Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

It’s time to prepare for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time. We share this Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection June 17 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Mark 4:26-34

[Jesus said to the crowd] “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man was to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Background

The gospel text for today is composed of two short parables that draw on the common experience of people of the day. Both parables reflect the experience of planting seeds, and how they develop into mature plants. Most of us would consider their undertraining to be very primitive. But the reality for them and for us how plants grow from seeds to a mature plant is still very much a mystery. But we all know that the farmers must do their part – weeding, fertilizing, and watering. The fact that the farmer is doing none of these things in the first parable would be immediately noticed.

Agriculture was also one of the places where people of Jesus’ time could be surprised by abundance. For the most part, people believed that everything had already been distributed by God, and there was no more where that had come from. If a person suddenly had more of almost anything than they had the day before, it was assumed that they had gotten it by some improper means.

Thus, the woman who finds her lost coin throws a lavish party to celebrate finding the coin. She makes her discovery public, warding off suspicion and speculations about how she got the coin. It is also much less likely that neighbors will be critical if they have enjoyed a portion of its fruit.

But farming was one of the places where the surprise of abundance might be experienced without the presumption of foul play. At the same time there was also an understanding that if one did have more than they needed for their survival, the abundance was to be shared with those in need. Thus the familiar parable of the farmer who thought he would build larger storage bins for an abundant harvest and live off his surplus for years in the future. He died enjoying neither the abundant harvest, nor the good reputation he could have had by sharing the abundance with those in need. Instead, when he died, a different reputation continued on after his death.

Reflection Questions

1. When I think of people who spend their lives as farmers…
2. The reign of God is like…
3. When I think of my experience of the mystery of the reign God…
4. When I think about watching a seed grow into a large bush or a tree…
5. When I consider Jesus explaining the meaning of the parable to the disciples…
6. Can you take some time to talk to God about his use of farming parables, or your sense of the realm of God unfolding around you, or whatever arose in you as you considered these two parables?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time!  We share this Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection June 10 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Sacred Heart Parish, Shawano, Wisconsin

Mark 3:20-35

He [Jesus] came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Background

The opening verses of the third chapter of Mark’s gospel describe Jesus entering a synagogue on a sabbath and encountering a man with a withered hand. The officials are described as watching Jesus to see if he would cure the man, so that they would have something for which they could accuse him. Jesus called the man to the front and then asked the officials if it was lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil. When they did not respond, Jesus is described as becoming angry and grieving the hardness of their hearts. Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand and when he did so it was restored. Mark then says, “the Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.” (Mark 3:1-6)

Mark then reports that Jesus withdrew with his disciples toward the sea and that large crowds of people followed him. They came from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, and from the surrounding area. The crowds were so large that Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready so that he could avoid being crushed by the crowd. Mark also reports that whenever unclean spirts saw him they would fall down before him and shout,
“You are the Son of God.” (Mark 3:11b)

Mark’s text immediately preceding the text for this Sunday tells of Jesus summoning his followers, selecting twelve to be with him and to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. Mark names those disciples, and then verse 20 states that Jesus returned home, and the rest of today’s gospel text follows.

Reflection Questions

1. My relationship with my family has been mostly…
2. The time I brought the most bewilderment to my family was…
3. What are some reasons why Jesus’ relatives might say that “He is out of his mind?”
4. If I had been there when the scribes said that Jesus was able to cast out demons because Jesus himself was possessed by a demon, I would have liked to…
5. If I had been there when Jesus said “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” I would have thought to myself …
6. After prayerful reading of this gospel text, can you talk with Jesus about you are feeling about your relationship to Jesus and Jesus’ relationship to you, or about some other awareness that has arisen within you?

Comments please: I tried a different style of reflection questions this week. If you have some time, please let me know if you found this style of questions helpful?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Praised be the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! We celebrate this great mystery of our faith as we share this Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection June 3 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Holy Family Parish, Marinette, Wisconsin and St. Therese Parish, Appleton, Wisconsin

Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Background

There is general agreement among scripture scholars that John’s chronology of the events of Jesus’ death is closer to how the events of Jesus’ passion unfolded than that found in the synoptic gospels. Jesus died on the afternoon before the celebration of Passover began, and his body was removed from the cross before sunset as the Jews gathered to begin the traditional meal. This means that Jesus’ final meal with his disciples was not a Passover meal.

