Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 25, 2016

"Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called." -- 1 Timothy 6:12

“Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.” — 1 Timothy 6:12

 

Sept. 25, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Amos 6:1a, 4-7

      Psalm 146:7-10

      2) 1 Timothy 6:11-16

      Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

 

By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

I love it when youth say what’s on their mind.

For instance, they’ll ask, “What’s so special about poor people?” or, “If there is fire in hell, do you burn up and disappear?”

Likewise, adults often express confusion about Catholic social teaching’s “preferential option for the poor.” They ask whether the church is saying that God loves the poor more than fortunate people and, if not, then what’s the point?

The church has profound answers to these great questions that are addressed in this week’s Scriptures.

Picture life in the garden before Adam and Eve brought sin into the world: There was no poverty, no alienation and no competition among the species. Everyone lived in harmony; no one was without.

But sin corrupted life in Eden with consequences to this day. Division and conflict arose over the distribution of resources.

However, the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have taught that God provided the earth’s resources for all, so all property (private and public) has a “social mortgage” obligating its use to serve the common good.

Thus, poverty is the principal manifestation of sin. Whenever and wherever we see poverty, we see the effects of sin.

God loves everyone equally. What he despises is poverty.

The Gospel shows starving Lazarus painfully begging for crumbs from the rich man’s sumptuous table without receiving a scrap.

When they both died, Lazarus was carried to heaven by angels while the rich man in purple garments fell into the netherworld. Tormented in flames, the rich man looks up and now begs for a cool drop of water from Lazarus’ fingertip.

However, the chasm between them is so wide that no one can cross it. This isn’t a physical description of hell such as Dante’s burning inferno.

St. John Paul II said that we should not think of hell as a place, but as separation from God — an immense chasm of lost love whereby one truly knows, sees and feels the pain of having chosen to reject one’s Creator, Lord and Redeemer. To be on the outside of heaven looking in, that is hell.

QUESTION:

In serving the common good, how can we do our part to proclaim and address the plight of the poor?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 18, 2016

"The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones." -- Luke 16:10

“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” — Luke 16:10

 

Sept. 18, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Amos 8:4-7

      Psalm 113:1-2, 4-8

      2) 1 Timothy 2:1-8

      Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

In this presidential election year, much is made of political candidates and their levels of experience, their platforms and their ability to communicate with their constituents. But nothing seems to raise as much debate as a candidate’s trustworthiness — or the lack of it. In fact, millions of dollars are spent on campaign advertising for the purpose of exposing dishonesty in one’s opponent.

Why is this? I suspect that a candidate’s many favorable qualities are often secondary to the public’s perception of the candidate’s honesty. Whether it’s engaging in deceitful business practices, cheating on one’s taxes or fabricating information, even little falsehoods can add up to an unsavory reputation and seriously damage a contender’s chances of getting elected.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the dishonest steward illustrates the significance of little things as an indicator of trustworthiness in larger matters.

Given the propensity of human beings — especially those in leadership — to bend the truth to suit their purposes, it’s no wonder that the Letter to Timothy emphasizes the necessity of prayer for “kings and for all in authority,” knowing that the common good of all people depends upon their integrity.

The prophet Amos warns those who ‘trample upon the needy” and persist in dishonest dealings with the poor in order to advance themselves: The Lord has a long memory and does not abide injustice. Rather, God’s brand of justice “raises up the lowly from the dust” in order to “seat them with princes.”

In this season of accusatory campaign ads and reciprocal mudslinging, it behooves Christians, as “children of light,” to discern carefully and to exercise their right to vote with prudence and responsibility. But today’s readings also challenge us to look at our own attitudes about wealth and our behavior toward the poor.

You or I might not be running for office — but the common good of our fellow human beings depends on our integrity, wise stewardship and fervent prayers for those who are elected to serve.

QUESTIONS:

In what areas of your life do you tend toward deceit or dishonesty? What part do prayer and discernment play in your own political decisions?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 11, 2016

"I was mercifully treated." -- 1 Timothy 1:16

“I was mercifully treated.” — 1 Timothy 1:16

 

Sept. 11, Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

      Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

      2) 1 Timothy 1:12-17

      Gospel: Luke 15:1-32 or Luke 15:1-10

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

One of the greatest fears of my childhood was of getting caught doing something bad and having to face my dad. It’s not that he was extra mean or abusive, it’s just that I did not want to disappoint him, and this caused a knee-jerk reaction of fear whenever such situations would arise.

Probably the worst and stupidest thing I remember doing happened when I was a senior in high school hanging out with friends. We were roller-skating in the street and then decided to go to another friend’s house. I’d borrowed my dad’s car that night and jumped in and started driving with my skates still on.

As you might expect, there was an accident. Thankfully, it was just a fender bender. It could have been a lot worse, but knowing that the next day I’d have to tell my dad what I had done caused me a terrible, sleepless night full of fear and trembling.

After I showed my dad his dented bumper I was expecting to never leave my room unless I was doing all my siblings’ chores forever! But instead of getting the worst punishment of my life, I got something wholly unexpected: mercy.

Sure my dad gave me a talking to about how our lives are defined by our choices and this was not a good choice on my part. He asked me to think about the kind of person I was going to be, and that was it!

This story came to mind as I reviewed this week’s readings. Each passage tells of God’s mercy, whether it is God relenting on his plan to smite the Israelites, St. Paul reminding us that Jesus came into the world to bring God’s mercy or, most expressive of all, the loving father full of mercy and forgiveness welcoming the prodigal son home.

Benny Hester has a song about the prodigal son with a line that perfectly illustrates God and his mercy: “The only time I ever saw (God) run was when he ran to me, took me in his arms, held my head to his chest and said, ‘My son’s come home again.'” This is one of my favorite images of God, running to us to deliver his mercy!

QUESTIONS:

When was a time when someone had mercy on you? When have you experienced the mercy of God?

Are the heavens calling you?

There’s a whole universe to discover if you just look up: planets, nebulae, star clusters, rare naked-eye comets, even the moon and the sun.

Since I was a kid, I’ve explored the sky as much as I could. With my modest six-inch reflector telescope I undertook hours of personal observation as a teenager. I grabbed all sorts of astronomy books from library shelves and eagerly awaited each month’s copy of popular astronomy magazines.

Father William Stolzman of St. Paul, Minn., examines a meteorite with a magnet during the Vatican Observatory's Faith and Astronomy Workshop in January. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Father William Stolzman of St. Paul, Minn., examines a meteorite with a magnet during the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s Faith and Astronomy Workshop in January. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

So in January, when I had the chance to attend the Vatican Observatory Foundation‘s third annual Faith and Astronomy Workshop in Tucson, Arizona, I jumped at the opportunity to meld my astronomical interests with my profession.

For four days I joined about 20 priests and educators exploring the heavens and listening as they discussed their understanding of the universe and the beauty and mysteries of God’s creation.

Evening — and for some of us, early morning — observing sessions revealed deep sky objects we had never seen before. We followed, naked-eye, Comet Catalina for several mornings as it made its way northward in the sky from our observing site in North America on its return trip to the Oort Cloud in the icy region of the solar system.

Now Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, and his staff are inviting priests and parish educators to apply to attend the next workshop, set for Jan. 16-20 at the Redemptorist Renewal Center on the edge of the Arizona desert.

There will be ample opportunity for night sky observing — weather permitting, of course, which in January in Tucson shouldn’t be a problem. Brother Consolmagno is scheduling talks by astronomers, planning lab sessions, organizing field trips to astronomical sites and building in lots of time for prayer, reflection and conversation.

The cost is $750 and includes four nights at the center, all meals and workshop expenses. Participants will receive books to use back home and ideas and memories from which to build an astronomy outreach effort for parishioners and students.

The deadline for applications is Sept. 30.

 

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 4, 2016

"The corruptible body burdens the soul." -- Wisdom 9:15

“The corruptible body burdens the soul.” — Wisdom 9:15

 

Sept. 4, Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Wisdom 9:13-18b

      Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17

      2) Philemon 9-10, 12-17

      Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

In the Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that we can’t be his disciples, genuinely imparting his message and spirit, unless we are detached from our possessions.

OK, we think, we can eschew materialism and strive not to be influenced by the endemic consumerism of popular culture. We can share what we have with others. Yes, we can do that and so become effective disciples.

But what about the “possessions” that we think of as our daily bread: job, income, home — the things that provide our basic security? Becoming separated from those things can make it hard to listen and attend to God’s Spirit.

I saw it happen to a close friend of mine, a professional, when circumstances created a serious, unexpected reduction in his income. Approaching the end of his career, he saw his savings depleted and retirement plans dashed.

Suddenly, he felt that everything he’d worked for was lost, and he was overwhelmed by fears about his future. He could hardly think rationally.

Most of us have experienced a situation in which an unexpected crisis hits and lays us low.

Often it can be so defeating that we can’t feel God’s presence or hear the gentle guidance of Jesus within us.

Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom describes the difficulty. “The corruptible body burdens the soul,” Wisdom says, explaining, “The earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.”

It’s not so much that we are materialistic but that our concerns about even basic material matters hinder us from looking into our souls for answers from God. Jesus wants us to let go of those matters that weigh down our ability to follow him.

My friend eventually let go of his fears, accepting the fact of financial insecurity, and trusted God to carry him forward.

Wisdom notes, “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.”

We hate uncertainty and insecurity. Think of the panic that ensues when one’s hard drive crashes “with all my stuff on it!”

Jesus calls us to carry our cross, not our stuff. He asks us to carry our uncertainty and insecurity and trustingly follow him. That’s the cross he can help us carry.

QUESTIONS:

When have you been so overburdened by earthly matters that you were unable to seek Jesus’ guidance? What are the “possessions” that have the greatest hold in your life?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 28, 2016

"Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God." -- Sirach 3:18

“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” — Sirach 3:18

 

Aug. 28, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 

      Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11 

      2) Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a

      Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

The American storyteller Mark Twain is credited with the saying, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Essentially, Twain is insisting that “words matter.”

Sometimes examining the historical origins, or etymology, of a word can provide valuable insights into its meaning.

Take the word “humility,” for example. If you trace its history far enough, you can find that it is based on the Latin word “humus,” or “earth.” To be humble is literally to be “down to earth.”

Almost all of us can think of a person who, despite his celebrity or social stature, is admired because of his humility. To say of a famous personality, “She’s so down to earth!” is to pay her a compliment implying genuineness, approachability and unpretentiousness that are powerfully attractive to others.

Jesus chose to emphasize the importance of humility in today’s Gospel parable at the home of one of the leading Pharisees of the town — where, oddly enough, the dinner guests were jockeying for positions of honor at the table. He highlights the paradox that such seeking of favor and prestige inevitably leads to disgrace and embarrassment, while choosing to humble oneself carries the potential for exaltation. (Although the words both spring from the same Latin root, I think I would choose “humility” over “humiliation” any day!)

Jesus’ parable wasn’t only instructional — it was prescient. His own freely chosen death on the cross was the ultimate act of humility, leading not only to his own exaltation at the right hand of the Father, but to our own lifting up.

In great humility lies great power, for it dismantles the walls that keep our hearts closed to love. Humility changes moralizing to loving example and mere proselytizing to authentic evangelization.

Put another way, it’s what “folk evangelist” Johnny Cash advises in song:

“Come heed me, my brothers, come heed, one and all/ Don’t brag about standing or you’ll surely fall./ You’re shining your light and shine it you should/ But you’re so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”

QUESTION:

Describe a person you know who is humble and “down to earth” despite his or her greatness. How can your own humility of thought, word and deed attract others to Christ?

Word getting around that Sept. 1 is World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis a year ago declared that Catholics would join their Orthodox brothers and sisters and other Christians to formally mark Sept. 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

This year awareness of the day is gaining momentum as church groups and faith-based environment advocates have instituted a series of prayer services and programs for Catholics in particular to observe the day.

Nuns join climate justice activists at a plaza in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 29, a day ahead of the start of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris. (CNS/Simone Orendain).

Nuns join climate justice activists at a plaza in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 29, a day ahead of the start of the U.N. climate change conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Paris. (CNS/Simone Orendain).

“Sept. 1 is huge because it is the first time in our Catholic liturgical calendar we have an official day for creation care,” said Tomas Insua, coordinator of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. “It’s a massive opportunity to start getting ‘Laudato Si” deeply imbedded in our Catholic mindset and the life of the Catholic family.”

The day opens what numerous Christian communities are calling the Season of Creation that runs through the feast of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 4. Christians are invited to pray and care for God’s creation over the five-week period.

The Sept. 1 day of prayer originated when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople instituted a similar day of prayer for the Orthodox Church in 1989. It has gradually expanded to include much of the Christian world.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Catholic Climate Covenant has developed its own program for the St. Francis feast day. The educational program is called “Dial Down the Heat: Cultivate the Common Good for our Common Home.” You can see a video about the program here.

Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant executive director, said it is designed to bring diverse people together to in a civil dialogue on climate change in a time of political polarization and to find common ground to protect Earth by thinking about ways to use less energy so “we put less CO2 into the atmosphere.”

“We need to be thinking about how do we create the space for people to have civil dialogue as opposed to people shouting at each other,” he told Catholic News Service.

A kit on the program is available from the Catholic Climate Covenant website.

Insua knows that much work remains to create awareness about the day “because the vast majority of Catholics still have no clue that Pope Francis instituted it.”

Having a longer period, a season, helps, he said.

“By definition, it’s ecumenical,” Insua added. “In the Catholic agenda of ecumenism this is a very concrete way of coming together with other Christian churches.”