Wednesday, February 27, 2019
“Keep Salt in Yourself” by Beth DeCristofaro
Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day. For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. (Sirach 5:7)
"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another." (Mark 9:50)
Come, Holy Spirit…Come, purify your Church. Come, Lord Jesus, be our one truly Good Shepherd, especially when our other shepherds fail us...Jesus, Good Shepherd, protect our children…bring the healing that can only come from you to all victims of abuse…and lead us as a Church, especially as Church leaders, through the repentance and purification we need to be more truly your disciples and serve you by our lives.[i]
Fr. Phil Hurley, St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, Raleigh, NC
The full Gospel reading recounts Jesus warning the disciples that it is better to cut off a hand, a foot, an eye than being led into sin through one of them. Today our Church and her members are hurting, betrayed, and in need of spiritual strength as well as justice. Jesus’ message, again and again, is love, humility, the subservience of selfishness in order to follow him to the Cross and into resurrection. What must be cut off in order to restore his Body?
In Cursillo, we strive to be friends of Christ and bring new friends to Christ. Our striving for personal and ongoing conversion is dependent on and opens us to the movement of the Spirit which will renew the face of God’s Holy Church. Our saltiness is our vital faith. Our faithfulness can be shared, needs to be shared, with those who have been hurt, marginalized and denigrated. Our bishops and priests need our collaboration, “oversight, expertise, and accountability” (Archbishop W. Gregory) and our fervent prayers.
Starting with me, how do I keep from becoming insipid? How can I inspire and work for church well-being? Sr. Veronica’s wise words encourage a posture of humility and God’s leavening, leading presence.
Check out for a way to share your faith, your hope, your voice, your body with our ailing church.
1) Full transparency
2) Survivors’ voices
3) Simple Living
4) Put women in church leadership
5) Pray for a reformed church
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
"Seek Wisdom" by Colleen O’Sullivan
Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. He who loves her loves life; those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. He who holds her fast inherits glory; wherever he dwells, the Lord bestows blessings. Those who serve her serve the Holy One; those who love her the Lord loves. (Sirach 4:11-14)
“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us." (Mark 9:39b-40)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. (James 1:5)
Today’s readings are about Wisdom. The author of the first reading, Yeshua Ben Sira, a scribe who lived and taught in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C., tells us how to attain wisdom. Then, in the Gospel we see Jesus putting wisdom to work in his response to the disciples.
In the Book of Sirach, Wisdom is personified. Wisdom is inextricably linked with God, whom Ben Sira refers to as the “Holy One.” Wisdom is something desirable that we seek. Wisdom never comes running after us. If we never go looking for it, we aren’t likely to suddenly wake up one morning a wise person. When we have attained wisdom, we need to hold on to it. According to Ben Sira, observance of the Torah (the teaching or the Law) – loving, serving and obeying God – is at the heart of the pursuit of Wisdom. (David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 153) Finally, in this first reading, we are told to listen to and to trust what we hear when we attain Wisdom.
Wisdom isn’t just something we can find between the covers of a book. Wisdom is more often found over a lifetime of experiences. Maybe that’s why the people we call wise are generally older.
What does this have to do with you and me? As I follow the news and look around, I find myself wondering how many of us are even pursuing Wisdom. Or are we seeking other, more ephemeral things? Imagine someone taking a poll and asking responders, “What do you want more than anything?” How many of us in the world today would answer, “Wisdom?” How many more of us would show our hand, reveal that we’ve sold out to the world, and answer along the lines of “Win the next big Mega Millions or Powerball?”
Wisdom sometimes comes through living life, but only if we invite the Lord to sit with us and reflect with us on our experiences. That’s what takes the most time in prayer – listening for what Jesus has to say to us about the things that come our way, the good and the bad, and incorporating that into how we live and view life.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples show their immaturity and lack of wisdom. They run across someone doing things in Jesus’ name and want Jesus to condemn that other person because he’s not “one of them.” Jesus knows that “us and them” is a concept unknown to God. Every human being who has ever lived has been invited into the circle of God’s friendship. No one who does something good in Jesus’ name could possibly be outside that circle.
Where in your life do you wish you possessed greater wisdom? In prayer, ask God for that gift.