Nonetheless, Mark and the early Christians understood their celebration as a new kind of Passover. Just as the celebration of Passover was not just a remembering of what had happened one night in Egypt, but a renewal of the relationship that was formed on that night, so the early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper by his followers was a way to enter again into Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and the relationship that was founded in that celebration. Their understanding and appreciation grew as they participated in the ritual itself and reflected on its meaning. The condensed description of Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples that appears as our text reflects years of reflection on their old traditions, their remembrance of Jesus, and their new experiences as people who believed Jesus to be the Messiah.

Reflection Questions

1. What kind of thoughts and feelings come to mind as you think of your own body?
2. What kind of thoughts and feelings come to mind as you think of your blood?
3. In the first part of this gospel Jesus tell his disciples how to find the room that they should prepare for the Passover. The events unfold as Jesus had predicted. What is being revealed here? Why?
4. Why do you think Jesus did not use something else like pebbles and wild flowers to become his body and blood? What would have been the benefit of pebbles and wild flowers over bread and wine? What would be missing?
5. What does this tell you about God’s desire to be with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist?
6. In another gospel Jesus says in a familiar parable: “Amen, I say to you, what you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) This would seem to indicate another way Jesus’ body is present to us. Are you aware of ways the most holy body and blood of Christ are present to us as we celebrate this feast?
7. Can you take some time talk to God about your thoughts and feelings around the Eucharist, or about this feast, or your own experience of your body and blood?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Most Holy Trinity

The Lord bless you with abundant graces this Trinity Sunday! Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection May 27 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay, Wisconsin; St. Joseph Parish, Cold Spring, Kentucky

 

Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Background

Matthew devotes only twenty verses (chapter 28) to the resurrection. It would be worth reading the chapter in its entirety. But here is a summary of the events as they are recorded by Matthew.

Both Mary and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb as dawn arrived on the first day of the week. They witnessed an earthquake and an angel rolling back the stone from the cave. The angel instructed them to go to the disciples and tell them, “He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Matthew 28:7) The Marys left the tomb fearful yet overjoyed and ran to the disciples. On their way they encountered Jesus himself who told them, “Do not be afraid, go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10) They were frightened but ran to tell the disciples. Soldiers who had been guarding the tomb told the high priests what had happened. The chief priests and the leaders met and decided to bribe the soldiers to say that Jesus’ disciples had come in the night and carried off the body. The soldiers took the money and did as they were told. The people of Judea still tell this story. The remainder of the chapter is the text for this Sunday’s gospel.

The gospel text for today demonstrates that the Marys were faithful to what they were commissioned to do: go tell the disciples. Despite being caught in the two emotions of joy and fear, they acted. The opening of the text reminds the reader that the disciples were also faithful to what was asked of them. They were instructed to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. They too were caught between two emotions: doubt and worship. But they were still commissioned “to make disciples of all the nations,” to baptize, and to teach. (Matthew 28:19-20) Jesus’ earlier instruction to the disciples not to enter a pagan or Samaritan area had now been set aside. (Matthew 10:5) They were to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In actuality it was not until the end of the first century that the Christian community baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Trinity was at least somewhat understood. The Christian community was still developing its understanding of the Trinity.

