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FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 23rd SUNDAY (A) - September 7, 2014

Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

In my old neighborhood most stores and supermarkets had burglar alarms, I presume they still do. More and more homes have installed alarm systems. People can’t afford to pay guards to stand watch over their homes all night or while they are away, so they settle for the electronic type of security. They can even set these alarms from their cell phones while at work or across the country.

In ancient Israel, as harvest time drew near, landlords hired guards to protect their crops against thieves. They would even put up a stone tower for a better viewing over the crops. Cities had walls with sentinels in guard towers to protect the inhabitants from marauders.

Reminiscent of these security measures Ezekiel described his call from God: he is a "watchman for the house of Israel." The people, along with Ezekiel, were living in exile as slaves. They didn’t have anything worth stealing. Why did they need a "watchmen" in their misery anyway? It certainly couldn’t have been a concern for cash and jewels.

We are at a crucial section in Ezekiel. The exiles received word that Jerusalem has fallen. He had warned people that they would face disaster if they didn’t change. They didn’t. So they were taken off into slavery and now they received the discouraging news that their Temple and city were destroyed. As a result of that devastating news Ezekiel’s message to the people must change. He must address their misery, dismay and loss of hope. If Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, what would there be left to go back to – if they ever could get back? What was there to hope in?

People have known similar dismay throughout history. Unfortunately, these days cities and homes have been destroyed and peoples displaced in a new kind of exile in the Middle East. The Ebola virus is relentlessly spreading to other countries in Africa. Fear and loss of hope strike closer to home as a neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri erupts in protest and violence. Still closer, some of us face perennial problems in our families that tax our energies and consume our every available moment. Our own homes can feel like an exile. Along with the ancient sixth century BC Judeans in slavery, we turn an anxious ear to Ezekiel for a word that will strengthen and refresh hope.

Ezekiel is a sentinel in times of danger. Danger doesn’t come just from external circumstances, but also when people’s internal resources are tested. He is assigned by God to warn the wicked to change their ways; but he is also to strengthen the downcast in hope. He is not just a sentinel issuing warning, but a shepherd to lead people on the right path. There is a tone of urgency in the prophet’s message. Those living in a foreign land, far from their homes and the physical center of their faith, were not to forget the covenant God had made with them and their call to persist in following God’s ways.

The prophet’s sobering message is a wake-up call from God and so, a gift of grace veiled in the language of warning. It is up to his listeners to decide how they will live according to God’s ways in a foreign land with no visible signs of hope. Can they trust the word of someone speaking for God? We who hear the prophet today are being appealed to by our God; encouraged to stand firm in faith and live in conformity with God’s rule of life.

Ezekiel, the warning sentinel, had to speak an uncomfortable word to his people. Most of us would rather not do that to those we know. But sometimes that’s the way God can work in their lives – through us, called to be prophets by our baptism. So, like Ezekiel, we may have to be a warning sentinel to those not facing their responsibilities as spouses, children of aging parents, those dependent on drugs or alcohol, those insensitive to the needs of the poor around them, etc.

Concerning these "sensitive conversations" the gospel doesn’t let us off the hook. It clearly places on each of our shoulders the responsibility to work for the unity and well-being of the believing community. It’s focus is towards the sinning members in the community. Obviously there were some, otherwise there would have been no need to reconcile with them. It seems the early church wasn’t any more pure or ideal than the church we live in today. (We do tend to romanticize those "early Christians.") People committed wrongs and so word would get around among the members. How could these errant members be reconciled with those they have offended? Jesus is not just instructing the few in authority; the responsibility to address wrongs is placed on the whole community.

A three-step process is proposed. It is initiated because the offended party is seeking reconciliation, not revenge or punishment ("If your brother/sister sins against you…."). First, the injured person should appeal to the offender. It starts with a private conversation and manifests the love that should exist among members of the community. If that personal approach doesn’t work the injured party should take one or two other community members to speak with the recalcitrant member. It’s getting to be a bit more formal. Then, if reconciliation still isn’t achieved the entire church community is enlisted to persuade the wayward member to change. If that intervention fails the person is to be treated like an outsider.

Didn’t Jesus welcome outsiders and even eat with them? Is that how the community should behave, following Jesus’ example, while they continue trying to work things out? But it does seem that there are some offenses against individuals, or the whole community, that require expelling a member.

