A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 41)

Week 23 in Ordinary Time: September 6-12, 2020

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: August 30 – September 5, 2020 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Ordinary Week 22”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: September 6-12, 2020.)

 

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September 6, 2020: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Duty

of Fraternal Correction”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ez 33:7-9 // Rom 13:8-10 // Mt 18:15-20

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 18:15-20): “If your brother or sister listens to you, you have won them over.”

          

I love Margot Fonteyn’s autobiography, written with the fluency that distinguishes her dancing. The famous English ballerina narrates an incident in which she experienced a sisterly correction from her best friend, Pamela May (cf. MARGOT FONTEYN: Her Own Best Selling Autobiography, London: Wyndham Publications Ltd., 1976, p. 98-99).

 

Pamela May was away from the ballet for quite a while having a baby. June Brae, the other member of our ‘triptych’, had met David Breeden at Cambridge at the same time that I met Tito and Pamela met Painton. June and David married early in the war, and their daughter was born soon after Pamela’s son. I seemed to be the odd girl out. Alone in No. 1 dressing room, without my closest friends, I developed a star complex, and for a time I was really impossible, imagining that I was different from, and superior to, those around me.

 

Then Pamela came to see us. It was soon after she had been widowed. Completely broken up by her loss, and living as she did facing up to stark reality, she was in no mood to put up with my fanciful airs. She told me outright that I had become a bore. Thinking it over, I decided that I far preferred the company of my friends to the isolated pinnacle implied by the title “Prima Ballerina Assoluta”, which I had been trying to reach, so I climbed down.

 

As a matter of fact, it had been partly the fault of what I call false friends – those who, with the best will, and believing themselves your warmest admirers, unwittingly destroy you with such talk as: “People didn’t realize how great you are”; “You are the greatest ballerina alive; people should fall back in awe when you leave the stage door”; “You should be treated like a queen.” All of which is, of course, rubbish.

 

The Gospel reading (Mt 18:15-20) belongs to “The Sermon on the Church” (Mt 18:1-35), a distinct literary unit wherein the evangelist Matthew gathers Jesus’ teachings directly concerned with the life of the disciples in Christian communities. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, delineate the context of this Sunday’s reading, which underlines the duty of Christian correction: “The community for which Matthew collected and presented the Lord’s teachings was already a motley group. There were brothers and sisters who did not behave in an evangelical manner toward the little ones. There were leaders concerned more with honors than service. There were even disciples who lived in sin, publicly and scandalously. What to do about them? What should be the means by which they could be helped to become aware of their disorderly ways and be converted? Certainly there was no question to prematurely separate the weeds from the good grain (Mt 13:24-30). But in some cases, it became necessary to expel from the community brothers and sisters whose conduct could not be tolerated. These questions are still with us. The Gospel of Matthew shows us how to address them. The concrete modalities of the procedure outlined in Matthew cannot be followed to the letter, but we must remember their spirit and perspective. The sins of brothers and sisters cannot leave their kin and other members of the community indifferent. Charity and the spiritual welfare of others demand that we exert ourselves to bring back onto the right path whoever has wandered off. The parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:10-14) immediately precedes Jesus’ words on charitable correction. The art of reprimand is certainly among the most difficult and delicate; yet this is no reason for us to evade our duty.”

 

The pastoral writer, Harold Buetow looks deeply into the various steps of Christian correction presented in today’s Gospel reading: “The first step of the progression is forthrightly to go to the offender and point out his or her fault one-on-one between just the two of you. This should be done in a way that won’t humiliate the offending person – indeed, it should make him realize that, as St. John Chrysostom wrote, the wounds of friends are more to be relied upon than the voluntary kisses of enemies. Always remember, though, that advice is sometimes transmitted more successfully through a joke than through grave teaching. If the first step doesn’t work, the second step is to bring one or two others along with you (v. 16) – not for the purpose of proving the other person wrong, but to help in the process of reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, you proceed to the third step, which is to refer it to the local community of faith, the Church (v. 17). This is far better than going to the civil courts, because courts settle nothing concerning personal relationships and can, instead, cause other complications. The whole process should be motivated by a spirit of forgiveness. If none of these steps work, Jesus advises his Jewish audience to treat the offender as they would a Gentile or a Roman tax collector. Surprisingly, for him that means continuing friendship. The Gospels call Jesus a friend of sinners and tax collectors, and Jesus reconciled many sinners with the heavenly Father: Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman taken in adultery, and others … All else failing, there is always common prayer. United prayer is more powerful, sensible, and effective than resentment in our responsibility toward one another. Such prayer must never be selfish, but must be primarily for the good of fellowship, remembering that where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name (v. 20), he’s in their midst. Jesus’ two or three is as small a number as one can have to make a community.”

 

In light of Jesus’ compassionate ministry, Gentiles or tax collectors are not excluded from the pastoral solicitude and prayer of the Church. The pastoral power of the keys given in a special way to Peter (Mt 16:19) is shared with the entire Church in view of fraternal healing and reconciliation.

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude: “The perspective of evangelical discipline remains that of forgiveness. A community is Christian in the measure in which all know and want themselves to be responsible for the good of each member. This concern about others’ salvation must be at the heart of every cell of the Church, especially the heart of the family. This is why charitable correction is a duty that, although, difficult, devolves on everyone.”

  

 

B. First Reading (Ez 33:7-9): “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, I will hold you responsible for his death.”

 

One of the most forceful and challenging texts in the Bible is the Old Testament reading (Ez 33:7-9), which is a call to personal accountability on behalf of the community. The priest Ezekiel who ministers at the Jerusalem temple is tasked by God to speak to his erring people and spell out their sins. Taken captive to Babylon in 597 or 596 B.C., at the same time as King Jehoiachin of Judah, Ezekiel is designated by God as a “sentinel prophet” – as a “watchman for the house of Israel”. He lives among other Judean captives in Babylon and presumably dies there. His pastoral mission to God’s covenant people is extremely important; at stake are the life of the people and the survival of the nation. As God’s designated “sentinel prophet”, Ezekiel cannot afford to be timid, unmindful or indifferent. He has to speak and confront the unfaithful people. Silence in this case would be disastrous and failure to proclaim God’s word would mean death and destruction.

  

Just as the “sentinel prophet” Ezekiel is ordered to speak out in order to bring a culpable people to conversion, the Christian of today is called to be a “sentinel prophet” like him. The Church – the community of Christian disciples – is called to declare “hard truths” and to mediate God’s reconciliation and forgiveness through fraternal correction. Martin Connell comments: “In our times and places, there are those who speak the hard truths and measure human failings against the grandeur that God has granted us in baptism. In this they do for the Church what Ezekiel did for the nation of Israel. (…) baptism makes us sentinels like Ezekiel.”

  

The following excerpt from the document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2007, illustrates what it means to be a “sentinel prophet” in the world today. The Bishops speak out against the sinful situations of the society and at the same time offer guidelines toward a well-formed conscience that is in consonance with truth.

 

Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children.

