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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B) September 12, 2021

Isaiah 50: 5-9a; Psalm 116;
James 2: 14-18; Mark 8: 27-35

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

There is already talk about the 2022 elections with politicians putting their best face forward to earn nominations and electoral votes. But none of them are talking about making sacrifices for the greater good. An experienced political consultant would strongly discourage that: "Are you nuts! You will never win votes that way!"

After Jesus speaks about his upcoming suffering and Peter’s rebuke, Jesus addresses the crowd, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny self, take up their cross and follow me." That same political consultant might also say to Jesus, "Are you nuts! You’ll never win followers that way. No one wants to accept suffering, if they can avoid it."

But Jesus was not holding back, or softening his message. Mark tells us, "He spoke this openly!" It seems God’s call to service also includes sacrifice. A disciple willing to suffer for their vocation speaks a clear message to the world: "God is worth the cost."

Isaiah presents a suffering servant for our consideration. In order to stir his contemporaries to hear God’s word, the servant endures their rejection, mockery and beatings. God has good intentions towards the people of Israel in exile and slavery. Despite being met with severe rejection by those who most need to hear God’s good intentions for them, the servant endures the wrath of the very ones he has been sent to help.

Peter has just identified Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah; the one God has finally sent to free the people from bondage. According to the Bible, that seems to be God’s job description, to free and raise up the beaten down. Peter has the right answer, Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t understand how Jesus will accomplish his mission – by self-sacrificing love. In Peter’s mind that wasn’t supposed to be how God would come to rescue the people – not through suffering! That was unthinkable, a suffering Messiah! Where is the triumph in that?

There is more to the message. It is bad enough that Isaiah’s servant and Jesus are going to accomplish their mission through suffering; but Jesus tells his disciples that those who follow him will have to do the same. The task he is giving them will require self-sacrifice. As I said, if Jesus were running for political office with that kind of talk he probably would not have gotten a single vote. Would you have voted for him? At this point of the gospel Peter certainly would not!

It is not that we disciples are masochists who perversely enjoy suffering. It is the "cost of discipleship" (to quote the title of Bonhoeffer’s book on the subject). Those who have accepted Jesus’ invitation must be willing to pay "the cost of discipleship." Suffering is no friend, but if we are willing to embrace it when it comes as a result of our Christian choices, it can have a redemptive effect and enable us to be centered on Christ and to the God he came to reveal to us. Jesus completely immersed himself in our human condition, even experiencing suffering and transforming that experience into a total expression of God’s love for us.

How close to us is God? God became flesh: the God who created us, sustains us and every breath we take, will judge us and give us eternal. Ours is not a distant and uncaring God. Rather, God has taken flesh to show us just how close God is to us. Nor did God in Jesus withdraw or avoid suffering but, by accepting it, showed how absolutely close God is to us.

Sometimes we are confronted by a lay missionary on the street and asked, "Have you been saved?" We may admire their zeal, but prefer to move on to where we are going and what we have to do. Have we been saved? Yes, through our baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But still, what does Jesus mean that if we lose our life for his sake we will save it? That could be a prayerful question we ask ourselves over the next days: What does being saved mean for me? We know he is not just talking about our physical life. How do we experience in Jesus a deep-down life that is not the result of what we own, or our state of health, education, social standing, military security, etc. The biblical writers have rich and varied ways to describe salvation. But salvation has personal meaning for each of us. What does being saved mean to you? Jesus is asking us what he asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?"

The Gospels were written to help believers like us understand who Jesus is and what faith in him means and requires. Judging from the question Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" and Jesus’ critical response to him, the question Jesus may be asking us today is, "What are you willing to suffer for your belief in me?" We are not going to be nailed to a cross for our faith in Jesus, but we are asked to make deliberate, even costly, choices because of him. To believe in Jesus is to be like him and, just as his way of life caused him to suffer, so if we follow him, we are also asked to accept the consequences.

After Peter named Jesus as "the Christ," and Jesus spoke about his upcoming suffering and death, Peter took him aside and "rebuked" him. That is when Jesus spoke sternly to Peter in the hearing of the other disciples, "Get behind me Satan…." In the Scriptures Satan became the name used for the devil, but originally "satan" was the word used to describe an obstacle blocking one’s path. At this point Peter is trying to block Jesus on his path to Jerusalem, to his suffering and death. Jesus sternly reminds Peter to stop being an obstacle in front of him and go back where a disciple should be – behind Jesus, following him on his way.

What Jesus reminds Peter is also a reminder to us: we are to be disciples, that is, to do what Jesus does and in the way he does it. And if we need clarification, Jesus spells out the role of the disciple more explicitly: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny self, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."

Isn’t that a contradiction! To an outsider yes, but to those following behind Jesus, as best we can, we know what he is talking about. If we have willingly taken up the cross, serving and loving in Jesus’ name, then we know what it means to have our lives "saved."

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

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091221.cfm

QUOTABLE

Statement of the bishops of the border between Texas and Northern Mexico:

The cry of Christ in the voice of the migrant moves us

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees, sought a place to live and work, hoping for a compassionate human response. Today this history repeats itself; this morning we visited detention centers and respite centers for mothers and their adolescent and minor children traveling with them. Centers like these have been described as places of intolerable and inhumane conditions. There we heard the gospel call: "Because I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was hungry and you gave me food…" (Mt 25:35-36).

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"I love the Lord, who listened to my voice in supplication"

Psalm 116:1

In the First Reading, we hear that God opens Isaiah’s ears to hear God’s Word while, in today’s psalm, God hears the cries of his people. Hearing is a very important sense with any healthy relationship. From September 1 to October 4, we are in the Season of Creation established by Pope Francis. He proclaims in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, "Let us hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" (49). He affirms this again in his message, "Show Mercy to our Common Home," (9/1/2016):

"I renew my dialogue with ‘every person living on this planet’ (Laudato Si’, 3) about the sufferings of the poor and the devastation of the environment. . .‘Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right’ (ibid, 33).

"As an integral ecology emphasizes, human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings. At the same time, each creature has its own intrinsic value that must be respected. Let us hear ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. . .

"To paraphrase Saint James [today’s Second Reading], ‘we can say that mercy without works is dead … In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing. In response to them, we need to be creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy.’

"The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. ‘We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative … But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.’

"Obviously ‘human life itself and everything it embraces’ includes care for our common home. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home."

This month, in the Season of Creation, let us truly hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and take mercy-filled action.  To join Cathedral Creation Care Network: socialconcern@hnojnc.org

-----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and 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 Isaiah reading:

The Lord God is my help,

therefore I am not disgraced.

I have set my face like flint,

knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Reflection:

Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee we’ll succeed. It’s not about success, but about being faithful. But how can we be faithful when suffering is the price we sometimes must pay for doing what is right? What will keep us from yielding and turning in another direction? Isaiah has a piece of wisdom and assurance for us today, "The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced."

So we ask ourselves:

  • Have I ever suffered or been penalized for doing what was right?
  • What gave me the determination and strength to stay the course?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."

—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.


This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. 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:

  • Eugene Decastro #0104984 (On death row since 4/28/93)
  • Warren Gregory #0156518 (5/18/ 3)
  • David Lynch #0251740 (5/27/93)

----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, OP

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 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, OP 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, OP

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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