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Contents: Volume 2 - The 23rd SUNDAY (A) - September 6, 2020


The

  23rd

  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. 23 A

Underlying the readings this Sunday is attention to our Christian responsibility toward one another. The first reading from the book of Ezekiel reminds us that God sees that it is our responsibility to point out another's transgressions in a way that this person can turn back to God. Our second reading from the Letter to the Romans summarizes "what we owe" by placing the ultimate importance in life on loving one another. The Gospel reading according to Matthew outlines how a Christian community lovingly responds to mis-deeds and provides guidance toward those who stray from God.

Regardless of whether we are "religious" or not, most people can identify a truly "good" person as one who cares for others. At the very least, that person is kind, tolerant, and forgiving. "At the very least" sounds difficult in everyday life... and almost impossible sometimes in this time of pandemic.

Some people in the US are still confined, now for almost 6 months, with family or community members or still living all alone with lots of outside restrictions. Some are working from home with or without kids who are starting school in-person or remotely while others are out of work or working outside the home for many overtime hours as an essential worker. Almost impossible, yet we are called to love one another by being kind, tolerant, and forgiving.

This very day, each of us must figure out how we can do that (at the very least) with God's help. We must look at ourselves, our small or large circle of people whom we see or talk with, and figure it out. It seems that at least some of our interactions are rather divisive these days, at a time when just the opposite is necessary to survive and thrive.

It is not a time for "at least". If we feel that we ourselves are at our wits end or depleted, we must sit a bit with our loving God and soak up God's kindness, tolerance, and forgiveness. It is a time to pour forth the graces we each receive each day, knowingly or unknowingly, and do so intentionally onto someone else. It is the loving thing to do, even in a pandemic, especially in a pandemic.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Twenty Third Sunday of Ordered Time September 6, 2020

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Responsorial Psalm 95; 2nd Corinthians 13:8-10; Gospel Acclamation 2nd Corinthians 5:19; Matthew 18:15-20

Relationships are really tough! Depending on how one feels about oneself and one’s relationship with others, the reading this Sunday may seem like drivel. Perhaps it’s just a utopian misunderstanding about how things really are. Ezekiel starts off with prophesying, based on what he claims is the inspiration of God. Ezekiel claims God made him watchman over all of Israel. As prophet, he is to point out the faults of others. Such a task! Constantly on the watch for bad behavior. Pointing out the weaknesses of individuals! Where is the mercy, the loving kindness that God claims as the foundation of God’s relationship with the people of the covenant? It sounds more like God chooses to be a nagging spouse or an overbearing in-law. Always pointing out what is wrong, never discovering the goodness that lies within – what kind of love is this?

Follow up that reading with Paul’s letter to the Romans. How confusing, that Paul tells church members to owe nothing to another. Don’t become dependent on others. Instead, you should love them and not expect anything from them. Each person is to love their neighbor. And a neighbor is anyone who shares living space or endeavor with them. The measure of love is to love them as one loves oneself. What if a person doesn’t love themselves? What if self-esteem is so low as to despise oneself? The question given us by the Way of the World is simply put, "What’s in this for me?" How can I compete in the world for limited resources I find necessary for me to thrive? Is this just pious drivel calculated to keep me in line, to worship the community which likely ignores me?

The gospel makes it even more difficult. Listen to Jesus in this gospel. In this 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches about community and the necessary relationships to make community work. If someone harms us we are to go to them and let them know they hurt us. Have you tried that? Does that really work? Won’t this action reward you with a blank stare? Isn’t it more likely your complaint will unleash a flood of words chosen to put you in the place the aggressor choses? If that person fails to listen to you, Jesus says to go to another member of the community or even two others and enlist that person or persons in confronting the one who harmed you. Your protesting will cause a disruption in community and easily result in your being pushed out to the margins of society, shunned and judged as a malcontent and a pain in the neck. Protesting, even if you have a justifiable grievance, puts you in the crosshairs of someone’s invective and ridicule. Why bother? Isn’t the point that society, even the church community, would rather you suck it up and go on about your living, isolated, alone in your misery? The ones who harm us often define us as trouble makers, suitable for incarceration.

Is this Sunday’s liturgy of the Word irrelevant, unthinkable in real living, and a set-up to loneliness and tears? Does the author of this reflection having a bad day? Shouldn’t the author straighten up and see the sunshine?

Jesus is God, well also man; and we have come to believe in him, his teaching, his healing, and his death and resurrection. Is this about death then? Is this what it means to be a follower of Jesus’ way? Just suffering? Should we choose to be doormats, a foot wipes for people of immense ego, overwhelming power, unbelievable wealth, and endowed with fame’s halo?

Isn’t this the thinking and attitude of the world and those of the world who wield power, wealth, and notoriety that is so prized by the world? Being on top allows them to look down on the lowly, to abuse and rob them of dignity and worth. Is that the way of the world which we rejected in our baptismal promises? "Do you reject Satan, and all his works?" We, or our sponsors and parents on our behalf, insisted, "yes, we do reject Satan and all Satan’s works!" And then we discover ourselves in the world and become willing victims to Satan and his enticements. Satan is the name given to those who put obstacles to our growth in the spiritual life. Jesus, when Satan tempted him in the desert, rejected him. But that rejection took a lot of energy from Jesus. Recall, angels came and ministered to him, to help him recover from his struggle with Satan. Don’t we wish we had angels to help us recover when we reject Satan?