 

We bishops seek to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges. We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests in each person and his or her properly formed conscience. (…)

 

At times Catholics may choose different ways to respond to social problems, but we cannot differ on our obligation to protect human life and dignity and help build through moral means a more just  and peaceful world. There are things we must never do, as individuals or society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of human life through abortion. It is always morally wrong to destroy innocent human beings. A legal system that allows the right to life to be violated on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. Similarly, direct threats to the dignity of human life such as euthanasia, human cloning, and destructive research on human embryos are also intrinsically evil and must be opposed. Other assaults on human life and dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Disrespect for any human life diminishes respect for all human life. (…)

 

Opposition to intrinsically evil acts also prompts us to recognize our positive duty to contribute to the common good and act in solidarity with those in need. Both opposing evil and doing good are essential … The basic right to life implies and is linked to other human rights to the goods that every person needs to live and thrive – including food, shelter, health care, education and meaningful work. The use of the death penalty, hunger, lack of healthcare or housing, human trafficking, the human and moral costs of war, and unjust immigration policies are some of the moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. (…)

 

In light of Catholic teaching, as bishops we rigorously repeat our call for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good. This kind of political participation reflects the social teachings of our Church and the best traditions of our nation.

   

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10): “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 

Ezekiel’s prophetic duty as a watchman calling God’s people to conversion and the Gospel model of fraternal correction acquire deeper meaning in today’s Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10). Saint Paul asserts that love is the fulfillment of the law and that we all carry “the debt of mutual love”. Mary Ehle explains: “Through Jesus, Christians have a new standard for love. He taught and embodied the saving love that he uniquely offered through his life, death and resurrection. Thus for Christians, love entails not only following the commandments, but following a person … In its new context, the saying calls Christians to extend their charity beyond members of their religions and ethnic communities, as Jesus’ charity extended beyond religion and political boundaries. Christians must show to the world the love of the teacher.”

  

The following beautiful story, “The Carpenter”, circulated through the internet, gives a glimpse on how to promote mutual and forgiving love in our community.

 

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

 

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

 

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work”, he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?

 

“Yes”, said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”

 

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

 

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day – measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.

 

The farmer’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge! A bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward him, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

 

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you”, said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on”, the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. What is my attitude toward the erring members of the Christian community? Do I carry out my part in the task of Christian correction? Do I believe that only God’s grace can change hearts and effect conversion? Do I allow myself to be an instrument of grace for others?

 

2. Does the response of Ezekiel to God’s command inspire you? Why is his pastoral mission to God’s covenant people as a “sentinel prophet” important? As a member of the Church, a community of reconciled and reconciling community, how do I carry out the pastoral mission of being a “sentinel prophet” in our society today? What are the sinful situations and evil tendencies in society that needs to be overcome and transformed?

 

3. Do you agree with St. Paul that “Love does no evil to the neighbors; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10)? What are the sacrifices you make to lead a person to conversion and close to God? How do you fulfill the “debt of mutual love”?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Almighty God,

you are loving, kind and merciful.

You send prophets to call us to conversion.

Like Ezekiel, let us keep our prophetic integrity

by calling the erring from self-destructive ways

and lead the lost back to you.

Help us to imitate Jesus’ loving patience.

Let us experience your healing power

and the beauty of “fraternal correction”.

Like Saint Paul, let us seriously strive

to pay the debt of mutual love

for we are all recipients of the Son’s saving love.

We give you honor, glory and praise,

now and forever. Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault …” (Mt 18:15)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for the erring members of the community and for the grace needed by the Church to carry out its task of Christian correction. In a most charitable way, exercise the duty of fraternal correction in your family and community. If possible, visit a correctional institute and see how you can help minister to the needs of its inmates.    

 

 

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September 7, 2020: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (23)

N.B. Labor Day is observed today in U.S.A.

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Does Good on the Sabbath … He Is the Paschal Sacrifice to Be Celebrated

in Holiness and Truth”***

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 5:1-8 // Lk 6:6-11

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:6-11): “The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath.”

 

On another Sabbath, Jesus goes into the synagogue to worship and teach. The scribes and Pharisees are there to actively scrutinize him. They watch closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath and thus find a reason to accuse him. They legally interpret healing as a medical intervention and, therefore, as a kind of “work” that transgresses the law of the Sabbath. Jesus, however, realizes how wrong they are. He, therefore, responds to the conflict situation proactively. He deliberately heals on a Sabbath day to teach them its true meaning. The law of Sabbath rest is meant for the good of people. To do a compassionate act on the Sabbath – to heal a man with a withered hand and to relieve him of suffering - is therefore “lawful”. To refuse to do the good that can be done is akin to evil. There is no “Sabbath” that restricts us from doing good to another human being. There is no “Sabbath” that prevents us from loving. Indeed, the refusal to love is a betrayal of life.

 

In light of today’s reading (Lk 6:6-11), we are being challenged to be courageous like Jesus in doing what is good and not allow “false restrictions” to impede us. When I was a teenager, I saw on television the movie “The Nun’s Story”, starring Audrey Hepburn. She was a missionary nun in Africa and was serving as a nurse in a hospital. The medical doctor was out of town when a bleeding patient was brought for treatment. An emergency surgery has to be done to save the injured man. Although she did not have a medical license, she took the risk and operated on him. The courageous nun saved his life.

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 5:1-8): “Clean out the old yeast for our Paschal Lamb, Christ has been sacrificed.”

 

The reading (1 Cor 5:1-8) depicts the challenges of Christian living and obstacles to it. Saint Paul clouts on a very disturbing issue within the Corinthian community: incest. A man is sleeping with his stepmother while the community takes an “enlightened” stance about it. Pride has taken hold of the Corinthians as they rejoice in their “broadmindedness”. They falsely surmise that since they have been saved, they are no longer subject to the dangers of the flesh and the ethical norms governing it. Saint Paul inveighs against the grave moral disorder and their blatant rejection of common moral standard. The apostle is grieved that the fledgling Corinthian community is not capable of discerning conduct consistent with their Christian commitment. They are spiritually immature and lack true wisdom.

 

In the meantime, Paul in Ephesus has already pronounced his verdict on the guilty man. With full apostolic authority Saint Paul commands his decree of excommunication to be promulgated to the assembled community. The incestuous man is to be excommunicated and, hopefully, this punitive action would be a means of his coming to repentance. And to the whole community, Saint Paul addresses these words: “You must remove the old yeast of sin so that you will be entirely pure … Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us celebrate our Passover, then, not with bread having the old yeast of sin and wickedness, but with the bread that has no yeast, the bread of purity and truth.” Indeed, belonging to Christ demands holiness and purity of life.

 

The following disturbing news item gives insight into the “moral issue” that has gripped the apostle Paul and vitiated the church in Corinth (“Judge Argues Incest Now Okay in Liberal Society” in Alive! September 2014, p. 10).

 

A judge in Australia has been suspended from criminal cases after he suggested that liberal society may now be open to accepting consensual sex between an adult brother and sister or two brothers.

 

The judge caused uproar by linking incest with a change in attitude towards homosexual encounters and pedophilia. “We’ve come a long way from the 1950s … when the position of the English Common Law was that sex outside marriage was not lawful”, said Judge Garry Neilson.

 

As homosexuality was once a criminal offence and seen as “unnatural”, but is widely accepted today, he believed, the same is happening with incest. Incest is now a crime only because it may lead to abnormalities in offspring, he argued, but this no longer holds because contraception and abortion are available.

 

  

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Are we like the scribes and Pharisees, who prevent others from doing good to the needy? Do we have a healthy understanding of the “Sabbath” that enables us to be more compassionate to our needy and suffering neighbors?

