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Contents: Volume 2 - 6th Sunday/Ash Wednesday  – B – February 11, 2018 & February 14, 2018


 

6th SUN

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ASH

Wednesday

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Barbara Cooper, OP

3. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5. --

6.. (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Sun. 6 B

Our Gospel story reveals what a truly remarkable person Jesus was. His kindness and caring were so prominent throughout his life! How can we, Jesus's followers, reflect the same presence/ Presence in our broken world today?

Our first reading tells us that the horrors of leprosy long ago ostracized the person who contracted it to a life away from family and community, to be set apart with only other lepers. The isolation and loneliness must have been crushing to the person's spirit. Then here comes Jesus in the Gospel story, a man who cared enough to TOUCH a leper as part of his healing!

Who today is ostracized in your corner of our society? Is it those with certain illnesses including mental illnesses? Is it a group of people who are "different" in some recognizable way? Those who are refugees, undocumented, unemployed or homeless, those who deal with problems relating to alcohol or drugs, or those who are not heterosexual, all seem to be likely candidates to be among the marginalized. Each one needs Jesus to be in his/her life!

Fear plays an important and often subtle role in our life and actions. We may not be a risk-taker by nature, but at some point, we need to balance that part of us with our call as followers of Jesus to be compassionate. I need to sit with that one myself even as I write it!!!

I think it is unrealistic to throw caution to the wind and become an instant crusader in this fight. It is indeed a fight within oneself and against society's view of who is OK. It is also not something to be ignored if we want to grow spiritually to be more of an authentic Christian.

So what do we do? In my opinion, a good start is to examine prayerfully why we are a bit standoffish or downright scared when we encounter a particular person or situation that seems so difficult. Education wipes way fear, so start reading about the trait or illness or situation or group as well as what has been proven to be effective in breaking down barriers in this area. Then pray again about the terms "a person's behavior" and "a person's intrinsic worth", remembering that no one is perfect except God and each of us (even "them") are made in God's image. A bold step might be to talk with a person in such a situation as part of a recognized organization and learn about his/her story. The next time a similar situation arises, there will be a difference, perhaps a very small one, but it will be one step forward to acting/reacting more like Jesus.

If none of these situations touches your life, you might be among the white privileged in the USA as I have meekly found myself to be. Do check out the President of Seattle University, Fr. Steve Sundborg, S.J.'s written transcription of his recent talk on racial justice at https://www.seattleu.edu/commons/features/white-privilege.html

To what length will we go to help someone in our times who feels ostracized from mainstream society? The only answer to that will depend on why we think it is important to do so and the time and effort we will spend to allow change to happen within ourselves a little at a time. WWJD? or better yet, what DID Jesus do? seems to be a great nudge before we ask ourselves once again "what will I do?"

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B - February 11, 2018

Do you ever feel like you just "don't belong"? That life is unbearably lonely and you are isolated in a small boat stranded in heavy, dense, fog. That you are abandoned by God and people?

I imagine this is what the leper in today's gospel felt. In another story, ten lepers approach Jesus for healing. So maybe some who were expelled from society formed their own communities. But still, family ties were broken, old friends lost, and the only bond was a disfiguring illness and misery.

I wonder about the man in today's gospel story. He knelt before Jesus, trusting Jesus would receive him and help him. Were other people from a nearby village or town there? Even if his skin condition was not visible, people would probably have known him, or about him. Would some of the people in the crowd pick up stones to punish him and drive him away? He was breaking the law, and a threat to the health and ritual cleanliness of others.

Isn't it amazing that people who were outcasts, ritually unclean, despised by others, felt free to approach and even touch Jesus? Luke tells us about a woman who was also "unclean", having suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years. She sneaks up behind Jesus and touches the edge of his cloak, an act of extreme trust and daring due to her condition. And she is healed.

The leper in today's story is also daring. "If you wish, you can make me clean".

Jesus is deeply stirred. Think of the times when seeing the suffering of others moved you to tears, and even to action. We might say today that he "felt it in his gut". Jesus looks at this man, their eyes meet, and Jesus says: "Of course I want to". The leper is healed and restored to his loved ones.