Perhaps that’s the point of these readings. It’s not so much about confronting those who make us feel rejected, reduce us to tears, malign and tear us down. It’s more about community and how essential it is to our following in the way of the Christ.

There is an easy way to know if a person or a group of persons are of God or of Satan. Look at their words and actions. Are those words and actions building up the community of humanity or is it dividing the community of mankind into bite-sized groups? Do those in power, or those seeking power, work to include all persons – no matter the color of their skin, the accent of their speech, the place of their birth, their work, their education, or even the faith that supports and gives them courage and endurance? Those who divide do so to control, to manipulate, to create their own reality. Those who exclude do so in order to rob and steal dignity and worth from their defined categories of persons. Their power comes from scapegoating others. They portray those excluded as scum, as those living off the wealth of the included ones, as a drain on the resources of the community, the state, or the nation.

Ezekiel and Paul and Matthew presume we are a community bound together by the person of Jesus and his works. If we allow members to be excluded from our associations, our activities, our gatherings, and most certainly our worship we are not of and for the community.

What makes this important, what makes all this central to the message, life and ministry of Jesus is that it is about making eternal life present here and now. There is only one eternal life. Satan does not have it. Egocentric, self-serving people, dividers, and those living in the idolatry of power, wealth, and fame do not have it. These depend on divisiveness and hatred for their power. If these are in our community, we must recognize them for what they are. They are Satan – that is they are obstacles to the presence of the eternal life. We recall that eternal life exists only in one community. That community is the Trinity. We either belong to that community or we belong to the divided humanity of Satan.

So, no, the readings this Sunday are not some false righteousness, some self-serving ego trip. It is about community and the necessity of caring for one another in truth and justice. It’s not an easy trip, this following in the Way of the Christ! But its reward now and at the completion of our journey is immense and well worth the efforts and self-examination.

Have you ever wondered what salvation is? What is it we are saved from? What is it we are saved for? When we discover the answer to those questions, the necessity of community becomes apparent. It the pearl of great price. In that answer we become whole – complete persons who, as persons, are able to share in the life of God.

Let us pray with earnestness and conviction that our individual and collective hearts turn to the Way. Let us recommit ourselves to our Baptismal Commitment and so discover salvation.

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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3.

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DEALING WITH AN OFFENDER: 23RD SUNDAY A

Life in a family or other community, is sometimes a bit of heaven on earth, but not always. As French philosopher, John-Paul Sartre, once put it, "hell is other people!" Certainly, unless we cut ourselves off from other people and go to live alone on a desert island, being alive means having to deal with other people, and the distinct possibility of differences, disagreements, tension, frustration, anger, bullying, exchange of heated words, insults, slurs, payback, and even worse. It’s well-known by now, that during the restrictions of the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been a big increase in domestic violence, resulting in home-visits from the police, and escapes, especially by mothers and children, to the safety of refuges run by kind people. Today, speaking through Matthew, Jesus instructs Christians how to sort out their differences and develop togetherness. Like Jesus himself, they must act with understanding, compassion and forgiveness, and with a determination to be fully reconciled and completely at peace with others.

This leads to the questions: What do you and I do when somebody hurts or offends us? Do we just ignore the offender, keep our hurt to ourselves, yet keep brooding over our wounds? Or do we take out our anger by moaning and groaning to others? In short, do we do anything but, speak to the person who has been bugging us, and towards sorting it out, say just how we are feeling?

In our gospel today, Matthew draws on the attitudes, example and teachings of Jesus, to put to his community a three-step process for forgiveness, reconciliation and harmony.

1. At first just two people are involved: "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and have it out with him/her alone." Notice that it is the one offended who must take the initiative. At this stage, there are no third parties. The aim is to tell the truth in love, rather than humiliate the other. It is hoped, then, that the two at loggerheads will speak in a calm and matter-of-fact way, about how each has experienced the other.

2. But this first step towards peace doesn’t always work. That’s not the end of the matter. So, if Step One fails, Step Two is to get support for a second approach to the offender. The conversation is to include just one or two more persons, who can act as unbiased witnesses, and help to settle the matter before it goes viral and public.

3. The instructions of Jesus continue. If one or the other is stubborn and still refuses to admit that he/she has done anything wrong, the process moves to another level: ‘If he/she refuses to listen [so far], then tell the local church [community]’. Here Jesus gives the whole community the power to settle the matter. If the community establishes that the offender is now truly sorry, it makes peace between the parties. If not, it may discipline the offender, even to the point of excluding the offender from the group, at least for a time. This is because such people have shown that their unloving attitudes and behaviour are simply unchristian, and they don’t really belong. It’s understood all along that the decision of the community is actually the decision of Christ, present in person, and living and acting within his community.