The fact that we will gather to celebrate this feast is evidence that the disciples were also faithful to the commissioning they received from Jesus in today’s gospel. They were faithful, as well as all those who came after them have been faithful in passing on their relationship with God from one person to the next, down to us. Because of this faithfulness from generation after generation, we gather as a Church to celebrate our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

1. How do you experience God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit?
2. When you enter into times of personal prayer, do you find you pray to one person of the Trinity more often or even exclusively? Has that changed over the years?
3. How do you understand your relationship to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit?
4. When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped and they doubted. What does that suggest to you about their relationship to Jesus?
5. Jesus’ command is that we are to make disciples of people of every nation, to baptize, and to teach everything that Jesus taught. Where do you find examples of our faithfulness to this command?
6. Where are the places that you are trying to live Jesus’ instruction?
7. Can you take some time to talk with God about how you are feeling as you listen to this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Feast of Pentecost

Saint Francis of Assisi discerned the Holy Spirit’s action in his life often. On this Pentecost Sunday we invite you to pray with three possible Gospel texts for the feast. The first, John 7:37-39 is for the Vigil Mass. Either John 14:15-16, 23b-26 or John 20:19-23 are texts for Masses on the Feast. Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection May 20 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing. Find here just one reflection.

Photos: St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay, Wisconsin

John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Background

The third Gospel text for Pentecost is also from John’s Gospel. The text presents a different kind of experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples than is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11(the first reading for Masses on the Feast).

The disciples have gathered on the first day of the week, that same day as the resurrection. The Sabbath was celebrated on the last day of the week and looked backward over the past week. It was also an occasion to remember what God had done in their history. The first day of the week looks forward to the week ahead. Jesus’ presence with them now is not about the past events of his death and resurrection, but about what they are being commissioned to do from this point forward.

While the disciples have gathered in fear, they are sent out just as the Father sent Jesus. They have some real reasons to be afraid that those who arrested, tried, and crucified Jesus may move against them, too. However, the presence of the risen Lord is not impeded by the physical restraint of a locked door. But he is the same Jesus who was crucified, and he shows them his wounds. He stands in their midst, not above or apart, and greets them with, “peace.” This greeting is the common greeting of the day, and it is also a prayer for health, prosperity, and all good that comes with the end times. Jesus stands among them as the fulfillment of that greeting. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit – an action that mirrors God breathing life into Adam. The disciples receive the power to both bind and forgive sins. The expression names the two extremes, like north and south, or body and blood, and it is intended to communicate the full range of power between the two extremes. In John’s Gospel, sin is defined as the refusal to accept Jesus and his teaching. By asking the disciples to be agents of forgiveness, Jesus is commissioning them to be agents to reach out to those who have rejected Jesus and his teachings. The text seems to use the energy that is present when two opposites are brought together to describe the new energy that is released by God upon the disciples.

Reflection Questions

1. Do you know people who primarily live life for the future? Do you know people who primarily live life out of the past? Which are you more like?
2. Do you know people who primary live life in fear? Do you also know people who primary live life with hope? Which are you more like?
3. Have there been occasions when you were aware of dangers or risks but you acted in a way that did not let fear dominate your actions? What was your motivation?
4. How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your own life?
5. Have there been times when the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in a dramatic way and times when the Spirit has been gently present to you… as gentle as your own breath?
6. How has God sent Jesus into the world? If you are sent in that same way, what does that mean for you?
7. Can you take time now to talk with God about your awareness of God’s presence in your life, your desire to be an instrument of peace and reconciliation for another, or the fear that keeps you locked up?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Ascension of the Lord

Special  Franciscan greetings of peace and joy on the Ascension of the Lord (7th Sunday of the Easter)! Most dioceses in the United States celebrate the feast of the Ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter. Therefore, the background and reflection questions here will focus on the gospel for that feast. Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection May 13 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Agnes Parish, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Immaculate Conception Convent, Yuma, Arizona

Mark 16:15-20

He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Background

The early Christians understood the Lord’s ascension as part of Jesus’ resurrection, and not as a separate event in the life of Jesus. This understanding is illustrated in Luke’s gospel. The events of that first day of the week include the three who go to anoint the body of Jesus and Peter all encountering an empty tomb, Jesus’ revealing himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, his appearance and commissioning of the disciples in Jerusalem, and lastly his ascension. In Luke all these things happen on the first day of the week.

