Fr. Richard Rohr on Scripture — Indispensable!

Practice: Midrash

The best way in which a Christian can interpret Scripture is to do so as Jesus did! It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Yet, ironically, this has not been the norm for most of Christianity. So, what does it mean to read the Bible as Jesus did?

Jesus approached the Hebrew Scriptures with the assumption that God had been dialoging with humanity since the beginning. He used the Jewish practice of midrash as a way of participating in this dialogue. Midrash is a method of interpreting Scripture that fills in the gaps, by questioning and imagining a multitude of possible interpretations. Midrash allows the text and the Spirit of God to open up the reader to transformation, instead of resisting change by latching onto one final, closed, and certain interpretation. This open-horizon approach was common for most of the first 1300 years of Christianity, where as many as six levels of interpretation and numerous levels of truth were perceived in any one Scripture text.

The traditional forms of midrash demand both a prayerful approach and scholarly familiarity with the Bible and commentaries which have formed the tradition over the centuries. However, it is possible for someone who is not a biblical scholar or theologian to get a sense of the practice of midrash.

The following practice, drawn from Teresa Blythe’s book 50 Ways to Pray, offers an interactive experience with the Bible through openness, contemplative attitude, and critical thinking.This practice invites us to trust that God will meet us where we are and will take us where we need to go as we consider the meaning of the text. We could engage in this dialogue often, even with the same text, since there will always be more discoveries about the meaning(s) of sacred texts.

Dialoguing with Scripture:

Choose one of the following Scriptures for reflection:

  • Exodus 1:8-22 — The Hebrew midwives fear God
  • Exodus 18:13-27 — Jethro’s advice to Moses
  • 1 Samuel 3 — The call of Samuel
  • Mark 9:14-29 — Jesus heals the afflicted boy
  • Luke 8:22-25 — Jesus calms a storm
  • Luke 10:29-37 — The good Samaritan

Read (or listen to) your selected Scripture passage slowly. You may want to read (or hear) it more than once.

Consider which character in the story you would like to interact with. It could be a person you find agreeable, or a person with whom you want to question or debate. Who are you drawn to? When you decide on a character, write the name at the top [of a piece of] paper.

Hold an imaginary conversation—on paper—with the character in the story. You may want to stick with the theme of the Scripture and talk about that, or you may want to discuss other topics. It is completely up to you. Let your imagination roll free and see what transpires. (20 minutes)

When you are finished, read your dialogue out loud.

What is it like to have a conversation with a biblical figure? Why did you choose the character you chose? Did anything in the conversation surprise you? Did anything in the conversation move you? Did you feel any inner blocks to doing this sort of exercise? Did you feel the presence and guidance of God in the dialogue? What did you learn about yourself as you engaged this biblical figure? How easy or difficult is it for you to have these kinds of imaginary conversations? How useful would you say such conversations are for you?

End your reflection time with a prayer of gratitude for what you experienced.

Tip—You don’t have to be an excellent writer to enjoy this exercise. No one but you has to read what you’ve written. Just write from the heart and imagination. [1]

[1] Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 17-18.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.

For Further Study:

“The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019)

Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, Alexie Torres-Fleming, Shane Claiborne, Emerging Church: Christians Creating a New World Together (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), MP3 download

Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered (Orbis Books: 2008)

Richard Rohr, What Is the Emerging Church? (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), MP3 downloadCD

C. S. Song, Jesus, the Crucified People (Fortress Press: 1996)

Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books: 2008)

Freedom of the Children of God – the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Writer Bianca Vivion Brooks posted an Op-Ed in the NYTIMES on Friday.  Titled I USED TO FEAR BEING A NOBODY, THEN I LEFT SOCIAL MEDIA.  In it, she shared how her identity and wellbeing were tied up in the world wide web.  She wrote:

 “For years I poured my opinions, musings and outrage onto my timeline, believing I held an indispensable place in a vital sociopolitical experiment.

But these passionate, public observations were born of more than just a desire to speak my mind — I was measuring my individual worth in constant visibility.

