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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

15th SUNDAY (B) July 12, 2015

Amos 7: 12-15; Psalm 85: 9-14; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 7-13

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

I open this reflection sharing some thoughts with other preachers. But, if you are not a preacher, please don’t feel left out – you are welcome to listen in. Fred Craddock, the great homiletician, suggests in his book PREACHING, that preachers begin interpreting the text with a first, or "naive" reading (cf. Quotable below). He encourages us to stay away from commentaries and hear the text the way the congregation will. At this opening stage of preparation we tend to the questions, ambiguities, confusions, feelings and other reactions stirred by this first "naive" hearing. This initial hearing allows a fresh approach to the text and also helps the preacher hear the text as the congregation will – raw and unfiltered. I will take Craddock’s suggestion for my first hearing of today’s Amos reading.

The text first strikes me as odd: what on earth is the fuss about in this reading? Why is Amaziah so upset with Amos? Whether we preach on this reading or not, I am sure people in the pews will hear it and not have a clue about what’s going on. Am I being too pessimistic? Well, I admit, I didn't know much about it myself on my first reading.

We are in the 8th century before the Christian era and Amaziah is the priest in the courts of the king. It is a time of peace and prosperity for Israel and the rich feel quite secure. It is also a time of decadence, the people are ignoring the covenant. Amaziah is telling the court just what it wants to hear and, with so many others, has given up on God, relying on the powers of the government for security. Amos is a shepherd and dresser of sycamores. Sycamores in the middle East bear a simple fruit which, in order to be edible, require a dressing of the tree. Someone who knows how to nip buds was needed to get better fruit. (How's that for an image of a prophet!)

The fruit was also the food of the poor. So, Amos is not a member of the court, nor is he a prophet from the organized religion. He is rough hewn and says he is the champion of the Lion of Judah (1:2). Amos has been having his prophetic visions and the text today, the encounter between him and Amaziah, is a break in these visions. Amaziah wants Amos out of town. Amos protests that he did not choose to be a prophet, but that God chose him. Nor does he have anything to do with other prophets. His message should be received for its own worth and not that of any official, or from one in public office. We can see why this reading was chosen to go with the gospel of the day – the message is what counts – and God chooses the messengers who will carry it to the people.

I write these reflections on a day I am packing to go out on the road to preach a parish retreat. The gospel reading makes me squirm as I look at what I am packing! When I hear in the text that I shouldn't worry about money and food, am I being excessive? How will I get to the airport and who will pay for my ticket? I know the times have changed; I sit staring at this computer screen as a reminder of how fast things are changing! But I don't want to dismiss this reading too easily as belonging to another time, nor do I want to say it applies only to those few who still go out preaching. We all go out preaching in many ways and to each is given "authority over unclean spirits" of our day.

Jesus tells us to simplify our lives, focus on the importance of his message and go out and do something that speaks of his message. How many times do we put off serious prayer because we think we need to read one more book on prayer, or go to one more workshop on meditation to learn how to do it? We certainly don’t feel expertise enough to talk to anyone else about prayer. How about the conversations we avoid in areas of welfare, religion, military armaments, etc., because we claim that we don't know all the facts? If that is what keeps us silent, then we could all use less t.v. and computer game-time and more study time. What we need to realize right now is that we have been sent out to preach, have been given power over evil and the power to heal.

Maybe we all should make attempts to simplify our lives, show that our real desire is for God alone and for God's rule over the earth and less for the rule of other powers over us. Maybe a simpler way of living will be one sign of "authority over unclean spirits," since we are well aware that our ways of living, spending, recreating and consuming are at the price of other nations' cheap, dehumanized labor and their natural resources. A government report says we Americans waste 25% of the fresh foods we buy. What would a disciple of Jesus do in the face of so much waste and excess as we "strip down" to proclaim his other way of living? Our preaching through words and living may need to be less ambivalent, more clearly a statement about who we are and who is the focus of our lives. If we are truly committed to Christ and the Good News, then we need to give witness to him by a change in our patterns of living. A cutting out of "excess baggage" will speak more clearly the message we are sent to preach.

