Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Feast of the Holy Family

Blessings on this Christmas Season! The Feast of the Incarnation is followed closely by the Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Today we are grateful for families as we share a 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 December 30 2018 . You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are 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: Christmas with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity

Luke 2:41-52

Each year his Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

Background

For Luke, the author of this Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem is a significant place. His gospel begins in Jerusalem, with Zechariah entering the Holy of Holies and learning of the future birth of John. Luke’s gospel ends in Jerusalem with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jerusalem is where the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and are sent out into the world.

In this gospel text Luke notes that Jesus is twelve years old. The Law of Moses requires that every male child at this age make the trip to Jerusalem for Passover. This then is the first time Jesus would have been allowed to make the journey with the other adult members of his community, and read the Word of God in the temple. It marks his standing as an adult within the community and a time of transition for Jesus.

Traditionally twelve was the age when boys left the world of their mothers and the other women, and they entered the much harsher world of their fathers and the other adult males. The women of the extended family had been exclusively responsible for the raising of the children. Sons, because they were more valued, received special attention. When the boys left the protection of the women, the fathers and men of the community believed it was their responsibility to prepare them for the harsh realities of the world, where they would be responsible for the survival and protection of their family and community.

The caravans of pilgrims, like the rest of society, were segregated. Women and children traveled separately from the men. Because Jesus was just twelve, he might have traveled with either the men or the women. Therefore, Mary could have reasonably presumed that Jesus was traveling with Joseph, and Joseph assumed that he was traveling with Mary. Apparently, when the caravan stopped for the night, each learned that Jesus was not traveling with the other. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, perhaps without the benefit of traveling with a group.

They found their son involved in a discussion with the religious teachers of the temple. Luke seems to portray Jesus as one of the learned religious wise men of the day. But at the same time, Jesus is also shown as an irresponsible member of his family. He has been the cause of great stress and perhaps imperiled Mary and Joseph in their return to Jerusalem. His response to them in verse 49 adds to his poor behavior. (The form of verb that is used in “don’t you know” is plural, indicating he is addressing both Mary and Joseph.) While the text does not include Jesus’ recognition of his lack of responsibility, or an apology to Mary and Joseph, it does conclude by stating that Jesus returned with them and remained obedient to them, again plural. In the last verse of the text, Luke states that Jesus advanced in age, wisdom, and favor before God and men.

By including what might be looked upon as a humiliating story about Jesus’ shameful lack of consideration to his parents, Luke is making a theological statement about who Jesus’ true Father is. In responding to his parent’s concern about his absence from their caravan, he tells them he has been in his Father’s house (verse 49). Jesus is not only living between the worlds of men and women of his day, but he is also living between the world of his father Joseph’s house and that of his Heavenly Father. Just as Jesus has not fully made the transition to a responsible adult of his day, neither has he completely made the transition to God his Father at this point in the gospel. Therefore, he returns to Nazareth, and in doing so he advances before God and men.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of your own transition from adolescent to being an adult, some of the things that come to mind are…
2. When you think of Mary and Joseph stopping at the end of a day’s journey and discovering that Jesus is not among them…
3. When you imagine Jesus getting caught up in a discussion with the teachers of the day…
4. When you hear Jesus respond to his parents’ concern for him, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, what feelings and thoughts are most present to you?
5. Can you take some time now to talk with God about the image of Jesus that Luke presents here, or about your own experience of becoming an adult, or your struggle now to live both in your real world and in the world of God?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is here and close behind is the Feast of the Incarnation! We share a 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 December 23 and 25 2018. You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are 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 Advent tree wreath, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Christ the Light Parish, Cambridge, Ohio

Luke 1:39-45

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Background

The Gospel for this Sunday follows immediately after Luke’s description of Mary accepting the invitation to be the mother of Jesus. Some have suggested that Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, in order to help Elizabeth. But Luke reports that Mary left Elizabeth before John was born. “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.” (Luke 1:56-57) Therefore Mary would have left Elizabeth during that period when she would have needed the most assistance.

Luke does not indicate a precise location from which Mary left, nor the town to which she went. This would seem to indicate that it was both an insignificant place and not important for what he wants his community to know. But what Luke’s community would notice is that Mary seems to be traveling alone. Women in this culture were always in the company of other women, children, and/or a male protector. For Mary, a fourteen-year-old girl, to travel alone would be enough to accuse her of being a shameful character. Yet the text calls Mary “blessed” three different times: twice in verse 42, for her unique role in God’s plan, and lastly in verse 45 for her faith in God. On one hand, the details that Luke includes seem to cast Mary in a rather suspicious light, yet he strongly asserts that she is blessed.

One explanation is based in the people’s understanding of procreation at the time. Men were believed to implant a full but miniature human being within a woman. The woman’s role was to nurture the minute human being within her body until it was ready to be born and begin its independent life. With this understanding, the pregnant Mary was not traveling alone but with a male protector who is so powerful that even the unborn John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary enters their presence.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your experience of women telling you that they are pregnant? What happens within you when you hear their news?
2. When you hear in today’s gospel that Mary set out in haste to visit Elisabeth…
3. If you too had been visiting Elizabeth when Mary arrived at the house, you would have said to her…
4. Luke’s portrait of Mary emphasized her faith and her willingness to do things that might cast her in a poor light before others. How does this view of Mary fit with your image of Mary?
5. When you think of people who you consider truly people of faith and trust in God, do you find that they do things that might be considered out of character or even scandalous?
6. Can you talk to God now about how he used Mary to bring Jesus into the world, or about your own desire to be an instrument of God’s presence in your world, or about some other thought that this gospel raised within you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Advent 2018

This Third Sunday of Advent, we rejoice with great expectation in the Lord’s coming to each of us now and forever. We share a 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 December 16 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. Peter Mission, Bapchule, Arizona; Immaculate Conception Convent, Yuma, Arizona

Luke 3:10-18

And the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

Background

John is associated with preparing for a messiah, and the expectation at the time was that a messiah would come to bring a political transformation. John, too, looks for a Messiah who will come with the Holy Spirit and fire. He would bring judgment, and usher in a new age that would be free from Roman rule. But as Luke records John’s message, he keeps John’s message that the Messiah would lead Israel to throw off Roman rule and become a great nation very subtle. Perhaps this is because he does not want the Roman authorities to look at the early Christians as a threat to their authority.

Three times the question is asked of John, “What should we do?” John is calling everyone to repentance, a repentance that is demonstrated by a change in how one lives daily life. John does not suggest that people join his austere life in the desert; but that they live with concern for others, honestly, and with integrity. Each time John is asked “what we should do,” his response indicates that they should live out their given role in society faithful to their responsibilities, considerate of others, and not taking advantage of their position.

Verse 12 begins with “even tax collectors…” Luke is making sure his audience is aware that even tax collectors and soldiers were responding to John’s call to conversion. The fact that John was instructing them as to how they should behave also suggests that their conversion had awakened in them a sincere effort to live differently. The tax collectors in verse 12 could be likened to toll collectors. Often, they could not find other types of work, and they were forced to collect tolls as people were crossing roads or bridges, or entering ports or city gates. The soldiers mentioned in verse 14 were guards who were assigned to protect the tax collectors. Both the tax collectors and the soldiers would be Jews who were despised by others because they were looked upon as aiding an occupying Roman government.

