The Future of “Peace in the Word”

Dear Reader,

Recently I passed the 100 mark for posted blogs. On the one hand, I was happy to reach a milestone with this endeavor. I guess it speaks to consistency and follow-through. On the other hand, these moments make one reflect on the value of the work itself.

I really don’t know how many actual people read this blog. Typically, I average about seven visitors per week, but I don’t know if those are any more than robots. To some degree, it is not that important, since I knew from the beginning my most important audience would be myself. I am trying to find peace in Jesus Christ by reading and contemplating the gospels. The act of writing blogs with those reflections helps me with that spiritual journey. However, the hope of an imagined internet audience who might also be helped by the insights of my work has always been a consideration.

So if I have an audience, I want to thank you for reading and let you know I plan to take a few weeks off to reconsider the future of the blog–a retreat, if you will. The format of writing about the Sunday gospel for over two years now may need to be changed. I have started to sense I am repeating myself and relying too heavily on the influence of Bishop Robert Barron from WordonFire.com ministries. Perhaps it is time  for me to change the frequency or focus (or both) of my blogging. I will stay true to the original concept of simply writing about scriptures and interpreting them in a personally meaningful way. Nevertheless, there are many perspectives and approaches that could be pursued within that concept that I have not previously tried or considered. It is time for my  to pray and think about this.

I will be back in July one way or another. I hope you come back then. In the mean time, feel free to leave comments about suggestions for the direction the blog should take.

Peace be with you all.

A Bookish Catholic

Advertisements

The Gospel for Sunday, June 17th, 2018: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel for June 17th, 2018: “Seed Grows of Itself” and “The Mustard Seed”

Mark 4: 26-34

Reflection: Both Participation and Surrender

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come” (26-29).

Today’s gospel frames an important theme for me personally in Jesus’ brilliant use of analogy and parable. The theme is our role in the bringing to bear the Kingdom of God requires both our participation and surrender.

Each of us has been given unique gifts to spread God’s love to others. The salvation plan invites our participation; therefore, we must discern and use our gifts to serve the mission of uniting God’s creation in love (even our enemies—the kicker). However, it is a usurpation of God’s omnipotence (thus a sin) when we try to control the outcome or fret over if the outcome will happen. We must surrender the outcome to the Lord, having the complete faith we observe in Mary that God’s will shall be done in His time and by His design.

In the above quotation from Mark’s gospel, Jesus says man’s role is to first “scatter seed.” This is using our gifts to serve and witness for the Lord. After that we let those seeds “sprout and grow,” even though we ‘know not how.” We must let God be the creator and lord.

Finally, when the grain is ripe “he”—that is God—“wields the sickle” and brings the “harvest” to bear.

Some are born with a natural gift of faith that all will work out; others, like me, struggle to accept this outcome when they cannot see how. Yet faith is the cornerstone; it is strengthened by every act of using our gifts for good and then following that participation with the act of surrendering the outcome to God.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, June 10th, 2018: Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Gospel for June 10th, 2018: “Blasphemy of the Scribes”

Mark 3: 20-35

Reflection: The Sin of Protecting the Ego

I have in the past simply shared a reflection on the weekly gospel that I feel is more complete and useful than anything I have to offer. Today is another one of those days. Bishop Robert Barron’s daily e-mail reflection exposes the insight that the blasphemy Jesus condemns in Mark’s gospel is, at heart, a sin of protecting the ego. This speaks to me, so I share it with you all in my reflection today.

Bishop Barron (wordonfire.org) writes:

Friends, in today’s Gospel, relatives of Jesus claim that he is mad, and scribes blaspheme him, charging that he is possessed by Beelzebub. You know, in cases like this, the basic problem is always the fearful ego. Ego-addicts know that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you want to protect the ego and its prerogatives, you must oppress and demoralize those around you.

There is a very unsubtle version of this method: you attack, put down, insult, and undermine those around you. This is the method of the bully. But the religious version is much subtler and thus more insidious and dangerous. It takes the Law itself—especially the moral law—and uses it to accuse and oppress. “I know what’s right and wrong; I know what the Church expects of us; and I know that you are not living up to it.”

