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Reflections on Catholic Faith - June 2008 - Prophets and Scripture: Then and Now!

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June 30, 2008
Prophets Then and Now

Hello and blessings dear hearts. Today’s first reading from the Book of Amos presents many of us with the challenge of Scripture written by and for the people of its times: it seems hard to understand and we may have trouble relating it to our day and time. Yet as Scripture always does – this reading carries a message for us today. In fact all of the Scripture for today is thematic and helpful. Let’s take a look.

Shepherds of early Jewish times were not prominent in society… yet Amos was a shepherd and a prophet during the early to mid 700’s B.C. The book of Amos – written by him (or his disciples) starts with a sweeping indictment of Damascus, Philistia, Tyre and Edom. But his indictment of Israel was most dramatic. He spoke openly and with challenge against injustice and idolatry; he challenged Israel by letting them know that they may expect a Messiah – but because of their behaviors and ways, the Messiah would come in a day of darkness – not of light.

In part, today’s reading from Amos voices outrage at the treatment of the poor (charging usurious interest rates and keeping even their cloaks as guarantee of repayment), and about Jews honoring false gods which exist only in the minds of their worshipers. [I borrow these thoughts from the Catholic Study Bible.]

While the specific writings and words used in Amos may seem as if they are not relevant to us today, we can look at them as in a looking glass from which we can see the same challenges in our times.

And, the Gospel message from Matthew for today is contained in a chapter called the ‘Would Be Followers of Jesus.” When we let jobs, busyness and accumulation of riches become our gods of today… when we virtually ignore the needs of the poor and downtrodden… when we relegate practice of faith to one hour a week… we ought to hear the predictions of Amos about the coming of a Divine Justice.

Amos is exactly related to today’s Gospel – a Gospel that speaks of the modern-day ‘would-be-followers’ of Jesus. Jesus – I will follow you when I can get time… I will follow you in my later years – right now I’m a soccer mom… In today’s Gospel, a ‘would-be’ follower said to Jesus, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

This deacon – the one you are hearing from in these words – is not a prophet. I have no impression that God is sharing any messages with me or through me. But I do have what could be called ‘holy’ or ‘fearful’ premonition. Our times and ways need correction. In Fatima and Medjugorje and other places, Blessed Mother Mary is seemingly speaking to the people of these times. She is telling us that these days -- our days are numbered. There will be recompense.

And while I am hopeful and dependent upon a merciful and loving God, I am fearful if I haven’t shared a call to repentance and conversion with others.

This was the message of John the Baptist. This was the message of Christ when he first began. In Mark’s Gospel – he wrote that the start of Jesus’ Galilean ministry is found in these words of Christ: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ And on Pentecost Day, what were the first words of Peter after his baptism by the Holy Spirit? Repent… yes, repent. And on that very day, 3,000 were baptized and became members of the Church.

How many of us live these words? I hear many who talk about self-created or self-fashioned prayer or faith walk. “Oh I pray… in my own way. Or I don’t practice church-type faith… I have my own faith.” Oh really? And what Jesus would you be modeling your life after? Wasn’t he in the synagogues and preaching and teaching all the time? Wasn’t he with sinners and helping people to repent and to know and love the Father?

Remember that silly saying of some years ago: “Jesus is coming – look busy?” Christianity is not at all like a self-directed IRA… Christianity is a CRA – a ‘Community Repentance Annuity.’ We are called to change our lives and to work with and for the good of the people of God…. And if we do so, we will have no worry about an unexpected appearance of the Messiah. But – I still suggest we look busy… and happily working and waiting. Amen!

Reading 1
Am 2:6-10, 13-16
Thus says the LORD: For three crimes of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke my word; Because they sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak
into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way. Son and father go to the same prostitute, profaning my holy name. Upon garments taken in pledge they recline beside any altar; And the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the house of their god.

Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, who were as tall as the cedars, and as strong as the oak trees. I destroyed their fruit above, and their roots beneath. It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and who led you through the desert for forty years, to occupy the land of the Amorites.

Beware, I will crush you into the ground as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves. Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong man shall not retain his strength; The warrior shall not save his life, nor the bowman stand his ground; The swift of foot shall not escape,
nor the horseman save his life. And the most stouthearted of warriors
shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm
50:16bc-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23

R. (22a) Remember this, you who never think of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, Though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”
R. Remember this, you who never think of God.
“When you see a thief, you keep pace with him, and with adulterers you throw in your lot. To your mouth you give free rein for evil, you harness your tongue to deceit.”
R. Remember this, you who never think of God.
“You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.”
R. Remember this, you who never think of God.
“Consider this, you who forget God, lest I rend you and there be no one to rescue you. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. Remember this, you who never think of God.

Mt 8:18-22
When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other shore. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

June 23, 2008
Vigil of the Nativity of John the Baptist

One of my joys of recent years is meeting some really holy people – people who have inspired me… people whose faith and Gospel-activation has been so magnetic – that my faith is lifted to new heights (at times). I just returned from Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH and I met some very holy, prayerful men (and women).

One of the people that comes to mind is a powerful woman of the Lord… and over a period of a few years, I was able to experience something when it came to John the Baptist… when it came to this solemnity… She would say things that taught me how powerful and profound the plan of God was and is… and how awesome that it included John the Baptist. This woman used to say to me… “Thomas – do you know how awesome it would be to be like John the Baptist? To be one whose whole purpose in life was to proclaim Christ – to prepare people for his coming in their lives? ”

You can’t help be around someone like that that you don’t come to a heightened feeling of how profound St. John the Baptist was… how important his role was in redemption history. In the Liturgy of the Hours (the book we used to call the breviary for priests and religious) – there is an extract from a sermon by St. Augustine. In that sermon for this day – St. Augustine said the Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no celebration for the birth of other fathers in the Church.

But it is most significant that the only two birthdays we celebrate are of John and Jesus. Augustine says, “This day cannot be passed by – we must meditate on it with great depth and profit.” Both Jesus and John the Baptist were born of special circumstances. Jesus was born to a young virgin… John born to a woman too elderly to have children. John comes into history as the boundary between the Old and the New Testaments… John was proclaimed a prophet while still in the womb. Christ comes to initiate the New Testament.

Perhaps nothing speaks to the special-ness – the power of the birth of John the Baptist than that a miracle happens and his father’s tongue and voice are released at the very name of John. Augustine says that the tongue of Zechariah was freed because an important new voice was soon to be heard. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness… make straight the path of the Lord.”

In honor of this solemnity… in honor of St. John – what can we pray for this day? How about if we earnestly pray to become the new for-runners -- modern-day precursors of Christ in society? We can become like John The Baptist in terms of our love and appreciation for the Mass and the Eucharist… we can become convincing missionaries, paving the way for others. Mind you now, John the Baptist wasn’t a namby pamby (make-everyone happy) prophet. Not at all. My former bishop, Charles Chaput says, “God doesn’t need ‘nice’ Christians…. God doesn’t need anonymous Christians, Christians who blend in… Christians who don’t make waves.

We are here to rock the boat.” Archbishop Chaput says we are all appointed as mentors to the next generation of believers. Or, how about the words of C. S. Lewis – “Christianity, if false is of no importance. And if true, it is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

So – if we are not going to eat locusts… if we are not going to preach repentance along the banks of a nearby river… if we are not going to protest at abortion clinics… one area where we can, like John the Baptist, prepare the way for the coming of Christ in others – one way that makes sense is that where we worship… we can lift our voices … we can pray the Lord’s Prayer and take Eucharist with attention, reverence and devotion… we can take the ‘rote’ out of everything we do… We can let people know that Our Savior is at hand… His kingdom come.

And so, I will paraphrase the lady I mentioned earlier: People – you who are sinners and admit it… do you know how awesome it would be to be like John the Baptist? To be one whose whole purpose in life was to proclaim Christ – to prepare people for his coming in their lives?

Can I get an AMEN?

Reading 1
Jer 1:4-10

In the days of King Josiah, the word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD answered me, Say not, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying,

See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.

Responsorial Psalm
71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

R. (6) Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.
For you are my hope, O LORD;
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.

Reading II
1 Pt 1:8-12

Although you have not seen Jesus Christ you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation,
prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it,
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when he testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.

Lk 1:5-17

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.
Once when he was serving
as priest in his division’s turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
John will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn their hearts toward their children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

June 9, 2008

Well – a Monday morning as my wife and I are traveling back from visits to Bedford County Pennsylvania (Dee’s home) and Franciscan University (for the annual, powerful priest and deacon conference and retreat). Even though traveling during the early part of this week, I am able to post this reflection with the help of my tech-angel Sue… may the Lord bless her, her new baby girl, her son and husband… Amen!

And speaking of Sue – I want to share a story which I’m pretty sure she’ll see as she picks up the text for this column and gets it posted on my website. About three weeks ago, I was the deacon of the Mass and I preached on a Sunday. After Mass – I was saying hello and ‘Blessings’ (my joyous trademark greeting for most everyone). I saw a young woman coming towards me to shake hands. She was wearing a maternity top and I put a hand on her shoulder and a hand gently on her stomach and asked if I could bless the baby. She replied, “Sure, my husband is carrying him back there in the line somewhere.” YIKES! The baby had been born about three weeks earlier. I was certain the lady was expecting. I wonder if I’ll ever learn? But please to admit my intentions were proper!