Reflection Questions

1. Luke states in verse 15 that the people were filled with expectation. When you think of being filled with expectation…
2. When you think of people who need to be invited to live with a sense of expectation…
3. If you were to ask John what is it that you should do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, you suspect he might say something like…
4. Of all the people who were coming to John for baptism, why would Luke single out soldiers and tax collectors?
5. John seems to know himself and who he is not. He also asks people to live within the limits of their life. Can you talk to God about you desire to live authentically your own station in life, or some struggle you may be having to live beyond yourself, or some other awareness that arose within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Second Sunday of Advent 2018

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are serious in our desire to grow in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We share a 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 December 2 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 Chapel, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Background

The first two verses of the gospel text ground the gospel in the civil and religious history of the day. Luke states that the events he records in his gospel took place at a particular time in the events of the world. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias and even Annas and Caiaphas were all leaders who were associated with dark periods in their history rather than any sense of deliverance. Luke has deliberately placed John’s ministry (and Jesus’) within the context of these world events.

Luke also includes details that place these events in the context of the community’s understanding of their relationship as the chosen people of God. Naming the Jordan River as the place where John was baptizing (verse 3) would link John’s baptism with their ancestors’ wandering in the desert. The Jordan River was crossed as they entered the Promised Land, and it became a symbol of their entrance to a new life. Luke also reminds his community that John is the son of Zechariah and therefore a member of the priestly family, which is typically associated with the temple in Jerusalem. To find John in the desert baptizing would be an oddity and would arouse curiosity.

While the ritual of baptizing that John used is not described, it is understood as an expression of repentance or conversion. In this context, the Jordan River carries the symbol of preparing for a new way of living. This new way of living is given an eschatological character, which is reinforced by reference to the prophet Isaiah. The prophet describes the glorious coming of the Lord when he will be revealed to all. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” (Isaiah 40:1-4)

Although these events took place in a remote and unimportant part of the world, Luke suggests that these events have a significance beyond what is apparent. They will impact all people and all of creation.

Reflection Questions

1. What do you know about the circumstances of your family, the world, and the church at the time when you were born?
2. When you think of the significant people and events of your life…
3. Why might people of the day travel out into the desert and be baptized as an expression of their willingness to repent and change their lives?
4. When you think of repentance in your life…
5. Have there been times in your life when repentance and forgiveness were more important or less important to you?
6. When you consider John’s role in his place and time…
7. Can you speak with God now about how this text asks you to look at your life, or the world around you, or about how waiting can be an instrument of God’s desire?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: First Sunday of Advent 2018

On this First Sunday of Advent we begin the first day of a new Church year. As we all pray for a deeper encounter with Jesus, we share a 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 December 2 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: Motherhouse Bulletin Board, St. Bernadette Parish, Appleton, Wisconsin

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Background

The gospels of Matthew (24:3-44), Mark (13:3-37) and Luke (21:7-36) each contain a place where the disciples marvel at the beauty of the Temple of Jerusalem and Jesus predicts its destruction. The disciples inquire when this event will happen. Jesus responds by telling them that before this takes place, they will experience catastrophic events within creation, and human disasters, and they will suffer persecution and death. This description of future events in each of the synoptic gospels is known as a “little apocalypse.” Two weeks ago, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the gospel was a portion of Mark’s “little apocalypse.” Today’s text comes from Luke’s gospel.

Scripture scholars generally agree that Luke drew upon Mark’s gospel. However, while Mark wrote before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, Luke wrote approximately 15 years after the Romans razed it. Luke tries to separate what has already happened from what is yet to come. The fall of the temple was emotionally disheartening for the Jews. Luke thus points to a much more vital event yet to come, which will be signaled by cosmic disturbances. These signs will signal the coming of Christ as Judge of the World.

The modern reader might hear the warning against giving in to carousing and the anxieties of daily life, and presume that Luke is addressing a social situation not very different from our own. However, Luke’s Christian community was a small splinter group of the larger Jewish community. In addition, most of the people of the day lived in dire poverty, wondering if they would have enough to make it through to the next day. They did not have the wealth to be concerned about getting drunk or be preoccupied with worldly possessions. When Luke addresses those who might be tempted to give in to drunkenness and the anxiety of the day, he is speaking to a very select group of people who are not only wealthy but also greedy. They are those who refuse to share the resources with those in need. In Luke’s day these people lived without honor. Luke is reminding his community that when Jesus returns, the whole of creation will be changed, and each person will stand before the Son of Man as an equal. There will be no privileged!