 

2. What are the different moral issues that challenge the integrity and the holiness of the Church today?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for Jesus, the Divine Master.

He is the Lord of the Sabbath.

He heals even on the Sabbath

to teach us that the Sabbath is made for the good of man

and that man was not made for the Sabbath.

Help us to imitate him

in acting compassionately with the freedom of the Holy Spirit,

the principle of life and good.

Let us be convinced that refusal to do good

is a betrayal of life.

We love you, dear Father in heaven.

We give you glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Lord Jesus,

you are the Passover lamb

that has been sacrificed for our saving.

We belong to you.

Help us to celebrate your Passover,

not with bread having the old yeast of sin and wickedness,

but with the bread that has no yeast,

the bread of purity and truth.

Teach us to live a holy life

and let us be totally consecrated to you.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” (Lk 6:9) // “Clean out the old yeast … For our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor 5:7-8)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that you may have a healthy understanding of church and civil laws. Endeavor to do charitable acts every day so that you will be ready to do good even in extraordinary situations and/or conditions. // Pray for the victims and those involved incestuous relationships and for a deeper understanding of human sexuality in the plan of salvation.

 

 

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September 8, 2020: TUESDAY – THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Mother Mary’s Birth Is a Prelude to Salvation”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mi 5:1-4a or Rom 8:28-30 // Mt 1:1-16, 18-23

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO 

 

Today we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her birth means that the coming of Jesus Savior is near. Her coming into the world is the dawn of salvation. Saint Andrew of Crete, bishop, remarks: “This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the foreordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed, and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages … Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day … The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling for the Creator.”

 

Just like the Christ Child, the Child Mary is a promise of salvation. The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is likewise a sign of salvation. In view of the redemptive mission of the Christ Child, Mary’s birthday ushers in the fulfillment of the divine promise. The following story narrated by Sue Monk Kidd in an old issue of Guideposts magazine gives us an idea of the redemptive role not only of the Christ Child, but also of the Mother of God, who also became a child for us.

 

In 1977, the Baptist Church in Melba, a rural American town, was about to close its doors forever. Over the years, churchgoing had dropped off alarmingly. Some hurts and misunderstandings had divided and shattered the congregation. All that remained was about a dozen people on the verge of giving up. That handful of people gathered in the church one Sunday to vote whether to continue services or close down for good. Their meeting was interrupted when a child appeared – a child of only seven years – who wanted to join the Sunday school and the church service. Angela, for that was her name, returned the next Sunday, and the next and the next. That child became the reason for the Melba Baptist Church to go on. They struggled to live in order to nurture a young spirit from one Sunday to the next. Angela was their glimmer of hope. She was their future. The child’s appearance saved the congregation from extinction and sure death. The Melba Baptist Church has become renovated and increased in membership. As far as they are concerned, the little girl who came alone to the church that long-ago Sunday was sent by God. 

 

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 1:1-16, 18-23): “She has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.”

 

Steven Gemmen’s story, “Where Love Grows” in Guideposts magazine (October 2004, cf. p. 44-48) is a touching account of how he welcomed into his life the child conceived by his wife, Heather, a victim of sexual assault. Steve narrates how his anger at the rapist found its outlet in the baby. In the sixth month of his wife’s rape-pregnancy, however, Steve was given the grace to understand that the little creature in his wife’s womb had nothing to do with the crime of the father, an unidentified African-American young man who broke into their home. Steve accepted the baby as his own although there were bad times. Steve remarks: “Our lives haven’t been the same since that terrible night. They never will be. I’d thought nothing could make me love this child. That’s true. Nothing can make us love anyone or anything. Love is not a choice. It is the sovereign gift of God. And it was his gift that the child who stirred within Heather would make the unbearable not just bearable but miraculous.”

 

Steve’s compassionate stance towards his wife and the baby gives insight into the goodness of Joseph, foster-father and guardian of Jesus, born of Mary. Today’s Gospel story concerns the birth of Jesus (Mt 1:18-24) and delineates the important role of Mary and Joseph in salvation history. In the fulfillment of the messianic mission and divine saving plan, Mary and Joseph, the righteous man to whom she is betrothed, play a vital part. Joseph of Nazareth enables Jesus to be born into the royal line of David by assuming the legal obligations of paternity. Mary’s virginal conception and birth of Jesus underlines the divine origin of the Son and of the absolute newness that now breaks forth in the history of human beings.

 

The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) contemplates the role of Mary as the ever virgin mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “It is indeed fitting in every respect that when God decided to become incarnate for the sake of the whole human race none but a virgin should be his mother, and that, since a virgin was privileged to bring him into the world, she should bear no other son but the son who is God …And so Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, the child of her own flesh and blood. She brought forth the God who had been born of God before creation began, and who, in his created humanity, rightfully surpassed the whole creation.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Mi 5:1-4): “This is the time when she who is labor is to give birth.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Mi 5:1-4) helps define the character of the child that is in Mary’s womb – the ruler of Israel of which she is the bearer. Micah foretells of an ideal messianic king who will inaugurate a new era after Israel’s period of exile. The mission of this highly idealized ruler is characterized as a good shepherd who protects his flock and keeps them from being scattered. This new king will be great and he himself will be peace. Prophesying in the late eighth century at about the same time as Isaiah, Micah pronounces an oracle that seems to identify Bethlehem as the city of a yet unborn ruler’s birth. This fascinating oracle contributes to a profound vision of Jesus as Messiah. As we celebrate the nativity of Mary, we extol her as the one who gives birth to Jesus, the King-Shepherd of the house of David who will bring justice and peace. The Blessed Mother is an intimate collaborator of the divine Savior in bringing forth a new people of God.

 

The following story of a young wife’s journey to the Catholic faith helps us appreciate the role of Mary in the divine work of salvation (cf. Rebecca Lengenfelder, “One in Faith” in Amazing Grace for Survivors, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al., West Chester: Ascension Press, 2008, p. 70-72).

 

Little by little, the Catholic faith started to make sense to me … There was still one major hurdle I could not get over – Mary. I longed to be completely one with Kris, but I could not fully share his faith if it meant idolatry. I understood that Catholics ask Mary to take their intentions to her Son, Jesus, who is the one they worship, but years of having it impressed upon me that this was idolatry, blocked me from accepting a devotion to Mary.

 

I was raised with the idea of putting out a fleece. (Gideon does this in Judges 6:36-40) as a way of asking for a sign. Whether or not there was dew on the fleece in the morning determined his answer from God.) So I said: “OK, Lord, I want you to send me an unmistakable sign that could only come from you, that this Catholic devotion to Mary is right and that the Catholic religion is the true faith.” If he sent me that sign, I would become Catholic.

 

Two weeks before my due date, I began praying this daily. Instead of another long labor, the scheduled C-section would be more predictable. I was given an epidural in the delivery room. While lying on the table after the epidural, I suddenly felt very sick. Darkness clouded my brain as if I was on the verge of losing consciousness, and there was ringing in my ears. I gasped for breath, but I felt like a two-hundred-pound weight was crushing my lungs. Everyone was busy around the room, not noticing my crisis. Suddenly, my mind flashed to the doctor’s dire prediction that both the baby and I would likely die.