Previously (16:13-20) Peter, as leader of the community, was given the power to bind and loose. Now that power is given to all the members. If any two pray for guidance in the situation described here, their prayer will be heard. It’s a reminder that when the church must reach a decision about the overall welfare of the community, especially how to deal with erring members, we are not to forget to pray together as an expression of our concern for a sister or brother. Praying together is also a reminder of the Lord’s presence our midst, working with us for the building up and the healing of our community.

Some of us bear more responsibility for the well-being of the local and universal church. That’s why the petitions following the homily/creed begin with prayers for our pope, bishops, clergy and lay ministers. These are they who lead us in prayer and ritual, administer our parishes, direct and teach in our religious education programs, visit the sick in our name, etc. In all these areas prayer is needed for the planning that goes into these ministries and for the resolution of conflicts that inevitably arise when even well-intentioned people sit down to plan and address issues that affect the community.

While many of us don’t like conflict and try to ignore it when it occurs, this gospel encourages us to deal with it in a most charitable way. If we don’t it can eat away at relationships and can fragment the community. Who hasn’t experienced that! No one likes the responsibility of trying to resolve conflict, not even those appointed to leadership. Attempting to seek reconciliation will not always be met with kindness – clearly suggested in today’s passage when it directs what to do with those who "refuse to listen even to the church."

That’s why Jesus recommends prayer to his disciples. We gather and act in Jesus’ name and ask him to help us in our difficult roles, both as church leaders and members of the community, as we continually strive to form a community of believers working together for the common good. (Cf. "Quotable" below)

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090714.cfm

QUOTABLE

I especially ask Christians throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another and how you encourage and accompany one another. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).... Beware of the temptation of jealousy! We are all in the same boat and headed to the same port! Let us ask for the grace to rejoice in the gifts of each, which belong to all.

----Pope Francis, in "The Joy of the Gospel," ("Evangelii Gaudium,") # 98

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Love does no evil to the neighbor Romans 13: 10

As I am writing this, yet another cease fire is tenuously in place between Palestine and Israel. Yet, Israel continues to illegally occupy and claim Palestinian lands as it has done for almost 70 years. Iraq and Syria are being torn apart by a religious sect bent on murdering anyone who does not follow its tenets. Yet, observing neighbors’ rights is an issue that the Qur’an emphasizes, along with treating one’s parents kindly, being faithful to relatives, and caring for orphans (an-Nisa 4:36). http://www.herkul.org/weekly-sermons/rights-of-neighbors/

Today’s passage from Romans is writ large on the world stage by its obvious absence in the Middle East. Why should the reader of this column be concerned about conflicts that are so far away? You should be concerned because the root of personal and social divisions begins deep within each one of us, where we separate, not only from God, but from ourselves and from others, especially others who appear to be not like us. So, when we look to what is happening in the Middle East, the birthplace of three major world religions, examine the love you yourself have for your neighbor, the other who appears to be not like you.

To learn more about the current conflicts, check out:

"Nine Questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask": http://www.vox.com/2014/7/17/5902177/9-questions-about-the-israel-palestine-conflict-you-were-too?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_name=share-button&utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=article-share-top

"Understanding Iraq’s Ethnic and Religious Divisions": http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1167476,00.html

Add your voice for love of neighbor through peaceful means by supporting Churches for Middle East Peace. CMEP is a coalition of 25 national church denominations and organizations in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions whose mission is to encourage U.S. policies that actively promote a just, lasting, and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all the people of the region. http://www.cmep.org/

Let us together make a better world with love as the most powerful force.

----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 Ezekiel reading:

Thus says the Lord:

You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house

of Israel; when You hear me say anything,

you shall warn them for me.

Reflection:

Ezekiel, the warning sentinel, had to speak an uncomfortable word to his people. Most of us would rather not do that to those we know. But sometimes that’s the way God works in people’s lives – through us, called to be prophets by our baptism. So, like Ezekiel, we may have to be a warning sentinel to those not facing their responsibilities or hurting others.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Do I shirk my responsibility to speak up when I know something is not right?
  • When I confront a wrong or injustice do I approach the other in anger or charity?

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:

  • Timmy Grooms #0158506 (On death row since 4/24/98)
  • Johnny Hyde #0542024 (7/23/98)
  • Patrick Steen #0388640 (8/28/98)

----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 the above email address.

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 at least 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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