Reflection Questions

1. Recalling times of personal waiting, I…
2. When I was young, these days between Thanksgiving and Christmas were…
3. At this point in my life, change brings with it a sense of…
4. Luke tells the community of Christians that they should stand erect and raise their heads at the coming of Jesus. When have you prayed standing erect with your head raised?
5. When I consider people who live from day to day…
6. From the perspective of the Jews, God seemed to delay sending the messiah, and to the Christians, God seems to have delayed the return of Jesus. What do you think God wants to teach us by the experience of waiting?
7. How might you approach this season of Advent in a way that might open you to grace found in waiting?
8. Can you talk with God now about how you feel about waiting, or your attitude toward the changes taking place within your life, or changes in the world around you?

Just Gospel: Call to Be in the Service of Peace

“…Peacemakers truly ‘make’ peace; they build peace and friendship in society …And if there are times in our community when we question what ought to be done, ‘let us pursue what makes for peace.’ (Rm. 14:19)”

These words from Gaudete et Exsultate harmonize with Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month which is a call to be in the service of peace. He asks us to pray “that the language of love and dialogue may always prevail over the language of conflict.” In the document on holiness, Pope Francis makes his call to be peacemakers very practical as he writes, “It is not easy to ‘make’ this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested. It is hard work: It calls for great openness of mind and heart, since it is not about creating ‘a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority.’”
The prayer intention focuses on language, on our words. We can ponder the way in which we speak to and about those who are odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, beaten down or uninterested. If we can use this language of love and dialogue with one another in our day-to-day interactions, we can begin to create an oasis of peace in our lived experience and plant some seeds of peace within the locales where we minister by our work and/or by our presence. Yet, we may wonder what effect this little step can have on the world scene where wars of words often lead to wars of nations. Perhaps a little fable will help us to consider action on this level.
This story comes from New Fables—Thus Spoke The Caribou by Kurt Kauter.
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a mouse asked a wild dove.
“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the mouse said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow-not heavily—not in a raging blizzard—no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch—nothing more than nothing, as you say—the branch broke off.”
Having said that, the mouse scampered away.
The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on peace , thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”
Could it be that yours or mine would be that one voice that could tilt the balance toward peace in any situation? Pope Francis writes, “We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill.” Let us strive to hone our use of these qualities in crafting peace.

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Solemnity of Christ the King 2018

The Solemnity of Christ the King is ours to contemplate this week. To help us pray, we share a 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 November 25 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. Laurentius-Kirche Church, Gieboldehausen, Germany and statue of Christ the King, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Archives

John 18:33b-37

Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.

What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Background

This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Although this has been the year devoted to reading Mark’s gospel, the text for this Sunday is taken from John’s gospel.

This Feast of Christ the King may feel awkward to those of us who are born and raised in a culture whose roots go back to the rejection of the King of England. The rejection was in protest to his power to impose his will on others, and that sentiment is still part of our culture.

The title “king” also brings to mind a medieval system of royal entitlement at the expense of unfortunate serfs and servants. Even today in our world, royal families live a lifestyle that few of their fellow countrymen can afford. There are still too many places where those of royalty live a privileged lifestyle while the poor continue to struggle for basic survival. Our experience and attitudes toward royalty can affect not only how we hear the texts, but also our openness to the Holy Spirit working within us as we celebrate this Solemnity.

In all the gospels, Jesus has harsh criticism for religious leaders who assume positions and attitudes of superiority. Jesus also rebukes those who see him as the messiah, those who would want to reestablish the greatness of the Hebrew Nation as it was in the days of their great King David. The religious authorities see Jesus as presenting himself as “anointed of God.” Therefore, they see him as blaspheming. They also know that his claim would be a threat to Roman authority, and the threat could disturb the uneasy peace that allows them to function as religious authority while being subjects of Roman rule.

