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Contents: Volume 2 - The 29th SUNDAY (A)
 - October 18, 2020


The

  29th

  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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Sun. 29 A

Way back in the late 80's, and that seems so very long ago, I came to the deep understanding that everything comes from God, everything belongs to God, and thus life itself should be lived according to God's ways. My church community was very diverse, but there were many like-minded people who made living that way seem easier. There were no rules or pressures to do anything the same, but having a community whose values were within a reasonable range and rooted in the Lord sure made parenting, especially when children became teenagers, more sane.

Fast forward, and that has happened so ridiculously fast, to today, 2020, with a pandemic and an almost 12 year old granddaughter in the household. The path does not seem quite as comfortable or easy... and I'm not so sure what to say about the sanity! Although my new church community is even more diverse and there are many wonderful opportunities to share common Christian values, being a grandparent does change interactions. My peers are not involved in parenting and my granddaughter's peers do not live with their grandparents.

Life does not seem so easy to navigate these days with the internet and other technology adding many, many layers of complexity, both positive and negative, to the parenting equation. Decisions are not so cut and dry as they may have seemed years ago, even though they were difficult to uphold at times. There just seem to be so many more choices in life in just about everything from toothpaste to the various really important issues in this election year in the US.

Nonetheless, we must still interpret and follow Jesus's statement to "repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." I don't remember so many conversations as we have now nor as many ways to honor God. I still hold true to obeying just laws and working peacefully to change those that aren't. I still believe that there is one Lord and there is no other, not power nor money nor fame nor anything else. How to live those beliefs and transmit them gently remains the chief challenge.

Maybe wisdom has been added to the times and methods of praying and working through things. It is to God to whom we give the honor and glory, in all things, in every way that is possible. I still rely not only on the word, but on the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, God is still the Creator of all and, ultimately, all belongs to God, no matter the decade.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordered Time October 18 2020

Isaiah 45:1 & 4-6; Responsorial Psalm 96; 1st Thessalonians 1:1-58; Gospel Acclamation Philippians 2:15 & 16; Matthew 22:15-21

I think of this chapter of Isaiah as the opening of the third prophecy of Isaiah. The first two sections of Isaiah dealt with the behavior of Judah that led to its overthrow, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Solomon temple, and the forcible exile and enslavement of notable citizens of Jerusalem and Judah. These exiled were the educated, the movers-and-shakers, and the successful businesspeople. The poor, the widows, the orphans, and the aliens were left to scramble in the ruins of the great city on the hill of Zion. This second part of Isaiah is a review of the Chosen People’s relationship with God during the time in exile. It was a time of great awakening for the exiles. There was study and discussion by the exiles of their faith traditions, attempting to discover renewal in the promise of God, the election of the Chosen People, the gratuitous covenant initiated by God, and the Law which provided guidance to the people for a beneficial and positive relationship with God. During this time of reawakening, the exiles remained united as a people by a renewed practice of rituals, celebration of their four essential festivals, and a consolidation of the four traditions compiled by four distinct groups several centuries before the current tragedy. The priests in exile brought together those traditions into one story. In all there were four traditions, four threads of experience that the priests compiled into one set of books, actually one work in five books we call the Pentateuch. The Jews name that work the Torah. The most ancient of the four traditions scholars call the Yahwist tradition. Its contributions are the most primitive and often use legends and myths of the Middle East to tell their story of God’s presence. Another tradition was the Elohist tradition which viewed the relationship between God and the Chosen People in a more interactive fashion. There was also a Priestly tradition whose thinking was heavily depended on the practice of temple worship. And lastly there was the tradition that viewed all of human life and the relationship with God from the perspective of law. That is called the Deuteronomic tradition.

This is important because it describes faith in the God-Who-Is-With-Us from the varying points of view of the four traditions. Because of this variety we know the Transcendent Divine Being in a variety of ways. Hebrew and Christian faith traditions affect all aspects of human life, all aspects of creation. Many religions and many practices in all religions struggle to separate secular life from religious life. This creates a duality that rivals the awful Platonic duality that pits body against soul in humans. History itself, human experience individually and collectively, instructs and draws persons and community into a growing relationship with the absolute transcendent being, God. Amazingly, this occurs leaping from the springboard of human relationships. If and when we insist God is absolutely transcendent, we remove God’s presence from our daily living. We thus isolate ourselves from God and relegate His presence to heaven or, since the Incarnation, to limiting confinement in a golden box behind an altar. A great failure of our time is that we fail to comprehend, to intuit, or to discover the fingers of God helping us find the necessary paths through our pains, our sufferings, our joys and achievements to expanded friendship with God and our fellow humans. These fingers of God are with us in every moment, in every place, and in every relationship – if we allow and encourage that presence.