 

I tried to tell someone that I could not breathe, but no words came out. The only thing that came was tears. One of the student nurses, Risa, a friend from nursing school, noticed me crying. I finally expressed to her that I could not breathe. My heartrate skyrocketed, and the monitors started going crazy. This is it, I thought, I’m dying. All of a sudden, I started praying the Rosary. One mystery after another, I knew them and prayed out loud. Kris entered the room after washing up and putting on a gown. I had an oxygen mask on by then. He could tell I was praying, but did not realize it was the Rosary.

 

Once I started praying the Rosary, a restful calm surged through me and vanquished all fear. The tears kept streaming, but now they were tears of joy. It was my sign! I had never learned how to pray the Rosary! I never read about it or listened to one being prayed. I always left the room when Kris or his family began the Rosary. But suddenly, as if through a divine infusion, I knew each mystery from the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, just as they are taken from the life of Jesus in the Gospel.

 

My spirit soared! God had answered my prayers and let me know that I could become a Catholic. It was okay to honor Our Blessed Mother and ask for her intercession. As my second baby daughter, Alexandria (Ali), was lifted up for me to see, I was giddy with excitement and joy. Ali, my little girl, was joining a family that would be completely one. (…)

 

On April 15, 1995, three days before Ali’s first birthday, I was confirmed and welcomed into the Catholic Church. Kris bought me a new diamond for my wedding ring and we had it blessed to mark this occasion. When we look back, Kris and I still felt dumbfounded that we ever gave each other a chance but now, we thank God that we did.

 

 

C. Alternative First Reading (Rom 8:28-30): “Those whom God knew beforehand and predestined.”

 

In the alternative reading (Rom 8:28-30), Saint Paul assures the Romans that all things work for good for those who love God. He stimulates their zeal and enthusiasm in the midst of difficulties and persecution by reminding them that God’s plan of salvation leads to the glory that is their destiny. Called to be conformed to the image of his Son, nothing will ever happen to them that has not been foreseen by God and directed to their greater good from all eternity. God is in control of everything. The ultimate goal is to be configured to Jesus Christ, who in his paschal sacrifice, is totally glorified. On this feast of the birthday of Mary, we contemplate the Virgin Mother as one whom God has set apart, called for a specific purpose and glorified with and in her Son Jesus Christ.

 

Immaculee Ilibagiza, a great Marian devotee, survived the genocide on her native Rwanda. In the following incident, we realize the truth that all things work for good for those who love God (cf. Immaculee Ilibagiza, “The Road to the Rebels” in Amazing Grace for Survivors, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al., West Chester: Ascension Press, 2008, p. 40-41).

 

“Dear God”, I prayed, walking as fast as I could and holding my father’s rosary tightly in my hand. “Only You can save me. You promised to take care of me, God – well, I really need taking care of right now. There are devils and vultures at my back, Lord. Please protect me. Take the evil from the hearts of these men, and blind their hatred with Your holy love.”

 

I walked without looking at my feet, not knowing if I was about to stumble over rocks or bodies, putting all my trust in God to guide me to safety. We were moving very briskly, but the killers were all around us now, circling us, slicing the air with their machetes. We were defenseless, so why were they waiting to strike?

 

“If they kill me, God, I ask You to forgive them. Their hearts have been corrupted by hatred, and they don’t know why they want to hurt me.”

 

After walking a half a mile like that, I heard Jean Paul say, “Hey, they’re gone … they’re gone!”

 

I looked around, and it was true. The killers had left us. Jean Paul said later that it was probably because they knew the RPF soldiers were close by, but I knew the real reason, and I never stopped thanking God for saving us on the road. A few minutes later we saw an RPF roadblock and several dozen tall, lean, stone-faced Tutsi soldiers standing guard. I broke into an all-out run and dropped to my knees in front of them. I closed my eyes and sang their praises.

 

“Thank God, thank God, we’re saved! Thank God you’re here. Bless you! Bless you all!”

 

  

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

What is the meaning of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Why is her birth a sign of salvation? Just like Jesus and Mary, are we willing to be “signs” of God’s love and compassion in today’s world?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Cf. Opening Prayer of the Mass “Birth of Mary”) 

 

Father of mercy,

give your people help and strength from heaven.

The birth of the Virgin Mary’s Son

was the dawn of salvation.

May this celebration of her birthday

bring us closer to lasting peace.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

            “This child has been conceived in her.” (Mt 1: 20)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

To celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday, thank God immensely for her deep collaboration in salvation history and offer acts of mercy and kindness in her honor.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 9, 2020: WEDNESDAY – SAINT PETER CLAVER (USA)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Blesses the Anawim … He Teaches Us to Focus on True Values

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 7:25-31 // Lk 6:20-26

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:20-26): “Blessed are you who are poor. Woe to you who are rich.”

 

In today’s Gospel (Lk 6:20-26), Jesus blesses the anawim (from anawah = humility). They are a people - humble and lowly - who find their well-being in God. These humble believers are eager to welcome God and ready to do his will. They put their hope and trust in God alone. Formed by his mother Mary, the Lord’s humble handmaid, Jesus is the ultimate anawim. As the Servant-Son of Yahweh, he is meek and humble of heart. In his inaugural discourse as Divine Master, Jesus declares that the anawim – the poor, the hungry, the grieving and the persecuted - are blessed by the Lord. They are recipients of salvation and of God’s infinite favor. Immersed into the baptismal waters of his paschal destiny, the Christian disciples in today’s world are the anawim. Like Jesus and Mary, they are called to proclaim the beatitudes of God’s anawim.

 

Instead of beatitudes, woes are to fall upon the rich who do not use their wealth to help the needy, hoarding it for themselves. Woes are to fall upon the well-fed who are oblivious to the hunger pangs of the poor, not sharing with them the bounty from their table of plenty. Woes are to fall upon those who seek the joys of the world, not commiserating with the grieving and the afflicted. Woes are to fall upon the false prophets, basking in the adulation of friends made complacent by their false words of comforts.

 

But what does it mean to live the spirit of the anawim today? This personal account can give an insight.

  

A few years ago, I conducted a liturgy class at Maryhill School of Theology in Metro Manila, Philippines, that included the topic “Liturgy and Creation”. I invited an ecology team from Barrio Ugong to share their endeavors with my students. The team was composed of enterprising housewives. None of them had a college or even a high school degree, but they became a leaven of transformation for their local community. Speaking in Tagalog, for none of them was proficient in English, the medium of instruction in higher Filipino schools, the housewives conducted the seminar on waste management, recycling, composting, organic gardening, etc. in very simple terms, but with expertise. They also shared the initial resistance of some people to their community project. The “macho” men in the neighborhood were hostile. But the women steeled themselves from their unjust attacks and persisted with single-hearted devotion and courage. Their humility and prophetic stance paid off. Barrio Ugong was judged the best barrio in the Philippines!

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 7:25-31): “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.”

 

Paul’s conversion to Christ enables him to see things in proper perspective. It transforms his notion of salvation. His value system is radically upturned. Instead of relying on the diligent observance of the Jewish law as the means of redemption, he embraces Jesus Christ as the font of life and salvation, the only treasure and the absolute good. Responding to a very difficult situation in Corinth, where the early Christian community (ECC) is being assaulted with freewheeling ideas and lifestyles that are noxious to Christian discipleship, Paul exhorts them to assume a responsible behavior. In today’s first reading (1 Cor 7:25-31), he challenges the Christians in Corinth to develop an appropriate value priority in the midst of temporal and transient realities. The fact that “life is short” and that “the world in its present form is passing away” is not a license to indulge in a frenzy of pleasure and unbridled desires. But neither should it provoke them to despise and disregard earthly realities, since the Son of God became incarnate in this world and our salvation is carried out within this context of the created world.

