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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A) August 23, 2020

Isaiah 22: 19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11: 33-36; Matthew 16: 13-20

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Our days are filled with questions. Even during these very trying times most are part of our daily routine. "What’s for supper?" "Have you called your mother?" These times require we ask a new category of questions. "Did the kids attend their Zoom class today?" "Did you wear your mask when you went to the grocers?" They are not the questions we would have asked at a previous time, but now they seem to have become part of our routine as well.

Then there are even bigger questions that carry the extra weight of the times that we are now living in: "When will we finally get a vaccine?" "Do you think Frank will ever get off the ventilator?" These questions, which have been with us for a some years, are now being asked with extra urgency. They reflect our social inequalities and tensions. "If not now… When?" "If not here… Where?" "How long must we wait?"

Some questions carry little weight or consequence. "Do you want sugar in your coffee?" Others require a lasting commitment: "Will you marry me?" Some challenge us to make a decision. After I graduated from college my seventh grade Amityville Dominican teacher, Sister Monica, came up to me after Sunday Mass and said, "What are you going to do with the rest of your life?" I’m glad I had an answer for her, which I didn’t always have to the questions she asked when I was a kid in her class. "I’m going to join the same Order you belong to, the Dominicans."

We are in chapter 16 of Matthew’s Gospel today and Jesus decides it is the time to ask a very important question. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The disciples give him answers that reflect how important people thought he was. "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." Then he asks a more pointed question, "But who do you say that I?" It is not what other people say about Jesus, it is what we say. Peter is the one who replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Place is important in gospel stories. Jesus had taken his disciples 25 miles out of their way, all on foot to Caesarea Philippi. That is where he asks his question. It was a city on a massive wall of rock, 100 feet high and 500 feet wide. On top of the rock was a marble temple erected to honor Caesar, who considered himself a god. Over the years hundreds of people carved out niches into the stone wall and placed statues of their gods in them and worshiped them. Before the massive rock that exhibited the power of the Empire and beliefs and forms of worship of so many people, Jesus names another rock.

We disciples of Jesus are aware that the question Jesus put to the disciples is also asked of us, not just once, but throughout our lives: "But who do you say that I am?" Our answer to that question takes different shades, depending on the stage of our lives and our circumstances at the time. An answer to that question comes not only in words, but also in our actions. So, for example, these days we are challenged to respond to the realities of systemic racism, not only by words, but by changing out thinking and behaving. Or, to put it another way, Jesus is again asking his community of believers, "But who do you say...now....that I am?"

The question Jesus puts to us makes all others, as significant as they may be, pale. The answers to his question are hard earned. They cannot be begged, borrowed, stolen from others, or taken from a book. You answer that question in your way, I answer it in mine. The answer to, "But who do you say that I am?" must be worked out in the social, political, economic and religious world in which we live. Like the disciples standing before the great rock of the Empire, the answer to Jesus’ challenge colors, shapes and directs the responses we make to all the other significant questions life puts to us.

We are encouraged by Peter’s example for us today. Like us, he did not always get things right. He resisted Jesus’ prediction of his passion. And so he heard Jesus tell him, "Get behind me Satan." After Jesus’ arrest, when Peter was asked if he were a disciple of Jesus, he denied knowing him.

It is not just a question about Jesus, is it? It’s also about us: Who Am I? What do I believe? On what rock have I chosen to stand? Peter did not always get it right. The rock Jesus will build his church on isn’t Peter, it is his faith expressed in his testimony. Faith is the foundation of the Church. (Another interpretation has it that when Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church," he was referring to himself. Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone.)

Jesus did not require a curriculum vitae from Peter. Nor was there a job interview. Peter’s curriculum vitae was his knowledge of Jesus and his response. He was enlisted for his help and loyalty, for his love and service to a friend. Which is what Jesus does with us. He enlists a friend – actually a community of friends, the church, to love him and serve those to whom he sends us.

Only in Matthew’s Gospel is the word  "ekklesia" found. It literally means the "called-out gathering." The "called community" was formed by the earthly Jesus to continue his work. The "ekklesia" focuses on Jesus’ identity and authority, not on Peter’s. The church is not simply about a future world, but about being signs of the kingdom’s presence here and now. As Jesus proclaimed, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus’ question: "Who do you say that I am?" will define who I am; how I live; what I do; whom I become in my life."

Our individual responses will, of course, bind us more profoundly to Jesus. They will, in turn, bind us more closely to one another so that we will not only give an individual, but also a communal witness to Christ – for we are the  "ekklesia," "the called out gathering," called to effectively impact our world, so that others might be stirred to ask us important questions too, like: "Who do you say Jesus is?" "What does he mean to you?"

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

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082320.cfm 

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

I will give thanks to your name, because of your kindness and your truth.

Psalm 138:2

For the last three weeks, I have presented the voices of those who are giving their lives to seek a world without nuclear weapons. Seventy-five years of thinking that we are a safer world because of these weapons is actually, according to the voices we have heard, seventy-five years of a false security. Pope Francis and St. John XXIII both state that what is needed is to turn body and soul toward a different way--the way of peace and nonviolence. Have you given yourself time to reflect on the gravity of a world living under nuclear threat? When the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians. How do you feel about this fact?

Allow me to give you a comparison that exists today. Kings Bay in St. Marys, GA., is the port of six Trident submarines that each deploy 20 missiles carrying four or more warheads of at least 100 kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb was 14 kilotons. In other words, each submarine has the destructive power of more than 500 Hiroshima bombs (Sojourners, 8/20). The same Sojourners article goes on to state that there are three challenges "that nuclear weapons present to Christians forming their personal and social conscience: access to credible information; intersectional injustice; and genocide and ecocide." The issue of nuclear weapons seems to be so large a topic that it is difficult to know where to start.

Perhaps, it is as simple as each of us deciding, through body and soul, contemplation and action, for nonviolence. Martin Luther King Jr. states succinctly, "It is nonviolence or nonexistence." Can you imagine our society communally deciding for nonviolence? Can you imagine a world where societies join to live nonviolently? Rep. John Lewis said it beautifully, "We all live in the same house. . . Find a way to create the beloved community."

For three decades, Pace e Bene has been leading nonviolence efforts in the spirit of St. Francis, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now Campaign Nonviolence is taking this work further as CNV is connecting the dots to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction —and build a nonviolent culture. Join us this fall — September 19-27, 2020 —as we take action again for a culture of nonviolence coast to coast and around the world.

To learn more: https://paceebene.org/campaign-nonviolence

Join Campaign Nonviolence NC: socialconcern@hnojncc.org

---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 asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply,

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Reflection:

Jesus is not just a wise teacher or another prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah. In our accepting Christ as "the Son of the living God" and receiving the grace God offers us in him, we can change our lives and affect the world around us. We can more and more show the person of Jesus to the world so that others will also come to acknowledge him as "the Son of the living God."

So we ask ourselves:

  • What response would we give if Jesus were to ask us what he asked Peter? "But who do you say that I am?"

  • What changes must I make so that others will experience me as a person who believes that Jesus is "the Son of the living God?"

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

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Paul D. Cummings #0523493 (On death row since 9/8/04)

  • Alexander C. Polke #0801680 (2/7/05)

  • Christopher Goss #0150949 (2/8/05)

----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/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

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: https://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. "Homilías Domincales" —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.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías 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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