 “After all, a private life boasts no location markers or story updates. The idea that the happenings of our lives would be constrained to our immediate families, friends and real-life communities is akin to social death in a world measured by followers, views, likes and shares.

“I grow weary when I think of this as the new normal for what is considered to be a fruitful personal life. Social media is no longer a mere public extension of our private socialization; it has become a replacement for it. What happens to our humanity when we relegate our real lives to props for the performance of our virtual ones?”


Ms. Brooks was right.  That is the message we get from our culture because culture often addressed our most basic human instincts: it is so very human to crave affirmation from strangers, to desire blessed assurances of our worth.  Everyone wants to feel valued by others beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, certainly everyone needs to feel that we certainly are more valuable than our bank accounts. Still, to live with constant expectation that somehow, somewhere we will be acknowledged, that we will be awarded, we will achieve recognition—these are the burdens society thrusts upon us.  We must remember these do not comprise the yoke of Christ, the blessed burdens of Christianity.

Sure, it is disappointing to write a book that nobody reads or organize community outreach on important issues –spiritual or social– and nobody shows up.  But that’s not the same things as centering our lives on social acceptance, praise and success. 

Jesus walked the way of the humble, rejected by his hometown natives, he made the Lord God his foundation–nurturing disciples to be sure–but not dependent on their adulation or even their solidarity,  Indeed, they often misunderstood him, they could not comprehend all that he taught. nor did they exquisitely follow his example.  What kept him going?  His honesty, his willingness to sigh, trusting  that all will come to pass in God’s time. Jesus was content to plant seeds, finding comfort in life’s basic pleasures while offering hope, insisting on a better future but not manipulating people into it.  Critical of all established institutions –He called the tetrarch Herod “that fox” and many religious leaders “you hypocrites!” –all the while witnessing to the Great Commandments and not despairing when his followers didn’t or couldn’t live up to them.  

When disappointments plague us, we may recall the prophet Habakkuk as Jesus must have recalled him:

For the vision still has its time,
 presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
 if it delays, wait for it,
 it will surely come, it will not be late.
 The rash one has no integrity;
 but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

Meanwhile, Jesus was content to praise God for life’s little pleasures, close friends and family, however imperfect, yet still sharing meals with disciples and strangers alike, engaging with people of wealth and of little or no means, always seeing the inner soul of whoever sat beside him; observing nature’s beauty and challenges –the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, pastures of sheep and farms cultivating wheat, and, like Abraham before him, the stars of the skies, the sands on the shores of the ocean.  

Simplicity doesn’t mean not to try writing the great American novel — if that is your ambition.  It doesn’t mean not bringing your ideas to your boss or high school principal or your local Congress person.  In fact, we are obliged to live, to be engaged, to share insights and experiences with those who make decisions for us and for others.  And, should we be the ones who are making the decisions, it is vitally important that after expressing our ideas, our preferences, we listen to others who think differently, live differently without needing their adulation –or even their votes! 

In all this, Jesus insists we keep the bigger picture whether we are heard or not, our ideas are accepted or not, whether our dignity is acknowledged or not.  Truth, Goodness, Justice, Mercy are not rooted in imperfect society, or culture of meritocracy but in Faith, Hope and Love.  There is no better foundation, no great truth.  

Emily Dickenson grounded herself in spiritual realities and knew the distinction between integrity and popularity when she wrote: 

I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us?

Don’t tell!  they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

But today is SUNDAY and we must let Jesus have the last words: Are we feeling dejected, bereft of camaraderie, devoid of success and affirmation?  Recall Jesus speaking from his own experience:  “No prophet is ever accepted in his own native place. ” And, like Jesus, we must move on.   Yes, we can dream, yes, we still can share. We can give and forgive.  We must do all these things FREED from our drives for self-importance so we may give thanks to God and say: ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

THE SPIRITUAL & THE MATERIAL TOGETHER — GOD IS ALL IN ALL

HOMILY FOR 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME AUGUST 4, 2019

Woe to the family that does not anticipate retirement, make provisions for health care and reduce its credit card debt.  Practicality entreats us to model ourselves on the squirrels.  In summer and fall, they gather nuts for sustenance in winter and spring.  We, too, must prepare prudently investing in annuities and 410Ks, or, if those are not available to us, we try to go without some luxuries today so we may expand our savings accounts for tomorrow.  Forthright foresightedness is  a top priority for all–or, at least for those among us who don’t have to live hand-to-mouth on a weekly basis.  Either way, we’re probably befuddled by Jesus’ parable.  No precautions for the future? Are there not retirement scenarios we can dream about?  Goals for creative hobbies, lengthier leisure time, Church and community involvement?  Hmmmm. 