The ending of this story is a bit confusing. Did Jesus really expect this man to be quiet about the affair, especially since he had to present himself to the priest for confirmation of his healing! Or is Mark telling us something about Jesus and our expectations of him? And his expectations of us?

What do you think?

Barbara Cooper, OP

Vancouver Island, BC Canada

bcoop60@yahoo.com

 

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Sixth Sunday of Ordered Time February 11 2018

Leviticus 13:1-2 & 44-48; Responsorial Psalm 32; 1st Corinthians 10:31- 11:1; Gospel Acclamation Luke 7:16; Mark 1:40-45

Craft-persons who work with the wonderfully diverse fibers found in wood soon discover the uniqueness of each wood from various trees. Cocobolo is such a difficult wood to shape because of its density – yet its basic orange with black and subtle veins of dark red is remarkably beautiful and the extra effort to shape it are rewarded. Walnut is a beautiful wood that responds to the application of steel with a lustrous satin finish. The pinkish hue of wild cherry and sycamore delight the eye with their gentleness, depth, and sense of kindness. The beauty of these gifts of nature in the hands of a skilled crafts-person provides us with useful and comforting furnishings that please the eye and lift us up with their artistry. Yet the natural beauty of all wood becomes less than trash when the wielder of chisel and saw and lathe lacks pleasing measures of proportion, symmetry, and ornamentation. Expert crafts-persons are skilled in measuring down to the smallest portion of a centimeter, of a thirty-second of an inch. We say of a beautiful creation that it meets the mark of artistry. Meeting the mark, the maker’s mark, is how made things are pleasing to the eye and useful for life. In like manner, the beauty of a human life is determined by a measure, as it were a maker’s mark. That is the standard of how our lives are measured in truth and spirit. Failing to meet the mark is failing to achieve the wonderful beauty of character, to make use of the possibilities of human life with which the creator offers us.

When the Hebrew tradition speaks of human failing, that tradition speaks of sin as failing to meet the maker’s mark. Something about our behavior, about our character, is out of whack with the "maker’s mark." For a Jewish theologian, sin is missing the mark of what we are, of how we were created in the image and likeness of the Creator. The potential instilled in us as newborns is ready for our choices and choices in agreement with the Marker’s Mark grow and expand the depth and wonder of our character.

Another way of thinking about it comes from the rituals of Yom Kippur. We know this perhaps better as the Day of Atonement. The word "Kippur" literally means "shining up" as in polishing silverware or cleaning a dirty, clouded mirror. The understanding is that throughout the year, the dirt and grime of decisions and actions chosen with no consideration or consciousness of what God wills covers over the image and likeness that is an essential element in God’s creation of us. So the Day of Atonement is a time for polishing up the silverware so we can see ourselves reflected there: it is the day of polishing the mirror, getting rid of the dirt and grime that clouds our perception of the image and likeness of God in which we were and are created and being recreated. Sin is missing the mark, the objective and true measure by which we evaluate ourselves as creatures whose lives reveal what God is. That we are in God’s image and likeness is a continual revelation of God in the material world.

The first reading this Sunday makes more sense to us if we keep in mind this understanding of sin. A leper is one who is unclean in comparison with the holiness of God. God is the maker who is the measure of what it means to be whole. God is the standard by which we measure if we are a thing of beauty and a revelation of God’s creative power. Because of this uncleanness, the leper – actually anyone with skin problems – is not allowed to worship God with the community. More than that, the leper is not allowed to participate in the social and economic life of the community. The human spirit cannot long survive without social interaction and some share in the economic processes of human life. The uncleanness of the leper was thought to be contagious not only physically, but also as an uncleanness of the spirit of the person. The focus is on safeguarding the life of the community. Because the leper – or the one possessed, born blind, lame, ill mentally or physically – is a threat to the safety of the community the leper is a throw-away persons. The understanding of the Hebrew nation is that uncleanness is not only an individual matter, but has an effect on the community’s thriving and flourishing.

