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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS "

 30th SUNDAY (A) October 29, 2017

Exodus 22: 20-26; Psalm 18; I Thessalonians 1: 5c-10; Matthew 22: 34-40

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

 

The 30th

Sunday of

Ordinary

Time

I want first to spend some time on the Exodus reading because it is a good and practical response to the command Jesus gives in today’s gospel, about loving neighbor. The love we have for God is put into practice and tested, Jesus says, by how we love our neighbor. The first reading spells out some specific "neighbors" for our love.

The Exodus selection reflects the background of the Israelites; they had experienced exile and oppression in a foreign land, Egypt. Noting their helplessness, God entered into covenant with them and delivered them to the Promise Land. In response to the gift of the covenant, the people were to show their awareness and gratitude for what God had done for them by living an ethical and faithful religious life. They were to observe the Law, not out of any servile sense of obedience, but because a faithful life revealed their union with God. Religious observance is not enough, it must have social consequence. The God of compassion and justice must be visible in our lives; otherwise, our religious practices are just empty formalities.

Exodus then, reflects some of what is expected in the covenanted people’s social discourse. It calls attention to society’s most needy; those who are poor and legally vulnerable. "You shall not molest or oppress an alien....You shall not wrong any widow or orphan...You shall not act like an extortioner...." If it weren’t happening, there wouldn’t have been a need for a law. (Aliens were foreigners living among the Israelites. They didn’t have the legal status of Israelites and so were often victimized.)

Note the unusual way this law is stated: the command is given, but then the reason for it is cited. The Israelites are to remember, "you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt." God looks out for the disenfranchised; God did it once when they were slaves in Egypt and God continues to do it for the aliens and poor living among them. One can only conclude that God has not had any major personality change – has not lost interest in aliens, widows, orphans or "the poor neighbor." God does not remain detached, but listens to the cry of those in need. The test of a "nation under God," will be how it provides for its poor and those without legal clout. Abraham Heschel once said, "The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God it is a disaster."

In today’s gospel another religious expert, a Pharisee, continues the series of antagonistic challenges to Jesus’ authority. There may be one questioner, but there is a group of them "gathered together." Jesus is in a hostile setting; this is not a religious inquiry, but a trap. Yet, Jesus responds to the question. Today’s passage has a very famous quote and risks being overly familiar, "You shall love the Lord, your God...." We are tempted to say, "I know this one, let’s move on." There were 613 commandments drawn from the Pentateuch. One can understand the desire to reduce them to a few core statements so that one might have guiding principles for daily living and worshiping. (The preacher needs to be careful here not to stereotype devout Jews as being overly legalistic, concerned with minutiae and external observances.) Religious leaders were often asked to summarize the commandments in a succinct teaching. Their response would reveal their priorities, what they considered the golden essence of Judaism.

There were a lot of possibilities for Jesus, but he chose to put together two of the ancient teachings. The first is the basic statement of faith recited by pious Jews each day, morning and evening, the "Sh’ma" from Deut. 6:5. The second ties the first directly to the social obligations of the law, Lev. 9:18. Love of God is concretized in love of neighbor. Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He posits a second and says it is equal to the first. He goes still further by saying that all God has revealed, "the whole law and the prophets," depends on "these two commandments." Since there were plenty of commandments he might have chosen, linking these two reveals Jesus’ fundamental teaching – our lives are to be guided by love. This gospel love is not a feeling one spontaneously has; it requires a willed determination to look after the interests of others as we look after our own.

Who might our "neighbor" be? Well, in linking the first and the third readings on this Sunday, we have some insights. Our neighbors, the first reading suggests, include the "aliens," "any widow or orphan" and "your poor neighbors" among us. In November, 2000, the U.S. Catholic bishops published, WELCOMING THE STRANGER AMONG US: UNITY IN DIVERSITY. In this letter they remind us that our nation includes so many people of different cultures. They challenge us to a conversion (cf. "Justice Notes" below) so that as a church we might be a sign of unity amidst so much diversity.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and with the national debate on "Homeland Security," there has been a swelling of anti-immigrant sentiments in our country. It was a major issue in the presidential campaign and continues to be, especially with restrictions on those seeking admission to our country from certain "banned nations." We accepted 85,000 refugees last year. In comparison to Germany which accepted one million. These are not easy times, but just as Exodus challenged the Israelites to welcome the stranger in their mist and treat them justly and compassionately, so our bishops remind us to welcome the newcomers among us with justice and compassion.

During these late Autumn days, many migrant workers are completing the harvest in our country. They tend to be the least paid and protected workers in our land. One response we can make to today’s readings is to support political office holders and legislation which extend social services, guarantee decent wages, medical attention and educational opportunities for refugees and immigrants. November is a good month to do this as we prepare for Thanksgiving. Parishes could contact local soup kitchens, food pantries and food banks engaged in fighting hunger. The national Second Harvest network has food banks and are always in need of money, food supplies and volunteers. It is also a good time to remember people throughout the rest of the world who do not have enough food and whose children are malnourished.

One place where we try to, "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," is at our weekly liturgical celebration. So, we look for ways at this worship to concretize this love in love of neighbor. Here, we welcome the stranger in our midst; here, we are a sign of the unity the Eucharist calls us to be. We must integrate incoming groups into our liturgical, cultural celebrations and educational programs. The presence of brothers and sisters from other places is a true gift to our church. Pope John Paul II said, in his "Message for World Migration Day, 2000," "The Church hears the suffering of all who are uprooted from their land, of families forcefully separated, of those who, in the rapid changes of our day, are unable to find a stable home atmosphere. She senses the anguish of those without rights, without security, at the mercy of every kind of exploitation and she supports them in their unhappiness."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102917.cfm

QUOTABLE

William Sloane Coffin’s advice to preachers:

Remember that the neighbor these days needs a helping mind more than a helping hand.

Remember that charity is no substitute for justice, that charity alleviated the effects of poverty while justice seeks to eliminate its causes.

Remember that we are called to serve the Lord, not to be servile to our congregations.

Remember to ask always, "What would Jesus have me say."

---quoted ed by Leonora Tubbs Tisdale in, BEST ADVICE FOR PREACHING, edited by John S. Mc Clure, page 11.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens

yourself in the land of Egypt."

(Exodus 22: 20)

It is important for all Catholics to know the Church teachings on immigrants/refugees including its response to the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has been terminated. Here in Raleigh, Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama states, "This program [DACA] has been of such great assistance to so many in our Diocese who were brought to our country by their parents, often times as infants, having known no other nation. While we must certainly respect our borders and our laws, so we must also be guided in how we are to care for the least among us, including those who, through no fault of their own, have lived in our country for many years and now seek to make their own contribution to the greatness of our society. . . I join my brother Bishops in the United States in calling on Congress to promptly act, formulating and passing such legislation as part of a substantive first step toward long needed comprehensive immigration reform in our country. I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Raleigh to join me in contacting members of Congress from their respective districts to urge this needed action, as well as to pray for them as they carry out their work for the common good of our great nation."

From the USCCB: "The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. . .The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: 'Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me' (Mark 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today's actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth."

Contact Congress now and in the days to come.

Join Justice for Immigrants socialconcern@hnojnc.org

Join Pope Francis’ Share the Journey Campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ6asKM41Mg

For the complete USCCB statement: http://dioceseofraleigh.org/news/bishop-zarama-responds-administrations-decision-end-daca

------Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus said... "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,

with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Reflection:

One place we try to fulfill Jesus’ commandment of love is at our weekly liturgical celebration. We look for ways at this worship to concretize the love of neighbor. Here, we welcome the stranger in our midst and strive to be a sign of the unity the Eucharist calls us to be. In our parish we must integrate incoming groups into our liturgical and community celebrations and educational programs.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Is God at my center, the inspiration and impetus behind my thoughts, feelings and actions?
  • Who is the surprising neighbor Jesus is calling me to love?
  • And how shall I share Jesus’ love with that person(s)?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

—Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • James Hollis Watts #0428143 (On death row since 7/19/01)
  • Bryan Christopher Bell #0592464 (8/24/01)
  • Clifford Ray Miler #0742512 (10/25/01)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilias Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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