All this is so different from "my lawyer will talk to your lawyer" kind of thing. We’re living in a society which emphasizes "three strikes and you’re out" and even "zero tolerance", i.e. "one strike and you’re out". But that’s not the full picture. Here is one instance of reconciliation and peace, at work in a courtroom. It comes from The New York Times (and relayed by courtesy of Fr Jude Siciliano OP, in his publication Preacher Exchange I).

Ryan, aged nineteen, was charged with tossing a turkey through a car windshield. He nearly killed the driver, Victoria, aged forty-four. She suffered severe injuries which required many hours of surgery to rebuild the bones of her shattered face. Ryan pleaded guilty in court. In the adjournment he came face to face with his victim for the first time. He said he was truly sorry and begged her to forgive him. She did just that. She cradled his head as he sobbed. She stroked his face and patted his back. "It’s O.K., it’s O.K.," she said over and over again, "I just want you to make your life the best it can be."

When the case resumed, Victoria took her forgiveness further. She saved Ryan from twenty-five years in gaol, by insisting that the prosecutor offer him a plea bargain instead - six months in gaol and five years probation.

Surely, her forgiveness could hardly have been more generous and more genuine than that! Surely too her forgiveness bears out the truth of what St Paul says in our Second Reading today: "Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour."

Then too, there is the powerful example of St Maria Goretti. In 1901 her poor family was sharing a farm house with the Serenelli family, near Nettuno Italy. On July 5th, Allesandro Serenelli made sexual advances to her, while she was sitting on the back step of the house and mending his shirt. She kept resisting and yelling, "No, it’s a sin. God does not want it." Angry at her resistance, he then stabbed her fourteen times. As she was dying from her wounds 24 hours later in hospital in Nettuno, Maria kept expressing her forgiveness for him, and saying that she wanted him to be in heaven with her. His death sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison. For the first 3 years there he was uncommunicative and unrepentant. But after a pastoral visit from Bishop Giovanni Blandini, he changed. He wrote a "thank-you" note to the bishop, and told him of a dream "in which Maria gave him lilies". On release from prison, he visited Maria’s mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, and the next day they went to Mass together and received Holy Communion side by side. Allesandro was at St Peter’s in Rome for her canonization as a saint in 1950. He went on to become a Capuchin Franciscan brother, and worked as a receptionist and gardener till he died in 1970.

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

 

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Year A: 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

"If he listens to you, you have won back your brother."

Peace – like love is not an event, but an action. It is not something that is dropped on us from above, but something that we do; something that we choose; something that we make.

The Gospel teaches us that we are called, each one, to proclaim in word and deed that God’s Kingdom is about being centered in God, caring and compassionate toward others, living the Beatitudes. Then, as Arundhati Roy said: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Well, I don’t get too many quiet days, but I know a woman who does. She is the only person I have ever known who has a professional qualification in peacemaking. But before you snigger, I have seen her in action and she is very good at what she does. We were theology students together and the greatest friendships are always formed in times of adversity.

When we were in Theology College, there was a big fight between the students and the teachers. It was over whether or not the course should include compulsory Greek classes. Some other time, when you really have nothing better to do, I’ll put a large glass of a decent Irish whiskey in your hand and then try my very best to explain why, at least at the time, that seemed like such a huge issue that good and holy people committed to the love and understanding of God needed to get into a big fight about it. But, as it happened, it divided the entire College. Half of it was not speaking to the other half. Rude words were exchanged in corridors. People closed doors in each other’s faces. The whole College wore a scowl. It was a dark and nasty place.

But there was one young undergraduate student who knew exactly what to do. She went around to all the people most involved on all sides – the people with the strongest opinions (and some of them were pretty strong – I should know, I was one of them) – and she listened to them. Long and hard, she listened to them. Until she really understood why they thought as they did and why they felt as they did. Certainly she had her own opinion and she would give it if asked – clearly, but never unkindly. I discovered you don’t have to be neutral to be a peacemaker – just holy will do. Because she never wanted you to be interested in her opinion; she only wanted to be interested in yours. Because she believed that there was no-one who did not act with the best of motives. And she believed that if she could come to understand what lay behind people’s thoughts and feelings – especially their doubts and fears, she could make peace. And so she listened long and hard to so many different people and so many different views. She became known as someone to whom all sides could talk and be understood and have their opinion valued. It gave her a moral authority not usually associated with an undergraduate. And gradually – so gradually that most of them barely noticed – minds and hearts began to change. The waters of chaos gradually parted and dry land, common ground, appeared – common ground that gradually grew and became a big enough place where a fair compromise could be built.

And that is exactly what happened. (Sorry if you’re not into happy endings, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.)

And just in case you think that it’s all very well reaching acceptable and meaningful compromises in an ivory tower, you may wish to know that for the last fifteen years she has been working to build peace on the Afghan-Pakistan border where - she tells me - it is no easier.

Blessed are the Peacemakers – they shall be called daughters and sons of God.

Let us stand to profess our Faith in God’s Church.

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.

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