 

With pastoral insight and paternal concern, Paul exhorts the Corinthians and the Christians of all ages to live the earthly realities with discernment and to appreciate them at their just values, proportionate to their purpose. He teaches us that marriage is not an end in itself and that the married life should be seen in the perspective of the eternal and absolute: union with Christ. He also enjoins us that sorrows and joys must be lived, as everything else, in the Lord. Indeed, God is in control; he does not forget the tears entrusted to him nor disregard the moments of happiness we relish by his grace. Moreover, Paul encourages us not to be defeated by trials. He warns us likewise not to be wildly elated by false joys – by merriment and pleasures that do not lead to God. Furthermore, he reminds us not to act as the absolute owners of our possessions, for what we have received from the Lord is meant for the good of all. The right to use and abuse acquired goods at one’s whim is definitely un-Christian. It is utterly abhorrent and displeasing to God. Thus Paul advises us to use material goods in a spirit of detachment. We should be greatly aware and wary of their temporary character and perishable nature that we may appreciate and pursue more fully our eternal destiny with God, in Jesus Christ.

 

The following personal testimony written by Felix Carroll on November 24, 2008, illustrates the wisdom of the Pauline order of priorities, the need to trust God and seek first his kingdom, and the challenge of divine mercy, cf. Felix Carroll, “Go Ahead, Let It Fly, It Will Come Back, I Promise (Works of Mercy)” in The Army of God – 1st Saturday Devotion Newsletter, December 2008, p. 5-6.

 

This story is not about how wonderful I am. (The jury is still out on that one.) Rather, this is a story about how wonderful God is. I recently gave away $400 that I didn’t really have. I am writing about this now because, miraculously, I’ve incurred a net financial loss of exactly $0.00, which proves a fact of simple spiritual economics: when we show our love for God by caring for those in need, God fills us with abundant graces, someway, somehow …

 

A month ago, my wife and I decided to financially help one of my brothers and his family. They were – and still are – in desperate financial straits. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans this year, my brother lost his job – a high-paying job. Then he lost his house, then his car. He, his wife, and their two boys live in a ramshackle rental that should probably be condemned. Their world has been turned upside down. But the bad news wasn’t over yet. In September, my brother finally landed a low-paying job in a warehouse, but on his very first day, a forklift operator accidentally dropped the forks down and crushed my brother’s right foot. His doctors believe he will be permanently disabled … Then a few weeks ago, my brother’s wife was laid off from her job … The day his wife lost her job, I said to my wife, “I’m going to send them $200.” We didn’t really have $200 to give … It has pained me to see how my brother, a formerly successful businessman who went to work each morning looking sharp, proud to be a breadwinner, has now been reduced to sitting all day at home with his foot up and struggling to find purpose in his life. Sending him the $200 recently was my attempt to take great pains to help him. But the pain part of the equation didn’t work out that way. The following day I was offered a quick photography freelance assignment out of the blue, which, of course, I took. By the time I logged in my hours, I had earned exactly $200. I thought to myself, “Hmm, interesting.” So I sent my brother another $200.

 

Now just bear with me … OK, so at this point, I’m down $200, right? Now just bear with me a little more. In an effort to save money on heating costs this winter, I installed a woodstove in our home. I had done the math. We had free wood to burn, and the stove and piping would still cost less than half of what we would have spent on heating fuel. But my plan hit a snag two weeks ago. I couldn’t manage to get the last two sections of stovepipe up on the roof. We had to have scaffolding set up to finish the job, though we weren’t too sure how we would pay for it. We hired a contractor named David – the husband of a woman my wife works with – who came with his crew and set up the scaffolding for us at my house so I could finish the job. Neither my wife nor I had ever met David. After the stovepipe job was complete and the scaffolding taken away, my wife and I were going over our monthly expenses. We estimated the bill for the scaffolding (considering set-up time and travel expenses) would probably cost us at least (you guessed it!) $200. This Wednesday, we received an invoice in the mail from David. It said: Amount owed ………… $0.00

 

And David included a typewritten note to us that read: “Dear Felix and Cara … At times like these, when someone is able, they help out friends. If we all did that maybe the world would be a better place. I could say to you, ‘I have done this for you, now go out and do the same thing in some way for another person,’ but I have a feeling you are the type of people who already would. So go use this money that you would have used to rent this scaffolding and buy something for Henry for Christmas. Glad to help … David.” Henry is our son. I couldn’t believe David’s kindness. I want to laminate his letter. My wife and I read it to each other – twice …

 

Then, like a tidal wave, it hit me: God arranged this! He arranged it because he pours an abundance of graces upon us when we help those in greatest need. That’s his promise to us. And he keeps his promise. I’m sending my brother more money today to help pay for his family’s Christmas … Please take special care to help many families who are suffering these days because of our country’s economic collapse. I’m convinced that, like my new friend David says, if we all sought to lessen the pain of others, “maybe the world would be a better place”.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How does Jesus’ proclamation of the Beatitudes impinge upon us? Do we accept his declaration that the anawim are indeed blessed by the Lord? Do we try to live out in our life the beatitudes of the anawim? Do we look upon Jesus as the ultimate anawim and imitate Mother Mary who has lived the spirit of the anawim

 

2. What is Paul’s teaching about the temporal order and transient realities? How do you respond to his exhortation to put things in proper perspective and develop an appropriate order of priorities in relation to the eternal and absolute good, Jesus Christ?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Jesus,

you are the true anawim.

In Galilee, you taught us the beatitudes of the anawim.

Help us to live the spirit of the anawim

and total dependence on God.

Grant us the wisdom you gave to St. Paul

That we may order our priorities

in relation to you, our eternal and absolute good.

We adore you, Jesus, meek and humble of heart.

Live in us, Christ our Lord, now and forever.

Amen. 

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Blessed are you who are poor.” (Lk 6:20) // “The world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:31)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Meditate on the Beatitudes and our identity as Christian anawim. In your service to the poor, those who mourn, the victims of injustice and violence, etc., endeavor to be an instrument of God’s beatitude for them. Resolve to order your priorities in daily living according to the eternal values of heaven.  

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 10, 2020: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (23)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Calls Us to Radical Forgiveness and Mercy … He Teaches Us that Love Builds Up”

 

BIBLE READINGS

1  Cor 8:1b-7, 11-13 // Lk 6:27-38

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:27-38): “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

 

In today’s Gospel (Lk 6:27-38), Jesus challenges us to be radically God-like in extending forgiveness, love and mercy to all. Jesus’ exigent demands resound: “Love your enemies … Do good to them … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” The words of Jesus on forgiveness and compassion, however, should not be falsely interpreted. His words on non-retaliation and forgiveness do not promote passivity nor permit us to succumb to evil and injustice. Rather, Jesus’ words are a call to radicality. Aelred Rosser asserts: “It’s about being radical: radically loving, radically generous, radically God-like. All the kinds of behavior that Luke records here are summed up in one kind of behavior: God-like behavior. To what extent can we behave like God? To a far greater extent than most of us do. The bottom line may be put this way: if there is no difference between how Christians behave and how non-Christians behave, where’s the evidence that Christianity is different?”