In this gospel, Pilate acts as one who must determine if Jesus is an authentic threat to the Roman authority that he represents. In his questioning, Pilate asks Jesus directly if he is a king. He is asking Jesus if he believes he is the Messiah. One of the ways people expressed their hope and belief in God was through the image of a future kingdom that would restore God’s order and peace to all of creation. Linked to this image of God’s reign is a ruler, one who would govern with the mind and heart of God. That person was understood as the true and only king.

On one level, the gospel text is a dialogue between two people who are attempting to speak to one another, but who have totally different ideas of kingship. Pilate, the governor, is trying to determine if Jesus considers himself to be the King of the Jews. If so, is he a member of the religious fringe, or does he have true political aspirations? Should Jesus and his disciples be taken as a threat to the Roman rule? For his part, Jesus never claims that he is a king, but he does represent a kingdom, the reign of God. God’s realm turns the order upside down. It is built on a ruler who is a servant, one who does not order, but invites; who does not demand to be served, but washes the feet of others; who does not demand that others give their life in service, but instead gives his life for others. In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, they are trying to speak to each other, but each is speaking from their unique perspective.

Even though Jesus dies disgraced and suffering, the inscription that hangs over his head on the cross indicates that Jesus was the “King of the Jews.” In John’s gospel, it is often Jesus’ enemies who, although they have no idea of the truth of their words, state the profound truth that John wants his community to understand. In the central section of John’s passion account, Jesus is presented as the king. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:1)

At the end of each liturgical year the Church closes the year with this Solemn Feast of Christ the King. Throughout the year we have been reflecting on Gospels where Jesus has been revealing to us who God is in word and deed. He has also been instructing us in what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, the one who came to serve the will of God, His Father. Pilate is trying to sort out who this “King of the Jews” is that stands before him. Jesus, even before Pilate, when his life is in jeopardy, is true to his role of being servant of the Father.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of royalty the images that come to mind are…
2. When you think of royalty, what moments in history or items of contemporary news come to mind?
3. What do you recall of the royal line of David in salvation’s history? What meaning or significance does this have for you?
4. What is your response to people who appear to feel entitled to a lifestyle that is beyond those who make that lifestyle possible?
5. Imagine you are an advisor to Pilate, listening to their conversation. Given the opportunity to approach Pilate and whisper in his ear, you would say…
6. At the beginning of the text, Pilate seems to have the freedom to ask Jesus about his relationship with God and his followers. Realizing that you too have that same freedom, you can now ask…
7. Can you take some time now to talk with God or Jesus about what kind of King Jesus is for you, about the kind of follower you would like to be, or about what this feast means for you in your relationship to God?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time is near. To help you pray, we share a 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 November 18 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:  Founders’ Cemetery at Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, WI, St. Peter the Fisherman, Two Rivers, WI

Mark 13: 24-32

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather (his) elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Background

The text for last Sunday was from the end of the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel. In that text Jesus warned the crowd regarding false leaders who seek respect and honor. He then called attention to one of the lowliest in their society, a widow, who gave two coins, and he told them that she was worthy of the honor that others were striving after.

The Sunday lectionary skips over the first 23 verses of the thirteenth chapter in providing this Sunday’s text. However, it is helpful to at least be aware of how Mark is unfolding his narrative before reflecting on the text for this week. The thirteenth chapter begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple. (Mark 13:1-2) In private, he then instructs a few of his disciples that there will be a time when some will see war and destruction and conclude that the final time is at hand. (Mark 13:3-8) Jesus forewarns them that they will be persecuted, and he speaks of “… times of tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of creation until now…” (Mark 13:19) This leads into the part of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples that is the gospel text for this Sunday.

