In the short story, The Man Who Wanted a Key, the author describes the frustration of listening to a person who embellishes stories with irrelevant details. He points out that there is much wisdom to be able to get to the heart of the matter. St. Benedict reminds the monastic of this when in Chapter 7, Steps of Humility, he paraphrases Ecclesiastes (10:12) “The wise person is known by the fewness of her words.”
The scribe who came to Jesus with the question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” was such a person–one who wanted to get to the main point. Despite the opinion of many, there is no indication in Scripture that the scribe who raised the question was out to trap Jesus. Mark is considered by some biblical scholars as being the best storyteller. If it was a trap, he would have included that the scribe was aiming to get Jesus to condemn himself by saying something considered to be against the Law. The man just wanted Jesus to get to the point: which is the first of the commandments? Jesus gives him a much fuller answer than he bargained for.
Maybe you’re like that scribe. Do you ever mumble under your breath: “What a better place this world would be if only everyone followed the teaching of Jesus the way I do.” Our own shortcomings loom large before us, it’s true. And, sadly, we can be overly aware of the failures of others. If only they’d listen, we could fix them. Jesus said: “Love your neighbor.” And we each think we know exactly what he meant and how to do it.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us a special trick: how to make two become one. There are two rules he says. If you obey and live out of this teaching you will fulfil the law. The first step is to love God. The second is to love your neighbor the same way that you love yourself. It’s not two laws, it’s one law with two facets. This rule is so important we call it the Golden Rule. Love and treat others in the same way that you would like them to love and treat you. Bottom line: this means we love the other in the way she or he would appreciate. We learn to read each other’s cues. That takes time and is one of the blessings of the vow of stability; the promise of stick-to-itiveness.
Isn’t this what our Father-God did? The WORD became FLESH in Jesus our Christ. And that LOVE cost God the Father and the Son the life of the Son. Love is a decision we make that we want to respond to others like Jesus would. We ask the same question as the scribe, “Which, of all I see before me to do, is first in God’s eyes? What should be first on my list of priorities, what is my most important date with God for today?” Jesus’ reply is so simple it is no wonder we don’t dare ask him any further questions. We need only to let his reply echo in our hearts, asking for the grace to understand what it means to put love as our highest priority. St. Benedict puts it this way (in chapter 72): “Foster fervent love: be the first to show respect to the other … pursue what you judge better for someone else … show reverent love to God; prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
St. Paul tells us: “We are God’s work of art.” When the other rankles your nerves and tries your patience, remind yourself: “This person before me is God’s work of art.” That can be especially hard to do UNLESS I first acknowledge “I am God’s work of art.”
John Wesley provided a thought-provoking description of how one might obey the great commandment: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
~ Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Hope you had a Happy All Hollows Eve
and enjoy a pleasant All Saints’ Day – a prayfull All Souls’ Day
First Reading: Deuteronomy 6:2-6 Second Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
Last week we heard Jesus chastise his disciples for their arguing about who should be next in the line of succession. Today they take offense because they perceive a stranger as a direct threat to their exclusive calling. Their attitude is clear: “You have no right; He gave us that job.” Envy and jealousy raises its ugly head.
We are witnessing how Jesus deals with this ages-old human condition. We saw it first in the story of Cain and Abel. In our own lives we may have been victim or culprit of it with our siblings, classmates, spouses or friends. St. Benedict guards against inroads of it in describing the “Qualities of the Abbot” in the “Tools of Good Works” and the “Steps of Humility,” the distribution of labor and his directives about property and gifts. The psalmist applies the trait to God, and St. Paul says he experiences “a godly jealousy.” We sing of in it the hymnody: “Our God is a jealous God.” And, here in this Gospel we hear the disciples grousing (Benedict calls it “murmuring”) – “How come they are trying to use the gift you gave to us?”
So far the disciples have missed the point of Jesus teaching. It’s about true discipleship; how we relate to each other. Jesus warns us that true followers are not to “cause little ones to stumble.” He’s been saying all along that who will be included in the Kingdom is not within our authority, it’s not even within our concern! Jesus makes it quite clear – whoever is not against us, is for us.
In this instance, Jesus immediately turns the tables on the disciples. He warns them that they are the ones in danger of doing harm. It’s as though Jesus says, “The problem is not those folks, guys. Don’t worry about them; they are not the problem. Rather, look at yourselves. Are you a stumbling block?” His message is clear – finger-pointing will get us nowhere with Jesus. Jesus couldn’t be more clear with his vivid example of drowning to get his point across. “Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to do harm to “these little ones.”