We mustn’t see today’s Scripture readings as a threat to these very human concerns,  but we must engage in conversation with the Bible to assess our priorities among our passions, properties and possessions.  

Jesus isn’t against us having things—in fact, he’s not against us at all.  He is the Savior who is FOR US, WITH US and IN US.  He invites us to celebrate life as we allow Him to diminish our worries and anxieties.  He does that, in part, by endowing us with faith, intelligence and talents to make our way in this world including our relationship with things. Jesus invites us to honor the gift of work to procure for ourselves, our children and dependents the necessities of food, clothing and shelter.  Beyond that, the Holy Spirit engages us in what we buy in the way these things reflect our personalities, our likes and dislikes.  What we own—and how we take care of what we own– is an expression of ourselves and even our beliefs.  For all that, Jesus invites us not to take our money, our belongings or ourselves too seriously.   He bestows on humanity intelligence and the ability to cultivate a sense of humor.  Here are a few jokes that might put us at ease:  Who was the world’s first stockbroker? Noah.  Noah?  Yes, he floated his stock while the world was in liquidation.

Once an investor asked his advisor: Is all my money truly gone?
No, of course not. It’s just with somebody else!

Dear Friend,  I’ve come to realize Money can buy a House…But not a Home; Money can buy a Bed…………..But not a Good Night’s Sleep; Money can buy a Clock…………But not Time; Money can buy you a Book….But not Knowledge; Money can buy you Medicine…….But not Health; Money can buy you Sex…………But not Love.  So you see money isn’t everything. It often causes pain and suffering. I tell you all this because I am your Friend, and as your Friend I want to take away your pain and suffering.  Send all your money to me and let me suffer for you.

The cynicism of Qoheleth in the Book of Ecclesiastes offers helpful insights as well. The things we treasure, what we work hard to have and appreciate, may not be treasured or appreciated by those who inherit what we have, what we saved for. Some people prioritize a comfortable home, others money for travel.  Some value collections of books or recordings, paintings, momentos, Nativity sets and Statues of the Saints –others prefer large screen smart tv’s and sound systems, others gardening and landscaping. IF the next generation doesn’t love what we love, what do we leave them?  Do we owe them anything at all?

Jesus says the key is to know that for all that we value, know what matters most to God.  Scriptures make it clear that God cares about relationships –ours with God and others.  Clearly God delights in every human being, all animals and all creation because God sustains all with a life force that engages all.  As Saint Paul once said to the Greeks at the Areopagus: “In God we live and move and have our being.” This is the concept that grounds all faith and therefore must be the foundation of all our lives’ choices: Thanksgiving for life itself and responding to God’s graciousness by consciously reminding ourselves that our lives are not our own; that ownership is always and forever will be temporary; that what we can or cannot afford has nothing to do with our innate dignity or the place or state of being that Christ offers us here and now and what Christ reserves for us in heaven.  Practically speaking, what we think we own are God’s gifts to us to be shared– to learn from and to engage with others. 

Our pray for today is for Prudence.  The more commercials and pop up adds on our computer bombard our psyches, the more we need the Spirit of Wisdom. We must not throw caution to the winds but exercise cool judgment.  Our culture readily cultivates jealousies and envies, manipulating us to equal or exceed our neighbors’ buying power. It tempts us to assess  ourselves and others on the quality of our clothes, cars, homes or apartments.  None of these things last, but our relationships will.

An act of love resounds unto eternity. Today we recognize that what we buy and recycle has a much greater impact on others and future generations than we may like to acknowledge.  The Spirit of God and Jesus’ love will guide us if we attend to their Holy Spirt.  Remember, our Eucharists direct us to cultivate community, to care for ourselves and others without material excess so that not only our futures but future generations can benefit from what we own, what we accomplish, what we recycle, how we care for the air and water and the animals with whom we share them, and , equally important,  how we may inspire them to allow Jesus to expand their lives with faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Reading 1 Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17

R. (1) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
 are as yesterday, now that it is past,
 or as a watch of the night.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
 the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Teach us to number our days aright,
 that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
 Have pity on your servants!
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
 that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
 prosper the work of our hands for us!
 Prosper the work of our hands!
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 Col 3:1-5, 9-11

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.

Alleluia Mt 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

ENTERTAING ANGELS – RE-THINKING THE GOOD SAMARITAN

We come again to Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, acknowledging it applies to far more than whether we offer a handout to a beggar on the street. As far as that is concerned, we know we can’t always, but sometimes, we must.  As Pope Francis reminds us, charity must be without judgment, without lectures or reprimands but a surrender to the Holy Spirit—unqualified as it may be quantified.  But we mustn’t settle with only one application of this Gospel.  Our times call for expansion of our faith as it applies to all aspects of our lives.

Some say politics and religion must never interact, but the parable of the Good Samaritan insists we attend to our current immigration crisis–the refugee camps and holding cells for immigrants from Central America and elsewhere.   Witness’ statements are alarmingly conflicted. Some literally weep over the suffering—people in confinement without access to toilets and shower facilities– and others report that all is well, that everyone is treated humanely.  We don’t know truly who to believe. But our faith insists we attend to the side of those who suffer and not look the other way.

Some say charity has no place in government. Charity belongs to the realm of churches synagogues, temples and mosques.  But wait!  We believe in a government by the people for the people, do we not?  If our government does not respond to people in crisis in ways we believe are good, then who is our government representing?

Even if you believe that every undocumented immigrant must return to his or her own country—a stance that the United States Catholic Bishops insist is not fair or compassionate because of the many hostile situations most of the immigrants are fleeing—the very essence of human kindness insists that we treat fellow human beings with dignity, provide them with at least the most basic comforts while we assess their situations before sending them back to their countries of origin.

Furthermore, charity requires we analyze our government and our American Corporation involvement in these countries to see where we help or hinder the local populations. These are just some of the applications the Good Samaritan Parable insists we consider.  Let’s take a brief look at human history and see what insights our pasts offer. 

Kindness to strangers has always been an essentially human value. Indeed, we find it in evidence in ancient documents that predate the Bible.  As the civilizations of Samaria, Mesopotamia and Egypt were being cultivated, most of humanity lived as foragers and wandering nomads with herds of sheep and goats. When they came upon the outskirts of cites, it was customary for citizens to offer them food and rest before they moved onward.  Our Jewish ancestors insisted this practice was divinely inspired and made it an outright obligation. Consider these examples:

  1. Abraham and the Three visitors. Without hesitation, Abram asks his wife Sarai to make a meal. Had they not, the promise of Covenant, children and future would not have cone to them.
  2. Esau forgives and welcomes back his brother Jacob / now named Israel  with Israel’s wives, children, other relatives and many servants and flocks even though Israel had been gone over 14 years.
  3. Joseph, advisor to Pharaoh welcomes All 11 brothers, father and all the Israelites to Egypt when Canaan was plagued with drought and famine.
  4. Moses guides the people to welcome aliens in their midst for the people were once aliens themselves.

In the Greek and Roman empires, hospitality to strangers was a lawful and religious act.  They believed any of the gods or goddesses could be a beggar in disguise.  Christianity affirmed that attributing the invitation to kindness as consorting with angels.  We read this in Chapter 13 of  the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.”