We remember the Good Samaritan story in Luke. It suggests something about the world into which Jesus was sending these disciples. It was a dangerous place for travelers. Why leave the safe environs of family and village to venture out in the "big bad world"? Most people didn't; they had what they wanted at home. Yet, Jesus sends his disciples out. Maybe that's why he orders them to travel in pairs; they would need each other for support and protection. Someone suggested that two should go so that not just one perspective of Jesus, or his message, be preached. Two going together would provide a balance in the witnessing. Jesus expected his disciples to be greeted with the typical hospitality of the Middle-East. Once they were welcomed into a place, he presumed that the message the disciples carried and not the contents of their traveling bags, or their coins, would make them welcome.

Why is Jesus asking so much of his disciples? Robert Waznak, S.S. recalls a Jewish custom. As a person entered the temple courts, they would have to stop first, remove staff, shoes and money belt and, only then, enter. They were entering a sacred presence and things of everyday concern were to be put aside. Now if Jesus' disciples were to remove the same "ordinary things," what could that mean? His message and the healings it would bring, would be of prime concern to his disciples; everything else being secondary. Would a disciple, on the way to preach and carrying less, be in the presence of the Holy One, even while still on the road – as if in the Temple? Would the houses they entered and the families who received them, be like the Temple itself, a special place where God dwelt? Would Jesus be reminding his disciples that when things got difficult ("any place that does not welcome you", suggests difficult moments) they should rely on God and not what they brought along?

Since the disciples "anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them, " would this be a Sunday to preach about the Sacrament of the Sick? You would not want to put aside the scriptural context and overload the preaching with doctrinal content, but a move in the second half of the homily towards the sacrament as a sign of Jesus' continued healing presence in the community, might help show the relevance of this reading to our church life (Cf. book suggestion below).

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071215.cfm

ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE PREACHER:

A wonderful book on the ministry to the sick is Charles W. Gusmer's, "And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying."

New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1989.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord—for He proclaims peace
Psalm 85: 9

As I write this, South Carolina and many in our nation are mourning the murders of nine peaceable fellow Christians who were killed because of the color of their skin. I would love to say that our whole nation mourns but that is obviously not the case. Racism is a concept that we still have not overcome.

If you look to find the origin of racism, you will discover that it is a man-made concept that emerges in the modern period. There is no clear evidence that the concept existed before the Middle Ages. George M. Fredrickson writes in his article, "The Historical Origins & Development of Racism," (www.pbs.org/race) that eighteenth century ethnologists sub-divided human beings into 3-5 races and an "increasing number of writers, especially those committed to the defense of slavery, maintained that the races constituted separate species." The Bible, on the other hand, "insists on the essential unity of the human race."

Saint Pope John XXIIII wrote in 1963 that "Today…the conviction is widespread that all are equal in natural dignity; and so, on the doctrinal and theoretical level, at least, no form of approval is being given to racial discrimination" (Pacem in Terris, 44). -Truth…calls for… the elimination of every trace of racism.

Here we sit in the 21st century dreaming of a better, more peaceful, more just world. Since humans created racism, humans can do away with it, too. Begin in your own family by making the topic of racism part of your evening conversation (or many evenings). Keep communications open with your teenagers and young adults. Call to task any media that thinks jokes tinged in racism is funny. If you are in a conversation that leans toward racist remarks, have the courage to explain what the Church teaches. If nothing else, state that we are all God’s children and God does not see color. Stand with your other brother or sister whose skin coloring may be different than yours. We can have a peaceful and more just world by accepting our responsibility to teach and live the way of our Lord. Love will always overcome hatred. Jesus proved that on the cross.

Now, we must be that visible love in the world for God proclaims peace, not hatred. -----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.-

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

"[Jesus] summoned the Twelve

and began to send them out two by two

and gave them authority over unclean spirits.

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey...."

Reflection:

We should all make attempts to simplify our lives, to show that our real desire is for God alone, for God's rule over the earth and less for the rule of other powers over us. A simpler way of living will be a sign of our priorities and give us an "authority over unclean spirits,"

So we ask ourselves:

  • What parts of my life are overburdened by stuff?
  • What first steps can I make to experience freedom from these "unclean spirits?"

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Archie Billings #0471315 (On death row since 6/5/96)
  • Angel Guevara #0506556 (6/20/96)
  • Walic C. Thomas #0405380 (8/9/96)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org Or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626

 


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