On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the Mother of James went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They found the tomb empty and were asked by two men in dazzling garments, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” They returned to the disciples and announced what had happened. Peter ran to the tomb and found only the burial cloth. That same day, two of them were on the road to Emmaus when Jesus himself began to walk with them, but they did not recognize him. The two were telling Jesus of the things that had happened in Jerusalem, and of the hope that they had had in Jesus. They also told Jesus that on that day some women were at the tomb and did not find the body of Jesus, but returned instead with an astonishing story that they were told in a vision that he was among the living. Then Jesus, still not recognized by the two, reinterpreted the events in light of the scriptures. That evening when they entered the town of Emmaus, the two invited Jesus to stay with them, and it was there when they broke bread together that they recognized him. They returned at once to Jerusalem and found the eleven and the disciples gathered. Those gathered told the two that the risen Jesus had appeared to Simon. And while they were all still speaking Jesus appeared. He invited them to touch him and ate some fish to reassure them that they were not seeing a ghost. Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and commissioned them to be his witnesses, and promised to send “the promise of my Father up you.” “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Summary of Luke 24, quoted 24:50-53)

Therefore to think of this feast as a commemoration of an historical event in the life of Jesus that took place separate from the resurrection would not be appropriate. Rather, the feast is an opportunity to reflect on one aspect of the full revelation of God, that is, the Resurrection.

The gospel text itself tells of the signs that will accompany the disciples’ preaching. The signs that are mentioned in this text are mostly those reported in the Acts of the Apostles. By putting them in the future at the end of the Gospel, the author is giving his hearers a great deal of assurance that Jesus is still present with the community even after the Ascension. Jesus’ presence however has changed, from an individual person distinct from them to one who is now present in the person of the disciples.

Reflection Questions

1. What are your experiences of departures in your life? (For example: moving away, going to different schools, ending a relationship, or death.)
2. When have you initiated the departure, and when has it been thrust upon you?
3. Were there any moments of blessing that arose because of the departure for you, or for the other, or for your relationship?
4. When have you felt the absence of God in your own life?
5. How were the disciples changed by Jesus’ ascension?
6. In opening line of this gospel text, Jesus asked the disciples to go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. When you hear these words today, what do you hear God asking of you?
7. Can you talk to God about how you feel about being sent into the world to proclaim the gospel, or about any sense of loss that you are feeling at this time of your life, or about some other idea that arose within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Peace be with you on this Sixth Sunday of Easter! Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection May 6 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photo: St. Bernard Parish, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

John 15: 9-17

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

Background

In last Sunday’s gospel text, Jesus used the image of a grapevine to describe his relationship with God and the disciples’ relationship with him. The gospel for this Sunday follows last week’s gospel. Here, the intimate nature of those same relationships is described as agape love and is contrasted to the one-sided relationship of the master and slave.

The Greek word for love here is not eros, the passionate love that seeks to possess, nor philia, the attachment of family relationships. Instead John uses the word agape. This is the only word he uses to describe the love of God, and it is used eight times in this text. Each time, the word is placed in the aorist tense which means that it refers to a particular act of love. This tense of the verb indicates that John is not referring here to God’s timeless ever-present love for us that has been manifested continuously throughout history. The single unique expression of God’s love that John is referring to is the Son’s obedience to the Father in becoming present in the person of Jesus. John refers to God’s call to accept this mission that was heard by Jesus and those present at his baptism. (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22)

God’s love, manifested in Jesus’ acceptance of his mission of being one among us, is the foundation that characterizes our relationship with God. The focus is not on our love, but on God’s invitation to remain in the on-going permanent love of God. That relationship is maintained through obedience to God’s commandments. It is also found in the disciple who is willing to lay down his/her life for the other like the Good Shepherd. Faithfully living God’s commandments is the way disciples recognize that they are remaining in the relationship to which they have been invited. Like the gospel text from last Sunday, the disciples are reminded that their relationship with God is not just for itself, but it must bear fruit. Just being part of the vine is not enough.

