Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Feb. 5, 2017

"If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?" -- Matthew 5:13

“If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” — Matthew 5:13

Feb. 5, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 58:7-10

      Psalm 112:4-9

      2) 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

      Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16


By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

When Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth,” his metaphor may have evoked bad memories and feelings of horror. At the least, it may have seemed a puzzling statement.

Under Roman domination, Jewish peasant farmers had to pay several annual taxes. Most burdensome were the Temple tax of half a shekel to Jerusalem authorities and property tax to local magistrates levied at a sizable percent of their agricultural produce. If they refused or were delinquent, Roman soldiers would cruelly salt their fields to destroy their livelihood. The threat was terrifying.

Frequently in Israelite history, conquering invaders would salt the land to declare their victory and intimidate the vanquished into servitude and worship of their new king. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, “salted land” was synonymous with “desert wasteland,” a painful reminder of dark days.

On the other hand, it was Jewish custom to see salt as symbolic of a covenantal relationship. In sacred ritual, Temple priests used salt to sparkle incense. All offerings had to be sprinkled with salt.

Israelites also used salt as a food preservative and source of flavor to spice up meat.

Jesus’ declaration calls his disciples — then and now — to see themselves as the salt that cures, not as salt that punishes or oppresses. He calls us to be a cure for injustice and an antidote for oppression. By ministering to the suffering he urges us to be “the light of the world.” Visible from the mountaintop, our bold discipleship cannot be hidden under a bushel basket, but instead must be “light to all in the house,” glorifying God by our lives.

Also, Jesus calls all followers to be the salt that both preserves the faith and invigorates it with our actions.

The vast majority of Americans reported feeling “repulsed” by our recent national election campaign. Why did it sink so low? Are fear and anger so pervasive that our salt has gone sour, infected our spirit? As disciples of Christ we are called to be a light to all.

Founded on the ideals of indivisibility, liberty and justice for all, the U.S. professes to be one nation under God. May our actions match our words!


With a new presidential administration, what will I personally do to manifest healing and unity after such a divisive campaign? How can we as a nation be a light to the world?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: U.S. bishops’ staffer heads to Rome for specialized studies

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(First in a series)

ROME — Since the 16th century, 16 popes have been students at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I will never be the 17th — just ask my wife.

Instead, I am attending one of the oldest universities in the Eternal City as an American Catholic layperson to learn how to more effectively protect children from sexual abuse and better respond to the needs of victims and survivors.


Drew Dillingham from the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB taking a look at his new neighborhood in Rome. (CNS photo courtesy of D. Dillingham).

After praying multiple never-failing “Flying Novenas” to ensure my wife and I were speedily granted visas by the Italian Embassy, I have finally made it to my flat in the local, non-touristy neighborhood known as Monti. Monti is less than a mile from the Colosseum as well as from the university. I highly recommend this neighborhood for those looking to escape huge crowds of tourists and find a little peace and quiet.

The Gregorian University’s 12-week interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors is offered through its Center for Child Protection. The curriculum is designed to equip me and the other dozen or so priests, religious and laypeople enrolled in the course with the tools to confront the issue of clergy sexual abuse through multiple lenses, including psychology, social sciences, theology and canon law. From now through June, I will be with international students learning from experts in a number of fields and discussing how we can strengthen the church’s efforts to prevent and respond to this grave sin.

promiseOf course while there is still much to improve upon, dioceses in the United States have accomplished a great deal since the sex abuse scandals rocked the church in 2002. Through this course, it is my hope (and the bishops’) to share the experiences of U.S. dioceses, both our success and failures, with other students from dioceses around the world. I also expect to learn much from them. This dialogue will prove to strengthen the entire church’s approach to child protection and victim assistance.

pledgeAbuse is prevalent in all communities. It is our duty as a church to never again fail in our own sacred responsibility to carry out Christ’s call to protect the most vulnerable — not only in our own parishes, but across all geographic boundaries. The fact that the bishops of the United States, especially Bishop Edward J. Burns, chair of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, have sent me to Rome to study this issue shows they remain committed to answer that Gospel call. I pray that through our studies, all of us at the Gregorian University will be better able to assist our bishops as they shepherd God’s flock.