And so I accuse you; I gossip about you; I remind you of your inadequacy. Mind you, this is not to condemn the legitimate exercise of fraternal correction or the office of preaching. But it’s a reminder to not be sucked into the slavery of ego addiction. We must stay alert to this and avoid it at all costs.

The Gospel for Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

The Gospel for June 3rd, 2018: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

Reflection: The Eternal Truth of the Eucharist

“Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

–Mark 14: 25

After consecrating the bread and wine for His disciples Jesus proclaims He will not drink the fruit of the vine again until the day He drinks it new in the kingdom of God. Mark’s version of the Institution of the Eucharist contains this perplexing line on this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

As I reflect on its meaning, I stand in awe of a holy mystery beyond my intellect. There is something more than surviving in this life. There is something more than meeting the bodily needs of a temporary existence. That something more is eternal life. Eternal life in Jesus is the ultimate reality, which awaits those who believe.

When we partake of the Eucharist, we know this truth and are filled with hope. Time stops just as it did two thousand years ago when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His apostles. The kingdom of God will not be marked by the restrictions of time; it will be new and eternal. The ravages of time—of sin, death, and decay—will be no more.

The feast of Corpus Christi is a day filled with hope and joy. And yet Eucharist is available, every day if we just seek it out. O amazing grace! O merciful God!

The Gospel for Sunday, May 27th, 2018: Trinity Sunday

The Gospel for May 27th, 2018: “The Commissioning of the Disciples”

Matthew 28: 16-20

Reflection: Undivided Unity

O the holy trinity,

Undivided unity;

Holy God,

Mighty God,

God immortal be adored.

–the refrain of the hymn, “O God Almighty Father”

As I write this blog on Sunday morning of the feast of the Holy Trinity, I will admit I went to mass last night. Therefore, my reflection this morning is focused on an insight that occurred to me during its celebration. I was thinking about the Holy Trinity, wondering what I would say in this blog on the way to mass and the chorus of “O God Almighty Father” began to play in my mind from memory. Then as it turned out, this was the closing hymn at our church on this evening. In this coincidence, it was if God was saying to me, “Focus on unity.” And so I will.

The great mystery of the Holy Trinity has much to offer in contemplation and adoration of our creator and how He loves us. But in the end, we must act. The mission always follows worship. What is the mission of the Church? It is to gather God’s people into one body through Jesus Christ—“undivided unity.” The challenge of course is that we are all different and selfish and resist surrendering our lives and gifts to loving others unconditionally. So it is no small thing to act toward unity. Indeed, it requires the love taught and modeled by Jesus and animated by the Holy Spirit. Our own individual wills are never enough. And yet,  it is possible; it is the ultimate  destiny. God, the great gathering force, demonstrates this to us over and over again. He is one God in three persons. Marriage is two becoming one. A family is father, mother, sons, and daughters under one name. The church is one body with many parts.

The message of Trinity Sunday, then, returns us to the mission: Focus on unity. Love thy neighbor. Forgive those who have trespassed against us. Care for the poor. Jesus’ final words to His disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel say the same thing:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (19-20).

 

The Gospel for Sunday, May 20th, 2018: Pentecost Sunday

 

 

The Gospel for May 20th, 2017: Pentecost Sunday

Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Reflection: Many Parts, One Body

On this Pentecost Sunday, I am diverging from my usual approach of focusing specifically on the gospel reading to reflect on the second reading for the daytime mass, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is copied above. Paul’s message of unity through the Holy Spirit is as relevant today as ever. The need for evangelization and ecumenism was as strong then as it is today. Gathering in all of God’s creation under Christ remains the mission. Paul’s insight that we all have been given unique gifts—“spiritual gifts”—to participate in this effort is critical to overcoming the entrenched resistance to loving those who are different from us. We must recognize and appreciate the charisms we are uncomfortable with are necessary to unifying all of God’s people. These differences—the “many parts”—are reflected in the diversity of worship within the Catholic Church and among the many Christian denominations. As long as the focus remains on Christ, this is all to the good. These differences are crucial to the salvation plan.