Many Christians want to do the right thing. But it would seem we are confronted with conflict even in the message of Scripture. It would appear that we have two themes running through the readings for today. Do we stand up to evil… or do we offer no resistance? In the aftermath of September 11 th, do we fight?

Or, as Jesus said, “ I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” What do we take literally? And what do we take figuratively?

There is much of this sort of challenge in Holy Scripture. And it is this polarity that has caused so much schism and division in the Church.

Is divorce and remarriage allowed or not? Can we become the kind of believers who can be very close to poisonous snakes and not worry about them? Is Sunday a ‘Holy Day’ of OBLIGATION – or is it a day of rest which may or may not include a visit to the nearest church?

Some may tell us that it is these sorts of questions which lead them to say they will ‘make it up as they go along’ and to heck with all the rules and regulations. What do you say? Do you believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church? All of them? Or do you have a list of ‘the’ teachings that are important…. And another personal list that contains the things that you believe?

I’ve heard it said that there are over 25,000 Christian churches. And because I follow lots of various church news – I can tell you that many Christian faiths are disintegrating as they come to support gay bishops and same-sex marriages and women clergy and the like.

Monday thoughts for us are as follows: We ought to take the ‘long view’ of Scripture… that is, not taking most any singular line of Scripture by itself as a stand-alone truth.

We ought to see the entirety of Scripture – the fullness of Scripture. What does the ‘complete Scripture’ tell us of the teachings of Jesus?

What is found in the history of our Jewish forefathers and the 2,000 teaching and practice of the Church? For example, we Catholics say that the Eucharist – the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is told to us in Scripture – in John’s Gospel in Chapter Six in the Bread of Life Discourse. But it isn’t just in one place. There are many places in the New Testament where the firm understanding of the reality of Christ made-present is understood by the Church. And – this truth is continued in the practices of the early Church… and in the writings of the Church Fathers and in a continuing string of writings and teachings throughout the 2,000 years since Christ spoke of this to his followers. In fact – we read that many of Christ’s followers left him because they couldn’t abide the idea of eating ‘flesh.’ So be it --- they left and Christ didn’t go running after them saying, ‘wait, wait – I didn’t mean it literally.’

The next time you or a loved one come upon some teaching of the Bible that seems hard to take – prayerfully consider researching the topic in good Catholic sources… and talk to your priest or a trusted Catholic friend. Don’t go it alone. And don’t be confused. Pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom. God be with you.

Reading 1
1 Kgs 21:1-16

Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel next to the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden, since it is close by, next to my house. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or, if you prefer, I will give you its value in money.” Naboth answered him, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral heritage.” Ahab went home disturbed and angry at the answer Naboth the Jezreelite had made to him: “I will not give you my ancestral heritage.”

Lying down on his bed, he turned away from food and would not eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and said to him, “Why are you so angry that you will not eat?” He answered her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Sell me your vineyard, or, if you prefer, I will give you a vineyard in exchange.’ But he refused to let me have his vineyard.”

His wife Jezebel said to him, “A fine ruler over Israel you are indeed! Get up. Eat and be cheerful. I will obtain the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and, having sealed them with his seal, sent them to the elders and to the nobles
who lived in the same city with Naboth. This is what she wrote in the letters: “Proclaim a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. Next, get two scoundrels to face him and accuse him of having cursed God and king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

His fellow citizens—the elders and nobles who dwelt in his city— did as Jezebel had ordered them in writing, through the letters she had sent them. They proclaimed a fast and placed Naboth at the head of the people. Two scoundrels came in and confronted him with the accusation, “Naboth has cursed God and king.” And they led him out of the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent the information to Jezebel that Naboth had been stoned to death.

When Jezebel learned that Naboth had been stoned to death,
she said to Ahab, “Go on, take possession of the vineyard
of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you,
because Naboth is not alive, but dead.” On hearing that Naboth was dead, Ahab started off on his way down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Responsorial Psalm
5:2-3ab, 4b-6a, 6b-7

R. (2b) Lord, listen to my groaning.
Hearken to my words, O LORD,
attend to my sighing.
Heed my call for help,
my king and my God!
R. Lord, listen to my groaning.
At dawn I bring my plea expectantly before you.
For you, O God, delight not in wickedness;
no evil man remains with you;
the arrogant may not stand in your sight.
R. Lord, listen to my groaning.
You hate all evildoers.
You destroy all who speak falsehood;
The bloodthirsty and the deceitful
the LORD abhors.
R. Lord, listen to my groaning.

Mt 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, “ An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

© 2006-2009 Deacon Tom Online

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