“Has Anyone Hoped in the Lord and Been Disappointed?” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)
You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. You who fear the LORD, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed?
Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you. (Psalm 37:5)
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me." (Mark 9:37)
Lord, help me to trust amid what seems to my earthly eye and brain to be Your disinterest in me.
I doubt there has ever been a human being who believed in a higher power of any sort and was not disappointed in that power at some point.
I’m not talking about stuff like not getting a coveted house or job or yet again not winning a lottery. I’m talking about the hard, hard things, tragedies that come out of nowhere: freak accidents that leave us or loved ones less than whole physically or mentally. Breathtaking betrayals by those we trusted completely. Where, you might ask, is God in any of that?
The words of the wise Sirach light the path, I think: “Study the generations long past and understand.” Our personal Via Dolorosa can seem too much to bear in the moment. But time is not only the great healer but also the great illuminator. We adjust the cross’s weight on our shoulders and move on in belief. And someday, perhaps not as far down the road as we expected, we see the value. We see we have become more patient, less judgmental, a better listener, a stronger advocate that we were before. In some way, we see, love has resulted from what happened, whether it was divinely sent or the result of evil or chance.
While we were disappointed then, today the burden is part of life and does not seem quite so heavy… because He is helping us carry it. The disappointment fades, and in its place comes joy and trust.
Pray intentionally for help with a weight you are attempting to carry alone.
Image credit: geralt at Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/signs-rust-board-disappointment-416444/
Sunday, February 24, 2019
"Help My Unbelief!”
All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him, it remains forever and is before all time. The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain, the days of eternity: who can number these? Heaven's height, earth's breadth, the depths of the abyss: who can explore these? Before all things else wisdom was created; and prudent understanding, from eternity. Sirach 1:1-4
“I do believe, help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24
The Lord is the source and preserver of all wisdom, which he pours out upon all. This was not an original thought from Ben Sirach. However, he may have expressed it more eloquently than the prophets before him. They use a variety of metaphors to equate Wisdom with God “from whom all good things flow.”
As for wisdom, where does she come from? Where is the place of understanding? She is hidden from the eyes of every living thing; even from the birds of the air, she is concealed. Job 28:20-21
“For the LORD gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; He has success in store for the upright, is the shield of those who walk honestly, Guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of his faithful ones, then you will understand what is right and just, what is fair, every good path…” Proverbs 2:6-9
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is a breath of the might of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore, nothing defiled can enter into her. For she is the reflection of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. Wisdom 7:24-26
Today’s Good News is a continuation of the story of the Transfiguration, the fourth Luminous Mystery in Saturday’s liturgy. Jesus gave Peter, James and John special insight and wisdom but commanded them not to share it until after the resurrection. Jesus picks up his ministry as if he had not skipped a beat to climb the mountain.
Approached by a man whose son needs healing, Jesus does not react the same way he did when the Pharisees demanded a “sign.” Even though the disciples were unable to drive out the demon which made the boy mute, an exasperated Jesus comes to the aid of the father and his belief.
“Help my unbelief!”
“This kind can only come out through prayer.”
We wonder about God. Like the father in Mark’s Gospel, we have our doubts…maybe doubts more about the men running the church than the Church. We have unbelief. How do we overcome the doubts, the unbelief, and the obstacles to prayer?
Prayer is many things to many people. Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. Above all, prayer can be our active conversation with God. One explanation of prayer comes from Matt Slick on the website CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM):
Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord.[i]
The Lord asks only one thing – that through prayer, we put our will behind the will of the Father (to love Him) and the needs of the community members around us (to love our neighbor).
The very opening of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that God made us to share his blessed life and infinite wisdom. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to us. God is always drawing near to us – but we don’t always return the gesture. The solution? Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. (James 4:8).
How can we draw near to God today to overcome our unbelief and share in his wisdom?
Saturday, February 23, 2019
“Bless Those Who Curse You” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)
Abishai whispered to David: “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!” But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the LORD’s anointed and remain unpunished?” So, David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul’s head, and they got away without anyone’s seeing or knowing or awakening. 1 Samuel 26:8-9,11-12)
Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” (Luke 6:27-29A)
Lord, please bless this person…I know he/she is my enemy right now, but bless this person with your wisdom and let your face shine on them. You blessed those who cursed you, even as you suffered in agony on the cross. You asked the Father to forgive those who were torturing you to death.
A “Manual” for Escaping Our Vicious Cycles through non-violence is what the Sermon on the Mount has been called; to transform the adversary - and, in the process, to be transformed ourselves.
Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, relates the following tale: It seems that in a certain village a snake had bitten so many people that few dared to go into the fields. Finally, it was taken to a wise person who tamed the snake and persuaded it to practice the discipline of nonviolence. When the villagers discovered the snake was harmless, they took to hurling stones at it and dragging it by its tail. Finally, the badly battered and disillusioned snake crawled to the wise one and complained bitterly.
"You've stopped frightening people," the wise one said, "and that's bad." The snake was incredulous. "But it was you who taught me to practice the discipline of nonviolence." "Oh," said the wise one, "I told you to stop hurting people, not stop hissing."
The word nonviolent is an adjective that modifies how we resist being treatedunjustly by others. It does not mean that we are being a push-over but rather that we are seeking justice in the most peaceful way possible. As Desmond Tutu said, "A justice-seeking people is more dangerous to a tyrant than an arms-bearing one."
“Love your enemies and do good to them” suggests we tend to become what we hate. It does not mean to accept terrorism or mass shootings or prevent the harshest legal consequences for those actions. Rather, Jesus is saying that if I hate the people who undertake these actions, I am not hating monsters or demons. I’m hating fellow humans. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Jesus loved us and died for us when we were his enemies. In our First Reading, Saul is trying to kill David. David has the opportunity to kill Saul and David’s general offered to do it, saying God is allowing this opportunity to kill Saul. David says no and gives a strong theological argument for not harming Saul, but note that David creatively takes Saul’s spear, the weapon used on attempts on David’s life.
“Bless those who curse you.”
A wise man seemed quite unruffled by the insults hurled at him by a visitor. When his disciples later asked him what the secret of his serenity was, he said: “Imagine what would happen if someone placed an offering before you and you did not pick it up. Or someone sent you a letter that you refused to open; you would be unaffected by its contents, would you not? Do this each time you are insulted, and you will not lose your serenity.”
Theologically, we could say that the evil that arises in curses is not a substance, but the twisting of blessings as they lose their orientation toward God. The foundational doctrine is that evil is only understandable in terms of the good. Existentially, good is primary and foundational. Evil is only parasitic, feeding off the good. So, when you are rooted in that moment in the good, in God, you understand that the bully or person who swears at you or curses you is using words that are mere vapors. You understand that the People who criticize your life are often the same ones who don’t know the price you paid to get where you are today. When you bless those who curse you, you show you are not a slave to that other person's behavior.
“If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.”
A slap on the right cheek by characteristically right-handed people would not be the blow of an aggressor but the backhanded slap of a superior—a characteristically Jewish form of insulting someone deemed to be inferior. Jesus' command declares, "Don't trade insults;" he is not saying "submit yourself to physical abuse.” Yet ironically, he prescribes an action that will shame the other person, which is what turning the other cheek will do. One is to say, "Do it again! Here is my other cheek!" St. Paul, in discussing this teaching and the one following about being kind to one's enemies, understands the shaming intent perfectly. He cites Proverbs 25:21-22 and says that such an action "will heap burning coals upon [the adversary's] head" (Rom 12:20). The enemy will be nonplussed, and the conflict will likely not escalate. Jesus is telling his followers to find creative, active, and nonviolent ways to assert their humanity and God’s love in the world.
What is Hoped
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.…But without faith, it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:1,6)
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. Mark 9:7-8
Hebrews chapter eleven draws upon the people and events of the Old Testament to paint an inspiring portrait of religious faith, firm and unyielding in the face of any obstacles that confront it.
Through faith God guarantees the blessings to be hoped for from him, providing evidence in the gift of faith that what he promises will eventually come to pass (Heb 11:1). Because they accepted in faith God’s guarantee of the future, the biblical personages discussed in Heb 11:3–38 were themselves commended by God (Heb 11:2). Christians have even greater reason to remain firm in faith since they, unlike the Old Testament men and women of faith, have perceived the beginning of God’s fulfillment of his messianic promises. (Notes in the New American Bible, Revised Edition - bold type added)
The juxtaposition of Hebrews 11 and the Luminous Mystery of the Transfiguration strikes me as curiously odd. After all, Peter, James, and John did not have to rely upon faith. They had first-hand knowledge and direct experience with Jesus. That was their “ticket” to the top of the mountain where they added to the evidence with direct interaction with God, Moses, and Elijah. Such direct experience is beyond our reach and understanding. Or is it?
Peter, James, and John handed down the direct experience of the messianic promises. We can experience the fulfillment of these promises as they are re-enacted in daily Mass and by remaining observant to the luminous mystery of the world that surrounds us every day.
Friday, February 22, 2019
Bind on Earth
Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:2-3
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:15-18
As the bishops gathered in Rome for the Protection of Minors summit, the first reading seems almost intentionally selected by the Holy Spirit and addressed right at them. After all, “In imitation of Christ, the chief shepherd, those entrusted with a pastoral office are to tend the flock by their care and example.”
Jesus introduced the imagery of the shepherd caring for the flock. Shepherds guard the gatefold to keep the wolves out of the pen. However, in the Hebrew Bible, the servant is given symbols of authority: the robe, sash, and key.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. Isaiah 22:22
The protection is not limited to only minors in the flock. As George Weigel notes, “The plague of sexually abusive clergy manifests itself in different ways in different ecclesiastical contexts.”[i]
However, some are trying to say that the context matters and that there is no single solution that will work in all circumstances. Weigel continues: “So while the bottom of the bottom line for the “abuse summit” must be an unambiguous, clarion call to the entire Church to live chastity as the integrity of love, there is no single reform template that will address different forms of clerical sexual misconduct in quite diverse circumstances.”
That may be the case in different cultural, legal, political, and social contexts. However, it has never before stopped the Church from imposing its standards in a “catholic” (general) way on all the faithful.
The real need is to get back to the roots of the communities addressed by Peter in the first reading. Let’s hope the Vatican empowers the local conferences in each country to adopt reforms that will work from a baseline of love and Chasity and service and humility. Action can no longer be from a basis of secrecy, power, clericalism, and ego. Uniform standards for protection, transparency, and episcopal accountability have to be the first steps.
During the meetings taking place at the Vatican for “Protection of Minors in the Church” February 21 to 24, open wide the doors of your soul, light a candle, and pray for healing, guidance, and wisdom in these deliberations continue. This meeting seeks a path forward for the Church, that all bishops and religious leaders might hear the voice of victims and deepen a sense of responsibility, accountability, and transparency.
Thursday, February 21, 2019
“Living as God’s Image” by Beth DeCristofaro
God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: … For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting: from every animal, I will demand it, and from one man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life. If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made. (Genesis 9:1, 5-6)
Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him. At this, he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:32-32)
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:32-32)
By God's grace, I was born to live in freedom,
free to enjoy the pleasures He created for me.
Dear Lord, grant that I may live as you intended,
with complete confidence in your loving care.
free to enjoy the pleasures He created for me.
Dear Lord, grant that I may live as you intended,
with complete confidence in your loving care.
Thinking like a human! And yet, God created us human, in his image. An illustration from comics, the angel on one shoulder advising caution to a person and the devil on the other shoulder taunting toward sinful behaviors comes to mind. Except that God doesn’t tell us that our human nature is evil. God knows it is limited and focused in the wrong place: survival. Of course, no longer living in caves, our human brain expands survival to include creature comforts, fitting in, getting one’s way, being first whether in line in traffic or in the board room, dominance, prominence and more.
What holds us back? Peter witnesses to Jesus as God. Peter also believes that he wants to protect Jesus – protect him from harm but also, conceivably, from an image of the Messiah that doesn’t fit Peter’s imagination. Peter wants Jesus to conform to his desire for redemption. Peter, is us, resisting God’s will for us. It takes awareness, desire, constant practicing to renounce myself and allow myself to go with Jesus in his grace.
We can start by being aware of others, welcoming of others and their demands on us. Gratitude for those demands, gratitude that God gives us the opportunities to model God’s image and see God through others – renouncing the irritation or judgment that might stir in us. Today, say a prayer for every person who imposes on you and say a prayer of direction for yourself.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
"In Need of Multiple Healings" by Colleen O’Sullivan
How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:12-13)
The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:12-13)
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida, people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)
Lord, our attraction to the world often leaves us blind to all we know about you and your Kingdom. Restore our sight that we might be faithful disciples.
|Christ Healing the Blind, detail from Sinope Gospels (6th century illuminated |
Greek Gospel), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes where a story is placed in the Gospel narrative tells us more about its meaning than the story itself. By itself, today’s reading from Mark is puzzling. What’s going on? Why isn’t the man fully healed on Jesus’ first attempt? Is this blind man’s trouble more deep-seated than most? Or is Jesus having an “off” day healing-wise?
There are two separate accounts of Jesus healing the blind in Mark’s Gospel. The second one is found in Mark 10:46-52. Actually, these two stories serve as bookends on either side of the narrative of Jesus’ and his disciples’ journey to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus tells his friends three separate times that he will suffer and die. They clearly don’t understand what he is saying. But even before that, Mark has given us, his readers, some hints: Jesus talks about the bridegroom being taken away (Mk. 2:20). The Pharisees are seen conspiring with the Herodians to seize Jesus (Mk. 3:6). Last but not least, Judas Iscariot is described as the one who betrays Jesus (Mk. 3:19). We readers can see where this is heading even before today’s reading. But no matter what Jesus says, his group of twelve simply doesn’t seem to get it. James and John, pushed by their mother, desire places of honor on either side of their leader. Peter rebukes Jesus at the very thought that his friend should suffer, and is referred to as Satan for his efforts. The concept of a suffering Messiah remains alien to the disciples right to the very end.
That it takes two attempts to heal this blind man is symbolic of the difficulty in getting the disciples to show any insight into who Jesus really is and what he is about. The dance between Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ misunderstanding continues until after the Resurrection.
Even though we have the advantage of being post-Resurrection people, sometimes we don’t show a great deal more insight into who Jesus is than his first disciples did. Prosperity gospel preachers tell us that the Lord wants us to be blessed with wealth and material goods. Actually, I’ve never read that message in the Gospels. Reread the Beatitudes. They’re more about the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed than about amassing riches for ourselves. And, remember what Jesus told that rich young man who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him he was doing many things right, but he would need to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.
Jesus died out of love for us and the desire to give us a way out of our sinfulness to eternal life with him and his Father. He hopes you and I will live the way he died – for others. No hoarding of the graces and blessings God bestows on us. Instead, share what we receive, whether love, forgiveness or material blessings, with our brothers and sisters.
All this runs deeply counter to the world’s messages. And there are days when Jesus might need to heal any one of us multiple times, because the pull of the world is so strong and attractive. It’s not easy to live as though the last will be first. It’s very difficult to die to self in order to really live. It can be almost impossible at the mall or online on Amazon.com to remember that our wants can easily far exceed our needs and that there are many whose basic needs go unmet.
The psalmist practices gratitude and asks himself: “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” Gratitude seems like the place to start in living a Christian life. When we’re truly grateful for what Jesus has done for us, much of the rest falls into place. If we see ourselves as blessed, there’s no need for seeking places of honor or to feel like no amount of wealth or possessions could ever be enough. If we see ourselves as the recipients of many graces, it is easy to share out of that abundance.
Lent is approaching. Ash Wednesday is two weeks from today. Maybe we could start right now (and continue on through Lent) a daily practice of naming at least one grace or blessing for which we are thankful when we approach the Lord in prayer. When we do that day after day, year in and year out, it’s amazing what transforming power that prayer can have on our lives.
Monday, February 18, 2019
“The Leaven of the Pharisees” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)
So the LORD said: “I will wipe out from the earth the men whom I have created, and not only the men but also the beasts and the creeping things and the birds of the air, for I am sorry that I made them.” But Noah found favor with the LORD.
The Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11b)
He enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:15-21)
Lord, help me to cast aside the leaven that the world offers me.
|Rembrandt, Public Domain|
They were judgmental and fearful, the Pharisees and Herod. The last thing they wanted was for Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God being at hand to take hold among the people. Jesus threatened the status quo, threatened their positions, threatened what they had been told all their lives was right and true.
And so it is today. Our political leaders and more than a few of those who would call themselves our spiritual leaders are judgmental and fearful. Focusing on Jesus’s teachings runs counter to their agendas. It casts light on their very human failings, failings that surely we are called to forgive but that threaten their positions and standings.
You might feel powerless. You might feel discouraged. You might feel that there is nothing you can do personally to set the world aright. And you would be right—if it were not for the fact that the Lord is always there, hand extended, offering to join you in the struggle.
Spoiler alert: The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod didn’t win the day in AD 33. It will not win the day in 2019. Fill your heart and soul and mind and body with the leaven that lasts. Listen to Him, and you will understand.
Resolve not to spend a single moment today beating your breast or gnashing your teeth about failures of the Church or politicians.
Sin is a Demon Lurking at The Door
So the LORD said to Cain: “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen. If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.” Genesis 4:6-7
The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Mark 8:11-12
In Mark’s Gospel alone, consider what Jesus has done up until this point [The Roman numerals in brackets indicate the chapter where Mark shares these stories in his Gospel]:
- [I]Curing the Demonic
- Curing Simon’s Mother-in-Law
- Other Healings not enumerated
- Curing the Leper
- [II]Curing the Paralytic let in from the roof
- [III] Man with the withered hand
- [IV] Calming a storm at sea
- [V] The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac
- Jairus’s Daughter
- The Woman with a Hemorrhage
- Feeding the Five Thousand
- Walking on Water
- Healings at Gennesaret
- The Syrophoenician Woman’s Daughter
- The Deaf Man
- The Feeding of the Four Thousand
This list only covers Jesus’ work in the first eight chapters of Mark’s Good News. It does not include the details of some large-scale episodes only summarized. It does not include the work the apostles accomplished when they were commissions and went out in the world.
People were talking about this work even when Jesus asked them to keep quiet. (“What’s the buss? Tell me what’s happening?”) Now, after this track record, Jesus gets into another dust-up with the Doubting Pharisees who demand yet another sign. Their objection: Jesus’ miracles up to this point are insufficient if they were not there to see them with their own eyes.
Jesus rolls his own eyes and basically says that he will work when and where he chooses but he is not a circus act performing to the will of the ticket-buying crowd. Jesus will not perform any sign or miracle to human demand that does not originate in faith exhibited like that of the Syrophoenician woman who asked (not demanded) that her daughter be cured.
We’ve been here before. Well, not us but Moses. Remember that the Lord was as upset with Moses and the people as Jesus is exasperated in today’s encounter.
And the LORD said to Moses: How long will this people spurn me? How long will they not trust me, despite all the signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:11)
The LORD answered: I pardon them as you have asked. Yet, by my life and the LORD’s glory that fills the whole earth, of all the people who have seen my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have not obeyed me, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their ancestors. None of those who have spurned me shall see it. (20-23)
Sin and Doubt are the demons knocking at the door. Jesus does not expect his followers to have faith in the bells and tassels of the Pharisees. He wants a relationship with them directly. Today, that can be hard when we are confronted weekly with the revelation-by-revelation of the abuse crisis.
Our modern-day Pharisees might wear the regalia of an abusing priest, a bishop or a diocesan official who covered up the crimes with secrecy. Last week, new abuser lists were put out in Arlington, Trenton, Brooklyn, and Richmond. Hundreds of more priests were added to the ranks of serial abusers and bishops in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia are now added to the ranks of the cover-up artists. Yet one of those lists fails to note a parish abuse story covered prominently in the pages of the Washington Post.
As noted by Michael Rezendes, a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team that revealed the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, “It is difficult to exaggerate the crisis that has engulfed the Catholic Church due to unending revelations about priests who have sexually abused children, young adults — even nuns — and the bishops who have covered up for them.[i]
Stephen Pope, a Boston College theology professor, said Pope Francis “has good intentions.” But he also said it’s time for the Vatican to address the increasingly urgent calls for change coming from within the church.
“The church can no longer be an island of secrecy and privilege,” he said. “There has to be transparency and accountability. The church’s survival depends on it.”[ii]
Maybe our church’s survival depends more upon our relationship with the cornerstone: Jesus Christ and the cross he carried on his back and the nail in his hands and feet. We are not called to have faith in a building or a bishop. If that is all that our faith is built upon, we are bound to be as disappointed as the sign-seeking Pharisees.