With Paul’s message in mind, it was a wonderful experience to watch the royal wedding yesterday of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which had a remarkable ecumenical accent and was highlighted by the sermon by American Episcopalian Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry. Bishop Curry’s sermon broadened the message of the highly-watched event by focusing on the unconditional love of Jesus. His gift of preaching, which contrasted tremendously in style and culture with the other presiding clergy, captured the moment, emphasizing this was a transcendent, unifying celebration. Just as the message of Jesus’ disciples was heard and understood by the multi-ethnic and cultural bystanders in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, so too was Bishop Curry’s message as it was watched by millions of viewers around the world. It was a powerful reminder that trusting our gifts to the Holy Spirit to live Christian lives of unconditional love will accomplish the mission of bringing others to Christ. We are not all gifted preachers like Bishop Curry; instead we are called to use the gifts we have to love others as Christ loves us.

The Gospel for Sunday, May 13th, 2018: Ascension Sunday

The Gospel for May 13th, 2018: “The Ascension of Jesus”

Mark 16: 15-20

Reflection: Hope

If the Feast of Jesus’ Ascension is marked today instead of last Thursday, the gospel reading is Mark’s account of that event. Since it is a mystery with which I have frequently struggled, I enjoy this opportunity to reflect on its significance. To begin, the Ascension of Jesus is the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary and is accompanied by the spiritual gift of Hope. This seems like a good place to start.

Why should the fact of Jesus’ ascension give us hope? Hope in a theological or spiritual context is not just naïve optimism or the dream of escape to Heaven from the suffering of this life; it is confidence in the completion of the joining of the perfection of Heaven with the realm of God’s creation, Earth. For an eloquent and clear discussion of this concept, I refer readers to Bishop Barron’s Youtube video called “Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters.” This transformation of our fallen world began when Jesus came into the world and continues with His death and resurrection, His ascension, and His sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This chain of events is God’s salvation plan. The joining of Heaven and Earth in the incarnation of Jesus continues as we are gathered and converted in Him. The divine genius of this plan is that we have been called to participate in this transformation, by loving as Jesus loves. It is a plan that will not fail because God’s love is irresistible. So our hope is a confidence in an eternal life that is no longer marred by sin, death, and decay, but is instead gloriously marked by the perfection of Heaven—not a place, but a state of holiness.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus assures us of that very transformation of our world now that He has come and will send the Holy Spirit to help His Church complete the mission. Notice the description:

“These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (17-18).

These literal images of disciples transforming evil into good and death into life represent all the ways we may love God’s holy perfection into our world and bring about the completion of the Resurrection. In that hope, our sorrow turns to joy. We experience God’s glory now in the moment and recognize all suffering as being purged in the salvation plan. The mistake is to replace this theological virtue with some impoverished notion of hope as an escape from the struggle of this world to a distant reality called Heaven. This is a well-intentioned sham. If we wish for our own escapes, we become selfish and distant from God’s love. If instead we contemplate our faith in Jesus the Savior as the basis of the confidence that God’s love is prevailing and we are both coinheritors and participants in His mission to transform this world, our lives change from lives of “quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said, to meaningful lives of peace and joy.

The confidence of hope assured by Jesus’ ascension is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not a departure of our Lord, but the inauguration of our participation in the joining of Heaven and Earth. Mark’s passage ends with this description:

“But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (20).

To know the confidence of this mission, we need to accept its reality and the need for us to surrender our imagined control over our lives to Christ. It is a move that is the difference between eternal happiness and repeated disappointment and despair.

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, May 6th: 2018: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for May 6th: “The Vine and the Branches,” Part 2

John 15: 9-17

Reflection: Knowing When to Listen Instead of Speaking

This week’s gospel from John continues Jesus’ sermon to the apostles at the last supper as described by John. It is brilliantly simple while infinitely complex. It is divine. The simple message from Jesus is this: “[L]ove one another as I love you.”

And yet, the depth of that statement speaks to an interlocking web of connections that runs through the whole of creation and its relationship to its Creator, God the Father. It is humbling to think about how God loves the world.

When I began writing this blog, that was my main goal–to think about how God loves the world by reflecting on the Sunday gospel. However, I have allowed my ego to creep in frequently in this endeavor. At times, this happened in the pride I have felt in thinking I wrote something really smart and intellectual. At other times, it has been my willfulness in think I had to write something every week because that was my plan.

