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Contents: Volume 2 - The 21st SUNDAY (A) - August 23, 2020


The

  21st

  Sunday

   2020

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

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

 

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1.

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Sun. 21 A

I almost jumped straight to the important and familiar Gospel story in today's readings, but then I decided to make short stops at the first and second readings. As a Dominican, I am called to preach on what has been called "the signs of our times". I cannot help but see some immediate connections in our three readings to the current world pandemic, other disturbances in the US, the weakness of some US and other leaders of government, and, most importantly, where is God in all of this.

In the midst of this pandemic, it is hard for me NOT to see a connection with how the US has mishandled this terrible health crisis and the Lord's warning to Shebna in the first reading that he will be replaced by an official who will be a servant of the Lord. Racial inequality and poverty are other areas that need true servant leaders to take the helm in solving such systemic problems. Did the leaders who are passing the buck to someone else not submit an acceptable, passing grade essay in their formal schooling about personal gain vs. the greater good????

The messes made by others that pop into mind and those made personally by yours truly distract me! In the second reading we have two exclamations of note: I often skim over the first ( Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! ) and instead of a prayer of praise, I stomp around about the second (How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!) My why, why, why questions clearly remind me that I don't understand and they detract from the strong faith that finally grounds me (or puts me back in my place!)

Just thinking about what to do about smaller trials as well as critical issues closer to home amounts to decision overload, as I call it, when very significant perils already bombard the world news each day. Whether one's decision making is confined to a family or neighborhood or millions of people, it is much harder to do when all else seems to be unraveling! Enter Jesus, who calms the storms of life.

Jesus' intent in the Gospel story of this Sunday is not to calm the apostles' current storm in life, however, nor ours, but to lay the solid foundation for all of life. Jesus asks: Who do you say that I am? Because of Peter's answer of faith and the working of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages, we are here right now, in faith. Peter was not always the strong rock of faith nor were others in the Church, but Jesus has been, is now, and for always will be Rock. By reflecting on Jesus' question to each of us today, we as individuals join the people of faith collectively throughout the ages. We can lean on others and they can lean on us! With Jesus along side of us, nothing will prevail. Let us pray with the psalmist: Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Twenty First Sunday of Ordered Time -- August 23 2020

Isaiah 22:119-23; Responsorial Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 16:18; Matthew 16:23-20

Many is the story – in histories of nations as well as in stories of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and ancestors both great and not so great – that enrich our appreciation of who they were. These stories lead us to understanding how we came to be what we discover within ourselves in the movements and moments of life. This Sunday’s gospel is one of those stories. The most common understanding of this gospel is as proof that Jesus chose Peter to be the Pope and supreme ruler over the church. It is further used as proof the church, that great and lasting organization, that institution surviving and thriving despite heresy, schism, wars, corruption, and sheer stupidity is created by Jesus. Thus, the church is of divine origin whose purpose is direction of human life to fulfillment. This gospel does all that especially in the power granted Peter to bind and loose. This power is most often a remedy for sin in the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation. In a sense, then, a common interpretation of this gospel story begins with a focus on humanity’s sinning, both collectively and individually. In that interpretation, the story is a way of hospitalization and doctoring for our fallen nature. There is another interpretation that is more about growth of personal and collective faith. That growth of person within community leads to a sharing in the community that is the Trinity. The life of the Trinity is the prize we look to achieve which is eternal life.

The reading from Isaiah is the Old Testament narrative foretelling Peter’s primacy over the Temple priesthood. In the story of Shebna, who was the master, the gate keeper, the chancellor of the palace we learn that the master of the royal house is found to be inadequate. Eliakim is chosen to replace Shebna. In a parallel, Peter is chosen as replacement to the priesthood of the Hebrew nation for the church founded by Jesus. Eliakim, Shebna’s replacement, holds the key to the House of David. The keyholder, the master of the palace, was truly a gatekeeper, allowing persons to approach the king. The gatekeeper was also responsible to lock up the palace at the end of the day, thus keeping out thieves and mischief makers using the dark of night to sow confusion and steal. The master loosed the gates to allow people in. He would also bind the gates to keep the unwelcomed outside.