While the text does speak of maintaining one’s relationship with God by being obedient, it is not by maintaining one’s relationship with the Hebrew community that one maintains this relationship with God. Instead John characterizes this relationship with God as inviting us into a friendship with Jesus. This relationship is not based in being part of a people, but on a more personal relationship that also carries with it a personal willingness to lay down one’s life for the other. This not the responsibility of the community as a whole, but of each individual as they are invited by God to share in this relationship.

Reflection Questions

1. Can you recall a relationship that you would describe as an experience of agape love, another of philia love, and another of eros love? What blessings do you think you received from each of those relationships? What blessings did you bestow on the other(s)?
2. Do you remember times in your life when you felt chosen? (Perhaps to be part of a team, a role in a drama production, a position of leadership in an organization, etc.) Do you also remember times when you felt passed over?
3. Have you ever felt like you had become an adopted member of a family?
4. Can you recall occasions when you knew that you needed to die to some part of yourself for the wellbeing of another? Do you think of that occasion as an act of love?
5. Is it easier to talk about how you love, or how you have loved a person, or even God?
6. Do you think of God as loving you individually? How is your response reflected in your prayer?
7. Can you take some time now to talk to God about your experience of God’s love for you, your desire to respond to God’s love for you, or some other thought that arose from you as you read this gospel text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fifth Week of Easter

Greetings of joy on the Fifth Sunday of Easter! Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection April 29 2018 Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, Pennsylvania

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Background

The image of God as the master gardener is familiar. Usually Israel would have been represented as the vine through which individuals maintain their relationship with God.

“Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes. Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do to my vineyard: Take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.” (Isaiah 5:1-7)

In the above text, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the vineyard that God has planted. But the vineyard has refused to bear good fruit. In the gospel text, John uses the image of a vine that carries life throughout the plant to teach the Christian community that it is through their relationship with Jesus Christ that they maintain their relationship with God. Another appealing aspect of this is that it is difficult to tell where the grapevine’s vine ends and the branches begin. Like with grapevines, the different branches spring out from each other and are twisted about each other. The text also emphasizes that the purpose of the plant is to produce a harvest. The nonbearing branches are pruned away from the plant so that new branches will grow that will produce a harvest. Any branch that is cut off from the vine will die.

The vine becomes a great image for the new Christian community that is dealing with diversity within itself. That diversity can cause some strain on their relationships with each other and the community itself. The new Christians came from Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. They were Jews and Greeks. Among the first followers of Jesus were those, like Paul, who at first openly persecuted Jesus and his followers. John uses the image of the vine to speak to this diverse group of people. The risen Christ gives each of them life and binds them together. To be cut off from the other branches is to be cut off from the life source itself.

A system of patronage was widely used at the time of Jesus. Normally people received the goods they needed through a system of trading. If this system failed to meet the needs of people, other sources would have to be developed. People at the time of the Jesus would seek out someone with more influence to be his or her patron. If the patron accepted the responsibility, they would seek what was needed for the other. A patron had no expectation of repayment. Instead, the patron would receive abundant public praise from those that they sponsored. The public admiration that was inspired by others proclaiming one’s generosity and compassion was highly valued by people of the day.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your experience of gardening, or growing plants? What have you learned from this about yourself, and/or your relationships?
2. How does the image of pruning plants speak to you?
3. How diverse is your family, your faith community, or your work or social community? Does the image of the vine in the gospel text speak to you?
4. Have you known people who felt they were not welcomed in your faith community? Do you also know the people who strive to make sure everyone is included and welcome?
5. What are some of the signs that indicate to you that a relationship is healthy?
6. Are there places where you have needed to do some pruning?
7. The gospel talks about “bearing fruit” and remaining “attached to the vine.” What is the difference?
8. Have there been times in your life when you put more emphasis on either bearing fruit or remaining attached? Did that emphasis come out your own need at the time?
9. Can you take some time to talk with God about your desire for your relationship with God, or your desire to bear fruit, or an area in your relationships that needs some pruning?

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ April Prayer for Economists

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy shares on Pope Francis’ April prayer intention for economists and another line from Tom Kendzia’s song Now is the Time.

