The first day of summer was yesterday...and hasn’t the world changed a lot since last summer! Usually summer means that the water is warming up at ocean beaches, lakes and swimming pools. Many of us would take vacations during the summer as we look forward to a break from long hours of work, homework, commuting, taking the kids to music lessons and soccer games. Others in farming communities are not so lucky since summer means more daylight and longer hours of work. But we are at least happy to be outdoors without winter harshness. It’s pleasing to our eyes to see growing things, ripening fields and to hear the sounds of birds. That was then...this is now... when all of the usually signs and treats of summer are not what’s happening for us these days while many of us are still in lock down, businesses have closed, and our usual recreational haunts have greatly reduced the number of people who can enter. Add to this the recent riots, murders and destruction on our streets. This is not the summer we imagined in January as we began 2020.
Perhaps the scriptures for today match our moods. Initially, they have turned rather bleak on us! Jeremiah, God’s often-complaining, but nevertheless faithful prophet, laments what has befallen him for passing on God’s warning to Israel. His fidelity has resulted in, "Terror on every side," denunciations, traps set and vengeance planned against him. Jesus’ message in the gospel is also stark as he advises his disciples that some will even face death for him, "And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul...." Easier said than done!
We will need to do a little background on the first reading. Jeremiah has spoken bitterly to God in past sections of this book and today’s passage is his fifth personal lament. Earlier he accused God of seducing him into being a prophet. He was called by God as a youth and preached for over 40 years. And the message he had to carry for God was a hard one to preach and a hard one for the people to hear. He warned the people of Judah that their infidelity to God would cause their ruin. He preached against Judah’s idolatry; his message was strong, uncompromising and thus, unpopular. His fidelity to God and God’s message has put him in disfavor with the people and Pashur, the chief temple official, and so, Jeremiah is imprisoned and disgraced. But his warnings come true – the country falls, Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed and the leading citizens are taken to exile.
Jeremiah stays in the ruined Jerusalem, but eventually he is driven out and killed, probably by his own people. Although he sees the fruition of his prophetic utterances, the nation is destroyed, he still does not see God’s "vengeance" on the evildoers. He will not live to see God’s vindication and rescue of the people. But he will speak about it later in this book. And during the people’s exile his words will bring comfort to those awaiting the transformation and rescue Jeremiah says God will perform for the people. He promises that God will raise them up and will do even more, he promises God will create a new heart in them, the heart of a faithful people (cf. chapter 31). What would that "new heart" look like for us after so much racial tension and violence? Can God create this "new heart" out all this mess, estrangement and conflict – not only for us individuals, but for our nation?
There is a parallel in this reading to those who hear a call from God, undertake it and, with trust, suffer trials in the fulfillment of their vocation. And God’s call can be so subtle that even nonbelievers might respond to it without knowing it is from God. Think of the peaceful protesters who never intended violence when they chose to speak out and demonstrate recently, but were injured in the mayhem caused by outside agitators. We never really know what we are getting into when we respond to God’s call. At first it may even have excitement and romance about it. But to fulfill a vocation and to remain faithful and trusting during the arduous moments – this is only possible with God You can tell that the prophet experiences this blessing, even at his lowest moments. Jeremiah doesn’t just plod along, head down, struggling to get through. Rather, he knows that God is with him and so, the reading ends with a prayer of praise to the God who keeps faithful to the poor. Jeremiah has not yet seen the fulfillment of God’s promises and so he must live in the hope that someday God’s word to them will be fulfilled.
Today is Father’s Day and maybe there is something of the prophet Jeremiah in a good father. Fatherhood is certainly a vocation and it requires long and consistent fidelity to the task. In the beginning there is great joy and rejoicing. That joy will continue, but fatherhood also entails sacrifice, constant love, courage, hard work and wisdom. There are times a father must speak the hard truths to his children. Times when he must hold to integrity even when it runs counter to the prevailing culture. His own children may not appreciate what he is doing at the time. He can feel unpopular in his own family. Being a good father is a task that takes many years to fulfill. Some fathers may never see their work completed, but doing their best, they must trust God’s presence, even when they are not sure how successful they have been in their vocation as fathers.
Matthew’s community must have been going through a Jeremiah experience – living and speaking about their faith were causing pain and fear among them. Like Jeremiah, they may have even been quite vocal in their bewilderment and disappointment because things weren’t turning out the way they had hoped. Otherwise, Matthew would never have recorded these frank and consoling words of Jesus. Jesus is reminding his followers that because of him, they will suffer persecution. The saying about the sparrows has ominous tones: God knows when even a minuscule sparrow "falls to the ground." There is a hint here of the disciples themselves having to face even death ("fall to the ground") as Jesus’ followers. I don’t know if I have to fear being killed, or imprisoned for my faith; but living that faith does have its costs and may even cause pain, or at least daily sacrifice and inconvenience
Usually a salesperson pitches a product in optimistic tones: the most comfortable car; the best-cleaning vacuum; the most powerful stain remover; the fastest computer, etc. Hasn’t Jesus studied the course and read the books on how to put a product forward? Today he is talking to newly-chosen apostles, but instead of promising them a glory ride and pie-in-the-sky, he is talking about sufferings and fear-raising situations in their ministry. Throughout today’s gospel there are sprinkled words to the twelve about not being afraid. What might they fear?
They are not to be afraid because of the small, seeming insignificance of their project in the light of the world powers around them. Now – the good news is "concealed" and "secret," known by only a few. Now – Jesus speaks in "darkness" and his message is "whispered" to them. But someday all will be "revealed" and "known." In our modern world of high speed internet access, million dollar television commercials and "gliterrati," living out our faith in Christ can make us feel out-shouted, overridden and insignificant. Judging from the more dominant voices and forces around us, our Christian approach to life can seem diminutive and without influence as the world makes decisions that affect the destinies of present and future populations – and of the planet itself.
Jesus promises his message will be "proclaimed on the housetops." How? Some people in our history have been very forthright proclaimers, they have been like people standing on roof tops for all to see and hear. But most of us are afraid of such heights and our call might be less spectacular, but still requiring courage. I read this Brazilian proverb recently, "Your head thinks from the spot you plant your feet." We have planted our feet with Christ and he invites our heads to think and our hearts to feel from that spot. We must, if we are standing with Christ, acknowledge him by lives and words that are recognizable as having him as their source.
Jesus predicts a sign by which we will know we are being faithful to him. When we are standing on his side of honesty, concern, forgiveness, trust, community, etc, we will stir up opposition and strife. He is aware that, just as he found resistance to his teaching, so will his followers. So he tells them, "And do not be afraid of those who kill the body...," for they have power, but only over the body. God’s power is more sweeping and total, in fact, Jesus says, God "...can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." But the disciples are not to fear, because God cares about each of us and every part of us, right down to the hairs on our heads. If even birds fall under God’s care, how much more do we?
This reminder about God’s care for us isn’t a guarantee we will have an easy ride as God’s servants. Jeremiah has already voiced the feelings of abandonment, disappointment and dismay one might feel in the face of the rejection God’s witnesses often experience. Jesus uses the example of sparrows falling and dying, but also of God’s concern for them, to reassure us that in the face of trials and even death, God will care for us. Jesus is not going to leave us alone, and more – he will not exempt himself from our struggles. He says he will "acknowledge" us before God. This image suggests he stands with us and claims us as one of his own. When the going gets tough, he is right in the thick of things with us.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Blessed are You, [Source of all life]
who has given to us the gift of the father of our family.
Today, we honor him, and we thank You for the numerous good things that are ours because of him.
His love for us has been a sign of Your divine affection and a sharing in Your holy love.
His continuous concern for our needs and welfare is a mirror of Your holy providence.
And so, as we honor him, we praise You, Father of All Peoples.
Bless him this day with Your strength and holy power that he may continue to be a sign of You, our God, and a priestly parent to our family.....
May we, the members of his family, assist him in his holy duties as a parent
with our respect, our obedience and our deep affection.
Bless him, with happiness and good health, with peace and with good fortune,
so that he who has shared of his very life may live forever with You,
his [loving] God.
This blessing and all graces, we pray, descend upon the father of our family:
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
------PRAYERS FOR THE DOMESTIC CHURCH: A HANDBOOK FOR WORSHIP IN THE HOME, by Edward Hays (Easton, Kansas: Forest of peace Books, Inc. 1979)
Sing to the Lord, praise to the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!
Jeremiah 20: 13
Both this scripture passage from Jeremiah in Reading 1 and Paul’s message in Reading 2 present a conflict of two powers: the old power of violence and death against the new power of justice and life. Even today, we struggle against the power of violence and death to bring Jesus’ free gift of grace to the world through acts of justice and life. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly unmasked the injustices all around us. Both Jeremiah and Paul suggest that suffering can lead to endurance, character, and hope.
I am drawn to Fr. Richard Rohr’s reflection on God and suffering. He states, "I believe—if I am to believe Jesus—that God is precisely suffering love. If Jesus is the living ‘image of the invisible God’--Colossians 1:15, and if there is this much suffering in the world, then God is in some very real way suffering. God is not watching it, but in it!. . .Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance; he is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as ‘all creation groans in one great act of giving birth’--Romans 8:22." (4/28/17 Meditation--Suffering Love)
Since all of us suffer at some point(s) in our life, the question becomes, "How can we be an agent of God’s love and care in situations of huge challenges?" – because God does not promise anyone a life untouched by difficulties, or even tragedy. Instead, God offers abundant and providential care in all circumstances and we are made in the image of God, both in suffering and in exercising loving care.
One of the many ministries here at HNOJ Cathedral is the Door Fund/Ministry that helps people with past due rents and eviction notices. In the months of April and May, the Door Fund dispensed $14,000 to agencies trying to keep people housed and fed during this pandemic. We are anticipating a surge in requests for rent aid as pay checks will be out of sync with bills being due and would ask that you consider a financial donation to the Door Fund as an act of loving care in this time of suffering.
Send checks made to HNOJ Cathedral for Door Fund to 219 W. Edenton St. Raleigh, NC 27603 or pay on-line at our website:https://www.raleighcathedral.org/content.cfm?id=449
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Jeremiah reading:
Jeremiah said, I hear the whisperings of many....
"All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.’
But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion;
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph."
Can you identify with Jeremiah? Do you feel overburdened by responsibilities, or that your good deeds are misunderstood even by those closest to you? Do you sometimes want to shake your fist at God and shout, "What have you gotten me into?!" If you do, Jeremiah will stand with you and encourage you because that’s the way he felt.
However, he has more to say. Notice how his lament shifts – he turns to the God, who called him and to whom Jeremiah first said, "Yes." He prays a prayer of thanksgiving. How bold he is! He is anticipating God’s coming to help him even before he has proof of it. That’s "Jeremiah-faith."
So we ask:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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