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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 24, 2012
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80

                The birth of John the Baptist is commemorated on June 24th, which is around the midway point to Christmas, the birth of the Lord. An alternate Gospel reading to todays depicts John, at the height of his ministry, recognizing that he must decrease so that Jesus of Nazareth can increase. As Christ is the light of the world and Christmas is the victory of light over darkness, the sunlight is at its strongest peak at the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice and will begin to decrease until Christmas Day.

          This alternate reading means a great deal to me as it is the anniversary of the day I sold my condo to enter the Jesuits signifying the ways I am to decrease so Christ can increase in my life. I find myself at a similar spot as I am writing this from Jordan, the place of my new ministry as a missionary. As I detach from collected worldly possessions once again, I am reminded of the ways I have to let Christ’s work be magnified through me. Preparing for a ministry like this is painful because it is almost like preparing for one’s demise because we have to make choices about what to give away while retaining the minimal basics. It means storing and detaching from gifts for which many memories are associated. These memories give life meaning and identity.

          I am told that in the first half of life, one does what one can to claim his or her own identity. The choices we make are about gathering meaningful people, places, and events to ourselves. The second half of life is about detaching from those same things in freedom. Ironically, the gathering of the first half and the dispersal during the second half of life define who we are. Today’s readings are all about our identity and plan with God.

          Isaiah’s passage reveals that each of us has an intimate relationship with God, who calls us from birth and while in our mother’s womb gives us a name. He says that we are not called only to be servants of God, but we are called to become a light to the nations so that the story of salvation can be seen through us to the ends of the earth.

          Luke’s tale of the infancy narrative of Jesus also tells us about John’s origins. As he was born to the elder Elizabeth, it was expected that the boy would receive his father’s name, Zechariah, who is struck dumb because he doubts the Lord when he learns his wife will become pregnant. During the term of her pregnancy and even after John’s birth, Zechariah cannot speak at all. At the ritual circumcision and naming, Elizabeth surprises everyone by announcing that her son is to be called John. As they are confused, they appeal to Zechariah who writes on a tablet, “His name is John.” To everyone’s utter amazement, Zechariah’s tongue is freed and he can speak once again. The name John means “the grace of God.”

          It shows us that the power to appropriately name someone or something is liberating. Isaiah tells us that God gives us a name in our mother’s womb and oftentimes we do not carry that name throughout life. Sometimes we are not fond of the name given to us at birth. It doesn’t feel right throughout life and we yearn for a different name. A nickname or a title is a better description of who we are. Often in retreat work, excercitants will announce that an alter person of themselves relates to God in a certain way and has an identity and relationship distinct to God. Owning a name that is spot on helps the person to grow as God intends. Something within us is freed when we claim who we are; our tongues are freed.

          Does your name fit you? What does it say about you and your particular set of relationships? If not, what would call yourself, or better yet, what does God call you? We do have to be known by a name that fits us in order for us to grow in God’s grace. After we have established this crucial identity, we can let Christ’s light grow in us and through us as his work of salvation is done through our good works.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The king of Assyria attacks the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and conquers most of the land. Though every prophet and seer warned the children of Israel, they people choose a path in defiance of the covenant. Only Judah survives the attacks. The Assyrian king sends a letter mocking the God of Israel and Hezekiah petitions God to listen to the cries of the people and to understand what is happening to them. God replies that he will save the city of David and will slaughter 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. Hilkiah discovers the book of the law in the temple and with a scribe presents it to the king who orders it read aloud. The king assembles all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and reads the book to the before committing themselves to the covenant. ~ Jehoiachin comes to the throne at age 18 and commits evil in the sight of the Lord. The Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and vanquishes their forces. All able-bodied men and women are brought captive to Babylon while the king appoints his uncle as king over Israel and changes his name to Zedekiah. ~ On Friday and Saturday, the church honors the work of Peter, Paul, and the first martyrs of Rome.

Gospel: As the Beatitudes’ Sermon continues, Jesus instructs the people not to judge others because we will live and die by the way we judge others. God’s judgment alone is the one that matters. For that matter, keep holy those possessions that you cherish, treat others as you would have them treat you, and choose the road that leads to salvation even though it is a narrow one. Learn to trust the voice of the true prophet so you are not duped by false ones. The way we do this is to look at the fruits produced by the tree. Keeping the Lord’s commandments is proof of discipleship because many will come at the Day of Judgment to call upon the Lord and he will not recognize them. Following his commands means that one has even resources to battle the harshest storms.

Saints of the Week

June 24: Nativity of John the Baptist (first century) was celebrated on June 24th to remind us that he was six months older than Jesus, according to Luke. This day also serves to remind us that, as Christ is the light of the world, John must decrease just as the daylight diminishes. John’s birth is told by Luke. He was the son of the mature Elizabeth and the dumbstruck Zechariah. When John was named, Zechariah’s tongue was loosened and he sang the great Benedictus.

June 27: Cyril of Alexandria, bishop and doctor (376-444), presided over the Council of Ephesus that fought Nestorian the heresy. Cyril claimed, contrary to Nestorius, that since the divine and human in Jesus were so closely united that it was appropriate to refer to Mary was the mother of God. Because he condemned Nestorius, the church went through a schism that lasted until Cyril's death. Cyril's power, wealth, and theological expertise influenced many as he defended the church against opposing philosophies.

June 28: Irenaeus, bishop and martyr (130-200) was sent to Lyons as a missionary to combat the persecution the church faced in Lyons. He was born in Asia Minor and became a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus asserted that the creation was not sinful by nature but merely distorted by sin. As God created us, God redeemed us. Therefore, our fallen nature can only be saved by Christ who took on our form in the Incarnation. Irenaeus refutation of heresies laid the foundations of Christian theology.

June 29: Peter and Paul, apostles (first century) are lumped together for a feast day because of their extreme importance to the early and contemporary church. Upon Peter's faith was the church built; Paul's efforts to bring Gentiles into the faith and to lay out a moral code was important for successive generations. It is right that they are joined together as their work is one, but with two prongs. For Jesuits, this is a day that Ignatius began to recover from his illness after the wounds he sustained at Pamplona. It marked a turning point in his recovery.

June 30: The First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (c. 64) were martyrs under Nero's persecution in 64. Nero reacted to the great fire in Rome by falsely accusing Christians of setting it. While no one believed Nero's assertions, Christians were humiliated and condemned to death in horrible ways. This day always follows the feast of the martyrs, Sts. Peter and Paul.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Jun 24, 1537. Ignatius, Francis Xavier, and five of the companions were ordained priests in Venice, Italy.
·         Jun 25, 1782. The Jesuits in White Russia were permitted by the Empress Catherine to elect a General. They chose Fr. Czerniewicz. He took the title of Vicar General, with the powers of the General.
·         Jun 26, 1614. By a ruse of the Calvinists, the book, "Defensio Fidei" by Francis Suarez was condemned by the French Parliament. In addition, in England James I ordered the book to be publicly burned.
·         Jun 27, 1978. Bernard Lisson, a mechanic, and Gregor Richert, a parish priest, were shot to death at St Rupert's Mission, Sinoia, Zimbabwe.
·         Jun 28, 1591. Fr. Leonard Lessius's teaching on grace and predestination caused a great deal of excitement and agitation against the Society in Louvain and Douai. The Papal Nuncio and Pope Gregory XIV both declared that his teaching was perfectly orthodox.
·         Jun 29, 1880. In France the law of spoliation, which was passed at the end of March, came into effect and all the Jesuit Houses and Colleges were suppressed.
·         Jun 30, 1829. The opening of the Twenty-first General Congregation of the order, which elected Fr. John Roothan as General.


  1. Lovely reflection and I feel for you so much in the process of "letting go" as you prepare for a momentous change in your life. Your trust in God will empower you for what is to come and is a light to us all.
    Special blessings and prayers are with you John.

    1. Thanks, Phil. Thanks for your consoling words. I do trust God is leading me to unexpected places. As I stood at Mt. Nebo this afternoon, looking at the Promised Land, I was reminded of the journey of Moses and the places he went and could not go. Thanks for your special blessings.

  2. Oh wow John... couldn't sleep, came to visit you and I just discover that you've gone to Jordan. Where Phil's remarks are so concise and beautifully meaningful (I always love her words), as silly as it probably sounds, I feel some kind of sadness. Your insight as to the way I tick will hopefully help you understand what I mean by that. Frankly, I'm not sure myself. It's getting close to 2am here in NM,and time to try and sleep. As I lay my head on my pillow, I will pray that God watch over you in this new ministry, this new beginning. Know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers. Peace to you, Jer...

  3. As you have written, our things hold memories for us and divesting ourselves of these things is very difficult. I have recently literally burned more than a dozen journals which were written during a difficult period of my life as I felt God telling me it was time to put those memories in the past. I was asked to make room for the present and the future with God. It was difficult but freeing. Thank you for your meaningful reflections.

    1. Wow. It sounds like you went through a fascinating process, Lynda. Good for you. It is difficult to do, but it can lead to our freedom. I'm proud of you.