  

           Indeed, Jesus challenges us anew. He who invites us to this radical expression of God’s benevolence and compassion will also give us the grace and inner strength to be radically loving and forgiving. In the case of someone who loves God and Christ, everything is possible. Trusting in the grace of God, the Christian disciple is able to say: “In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything” (Phil 4:13).

 

The following two stories illustrate what it means to live the challenge of forgiveness and mercy. The first story is about radical forgiveness (cf. Mary Brown in Daily Guideposts 2010, p. 270) and the second is about radical compassion (cf. Brenda Wilbee in Daily Guideposts 2010, p. 271)

 

Story 1: I’ve been deeply concerned for my friend. Her teenage daughter has moved in with her older boyfriend and his dad. The boyfriend and his dad treat my friend with hostility. To make matters worse, my friend’s ex-husband has joined them in their anger at her. Together they’ve leveled false accusations against my friend and have alienated her daughter from her.

 

Over the past months my friend has poured out her despair to me. Tonight, however, when I phoned her, I heard an amazing change in her voice. “I feel as though a huge weight had been lifted off me”, she said. “What happened?” I asked. “Well, when I heard the Gospel reading at church this morning – to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you – I knew that somehow I had to do what Jesus said, even though it seems impossible.” “Considering how you’ve been treated, it does seem impossible to respond that way.” “I felt that I couldn’t but that God could. For the rest of the service, I prayed for them. When I came home, I still felt overwhelmed by my hurt and anger, so I prayed more. Instead of praying for them to change, I simply asked God to do good to them. Suddenly, everything inside me changed, I felt a lightness I’ve never felt before. I know that somehow everything will work out. I’ll keep praying for them and trusting God. I finally have peace.”

  

***

 

Story 2: David Denny founded the city of Seattle in 1851. I know the man well; I wrote six books about him and his Sweetbriar Bride Louisa. With only twenty-five cents in his pocket, he went on to become the city’s third richest man. With assets of three million dollars. In the panic of 1893, his brother begged that he shut down his enterprises to weather the terrible recession.

 

“I can’t”, he replied. “A hundred families will starve.” David instead mortgaged everything, and the recession rolled in. He and Louisa celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary in an empty mansion and then moved on to a log cabin he’d once given his daughter Abbie. He died ten years later with less than twenty-five cents to his name but with a reputation worth more than gold. Seattle loved Honest Dave.

 

Before he died, he wrote: “If I could live my life again, I’d still come West, I’d join the same church and marry the same woman. But I’d endeavor to be a better Christian.”

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 8:1b-7, 11-13): “When you sin against your brothers, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ.”

 

This happened many years ago. I was invited to a parish in Metro Manila to conduct an evening seminar on Liturgy. Two gentlemen from the parish committee were tasked to transport me and my companion. The seminar finished late and at 11:00 P.M. we were on the way to our convent. Our drivers requested permission to drop by “Seven-Eleven” to get some sodas and chippies. We did not want to stay alone in the car and so we went with them. We later realized that it was “perplexing” for people to see two young Sisters in full flowing habit, accompanied by two nice gentlemen, at a convenience store, almost at midnight. We resolved never to give an occasion of “scandal” to others.

 

In today’s Second Reading (I Cor 8:1b-7, 11-13), Paul is likewise dealing with a “scandal” and specifically, with regards to food offered to idols. Those who claim themselves “enlightened” or “knowledgeable” argue that since idols do not exist, they are free to eat meat that has been used in idol worship. Those with “delicate” consciences attribute a tangible impurity to sacrificial meats. They do not want to be defiled. They feel that in eating food offered to idols they are entering into a relation with pagan deities or demons. Paul first asserts that “knowledge” puffs a person up with pride, but love builds up. The apostle warns the “knowledgeable” not to let their freedom of action induce those with a “weak conscience” to fall into sin. Indeed, Saint Paul is here dealing with a double issue: the lack of love manifested by the “knowledgeable”, through their contempt of the scrupulous Christians, and the danger of idolatry. True, there are no idols, but demons do exist; and participation in pagan worship constitutes idolatry, that is, communion with demons.

 

The following story gives insight into the love that “builds up” mentioned by Saint Paul (cf. Keith Miller’s September 27 Reflection in Daily Guideposts 2010, p. 302).

 

When statewide inoculations started in Oklahoma during the Depression, my first-grade class was one of the first to be given shots. My mother came to school that day to help the teacher and the nurse calm us down.

 

When the first girl got her shot, she screamed and then sobbed. Many of the other children started crying too. I slipped toward the back of the room, hoping they would run out before I got up there.

 

I saw my mother talking to the teacher and the nurse. Then she walked briskly toward me and whispered, “Keith, everyone is afraid. It would help so much if you would go up there and say you want to get your shot now. It only hurts a little. You can do it.”

 

It was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t care how the other kids felt; I felt terrible. But I had to do it. So I calmly walked to the nurse, looked her in the eye, rolled up my sleeve and said, “I’ll go next.” Somehow I managed not to cry or scream. Then I rolled my sleeve down and calmly walked back to my desk.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How does today’s Gospel on forgiveness and mercy challenge me? What is my response to the command of Jesus: “Love your enemies and do good to them … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”? Do I use Christ’s teaching on forgiveness and compassion as an excuse to hide the absence of justice and to acquiesce to the onslaught of injustice and evil? 

 

2. What does it mean for us personally that love builds up? Have we caused scandal that induced others to sin?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord God,

you are merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in kindness.

We thank you for your Son Jesus Christ

who incarnated the meaning of forgiveness and mercy.

He calls us to be forgiving and merciful.

Give us the grace to show to the world

that “love builds up”.

Do not let us commit scandal

that will cause others to sin.

O loving Father, you live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

     

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Love your enemies … Be merciful.” (Lk 6:35 - 36) // “Love builds up.” (I Cor 8:1b)

  

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO 

 

Name someone who has hurt you. Pray for that person for a period of time and offer him/her your gift of forgiveness even from afar. Offer an act of compassion and mercy for someone in deep need.  Let the people around you experience that “love builds up. Pray for the “9-11” victims and for peace and reconciliation in today’s world.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 11, 2020: FRIDAY – WEEKDAY (23)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Condemns False Condemnation … His Gospel Is for All”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22b-27 // Lk 6:39-42

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:39-42): “Can a blind person guide a blind person?”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Lk 6:39-42), Jesus, the son of a carpenter, uses carpentry images to deliver the irony of hypocrisy and false condemnation: the righteous with a wooden beam in the eye wants to remove the sawdust in another’s eye. In the biblical world, the “eye” represents a person’s attitude and understanding. Indeed, our pride obstructs the light of compassionate understanding and blinds us to our own faults and the duty of charity. Jesus warns against exaggerating our neighbor’s faults and minimizing our own. He wants us to remove the “wooden beam” of our hypocrisy and pride that we may be able to remove charitably the “splinter” that hurts our neighbor’s eyes. He does not condemn fraternal correction, but false condemnation. Jesus Master counsels true compassion in dealing with our brothers and sisters.

 

In a funny vein, the following story illustrates how prejudice could pervert our judgment (cf. Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, New York: Image Books, 1988, p. 122).

 

Two Irish laborers were working on the road outside a house of prostitution. Presently the local Protestant minister came along, pulled down his hat, and walked into the building. Pat said to Mike, “Did you see that? What can you expect? He’s a Protestant, isn’t he?

 

Soon after, a rabbi arrived on the scene. He pulled his collar up and walked in too. Said Pat “What a terrible example for a religious leader to give his people!”

 

Finally, who should pass by but a Catholic priest. He drew his cloak around his head and slipped into the building. Said Pat, “Now isn’t it a terrible thing, Mike, to think that one of the girls must have taken ill?”

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22b-27): “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”

In today’s Second Reading (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22b-27) Paul shares with us his zeal for the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel is rooted in his call received from God and is not a ground for boasting. The only “meritorious” thing Paul can do is to proclaim the Gospel free of charge. For the sake of the Gospel of salvation he becomes the servant of all. He asserts: “I am a free man, nobody’s slave; but I make myself everybody’s slave in order to win as many people as possible.” Even Paul himself desires to share in the blessings of the Gospel. The desire for participation makes him aware that final salvation will not be so easy. In order to share in the Gospel blessings, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to dedicate themselves to this goal with sacrifice and self-renunciation like athletes running to win a race and boxers who train themselves to win the fight.

 

The following profile of a missionary helps us understand better the meaning of “becoming all things to all” for the sake of the saving Gospel (cf. Fr. Michael Calabria, OFM, “My Franciscan Journey” in The Anthonian, Spring-Summer 2013, p. 32-33).

 

Living and working as an academic librarian in New York City in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was struck by the very desperate conditions of the homeless. “How could I respond to such a misery?” I thought. The friars provided the answer. On my first visit to the church and friary on 31st Street, I was profoundly impressed by the way the friars treated those in need with the utmost respect, compassion and love. In time, the friars taught me this and put me in contact with people I would not have otherwise known. The friars preached a Gospel of inclusion and they lived it.

 

As a novice I ministered to sick in a hospital in Massachusetts, where I encountered not only the infirm and dying, but society’s outcast: AIDS patients, prostitutes and drug addicts. I learned to see people beyond their illness, addiction or stigma, to see them as beautifully made in the image and likeness of God.

 

Many years before entering the Order, I had earned degrees in Egyptology and spent time as a student doing archeological work in Egypt, a country I had come to love. It was at this time that I first became acquainted with Islam …. Over the years, my interest in Islam continued to grow. In discerning a vocation with the friars, I learned of Francis’ peaceful encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al_kamil in Egypt in 1219. I learned that he, too, had been impressed by his experience of Islam, such that many scholars believed it influenced his writings and prayer. I felt that at last my path had become clear: God was calling me as a friar to follow where Francis had gone, to go among the Muslims as a friend, servant and brother.

 

After completing two years of theological and pastoral studies at Washington Theological Union, I began that journey in earnest. I spent my pastoral year of 2001-2002 (the year before taking Solemn Vows) in Egypt ministering to people with leprosy. Like the homeless of New York City, the lepers were outcasts, feared and forgotten by society. The disease causes irreparable damage to the face, hands and feet, and it was difficult not to see in them the image of the crucified Christ. This was and continues to be one of the most formative years of my life. I was formed by the love and support of co-workers, but perhaps more profoundly by the patients themselves. Even in the midst of great suffering and disfigurement, they continue to give God thanks and praise. (…)

 

I travelled to Syria, a country now torn apart by a terrible war. In Damascus, I visited the great Umayyad Mosque which houses a shrine containing the head of John the Baptist who is considered a prophet in Islam. There I saw Muslims and Christians praying at the shrine side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and I thought: “I have had a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do I give in to a righteous tendency to judge my neighbors and condemn their “faults”? Do I endeavor to remove the “wooden beam” in my eye in order to help my brother remove the “sawdust” in his eye?

 

2. Do we imitate Saint Paul in his zeal for the Gospel? Are we willing “to become all things to all” for the salvation of our brothers and sisters?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Lord,

you are God’s compassion and righteousness.

Help us to stop judging harshly that we may not be judged.

Help us to be compassionate.

Deal kindly with us.

With true seeing “eye”,

may we perceive the beauty of charity

and embrace our duty to care for our brothers and sisters.

Teach us to imitate Saint Paul

in his zeal to proclaim the Gospel to all.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Remove the wooden beam from your eye first.” (Lk 6:42) // “I have become all things to all.” (1 Cor 9:22b)  

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Before making a judgmental remark, hold your tongue and pray to God for the spirit of compassion and the grace not to make false judgments. To help you make life-giving choices that are pleasing to God, make the examination of the heart a part of your life. In your own little way imitate St. Paul’s apostolic endeavor “to become all things to all.”

 

 

*** *** ***

September 12, 2020: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (23); THE MOST HOLY NAME OF THE BLESSED VRIGIN MARY; BVM ON SATURDAY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Be His Disciples in Word and in Deed … We Are the Body of Christ”

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 10:14-22 // Lk 6:43-49

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:43-49): “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do what I command?”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Lk 6:43-49) Jesus uses fruit-tree images to underline the source of a person’s actions. Just as the fruit tells us whether or not the tree is healthy and from what variety of tree it comes from, so the words and deeds of those who claim to be his disciples manifest the quality and reality of their relationship with Jesus. They can be true disciples of Jesus if they will be able to hear his words and put them into practice.

 

Using the powerful image of a solid foundation, Jesus likewise urges his disciples to build their lives upon his words, which are life’s sure foundation. We must not simply proclaim in words that Jesus is Lord and call upon him as our Lord Savior. We must act in a way that corresponds to the inner strength of our word. Our actions must give witness to the faith we profess.  Our worship of God must be incarnated in the life we live.

 

The following story of Jo Dee Baker from Slidell, Louisiana, whose lovely house and beautiful garden were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, tells of a community of believers whose efficacious faith is founded on a solid foundation (cf. “Angels on the Move” in Guideposts, Large Print Edition, March 2006, p. 5-9). Both Jo, the victim of a natural calamity, and the caregivers from the Baptist Church illustrate how wonderful and marvelous is a faith that is put into practice.

 

My beautiful yard was a mess of uprooted trees and debris; the salt water had burned the grass a sickly brown. My lovely white picket fence lay on its side, and shingles from my roof littered the ground like fallen leaves. Inside, slimy mud covered the floors, and water from the storm surge had tossed all my furniture upside down. The walls were caked black with mildew. Practically everything I owned was ruined. How could I ever come back from this? How could anyone? (…)

 

So many people needed help, and help was spread thin. “Lord”, I prayed, “I need some divine intervention here.” The next day, I pulled up to my house just as a man with a pickup truck was slowly passing by. He stopped, rolled down the window and leaned out. “Do you need any help?” he shouted. I laughed halfheartedly. “Help? I need an army,” I said. “I’m Brother Johnny from First Baptist Church of Pontchatoula.” He wrote down my name, address and number. “We’ll be in touch, Ma’am.” Then he drove off. But after two weeks I still hadn’t heard from him.

