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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

29th SUNDAY (A) October18, 2020

Isaiah 45: 4-6; Psalm 96;
I Thessalonians 1: 1-5b; Matthew 22: 15-21

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE: We have posted Pope Francis’ "A Prayer for our Earth." It could be our daily prayer during these times of environmental distress. Go to https://preacherexchange.com/ and click on "Quotable."

Also: Below are the names of three female inmates on Death Row. Would you drop them a line and wish them well during these pandemic days?  Thanks.



They probably did not have private investigators in Isaiah’s time. But suppose they did and we could hire him or her to get the low down on this Cyrus character. What might they write about him in their report? First they would tell us of the time of Cyrus’ appearance. He arrived towards the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon, around 553 BCE.

Israel had been unfaithful to God and so, according to the prophets, God had used the Babylonians to punish and take them into exile. As they had been slaves in Egypt, now they are once again slaves in a foreign land. They can do nothing to help themselves. When they were slaves in Egypt God raised up Moses, one of their own, to deliver and lead them to the Promise Land. But we would ask our investigator, "Who is this Cyrus?" His name doesn’t sound Jewish. But it is clear that whoever he is, he is going to be God’s instrument to bring the people back to their homeland.

It is as if our investigator has brought us a recording of God speaking to Cyrus. Imagine Israel’s surprise when Cyrus is called God’s "anointed." That’s messianic language, usually reserved for one God has chosen from among the Israelites. God tells Cyrus that he will serve God’s purpose, even though Cyrus doesn’t know God – "though you knew me not."

God grasps the hand of Cyrus; another indication God is conferring royal power and authority on Cyrus. As a consequence, he is now part of Israel’s history; even though he did not know the God of Israel. God will precede Cyrus and open doors for him to help him achieve military success. Cyrus led the Persian army that conquered Babylon and when he did, this pagan ruler allowed the exiles to return home. He even helped them rebuild their homeland and Temple.

People may not know or profess faith in God, but still God can use them to accomplish God’s purpose. How could God favor this Persian king from another nation? The Persians were not "God’s chosen." Isaiah was taking a chance preaching his message of God’s wide embrace. The Israelites may have betrayed God and incurred God’s punishment but still, they considered themselves God’s special ones, morally superior to all the pagans and their gods.

Have you ever missed something that was happening before your eyes and have someone tell you, "Wake up and smell the roses"? That’s what Isaiah is telling the people, "Wake up and see what God is doing for you: a foreigner is the agent God is using to release you from slavery. This story repeats what God says in one way or another throughout the scriptures, "I am the Lord, there is no other." (E,g, Deuteronomy 4:35; Isaiah 45:5; 46:9)

Have you heard this story told by the author Anne Lamott? A man in an Alaskan bar tells the bartender, "My snowmobile broke down in a blizzard. I was sure I was going to die. I prayed and prayed to God for help, but he didn’t answer me." The surprised bartender said, "But you are here and alive!" "Sure," the man responded, "thanks to two Eskimos who happened to come by."

Is that what the Israelites would have said? "We prayed and prayed for deliverance from our exile, but God did not answer us. If it weren’t for that pagan king Cyrus, we would still be there."

For ancient believers the God they worshiped had localized power. For example, the god of the Babylonians was Marduk. When they were slaves in Egypt the supreme God there was Ra. The gods ruled withing the geography on the nation. So, the temptation for the Israelites, enslaved in Babylon, was to think that their Yahweh was back in the land they had been dragged from.

What Israel learned through Isaiah was that their God had not stayed behind, but had come into exile with them. When we suffer trials it can feel like God is somewhere "back there," not "here" where we are in pain. Israel learned that God was not "back there," or "back then," but supreme and universal, more powerful than the other gods. They would also come to believe that there is no other God but Yahweh.

Do we have our eyes closed to God’s delivering hand? All the news has been filled with poignant stories of exhausted medical staffs laboring away in emergency wards; delivery people bringing medicine to the elderly and sick confined to their homes; clerks stacking food on supermarket shelves; volunteers gathering and distributing food boxes to the recently unemployed, etc. Are they our modern Cyrus, sent by God to nurse us and bring us home to safety from this exile? Are they like the two Eskimos saving us from the pandemic blizzard that threatens so many of us?

We in our religious communities have been given eyes to see. Or, are we blind to what we confess about our God? We believe there is but one God, no matter the name our faiths and cultures call God. Cyrus may not have confessed faith in the God of Israel, but that does not mean God wasn’t with him using him to lead the people to freedom.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/101820.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"Sing to the Lord a new song"

Psalm 96:1

October is Respect Life Month! Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launches a new theme for the year to help Catholics understand and honor the dignity of every human person. This year's theme is "Live the Gospel of Life." It is a good time for all of us to examine what it means to respect life.

Many years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin expressed the fullness of this Catholic teaching as a "consistent ethic of life," a seamless garment. More recently, Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate, "Rejoice and Be Glad," of the "equally sacred." His text follows:                                                                     

"101. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.                                                                                

"102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the "grave" bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children." 

In "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home", Pope Francis goes further and connects human life with the natural world: "When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected" (117).

Let us sing a new, more complete song of respecting life.   

For an excellent review of the consistent ethic of life, view Fordham Center on Religion and Culture presentation "A Consistent Ethic of Life 2.0: An American-Catholic Dialogue Rebooted" 7/30/2019      Main presenter--Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N9CpC-KPT4

----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

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 I Thessalonians reading:

For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

Reflection:

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they not only heard the word of the gospel, but saw its effects on their lives. If we are going through a testing time it’s good to remind ourselves how God helped us in the past. Such a reminder can build hope and enable endurance in the present.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Is there someone who needs to hear an encouraging word from us?
  • When I try to give that support will I do as Paul does, remind them of the faith they have received and how God is their source of power and endurance?

POSTCARDS TO WOMEN DEATH ROW INMATES

"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."

---Pope Francis

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:

  • Charlette Parker #0311386 (On death row since 4/1/99)
  • Blanche T. Moore #0288088 (11/16/90)
  • Christina Walters #0626944 (7/6/00)

----NC Correctional Institution for Women

4287 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4287

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/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Domincales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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