I live in Texas, but I know this happens in other parts of the country. I see bumper stickers that say things like, "My boss is a Jewish carpenter." Church bulletin boards announce, "Jesus saves!" Signs along the roads invite us to hear visiting preachers with a "Jesus Message." You see Jesus’ name around a lot; along with Honda, Verizon, Texas A&M and IBM. In church, of course, there are statues and crucifixes and hymnals proclaiming the name of Jesus. We end our prayers with, "Through your Our Lord Jesus Christ…."
Not just us, but people all over know about him. He has a reputation for cures; we have heard stories about someone getting well after praying to him. He has a good press for saying wise things and showing care for the needy. It is very good that the one who was sent from God, God enfleshed, is so much a part of our lives. He is important to us and we have lots of reminders of him everywhere we turn.
But there is a way in which he can be everywhere, and nowhere. They say "familiarity breeds contempt." Well, we won’t go that far, but familiarity can breed indifference and taking-for-granted. He can be so present that he just fits comfortably into the background of our lives; he’s there everywhere... Like our car out front? The washing machine and dryer? Lester Holt on the evening news? The McDonalds and Starbucks every few blocks?
So, we can say like the people in his "native place" – "Oh sure, we know Jesus. He’s one of ours. Been around for years." We are creatures of habit and we can take things for granted, especially if they are always around… like Jesus. We have a lot on our minds that take up our every waking moment: work, school, finances, family responsibilities, carpooling with the kids etc. There is a danger that Jesus may be here in his "native place" and we miss them, because he’s so familiar to us, so much a part of the furnishings.
We can learn something from today’s gospel story; maybe it will open our eyes to what we are missing. Jesus returns to his native place where people are very familiar with them. They know his mother and family. ("Brothers and sisters" may have been his cousins in a close-knit community, or maybe Joseph’s children by a previous marriage.) They know Jesus’ trade, he is the carpenter. They also know his reputation for mighty deeds and his wisdom.
They were very familiar with him, he was part of the daily scene; someone they talked to frequently; maybe he even repaired a roof for them, or made them a chair. They probably even liked him. But they weren’t willing to take the important next step, beyond familiarity...beyond knowing facts about him. They were not willing to believe that beyond his most ordinary appearances and his, up-till-then, most-ordinary life, that God was there acting through Jesus, ready to do some powerful things for them, and willing to give them divine wisdom.
What a difference it could have made if they looked beyond the everyday appearances and ways of their native son. Maybe they wouldn’t have packed up and followed him, but their lives could have changed because of him. They would have looked at one another in a new way, as God-loved. They would have treated each other better, the same way that Jesus treated people. They might have changed their priorities and not measured themselves, or others, by the size of their houses, bank accounts, social status, race, or religion. Maybe, nothing would have been the same for them, because they would have known God, by knowing God in Jesus.
What could be more ordinary than bread and wine? There’s not a lot there and we probably serve a better grade wine in our own homes. This ritual, these prayers, this food… so ordinary, so much a part of our lives that we can get used to them and forget what is being offered here to us: the very life-giving Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look again at the familiar billboard up the road that says, "Jesus saves." From what? Saves us from going up blind alleys. Saves us from aimlessness. Saves us from guilt and self-incrimination. Saves us from missing God, who comes in the most ordinary, everyday ways to us – in familiar faces and in bread and wine.
A moment with the first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel. Jesus and Ezekiel didn’t come from the outside, as strangers, to preach to the people. Today’s readings remind us that they were "local boys." It is good to remember that, since we women and men are often called to speak a word, or set an example for those immediately around us; in our family, social circle, or our local community.
Like Ezekiel we are called to serve and speak for our God in this land of exile. And it is a land of exile isn’t it? What believing person could possibly feel "at home" in his, or her land? Are there any people on the face of the earth who fully reflect the God of Israel. Our God, who has come to the aid of the displaced; rescued the enslaved; liberated the imprisoned; fed the hungry on their rushed journey to freedom and made a home for the Israelites, a band of people who cast their lot with God?
As we celebrate our nation’s Day of Independence, we pray that God will not give up on us as a nation, for we, like the people of Ezekiel and Jesus’ times have a history of obstinacy and have not always provided space and a hearing for the prophets in our midst. Of course their voices have not always been pleasing to listen to; but politeness and proper etiquette have not always been the prophets’ style. Like Jesus’ home town folk, we too have shouted down, or worse, ignored the prophetic irritants in our communities.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites. . .they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day."
In his book, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, (Paulist, 1984), Fr. Lawrence Boadt states that the above passage "was not a commission designed to make Ezekiel any more popular than [the prophet] Jeremiah had been. As the vision ended he went away in ‘bitterness of spirit, for the hand of the Lord was heavy upon him’ (Ez 3:14). Finally, after seven days of shocked meditation, God spoke to him a second time and told him that his role was to be the watchman over Israel. [Like other prophets in this role] Ezekiel had to sound a warning when he saw what God was about to do. . .he must speak whether anyone listens or not. . .If the people fail to hear, that will be their problem, but if he fails to preach, the responsibility will be his" (388). When have you remained silent about an injustice?
Pope Francis writes, in "Evangelii Gaudium," that, "The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised" (218). When have you failed to get out of your own comfort zone in order to advance the dignity of others and the common good?
The U.S. Bishops are very clear that there are two feet of love in action based on now, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI’s encyclicals, "Deus Caritas Est" and "Caritas in Veritate." One foot is that of charitable works that aim to meet an individual’s basic needs. But the second one is prompted by the prophet’s call for social justice, to remove the root causes and improve structures that are unjust. We are to hear this call from the prophet and be this "foot’ in action also. Two feet of love--works of charity and works of social justice.
We have outreach ministries representing both feet of love in action in our parish. Our newest charitable efforts are now providing lunches to the homeless women at the Women’s Center and helping resettle a refugee family. Our three newest efforts in social justice are addressing beginning and end of life issues, racism, and care of creation. Will you exercise both of your feet of love today?
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and 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 Ezekiel reading:
"As the Lord spoke to me the spirit entered into me
and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking say to me.
"Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites....’"
Jesus and Ezekiel didn’t come from the outside, as strangers, to preach to the people. Today’s readings remind us that they were "local boys." It is good to remember that, since we women and men are often called to speak a word, or set an example, for those immediately around us; in our family, social circle, or our local community.
So we ask ourselves:
A group of actors and writing instructors recently returned to San Quentin to resume their classes. The prison has been locked to outsiders since the beginning of the pandemic. If you would like to read about their experiences go to:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
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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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.
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3150 Vince Hagan Drive
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