In this context we gain a better understanding of Mark’s gospel. In just a few words, there is so much about our faith that we may easily overlook the lessons contained. Without knowing Judaism’s understanding of disease, possession, addiction, and sin we’ll reach only a surface appreciation of the narrative. If we dig deeper we’ll discover more to the message than a miracle of healing. First, the leper came to Jesus – contrary to the rules of Leviticus. Lepers were to stay removed from healthy persons. Yet this leper came close to Jesus, kneeling at his feet in an attitude of a beggar. Mark tells us Jesus was "moved" to pity. The Greek word Mark uses to describe Jesus being "moved" is more a gut-wrenching empathy at the pain of this leper. Jesus understands the pain of rejection and isolation this leper feels. Jesus is forbidden by the Law of Moses to touch this man or have any close contact with him. To touch this leper would make Jesus unclean and deny him opportunities for worship and social and economic engagement with the community until he was certified by the priest as purified. Yet Jesus by word and action cured him. Jesus touched a leper! What a scandal and a denial of the law his actions were! By this action, Jesus tells us to look into the pain of those around us – the sick, the outcasts, the immigrant, the homeless, the children abused, the outcasts of society, those on the margin because of language, disfigurement, those who are outside society, those who have no part in the economic life of our culture. By looking into the pain, we should be moved to empathy. We should be moved to touch and to bring healing to these people. This is a revelation of what God is. God’s character is visible by his continual compassion, mercy, and empathy for his creation. If we are to be whole (holy) we must imitate this characteristic of God.

The leper realized his condition and how it separated him from the life of the nation, of the community. He came to Jesus with faith – "If you wish, you can make me clean." Place ourselves in the role of the leper. Do we know what separates us from the Community, the Body of Christ? What is our illness, what sickness that separates us from the social and economic life of the Body of Christ? What do we cling to that blocks our vision of the image and likeness of God that is essential to our individual personalities, our character?

Early in my forty year career in Human Resources I participated in a team building exercise. One of the games of that program involved pieces of paper. The goal of the exercise was to create a perfect square with the pieces of paper by exchanging -- in silence – pieces of paper with the other eleven at the table. I had just been hired and was anxious to be accepted, to be looked upon as an asset to the management team. I was so proud that I was first to form a perfect square. I struggled with trying to understand the awful stares of the others at the table. They were angry, frustrated, and pointedly indicated I should release some pieces. It took a while but eventually I surrendered my pride of accomplishment and began letting go. In moments the team formed its communal square. What a wonderful first impression I made!

Perhaps I’m a one-off example and that no one else ever focuses on themselves to the exclusion of the Body of Christ. But I doubt it. What sort of leprosy is our specialty? For nearly a century, our Church focused on individual spirituality. It was about my sin and my relationship with God. Our growth in holiness turned in on ourselves. Sin was an offense against God. Yet, the nearly two thousand year history of Catholic tradition is focused on community. It is in community that we grow in holiness. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does work to reconcile us with God but also with community. Whenever we miss the mark of the Creator, we rend the fabric of human life, cloud the image and likeness we are to the world. The study of the history of thinking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation has begun to focus more on communal gatherings with personal confession and absolution in community. This focus is not a matter of mass produced reconciliation, a concession to priest shortage. It is meant to teach us, to call our attention to the fact that all sin is a sin against God’s creation. Reconciliation is not some ethereal thing between God and me: reconciliation is reconciliation with God’s creation. This return to harmony with God’s intention for us is essential for our mental health and for our ability to survive. It is salvation for us who find ourselves outside the community, living in conflict with the image and likeness installed within us by the Creative Father. Jesus the Christ comes to us and invites us to return to our rightful and nourishing place in the human community in which God wills we discover the wonder that we are. The fibers of the "wood" that we are God forms into a thing of beauty. As we sing in the Responsorial Psalm – "I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation."

"The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

=========Ash Wednesday February 14, 2018==========

Joel 2:12-18; Responsorial Psalm 51; 2nd Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

The beautiful first reading from the prophet Joel stirs our hearts as we begin to focus in this season of preparation for the great revelatory mystery of salvation that is Holy Week. The reading encourages us to think about ourselves and how we’ve been living. What is there about our choices, about how we think of ourselves, about how we relate to our families, about how we interact with our community, with those who work with us, how we treat customers, how we view persons who subsist on the margins of society? The saying of Jesus about criticizing our neighbor for the speck in his eye while overlooking the beam in our own eye comes to mind. How quickly we judge others and moan and groan about their lack of conscience! All the while we paint over the rotten wood of our lives effectively absolving ourselves of our weakness and errors.

It’s a difficulty that Ash Wednesday this year and the celebration of Valentine’s Day are on the same day. The displacement – for a day – of abstaining from sweets are delayed for Thursday. What a conflict! But why do we abstain from things, why do we give up for lent things of pleasure and satisfaction? We teach our children about Lenten sacrifice but stumble when they grow up enough to ask what good it does. Most of us focus on the doing penance as a way of purifying ourselves, of making us focus on letting go of habits and choices that are sinful. We miss the ancient tradition of taking the resources we would have used for our pleasure and providing help to the poor and marginalized. If we only save our resources for use after the Lenten fast is completed, we’ve given up nothing, only delayed our pleasure. As a child I remember pigging out on candy put aside during Lent as soon as the clock struck noon on Easter Saturday. Penance was only a delay of pleasure not a surrender of it.

However, it is more to the point with the readings for this day that we examine our life and look for where we miss the standard of life that is God. We seem hard-wired to protect ourselves from criticism. We have a hard time saying, "I’m wrong," or "I made a mistake," or "I need to change my view of others," or "I need to not let others mislead me," or saying "I’m sorry" to someone lesser than me. In the gospel for Ash Wednesday, Jesus instructs us to look at our personal motivations for doing penance. Penance is the way to overcome those things that cover over the errors of our choices. In Lent we set aside the standards for success the Way of the World tells us are the only standards. Power, wealth, influence, and celebrity are outside those who possess them. They are like the grasses that flower so quickly at dawn but fade and decay by noon. The interiority and value of the human person is much more than the way of the world holds out to us as success.

What is the success of the Christian? It is an imitation of God. The good news, the Gospel, is the revelation of what God is. God, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, is portrayed as merciful, compassionate, and filled with an overwhelming "loving kindness." The Second Vatican Council developed in its documents three characteristics of the church. These three things are solidarity, subsidiarity, and collegiality. Solidarity means that we are Catholic, that is, that we universally embrace all humanity in its diversity as worthy of God’s mercy and compassion. Subsidiarity means that decisions are made at the lowest possible level – a contradiction to autocracy and despotism. The principle of subsidiarity is based on the value and worth of each individual. Everyone has dignity and worth and must be respected as an individual who possesses the image and likeness of God within their person --- all persons are created equal: ALL persons. The third principle of collegiality has to do with decision making – well more than that. Collegiality is a way of decision making but more. It insists that the experience of each person has something to add to an understanding and application of God’s revelation in human history and explains the value and worth of each life. If we are thoughtful and think about God in the light of these three principles, we can identify subsidiary with the working of the Father who shares with the persons of the Son (the Word) and the Spirit his divinity. It is the Son who through his incarnation is in solidarity with creation, sharing their lives and their death. It is the Spirit who binds together the persons of the Father and the Son into a unity of oneness, a collegiality of living, human beings.

First, then as we begin Lent, let us examine our characters and measure ourselves against the measure that is the revelation of God. How do we match up with the Maker? As we discover the flaws in our character, we need a plan, an effort to develop our characters in alignment with the Mark of the Maker. As we disassociate ourselves from the measures of the world by penance, we must apply those economic savings to the benefit of the poor, the widows, the orphans, the immigrant, and those who are forgotten and excluded from society and from our economic processes.

The celebration of Ash Wednesday appeals to most of us. Many who attend Sunday worship infrequently will attend Ash Wednesday. We are signed with ashes – created by burning the palms from the preceding Palm Sunday celebration. The pomp and circumstance of last year’s Palm Sunday is reduced to ashes. How fitting to use the remains of pomp and circumstance to remind us of the passing nature of the measures of the Way of the World.

But there is another aspect to "ashes." The minister of the ashes reminds us, "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return." The dust of which we are made is the dust in the book of Genesis from which God created humanity. If we remember the story, it is on the sixth day that God creates living beings – animals. At the completion of the living beings out of the dust of the earth – dust that had been made life-giving by the waters of the heavens, the streams, and the lakes – God takes some of the moistened dust and molds in into the shape of a man. He doesn’t make this form a living being by his word only. Instead, God stoops down and breathes into the nostrils of the clay form his own breath, breath that is essential to human life. So even though we are from dust, we are different from the living beings, the animals. We have something in us that is different, more than the living beings – the animals. In the other story of the creation of humanity the narrative insists that God creates humanity in a different manner. Genesis begins this narrative by God speaking to himself. "Let US make mankind in our own image and likeness." These two stories are not in conflict with each other – we can’t say which of these is accurate and in truth it makes no difference. The message is not process, but a statement of who we are and the source of our dignity and worth. Each of these stories has something to tell us about what we are. Even though we are corruptible, what makes us different is the truth that we are true reflections of the image and likeness of God.

