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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 23, 2009

It is good for me every now and then to examine my patterns of relationships and decide to whom or to what I will recommit myself. The three Sunday readings do exactly that. Joshua gathers the tribes of Israel together for a communal discernment. He is the new leader of the nation and he respectfully memorializes the saving work the Lord has done for his people and though he asks the people to choose whom they will serve, he plainly declares that he and his tribe will serve the Lord. Though he is free to choose, Joshua can only serve the God who has been steadfast to him.

Jesus poses a similar question to his disciples in John’s Gospel. Recall that the people just witnessed the miraculous feeding by the Good Shepherd and then heard his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Jesus knows that many cannot accept his teaching and you may be able to sense his sadness that many will turn away from him. With heartache, he turns to his closest friends and asks them, “Do you also want to leave?” to which Peter replies for all the Twelve, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” And I want to echo Peter’s words, “Of course, I will stay with you. You have been and will always be my Lord and my God. My life does not make sense without you.”

While this is a deeply personal response by Peter to Jesus in John’s Gospel, John is bolstering the faith of the Christians who are being shunned by the Jews in every sphere of life that is meaningful to them, including social and liturgical ostracism. Many Christians have left the faith because of the immense pressures on them, but John is reminding them that the words of Jesus are spirit and life and that belief in Jesus, who gave his life for the good of the world, is the way to eternal life and vindication. Peter, not only speaks for the Twelve, he speaks for all followers who are persecuted and are withstanding immense pressure to renounce the faith. “Master, to whom shall we go?” My life does not make sense without you.

Another hard saying this week for many to accept appears in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in which many women (and men) find Paul’s words offensive to women’s rightful place in society. I tend to think that Paul is not so much making an evaluation on the Mediterranean household codes or the status of women as much as he is outlining the pattern of relationship we are to model for one another. It goes like this: just as Christ loves the church, we are to imitate his love by treating our closest and dearest relationships in the same manner. We are to love our wives as ourselves; we are to respect our husbands in the same way we cherish our own persons; we are to care for our loved ones wholeheartedly and not take anyone for granted. We are to adopt, in imitation Christi, the same self-sacrificing love towards our loved ones and neighbors.

So, whom or what will you choose this week? Will you recommit? As for me and my house, I will choose the Lord. My life does not make sense without him.

Quote for the Week

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine

Themes for this Week’s Masses

Traditionally, the first readings for Mass are based on the Old Testament, but this week we hear Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in the New Testament canon. Amidst many struggles and suffering in Philippi, the faithful in Thessaly receive Paul and his companions well. Paul and his cohorts are gentle with the people so they are able to receive the Gospel of God with greater trust. The kind treatment of the people is testimony to the work God is doing through Paul, and the people can be assured that they are truly receiving the word of God, not the words of people. Paul affectionately tells them that he cannot wait to see them again to correct the deficiencies of their faith. He reminds them of the code of holiness and morality for Christians and leaves them with fraternal charity of one another, but exhorts them to pay attention to God’s instructions for them so they may progress further in holiness.

As we approach the end of Jesus’ statements about the nature of the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospels, the tensions heat up as Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They preach a difficult teaching, but neglect the meaningful aspects of their traditions. They govern with their laws rather than the heartfelt care for neighbors. Jesus encourages his disciples to be vigilant, just like the ten virgins who wait for the return of the bridegroom, for God’s day will come when you will probably have let your guard down.

Saints of the Week

Just who is the Apostle Bartholomew that we celebrate on Monday? They Synoptic Gospels refer to Bartholomew as Philip while John does not use the name at all, but associates it with Nathaniel who was sitting under the fig tree when Andrew, Peter’s brother, called him to meet Jesus. Nathaniel was said to be “a true Israelite in whom there is no guile.”

On Tuesday, the church remembers Louis of France, who was an exemplary Christian King of France for forty-four years as he practiced mercy, sought out justice, and built a peace that the people to prosper in their work and commerce. He was known for his piety and for this strong Christian character.

Thursday is the day to honor Monica, mother of Augustine who is celebrated Friday. Our knowledge of her comes from The Confessions by her son as he details her efforts in returning him to the Christian faith from Manichaeism. A Christian herself, she married Patricius, a non-Christian, and when he died a year after his conversion, Monica set herself to prayer and fasting in order to bring Augustine back to the faith.

Friday is the day to honor Augustine, Bishop and Doctor. A North African, Augustine converted back to the faith after hearing Ambrose preach in Milan. Baptized on Easter Sunday in 387, he was ordained four years later and became a bishop of Hippo two years following priestly ordination. He preached against the dangers of heresies, including Manichaeism, the faith he renounced to become a Christian, and Donatism and Pelagianism. He wrote his Confessions, which tell about his life, and the City of God, On the Trinity, and On Christian Doctrine. He wrote at a crucial period of time – a time in which the Roman Empire was beginning its disintegration. His writings helped shape the basic tenets of Christianity for the next thousand years.

On Saturday, we memorialize the Martyrdom of John the Baptist. The vivid portrait of Herod’s decadent meal stands in stark contrast to the meal Jesus offers in Mark 6. During Herod’s party, he foolishly promises his daughter, Salome, that he would grant her anything she wanted if she danced well for his guests. She asks for the head of John the Baptist who insulted her mother by condemning her incestuous and adulterous marriage. The conflicted Herod who could not revoke his oath complied with her request.

Book Recommendations

You may like to read Discerning Your Personal Vocation: The search for meaning though the Spiritual Exercises by Herbert Alphonso, S.J. It is a short book that helps a person discover the nature of his or her vocation through the movements of the Spiritual Exercises. It does not look at vocation as necessarily to religious life or to the married state, but rather as a unique character that is stamped inside a person by God. One’s vocation is unchanging and permanent and helps a person discern all other choices in life. It helps one deepen one’s meaning in life.

Blog Updates

Check out my blog http://predmore.blogspot.com// as it changes periodically throughout the week.

Upcoming Lecture

On Thursday, September 10th, Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, will speak at Catherine McAuley High School at 7:30 p.m. Her tale is gripping and her past speeches have moved the hearts of many as she works to build a world in which the roots causes of murder and death are eliminated from human hearts.

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