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Contents: Volume 2 - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B – February 4, 2018


 

The

5th

Sunday

2018

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Barbara Cooper, OP

3. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

6.. (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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1.

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Sun. 5 B 2018

Ours is an interesting set of readings this week! By the beginning of February, the enthusiasm of a "new" year along with its hopes and dreams and resolutions (and ours), is surely to have faded somewhat, if not totally disappeared. If you listened to or reacted to the State of the Union address in the US this week that revealed the divisions among people, you might also feel a bit "restless" or discouraged like Job. Everyday life indeed might seem like a drudgery!

St. Paul and Jesus have a remedy, however. It is not easy, but it is clear. Preach the Good News!

Preaching has an extra special place in my life because I am a Dominican, a member of the Order of Preachers. But every man, woman, and child who has been baptized has a call to preach. Whether one feels an "obligation" or is living out "stewardship", if we are Christian, we still must preach.

Preaching takes many forms depending on one's role in the wider Church. Anyone can respond to the Scriptures in this very place once or, as I have, weekly for over twenty some years. (Check below all of this week's reflections for the e mail address for your submission!) Is there a Scripture group in your parish?

Yesterday, I preached in an unusual way. I objected in writing to an e mail I received. It was a listing of "faithful families", donors to a worthy cause I supported. I highlighted the insensitivity of the wording. Donating money does not equate with being faithful especially when there are financially fragile families who support this same cause by their time and talent. Result: a better understanding of how to be inclusive, a wider view of stewardship, and an acknowledgement that there would be no more lists labeled "faithful families". Could you gently refocus a well-meaning group that is unintentionally exclusive?

Preaching involves sharing the Good News that the Kingdom is now and it is for everyone. You don't need a pulpit, a street corner, or a computer. Isn't there something that you feel passionate about that might change your usual routine into feeling more a part of the Kingdom and nurturing it?

Jesus did, even during some pretty long days: after sunset and before dawn. He was constantly teaching, healing, and preaching, in synagogues and nearby villages, throughout the whole of Galilee, and even in the home of a friend . There must be a little time in our days to tap whatever our talent is, consciously, and tap into sharing the Good News.

Options are many and so are the possible levels of involvement. My grand daughter preaches (gently I hope) when she responds to teasing or insists that everyone be included in a game. A homebound friend knits hats for the homeless. There are activists who are working to prevent and rescue those who are being trafficked during the Super Bowl. How about planning a call or lunch with someone whose loved one has recently died and whose St. Valentine's Day will be filled with sadness? What will you do for the sake of the Gospel?

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B - February 4, 2018

Probably the questions most people wrestle with are: "Why is there suffering in the world?", and even more perplexing: "Why do good people suffer?" Have you ever asked: "Why me?" and found no satisfactory reply?

The author of the book of Job asked this question as well. Job seems incredibly lucky. He possesses land and cattle in abundance, servants, and a perfect number of sons (7) with a few daughters for good measure. His future seemed secure.

Most of all, he was a righteous man, "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil". He even scrupulously offered sacrifices for his children in case they had sinned during a feast. A man of extremes but the writer tells us that: "Job is named as the greatest of all the people of the east.

It seemed that everything was perfect ... and then ...disaster struck. Children, servants, cattle, all dead or stolen. Job is afflicted with a skin disease and if you've ever had a bad case of psoriasis or eczema you know what that is like. Left sitting in ashes, he is further afflicted by an angry wife (she was hurt too by the losses) and some friends who try to console him with their belief that suffering is caused by your sins, even if you don't know what they are.

Job doesn't get a satisfactory answer, just as in our time we wrestle with the realities of refugees fleeing from violence, continued wars, assaults, and injustice, added to our personal sorrows and grief. And while much suffering comes from human sin, we are still faced with the suffering that is a part of nature. Volcanoes erupt, earthquakes destroy cities, and the baby deer is killed by a predator to feed herself and her young, as we ourselves must kill other plant and animal life in order to have the food we need to live.

Sometimes the God of Life and Love appears to be absent, or disinterested or a fantasy invented by a cruel jokester. So like Job, we sometimes sit in the ashes of our lives and lament the sorrow around us.

I wish there was a simple solution, as you probably do as well. Some sort of magic wand that would make all of life a continual joy, or at least make sense. Different people find different ways of understanding this mystery. For we who profess to be Christians, it is our belief that in Jesus of Nazareth, God has revealed the Divine Presence in our human condition, and told us that evil and death do not have the final word.

In his teaching, Jesus leads us in the way of doing good instead of evil. To not retaliate if someone hits us and so to stop the escalation of violence. To find compassion to replace hatred. To share instead of covet and grab. To be healers and peace makers in our world.

All the other things I have no control over, remain a mystery. I just found the marsh and river by my rental are overflowing because of the heavy rainfall we've had. Some units are flooded. Mine isn't. Not because I'm more virtuous than they are or that God somehow loves me more. Not even because I prayed for inspiration for a "lighter" conclusion to this rather "heavy" reflection! Human activity and lack of planning had some effect on the water flow and levels, just as we are effecting the earth's climate with thoughtless actions.

But there have been floods throughout history even before Noah and his ark. The reality of sorrow, grief, and harm remain largely unexplained and still "mystery". But the thing to do now is find out if my neighbours need anything or if there is anything I can do to help – even if "helping" means staying out of the way!

Maybe the "mystery" can lead us to community.

Barbara Cooper, OP

Vancouver Island, BC Canada

bcoop60@yahoo.com

 

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Fifth Sunday in Ordered Time February 4 2018

Job 7:1-4 & 6-7; Responsorial Psalm 147; 1st Corinthians 9:16-19 & 22-23; Gospel Acclamation Mathew 8:17; Mark 1:28-39

The readings for Mass are selected by scholars of Scripture very carefully. The first reading is typically chosen from the Hebrew Scriptures to teach the message in the Gospel. The second reading for ordinary Sundays of the year is from the writings of the Apostles – we call them epistles. Over a three year cycle we hear from all those epistles in a continuous reading that is not related specifically to the gospel of the Sunday. The Responsorial Psalm is from the Hebrew Wisdom writings and is chosen to apply the first reading to the gospel. The Gospel Acclamation is chosen from the gospels to lead to the gospel theme. When we need a clue as to the message of the gospel we should look to the first reading for a clue and to the prayer song that is the responsorial psalm. The gospel acclamation prepares us for the gospel message.

On Sundays where the first reading and the gospel seem unconnected, we need to dig deeper into that first reading to discover the meat of the gospel message. This week-end is one of those times. The reading from the Book of Job seems out of place. Job is whining about how awful life is; it’s all pain, misery, daily struggle and then, then you die. Wow! What a fatalistic view of life. The gospel, by contrast is upbeat: Jesus preaches the good news, cures, heals, and frees many people of their demons. That’s where the Responsorial Psalm helps us to discover the connection. The response is "Praise the Lord for he heals the brokenhearted." One particular verse strikes me as well. We live in a world of seven plus billion people. How can God know about my troubles – there are so many with burdens worse than mine? The third verse of the psalm puts that doubt to rest. "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He tells the number of the stars; he calls each by name." There are clearly more than seven billion stars: if God can call each of them by name, he has the capacity to know my name as well. So just maybe my struggles and pain are known to God and he can bind up my wounds and heal my broken-heart so bruised and torn by misfortune and the disregard and attacks of those who hate me. The gospel acclamation goes further and personifies the agent of the Father: "Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases."

The few verses we hear from the seventh chapter of the forty chapter Book of Job this Sunday gives us only a snapshot of human experience. There is more to the story. Hopefully we’ll not hear that God visits us with adversity to test us, to try our faith, to provide an exercise of love to prove to him that we do in fact love him. Such an approach to the suffering of humanity makes God a puppet master, jerking our strings to see us jump and dance. Our God – Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures, Allah of the Muslim Scriptures, Trinity of Christianity – is our Father who loves us and guides us and encourages us as we exercise the freedom he gave us in a world that is both an incomplete and struggling to completion as well as conflict with evil-doers who have exercised their freedom to harm us for their own purposes. God does not create evil. He is our guide and energizer in our personal and collective conflicts.