…Spirit of hope, stand before our eyes. Make us your own, now is the time… This line from Tom Kendzia’s song introduces our thoughts for a new month. Spring awaits its moment to burst forth. These are the days of hope’s new birth opening before our eyes. God brings forth new life again and it is ours to see and celebrate!

In this season of newness we look at Pope Francis’ intention which asks us to pray, That economists may have the courage to reject any economy of exclusion and know how to open new paths. When Pope Francis met with leaders of the U.N. in 2014 he shared the following thoughts: “I would like to remind you of an incident which took place two thousand years ago and is recounted in the Gospel of Saint Luke (19:1-10). It is the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus, as a result of which Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus. The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others.”


Though we may not be able to contribute to the needs of others from our personal economic resources, we know that our Community helps in our name. However, we can offer our prayer always and everywhere and in some situations we can offer our time and energy to help those who are excluded by society. Keep in prayer those individuals and agencies who make it their work to bring economic justice and security to those who lack the basic needs of life.

Our Core Value statement reminds us that In the spirit of St. Francis, we read the signs of the time and express our love for the Church by loving service…

The signs of our time surely cry out for those who selflessly serve, those who recognize injustice and decry it, those who hold up in prayer the ones who have little reason to hope and cry out in their behalf. Let our prayerful support of all who work for economic justice, as well as our own work and appeals to God in the name of the poor and downtrodden be a source of hope in the world. For, now is the time!

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Easter

Blessings on this Fourth Sunday of Easter! Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection April 22 2018 Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Peter Cathedral, Marquette, Michigan

John 10:11-18

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

Background

The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” On this Sunday, in each year of the three-year cycle, the gospel reading is taken from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, where Jesus draws on the image of a good shepherd in his teaching. The Jewish Christian community would have been familiar with shepherds of the day, and familiar as well with the use of this image in their religious teaching, in places like Psalm 23 and the prophet Ezekiel.

The gospel text for today is composed of two statements, each of which begins with the sentence: “I am the good shepherd.” In the first statement, Jesus portrays himself as a shepherd who takes his commitment to care for his sheep so seriously that he is willing to put his own life. Shepherds of the day were viewed as people who lacked moral responsibility. That Jesus would call himself a good shepherd would have drawn the attention of those who were listening.

Jesus’ second statement uses the image of the shepherd to describe a Christology, the relationship of God to the world in and through the second person of the Trinity. The shepherd is described as having a special and intimate relationship with God, which is extended, through him, to the sheep and beyond. His shepherding reaches beyond his fold to those that belong to other folds. These others also recognize his voice and follow him, becoming part of the “one fold.” He does not do this on his own, but because he is faithful to the will of God.

Shepherds of the day would often secure their sheep in a common pen for the night. In the early hours of the morning they would call to their sheep and lead them to pasture. If a shepherd was able fool a sheep from a different fold into following him, that unfortunate sheep would be slaughtered by the deceitful shepherd. Therefore, Jesus is using the image of a shepherd in a way that would be surprising to the people of the day. He is the shepherd who purposefully calls not only the sheep of his flock, but other flocks as well, not to destroy and take advantage of them, but to give them life.

Reflection Questions

1. Who in contemporary society would you cast in a similar light as a shepherd in Jesus’ day? What would Jesus be saying to you if he called himself a good _______ ?
2. Who are some people who risk their personal safety to protect others from danger? Who do you know personally?
3. Have you ever been in a situation where you put your well-being or reputation at risk to respond to the needs of another?
4. Would it be easier for you to live your life taking on possible personal bodily harm, or giving of yourself over the daily care of a person with special needs?
5. Who do you think Jesus was talking about when he said that he has other sheep not of this fold?
6. In the second portion of this gospel, Jesus talks about his relationship to the Father and to the flock. What qualities of that relationship stand out to you?
7. Can you take time to talk to God about your response to those qualities of God’s relationship to you, or the image of Jesus as a good shepherd, or some other thought that arose in you as you prayed with this text?