Jesus warns us that scrupulosity about others’ behavior, or a judgment about their motivation (especially without all the facts) can cause us to stumble. He is trying to help us understand that no one is an exception to His teaching. We can’t say: “That doesn’t apply to me; I don’t have to listen to what He is saying. And, anyway, I’ll be forgiven.” The old axiom holds true, “What’s sauce for the goose, is good for the gander.”
Our Creator knows we have been endowed with the capacity to make comparisons, weigh pros and cons, and draw conclusions that seem to just “pop into our heads.” Jesus is warning us to be on guard about being “judgmental” – milking and waxing self-assigned motivations to others. We can spread faulty conclusions built on our limited perceptions. Jesus cautions us to turn the focus back to our own behavior. Jesus challenges us to a self-examination. How authentic is our way of thinking and acting? Do we spend more time judging another’s behavior and spreading ill-will than we do in Lectio looking at our part in the cultivation of evil in the world? What are the stumbling-blocks, the mind-fields we scatter that unwittingly impedes the spread of the Good News? This gospel incident is a story of commitment. The people to whom Jesus is talking are his own disciples – people who have agreed and want to follow him. The metaphor explains just how serious sin really is. Jesus is asking, “Just who do you believe? Do you believe in me? Whose ways do you imitate?”
We were created so that God can pour out blessings upon us, and through us. In gratitude, we owe it to God, and to others, to pass on the good news of the great inheritance that is ours.
So how goes it with you? Does your practice of faith, your living of Benedict’s Rule challenge others? Ages ago Isaiah said, and St. Paul repeated, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” [Isaiah 55:8; Ephesians 3:20] Benedict offers the same life guideline in RB Chapter 4:20, the Tools of Good Words: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way.”
This week we do well to ask ourselves (refraining from pointing a finger at anyone else – exposing three fingers pointing smack dab back at self, right where the blame belongs): Do my ways invite others to join the church, the community? Does my attitude give others the benefit of the doubt; the attitude that I wish others’ granted me? What do I do or say that may cause seekers or guests or volunteers to step away, give up on the idea of ever coming again or supporting the community, put off joining RCIA or considering a call to religious life? What could I, what could we, do differently? Ponder the closing sentences of the first reading, words attributed to Moses: “Would that all people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all.” [Numbers 11:29]
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Let us join in prayer for a swift, peaceful, and just resolve for persons fleeing their home countries. So many levels of conflict and confusion may make us feel helpless … but we believe firmly that for God ALL THINGS are possible. And we learned that God is depending upon His creatures to do their part. This morning in his homily our chaplain noted: “Each of us is one of us.” Helen Keller is quoted: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” (Helen Keller) Something to think about – what IS my part?
Heartful gratitude to those who contributed to our collection for the people of Haiti devastated by earthquake damage. With your generosity, and the Sisters contributions from their personal monthly allowances, plus a “round-it-up” donation from our community funds, we will be sending $2000 to the St. Luke Foundation – a direct services agency headquartered in Miami, FL
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29 Second Reading: James 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
In this story we find clues that promote our understanding of sacramental “laying on of hands” and the sacredness of human touch. We are struck by the physical means Jesus used to heal the man’s lack of hearing and speech, the use of spittle and touch – both discouraged in today’s “stay safe” world. Jesus cannot tell the man verbally what He is about to do, so He uses a rough form of sign language to communicate His intentions. First, He sticks His fingers in the man’s ears to let him know that He is going to do something about his deafness. He spits on His finger and touches the man’s tongue to let him know that He is about to restore his speech. Might sound gross, but it’s what Jesus does! And, it awakens faith in this man’s heart.
After touching the man, Jesus looks toward Heaven. This act served two purposes. First, it told the deaf man where the healing was coming from. Secondly, the act of looking toward Heaven demonstrated Jesus’ dependence on his Father. As Jesus raised his eyes heavenward he “sighed.” Of course, the deaf man could not hear the sigh, but he could see Jesus’ expression. And, it spoke volumes more than words could say: “I care about you and what you are going through!” Jesus says one word, “Ephphatha” – “be opened.” When Jesus says this, the man’s hearing is healed and his tongue was loosened. He could hear! He could speak! What a miracle! One command from Jesus and his life changed forever! The witnesses declared: “He has done all things well!”
Today, this week we do well to take an honest inventory of our true needs. Have I found contentment? Am I close enough to God to receive guidance and strength? Have I secured peace of heart and mind? Deciding what we lack is the first step in securing it. Only then can we express our needs to Christ who has said: “Ask, you shall receive.” But, remember God-time may not match our unspoken expectation. When God takes time answering our prayers, it’s not because he didn’t hear us or doesn’t already know our needs. We are being given us the gift of time to recognize what our true needs are.
