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Contents: Volume 2 - Thirtieth First Sunday of Ordered Time – A – November 5, 2017


 

The

31st

Sunday

2017

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. --

5. -- (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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1.

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Sun. 31 A

Our readings this Sunday are clear and direct. They either condemn or exalt church leaders according to how they act. For me, these readings are clearly about Servant Leadership and good example!

In the many years that I have been an adult Catholic, I have been abundantly blessed with pastors and associate pastors who exemplify the textbook version of servant leadership.... except for one really difficult time. That was a long ten year stretch to be sure and I both suffered and grew beyond my wildest dreams.

Without specifics or name calling, suffice it to say that our parish enrollment and the involvement of the laity plummeted to an all time low. I was determined that not only would I outlast the true misery I felt and the leaders who acted so contrary to servant leadership, but that I would learn from it/them and become a better person.

I was not leaving HOME! The Lord said, "SO BE IT!!!!" (Be careful what you pray!) In the process, I often wanted to "shake the dust" and move to another parish. I am glad I did not.

Again, without specifics or name calling, I learned to listen to why they thought and did what they did. I often argued but made sure my argument was as constructive as I could muster. (I am happy that I never yelled "You want to do what?!!!" although I had to stifle it a bunch of times!) I didn't do well with a "pray, pay, and obey" mentality (still don't), so I was forced to delve into church documents and learned writings etc. to develop a deeper spirituality that supported the Gospel stories of Jesus as a servant leader and the equal place/mission of the laity.

I became more of an authentic servant leader myself. I gave up a bunch of my own stubbornness in my thinking although I did bolt from one important post when I just couldn't live with the changes. The new leaders learned, a little bit at a time, why all of us together make up "church". By the time my life's journey catapulted me to a different place, I was honestly sad to leave.

My blessings have continued. Google tells me that there are 39 churches in Seattle proper, all within a very reasonable drive, given no traffic. Many parishes have a servant leadership mentality as I imagine many in my former state now have as well. My current parish is known throughout the archdiocese for helping the marginalized. The pastor is amazing. Again, twenty plus years since ...., I am in the right place, surrounded by servant leaders, but unable to be quite as active.

If you find yourself in such a blessed place as I am now, "give thanks to God unceasingly" and tell your pastor... often! If you are out of sync with what is happening, search inwardly and find out why. Don't be afraid to listen to what God tells you to do.

Remember what St. Catherine of Siena wrote: "Preach the Truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world." Do something! The future of the Church depends on you.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Thirty-First Sunday of Ordered Time November 5 2017

Malachi 1:14-2:2 &8-10; Responsorial Psalm 131; 1st Thessalonians 2:7-9 & 13; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 23: 9-10; Matthew 23:1-12

The reading from the Hebrew Scripture and the gospel this Sunday seems to have very little for the people in the pews. The message seems directed in both the prophet Malachi and the evangelist Matthew to priests.

The reading from Malachi is from the time after the Babylonian captivity. Temple worship services have begun again. Malachi criticizes the order of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel. During the time in the desert and during the conquest of Canaan, the tribe of Levi were priests in Israel. The male members of the tribe served as mediators between Yahweh and the people. They were responsible for offerings of thanksgiving, of reconciliation and of petition to God – Yahweh. The tribe of Levi, of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob, was not assigned territory in the Promised Land. Instead they were dispersed among the other eleven tribes, receiving their sustenance and livelihood from the sacrifices offered to God. The Levites were blessed, relieved of the burden of working the fields, tending flocks, conducting trade, and serving as soldiers in the constant warfare during the forming of the nation in Palestine. Their freedom allowed them to concentrate on fulfilling the people’s part of the covenant and of standing before God for the other tribes. Malachi criticizes the Levites for how they led worship and the slipshod way they selected animals for sacrifice. The Levites accepted blind, sick, and gelded animals as offerings to the Lord. These priests benefited in a material way from this practice. Malachi decries their practices, saying they were treating God as secondary to their profit. He condemns the Levites for the partiality they used in judgments and decisions rendered favoring one party over another. Their partiality was apparently based on bribes and favoritism. The priesthood of Levites in service of Yahweh had no place in it for bribery and corruption. Yet, the Levites fell prey to those vices. God is Father of all and all are brothers under God. That is a central message of the Sinai Covenant. The twelve tribes are God’s chosen and each individual and each tribe must be treated impartially. Worship from the nation was to rise from hearts. Mere compliance with the law was not true worship. After all, the covenant was an act of God’s love for the chosen people, not some backroom bargain. Corruption, vanity, and favoritism are infectious and quickly become a way of life for those with resources and influence. The moral fiber of a nation is quickly reduced to individualistic goals in conflict with the common good. Malachi saw this decay in Israel and laid it on the failures of the tribe of Levi to lead the nation according to the covenant with Yahweh. God committed in the Sinai Covenant is to look on his people with Loving Kindness. It was the role of the Levites to demonstrate the nation’s appropriate response to that Loving Kindness. God’s relationship to the Chosen People is the relation of a loving bridegroom to his bride. There was no partiality in God’s relationship to individuals. For the nation to sin was an adultery of the people – of the bride. The Levites’ practices corrupted the practice of faith in Israel.

Does Malachi’s condemnation have any reference to us in the twenty-first century? How does it apply to us who walk in the Way of the Christ? After all, the vast majority of us are not priests, are we? If we believe that’s the case, we forget what happened to us when we were baptized. In the Baptismal ritual initiating us into the Way of Christ, we are instructed we are priests, prophets and kings (shepherds). In the new covenant formed by Jesus we have entered a new age. This new covenant was the work of Jesus’ human life, of his ministry of preaching and healing, of his self-sacrifice on the cross, and in the approval of his work by the Father when Jesus was raised by the Spirit from the tomb. This is the foundation of the new covenant: in this covenant we entered a new age. The evangelists speak of this new age as the final age. It is the time when all things are being completed, when God’s creation is coming into its most wonderful fulfillment. In this new covenant the people of God are priests. There is a distinction among the priests based on how each person is ordered to priestly service. In what we call ordination, the priest whose life is focused on service to the People of God as ministers of Word, of Eucharist, of Sacrament and of Christian Service is a different role than most. It is a role of direct service to the People of God. The ordained-to-service priest is taken from among the People of God to serve the People of God. However, that ordination does not relieve any person of God from priesthood to the world, to the community, to relatives, friends, enemies, aliens, widows, and orphans. This service occurs during and in the ordinary pursuits of human life. We are all priests whose lives are meant to make the new covenant present in the world. Thus we have no option to shut down our minds and hearts to the words of Malachi. We too must offer the best of our living to the God who loves us. We too must deny partiality in our decisions. We must snuff out corruption and its influence within ourselves and expose it in the dealings and movements within the world. Malachi speaks directly to us in our day as he did to the tribe of Levi in his day. Listen to him.

If we remember the truth of our Baptism -- that we are indeed priests, prophets and shepherds -- then the gospel this Sunday has clear application to us. Two weeks ago Jesus spoke with us about our relationship to the secular world. Remember, it was "render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s." Then last week Jesus equated the love of neighbor with the love of God. John the evangelist in a later writing insists any person who says he loves God but hates his neighbor is a liar. For, as John continues, how can you say you hate what you see and love that which you cannot see? This loving neighbor is no easy thing. It means we see our neighbor as Teresa of Calcutta saw the misshapen invalids and diseased persons on the streets of Calcutta as images and likenesses of God. There is dignity in every person, in every molecule of creation. We may struggle to discover God there. Well, at least we should struggle to if we claim to be Christians, if we seriously intend to live the Way of Jesus. The struggle does not deny God’s presence.

This Sunday is a third leg on this stool of faithful living. Jesus speaks to our attitude toward faith, about our attitudes as we practice that faith. The Scribes and the Pharisees have claimed the teaching authority of Moses. Jesus tells us their study and interpretation of the Law of Moses is to be respected. However, while we may respect what they teach we should not look to the Scribes and Pharisees of our time as a model for living. We should imitate those who practice the truth, not necessarily the life styles of those who teach the truth. This is the first of four warnings Jesus gives in this Sunday’s gospel.

The second condemnation is how leadership often demands compliance in matters that lack importance. Leadership often seeks to control those subject to it, imposing irrelevant and inconsequential details that add nothing to the faith or moral life of the individual. This is evident in some religious leaders whose moral teaching serves more to create dependence on leadership than to expand the faith and freedom of persons. Such rigorous demands are only for the benefit of those leaders. It serves only to create guilt and a nagging despair in hearts of the people.

The third warning of Jesus condemns the vanity and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus speaks of the practice of Phylacteries and Tassels on cloaks. Phylacteries (Exodus 13:1-16 & Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & 11:13-21) were small boxes a practicing Jew attached to their left wrist and their foreheads. Those on the forehead hung down as a pendant in their field of vision. Inside the boxes they placed verses from their Scriptures. Its intention in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy were to remind the wearer of God’s work of salvation and liberation. It focused especially on the nation’s deliverance from slavery. It was not merely slavery in Egypt and in the Babylonian captivity but also the slavery individually experienced to personal and national sin. These Phylacteries were meant to raise the hearts and minds in appreciation of God’s work. As with most external practices of religion, exaggeration and prideful showing-off soon entered in. Those seeking admiration of the ordinary folk made the boxes larger and more ornate so as to impress. Vanity and the hypocrisy creates a phony image intended to mislead others into believing this person is very holy. Such pretense is still with us.

Tassels on the four corners of their cloaks (Numbers 15:38-39) were meant to continuously remind persons of the Law. All corners of their lives were to be within the confines of the Law of Sinai. Widening the tassels was just a way of showing off. It was just another attempt to impress. In some cases, the attitude of the wearer was a kind of superstition that served as a talisman against evil. Talismans that are thought to guarantee safety or prosperity. In reality they are just a form of idolatry. Is there any evidence of this in our lives?

The fourth condemnation is the use of titles to gain attention and followers. The point is that since God is our Father we are all members of the same family, all are children of God. Titles are meant to separate some from others. It is a matter of pride. Its intention is to require the majority to bend to service of the titled person. In the Way of the Christ, the one who performs the most menial but necessary tasks is of greatest importance. That is the person who understands that pride prevents care of others. Pride is the key to self-destruction since it is based on lies. Only those who serve can claim to follow in the way of the Christ. The work of God from our perspective is that of servant. God it is who creates, who gives us life and its fullness. God it is who pulls us up from the mire and mud into which we sink and flounder and are held captive. God it is who invites us to table with him and then serves us up a banquet of peace and joy. And who can forget, who can ever deny, the gift we’ve received from our God. That gift is the inestimable gift of life itself. How can we disbelieve that those who serve others are in fact the most important?

There is much to think about for us priestly people. Trying to impress others makes us the center of our lives, supplanting the presence of God who gave us life. Pride in thinking we have all the answers to living a Christian life closes our hearts to discovering God’s presence among us. It is truly the heart that is closed that rejects love of God and love of neighbor. As we live out the incomprehensible gift of life God has given us, it is God’s plan, it is God’s will there be continual growth in our hearts and in our minds of our personal and communal relationship with God. When our hearts are hardened by pride and hatred, we atrophy, we lose our way; we fail to grow in faith, in charity, and in hope. These are the treasures of each day buried in the field for discovery. We can never forget we are a priestly people.

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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LEADERSHIP AND AUTHORITY: 31ST SUNDAY A

A major in the army, wearing his epaulettes and service medals, was in his new office, when an army private knocked on the door. To impress the private the major called out in a pompous voice: ‘Come in, soldier! I’ll be right with you after I answer this phone call.’ Then speaking into the phone the major said: ‘Well, General, it’s good to hear your voice. How can I help you?’ A pause followed. Then the major said: ‘Fine, General, I’ll call the Prime Minister within the hour.’ Then he said to the private who was staring at the floor nervously: ‘Now, soldier, what can I do for you?’ Without looking up, the private said in a low voice: ‘Sir,my sergeant sent me to connect your phone for you.’

That major caught himself out. He showed himself to be something of a liar, a fake, and a hypocrite, the very things that in the gospel today Jesus both accused the Pharisees of being, and cautioned his followers not to be.

When I read those words of Jesus, however, and ask myself how they apply to me, I have to admit they make me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Here I am up the front, wearing long robes, and being called ‘Father’. Let me assure you, then, that I’m not here to parade, or show off, or to make out that I’m a better or superior person to any one of you. I sincerely strive to make my own the words of the psalmist today: ‘O Lord, my heart is not proud nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me’.

Authority in any organisation, the Church included, is meant to be a gift. It is meant to be shown in loving service and support of others, not in domination and control. It’s just not good enough to make people simply comply and obey. People may do that on the outside, while on the inside they are seething with rage and resentment. The challenge for all leaders is to get others onside, to win their hearts and minds, to persuade and convince them that this or that is the right thing to do. That, of course, requires all the skills that go into winning friends and influencing people. In fact, that’s the only kind of authority that works in any community nowadays, the family included.

Again and again in his teaching Jesus insists that we must not dominate, lord it over, or oppress others! He teaches over and over that God invites, calls, attracts and charms, rather than controls, directs, and regulates! He teaches too that the greatest in any group are those who love and serve the others!

So that we might do a better job than we have done so far of living those teachings of Jesus, let us pray together to the Lord, in the rest of our Eucharist today, for both ourselves and one another!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John
 


 

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