Light of the World, Shining on the Street

Reflections on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Ed Brett

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 58:7-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

In this Sunday's reading from Matthew's Gospel, Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But he adds that when salt loses its taste it becomes worthless and when a lamp is put under a tub, its light is wasted. From this reading the following question arises: How do those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ make sure that our salt keeps its value and our light is productive? The answer is found in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Here Yahweh commands his people to break the yoke of the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and do not turn away from those in need. He adds that if we do these things, our light will rise in the darkness and shadows will become like midday.

Living in Response to Our Call

Reflections on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Doris Dick & Sharon Geibel

The readings for
this Sunday:

Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Matthew 5:1-12a

Throughout time people have ached for upright leaders and inspiring examples of lives well-lived. We tend to look without and to those in positions of power.

The scripture readings with which we have prayed and celebrated over the last few months have reminded us to look deeply in unexpected places for leaders and inspiration.

  • A young maiden and the carpenter to whom she was betrothed quietly yet stalwartly trusted in the word of God. They made a home and family within which the Savior of the world was born and formed.
  • Three Magi saw the rising of a foretold star and followed it to find the Christ child. They then rejected the direction of Herod, a leader, and instead followed the message of a dream, God’s call within, and returned home by a route that deprived Herod of the information he needed to murder the child.
  • John went into the desert and began to baptize and prepare the way for the One who was to come. When he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus, he trusted that Jesus was this One.
  • When Jesus called to Simon and Andrew and then James and John, they left the only life they had known and followed him.

Many of us know the experience of craning our beings toward or after one whom we hoped would be such a leader or such an example. At times we have been rewarded for our movement out in hope. At times we have been disappointed. The readings for today’s celebration of the liturgy seem to know that. They again call us to look deeply in perhaps unexpected places. They call us to look for our inspiration in a place where God has always promised to be found, if we would but only look. The readings call us to look within, that we might experience the inspiration for a world that aches for upright leaders and inspiring examples.

How are we to be that example for ourselves, our contemporaries and the generation(s) that look to us? We are to be the remnant, the humble and lowly people who seek God and seek justice. The times we live in suggest to us that we can take refuge in our success, our beauty, our 401Ks, etc. The prophet Zephaniah reminds us that we are called to seek justice and find our refuge in the name of God.

St. Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that we may not be wise, powerful, or of noble birth, but we are called by God. We may be thought to be foolish, weak, or lowly by the world. We may be despised by some, but we are called.

Our world needs upright leaders and inspiring examples of lives well-lived. Today’s readings remind us that we are called to be these people.

How do we foolish and weak people provide that leadership, that example? For certain, it is a lifelong process. We find some powerful and challenging starting points in Matthew’s Gospel. We are to mourn what calls for mourning in our lives and our world. We are to be meek, yet experience and act upon our hungering and thirsting for God. We are to live out of mercy and pure heartedness. We are to be peacemakers. We are to risk persecution for speaking up for what is right.

If we live the lives that we -- each one of us -- are called to live, we may be persecuted. If and when we do find ourselves insulted or persecuted, we are to rejoice. Rejoice because we live in a world that hungers for upright leaders and inspiring examples. When we live in response to our call, the world receives a glimpse of this.

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness

Reflections on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 8:23-9:3
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4: 12-23

I wish they would have had a poet on the staff when I prepared for ministry, and in particular, to help us appreciate the beautiful language of the scriptures. Writers like Isaiah used the imagination to invite us to hope. “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness�" the creative, sacred writer reminds us.

Most of us have be captivated when a flock of birds take wing. I watched them while ice skating next to the lake at North Park. The Easter proclamation reminds us that this new fire and this brilliant candle pierce the dark.

Angere, to strangle, is the Latin root for anxiety. So, it seems that the authors of our language knew the sheer power of such feelings and experiences.

In the January 13 issue of the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner, professor of journalism at the University of California and author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, reflects upon the recent presidential election. He illustrates how politicians manipulated fear to their own political advantage.

After 12/26/2005, we hear reports from southeast Asia because people live in utter terror of another tsunami. The sea from which so many made their livelihood had become a raging destroyer. Playful waves became the killer.

In western Pennsylvania, and along much of our beautiful Ohio River, many folks struggled as they saw rain fall and the river flood so soon again.

The liturgy seems to recognize the paralyzing power of such trauma. After the beautiful and familiar Lord’s Prayer, the presider says: “Deliver us….from every evil and grant us peace in our day…protect us from all anxiety while we wait in joyful hope.�" Deliver us from the strangling experiences which keep us from loving and living.

Evidently stress already existed among our earliest ancestors in faith. Paul acknowledges that people are choosing sides, causing division.

Unfortunately we see walls being built today by followers of the gospel. They want to define who is “in�" and who is “out�"; who is worthy of our sacraments and who is not.

Jesus can only be weeping. The gospel tells us that Jesus came to teach, proclaim, and cure. He built bridges; something which western Pennsylvanians cross all the time.

There is no getting away from treacherous and destructive experiences. We have each other to support and encourage us during those demanding, challenging times. Like Matthew’s magi, we travel together through the night following the star. We must go forward in eternal hope knowing that we have been called into the
wonderful, mysterious event of love.

Are we a light to the nations?

Reflections on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Edward Hogan

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Sometimes we Christians think too narrowly. We tend to see things in the light of our personal salvation and thus we miss the total world view that comes from the sacred writings. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tries to speak the greater truth. "It is too little for you , the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."

In our preoccupation with our relationship with God and our ultimate personal salvation, we can lose sight of the call to be more than that. We are to be a light to the nations so that we can help the salvation of the Lord reach to the ends of the world.

In the Acts of the Apostles it was said about the early Christians, "See how they love one another." Their love for each other was so evident in the caring behavior they manifested that even pagans could perceive the differences between the Christians and themselves. If we are going to be a light to the nations, we need to be a light to everyone we contact.

In these very troubled times when there seems to be an uncontrollable impulse for the United States to impose its world view on the rest of the world and particularly on the Persian Gulf, we have to reflect seriously on the whole situation in the Middle East. If the US were merely imposing its will on the world because of its military might, this could be seen as a case of hubris and could be taken in an historical perspective to be the first signs of a government starting on the path to its demise.

When, however, we add to the military aspect the notion that we are going to present the Christian face, we have to recognize that no one is going to say about us, "See how they love one another," when our world view is delivered at the point of a gun or the blast of a bomb or a missile. Just think of the strangeness of our political leaders ending their speeches with "God bless America and bless our brave soldiers." It is as if we are asking God's blessings on us and ours because we are his favorites and thus he will bless our endeavors while ignoring the pleas of our enemies for his attention. The message is simple; we are the deserving, they are not.

Isaiah speaking for God, as is the task of the prophet, tells us that we are sent to be a light to the nations so that the salvation of the Lord may reach to the ends of the earth. It is only through projecting the light that God wants and commissions us to be that we can rightfully proclaim that we are bringing that light for the salvation of the world. Our reflection on the Christian life that we lead must take seriously the question of whether our vision is broad enough to really embrace the goals that Isaiah posited for us.

An addendum: in the light of the U.S. miltary's response to the tsunami victims, our country should recognize that we have played and can play even more the role of the caring neighbor who reaches out to those in dire need without any discrimination. This is one facet of Isaiah's light to the nations that we can and should embrace.This is the face of America that can lead to admiration rather than contempt.

Letter to the Infant Anthony

Reflections on the Baptism of the Lord

(The First Sunday in Ordinary Time)

By Joan M. Houk

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

While reading the Scriptures for this Sunday, the words lifted up from the page at my fingertips and floated towards my mind’s eye where they were transformed into living images of color and sound of times long ago. I couldn’t help but think of you dearest little one, Anthony, and how your parents and we are preparing for your baptism on January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Had you been born two millennia ago, we would have walked the rough and dusty way with you as our need for repentance relentlessly drove us to the banks of the Jordan. Hearing the Baptist’s urgent cry, "Prepare the way of the Lord," it is imperative that we go down into the river, joining in communion with the others who have entered the cleansing waters. John the Baptist’s voice is hoarse. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." If only one would listen.

However, it is January 2005, Anthony, as we prepare the way of the Lord with you. We, your god-parents, your parents and others in our community of faith, are preparing ourselves spiritually to walk with you, to literally carry you, to the waters of baptism. In place of the Baptist, John, the Baptist will be Jesus the Christ. We who have already been baptized in Christ will renew our own baptismal promises. For you who have no words in which to communicate, we will speak for you. We will reject Satan and all of his evil works as we privately repent of our own sins.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." ( Matthew 3:16-17 NRSV)

Anthony, when Fr. Norman pours water over you, you will be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yours will be, not only a baptism of repentance, but also a baptism into someone. As you lift your head from the water, the Spirit of God will gently come upon you, and you will be baptized into Christ. Having been baptized into Christ Jesus, Anthony, you too are beloved, a new creation with whom God, our Father-Mother, is well pleased. Again we will speak for you as we profess our faith in God, promise to witness to our Christian faith, and live as disciples of Jesus. And dearest Anthony, you will communicate your acceptance of these promises, and of God’s life and love for you by the love you give in your own way to your parents, god-parents and others.

"The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Anthony, as you grow and mature in the Christian faith you will learn that we, the Body of Christ, are called to live in this kingdom and make it real in the world. Isaiah’s prophecy gives us a servant model for "realizing" the kingdom. We are to know that God’s Spirit is upon us. Faithfully bring forth justice to the nations. Do not be faint or crushed until justice is established in the earth. Live the covenant between God and God’s people. Be a light to the nations. Open the eyes of the blind. Bring prisoners out of the dungeon and out of the darkness. Let us seek justice together.

Celebrate Surprise and Mystery

Reflections on the Epiphany of the Lord

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

In 1992 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC featured a display titled: Art in the Age of Exploration: Circa 1492. Artistic endeavors from all over the world were there to be enjoyed and celebrated. It included the first ever painting of a native American (Tupinamba of Brazil) as one of the three distinguished gift bearing visitors.

Epiphany marks the church’s feast of this unusual manifestation.

Einstein wrote that imagination was more important then knowledge. This feast captures the imagination through the ages and thus, the 1501-1502 painting. However, there is more to engage our creative spirit: Tradition (and a popular carol) has called them kings; established that there were three when Matthew gives no number; later they even received names. Some people bless their homes to honor their visit and recognize that all who walk through this door need to be welcomed in the surprising spirit of their story.

We must ask ourselves why Matthew included such a strange and colorful revelation in this sacred beginning of the Christ event.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Mystery seems a core word and experience to acknowledge and explore.

Again, Einstein who seems valued for his intelligence, wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

We citizens of the most powerful nation on the earth breathe a Culture of Mastery. From the moment we arise to when our eyes close we depend upon technology. We can survive bone chilling cold or oppressive heat. We have moved mountains to build homes and roads. We have gone to the moon and to the bottom of the ocean.

Whenever we confront that which we cannot master: tsunamis in the Indian Ocean or an obstreperous child, we feel inadequate and frustrated. We don’t deal well with those experiences because we like being in control.

Religion and spirituality help us navigate this Culture of Mystery. Control freaks seem uncomfortable in this place. Is “organized religion” an oxymoron? It attempts to make sense (give us some control) over that which remains ever illusive and impossible to even name. Have we created G-d in this control image? Why have we avoided divine uncertainty and holy confusion? Try this: say Mystery every time you invoke the familiar G word. Does it make any difference?

We know that these surprising visitors were more like astrologers; star gazers and followers. As the Church celebrates their encounter with Divine Mystery, may we be nourished by Eucharist so we will welcome unknown and uncertain darkness for without the night these people of magic and fire would not have found their way; if they had not listened to their dreams (again, night experiences) would salvation history have been changed?

Christmas Day and Feast of the Holy Family

Reflections on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family

By Donna Brett

The readings for Christmas (Mass at midnight):

Isaiah 9:1-6
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

The readings for Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family:

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14
Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

As I reflected on the readings for Christmas Day and the Feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 26), I found myself relating the story of Jesus' birth into a humble, struggling family to two, more modern, stories.

One is a treasured favorite, Dickens' A Christmas Carol. A Unitarian minister once told me he reads this classic every Advent, so three years ago I too began this practice. For me, the most dramatic passage is when the Spirit of Christmas Present introduces old Scrooge to two wretched, scrawny waifs clawing at his robes--a boy named Ignorance and a girl named Want. Scrooge is both terrified and touched by their gaunt, wolfish appearance and demands of the Spirit: "Is there no refuge for such as these?" The Spirit replies, mocking Scrooge's own words from the past: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" Thus a tight-fisted workaholic learns overnight to embrace the poor and struggling victims of the heartless Industrial Revolution.

The second book is one I almost put away to read after Christmas because it was so troubling and on the surface so unrelated to this joyous season. In Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, a journalist, tells the stories of several young people who come of age during the nineties in a poverty-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood in the Bronx. One single mother, Coco, by the age of 21, is raising four children, one of whom is afflicted with respiratory problems so severe that continual use of a portable oxygen tank is required. Yet Coco is a ray of hope among the hopeless. She can barely keep her family together, but whenever she comes into a little extra money, her generosity gets the better of her and compels her to buy food and little gifts for as many as she can of those she sees in need around her.

Both of these books have brought home to me the true meaning of a savior coming for all ages and all peoples to be light shining in our darkness. The significance of his birth being proclaimed to shepherds who slept in the fields with their sheep is that he came especially to give hope to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. For me to put aside Random Family because it was not "appropriate" Advent reading would have been to try to escape, as Scrooge once did, from confronting the terrible social challenges of my time. The Scripture readings of this week call out to us to be as flagrantly generous to those in need as Scrooge was after his encounters with the ghosts and for us to be, like Coco, a beacon of hope in a dark tenement building.

Justice, Peace and Well-Being

Reflections for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Written by Rev. Joseph A. Benintende

Pastor, St. Mary’s Church, Oneonta, NY

Used with permission

Submitted by Joan M. Houk

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 7:10-14
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Our (Advent) readings proclaim that Israel’s hope is for justice, peace, and well-being. The men and women of Biblical times knew of God’s promises and they trusted deeply that God would be true to such promises. And so Advent begins by proclaiming a vision of a world where peace is the atmosphere in which all peoples will live. No matter what is happening around us, no matter how much fear the world is living in, we, as followers of Jesus, must continue to preach and live justice, peace and well-being for all peoples.

There is no doubt about it, but that this is a very difficult task in the world in which we live. The temptation today is to withdraw into as much security and safety as we can find. We can so easily get caught up in an atmosphere of mistrust, fear, and suspicion. The increased security at many public events can serve not only as a protection for us, but a heavy blanket that smothers our sense of good will towards others. We are told that our first inclination should be to sense evil, not good. Isn’t that a sad way to live?

At the risk of being called naïve or simplistic, or even unpatriotic, we have to resist the temptation of a siege mentality. When we start to live as if the rest of the world is our enemy, then we have given up the vision, which Jesus came to plant deep within our hearts. What the world needs is not more guns and elaborate defense systems which drain resources from our people who don’t even have the basic needs of life. We need justice, peace and well-being. And so when we see people involved with bringing hope to others, enabling them to live with dignity and having their basic needs filled, then we should rejoice because God’s promises are being brought to life.