With this as a background, let us return to Isaiah. Let us not get trapped into thinking biblical prophecy is a foretelling of the future. Prophecy is a declaration of the meaning of what is going on now. There are consequences to choices; those consequences follow on bad choices. During their time in Babylonian captivity, there arose an unshakeable hope God would intervene just as God intervened for their ancestors enslaved in Egypt. Surely there would be one from among them that would rise up and overthrow the Babylonians so the People in Exile could return home – a home the living would not remember. Most who had taken that trek had already died as it was seventy plus years since the destruction of Jerusalem. Who would lead them? Surely God would raise up one of them? Instead, it was a cruel and successful war lord from Persia. Cyrus – called the Great – successfully conquered most of the Middle East. Conquering is achieved through violence and violence begets violence. In the wisdom of his court, Cyrus knew that religion was the bond that held nations together. As his armies conquered, he not only tolerated but encouraged people to continue their religious practices and places of worship. In that way those conquered nations would be less likely to rebel. He sent the Jews to their homeland with artifacts of gold and silver plundered decades earlier from their Temple. He sent artisans in stone, in wood, in silver, in gold, in bronze, and in architecture to help with rebuilding. Cyrus was a messiah. Imagine, God using a pagan to redeem the Chosen People? Yet there it is.

Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians gives thanks to God for their work of faith and their labors of love. Paul is not speaking about ritual worship gatherings. He is speaking about how the Christian community in Thessalonica cared for the whole community.

The gospel this Sunday moves away from Jesus criticizing the Elders, Chief Priests, Sadducees, Scribes, and Pharisees about their failure to make God present. The Pharisees had enough of his criticism and planned to expose Jesus as a charlatan and a phony. In their conniving, they reached out to the Herodians. These were two opposing factions. The Herodians worked hand in glove with the Romans, depending on Rome for their power and influence and collection of taxes. The Pharisees hated Rome’s domination and thus the Herodians. The chosen topic of confrontation with Jesus was taxes. Who likes taxes? Who delights in writing checks to government agencies or reviewing deductions on paychecks? The crowds heard the cursed words, "census tax" and come to full attention.

"Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Of course, they tried softening Jesus focus with patronizing comments. "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." These testers of Jesus’ Way thought there were only two possible answers: 1. It is unlawful according to the law of Moses. Or, 2. It is lawful according to the law of Moses to pay the poll tax. That tax was levied on every man, woman, and child in the Roman empire.

Whichever answer Jesus gave, the answer would be justification for arrest by the Romans or stoning by the crowds. If it were lawful, the Herodians would be delighted and the crowd would be angry. If he sided with the crowd, the Herodians would have reason to report him to the Roman Procurator as rebellious and worthy of death. Both the Herodians and the Pharisees thought they discovered how to make Jesus a hated person and rob him of followers.

Jesus asked for the coin required to pay the poll tax. It was a Roman coin. Such coins were stamped with the image of the Caesar and an inscription of Caesar’s choice. That image, for the practicing Jew would be an idolatry. That coin would never be permitted to pay the temple tax required of every practicing Jew.

Jesus defused their treachery by asking them to identify the image and the inscription on the coin. What one owes to Caesar belongs to Caesar. This sounds a little strange. What could I possibly owe to Caesar? When we consider the work of the state, we discover a significant listing of services we receive from the state. We owe our safety to the military, to police, to fire fighters, to EMT’s. We owe to Caesar for roads, airports and railways and the regulations that make them efficient and safe. We get water, electrical service, and usable telecommunications through governmental agencies. We owe to Caesar for the order that law provides. We live with expectation of that order as necessary part of socio-economic structure that allows us to work, to recreate, and to practice our faith. We believe that democratically structured government will focus its work on the common good and that our lives and work will not be taken from us. We owe Caesar’s ordering for the system of education and regulation that protects us from ignorance, disease, and violence.

We owe God a lot more. We owe God for our very lives. We owe God for the talents and time and the space in which we live. We owe God for his continual presence that buoys us through rough spots in our lived experiences. We owe God a huge debt of gratitude for the presence, the teaching, the healing, and the death and resurrection of his son.

If we think that only Caesar is due anything, we are mistaken. If we fail to pay our due to Caesar, we are denying moral and lawful obligations to the communities in which we live and which support and maintain our freedom and possibilities.

When we come to the voting booth now, or at the latest on November 3, we have an obligation to honor both God and Caesar by carefully considering the possibilities. In electioneering, there is often much untruth. But most often it is not so much blatant lies as it is half truths. One prevalent lie in this cycle is that only pre-birth life is to be protected. All life is sacred. As such, discernment must take into consideration all lives – the immigrant, the infirm, those for whom education is not available, for those who cannot afford health care, for those who suffer from lack of opportunity. For the one who discerns – all life works together from the pre-birth person to the average citizen/child, to the infirm, to the criminal, to the aged struggling with dementia. All life is sacred, or no life is sacred. We must pray well and weigh our choices carefully.

We should heed the warning of Jesus that we beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. We should be most fearful of wolves masquerading as shepherds.

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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OUR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES: 29th SUNDAY A

‘To avoid arguments,’ people tell us, ‘don’t ever talk about religion or politics.’ But it’s just not possible to leave them out of conversation altogether. Our gospel story today illustrates this.

It may come as a shock that the good, kind, loving, merciful, compassionate, fair-minded and forgiving Jesus, could make so many enemies. Yet bit by bit more and more people turned against him and even hated him. Today we meet two groups of them - the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees were totally opposed to the occupation of their native land by the Romans, to their cruel and brutal rule, and to having to pay tax to Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor at that time

On the other hand, the Herodians, for their own ends, together with their puppet king Herod, flattered and collaborated with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and with his army. While both sides hated each other, they hated Jesus even more, and each of them had scores to settle. In this episode, we find them hanging out together and ganging up on Jesus. It’s another instance of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

Their plan is to entrap Jesus, to catch him out, bring charges against him, and in the long run get rid of him. Once and for all! Their opening statement is both true and clever. They praise Jesus for his honesty and integrity, for always telling it like it is without fear or favour. But after the compliment of their introduction, they go in for the kill by asking him this seemingly straightforward question: ‘Teacher, is it allowed to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

It was a loaded question, something like that old chestnut, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ If Jesus were to say that the tax should not be paid, he would be agreeing with the Pharisees. But then they would report him to the Roman occupiers for treason, and have him arrested. On the other hand, if he said the tax should be paid, he would be agreeing with the Herodians. But this would be at the cost of finding himself totally alienated from, and completely offside, with his own people. For they believed that they had only one Lord and Ruler, and that was God! So, either way, Jesus finds himself in a sticky ‘no-win’ situation.

He is well aware of the malice and insincerity of their question, but also of the danger of giving them a straight answer. So, in a very ingenious way he answers these hypocrites with a question of his own: ‘Let me see the money you pay the tax with,’ he says, ‘whose head is on the coin, and whose name is in the inscription around its edge? ´ ‘Caesar’s,’ they answer. This gives Jesus the perfect chance to turn back to them the responsibility for answering their own question. ‘Very well,’ he goes on, ‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’ He is saying in other words, ‘don’t look to me to settle your alleged taxation issue. It’s up to you to work out and decide, what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.’

The answer Jesus gave should not be taken to mean that we have no responsibilities in relation to our local, state and federal governments. In truth, in a democracy like ours, they represent us. To deny having any responsibility to the ruling power is to take the line of anarchists. On the other hand, no civil power has the right to require the complete submission of the persons they govern. They do not have absolute authority over their people. They are accountable to their people, and they are accountable to God. In their dealings with their citizens they must therefore respect the requirements of truth, fairness, integrity, decency and justice. Where they fail to do so, there must be consequences.

In the name of truth, justice and charity, we are entitled to criticize and protest the actions or non-actions of our governments, whenever they violate human dignity, our own or that of others. When people really love their country and its people, they sometimes have to show strong opposition. The protests around Australia against the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers reflect this need, concern and commitment. In South Africa’s apartheid system many good people found they had to disobey the immoral laws of the state. In the USA, both black and white people found that they had to oppose and disobey the unjust laws of segregation operating in some of the southern states. As St Thomas More, a famous dissident and martyr put it: ‘I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first of all.’

We are all citizens of two kingdoms: citizens of the political territory where we live, and citizens of the kingdom of God. As Jesus says, they both require our loyalty. We all depend to a large extent on our civil governments. Very few if any of us can supply our own water, electricity, gas, and telecommunications. We look to our civil governments for education, hospitals and roads, and for welfare services for the unemployed, the handicapped and the elderly, etc. It’s obvious that these services will continue and improve only through the cooperation and support of the community at large.

For the most part, we give this support through paying taxes. Taxes are not, as they are sometimes misrepresented, necessary evils. They are our contributions to making available the community services and benefits we may take for granted. In a just tax system, we help to spread more evenly the wealth of the community, so that every member of the community has access to what is needed for a life of integrity, dignity and contentment. It’s a matter, as the Three Musketeers put it, of being ‘all for one and one for all’.

There’s just so much wisdom, then, in that famous reply which Jesus gave: ‘... give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ So, let’s take it to heart and do it!

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

 

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Year A: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God."

Let me apologise in advance if this seems like a slightly self-indulgent homily, directed more internally towards Jesuits than to the Catholic faithful as a whole. But I ask you to bear with me just this once. Because this Gospel always makes me think of my greatest Jesuit hero, Father Andrew Morrison, of the Society of Jesus, British Province.

When I first went to Guyana in South America, I met a man called Freddie Kissoon in the queue at the Post Office and we got talking. I told him that I was a Catholic priest; he told me he was a Marxist and an atheist. It didn’t immediately seem like it was going to be a long conversation.

But then he found out I was a Jesuit. And then suddenly he wanted to know everything about me – where I was from, what I was doing now, how long I expected to be here. I answered as best I could and wondered at the sudden change in his attitude. Then it became clear. He asked:

Do you know Father Andy Morrison?

I answered ‘yes’. And the strength of his handshake nearly took my arm off. "Without him," he said, "this country would never have become a democracy. I don’t know if I will ever believe in God, but I will always believe in the Jesuits!"

Well, you don’t hear that every day. But I had to explain to him that because I had only just arrived in the country, I hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was talking about. And so he started to tell one piece of the unwritten history of my own religious order: the story of Andy Morrison. After a disastrous career as a teacher in Jesuit schools, they made him editor of the ‘Catholic Standard’ – the diocesan newsletter – which, like diocesan newsletters all over the world, including our own dearly beloved Westminster Record, primarily concerned itself with internal church matters – the doings of the Bishop, the events in the Parishes, perhaps rather daringly with matters of current affairs of particular concern to the Catholic Faithful, such as the conduct of local schools. A good work certainly and worthy of a Jesuit’s service, but hardly earth-shattering.

But, in those times of dictatorship and repression in Guyana, and under Andy’s editorship, that little weekly 8-page diocesan newsletter became the only free press in the whole country. It was the only place where people could go to find out what was really happening in their country.

The government, naturally, did their best to suppress it. When gangs of bandits were paid to smash the presses, the Legion of Mary worked day and night to fix them for printing day. When the importation of newsprint was banned, so many fishing boats risked their livelihoods to bring in extra supplies that they had to take over the cathedral’s choir loft for storage. When the government stopped newspaper vendors from selling it, Andy went out himself to distribute it in Stabroek square – Georgetown’s equivalent of Piccadilly Circus.

But when Bernard Darke, his best friend and the photographer on the Catholic Standard, was murdered in mistake for himself and shortly afterwards a bomb blew up the house his community lived in, Andy confronted the choice of his life – to stop doing his work would be to abandon the mission of Truth he had been given by God and his superiors; but to continue it almost certainly meant death very soon. Like priests in difficulties are supposed to do, he went to the Bishop. The Bishop had an idea. The Bishop’s hobby was magic – conjuring tricks. He taught Andy a few, so that, wherever he went, his magic tricks would draw a crowd that would deter his would-be murderers. It worked. And so for years, every printing day, Andy would go to Stabroek Square, distribute his newspaper and do his magic tricks for the delight of the crowd and his own protection against the men who wanted to kill him.

As was said of Jesus, "When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet."

Many years later, after the restoration of democracy, Andy Morrison was hailed as a hero. He received international awards for heroic journalism and Guyana’s highest national honour – the ‘Arrow of Achievement’ – think of it as a knighthood. He even achieved that much rarer honour – the universal love and respect of his Jesuit brothers.

But let me tell you what really impressed me about him.

I have met a few celebrities. And when you meet them, most celebrities only ever want to talk about themselves and the things that made them celebrities. But when I met him, he was 82; he had retired 2 years before from the Catholic Standard and had been sent to be Parish Priest of Linden – a tough hard mining town in the depths of depression caused by the closure of the mine and the unemployment of the majority of the population. And it was also populated largely by supporters of the previous regime he had been so instrumental in toppling. Not what you might think of as an easy retirement parish. But he was enthused – he spoke with characteristic passion about what he hoped he could lead the Parish in achieving – liturgies that would lift the souls of a depressed people; pastoral action that would reach out to the sick, the poor and the dying; mobilisation for social justice that would address the iniquitous local politics of the town and... well, I won’t go on as long as he did. There was not one word about his own past, his own previous achievements. In fact, there was only one sentence about himself – only one use of the word ‘I’. It was his last sentence when he said: "It’s the best job I’ve ever been given."

And I thought to myself, if I make it to 82, retire from a successful life’s work that has changed the history of my country noticeably for the better and am asked to be available for a new and very difficult mission, I hope I too will be able to utter those words, because they are the finest example I have ever heard of what is supposed to be the central characteristic of a good Jesuit – availability for Mission – the willingness to be sent wherever you are needed and to find God in whatever work you are sent to do. Because I believe that is what it is to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

Let us pray for the repose of the Soul of Fr Andy Morrison, of the Society of Jesus.

And let us stand and profess our Faith in our own place in God’s service.

By the way, if anyone wishes to read Freddie Kissoon’s rather more professionally written obituary for Andy, it is available on this link: http://www.landofsixpeoples.com/news401/nc401287.htm

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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