I am sorry for both giving in to both temptations. This week I listened to Bishop Robert Barron’s homily on today’s reading at wordonfire.org. I honestly don’t think I have anything to add. It is so thoughtful and moving. I think God is speaking through the Bishop, and I just want to share his elegant reflection and get out of the way.

So here it is. I strongly encourage anyone reading this blog to listen to the Bishop’s homily this week on what it means to be loved by Jesus.

Happiness to you all in the coming week,

A Bookish Catholic

The Gospel for Sunday, April 29th, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 29th, 2018: “The Vine and the Branches”

John 15: 1-8

Reflection: What does it means to “remain” in Jesus?

Jesus said to His disciples:

Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
(4-5)

I do not know the original Greek from which it was translated, but Jesus’ repetition of the verb “remain,” as in remain in Him, intrigues me. It is strange word, at once suggesting both action and inaction.

Consider these definitions of ‘remain’ from the online Oxford English Dictionary:

1 Continue to exist, especially after other similar people or things have ceased to do so.

      1.1 Stay in the place that one has been occupying.

      1.2 Continue to possess a particular quality or fulfil a particular role.

2 Be left over or outstanding after others or other parts have been completed, used, or dealt with.

In pondering these two definitions, I think both apply to some degree, especially in the sense that they refer to the time after a significant event or change has occurred. This fits. Jesus is speaking to disciples who have already begun to follow Him. He is speaking to us who are baptized and converted. The fire of the Holy Spirit has been lit in our hearts already. He has already died for our sins and rose in victory over death.

The implication then is that our hearts can change, which of course we know. The freedom to choose sin over eternal life is ever present in this world.

In using ‘remain,’ Jesus is asserting both an active and passive stance of faithfulness. Staying or continuing as 1.1 and 1.2 use, means action is required on our parts in order to remain in Christ. What actions? I think worship, prayer, and works of mercy. It is following His active commandments to love God and others always.  It is not enough to simply say we believe and then act is if our desires and security are all that matters. We must go on the mission we are called to. Given the challenge of that, especially as sinners, more often than that we must repent and return to Christ. Hence, Jesus frequently uses the word ‘repent’ in His teaching. Repentance is turn away from sin back to Christ. It is to seek forgiveness and to forgive as Jesus does. All of that is very active and hard to do.

And yet, there is this almost paradoxical flip side to ‘remain.’ We are already there, like branches on a vine. So on the other hand, the other aspect of remaining in Christ is to surrender to His will, mission, and victory. Thy will, not my will, be done. In that ‘letting go,’ we find a stable peace; we find eternal life and happiness that is purely a gift and does not need to be earned or bought. This passive acceptance animates the active part to love in Christ.

So ‘remain’ is a balancing act, a dance, between loving God and others actively and accepting unconditionally God’s will. Both are needed to ‘remain’ Him. This encompasses our entire life, religious and secular—in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. We can hold nothing back and expect to ‘remain’ in Him. Those who try to tell us otherwise are fooling themselves. The risk is they will become as definition #1 says, those who have “ceased to do.” Rather than joining them on this drift away from Christ was must be an agent of Christ’s mission in the Church and bring them back. Evangelizing and witnessing are the active side of ‘remaining.’ Like the branch on the vine, we will bear fruit then through Him. What an awesome mystery and joy! ‘Remain in Him’–indeed, that is everything.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, April 22nd, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Gospel for April 22nd, 2018: “The Good Shepherd”

John 10: 11-18

Reflection: Bishop Barron on St. Peter’s Pronouncement of Christian Exclusivity

Rather than write my own reflection on this week’s gospel, I prefer to share with readers Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for today on his Word of Fire website about the first reading from Acts (4: 8-12). In this reading, Peter tells his Jewish audience salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. Specifically his proclaims, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (12). The exclusivity of these words is perplexing in light of Christ’s mission to save all.

Bishop Barron’s reading of this passage illuminates the inherent hope in Peter’s words and their consistency with God’s living mission in the world through the Holy Spirit. I invite all readers to listen and reflect on his homily. They are instructive, satisfying, and well worth the time.