Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: September 9, 2018
“Listening and Speaking”
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35: 4-7a
James 2: 1-5
Mark 7: 31-37
When I was in our Franciscan high school seminary, we ended the day with “Night Prayer” together in the chapel. We prayed “Night Prayer” each evening except Saturday night. We could watch TV on Saturday evenings. After we prayed together, some went up to the dormitories; but you could also stay in the chapel for a while longer.
One night I was the last one in the chapel, and I felt in a special moment like I was “being held” by God. I felt embraced, secure, loved in a powerful way. I have experienced some similar moments in prayer during my life: in other prayer moments, especially after my open-heart surgery, in confession, being anointed, and at times talking with my spiritual director.
I hope many of you … if not all of you … have had experiences like this: of God’s closeness to you, of God’s breaking into your lives. We are never the same after this kind of experience. Once we have had a “taste” of God being with us, of God’s loving-kindness, we search for moments like this throughout our lives. We are God’s “little ones” searching and hungering for more of God’s graciousness.
Letter of James
This is why James in his letter this morning tells us not to dismiss the poor in our midst, but to see our own truth in them. Those who are poor and in need depend upon the “kindness of strangers.” Those among us who don’t have all that they need to sustain their lives reach out to us and others humbly. Often when we engage these persons more personally, and we ask them “How are you doing?” They often reply: “I’m blessed.” It is amazing! They depend upon and experience the goodness of others and of God.
One writer says that he has noticed that some who are poor will hold up a sign that says: “Anything helps.” So with us when we are praying to God, we might well be seen as holding up a sign to God that reads “Anything helps!”
Deeper Interdependence with God
This is not that God wants us to be “dependent” upon God’s own Self. In fact, it is the contrary. God wants us to grow ever freer to be ourselves. God wants “mutuality” with us and for his life and grace to flow through us. This takes time. God wants us to freely receive all that is in God’s own heart and so “little by little” we draw closer, and God reveals his own Self to us.
Our Sunday’s Readings Today
This truth is very much affirmed in the readings today from Isaiah and from Mark’s Gospel.
In Isaiah we hear God’s words to God’s beloved people, to us today, that we are God’s own. God is committed to us, to our renewal and fullness of life! God comes to us with vindication, to confirm the good and truthfulness in us that we often don’t recognize or claim as our own; and God comes with recompense to bless us for the generosity of our lives. God does not come with punishment. God wants us to “thrive” and not merely survive in life. God comes to us with healing and tenderness, especially when we are deaf or tongue-tied.
The Gospel Story
Today’s Gospel story also confirms this message to us from God. I love the Gospel of Mark. If you remember it is the first Gospel written, and Mark’s Jesus is very real and human.
The man who is deaf and has a speech impediment does have friends who care about him, and they bring this man to Jesus for healing … just as we bring one another to God for healing also.
Jesus wants to engage this man in a very personal way, and so Jesus takes him away from the crowd. Jesus feels the man’s struggles with communication and his struggles to be a part of his community. Jesus gives the man his full attention. He realizes that one deep way of communicating with him is through “touch,” and so Jesus touches his ears and gathers his own saliva … seen in Jesus’s times as passing along his very spirit and life to the person … and he touches the man’s tongue. Then in a gesture of solidarity with the man, Jesus takes on the posture of prayer with him. Jesus sighs before God. Then, similar to the words of God in Genesis as God brought forth creation with his own words, Jesus says powerfully “Be opened!” “Ephphatha!” This is the very Aramaic word that Jesus spoke back then to the man, and Mark wants us to hear this word and experience Jesus’s power and energy today. And the man is healed!
One other layer to the story that gives us a glimpse of Jesus’s humanity is that Jesus is trying out this healing power that flows through him, and so he says to the man ‘let’s go over here, away from the crowd.’ Much like any of us stepping out in faith, Jesus too is stepping out with vulnerability.