In by-gone days, peddlers would walk the streets with their wagon load of wares crying out, “What do you lack?” The idea was to let especially the housewives know that the peddler was in the vicinity. The kids and housekeepers would come drifting out to see what the peddler was selling today. Sounds like a flea market, or Big Lots or the Dollar Tree. How many shoppers drop in, (maybe we are counted among them?) nothing on their shopping list, but just to see what’s new today? It might be something we’ve forgotten we really need – for sure, it’ll likely be gone tomorrow.
When his friends presented the man in the Gospel to Jesus, his needs were obvious – he lacked physical abilities. We may lack spiritual abilities. We may suffer a kind of a spiritual deafness. The affliction of not really listening to people. Or, to put it another way, we suffer the affliction of physically hearing what people say, yet failing to comprehend and come to grips with the full meaning of their message. Remember the expression: “What you are not saying is speaking so loud I cannot hear what you are saying.”
One of the greatest weaknesses of the human heart is the inability to tune into people’s underlying needs. One may indeed lack food for the table, but his/her real need may be for a fair wage for an 8-hour job. We can hear the cries of broken, suffering people in lands across the sea, but be oblivious to the cues of the persons that every day are sitting right beside us.
This man in the Gospel, even though he was lacking hearing and speech, he had people around him that cared about him. They heard that Jesus was passing by and they brought their friend to Jesus. Benedict calls us to carry each other, to help one another understand the word of God spoken in community decision-making, to help us accept decisions that are contrary to our personal wishes. We are to uphold the weak, challenge the faint-hearted, rouse the sleepers, and open our eyes to the light that comes from God – and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out to us. This is how St. Benedict teaches that we shall “progress in the way of life and faith, running on the path of God’s commands, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” With the help of community, he says “We will run, and not grow weary.” The closing words of our Gospel remind us that Jesus does all things well. “All” may only be a three-lettered word but it is a mighty big word! It covers a lot of territory. Jesus does all things well. Come to Him and let Him teach you the truth! He can fix it so you’ll shake your head saying, “Well done! Well done! Very well done!”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
God, we know you have a lot “on your plate” – we ask, please, in Your goodness to hear our special intentions this week:
Remember in particular employees and employers and those seeking employment: may justice, fair wages and appreciation for service prevail at all levels.
We pray, too, for the victims, survivors and all who re-live September 11, 2001 … may they know peace of mind.
Remember, too, all the victims of so-called “natural” disasters: earthquakes, flooding, high winds and fire. God grant them strength and inspire generosity of all in positions to relieve their plight.
First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a Second Reading: James 2:1-5
Gospel: Mark 7:31-37
This incident found in John’s Gospel reminds us that not everyone took to Jesus positively, even those who seemed to be quite close to him. Some of the people, not unlike today, were murmurers and grumblers – folks not too keen on what they were hearing. Following Jesus was going to be no picnic (despite the way he’d fed the five thousand people). The idea of total commitment was a disturbing concept.
We hear it in that sad and haunting verse: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Obviously hurt by this defection, Jesus turns to Peter and the others who are closest to him and asks them if they’ll be taking off too – “Will you too go away?” Peter, as was his style so often, seems to speak on behalf of all Jesus’ loyal followers – “Master, to whom would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” For Peter, at this time, it’s unquestionable – “If Jesus said it, it must be true.” If you’ve looked ahead to the First Reading, you’re aware the Church reminds us that Jesus’ experience of rejection was not unique. 1500 years earlier, Joshua, disciple of Moses, gives voice to a similar tribulation. He addresses all the people – “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” The people answer in the same vein as Peter – “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord.”
One of my brother, Bill’s favorite books was This Tremendous Lover by the Irish Trappist monk-priest Eugene Boylan and first published in 1946. In 2002, I sent him a replacement copy for the one he’d given away. On his death four years later, it was returned to me. I had inscribed on the fly page – “Bill, I hope this is as inspirational as you remember. The bookstore that special ordered for me said it was the last one in the United States. Imagine that!” Boylan writes in his book: “Our Lord was not looking for an enthusiastic public reception… his miracles were not a ploy to grasp temporal power. The wonder of his public life is not the marvelous works He actually did, but the many and more wonderful works which He could have done and did not. All He did and said and allowed to happen to him was part of the plan.”
What Jesus has to say is so important that he does not consider changing his message to please the people. In fact, we can accurately say that a “Jesus” who doesn’t offend isn’t the real Jesus.