The book of Job explores the question of why terrible things happen to good people. It’s a very old story that draws from ancient stories of Egypt and Babylon. It assumes there is goodness that is just. That justice is the moral order and structure of reality that forms a "should be." Those stories are in dialogue form; a series of discussions among men with questions settled with an answer from the gods. In the Hebrew story of Job there is but one God. The misery of humanity is not the result of capricious infighting of gods but from an agent looking to create and prosecute evil among humankind. The Hebrew Yahweh is transcendent, above flawed human motivations, emotion, and jealousies. Yahweh is so awesome that encounters with him lead mankind to "fear" him. This fear is not to frighten but leads to humans excited and overcome with awe at the experience of Yahweh present. Yahweh sees the deeds of humanity, looking always to discover the good humans do. Job is a series of discussions, of dialogues between a variety of participants. The story begins with Yahweh holding court with his servants including one who is the Adversary – named Satan. The Adversary had returned from touring and patrolling the earth in search of humans doing evil so he can bring their case to judgment and condemnation proving to God that his creation is evil. Satan is cynical, believing that only bad things can come from humanity. By contrast, Yahweh has an optimistic estimate of humanity about its possibility for doing good. The scene is that of a court of law in which the Adversary is the prosecutor and Yahweh both the judge and the defendant of Job.

Job’s complaint is based on the Jewish understanding of divine justice. God is just and the source of all justice. Justice has to do with acting in compliance with the terms of the Covenant. That is the standard by which Yahweh is judged and how the people are judged. Yahweh’s justice is evident in his liberation and salvation to the helpless. In a grand sense this is exemplified in the events of the Exodus and later release from Babylonian Captivity. In the individual view, Yahweh’s intervention is always in favor of the poor and helpless, the widow and the orphan, the laborer without sustainable resources. Yahweh’s intervention produces justice which demands that all have what they ought to have to thrive and flourish. For those disloyal to the covenant Yahweh’s justice is destructive. People disloyal to the covenant suffer disorder, destruction, and enslavement that Yahweh allows as the natural outcome of their evil. It is no wonder that loyalty to the covenant is found expressed in rigid ritual and cultural social observance of a detailed law and set of traditional customs of behavior. The wisdom teachers of Israel taught how righteous living reduced the arbitrary and unpredictable events in life. Because God’s moral laws are suitable to living a loyal life, mankind living in harmony with those moral laws could assure themselves of happiness and success.

The story of Job questions the mechanical certainty of a successful, profitable, and comfortable life merely by following the rules, or by strict observance of rituals of prayer and devotion, or of living in harmony with the law. If God is truly just according to our ways of understanding justice, such a plan would guarantee a wonderful life. Thus the problem of Job explores the experience of good persons who suffer. If I am living a good and virtuous life based on the commandments, on the interpretations of those laws by scholars; if I follow the rules and take care of my family, my community, my nation; if I observe the rituals of prayer and sacrifice -- then I should have a comfortable life blessed by God. The story of Job questions that.

The Adversary’s argument is that humanity is scum, sinners all, unworthy of Yahweh’s attention. In the dialogue, Yahweh offers Job’s righteousness as an example of the inherent goodness of humanity. The Adversary insists Job is a good man because he has everything – sons and daughters, livestock, many servants, lots of money making operations all working efficiently and increasing his wealth, power, prestige, and influence. The Adversary suggests if we take away his children, his wealth, all his toys, will he still be righteous, respecting Yahweh? Does Job love Yahweh because he receives a return for his love and compliance? Is not Job’s love a sort of investment? Yahweh gives leave and Job’s children are crushed as their house is destroyed in a windstorm. The livestock are either stolen or struck by lightning. Everything of value is taken from Job. Only Job and his wife remain. He retains his health and his honor among his peers. After the Adversary returns to Yahweh, Yahweh again boasts of Job who has not cursed Him. "Let’s see," quips the Adversary, "what happens to his righteousness and respect for Yahweh if he loses his health, his honor, and the well-wishes of his neighbors. What happens when he is stripped of personal dignity? Will Job continue being righteous?" Job continues to "fear the Lord."

In this misery Job’s three friends - Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – come to convince Job he has sinned and needs to repent. They apply the moral and religious thinking of Judaism in their argument. In their talk the workings of Divine Providence are reduced to absolute predictable, explicit, and mathematically certain axioms. God’s freedom is taken away and they leave no room for the Mystery of God. The point is that God’s justice is more than the predictable, explicit, and mathematically correct justice of humanity. Job rightly denies any personal fault. Our depressing first reading is from Job’s response to his friends. The feelings and thoughts Job expresses are shared by many people in dire straits. Whether the suffering is brought on by financial collapse, by war, by terminal and unremitted disease, by addiction, by failed marriages, by behavior of children, or by sheer exhaustion from struggling to maintain a decent life the pain is real and shared by millions of our fellow-travelers. Who cannot empathize with Job?

In the gospel Jesus finished preaching at the synagogue and goes to Peter’s house. In Peter’s house he discovers Peter’s mothers-in-law immobilized by a fever. Jesus goes to her and, taking her by the hand, "raises her up." Mark uses the same word for this "raising up" as he does with the "raising up" of Jesus from the tomb thus linking the two events as similar. Peter’s mother-in-law, raised up, becomes a disciple. She then serves those gathered. When we become Christian disciples, we are raised up from a sickness that is part of our nature. That’s not the end of the story; we are not to go on as before. In every healing story, of all healed or freed the saved/liberated person returns to serve their community and praise God for his justice.

After sunset, marking the end of the Jewish observance of the Sabbath, the townspeople brought Jesus the ill and possessed. They are healed and freed. Evil is overcome by the presence of Yahweh’s power in the person of Jesus. Some say the reason good people suffer is so God can prove his goodness. The implication is that God wants us to suffer so he can show off his power. Pain and suffering come to us not because God wills it but because of the sins of others and the incompleteness of creation. God doesn’t have to prove anything. Blessings come from God freely: no one can earn them solely by loving God, by following rules, or by strict rituals of prayer or sacrifice. We lack the clout to force God to do anything. Our following rules, our rituals of prayer and devotion, our righteous living cannot force God whose love for us is well beyond our imagining. We cannot dumb down God, putting him at our level of existence. We must stand in awe of his care and kindnesses toward us, lifting us up from what harms us, walking with us to help us survive and flourish in even the most difficult of circumstances, and encouraging us with his Word and wisdom.

Jesus leaves the house very early before anyone is up in the town and goes to a deserted place and prays. Talking with God is how we defend ourselves from pride and arrogance. Jesus tells his disciples he must go to other towns to preach. He doesn’t say anything about healing or freeing people of demons even though he does those things. Such activity would have gathered crowds. Perhaps the healing and freeing were so people could hear the message. It’s hard to hear when struggling to collect your next breath: it’s difficult to turn your thought to a loving God when you’re desperate to feed your children: it’s impossible to hear God’s words when there are bullets and bombs and screaming war machines threatening your life. It’s the message of Job and the message of Jesus. "God loves you and expects you will do good works, share kindnesses with all you meet, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, find employment for the unemployed, build shelter for the homeless, protect the widows and orphans, and compensate those who labor. God’s great compassion and mercy frees and saves us from succumbing to our pain. Disciples go with Jesus to other towns and preach there as well.

"The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

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JESUS SMASHES THE CHAINS OF MISERY: 5TH SUNDAY B

On his way to his office each morning, a married deacon drops in to the same café for a cup of coffee. He is always served by the same waitress. She is a bright and breezy person who always adds to her ‘Good Morning’ greeting the words ‘And how are you today?’ in return the deacon always asks the waitress: ‘And how are you?’ One morning not so long ago she answered: ‘OK, I suppose, but somehow I’m not living life to the full, even though I have the best husband in the world and a beautiful new baby.’

That young woman was indicating mild disappointment and dissatisfaction with her life. There was something missing, but she could not name just what it was. But her mild restlessness was nothing to the dissatisfaction that in our First Reading today poor old Job is feeling. The bottom has dropped out of his world, and his friends are no help at all. They keep teasing and taunting him. So he finds himself in a state of acute depression, and even thinks he’d be better off dead.

Probably we all know people who are longing and craving for fulfilment in their lives, but who remain bundles of misery. Their conversations are all about ‘poor me’. Perhaps, at least sometimes, we ourselves feel so down and depressed that we come close to despair, and even feel we have nothing left to live for.

It’s clear from the gospel that Jesus felt deeply for people whose lives were out of whack with their hopes, dreams, aspirations and expectations, and that he reached out to them whenever, wherever, and however he could. To break their chains of misery and give them meaning, hope and support was his life project, as he once stated: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10).

Jesus himself must have been feeling tired and even exhausted after taking part in the evening service at the synagogue in Capernaum that day, then curing Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever, and going on to heal the many sick and troubled persons crowding round the front door of Peter’s house. Yet the very next morning he gets up before sunrise and leaves the house for an isolated spot where he can be alone with God in order to renew his strength and commitment in prayer. But even there Peter and his band of brothers track him down, and beg him to go back to the house. Simply because still more people have arrived and are clamouring for his help!

Jesus knew, though, that it was impossible to help and heal every needy person. Yet it must have saddened and troubled him to think that whenever he moved on, as move on he must, he would be leaving some persons behind, who would still be feeling as miserable as old Job. He would console himself with the thought that he would keep doing whatever he could for any needy person who came his way. He would keep telling them of God’s ‘amazing grace’, i.e. of God’s awesome and unconditional love for them. But as well as telling them in powerful and challenging words about God’s strong and constant love for them, he would keep showing them that love. BUT HOW? By his interest in, and attention to every troubled person pouring out their hearts in sobs and tears! By accepting them without any condemnation, by forgiving and encouraging them, and as much as he could by removing the source of their misery!

Sometimes he set them free from their physical ailments and disabilities. Often he delivered them from their personal ‘demons’ - their feelings of restlessness, worthlessness, failure, guilt and shame. Or from their ‘demons’ of bad memories of the evil and ugly things they had done, or of the bad and ugly things that had been done to them. He would do all he could to put them back together again and to help them to start living life as fully as they longed to do.

Our hope too is in the power and compassion of Jesus for us. He is alive in our midst all through our prayer together today. He is our way. Leave him and we may well get lost. He is our truth. Ignore him and his teachings and we may mess up our lives. He is our life. Turn our backs on him, and our spirits, minds and hearts, might just shrivel up and die.

But perhaps we are afraid that we have let our years crackle and go up in smoke, and have for so long left him out of our lives that it’s just no use coming back to him. But surely if we cannot bring goodness to him, we can at least bring him our mistakes, our failures and our sins. And surely too we can bring him our trust, our renewed trust in him, not only as the Saviour of the world, but as our very own personal Saviour, who is still and forever our way, our truth, and our life! Surely we can!

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

 

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Year B: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"He went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils."

I think we’ve all had days when we felt like Job:

"Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?

Like the slave, sighing for the shade,

or the workman with no thought but his wages,…

Remember that my life is but a breath,

and that my eyes will never again see joy."

Yes, there are some very evil places in this world.

Some years ago, I was one of a group of four Jesuits who were sent to set up a new community in the heart of Moss Side in Manchester. This is a place which is famous for being the drug trafficking capital of the whole of the North of England. And it has the poverty, the lawlessness, the prostitution, the homelessness, the street-crime and the casual violence that goes along with drug trafficking all over the world. And when I was there children as young as 12 years old were shot in the street in wars between drug-dealing gangs.

We were given a disused flat in a largely abandoned and derelict block of flats. It was supposed to have been empty for years, but it had obviously been squatted in more recently by some drug addicts. Written on the wall under the title "My Life" were the saddest few lines I have ever read:

"Heat the spoon,

watch it melt,

fill the syringe

and stab yourself."

I never met whoever it was who wrote those words, but I have often prayed for her or him. Because those are the words of a true addict – a man or a woman whose life is dominated by an evil she or he cannot control – someone who feels compelled twice a day to do something to themselves that they know is desperately harmful and will, in all probability, one day cause them to kill themselves. Their entire life has become constricted to a little pool of liquid containing heroin and to those desperate acts of crime they have to carry out in order to get the money to buy themselves some more heroin.

Job – like all of us at times - is overcome by that evil. But the Good News of today’s Gospel is that Jesus is not so overcome. There is something about his presence and his message that brings healing where-ever he goes. His healing frees people from the bodily and the spiritual diseases that afflict them. Throughout the towns and villages of Galilee – he preaches the Good News of God’s salvation and heals those who are sick. And we know that Jesus did not come only for the people of his own time. He came for the people of all times and of every place. The healing power of Jesus is present for us in the Church forever. He tells us: ‘I am with you always even to the end of time.’

Of course, our first reaction to encountering serious evil – like those few lines of despair in Manchester - is to think that here we cannot be the followers of Christ. We alone cannot remove all the loneliness and fear; we cannot make a fever go away with a simple action, as Christ could. Yet, St Paul tells us, we have no choice – we have the responsibility whether we like it or not. All of us can say with him "it is a duty which has been laid on me".

Jesus has healed us, forgiving us our sins and reconciling us with God. He asks us now to bring his healing to others, to become humble, persevering and patient disciples, helping him to win others to repentance and holiness by our imitation of him in his compassion, generosity and service of all. As St Teresa says: "Christ has no body now but ours." We are his eyes, his smile, his ears, and his hands, still mightily at work in the world. It is better to light one candle than to curse the dark!

Let us stand and profess our Faith in Christ our Light.

Paul O’Reilly, sj.

<fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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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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