Please pray for me and all of those studying at the Gregorian this semester. I encourage you to follow along with my studies and experiences at the Gregorian through this weekly blog. Ci sentiamo presto!

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog | 3 Comments

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 29, 2017

"The Lord keeps faith forever." -- Psalm 146:6

“The Lord keeps faith forever.” — Psalm 146:6


Jan. 29, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

      Psalm 146:6-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

      Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Once a week, I help out at an after-school center in my community. The long-standing program, which provides supervision and enrichment activities for disadvantaged children, is a place of pride for the community because it fills an important need for many struggling families and has become a valuable resource in improving the prospects for their children.

Local news periodically shows smiling kids from the center participating in special events such as planting a community garden or taking swimming lessons at the YMCA.

But behind the feel-good images is a highly challenging environment in which staff members try to mentor some 200 children, most of whom have academic, social or psychological difficulties.

Constant behavior problems make it hard to accomplish much on any given day, so it’s not uncommon for frustrated staffers or volunteers to give up after only a brief time. But a core group stays. They endure the frustration, work through obstacles and celebrate incremental successes. They stay because they are true believers in the center’s mission.

Similarly, staying power is a challenge to the Christian faithful. Conflicts, wars, materialism, selfishness and an overarching secular culture threaten our ability to follow the ways of Christ. How can we hold fast to our beliefs against overwhelming opposition?

Zephaniah’s prophecy in today’s Scriptures provides the assurance we seek that Jesus’ mission will continue despite forces in this world that constantly conspire to bring it down. Speaking God’s word, the prophet says, “I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord … they shall do no wrong and speak no lies.”

God promises that a core of true believers always will carry on, committed and living the life to which he calls us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes that life in the beatitudes, reiterating that the faithful will be rewarded by God’s faithfulness.

It’s our only hope in this world, but it’s a great hope, and we can witness its truth in people such as the committed leaders at the after-school center. When I observe this small group patiently enduring because of their compassion and selflessness, I have to believe that they actually are a part of that remnant maintaining God’s goodness here and now.


Where do you see committed people around you struggling against obstacles to living the Gospel? Which of the beatitudes poses the greatest challenge to you?

Posted in Word to Life

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 22, 2017

"He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him." -- Matthew 4:21-22

“He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” — Matthew 4:21-22


Jan. 22, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      1) Isaiah 8:23-9:3

      Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

      Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

In my work as the Catholic campus minister at a large state school, I spend a lot of time commiserating with college students about their futures. Some come to the university with a definite plan. They know their major, the list and order of classes needed for their degree and what internships will best put them on track to reach their goals. But alas, such college students are the exception, not the rule.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once and, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. Yet even among students who are certain about their choice of major, many often do not know what kind of career they want to pursue after college.

These major-changing nomads of the halls of higher education are very much like the people described in today’s Scriptures: a people walking in darkness, longing for the light, any light!

While dark and directionless times are hard and often longer than four years of college, there is nothing like the look on a student’s face when he or she finally has some peace regarding the direction for his or her life. It’s as though this big, life-defining decision they have been waiting for, seemingly forever, has finally come and made a home within them.

I imagine it is this exact experience, taken to a transcendent level, that the first disciples felt when Jesus asked them to follow him. They had been waiting, not just for their whole lives, but with the entire nation of Israel, they had been waiting for centuries. They had wandered in spiritual darkness all this time and finally the Light had come.

When the darkness is so deep and has lasted for so long, the light is especially bright. It is this circumstance that fueled the scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “(Jesus) called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”

Whether we are seeking direction in this life or directions to the next life, we all experience times of darkness, but as the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”


When was a time of darkness that you have come through? What is something you have left behind to follow Jesus?

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 15, 2017

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." -- John 1:29

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” — John 1:29


Jan. 15, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

      Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

      Gospel: John 1:29-34


By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I went to the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time at age 33 and, as a convert to Catholicism, I was surprised by a palpable sense of relief and gratitude for God’s forgiveness.