Connection to Our Lives
It is good for us in light of the Scriptures today to ask ‘Where am I deaf?’ and ‘Where am I tongue-tied and cannot speak my truth?’ There may be some insights to gain here regarding my own personal circle of family, friends, work, or community.
But I would also like to invite us to reflect on this as a Church, especially in this present moment.
Are we able to “hear” the trauma and pain of the victims of sexual abuse and their families? Are we able to “hear” the dysfunction in these priests who have abused and the pain in their families also? Are we able to “hear” what needs to be addressed and reformed in us as an institutional Church? Are we willing to give one another the space we need to “speak” our truths honestly and in this way to find our way forward together? Are we willing to “speak” more truthfully about our hopes and dreams for the Church than we have in the past so that we might become an “attractive Church” once again rather than one that repels others.
We need God with us for this. Only God can bring about the healing and transformation that we need. May we pray for this openness to God’s grace for ourselves and for each of us.
One last thought … toward the end of the Gospel story that we heard today, we hear what Mark calls the “Messianic secret.” We hear Jesus ordering the people to not speak about this miracle to others. The people are astonished at the man’s healing, and they are so excited that they want to tell everyone about this miracle.
Jesus knows though that they are only understanding him and his mission on the surface level. They don’t see or understand that at the heart of his mission is the cross: the laying down of his life out of love to free us from all that holds us captive. The people don’t understand yet that his ministry calls for sacrificial love: the willingness to lay down our lives for one another. And so Jesus is basically saying: ‘Wait, go deeper with me. Get to know my heart before you spread the word about me.’
It will take time to grow into the depths of Jesus’s compassion, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and healing power. So we are called to draw ever nearer to Jesus, to God our Creator, and to the Spirit. As we draw nearer to our God then we can grow in God’s own grace, freedom, solidarity, and compassion that overflow in God’s heart. This we need to be about together, especially in this moment as Church.
Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA.
Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: August 19, 2018
“Our Further Journey as a Church”
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9: 1-6
Eph 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58
I have been feeling many different emotions this week following the Grand Jury’s Report here in Pennsylvania … possibly like you yourselves. I have felt sadness and sorrow especially as I read the report about the sexual abuse of our most innocent ones by fellow priests. I have felt shame and anger and confusion especially at the cavalier way some priests have treated children as objects rather than as the precious persons they are.
I have also been listening to others who come here to our retreat house and to others who know me and have written to me. One friend’s words hit home especially. “This is something we need to talk about, Henry.” We must engage these feelings and events together. I know I need all of you, and I am hopeful that together we can find our way through all of this.
I am also aware of the pain of those family members who have a loved one who has been abused. I know that sometimes because of this pain … one person called it a “deep hole” inside and another said it is really like “soul murder” … the person abused may go to something like alcohol, and this effects the person’s family and the next generation. There are many persons and much to be attended to here. We need accountability, transparency, protection for the innocent, and new life.
A Further Journey
If you remember last week when I was sharing with you about our Franciscan weekend retreat, and how we were speaking about the “two-halves of life.” Each of us early in our lives is very much caught up in the “doings” of our lives in terms of finding our vocations and building a career, discovering our affective energies and how we will express them in our commitments, and laying the foundations for a home and a secure future.
Then there is a moment usually when we want to go “deeper” into the meaning of our lives. We want to grow closer to our loved ones and to God. We want to go on the “further journey” of discovering our “true selves” and living more “whole-heartedly” with God’s grace. This takes some letting go of parts of our earlier lives and risking to go forward with the “wisdom” we have learned into our fuller identities … using our talents for greater creativity and connection.
I believe we are facing a moment like this as a Church. This may happen at various times as we grow together as God’s family. We are being called and thrust into our “further journey” as a community of sisters and brothers in faith.
Watch Out for Shame and Blame
It is important here to not fall into shame or blame. In my 38 years of being a priest, one thing that I have come to believe deeply is that our God is never about shame. Shame is not of God or from God. I admit that I felt some shame this week. As I came to our chapel to celebrate our weekday Masses, I felt tentative. I am a priest like these other priests who have committed these crimes and sins, and I wondered how people would respond to me.
God can and does work with “guilt” so that we can repent and change our lives, but our God does not want us to go into shame where we feel “I am not good, I am totally bad.” Or as a Church we might move toward “we are bad altogether as a Church, we are not good.” This is too much, and it is not of God.
And also with blame, we must watch this too. We may feel this initially as we feel hurt and anger here, but in the long run “blame” does not help us. Blame can keep us from knowing our common humanity and to discover true empathy, and it can also keep us from looking more deeply at this time and these events as a call to deeper ownership and responsibility for our Church together!
What Is My Part?
I believe we are all called to ask: “What is my part in healing my Church?”
I was ordained in 1980, and we had been given the best of Vatican II. We knew we were called to help the members of our Church to grow more fully into our Christian adulthood. Vatican II called for all of us to take an active part in our Church and to grow in mutual respect and dignity with one another. We are called to full partnership and communion with one another as men and women in the Church, and we are also called as members of the priesthood of all believers and as those ordained to serve in the ministerial priesthood to find true pathways of collaboration and care for one another. This was one of the issues that Vatican II did not fully address or develop, but I do believe this is part of our “further journey” together now.
I do not believe it serves us as a Church to put us priests on a pedestal or to let some “mystique” of the priesthood or celibacy cloud our relationships with one another. We are in this together. Each person’s vocation is their high calling with its own joys and struggles. As a Franciscan priest, I believe the best way to see me as a priest is to see me as a “brother” to you; and we share back and forth and learn from one another. I see more and more in the confessional especially that I am called to offer counsel but not to dominate your thoughts or decisions. Each believer must discern their own path and take hold of their lives through their conscious decisions. This is the deepest dignity, I believe, God truly wants for us.
And we may struggle with this, but it is the further journey for us as Church. I will need to continue to give up my “adolescence” as a believer and grow into my “adulthood” as a member of the Church. This will stretch me and all of us, but it will lead us to new places as a Church.
The Paschal Mystery
This truly is the Paschal Mystery of Christ within whose pattern we are always called to live. This is the mystery that “in dying there is always new life” because of our God’s abundant and merciful love. This pattern that there is “always more life” (and death is not the final word) is definitively revealed in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. The heart of this mystery is felt and experienced through the Holy Spirit deeply at work in our lives.
This Sunday’s Scriptures
Along with listening to others this week, I have been listening to the Scripture readings for this Sunday; and the Word is very helpful to us today.
In the first reading from Proverbs, Wisdom calls the “simple” to her table to advance in “understanding.” I believe a more helpful translation of this word “simple” is “teachable.” God wants to give us wisdom and understanding; and we are called to be teachable, to be receptive, and to welcome these gifts from God.
In the second reading from Ephesians, there is a line “to make the most of the opportunity” to grow strong in the Spirit and to give up foolishness. Here this phrase is best translated as “redeem the times.” We are called to redeem the times by how we live especially as we take in the Spirit of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us we are not alone. He is with us. He wants to walk with us and be present with us in our lives. Jesus wants to guide us in wisdom, in courage, in compassion which always has accountability as part of it, so we can renew our Church and the world. And he is present to us not only in the Sacramental elements of his Body and Blood, but also in us as community. We are Eucharist also as the Body of Christ.
Finally, there is a line in our culture that I like very much. In fact, there is a news show with this phrase in its title. The phrase is “all in.” This is not a time to back away from the Church unless we need to do so for a while. We need everyone! We need each one’s gifts and prayers to go forward, to be the healthy Body of Christ sent on mission to our world. This truly is a time for each of us to re-consider and re-commit ourselves to Christ and to one another. It is a time to be “all in.”
Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA