The Power of the Spoken Word

Reflection on the Second Sunday of Advent (December 4)

By Sharon L. Geibel and Doris A. Dick

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

The full text of the readings can be found here.

When many Catholic congregations in Pittsburgh were first adopting the practice of receiving Eucharist in the hand, the practice was not immediately and universally accepted. In one congregation, there was a discussion about the pros and cons of changing the practice. The consensus seemed to be leaning toward the idea of we are not worthy. We should not touch the body of Christ with our hands. One humble, wise and well-respected elderly woman simply said, "I have committed far more sins with my tongue than with my hands." The discussion ended.

That gentle old woman knew the power of the spoken word. The truth of her statement so resonated with the other members of the faith community that there was nothing else to say.

Today’s readings speak to that power of the spoken word. While the elderly woman’s statement addressed the power of words to lead us to sin, today’s readings lead us to consider the power of the word as a call to make ready the way of the Lord. They invite us to reflect upon the fact that if we desire to truly prepare for Christmas, for the celebration of the coming of Christ, then we are called to act. We are called to acknowledge that there are ways we need to make straight, valleys we need to fill in.

Living With a "Working" Faith

Reflection on the Thirty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 20)

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

by Nemesio Valle III

The readings for this Sunday:

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6
1Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

The full text of the readings can be found here.

In today’s Gospel reading, we are presented with a rare passage that discusses the means by which the Last Judgment will be effected. This parable relates a profound reality about expectations on the part of the faithful and the unsettling image of being separated from God for all of eternity.

One of the aspects of this passage with which we must be reconciled is the clear emphasis on Christian duty. One of the great historical controversies amongst various Christian groups is the means by which we are "saved" – that is, by which we become one of the elect. Is it faith or works that "saves" us?

This question itself is ill formed. We know from St Paul that the works we do are of no salvific merit in and of themselves (Romans 3:27-31 and Galatians 2:15-21) and we know from St James that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). This seeming contradiction is answered clearly by both Sts James and Paul, and by Jesus Himself in the Gospel today. St Paul speaks often of the essential duties of a Christian, to live a life of love. But what does this mean? It is neither a sentimental, mushy love nor physical eroticism (though it doesn’t exclude these). It is agape – a giving in selfless compassion to the needs of others (I Corinthians 13:1-13, II Corinthians 8:1-15, and Romans 12:9-21, especially 20-21).

Parable of the Talents

Reflection on the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 13)

by Don Rampolla

The readings for this Sunday:

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
I Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

The full text of the readings can be found here.

The Gospel passages for the past few weeks have all had the theme "be ready". The question is "for what"? The commentaries I’ve read emphasize the notion that we need to be ready for Jesus’ return so that we can receive our reward for a job well done. I propose that the message of this parable and last week’s parable of the ten virgins is about readiness for cruel treatment upon the return of the masters of the world, and readiness for being tossed outside – where Jesus will find us.

Start by considering last Sunday’s parable about the ten virgins. The bridegroom is not a nice guy – not only won’t he open the door for the late arriving virgins, he says, "I don’t know you". The wise virgins themselves, wise by the world’s standards, were not models of virtue – sending off their colleagues at midnight to buy oil.

In today’s parable the master outdoes the bridegroom and the virgins by a longshot in nastiness. The master is the antithesis of who we should be striving to be. In Leviticus 11 and 19 Yahweh says "Be holy for I, Yahweh your God, am holy." In Matthew 5 Jesus says "Be perfect as your Father is perfect." Think about the difference between the master and this model of holiness. Here is my list.

(In what follows I use a number of things Jesus says or does that tell us about the Father. I have in mind the passage in John 14 "Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it will satisfy us. Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; and how then do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’")

Death and its mysteries

Reflection on the Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 5)

by Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Wisdom 6:12-16
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

The full text of the readings can be found here.

Many of the early followers of the Way believed that the Messiah would return soon. Thus Paul in this earliest of his letters writes about this trumpet blast. Now his exhortation has become one of the traditional readings during a funeral liturgy. If you have ever heard the entire performance of Handel's Messiah you would hear this trumpet exhortation.

It seems fitting to reflect upon death and its mysteries as the Church celebrates November as the time to prayerfully recall and connect with those who have gone before us; some, marked with the sign of faith; others connected in the sacred bond of friendship and love.

Some folks say that death is a taboo topic. Try discussing it during a dinner party and see how soon people move away or change the subject.

Yet, a book by Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking is a finalist for the National Book Award; The New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and Harper's Magazine have all devoted many words heralding its value as a literary triumph. Charlie Rose and Terry Gross have interviewed her. What is so magical, so intriguing? It is her journal and reflection about the death of her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne.

What's In A Name

Reflection on the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 30)

by Theresa Orlando

The readings for this Sunday:

Malachi 1: 14b-2: 2b, 8-10
I Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13
Matthew 23: 1-12

The full text of the readings can be found here.

What’s in a name? In today’s readings there are a number of names or titles: King, Lord, priest, father, brother, sister, mother, scribe, Pharisee, rabbi and servant. Most names have a meaning and titles usually designate a person’s status in life or in relationship.

When I was young, I didn’t like my name so I made up a nickname to use. As I got involved in Religious Education and discovered the meaning of my name (harvester) I reclaimed and embraced my name. I have tried to live up to my name and sometimes I have succeeded and other times I have failed. But, I keep trying. Do you know what your name means? Look it up and see if there is an indication of what God is calling you to become. “I have summoned you by name, you are mine.” Is. 43:1

That’s sort of the theme that runs through today’s reading, the struggle between being authentic to the name, title or call one has been given.

A Question of Love

Reflection on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 23)

by Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Exodus 22:20-26
I Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40

The full text of the readings can be found here.

There are times when I want to ask for a refund from my past education; there were definite shortcomings. Why (I suspect I am not alone.) were we taught to examine our consciences and feel guilty about such idiosyncratic Roman Catholic practices like fasting from meat on Fridays? Why didn't "they" get the central picture? Why not invite us to explore our inner feelings about the most defining of all virtues, love?

Several years ago I walked for about an hour with a heart surgeon. He asked me why I occasionally refer to God as lover. I explained that this theological virtue defines the heartbeat of the universe: the Sacred Heart, for God's sake. Paul announces charity as the quintessential gift and John tells us that God is love. Of course, we have in this Sunday's gospel, the highest commandment is Love. God is a verb, not a noun. God is a lover, clear, simple. Why else would the Hebrew writers so often use the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom to describe the relationship of their God with their community? Why is the word "God" missing in the erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs? Because no one needs to announce the name in the midst of such ravenous, sensuous love. Case closed.

Listening to the outsider

Reflection on the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 16)

by Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 45:1-6
II Thessalonians 1:1-5
Matthew 22:15-21

The full text of the readings can be found here.

What happens to you when the unexpected and surprising experience, person,
or encounter teaches you, stretches you?
Since I'm usually not prepared or expecting a "lesson", I may seem
momentarily disturbed; even on the defensive.
Is Isaiah addressing such disarming and challenging mysteries?
Cyrus was literally, not part of the tribe; how or why would the Divine
select, even grasp by the right hand and anoint the outsider?
Perhaps the answer to this question is not the point; the experience alone
seems beyond my own limitations.

Further on Isaiah castigates those who question: "Shame on him (her too) who
argues with his/her Maker...Shall the clay say to the potter, 'What are you
doing? Your work has no handles'? Shame on him who asks his father, 'What
are you begetting?' Or a woman, 'What are you bearing?'"
The commentary in the Jewish Study Bible observes: "People ... are surprised by
God's plan to bring salvation to the exiles by means of a Persian king. God
rebukes them for their chutzpah in questioning the means through whom God
chose to work."

Knock your socks off

Reflection on the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 2)

by John Houk

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

The full text of the readings can be found here.

If the purpose of reflecting on scripture is to find a message for today, then this Sunday’s readings are timed (as we say at our house) to knock your socks off.

In the first reading Isaiah tells the story of a "friend’s" vineyard. Everything was done right. It was on a fertile hillside, cleared of stones, planted with the choicest vines, with a watchtower and a wine press. But what did his friend get? Wild (useless) grapes.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells a very similar story. A person of property planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, installed a wine press and built a watchtower. Then this person leased the vineyard to tenant farmers. The evil tenant farmers responded to the owners request for the agreed upon share by beating, killing and stoning the owner’s aides. Finally they killed the owner’s heir.

These parallel stories (Jesus knew his Isaiah) leave nothing to the imagination when it comes to interpreting their meaning. Isaiah tells us plainly, "The vineyard is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are God’s cherished plants; our God looked for justice, but found only bloodshed."