This second understanding of the keys of the kingdom extended to Peter is beyond the notion of sin. In this sense, Peter is the gate keeper into the Kingdom of God. It is through him on Pentecost Sunday – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles – that three thousand accept the good news and are baptized. Through Peter the Kingdom of Heaven’s gates are loosed, its gate is opened by the preaching and invitation of Peter. Why is Peter the one chosen? Why not James or John or Andrew or one of the others. Here is the point we should think about. The context of the gospel is that Jesus asks the disciples who the crowd think Jesus is. The answer ranged from John the Baptist, through Elijah and Jeremiah. The prophet Micah insisted that Elijah – the one taken up into heaven by the fire chariot without dying – would return before the Messiah came. A tradition taught that Jeremiah would return before the Messiah came bringing with him the Arc of the Covenant from the cave in which Jeremiah had hidden it before the fall of Jerusalem. That thought was that God would return to Jerusalem again to reign over the nation with peace and prosperity.

After talking about the speculation of the crowds, Jesus asked them, who THEY thought he is. Peter seems to have the most confidence and responds. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." We tend to applaud Peter for his insight that was more than that of his fellow companions. Jesus sets that notion straight. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father." Peter is called blessed because of the Father’s work in him. It is not something that he gained of his own volition. It was a gift from God. It is the faith given and received that makes Peter blessed.

Our encounter with Jesus is what makes our living different. That encounter is inspired by the Spirit of God and is not something that comes to us through our senses or cognitive work. The rock that is Peter is the faith given to Peter. He becomes – along with the other apostles as they come to understand the gift of the Father – the foundation of the church. Peter is the gatekeeper through whom Jews are invited to enter into the Kingdom. But not only the Jews, but also the gentiles find entrance into the Kingdom of God through the gate and the work of this gatekeeper.

But there is even more to the gospel reading this Sunday. We are in chapter 16 of Matthew. It starts with the unlikely pairing of the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to Jesus with questions. The Pharisees are followers of the Law, Tradition, and teaching of Rabbi’s. The Sadducees were literalists and denied any value to the expanded understanding and application of the Law through human experience. For them, the Scriptures were final and complete and could never be understood or applied other than literally. The Pharisees did not collaborate with the Roman occupiers and held themselves aloof from them so long as the Romans permitted them their religious practices. The Sadducees were the wealthy and found it in their best interest to collaborate with the Romans. Both parties wanted Jesus to give them a sign. Jesus said the only sign from him was the Sign of Jonah. Often in our church history preachers say this sign of Jonah was Jesus’ resurrection. But the sign to the Ninevites was the person of Jonah preaching to a foreign nation who were sworn enemies. The Ninevites had no idea about Jonah being swallowed by a whale. Jonah roused that pagan nation to repentance and a change of heart. Jonah was the sign that Jesus claims as his sign. It is his preaching, his works of healing, and his forgiving sins that is the sign that he is indeed the Messiah. The sign is the revelation of the generous mercy and compassion and love of the Father for his creation.

There is another factor in the gospel story this Sunday that would help us understand the notion about the rock. Caesarea Philippi was noticeable because there was a huge rock formation that reached into the air several hundred feet. In its wall there was a cavern which Greek mythology had designated as the birthplace of Pan, the Greek god of nature. At the end of the cavern there was a sharp drop off. That depression was filled with still water whose depth was immeasurable. That water fed the springs that were the head water of the Jordan River. In the time of Jesus, the king of the region built a temple to proclaim the divinity of Caesar. It was there that Peter’s faith understood Jesus as the Messiah of the Living God, replacing the idolatry of power that was Caesar worship.

Still another thought is important in this gospel about the founding of the church. When we use the word "church" our thoughts often turn to the institution with its structures, its hierarchy, and its rituals. The word "church" in the language of the Greeks and of the Hebrews means a fellowship, a gathering of those called. Its meaning is one of community, of sharing, of caring, and of support for one another. The reformed Christian churches emphasize the fellowship of church. Catholics tend to make church an allegiance much akin to patriotism. Yet we receive the Lord in the Eucharist – in normal times – and that Body and that Blood makes us one. This truth has been taught beginning with the letters of Paul and continue even in our hymns today. The institutional church has as its purpose to support the fellowship and to work to make it a more complete and effective unity of faith.

There is a strange admonition from Jesus at the end of this Sunday’s gospel. He tells them not to tell anyone that he is the Christ. This sounds like the oath of a secret society. Yet, if we give it thought, we will realize that even Peter’s faith is just beginning. If these disciples began telling everyone that Jesus is the Messiah, what would have been their thinking about what Messiah meant? To each of the disciples there would have been a mixture of nationalism, of rebellion against Rome, or denial of the worth of the Hebrew experience of God’s presence. They needed time and the experience of Jesus’ death and his resurrection before they could have a more complete faith.

In all this, we cannot forget that it is Peter’s faith that is the Rock on which the church, the community of faith is built. We need only go a little further in chapter 16 to see Peter trying to tell Jesus what to do about the Kingdom. Jesus reprimands him for trying to apply human wisdom to the plan of God for the salvation of creation. Jesus calls him a Satan – an obstacle, a stumbling block – and tells him to get back in line. Peter’s faith still needs growth and maturation.

If that is so with Peter, then we should not be disappointed that our faith is only yet a seed waiting to germinate and to grow into a thriving plant. It is in the moments and events of our living that faith comes to fruition. Our faith resides in our hearts. Our decisions must come from within our hearts. That means simply that our living must be based on love and concern for one another. That is our church. That is the meaning and purpose of our rituals. We are to become one as the Father and the Word are One in the Spirit. May it be so! May the faith that has been given to us sustain us in this time of terrible trouble. May we always seek to be united to the church, the people who are called together to live a life of love and prayer.

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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THE IDENTITY OF JESUS: 21ST SUNDAY A

"Who was Jesus?", and "Who is Jesus?" These are the most basic questions we can ask about him. The start of questions about Jesus may be traced to his own life-time, as we see from our gospel today. According to Matthew, he put this question to his first followers: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (8:17). Next, Jesus asks a second question, this time one that invites his followers to take a personal stand, and state what Jesus means to them: "But you," he says, "who do you say I am?" (8:29). Peter answers for his group: "You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God." Jesus was, in fact, asking his disciples about his relationship to God, on the one hand, and his relationship to the human race, on the other.

The New Testament, and more particularly the gospels, are our chief source of knowledge about Jesus. Knowledge of him is also provided in the creeds (our professions of faith) and in our prayer services (such as the Mass). Knowledge of him is also given in those truths which our Church proclaims as revealed by God. Knowledge of him is also available in the faith of Christian people.

This latter source can be a problem, however, as too many people put a full stop after the statement "Jesus is God". They omit or overlook the words that need to be added for the full picture. Those words are: "and man together". So the full statement of faith in Jesus is this: "Jesus is God and man together", together in one concrete being. He is not a hybrid - partly man, and partly God. He is not man + God. He is 100% fully, perfectly and completely human, and at the same time and in one concrete being, he is fully, perfectly and completely divine, yet living his divinity on earth within the limits of humanity. That, I admit, is a great mystery, the mystery of the Incarnation.

Jesus, as totally human and not just divine, is not the first Superman. As the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer puts it so well, "he shared our human nature in all things but sin" (cf. Hebrews 4:15). To overlook or neglect his humanity is to overlook the real limitations as well as the real strengths he shares with us as a fellow human being.

While Jesus was all along fully divine, and, in fact, came in time to be honoured as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he lived his divinity on earth in a fully human way, and with all the limitations that go with being human. So, I have to answer "NO" to each of the following claims that are sometimes made about him: - "As a boy, Jesus had the intelligence and will of a grown-up person." "NO!"; "When he was a baby and a child Jesus knew everything – past, present and future." "NO!" "Jesus only seemed to be human. Really he was just God." "NOI" "Jesus ate and drank, but he didn’t really need to, because he was God." "NO!" "The body of Jesus on earth was really different from ours.’’ "NO!" "Because he was God, Jesus did not actually need a body. In fact, Jesus only appeared to have a body." ‘NO!" None of those statements are true or can be true. For they are all incompatible with being fully human, and with being fully divine in a fully human way.

Being a man of the first century means too that Jesus did not have the knowledge, skills and expertise of a modern human being. His age and his world are so different from ours. He had no experience and no knowledge of computers, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, Bluetooth, I-pods, i-pads, podcasts, zoom streaming, mobile phones, aeroplanes, motorcars, interstate and overseas travel, radio, television, newspapers, supermarkets, weapons of mass destruction, and space probes. To answer the question, then, whether he, a first-century man, could have made a computer and a television set, the same reply has to be given. "NO! DEFINITELY NOT!"

Our conclusion must be that in thinking and speaking about Jesus, the divine and the human in one concrete being must always be kept together. But, as I’ve stressed, some people don’t take his humanity seriously, or at least not seriously enough. They see his humanity as largely swamped or even replaced by his divinity. They find it hard, then, to grasp and accept the fact that Jesus had to grow in knowledge, to face real temptations, and to discover his own vocation, his own career path.

The memory of Jesus raises another important question: - "What is the difference between knowing Jesus and knowing about him?" To know Jesus personally is to respond to his person and message, to share our lives with him, to follow him, and therefore to change our lives and become better people, more human and humane people. Knowing him involves an experience of his presence, friendship with him, following him, imitating him, trust and prayer. But the knowledge which comes from an inter-personal relationship with him gives rise to a desire, and perhaps even a yearning, a hunger and a craving, to know more about him, to learn more about his values and the way he lived his life. Faith in him, then, is a matter of both the heart and the head. When we hear or read about him, then, we expect to hear him in his words and see him in the gospel stories about him.

So, fellow followers of Jesus! Let’s look for his presence and his friendship in all the ways available to us! In our search for him, may we discover him as the humanity of God, the human expression of God, the human face of God, the human heart of God, God’s body-language! One like us as a fellow human being, except that unlike you and me, he was always completely faithful to God and to whatever God wanted of him! What a great big difference is that!

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

 

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Year A: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven."

I believe that prison ministry is Test Match Cricket for Catholics priests – the highest form of the game, where everything you are, everything you believe, everything you think you know, everything you hope to understand is put to the test at the bar of hope and cynicism. And just sometimes, it comes at you just as fast as Holding and Roberts ever did.

In every prison I have ever worked in, I have seen the same on Sunday morning - I will have the immense privilege of the time and attention of something like 12 to 15 per cent of the entire prison population. That is actually rather more than the prevalence of actual Catholics in the population. And they always divide quite neatly into three groups.

The first group are the proper "cradle-Catholics", the people who are actually meant to be there – and the only ones who ever cause any trouble. The second group, maybe about 40%, will be various members of the reformed and/or Orthodox traditions who, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make it out of bed in time for the Anglican service in the morning. But that’s fine, they are welcome too. But it is the third category – maybe about 10% – who are the most interesting. Typically, they will be people who have never consciously set foot inside a Catholic church, or indeed any church, but for some reason have come along today. They may have been dragged along by a friend or a cellmate, or come out of a vague sense of interest, or just because they didn’t fancy the gym that day, or for no very particular reason at all. And you can always tell who they are, because they have no idea of how to behave in church – what to do and what not to do; when or whether to sit, stand, kneel or anything else. But most of all, you can tell them by a very particular attitude – half hopeful, half defensive. And never better articulated than by one huge Nigerian bloke I once met in Pentonville, who said to me (and I really can’t do the accent), "well, father, being in prison is a pretty clear sign in anybody’s life that plan A isn’t really working. So, if you’ve got a meaningful plan B, then we may or may not agree with you; we may or may not believe you; but we’ll always give you a hearing."

And the moment I heard him, I said to myself, "that’s why I got out of bed this morning! – I just knew there was a reason!"

There is something truly special and privileged about primary evangelism – speaking the word to people who have never heard it, who have much to benefit from it and who, but for your service, may never hear it.

Just a few weeks ago, I was blessing and praying with people after Mass in HMP Wandsworth, when one man bounded up to me full of excitement and I knew that he had to be new.

"Father! Father! (That’s what I’m supposed to call you, isn’t it?) Father! Well, I’ve never been inside a church in my life. It’s great! It’s marvelous! It’s wonderful! So peaceful! So quiet! So nice! Father, you know they really ought to have places like this on the outside as well!"

That is what it feels like to be given the chance to hold the keys of the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray that each of us may find the chance of liberating one another from the prisons of the mind and the heart. And let us stand and profess our Faith in God’s love working through us in the lives of every person we meet.

Paul O’Reilly, SJ <fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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