottawa General Hospital. Only one of them actually had a mental illness. The other two were hospitalized for the crippling anxiety each experienced when she realized that serving God as a nun was not her true calling. They had chosen to take vows because each had been pressured by her parents and religious advisers.

Conversely, among some none mainstream Protestant denominations, marriage is so much the ideal, that unmarried adults are viewed negatively. For example, when the long-term marriages of two of my female friends came to an end, one by separation, the other by the death of her husband, they began to experience exclusion from the activities of their respective churches. Instead of standing by these women, at a time when they needed community most, they were abandoned.

Today's second reading does not say one state of life is better than another. It is saying is that one state of life is better for some people than the other. For Paul, each state is uniformly negative if it causes us anxiety or distracts us from God, “whether anxiety about things of the Lord or anxiety about things of the world.”1

Why is anxiety such a bad thing? Richard Rohr provides an answer. He states, “The opposite of faith, according to a number of Jesus’ statements is anxiety. If you are fear-based and “worried about many things,” as he says in Luke 10:41, you don’t have faith in a Biblical sense. Faith is to be able to trust that God is good, involved, and on your side.”2

Today, our church seems to have forgotten its own teaching, that there are three vocations or states of life to which God may call us: the single life, married live, religious life. The single and married states don't receive much recognition or celebration from the church. For example, formerly, when priesthood or religious life was meant, it was referred to as “religious vocation” or “vocation to the religious life.”. Now, the word vocation refers exclusively to the priesthood or religious life. Paul is reminding us that there is more than one form of vocation. In particular, Paul is reminding us that the single life, as the examples I mentioned above illustrates, makes some people anxious and distracted while marriage makes others anxious and distracted. Each Christian must decide for herself or himself.

To make things even more confusing, one can successfully have a life that includes both the married and the single. St. Marguerite d'Youville, who by age 30 suffered the loss of her husband and four of her six children, is the foundress of the Grey Nuns. St. Elizabeth Seton began life as an Episcopalian (Anglican). She was 29, a widow and the mother of five children, when she converted to Catholicism. Four years later she founded the Sisters of Charity.

Paul reminds us no matter what our station in life, it should not be a cause of anxiety or distract us from God. Supporting and caring for one's spouse, family and the health of the world is not a distraction from God but doing the work of God. Whatever our vocation, it is a gift from God. Ideally, spouses support and comfort each other and grow together towards God with the love and support of their families, friends and communities. People who have chosen the single or religious life grow towards God, not as isolated entities but also with the love and support of their families, friends and communities. No vocation is superior to the other. We are all needed to bring about the Beloved Community.

Reflect for a moment, then please share your thoughts on vocation?
1Balch, David L. "1 Cor 7:32-35 and Stoic debates about marriage, anxiety, and distraction." Journal Of Biblical Literature 102, no. 3 (September 1, 1983): 429-439, p. 435
2Rohr, Richard, and John Feister. Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1996. p. 118


World Day of Migrants and Refugees

18 January 2015
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading:
1 Samuel 3.3b-10, 19
Second Reading:
1 Corinthians 6.13c-15a, 17-10
John 1:35-42

Today is the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Today's readings are about “Call and Conduct.” The first reading is about hearing, recognizing and listening to God's voice. In the part of today's passage from 1 Samuel, Chapter 3, that the lectionary left out. God tells Samuel that he is going to punish his mentor Eli and his family because Eli failed to stop his sons from their blasphemous behaviour. In the morning, Eli asks Samuel to be truthful and tell him what God said. Samuel has to decide whether or not to speak God's truth to Eli, the priest who is mentoring him. What the lectionary left out is about the integrity and courage to speak truth to power.