Years later, I’m finally coming to the deeper understanding that reconciliation through Christ means he has paid the ransom to free me from my sinfulness.

But how does that work exactly, I’ve wondered.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls us to take a hard look when he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus’ sacrifice was for all humanity. I can see how it plays out in real life, at least symbolically. Our sinful acts are wiped away by Christ living in innocent victims of violence, oppression or discrimination when they suffer quietly and, whether through purity or willful love, harbor no resentment or desire for retribution or reparation.

But Jesus’ sacrifice is personal, too.

In college, one of my journalism classmates had cerebral palsy. I admired Rich’s perseverance and abilities particularly as a reporter for our campus newspaper. He was amazingly good at it despite his disability and never seeking special accommodations. As a fellow staffer, I occasionally advocated for him especially when he needed to interview people who were uncomfortable with his speech impediment.

But sometimes when Rich wasn’t around, I would joke with other reporters about some of his behaviors and difficulties caused by his condition. He likely sensed it all around him, but Rich never let on that he was aware of our thoughtless, shameful attitude.

To a fault, he was thoughtful and kind to me. He was an innocent, loving young man who chose to see only friendship.

In Rich, I now realize, I “behold” the Lamb of God, Christ suffering as a ransom for my sin. The person of Christ within him replaced the burden of my sin with his gifts of love and friendship.

It’s futile to try to repay such a sacrifice. I have nothing to offer that is equal to Christ. Besides, according to Psalm 40, the Lord doesn’t desire “sin-offerings.”

Instead, John suggests, he wants me to accept his gift and live through the Spirit of Jesus that I’ve received.


In your personal experience, who has paid a ransom for your sin? How has that given you new life?

Posted in Word to Life

Beware of scammers trying to sell papal audience tickets, Pope Francis says

Tickets to his general audiences and his public Masses are free. Don’t be fooled, he told people at his audience today.




Posted in CNS, Vatican

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 8, 2017

"They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses." -- Isaiah 60:4

“They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.” — Isaiah 60:4


Jan. 8, The Epiphany

Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 60:1-6

      Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-13

      2) Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

      Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

One of the things I love most about holidays is the anticipation of gathering our whole family in one place. Multiple adult children in several different cities on two continents present quite a challenge to get together. Throw some in-laws, stepchildren, ex-spouses and new babies into the assembly, and you’ve got quite a group! At the center of it all is my mother, who rejoices when all her children come home.

As complex as the family tree has become, the varieties of relationships don’t seem to dilute the joy that permeates the holiday gathering. We’ve got relatives by blood and others by marriage. Other families have relatives by adoption — legal or otherwise.

My mother has two biological sons but she’s collected countless other “sons” along the way. Some represent ethnicities and cultures different from our own. Their presence is not merely tolerated. They’re all part of the family, and they each bring something special to the mix, even if it takes a while for some of us to discover what that distinctive gift is.

St. Paul reminds the Christian church at Ephesus of a mystery that has been revealed to him for their benefit. The Epiphany of the Lord is best understood as that kind of revelation — a sudden manifestation or a clearer understanding of something in a whole new, often life-changing way. St. Paul shares this epiphany with the church of his time: that gentile converts are not merely to be tolerated in the Christian assembly, but regarded as “coheirs” with Jewish Christians and “members of the same body.”

If we’re honest, we could admit that almost all of us in the Christian household of faith are, in fact, descended from these “gentiles.”

We’ve forgotten that we were once the outsiders; we’ve become secure, almost complacent in our identity as heirs of Christ’s promises. We need Paul’s reminder that there are still more “outsiders” being drawn to the good news of Jesus — people who don’t look like us, live like us or talk like us — whom the Lord is calling to the family gathering.

Our Father’s joy is dependent upon the welcome we extend to these brothers and sisters. Let’s roll out the welcome mat, pull up a chair and help them feel at home.


Who around you seems to be drawn to Jesus’ light even though they are treated as outsiders? How can you welcome them into the family of God?

Posted in Word to Life