 

One Monday morning, lugging another bag of my ruined treasures to the curb, I stared down the street at the mountains of trash and destroyed homes. “So many people have lost so much,” I thought. Just then, my cell phone rang. Service was still spotty, but the voice on the other end was loud and clear. “Hello, it’s Brother Johnny. I’ve got some people who want to volunteer to help you. They’ll be calling you.” That was it. He hung up. Then the phone rang again. “Jo Dee? This is Jimmy Brown. I’m from the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Rives, Tennessee. We need to know what you need, exactly.” Where to begin? I told him about the mildewed floors, the torn up roof. “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ll be there. See you next Tuesday morning.” (…)

 

Nineteen people had traveled all the way from Tennessee just to help little old me. They spent three days cleaning the rot and grime and putting on my new roof. Two weeks after they left, about 40 more, from an association of 45 churches, came to finish the job! They ripped out and replaced the flooring, repainted the house, put in new shelves and cabinets, installed a stove and a water heater. By the time they were done, the house looked better than ever!

  

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 10:14-22): “We, though many, are one Body for we all partake of the one bread.”

 

Today’s First Reading (1 Cor 10:14-22) is a powerful witness of the Eucharistic faith of the Christian community. The Eucharist builds the Church, whose head is Jesus Christ. Participation in the body and blood of Christ is the source of the life and unity of the Church as one body. The biblical scholar, Richard Kugelman comments: “Through eating the bread and drinking the cup Christians are united to Christ in an intimate fellowship, because the Eucharist is his body and blood. From this Eucharistic fellowship with Christ follows the real union of all the faithful with one another in one body. Baptism incorporates the Christians into the body of the Risen Lord; the Eucharist in which each communicant receives the body of Christ strengthens and cements the union. The Eucharist is consequently the sacramentum unitatis ecclesiae (Augustine), and when we receive the Eucharistic bread, Christ assimilates and transforms us, making us his body.”

 

Saint Augustine explicates: “You see on God’s altar bread and a cup. That is what the evidence of your eyes tells you, but your faith requires you to believe that the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ. In these few words we can say perhaps all that faith demands. (…) These things, my friends are called sacraments, because our eyes see in them one thing, our understanding another. Our eyes see the material form; our understanding, its spiritual effect. If, then, you want us to know what the body of Christ is, you must listen to what the Apostle tells the faithful: Now you are the body of Christ, and individually you are members of it … Listen to what the Apostle says over and over again when speaking of this sacrament: Because there is one loaf, we, though we are many, form one body. Now bear in mind that bread is not made of a single grain, but many. Be then, what you see, and receive what you are. So much for what the Apostle says about the bread. As for the cup, what we have to believe is quite clear, although the Apostle does not mention it expressly. Just as the unity of the faithful, which Holy Scripture describes in the words: They are of one mind and heart in God, should be like the kneading together of many grains into one visible loaf, so with the wine. Think how wine is made. Many grapes hung in the cluster, but their juice flows together into an indivisible liquid. It was thus that Christ our Lord signified us, and his will that we should belong to him when he hallowed the sacrament of our peace and unity on his altar.”

 

The following article by John Feister, “The Eucharistic Faith of Actor Clarence Gilyard” illustrates the journey of Clarence towards participation in the Eucharist (cf. St. Anthony Messenger, April 2009, p. 23-26).

 

Sometimes all that it takes for a person to find the Eucharist is the invitation of a friend – and the grace of God. That’s what happened to Hollywood celebrity Clarence Gilyard. Raised in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, he left religion behind during the years he became famous acting alongside Jim Carrey (The Duck Factory), Tom Cruise (Top Gun), Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and on TV, most famously co-starring with Andy Griffith (Matlock), then Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger). (…)

 

In spite of his success, or perhaps because of it, there were problems. Clarence’s behavior was not proper for a married man: “My wife left me because I started to have an affair”, he admits. She took the children and wanted a divorce. Clarence got a wake-up call. “I was speaking a different language than the language of truth and accountability”, he says. Now he was sleepless: “Sure, I was hot as far as television was concerned. But I didn’t have my two babies. I didn’t have my wife. I was in Dallas; they were in Marina del Rey, California. She was filing for divorce.”

 

It was as much as he could do to go to work each day, he recounts. He ended the extramarital affair and got into a therapy group. “The only thing that was comforting was being in the presence of somebody where I could talk about my pain, then being with a group of people who were talking of their pain”, he remembers. Someone in the group invited Clarence to go to Mass with him. “So I went to a 5:30 Mass at St. Rita’s in Dallas.” Sunday evening was a hard time for him to be at church, because he was so mindful of everything from the weekend and days, even years, preceding that. He had spent a lot of time on his knees, alone, in his anguish. Now he had to go to his knees in the presence of everyone. “I was in the assembly with everyone, acknowledging …” His voice trails off.

 

“I don’t know how many Catholics are aware of why we are on our knees in the presence of Jesus”, he continues. “That’s where I needed to be. Mother Church allows that and informs us that way”, he says. “It is one of the great gifts.” Being near the Eucharist made Clarence intensely aware of the presence of God, he explains. “It’s all about the presence of God in the consecrated host. Otherwise, it’s just a building. If Jesus is not present, it’s a sham”, he says. But Jesus is present, he knows: “I experienced it that day and to this day. To this day, it is what sustains me.”

 

He describes “needing” to go to daily Mass, and when he slips, he recommits himself to the practice. He had known God’s mercy, God’s grace. Back in the early 90’s, when his religious awakening had occurred, he soon got himself to a priest: “I dumped everything out” and after it was all over, he was “in a state of grace”, he says. The priest told him, “You’re in a great place, kid.” “I’ve never forgotten that.” That Jesuit counseled Clarence into an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program for joining the Catholic Church and gave him some booklets for daily prayer.

 

His friend from therapy, whose privacy Clarence protects, invited Clarence to come to be with his family on Sundays when Clarence wasn’t invited back to be with his own family in California. “I would spend Sunday afternoon, then we’d go to Mass. They taught me the Rosary.” Then he would drive back to work for the week.

 

Over the course of the RCIA, Clarence developed a hunger for the Eucharist. “I so much wanted the Body of Christ”, he recalls. Since he was traveling overseas that Easter, he delayed his reception into Church until the following Christmas, the day after his own birthday, eight years ago. (…)

 

Along his life’s journey, Clarence Gilyard, the dramatist, has discovered a role, he says, “attracting people to God’s presence in my life”. The Eucharist is his food along the way. With a grateful heart, he adds, along with so many Christians who found their way home before him, “We are the Body of Christ.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do our words and actions manifest the fruitfulness of the seed of the Gospel in us? Is our faith solidly built on the word of God? Is it efficacious and operative? How do we translate our faith into action?  

 

2. Do we truly believe that at the Eucharistic table the cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread that we break is a participation in the blood of Christ?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

help us to trust in the saving word of Jesus.

May our faith be true and shown by our actions.

By the strength of the same Spirit help us to pursue what is good

that we may bear abundant fruits of holiness and good works.

As living and active members of the Body of Christ,

let us always be nourished at the table of the Word and Eucharist.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

     

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

            “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words and acts on them.” (Lk 6:47) // “We, though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:17)

 

  

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

When life’s trials seem to submerge you, pray to God that he may strengthen your faith. Extend your helping hand and share the Word with those whose faith is wavering. To help you experience the fruitfulness of God’s living word and the wondrous reality of the “one bread … one body”, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration.

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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