In the second reading, once again, the lectionary omits a crucial part of the passage. Verses 15 in its entirety and the omitted verse 16, state, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, 'The two shall be one flesh.'” The Greek word πορνείᾳ (porneia), is translated as fornication or immorality. It is related to the Greek word πόρνη (porné), which means prostitute, which can also be defined as, “one who sells one's abilities, talent, or name for an unworthy purpose or one who has compromised principles for personal gain.” So I suggest that instead of fornication, it should be read as prostitution. If we think of prostitution and prostitute, metaphorically, in terms of immoral or unethical employment or use, we can imagine that Paul is saying that we are not to use others nor allow ourselves to be used unethically or immorally. In short, Paul is saying that participating in any way in exploitation is a “a sin against the body”, the “temple of the Holy Spirit.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus calls the first Apostles. One could say, Pope Francis' message for this 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees is Jesus' call for apostles today. The call is universal and contains a mission, one appropriate for our times. The remainder of this homily is from the Pope's message to the world for today.

The mission of the Church, herself a pilgrim in the world and the Mother of all, is thus to love Jesus Christ, to adore and love him, particularly in the poorest and most abandoned; among these are certainly migrants and refugees, who are trying to escape difficult living conditions and dangers of every kind. For this reason, the theme for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees is: Church without frontiers, Mother to all1.

The courage born of faith, hope and love enables us to reduce the distances that separate us from human misery. Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and in exiles, and through them he calls us to share our resources, and occasionally to give up something of our acquired riches. Pope Paul VI spoke of this when he said that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others” (Octogesima Adveniens, 23).

The multicultural character of society today,... encourages the Church to take on new commitments of solidarity, communion and evangelization. Migration movements, in fact, call us to deepen and strengthen the values needed to guarantee peaceful coexistence between persons and cultures. Achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient. This is precisely where the Church contributes to overcoming frontiers and encouraging the “moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2014).

It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries.

Solidarity with migrants and refugees must be accompanied by the courage and creativity necessary to develop, on a world-wide level, a more just and equitable financial and economic order, as well as an increasing commitment to peace, the indispensable condition for all authentic progress.

With the words of Pope Francis in mind, let us ask our God to give us courage like Samuel's, so we can speak truth to power. Let us answer Jesus' call; and conduct our relationships, including economic relationships, as Paul directs, only in ways that treat each and every person, and ourselves, as a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is our call, this is our prayer. Amen!
Please share your thoughts.


Epiphany - 4 January 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Second Reading: Ephesians 3.2-3a.5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2.1-12

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, which is one of the feasts where the readings are the same each year. So, I revisited the meaning of the word “epiphany.” It comes from the ancient Greek word, epiphaneia, which means “manifestation or striking appearance." An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. The term is generally used to describe scientific breakthroughs and religious or philosophical discoveries. However, epiphany can also refer to any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.

After reviewing the meaning of the word epiphany, I looked at the homily starter I gave last year. The same Lectionary omission in the second reading caught my attention again this year. I realized that although epiphanies are often triggered by a new and key piece of information, they can also be triggered by looking at old information with new eyes..

So I looked at the verses that were left out again, they read, “as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.” This time I looked at the “few words” Paul wrote “above”. They were this, “In Christ the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in our God; in Christ you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.” John the Evangelist put it this way, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

What Paul and John are saying in a nutshell is that we are all joined in Christ. Through Christ we dwell in God and God dwells in us. It is through this lens that I looked at today's Gospel. I saw the wise men as examples for us, in that we should follow the heavenly light that leads us to see the holy child, that is, the God-seed that is within each and everyone one of us.

Through this lens, the gifts of the Magi can also be seen as symbols of our Baptism. Baptism reminds us that we die and rise again in Christ. Old Testament references tell us that frankincense was a holy perfume used in the sanctuary; and, that myrrh was used in the anointing of the High Priest. In the New Testament, John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes for the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial. The Wise Men also bring gold. This reminds us that our royal baptismal role is to act according to God's plan, that is as good shepherds rather than oppressors or exploiters. So the gifts of the Magi have baptismal significance, reminding us that we are to be priests, prophets and good shepherds.

The kindom of God is within in us. As priests, prophets and good shepherds in Christ, we are not to fall for the false advertising of modern herods. Rather, we are to nurture the God-seed within us. We are called to return to our core, collectively and individually, by following the direction placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit .

These are my reflections for Epiphany.

Please, take a moment, then share an epiphany experience that you've had over this Christmas season.