Another important aspect of the Good Samaritan Parable is the context of religious fundamentalism, rigidity and scrupulosity in living out the faith. We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus highlights the people unresponsive to the robbers’ victim are religious clerics. Here is an alarming example of legalism trumping a deeper, more universal humanity.  We all know the priest and Levite are following “the letter of the law,”  they cannot be contaminated by the victim’s blood nor by someone who may a member of their clan or tribe if they are to serve at worship at the temple or synagogue. Jesus’ parable questions such allegiance.

We must admit that Catholicism has also had  a reputation, in our past and somewhat in our present, for rigidity in practice and scrupulosity in spirit; in brief:  Legalism. The Good Samaritan Parable reminds us that people can avoid compassion, neglect charity as much BECAUSE of, if not despite our religion.

In the decades prior to Vatican II,  there’s a story of a woman who neglected her toddler – keeping him alone at home in playpen– so she could get to church and not incur mortal sin. Today she would be arrested.  I also know of a band of brothers who cheated a brother out of shares in their business justifying themselves because he no longer was a practicing Catholic.  Hypocrisy for sure.

We used to not be able to attend weddings in Protestant churches or go to church or synagogue with people of other faiths, but today, Holy Spirit has won out just as Jesus broke through the rigidity of religious practices of his time.  Vatican II institutionalized what Catholics sensed and recognized long before, that God is all in all, and that we need to respect faith in all its many forms within and among our families’ relatives in the wider neighborhoods. Such rigidity in rules were always meant to be broken and come of age.

Still, rigidity and legalisms can still hold sway even in our times. There are those who continue to  come to confession, saying, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.  I missed mass on Sunday, but I was terribly sick with flu.”   Confessors assure them that God cares about their health and wellbeing and they made the right decision not to attend–for themselves and for the rest of us.  What makes people still so overly concerned with the Church’s  rules and guidelines?  Must they live in fear of mortal of a wrathful, vengeful God?  That is not the God of Jesus Christ.

A more common question I get concerns whether Catholics should attend a wedding if their children or relatives are marrying outside the church – out in a field or by a swimming pool.  In more serious and much more complicated situations they ask the same about LGBTQ  relatives and friends. Here we must remember the many, many stories of Jesus in the homes of tax collectors and people of ill repute. He never insists that they follow him , but rather gets to know them, affirm their God-given dignity, their loving and life-affirming qualities, always highlighting the good He saw in them at the same time He invites them to a relationship. A Good Samaritan would always celebrate our common humanity by putting love over judgment.  Should you go to these weddings, these homes?  Our answer is irrefutable YES!  Remember:  God says, “judgment is mine,”  and Jesus said many times in many ways, “ be merciful just as your father is also merciful.”

Now that we have reflected on the Word, we are all invited to the Eucharistic table. I assure you, on behalf of Jesus and His Church, I am not going to ask you for your green cards, your passports, your politics or anything else other than your “Amen,” i.e. your assent that Christ is with us, in us, in me and you and all, at work in us, conforming us with patience and unconditional love to break through the barriers of yes,  even law and order,  to acknowledge our common humanity–a humanity which He assumed fully and completely for our sake—to make Good Samaritans of us all.  

FOR SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR TODAY, THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, GO TO: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm

Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) Homily

Reading 1 Gn 14:18-20

Responsorial Psalm Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

Reading 2 1 Cor 11:23-26

Gospel Lk 9:11b-17

As priests are obliged to do, I spent about a day’s work reflecting on the Scriptures for today and reading Commentaries by noted scholars and Spiritual Writers.  I am happy to share these insights with you.

The first comes from a book entitled LUKE FOR EVERYONE by Anglican Bishop and Scholar N. T. Wright  (pp107-108)

A popular interpretation of the Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes is that it represents nothing more than an “Inspirational Moment” when , having heard Jesus preach, all the people –the 5,000 men and additional women and children—were inspired to share what food they had so that all were satisfied.  “No!” writes Bishop Wright.  For that version denies us the experience of the Glorious Impossible, the Cosmic God of Surprise.