Jesus’ admonition here is within an apocalyptical tradition of the Jews. This type of literature developed during periods of persecution and crisis. Symbols and timetables are used to describe the ultimate victory of those being persecuted. This type of literature was meant to offer hope to those who understand the symbolism. Those who do not understand the symbols perceive the text to be strange and meaningless. In verses 24 and 25, Jesus tells his disciples that the events that will precede the final days will be marked by cosmic events that will be on the scale of creation itself – they will be unmistakable. In verse 26 he draws on the image of the Son of Man that goes back to the book of Daniel:
“As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

In this text from Daniel, the image of the son of man is a celebrated sign of the new age of glory. It is not seen as an image of destruction and woe. Jesus then turns from cosmic images to the ordinary fig tree. Fig trees are abundant and figs are a staple fruit of the region. Everyone was familiar with the cycle of the fig tree, from blossoms to ripening of the fruit. Jesus is saying that the signs of the age to come will be just as obvious as the cycles of the fig tree. Mark describes Jesus making use of familiar images of God, who has power over cosmic forces, and the totally familiar fig, to reassure the disciples and give them hope as he moves toward his passion in the gospel. For us, we are being prepared to celebrate next Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the last Sunday of the Church year.

Reflection Questions

1. How does the approaching of winter affect your lifestyle, your demeanor, and your prayer?
2. When you think of times of anxious waiting in your life you…
3. When you think of times of hope and expectation in your life you…
4. What feeds your sense of hope and trust? What feeds your fear and doubt? Which source do you turn to more frequently?
5. Why do you think Jesus took up this subject with his followers?
6. Why does the Church have us read these verses of Mark’s gospel at a Sunday Liturgy?
7. As I read this gospel text, I think God is inviting me to…
8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your relationship with God, and about your hopes and fears of what awaits you, or those you love, or all of creation?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

On this Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a 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 November 11 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, MI and San Xavier Mission Cemetery, Tucson, AZ

Mark 12:38-44

In the course of his [Jesus’] teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Background

It will be helpful to remember the gospel text from three weeks back, when James and John came to Jesus and asked that they be granted the seats on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into glory. (Mark 10:35-45) Jesus’ instruction to his disciples was “… whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first will be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43) Mark’s description of the scribes here is the total opposite of Jesus’ instruction and his own way of living among them. The scribes do not identify with the poor servant class or even the common people of the day. They seek positions among the elite. Jesus makes no attempt to hide his criticism, and it is likely that the scribes themselves would have overheard his remarks.

Widows were among the lowest members of society. The word itself in Hebrew carries a meaning of one who is silent, unable to speak. That is because all women were expected to remain within the interior of the house while men of the day occupied the public arena. The concerns of a woman were expressed by her father or husband. If a woman became a widow and had no married son who could take her into his home, she would return to the house of her father or brother. If none of those were possible, she was forced to beg. Widows had no status of their own. Due to these circumstances, the care of widows became one of the basic values of Hebrew society.

The second part of the gospel text for today is linked to the first by the word widow. By putting the two texts next to each other, Mark emphasized the self-indulgent behavior of the scribes. To support the temple treasury, thirteen trumpet-shaped chests were placed in the courtyard. When coins were placed into these, the sounds of the coins could be heard by others. Donations of large coins made significant noise as they fell to the bottom. The coin that the widow used was the smallest in use at the time, its value was about 1/64 of the daily wage of a laborer. By including the detail that she placed two coins into the treasury, Mark makes sure his audience is aware that her intention was to hold nothing back, not even one of her small coins.

Jesus’ comments about her gift are not words of praise, but rather they carry a tone of lament. The widow, like the other people of the day, has been taught by the scribes the value of sacrificial giving. The temple offerings are designated to be used for the care of the needy. But there is a hidden presumption that these scribes have been using some of the funds to enhance their own appearance.

Truly the widow has given all that she had to live on, demonstrating her total trust in God to take care of her. Her gift will not enhance her status or reputation, like the large gifts of the others will do for them. The widow’s gift is a gift of herself, her very life in service to God. In reality it will not affect anyone else but her. While the widow may have great trust in God, the larger situation of the religious leadership of the day is troubling Jesus.

Reflection Questions

1. What are some of the reasons people choose to give to charities, churches, and individuals? What are some of the reasons you choose to make donations?
2. Who are the people without a voice in your community?
3. When you consider the daily life of the poor in your community, you think of…
4. Who are the faces of compassion in your community?
5. Mark’s description of the scribes as men who wear long robes, accept greetings, and seek out places of honor brings to mind…
6. Place yourself with Jesus and his disciples at the temple in Jerusalem as people are gathering. There are trumpet shaped treasuries into which people are placing their offerings as they pass. As you imagine yourself there, what do imagine the scene to be like? What do you notice in your mind?
7. Can you take some time to talk with God about your awareness of yourself as you reflected on this gospel text? What would you like to say to God? How does God want to respond to you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Pondering this Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a 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 November 4 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: Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Holy Family Convent

Mark 12:28b-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Background

The text for last week’s gospel was Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus. That text is at the end of the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. The eleventh chapter begins with a description of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11) The rest of the chapter follows with other events that are leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion: cursing a fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25); the chasing of the merchants from the temple (Mark 11:15-19); and the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the Jewish religious authorities (Mark 11:27-33). In chapter twelve Mark describes Jesus telling the parable of tenant farmers who refused to give the owner his share of the harvest (Mark 12:1-12); the Pharisees, joining with the supporters of Herod, try to trap Jesus with questions about paying taxes (Mark 12:13-17); and the Sadducees try to embarrass him with questions about life after death. (Mark 12:18-27) These encounters lead to Mark’s account of the scribe coming to Jesus with his question about the greatest commandment – the text for this Sunday.

Unlike most of the questions addressed to Jesus, this scribe approaches Jesus with respect, seeking his opinion. One of the things that stand out in this text is a lack of hostility between the scribe and Jesus, especially given where this text is located within the gospel. Prior to this in Mark, when the scribes and the Pharisees have a question for Jesus, it is with the intention of trapping and/or discrediting him before his followers and the crowds. Jesus responds to such situations with a question of his own that turns the tables on them, brings honor to him, and brings shame to his opponents. Here Jesus’ response is short, direct and to the point. But more important, the tenor of the dialogue is one of mutual respect. The scribe, in verse 32, compliments Jesus’ insights and rephrases Jesus’ teaching in his own words, a gesture of respect for Jesus and his teaching. Jesus, for his part, recognizes in verse 34 that the scribe is not just restating what he heard, but has made it his own belief, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ response to the scribe’s question is not new doctrine. He draws on two texts from the Hebrew Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. While Jesus’ answer draws on texts from the Hebrew tradition, the uniqueness of Jesus’ answer is that he combines two different texts, something that rabbis never did. Those who heard Jesus’ response would also hear it as a call to treat people with the same respect that they treated God. For them, love was not about how one felt, but honor one showed by one’s action. This point is made even more strongly by the way that Jesus and this scribe have been able to treat each other in this dialogue, given the growing tension that is characteristic of others who represent religious and Roman authority at this point in Mark’s gospel.

Reflection Questions 

1. When you recall situations of conflict in your own life…
2. Pretend for a moment that you were present when this scribe approached Jesus in Jerusalem, with all the events that Mark has described having taken place. What would be going on inside you as you hear the scribe ask his questions?
3. What would be going on inside you as you hear their conversation?
4. If you were asked what is the most important commandment…
5. When you hear Jesus say simply, the first commandment is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” you…
6. When he adds that the second is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you…
7. Do you love yourself?
8. Can you talk with God about your own desire to love God, or to love your neighbor, or perhaps some concern that arises from this gospel?