If we think of Ash Wednesday in this fuller way, we see Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to achieve the possibility of who we are as individual persons and as a collective Body that has been redeemed and assumed into the Body of Christ, the risen one.

"The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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LEPERS IN OUR LIVES: 6TH SUNDAY B

I guess some of you have seen the movie ‘Shine’ starring Geoffrey Rush. It tells the amazing story of the successful concert pianist, David Helfgott. Early on, even as he improves as a piano-player, he falls into a serious mental illness and starts to disintegrate as a person. He is suffering from manic depression. His moods keep swinging from the bright heights of elation, joy and excitement to the black depths of sadness, loneliness and despair. Very soon he loses his job, his home, his family, and is placed in a mental hospital. His psychiatrist even bans him from playing the piano. He ends up feeling acute pain, the pain of feeling worthless, hopeless, rejected and isolated. He is suffering all the symptoms of a social leper.

One day a woman named Gillian comes to visit one of the other patients at the hospital. Having been a long-time fan of his music, she sees David mooching around and recognises him. She says in the movie, ‘at once I knew what the rest of my life would be about’. She takes him into her home, looks after him, and takes on the responsibility for his recovery. Bit by bit he gets better, and with the help of medicine, he is able to control his mood swings. Most importantly to them both he returns to playing the piano. Soon he is on the concert platform again, and his performances to exuberant and enthusiastic audiences all over the world are a continuing personal triumph.

Of course ‘Shine’ is only a film. But its story is true. It really happened. It really happened through the providence of God and the love of a good woman. It’s a story too that is still happening because David Helfgott continues to enchant concert audiences. It will happen again for instance on April 28th, when he performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

That story is an extension of the message of Jesus in the Word of God today, which is about accepting and welcoming the broken, the despised, the rejected, the odd bods, the misfits, and the outcasts into our company and community, and about offering them help and healing by our openness and generosity. In fact Jesus challenges us to go out of our way to make contact with outcasts in the way that he put himself out to befriend that poor leper of our gospel story.

As a leper, the man was barred from going to the temple. He was not allowed to associate with others in any way. He was not allowed to even see his family or friends. If anyone came anywhere close he had to warn them by shouting ‘Unclean!’ ‘Unclean!’

Since today we don’t usually run into anyone with physical leprosy, we might identify at least some of those who are often treated as social lepers in society. Who might they include? Let me suggest the following: - Persons with AIDS; alcoholics; drug addicts; neurotics; psychotics; the very fat; the odd dressers; Gays and Lesbians; the handicapped; and even the homeless. At times the outcasts of society include persons with dementia; teenagers; asylum-seekers and refugees; Immigrants; those who speak different languages; and. believe it or not, sometimes even the elderly.

We can work out who we would consider outcasts by asking ourselves whom do we regard as not our kind of people. Whom would we avoid? Whom would we shun? Whom would we not want to be seen with or mix with? Whom would we leave off our Invitations to parties?

By contrast, it was said of Jesus, the great mixer with all kinds of people, high and low, rich and poor, successful or so-called ‘losers’, influential or ordinary: ‘This man welcomes outcasts and [even] eats with them’. His care, his kindness, his welcome, his compassion, his generosity and his healing-touch towards outsiders come through loudly and clearly in all the details of today’s story of his meeting with the leper. He not only healed the man of his hideous and embarrassing skin disease, but he also healed him of his social isolation by bringing him back to his friends, family and community.

Today Jesus is challenging me to rethink and alter my attitudes, my judgments, and my behaviour, towards all kinds of people who are different from me. What about you? Do you find him challenging you as well? How might Jesus be challenging both you and me? Let’s think about that for a minute or two at least!

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

 

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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.

-- Fr. John
 


 

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