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Monthly Archives: September 2021

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 25-29 + Psalm 19 + James 5: 1-6 + Mark 9: 38-48
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: September 26, 2021

At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was invited to address
a large rally of Union forces.
The emcee who introduced the president asked him to come forward and lead
the assembly in prayer that God might be on the Union side to help win the war.
When Lincoln came up to the podium, the first thing he said was,
“Sir, I am not really concerned about whether God is on our side.
I am very concerned about whether we are on God’s side.”

In his wisdom and in his humility, President Abraham Lincoln was able to see clearly
the human propensity to claim that God is on “our side,”
so that those on the other side could be demonized or dehumanized.
That’s one of the reasons why when Lincoln formed his Cabinet he chose
a couple of his political opponents to sit on this very important advisory panel.
He needed to listen to them, too.

God is not limited to “one side” or the “other”.
The Spirit of God cannot be bottled up and controlled by one group or another.
The Spirit of the Lord works in unexpected ways through unexpected people
and does not “choose” sides.
Joshua learns this truth from Moses, and John learns the same truth from Jesus.

Joshua is upset because Eldad and Medad were prophesying without being
in the specific gathering to which Moses had invited them.
John complains to Jesus that someone who does not belong to their group
is driving out demons.
Both Joshua and John are very confident they can define the parameters
for who can speak and act in God’s name, but Moses and Jesus know better.
They understand that being on God’s side is less clear, less black and white,
than some would have us believe.

What Jesus would challenge us to do is cut out of our lives those attitudes
which cut us off from others who are different from us, not part of our group.
Jesus challenges us to remove from our lives those actions where we would use our hand
to strike out at “the other” and instead extend an ear to listen and first understand.

We may disagree with the beliefs of another person,
but we should never despise the person who holds those beliefs.
We commit to approaching others with love,
attempting to identify common values based on truth.
We have to cut out labeling others as progressive or conservative
and recognize how they treat others is what matters.

Disciples of Christ are recognized
for how they serve others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable ones.
Receiving a gift of a cup of cold water from another, even such a small, simple gift,
can open our eyes to see the God-given dignity of the one giving the gift.

God’s side is always bigger than our side.
God’s side is always larger than our side.

Now it is natural and necessary to separate good from bad,
people we trust from those we do not, and making such decisions
is an important thing to do, especially for one’s children.
We use the best judgment we can to guide our lives.

But we have to acknowledge that once we have made these important choices,
grouping together all those people we deem good and trustworthy,
that the group God would draw together would be much larger than ours.

Even in the small, select group of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus,
there was a tax collector working for Romans (Matthew),
and a zealot working to overthrow the Romans (Simon).

Jesus dies on the cross not for a certain group of “worthy” people,
but he gives his life for all people, every single person who has ever lived on this earth.
Jesus even welcomes a criminal dying next to him on a cross to be on God’s side.
Jesus even includes on “his side”, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin,
the group that condemned him to death,
and Nicodemus responds by preparing Jesus’ body for burial.

God’s side is always larger than ours, for
God sees a goodness we do not perceive.
God knows possibilities we cannot imagine.
God’s love is not limited to only those we deem worthy.

The more we are drawn into Communion with Christ Jesus,
the easier it is to see the world from his perspective.
For Christ Jesus helps us to see what His Father, who is Our Father, sees.

We are all God the Father’s children, each and every one of us made in God’s image.
We are one human family, all sharing one common home,
this earth given to us to care for and to protect.

It requires humility and courage to see the world from God’s perspective.
We have to be humble enough to know that God’s vision
is always greater than our vision.
We have to be courageous enough to make room for that vision
even if we seem foolish and hopeless naïve to others.

It is not easy to stand on God’s side.
Perhaps that is why we are tempted to believe that God stands on ours.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20 + Psalm 54: 3-8 + James 3: 16-4:3 + Mark 9: 30-37
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: September 19, 2021

In last Sunday’s Gospel passage from Mark, we heard the first passion prediction
by Jesus, and today we hear his second passion prediction.
At the very center of Mark’s Gospel there are three “Passion” predictions by Jesus
about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection—the first in chapter 8,
the second in chapter 9, and the third in chapter 10.

Following each of these three passion predictions, the reaction of the disciples reveals
that they are completely clueless as to what Jesus is saying.
After the first one, Peter has the gall to take Jesus aside and tell him
this is not part of God’s plan.
After the second one, they argue about who is most important.
After the third passion prediction, James and John have the audacity to ask Jesus
for seats on his right and left hand when he comes into the glory of his kingdom.
Each time, though, Jesus uses their misunderstanding as an opportune teaching moment, showing the disciples what it looks like to follow his example of self-giving,
passionate love.

After today’s second passion prediction, the disciples argue amongst themselves
about who is the greatest.
Jesus responds by teaching them what greatness looks like in the Kingdom of God.
He simply says that if you want to be great, you must be the servant of all.

But what makes one a servant? What does being a servant look like?
Jesus uses a visual image by drawing a child to himself and telling those
who would follow him that welcoming a child is the true path to greatness,
welcoming a child is what servants do.

This shocks the disciples, for in the Biblical world,
children are seldom noticed by men, much less served by men.
Jesus’ teaching turns their world upside-down.
They think greatness is about having power over others,
while Jesus shows them that greatness comes from serving the powerless.

For children are perfectly powerless.
They must ask for everything and anything they need.
The child is the symbol of the helpless, the dependent,
those shut out of privilege and power.
A child relies on others to take care of him or her.

A child is one who lacks things.
A child lacks experience, command of language, knowledge, and legal rights.

Greatness in the kingdom of God comes not from having power over others
but from serving these who are powerless.

Obviously, this means being a voice for the voiceless child in the womb
and seeking to end the evil of abortion.
Clearly one of the ways to be such a servant of the Kingdom of God
is by accompanying mothers in problem pregnancies, helping them to give birth
to their children, and then providing the necessary resources to care for their children.

But we cannot stop there, for we need to ask the question:
Who else in our midst who are like children because they are easily preyed upon
because of their dependence on others and their lack of power?
What about the homeless and the hungry?
What about the elderly and the ill?
What about the ones who are materially poor or who are victimized because of their race?

Who else needs our service because of their lack of command of language
or lack of access to legal rights?
What about the immigrant and the refugee?

But first these “little ones” need to be seen before we can serve them.
First they have to be acknowledged as children of God, and then they can be served.

This is where Catholic Charities steps in by placing in our line of vision
the “children” we are called to serve.
Catholic Charities brings to our awareness who we are called to serve.
Once we notice them, we can then lovingly assist them as Jesus commands
by supporting the good work of Catholic Charities.

Jesus concludes his challenging teaching with an incredible promise.
When we welcome the “child” in our midst, we welcome Him as the child of God.
And when we welcome Him, we welcome the One who sent Him, the Father of us all.

So, something much, much more is going on when we serve the “child” in our midst.

We are receiving into our life in these encounters with those who are like children,
the Lord of Life, the Son of God.
We are receiving the One who sent his only Son into the world
to teach us how to love each other, especially those most in need of our love.

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Psalm 146: 7-10; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 31-37
Holy Spirit Church: September 5, 2021

Ephphatha! What a strange sounding word.
It is an Aramaic word, the language which Jesus of Nazareth spoke. Ephphatha!
When Mark wrote his gospel in the 1st century in Greek, he retained this Aramaic word,
a word that would have actually been spoken by Jesus. Ephphatha! Be opened!

But this is not the only time Mark used the original language of Jesus in his gospel.
Remember back at the end of June when we heard proclaimed in this place the encounter
between Jesus and the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus.
Everyone thought her dead on her bed, but Jesus reaches out, takes her hand and says
to her, “Talitha koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (Mark 5:41)
And so she does, responding to the words of Jesus, “Talitha koum.”

Then there are the words spoken in anguish by Jesus on the cross in Mark’s gospel.
“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani” which we heard proclaimed on Palm Sunday
at the end of March. (Mark 15:34)
This saying in Aramaic is translated as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Ephphatha; Talitha koum; eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani—these Aramaic words
connect us to the historical Jesus, reminding us that he was a real person
who spoke a specific language, that he lived at a certain time and in a certain place.
He healed those whose bodies were broken, lifted up those lying
on their deathbeds, and by his own death brought the ultimate healing—
the gift of a life beyond this life where there will be no more suffering nor sorrow
nor death anymore.

Like his healing of the man who was deaf and mute, Jesus longs to speak over us
the same word today—Ephphatha—that is, “Be opened.”
The Risen Jesus, who still is with us by the power of His Spirit,
longs to touch those parts of us that are closed off to his love and open them up.

Jesus reaches out to touch the man in today’s Gospel in those specific places
which needed healing— his ears and his tongue.
In this very intimate encounter between Jesus and this man apart from the crowds,
Jesus physically touches those places in him which are closed off and need opening.
So Jesus longs to do with each one of us.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows those places in our heart
that we have closed which need to be opened.
He knows how we compartmentalize our life by spending some time with him in prayer but then closing off the rest of our day to him
It is those parts of our life that he wants to reach out to touch with his healing power.

Jesus is very aware as well of those parts of our life from the past
which we still carry locked away because of much hurt or pain,
parts of our life that we have never opened up to anybody about, much less Him.
But he knows even these very intimate parts of our life and longs to reach out
and touch them and say, “Be opened” that his healing love might flow into them.

Throughout our life we also close ourselves off to other people.
We become “deaf” to them, deaf to their cries.
Our tongues become shackled—we do not even speak to them.
Now these can be people who have hurt us, but they also can be certain groups of people who we shut out because they are different from us.

The community to which St. James addresses his letter struggled
with being open to the poor in their midst.
For us, it may be the same, or we may close our hearts to those of a
different political persuasion, or race, or ethnicity, or gender.

The Risen Jesus speaks to us in these places of our heart that have been closed off:
Ephphatha—BE OPENED!

Being open to hear the Word of God is a life-long process, an ongoing journey of healing.
Being open to hear the Will of God involves a daily turning to Jesus to open us up
to the Father’s will and help us to accomplish it.

For most of us our journey of faith begins in the waters of baptism as a child,
so this process of being ever more open to God’s word starts there as well.
One of the rituals of baptism enacted after the giving of the candle is the
“Ephphatha Rite.” That right, you heard me right, it is the “Ephphatha Rite.”

The minister touches the child’s ears and mouth while saying:
“May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,
grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears & profess the faith
with your lips to the glory and praise of God the Father.”

May we receive the word of God spoken today by the prophet Isaiah,
“Be strong, fear not. Here is your God…he comes to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

May we profess this faith with our lips by encouraging others
to be strong in the Lord’s saving love.

As the Lord Jesus reaches out to touch us in this sacred meal of the Eucharist,
may we be opened to his presence in others.”

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi