24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 11

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Our first reading is part of the story about Israel in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. At this point in the Exodus account, not much is known about the God of Israel beyond his role as a liberating God. And so, the loyalty of the people is easily compromised as they experience the hardship of the desert and the uncertainty of their future. They naturally appeal to the more familiar pagan gods. These gods are less demanding and can magically work miracles. One needs merely to bow down and worship such a god that appears like a golden calf—not a bellowing voice from the mountaintop that only Moses can approach.
Later in the bible, this kind of silly idolatry will be laughed to scorn and all its foolishness revealed.
But through the pleading of Moses, God turns this act of betrayal into an occasion of grace. The people must learn that the true God who liberated them is so unlike the false pagan gods. For the God of Israel is also the God of Mercy, a lesson Jesus, too, teaches in today’s gospel and that we have to continually learn every time we fail in our relationship with God.
The second reading fits in with our other two readings. The First Letter to Timothy was probably not written by Paul himself, but by one of Paul’s companions who knew well Paul’s deepest sentiments. So we hear about Paul’s sense of unworthiness—especially as a minister of the gospel—and at the same time his supreme confidence in God’s patience and mercy. Boldly, Paul claims his experience can serve as an example for all believers—for all of us.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

The New York Times article that Fr. Modrys references, Apocalypse, Now What? by Matthew Thompson, can be found here at nytimes.com.

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 4

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Book of Wisdom, from which our first reading is taken, is more philosophical than any other biblical writing. As the name suggests, the book centers on our need for wisdom. But wisdom in the Bible is not primarily some intellectual gift or the ability to reason brilliantly. Rather, wisdom is the ability to perceive God’s true self and to discern God’s will in all the circumstances of human life.
In today’s gospel Jesus implicitly appeals to wisdom as the attribute most needed by his disciples to discern their true vocation. Luke positions this teaching of Jesus within the travelogue, the story of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem leading up to the passion account. The tension is mounting as Jesus and his followers approach ever more closely the climax of the gospel. Jesus uses this occasion to admonish his disciples. “If you sign up for this duty,” Jesus warns in so many words, “you should think twice about what you’re committing yourself to.”
For us, Jesus’ words capture the challenge we face as his disciples. Indeed, living in our world as a disciple committed to Jesus brings innumerable challenges.
The middle reading is an extensive excerpt from what is the shortest book in all of the bible: Paul’s one page letter to a friend of his named Philemon. The letter concerns a young man named Onesimus, a runaway slave who has escaped from Philemon and sought solace and safety with Paul. When we read the letter today, we have to make many adjustments to accommodate the customs and laws of Paul’s day. Paul pleads with Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his service without penalty, what constitutes a remarkable act of generosity for the time. Listen to Paul’s reasoning as he tries to motivate Philemon to rise to the occasion. Paul was no respecter of the lines of division in his society. Onesimus, Paul concedes, has run afoul of the law, but the greater truth is he is no longer a slave but a brother. And Paul wants Philemon to treat him that way.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

The New York Times article that Fr. Modrys references, Apocalypse, Now What? by Matthew Thompson, can be found here at nytimes.com.

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 21

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Today’s first reading gives us some of the last few verses of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. It appropriately sounds a triumphal note, a vision of all the nations of the world streaming up to the heavenly Jerusalem to partake in the heavenly banquet at the end of time. Note the mention of the far-away places that undoubtedly seemed so exotic to the ears of Old Testament Jews, all to emphasize the universality of the salvation promised by God to the human race.
This vision stands in stark contrast to the partial answer Jesus gives to the bold question about how many people will be saved. To challenge his listeners, Jesus concentrates on the imagery of the “narrow gate” and “locked door” that confront those who seek to be saved. Yet in the end Jesus himself appeals finally to the Isaian imagery of people coming from the four corners of the earth to “recline at table in the kingdom of God.” 
The two readings, therefore, in the end leave us with some ambiguity about how the grace of salvation is to be distributed by God.
The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews harks back to an experience every adult has shared, the lessons of childhood teaching us the constraints of human society. Maybe the way God instills his grace in us is much the same—so that God can strengthen our “drooping hands and weak knees” in order to heal us along life’s journey.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

The New York Times article that Fr. Modrys references, Apocalypse, Now What? by Matthew Thompson, can be found here at nytimes.com.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 7

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Our first reading conjures up memories of the Passover event when the Jewish people were freed from their cruel oppressors in Egypt. God intervened to save his people and punished their adversaries. The same note of divine retribution is struck in today’s gospel, though Jesus warns us in the parables that we ourselves may be the target of divine accountability if we fail to heed the urgent warnings of approaching judgment. It’s important that we not moralize on these passages as if they are meant to depict a simple reward or punishment treatment from God. The intention rather is to energize and inspire us to respond to the divine call of grace so that we approach the present moment with a sense of urgency and not delay our response to God.
Our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews is a beautiful description of the power of faith and traces the theme of faith through the bible. Most meditations on faith begin with Abraham, who is rightly called “our father in faith.” The three great religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their first inspiration back to Abraham, a source of unity that unfortunately is too frequently ignored in our world today. Faith is described not as a body of certain knowledge that gives us a privileged position over others. Rather faith is seen as a signpost pointing us in the direction of the homeland that is promised to us by God.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

The New York Times article that Fr. Modrys references, Apocalypse, Now What? by Matthew Thompson, can be found here at nytimes.com.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Last week we met three visitors whom Abraham welcomed into his home. One of them was the Lord himself. In today’s reading, Abraham engages the Lord in a negotiation about the fate of the corrupt city of Sodom. The issue is God’s judgment, how the good and the evil are to be separated and treated differently according to their deserts.
The Church gives us this reading today because Abraham is pleading with God, petitioning the Lord’s mercy—just as Jesus in the gospel instructs us to petition the Lord in prayer.
Don’t be afraid to let a smile cross your face and perhaps a slight chuckle emerge from you lips as you hear the exaggerated negotiating tactics Abraham employs to get his way with the Lord. Despite the levity of the reading, it communicates the same truth that Jesus emphasizes concerning the power of prayer.
The second reading expresses a favorite truth that Paul preached so often, that through baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ has brought us to life, having forgiven us all our transgressions is the source of our freedom from sin and guilt.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

The New York Times article that Fr. Modrys references, Apocalypse, Now What? by Matthew Thompson, can be found here at nytimes.com.