FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 29, 2020
ISAIAH 63:16B-17,9B; 64:2-7. 1 CORINTHIANS 1:3-9 MARK 13:33-37
We’re beginning this Season of Advent thinking about judgment. In the first reading of the day, the prophet Isaiah describes the sins of the people who have hardened their hearts and wandered away from God. He puts it this way. Speaking for them he says “we have become like unclean people, all our deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” His words give us much to think about. His prophecy invites us to take an honest look at our personal lives and our corporate lives.
Often, when we think of sin, we only think of what we’ve done that offended God. This approach to sin comes from that part of our spiritual lives that’s still in its infancy. Our relationship with God is based on fear of punishment as a child would fear a strict parent.
Sometimes, when we think more deeply about these same sins, we come to the realization that we’re not offending God directly. When we sin, we sin against other people. We hurt them. Sin is the opposite of love. When we sin against another person we sin against love, and so we sin against God who IS love. This isn’t so much an offense as it is a refusal to love. This is a more mature way to think about sin in our lives.
When I make my examination of conscience, I can question myself about the decisions I make concerning my own well-being. Is
everything I do beneficial for me? Do I smoke? Do I drink too much? Am I overweight? Do I care for my health? I can also judge my interactions with others. Am I kind, understanding, compassionate, supportive, loving?
This is a productive way to examine our consciences. However, there’s another element to sin that we rarely acknowledge – corporate sin. It’s as worthy of judgment as any of our sins against ourselves and others. What is corporate sin?
Corporate sin is like a hidden fire that’s smoldering without our being aware of it. Until we personally see flame and are personally threatened by the fire we ignore it.
We need to recognize that we’re citizens of a city, a state, a country, and we’re citizens of the world. We tend to turn our attention away from our corporate responsibility and so we don’t include it in our examination of conscience. Corporate sin is society’s sin. Each of us is part of society and so we can never absolve ourselves from the sins of society.
To the great delight of the evil one – Americans are hating each other almost as much as we did during our Civil War. Hate is the direct opposite of love. This is sin – corporate sin. Here’s another example of corporate sin.
Our government, that’s us, is presently taking children from the arms of their parents, putting them in cages, ignoring their trauma, their terror, their illnesses. Our government hopes that these human sacrifices will teach a
lesson to anyone who want to cross our southern border illegally. Corporate sin deludes us into thinking that this isn’t my sin – it’s the sin of the people running my government. That sin is screaming out to God. My refusal to hear that scream is corporate sin. It’s as much my sin as the person who tears that child away from her parent’s arms.
As we end one liturgical year and begin a new one, I believe it’s most appropriate and important to make a serious examination of conscience on a mature level, and through the lens of our corporate responsibility. It takes tremendous bravery because acknowledging the sin isn’t enough. As the old catechism taught, a sin wasn’t forgiven until I “confessed my sin, did penance, and amended my life.” As a nation we’re not unified enough to even confess our sin. Never mind doing public penance. Never mind amending our corporate life.
Isaiah, speaking God’s message to us, gives us a word of hope in the darkness of our corporate lives. “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O Lord, you are our father. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are the work of your hands.”
Let go! Don’t cling to what can’t heal our sin. Our government, our democratic party, our republican party, our socialist party, our green party isn’t ready to confess, do penance and make amends. The prophecy is telling us our only hope is for each of us to put ourselves in God’s hands – like clay in the hands of a potter. We’re being challenged to trust God. To believe that God is the father of love. To submit to love. To allow ourselves to be molded into a new person, individually and corporately. Let’s lift up Isaiah’s prayer every morning, every noon and every night.
“Lord, you are my father; you are our father. We are the clay; you are the potter. I submit myself to your creative hands. Mold me as you will. Use me to heal the world. Amen.”
- Published in Church Reflections
LAST SUNDAY OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR, November 22, 2020
EZEKIEL 34: 11-12. 1 CORINTHIANS 15: 20-26 MATTHEW 25: 31-46
“The great shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard. The angels tremble. Fear and dread seize them, and they exclaim: The Day of Judgment is here! All created beings pass before You, one by one, like a flock of sheep. As a shepherd examines his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff, so do You cause every living soul to pass before You. “(From a prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)
Jesus uses the imagery of the sheep passing under the shepherd’s crook from this wellknown prayer as the basis of his teaching on the Last Judgment. He paints a picture of “the Son of Man” separating humankind the way a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. The sheep enter eternal life, the goats, eternal punishment.
What’s so interesting about this teaching is Jesus’ criteria for judgment. It isn’t what immediately comes to mind. When I think of the great judgment day, I think of God judging sins like pride, greed, murder, theft, adultery, deception, pride, anger. But Jesus doesn’t go that way at all. Instead he, as judge, intimately links himself to suffering humanity. “I was ill. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger. I was in prison. I was naked. You didn’t care for me. You didn’t feed me. You didn’t give me something to drink. You didn’t welcome me. You didn’t visit me. You didn’t clothe me.”
What he seems to be teaching is that the primary commandment that the human family is expected to adhere to is to care for one another’s basic needs. Maybe he’s saying that what we think of as sins are actually symptoms of a more profound sinfulness humanity’s disregard of the
Jesus presents this commandment that calls us to care for one another in a very personal and intimate way. I was hungry. YOU didn’t give me something to eat. He’s not condemning us for not setting up a welfare state to assure that everyone has enough to eat. He’s commissioning ME and YOU to reach out, to touch the lives of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The welfare systems we’ve constructed are dehumanizing and humiliating. My mother, a teenager during the great depression, told me of the times she wept because her family was forced to beg for food stamps. Is the situation any better today? Our welfare system has no compassion, no humanity, no heart.
On this Feast of Christ the King each of us stands in judgment before Christ. Each of us are being asked the same question. “When I was hungry, did you feed me?” Standing before him and hearing that question, how do you think you’ll be judged?
Whatever the answer may be, hopefully, he’ll give us another chance. Hopefully, he’ll say to us what he said to the adulterous woman he saved from the condemnation of the religious leaders, “Go, and sin no more.”
- Published in Church Reflections
THIRTHY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, November 15, 2020
PROVERBS 31:10-13. 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-6. MATTHEW 25:14-30
The Gospel reading today is the well -known parable of the talents. It tells of a man who was going on a long journey. He divided his possessions among three of his servants. Two of them invested what was given to them and doubled it! They were rewarded for their work; they were given greater responsibilities. The third buried what was entrusted to him. He was punished by being thrown “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The key to our understanding the message of this parable is bound up with our definition of “talent.” Today we see the word “talent” and immediately think of our God-given abilities. It’s OK to interpret the parable that way, but it tends to limit the teaching by focusing it too much on our artistic, mental or physical abilities.
In Jesus’ day a talent was a measure of weight, about 75 of our pounds. Its value depended on what was being weighed, copper, gold or silver. In the parable one servant
Though this parable doesn’t begin with the well -known phrase, “the kingdom of God is like,” it IS a parable about the kingdom. God assesses our abilities and apportions the kingdom of God among us with the expectation that we’ll make our portion grow. It’s interesting that what God gives us needs to be given away if our portion of the kingdom is going to expand and grow.
Here’s another way of putting it. The kingdom is in each one of us. When we pour out our lives for the good of others, the kingdom begins to manifest itself. If we bury the kingdom within us, we’ve not only lost the opportunity to partner with God in transforming the world into the kingdom, the portion of the kingdom that was given to us will stagnate within us. We ourselves will be left outside the kingdom where we will mourn our missed opportunity with “wailing and grinding of teeth.”
PRAYER My Father in heaven I freely offer myself to you as your servant. I pray that I may assist you in transforming this struggling earth of ours into your kingdom of peace and harmony, of compassion and caring, of mutual respect and love. Amen.
- Published in Church Reflections
THIRTHY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, November 8, 2020
WISDOM 6:12-16. 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18 MATTHEW 25:1-13
This time of the year is when we begin to see nature preparing for her winter sleep. It’s also the time when the Church presents us with scriptures that speak to us of death. This Sunday is one of them.
Saint Paul speaks directly to the topic in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” He assures us that, if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, if we enter the paschal mystery with him, we’ll walk with him to glory.
The selection from the book of Wisdom adds an interesting nuance to this Sunday’s reflection on death. Wisdom “is readily perceived by those who love her…and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care.” Wisdom is presented as our hearts’ deep yearning for God. Wisdom is our search for God, our pathway to God and the divine reality itself. Wisdom is the light of hope within us.
The Gospel uses a marriage custom to teach a lesson about death. Newly married couples didn’t go on a honeymoon. Instead they celebrated with their close friends for several days or even a week. The festivities began with the arrival of the bridegroom. At an unscheduled time he and his entourage of friends began a procession through the streets. A drummer usually preceded them announcing his arrival to the entire neighborhood. They were greeted in the street by the bridesmaids who carried oil lamps that lit the street as the procession continued to the house where the bride was waiting. Once the bridegroom entered the house the doors were closed and the celebration began. No one was admitted after that.
In the parable some of the bridesmaids were foolish and didn’t bring extra oil for their lamps. Late into the night the bridegroom finally arrived. The wise bridesmaids jumped up, added oil to their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. The foolish ones, their lamps about to burn out, asked their wiser friends for some of their oil but they refused lest they themselves run out of oil. The foolish bridesmaids had to go to the town to purchase oil. It was too late, though. By the time they returned the bridegroom had arrived and the doors were closed. They missed the wedding celebration.
The moral of the parable is simple. At whatever time the bridegroom might come, each of us must be ready to greet him. We can’t rely on others to make up for our personal lack of preparation. We might state the moral this way: Live every day as if it were your last. But, and this is a serious but, this isn’t the same as, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
For the Christian, being in constant readiness to meet the bridegroom means that we’re prepared to enter the paschal mystery every day and every moment of our lives. This means living in the light of wisdom. This means never fearing to die to my own ego so that I can be more alive for someone else. This is the path of wisdom. This is living the paschal mystery. This is the path to our longed-for glory.
I write this reflection not knowing the outcome of our national election. I know, however, that we have a great deal of work ahead of us, no matter who “wins.” We’ll still have to wear a mask. We’ll still have to struggle with social distancing. We’ll still have to suffer a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone or just with our live-in family. We’ll still be challenged to respond to “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too.” We’ll still have to wrestle with our personal and institutional demons. We’ll still need the light of Wisdom to guide us. We’ll still need to muster all the courage we have to enter the cycle of death and resurrection.
How else can we hope to beat the pandemic? How else can we hope to rebuild our economy? How else can we ever hope to celebrate our equality? How else can we hope to love each other as brothers and sisters, each of us made in the magnificent image and likeness of God? How else can we, as a nation, ever hope to win? How else can we ever hope to become the beloved community? How else can we be light for the world?
- Published in Church Reflections
REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2020
REVELATION 7:2-4, 9-14 1. JOHN 3:1-3 MATTHEW 5:1
Over the past few weeks the Sunday gospels have led me to scrutinize the present state of our nation in the light of the Jesus message. Each week I grappled with the passage on two levels. How does the passage speak to the present situation of our Nation? And then, what could the passage offer as a healing remedy.
I was wondering what this Sunday’s passage was going to offer when I realized that we weren’t going to celebrate the 31st Sunday in Ordinary time. Instead we’re celebrating the Feast of All Saints. My God! Two days before our presidential election two and a half billion Christians throughout the world will be reading a scripture about the universal judgment! Let’s take a look at all three readings for this feast day.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. The great day of judgment is about to begin. The visionary, John, relates that the earth’s inhabitants, from the most powerful king to the lowliest slave, have gone into hiding in dread of that day. Four angels are poised to mete out the judgment when another angel arises from the East. He commands them not to begin until he has put the seal of the living God on the foreheads of the servants of God. (Think back to the scene in the exodus story when the angel of death is about to strike down all the first-born
males in Egypt. Moses seals the lintels of the Jewish homes with the blood of the Passover lamb to protect them from the judgment to come.)
The scene expands. John moves into a description of those gathered around the throne of God. It’s a vision of the great and wonderful day when the reign of God begins. There are 144,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and an uncountable multitude “from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands…These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The poetic beauty of this passage touches me each time I read it. The world, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, has gathered at the foot of God’s throne. They’ve been liberated from the enslaving grasp of the world. This is a vision of the new earth. The reign of God has begun. Its people stand redeemed and sealed with the glory of God’s love.
The second reading from the First Letter of John continues this theme. John declares that God’s love has made each of us children of the one God. He explains that the world, which does not know God, doesn’t recognize that we’re
brothers and sisters, the redeemed offspring of God.
The last scripture is the very well-known Beatitudes. Before I say anything about them I want to re-translate the word “blessed.” The meaning of the nine phrases becomes clearer if we translate “blessed” as “How happy!”
Each Beatitude is presented as a couplet. “How happy are…for they will… The first part announces a human reality or longing. How happy are those who are mourning. How happy are the meek. How happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. How happy are the merciful, and so on. The second part of each Beatitude tells us why we would be so happy.
“For theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…for they will be comforted…for they will inherit the earth. The first line of the couplet is spoken from earth. The second line is spoken from within the light of the kingdom of God.
In each of the Beatitudes earth is linked with heaven. Just as the scene from the Book of Revelation acknowledges “the time of great distress,” our battle against the negative energy of the world, so the Beatitudes acknowledges the longing of the human spirit for a world redeemed of selfishness and ego.
On the Feast of All Saints we celebrate our place in the kingdom of God. But we aren’t just thinking about the future when we will have passed over from this world to the world beyond the veil. Our longing for that redeemed and healed world is the beginning of its manifestation in our day and time. Day by day the children of God confront the distress and darkness of our egocentric world. We’re armed with the powerful vision of the new heaven and the new earth and supported by God’s unconditional love.
This feast day is reminding us not to settle for the world we’ve always known. There’s a new, redeemed world waiting to be born. As long as we feel powerless against the world the way it is today with its injustice, inequality, suffering and violence we strengthen that old energy. Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes is that if we look through the eyes of our souls, we’ll see past the old world of selflessness to the new world energized by love and compassion, caring and selflessness. Today we’re being invited to join forces with the Lamb in redeeming and healing the world.
Two days before our general election the Spirit has put these scriptures before us. The Beatitudes are the M.O. of the Christian. We carry within us the seed of the Kingdom of God. No matter how our elections go we must not forget that. A new world is in our vision – how happy are we.
- Published in Church Reflections