Graced communities

Reflection on the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Patricia Zerega

The readings for this Sunday:

Isaiah 55:1-3
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

You know the story; there’s a crowd, and a boy who has some loaves and fishes. Then, the miracle - thousands are fed.

It’s so familiar since the miracle is retold in all four Gospels. And, the story lives on today because it has become a symbol in today’s church.

There are “Loaves and Fishes” soup kitchens, popular artwork, and a multitude of competing interpretations of the “real meaning of the miracle”.

  • Some see the crowd sharing and not hording.
  • Others the words of thanks being similar to the words hear each week at Eucharist.
  • Some sense the hospitality and caring that Jesus created.
  • Others focus on the mystery - the multiplication of the loaves and fish with enough to feed all.

The piece that I see is, “the crowd”. In Matthew, we read that a crowd gathered after John the Baptist’s beheading. This large group following Jesus became community through the sharing of the bread. A community that shared food, supported each other, and were nourished.

So, where are those communities in my life? Where are those groups and those individual relationships that when I cross their path, and hear and see the word of God, and give thanks, community is created and alive?

I believe those groups appear everywhere. In many ways it is only with great effort that such events can be avoided. Here are three recent examples in my life:

The first

A Pastor I know goes to Starbucks every morning. He stays up to two hours with his cup of coffee and book. I’ve noticed that very little reading gets accomplished. People stop and spend time-sharing stories and prayer needs. As they move on to their work day they know that he has supported and shared with them. These meetings become inescapable communities of sharing.

The second

My day is filled with email from colleagues and list serves of long forgotten origins. Recently, one list serve participant put out a call for us to respond with prayer for his debilitating depression. By reaching out through email he found some who responded by arranging appropriate treatment while others with prayer and good wishes for a return to health. This list serve became an international community of nourishment around intimacy and life.

And, Lastly

Doing more than my fair share of traveling, I’ve begun to keep a collection of business cards from “graced moments while on the road”. I’ve had people share problems and joys. Earlier this year I had a trip where I met a couple going to China to adopt a baby. We shared their excitement and exchanged addresses. Two weeks later, on a different trip, I found the same couple and met their new baby even before Grandma did – and, I became part of their family. What started, as a random seat assignment, became a community of support where we shared much joy.

As I read the story of the crowd meeting, sharing, being nourished and fed, I give thanks for the groups in my life that become communities of sharing, support and nourishment. Who are those graced communities in your life?

Discussing what we have heard

Reflection on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for this Sunday:

I Kings 3:5,7-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Several years ago John Shea led a workshop and invited us to discuss some questions with three other people near us. I realized that no matter how insightful, reflective, or engaging any homily might be, the possibility for grace to be active, effective would take place when people discussed what they heard. Imagine our ancestors gathered around a fire and talking about the message which they heard from the oral tradition which we call Gospel.

I present some questions based upon each reading and invite you to discuss them. Then you may add your comments to this reflection below.

The first reading takes place within a dream. What feelings surface when you recall your dreams? What questions arise? Every "player" in the dream may be some part of the dreamer. Use free association for each actor in your dream and see if these "characters" connect and give you some insight. This may especially seem valuable if a dream repeats or if a dream of long ago still speaks.

Recently scientists blew up a piece of a comet. They say that they will learn much from probing the resulting cosmic dust; they are probing into our ancient history. In Paul's letter he reminds us about our common spiritual past. There seems a purpose, a foreknowing, a predestination, a divine and sacred plan. Recently Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna wrote an op ed piece in the New York Times. In part he wrote: “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not." How do you understand this divine and sacred presence writ through our common and cosmic history?

Matthew weaves some sense of judgment within his good news: last week weeds and wheat were eventually separated; this week there is the fish; later, the sheep and goats; the guest without the wedding garment. Thomas Cahill in his book: Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter writes: "Once a year, the citizens voted on whether or not they should hold an ostracism. If the majority voted yes, each member of the Assembly (Ekklesia) then wrote on an ostrakon the name of the person he felt the city could best do without. Whoever turned up on the most ostraka was banished for ten years, after which time he could return, his property in tact." We proclaim that our ecclesia is based upon love. What place, then, do such judgments have? How do you distinguish good and evil or are these terms a convenient fiction to help us make sense of that which seems beyond explanation? There are spiritual traditions which approach these questions without such distinctions.

Promoting the Reign of God

Reflection on the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

by Mimi Darragh

The readings for this Sunday:

Zechariah 9:9-10
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

We wake up in the morning and the news comes on. There are more deaths in Iraq with no end in sight. In fact Rumsfeld says it may take 12 years to quell the insurgency. This is followed by a story about child soldiers and another one on a shooting in Pittsburgh. Then you get a call about a young child’s death in the parish. The burden of life seems pretty darn heavy. We work to transform ourselves, our families, communities and world. We labor but feel burdened. Suffering and death seem to be winning. Today’s Gospel reading can sound too good to be true or too simplistic to be of any help with today’s problems. But taken together, today’s readings give us some clues on how we can go deeper in this life of faith and what we can learn from Jesus, his life, and his message in order to carry the burdens of this life a little more lightly.

Promise! Promises!

Reflection on the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

by Marilyn Bergt, CDP

The readings for this Sunday:

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
Romans 6: 3-4; 8-11
Matthew 10: 37-42

When I was much younger, and a new and inexperienced Aunt, I was playing with my then 2 and 4 year old nieces in their backyard. They didn’t want me to leave so I promised them that on Tuesday I would do something with them. At this point I don’t even remember what specific thing I had promised. Tuesday came and work obligations prevented me from doing it. The following weekend my 4-year-old niece told me that I had promised them can picture the rest of the story. I was surprised at what my niece remembered because my “adult” intention was to do something with them again “sometime soon”. My sister-in-law gently said to me, “You never promise a little child something you can’t keep.” I have never forgotten those words. After that with my nieces, now with my little great nieces and nephew, and with anyone with whom I make a promise, I am clear about what I am able to promise, when I will do it and I keep that promise. If something unavoidable comes up I call and we reschedule, never cancel, what we promised. Many times that is easier said than done.

Comprehensive and universal

Reflection on the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Joe Mertz, jr.

The readings for this Sunday:

Jeremiah 20:10-13
Romans 5:12-15
Matthew 10:26-33

I wrote most of this reflection from Pohnpei, the capital island of the Federated States of Micronesia. If you are looking on the map, this collection of islands are very roughly speaking 2/3 of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines.

It is raining outside. Pouring, actually. It poured for 3 days when I was in Kosrae (another Micronesian island). Apparently Pohnpei is known for its rain, and locals make it sound like a cloud just sits above it and dumps and dumps, and then it moves aside and a new one comes to replace it. (I can hear the cynical Pittsburgher saying: “Just like here.”)

I’m here helping four Carnegie Mellon students get established. They will spend their summer here, helping staff in the Micronesian state hospitals learn to maintain and use computer labs being supplied by the World Health Organization. It is sort of like a short-term computer Peace Corps assignment.

Along my way here, I have met a lot of interesting people, some of whom I’ve had the chance to talk with about their faith. It’s been a kind of mini Merton-goes-East tour for me, and I’ve had long discussions with a Baha’i, and a Buddhist member of Soka Gakkai International (SGI).

Called out of the crowd

Reflection on the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Andrew Nowak

The readings for this Sunday:

Exodus 19:2-6a
Romans 5:6-11
Matthew 9:36-10:8

When I was a child around the age of 5, I got lost in a crowd at the county fair. I remember searching frantically for my mother and father; looking up at strange faces and full of fear that I might never be with my parents again. I was lost in this vast sea of people; people who were moving this way and that. I was caught in the crowd‘s current of chaotic movement. Since then I have always had some anxiety when in large crowds.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus show strong emotions at the sight of the crowd. This crowd represents the human race searching frantically for true meaning in their lives. This crowd moved chaotically from one prophet to the next, from one set of principles to the next, never finding the loving embrace of the Mother/Father God.

A call to end hunger

Reflection on the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Joyce Rothermel

The readings for this Sunday:

Hosea 6:3-6
Romans 4:18-25
Matthew 9:9-13

On Monday of this week, leaders of over 40 of our nation’s diverse faiths and more than 1,500 people from across the U.S. (including a bus load of people from southwestern Pennsylvania) will gather at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on the vigil of National Hunger Awareness Day, June 7 for an Interfaith Convocation on Hunger. They are expected to bring greater awareness to the issue of hunger in America and around the world. In a spirit of prayer, participants will call on the President of the U.S. and members of Congress to join Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious leaders to lead a new national commitment to end hunger. Never before in the history of our country has such a large and diverse group of religious leaders been assembled to address the pain of so many.


A reflection on Trinity Sunday

By George McHale

The readings for this Sunday:

34:4b-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians

Studies show that women, as a rule, see more color than men. Thus is begotten
Spousal Argument No. 7b:

“Honey, bring my blue sweater downstairs, please.”
“Here it is, dear.”
“That’s not my blue sweater.”
“Oh…I thought it was.”
“Well how could you think that? It’s green.”
“Well, it looks blue to me.”
“How could you possibly confuse my blue sweater and my green sweater? You’ve
seem me wear them dozens of times.”
“I have? They looked the same to me.”
“Then you must be colorblind.”
“So get your own damn sweaters!”

And, bam! The suitcases are on the porch.

While it’s not up there with the “Put the butter in the fridge—leave
it on the counter” fight or anywhere near the “When do we open
Christmas gifts? And whose family do we do it with?” brawl, it points
out clearly one of the seminal issues in marriage or in any relationship. We
do not experience the same world.