Our hearts go out to Jesus, and those who stuck with him. If you have ever had anyone walk out on you, you can empathize with Jesus. I recall the mixed feelings I had when in the late 60s and early 70s, we had five deaths in one year. It was not customary for those of us who were away for studies to come home for funerals, so there was a void for farewell until we got to visit the cemetery. Then what some writers refer as the “Exodus” began to happen when several of our peers felt the calling to leave community. Some gave us a chance to say good-bye; others quite literally disappeared in the night. These were good people – some were rising leaders in community. What did they know that I did not? My feelings were not of betrayal like Jesus suffered – but confusion and loneliness, yes. Were the shrinking numbers the handwriting on the wall and I was too blind to read it? History tells the rest of the story: WE’RE STILL HERE.
What does Jesus do when his ranks shrink? Does he cajole the people, “Oh, I’m sorry that what I said was so hard to take. Maybe we can compromise.” Not at all! Jesus does not let human opinion sway his proclamation of divine truth. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
When God asked Aaron why he built the golden calf, his only defense was, “The people made me do it.” What was Peter’s knee-jerk response a couple years later. Remember when Jesus was on trial? The inquisitive young girl asked him if he was one of Jesus’ followers? Peter’s leadership in the upper room was easy, he was with friends. But outside the rank and file of unfamiliar faces he fell apart. Which life-style will you lead – people’s opinion driven, or God-focused?
If our ears are open to the voice of the Spirit, we hear daily Jesus’ quizzing us, “Who do people say I am?” He asks us, like he does all his friends about our personal conviction – “Who do you say I am?” The question also comes to us as a community. Are we swayed by “public conviction” forming the community we think the public wants us to be? Or are we formed by “personal and communally discerned convictions” – helping to lead the world where it needs to go?
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32
Gospel: John 6:60-69
Contemplating the Assumption of Mary
From Fr. Ed Lamp – August 15, 2021
Original Author Andy Alexander, S.J. – January 1, 2000
Mary looked over at John writing at his table and smiled. He had always looked so young and the years had not aged him very much. She could understand why Jesus had such a special place in his heart for John, with his gentle ways and his easy love for people.
She gathered her cloak around her against the cold and closed her eyes as she thought about the many years of her life. So much of it was beyond understanding and yet she believed it and accepted it. She had been given a courage, faith and humility that could only be a gift from God. How else could she have overcome her fears and said “Yes” when Gabriel asked her to be the mother of the Savior? Her son, Jesus, had been a wonder in her life. She had not always understood all of what he did but she knew he had a special role on earth. Their hearts had been bound together in faith and an unbreakable love. She had watched him leave home, teach, heal and challenge the authorities. Her heart had been pierced with such sorrow when he was arrested and tortured and finally put to death. Her faith in the Father had carried her through those days, and the incredible joy-filled days that came after.
“Imma?” John, said using the most intimate Hebrew form of “mother.” He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You are so quiet these days.” She smiled at him with affection. “Dearest John, my life has been long and I have so much to be grateful for. These years together have been so full.”
It was true. In the weeks after he had risen, Jesus had spoken to them of a new order, a new way of life. She had resisted the urge to cling to him and not let him go again. She had to trust. “I will be with you always,” he had said. In her heart, she knew it was true and once again opened her life fully to God’s will. She had watched with joy as Jesus was taken up into the clouds. In the years that had followed, his message and life had given hope and meaning to a growing number of followers. She had spoken to so many of the disciples and followers in those times.
Jesus was in her life, too, in a vivid and very real way. She felt his presence with her as she grew tired. She spoke to him from her heart constantly, just as she did when he was on earth. She felt a strong connection that was as unexplainable as it was real. She closed her eyes again in thought.
“Imma,” came the familiar loving voice. “Blessed are you among women.” She knew it was different. She was not in John’s house but with Jesus, standing in a place that filled her with a different kind of joy. “My son,” she said softly as they embraced. She felt his cheek firmly against hers.
She did not know how or why. There were no questions and no answers for this. He had promised her she would be with him and the Father. She touched her body in wonder and knew she had been drawn to a different place by power not her own. It was her same body and yet different, more vibrant.
“You said ‘Yes’ to the Father’s request, Imma,” Jesus said to her. “Your life was prepared in a special way and you followed it with such faith. You made my work possible.”
Mary knew that somehow she was experiencing the resurrection in a way others would have to wait for. As she had so many times before, she paused and opened her heart in prayer. “The Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his Name.”
In your prayers please remember the people of Haiti. Early reports say that the earthquake there (7.2 magnitude) caused catastrophic damage with many people still trapped in the rubble. We pray for the health and safety of everyone impacted and for the emergency responders and medical teams as they work during this devastating time to help people in the aftermath.Continue Reading