In defense of his position, he reminds us that the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes occurs right after The Twelve Return from their first commission to preach the Gospel in the surrounding villages.  Jesus had sent them out with the instruction not to take a money bag.  Usually, traveling teachers would keep a bag for the alms they received.  Jesus wanted his disciples to be totally dependent on the kindness of strangers to give them food and shelter—only the barest necessities with nothing to retain, i.e. living hand to mouth, trusting in the Holy Spirit at work in the world, trusting in Providence.  The implication is that they had to relate honestly and openly with other people; they had to project their relationship with Jesus on to their relationship with others.

Today’s Gospel, the Bishop asserts, invites us to the same radical trust in God as it did the Twelve and all the others with them.  For indeed,  IF it was evident that the people in the crowd  had food with them and could share their provisions with other (the “practical” way of interpreting “the miracle”), the Twelve would not have been put-out by Jesus’s order “to give them food yourselves.”  No, there is no mention of food among the masses and the Twelve respond with a touch of irony and sarcasm: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”  So, like their commission to preach, Jesus, once again, invited them and US to “go into the unknown, into a world where things aren’t normally like that, and to trust God completely.”   

Bishop Wright comments: “We aren’t called to believe that Jesus can, as it were, do tricks to order.  He wasn’t a magician.  What he did on this rare occasion was to allow God’s creative power to flow through him in a special way, as with his healings, but more so.”

I will add that this is the same Eucharistic reality are we invited to:  allow God’s creative power to flow through us as Jesus imbues our body with the essence of His Body and Blood in every aspect of the Mass –people gathered, in prayer, engaging the Scriptures, contemplation, hand-shaking, Eucharistic action and real presence, and commissioning forth.

Here is an example of some of the powerful mystery the Eucharist invites us to embrace from a short story entitled “Revelation” by Catholic author Flannery O’Connor.  (I found this in a book entitled A Retreat with Luke (‘s Gospel) by Barbara E. Reid, O.P. (St. Anthony Press)   p. 73-74

          Flannery O’Connor tells of Mrs. Ruby Turpin, a woman who prides herself on being a good woman who helps other people and is saved by Jesus.  Mrs. Turpin had a clear hierarchy of the classes of people.  On the bottom of the heap were (what she called—NOT ME) “colored people.” Then, just next to them, “white trash.” She and her husband, Claude, homeowners and landowners, were far above.

A disturbing incident in a doctor’s waiting room, in which Mrs. Turpin is assaulted by a “lunatic” young woman, who calls her “a wart hog from hell,” is followed by this vision:  She saw herself in the mud clinging to the edge or her very own hog pen:

“Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there . . . she lifted her head.  There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk . . . 

A visionary light settled in her eyes.  She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.  Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. 

There were whole companions of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black (people) in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.  And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.

She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior.  They alone were on key.  Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.  She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead.  In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.

At length . . . (she got up and left the doctor’s office) . . .  and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house.  In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voice of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.”

The Eucharist, this miraculous Body of Christ, CORPUS CHRISTI, is transformed Bread and Wine and transforming You and Me.  In it, with it and through it,  Jesus humbles us, reduces us to common humanity and, I might add, to our connection to the hogs and every other animal, the trees, the waters, the winds, the mountains and our mutual dependence on a miracle-working God.

Bibles and Bible Commentaries Recommendations

by Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Start with an Excellent Annotated Bible with Commentaries:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version –– Truly Ecumenical in scope by Marc Brettler (Editor), Carol Newsom (Editor), Pheme Perkins (Editor)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-new-oxford-annotated-bible-with-apocrypha-marc-brettler/1127152046?ean=9780190276072#/

Little Rock Catholic Study Bible: Hardcover by Catherine Upchurch (Editor), Irene Nowell OSB (Editor), Ronald D. Witherup PSS (Editor)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-rock-catholic-study-bible-cackie-upchurch/1123670830?ean=9780814636480

The Catholic Study Bible Edited by Donald Senior
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-catholic-study-bible-donald-senior/1124291551?ean=9780190267230

TANAKH (The Jewish Scriptures): THE JEWISH STUDY BIBLE, 2nd Edition
https://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Study-Bible-Second-dp-0199978468/dp/0199978468/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=

If the Reader would like an Easy Read acquainting him/her/they a General Overview of biblical events with some good historical context:

DK Illustrated Family Bible by DK Publishing

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dk-illustrated-family-bible-dk-publishing/1111267339?ean=9781465402509#/

Excellent Illustrated Children’s Bibles:

THE CHILD’S Bible from Paulist Press (Beautifully illustrated)
http://www.paulistpress.com/Pages/centerright/child-bible_viewer.aspx

The Children’s Illustrated Bible (This one includes Historical Notes)
by Selina Hastings, Eric Thomas (Illustrator), Eric Thomas (Illustrator), Amy Burch (Illustrator)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/childrens-illustrated-bible-selina-hastings/1102273483?ean=9780756602611#/

COMMENTARIES:

The Great Themes of Scripture Old Testament By Fr. Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos Cincinnati , Ohio : St. Anthony Messenger Press. 1987, rev. 1999
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/great-themes-of-scripture-richard-rohr-ofm/1114986317?ean=9780867160857

The Great Themes of Scripture New Testament. By Fr. Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos St. Anthony’s Messenger Press
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/great-themes-of-scripture-richard-rohr-ofm/1114986316?ean=9780867160987

101 Questions and Answers on the Bible by Ramond Brown
http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/4251-1/101-questions–answers-on-the-bible.aspx

Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way by Rev. Matthew Linn, SJ, Dennis and Sheila Fabricant Linn
http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/4029-2/understanding-difficult-scriptures-in-a-healing-way.aspx

THINGS HIDDEN –Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/things-hidden-richard-rohr/1110785495?ean=9780867166590

Good Goats Healing Our Image of God by Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Fabricant Linn
http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/8295-4/good-goats.aspx

For more Intensive Study, there’s the new

NEW PAULIST BIBLICAL COMMENTARY:
http://www.paulistpress.com/Pages/centerright/cat_bib-comment_viewer.aspx

New Collegeville Bible Commentary: One Volume Hardcover Edition by Daniel Durken OSB
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/new-collegeville-bible-commentary-daniel-durken-osb/1126193005?ean=9780814646595

(Or one can order a commentary on one book at a time such as:

Introduction to the Bible: Old Testament, Vol. 1 by Gregory W. Dawes (excerpted directly from New Collegeville Bible Commentary)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/introduction-to-the-bible-gregory-w-dawes/1122991479?ean=9780814628355

Genesis, Part One by Joan E. Cook SC, Little Rock Scripture Study staff
(Same commentary as New Collegeville but INCLUDES the corresponding Biblical texts)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/genesis-part-one-joan-e-cook-sc/1128809432?ean=9780814663707

Genesis, Volume 2 by Joan E. Cook SC (Same commentary as New Collegeville but INCLUDES the corresponding Biblical texts)
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/genesis-volume-2-joan-e-cook/1106924724?ean=9780814628362

For an Exclusively Jewish Commentary, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has an excellent series entitled COVENANT & CONVERSATION. The first in the series is:

Covenant & Conversation: Genesis: The Book of Beginnings by Jonathan Sacks https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/covenant-conversation-jonathan-sacks/1123484419?ean=9781592640201

Other In-Depth Commentaries for Beginners:

READING THE OLD TESTAMENT by Lawrence Boadt (Revised Edition)
http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/4780-9/reading-the-old-testament.aspx

READING THE NEW TESTMAENT by Pheme Perkins (Revised Edition)
http://www.paulistpress.com/Products/4786-1/reading-the-new-testament-3rd-edition.aspx

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

12 May 2019

Reading 1 Acts 13:14, 43-52 Responsorial Psalm Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5

Reading 2 Rev 7:9, 14b-17 Gospel Jn 10:27-30

Graduation Ceremonies, First Communions and Mother’s Day merge into sensibilities intimately connected with May, the Month of Mary, Mother of God who continually brings us closer to Mary’s child:  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Word Made Flesh.  All these annual MAY events gain greater significance when placed in conversation with Jesus’ words in today’s readings.

Jesus’ statements as the Good Shepherd make for one momentous Graduation Address: Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” 

In other words, Jesus is saying, “You are mine, just as a child is connected to its mother.”  Just as Graduations are touchstones to a lifetime of graduations growing in wisdom and life experiences, Jesus as Good Shepherd reminds us, we are nurtured by Him, educated by the Holy Spirit through faith and life experiences to grow in Wisdom, Understanding, Courage and more.

What could Jesus be saying to us in this and every Eucharist if not “You are with me always, and everything I have is yours –take and eat, live and affirm life in others.”  We must enlighten the new generations that First Communion is not merely a one-day event, but a point of entry into an expanding House of God that has no walls, no ceilings, no boundaries—a intimate moment with Jesus to strengthen one’s experiences of Jesus, alone, and with and through others for a lifetime.  How else may the  Kingdom of God—Peace on Earth, Good Will to All be accomplished?

But like any good graduation address, Jesus, our deliverer, offers caution.  Remember, Jesus speaks not only in the Gospel but through all the Scriptures. Today’s ACTS of the Apostles reading reminds us that living in the NOW and moving forward with Jesus isn’t easy.  Good News we will continually meet opposition and hardship just as there was “ persecution against Paul and Barnabas,” as they were “expelled them from their territory.”  Yet in Christ we find our courage just as Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

When Jesus says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”  He articulates that same Eucharistic reality of JOY in His consistent presence in our lives, no matter the hardships we face. Indeed, people do try to lead us out of the kingdom of loving, forgiving, of humility, patience and kindness encouraging illusions of grandeur instead–why, we even do that to ourselves at times,–yet perseverance will be granted us as we appropriate the sacraments and scriptures as gifts of grace, experiences of Jesus for the journey. 

At one commencement address, Poet Laureate Maya Angelou once said:  “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

The Good Shepherd finds us when we are lost and nurtures us like the best of mothers so that we rise above the loss, the regret, the foolishness of ourselves and others. Praying Mary’s Rosary reminds us of death—not for morbidity but for inspiration to live each day as our last, finding hope even in failures, the little “deaths” of every day.

In one of Steve Jobs’ last commencement addresses, he said: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

What are these statements put reiterations of Jesus’ Good Shepherd poetry?  Eternal life comes to those not afraid of dying in faith, hope and love!   Jesus entire life on earth demonstrates to us that impediments to grace will confront us, but God guides the faithful through each hurt, each betrayal, each failure.  As we allow Jesus’ story to connect intimately to ours, Jesus will deepen our humility, fortify our courage and expand hope illuminating us with Wisdom  This, in part,  is why Jesus died and rose—not eschewing pain and suffering but engaging in it for a greater purpose: transformation through continual dying and rising. 

The Book of Revelation today confirms this wholeheartedly: “I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. Then one of the elders said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Detective novelist Author Dashiell Hammett once wrote: “There are no great moments unless you have a pile of smaller moments to stand on.” 

Our small moment today is receiving the Word and Eucharist in a new way,  Trust in the virtue of humility, acknowledge we are like sheep, we need a Shepherd, we have a Shepherd, we can trust in our Shepherd.  Recognizing that in every Mass we receive a mighty infusion of grace to live now with a vision of what the future can be the more we cooperate with Jesus and His vision for the world. 

The inspiring abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote: “To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.”  Is this not a reiteration of the humility embraced by so many Saints?

I quote these secular achievers to demonstrate that what is true and good in Jesus is universally good and true—no matter its source, no matter the faith or the virtue of the ones who articulate it.  Just as the efficacy of the Eucharist is not in any way dependent on the virtue or goodness of the priest who celebrates it. Still, in so many ways, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has determined to shepherd us through others—mothers, fathers, friends, writers, entrepreneurs, teachers, the poor and anyone through whom God wishes to instruct us. May today’s  mass open our eyes and ears to every truth, every grace in whoever stands before us so that both in and through the sacraments and in and through the world we will receive our Good Shepherd with greater authenticity, humility and love. And this is how we enter the realities of God’s kingdom today, tomorrow and for all eternity.

PS: Some other memorable quotes:

“Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.” Melinda Gates

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson