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Sunday Reflection for October 13, 2019 by Rachel Heft

Reflection October 13 2019
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Happy Thanksgiving.


One of my favourite aspects of Thanksgiving is our propensity to be grateful.  Thanksgiving rituals often involve examining our lives and sharing or at least contemplating our many blessings.  As my mother would say, “having an attitude of gratitude”.  Studies suggest that by focusing on gratitude we can improve our outlook on life, because by concentrating on what you have, you feel you have more. By contrast, if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll feel you never have enough.


But for the last little while I’ve been contemplating the world and feeling like there’s little to be thankful for.  I’m finding it hard to be optimistic about life, or thankful for my personal blessings, when I am constantly bombarded by the darkness of our irresponsible and uncaring world.

  • There are vast islands of plastic in our oceans.
  • There are migrant children torn from their parents and housed in cages.
  • We’re in a climate crisis, species are going extinct at an alarming rate.
  • Indigenous youth are dying by suicide. So are local police officers.
  • A Canadian high school student was being bullied and later stabbed to death, in front of witnesses, including his own mother
  • People in Canadian cities are being sold fentanyl, and are too desperately addicted to be able to refuse the risk of using. Worse – no one seems to care


I’ve been feeling like it’s pretty hard to feel grateful and much more natural to feel despondent… presumably, much like a person afflicted with an incurable disease.


But the Gospel today is rich with meaning and leaves us with a more complex outlook on Thanksgiving.


Jesus is entering a village as a group of 10 lepers approaches him.


As we know from other Biblical stories, leprosy was a significant disease at the time.  While germ-theory wasn’t well understood, there was some general recognition that people with leprocy had to be distanced from those without it.  Leprocy was incurable and those afflicted by it were banned from society and considered “untouchable”.


As Jesus approaches, the group pleads with him to have pity on them.


Without ceremony, Jesus tells the group of 10 to go show themselves to the priests.  Inspection by priests was a necessary as only priests, according to Jewish law, could declare a person healed of leprosy and therefore clean, and fit to re-enter society.


What’s amazing here is that the group of 10 just “head off” to go see the priests, and it is only in going or “as they were going” that they were cleansed or healed of leprocy.


One would think that would be the end of a great Gospel – these 10 diseased men believed Jesus, demonstrated their faith, and were cured.  That, in and of itself should be enough of a teaching for us today, we need to be more faithful in God and our faithfulness will be rewarded.  But no – there’s more.


One man, realizing he had been healed, returned to Jesus, glorifying God and falling at the feet of Jesus to thank him.


ONE.  OF TEN.  And not just any of the ten, the Samaritan.  The outsider.  The foreigner.  The one who isn’t supposed to be Jesus’ follower, of whom the least is expected.


And so the nine thankless lepers were struck down by the Lord, right?  That’s the lesson, right?  No.  Nothing more is said of the nine, presumably they went on their way, reunited with their loved ones and lived a full life.  There are no negative consequence for their failings.


Because, let us be clear, those nine are grateful.  There is NO WAY that those 9 lepers don’t have an “attitude of gratitude” after being cleansed of leprocy.


The point here is that the Samaritan isn’t just feeling grateful on account of his feeling of relief, he takes action.  He demonstrates his gratitude by going out of his way to express his thankfulness.


I’ve been talking to a number of people about my recent dark outlook on the world.  In a vast number of cases, many people have made the same recommendation: “start doing little acts of kindness” and you will see the beauty, peace and hope of the world again. No one is talking to me about making donations online or joining charity boards – though we should do that too.  The consistent advice I’m receiving to go out of my way to do something for another. My acquaintances have recounted a variety of stories:

  • stopping to help lost tourists;
  • taking care of a friend’s children when her marriage is struggling;
  • taking time to chat with an elderly neighbour who recently lost her husband.
  • Bringing food to the panhandler outside my office


Jesus doesn’t smite the nine lepers, but he does bestow a favour on the one Samaritan, he says to him “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.”  Other translations use “made you well” or “made you whole” from Greek.  The Samaritan was already cleansed of leprocy along with the other nine.  What Jesus is offering is the healing of his soul, allowing him to feel whole, to experience salvation.


So again, happy Thanksgiving.  I’ve decided I’m not going to list my blessings this weekend – I think that may miss the point.  I’ll pray.  And then I’ll start making lists of thanksgiving actions to help me move past despondence towards healing.

Sunday Reflection for October 6, 2019 by John Mark Keyes

27th Sunday Ordinary Time 2019

Reflection 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time October 6 20 1 9
• Today’s Gospel reading is one of the most difficult I have ever had to reflect on. It seems to be in two disconnected parts.
• The first part is the Apostles asking Jesus to increase their faith. The second part is Jesus telling them to say they are “worthless slaves”.
• What are we to make of this?
• Let’s start with faith. The apostles’ request to increase their faith comes after the parable we heard last week about Lazarus and the rich man. After Jesus tells this parable he admonishes the Apostles about temptations and then tells them to forgive those who sin against them, even as often as 7 times a day.
• After hearing Jesus tell them all these things, the apostles ask Jesus how to increase their faith.
• It is not altogether clear what the object of their faith is – faith in what? But it most probably has to do with believing in the things Jesus has talked about:
▪ believing that there is an after-life and that the things you do in this life will make a difference in the after-life;
▪ believing that you should resist temptation to do things that are wrong;
▪ believing that forgiveness is better than recrimination.
• Jesus responds to the Apostles’ request with the now well-known comment about how a little faith (the size of a mustard seed) is capable of moving mulberry trees.
• This is an interesting application of faith in landscaping and reminds me of the time I decided to remove the stump of a spruce tree that I had had cut down. Spruces have incredibly deep and strong roots. It took me almost a week, but I persevered and eventually got it out.
• Faith requires you to keep at something even when it starts to seem hopeless, when uncertainty mounts and you wonder where things are going.
• It requires a focus on what you want to accomplish or happen. It can be a little irrational. But in the end, if you keep the faith, things turn out.
• Faith also comes up in the first reading from Habakkuk. It begins with a desperate plea: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?”
• This resonates with our own time. The daily news, particularly on the global front, is discouraging: climate change and forest fires, migrants fleeing conflict and oppression, demonstrations and protests, the rise of dictatorships and the decline of democracy.
• And that’s just the big picture. What about all the difficulties we encounter in our individual lives? These are much more immediate and pressing: figuring out what to do when you lose your job; putting up with a noisy neighbour; juggling too many demands at work; wrestling with illness. The list goes on.
• Habakkuk was a prophet at the beginning of the Babylonian conquest and captivity of the Israelites. His plea for help is about throwing off the Babylonian oppressors.
• The Lord’s answer is to be patient and wait for “the vision for the appointed time” to materialize. In other words, have faith that God will answer your plea for help.
• Historians say the Israelites had to wait about 70 years for the fall of the Babylonian empire and their return to Israel. It did happen eventually and the faithfulness of the Israelites is what kept their nation together.
• This then might be the connection to Jesus’s comment about slavery in the Gospel. Is it echoing the slavery the Israelites endured at the hands of the Babylonians?
• Or is it simply saying something about the commitment the Apostles must show towards God and to what they “ought to have done”?
• Many, indeed perhaps most, versions of the Bible translate this word as “servant” in the passage we have just heard from Luke. “Servant” has a much softer, more civilized tone to the modern ear.
• A servant is basically an employee, someone hired to do a job and who has a choice about doing it.
• Slavery is something abominable, that we assume has been outlawed the world over.
• The easy way out of this would be to simply read “slave” as “servant”. But our Lectionary uses “slave” and there is little question that Jesus used a word that signified that rather than something else.
• Slavery was common in Jesus’s time. It was a generally accepted part of the world he lived in.
• So instead, some biblical scholars suggest trying to understand what was embedded in the concept in Jesus’s time and also consider how other parts of the New Testament refer to our relationship with God using other ideas, notably “children”, “heirs” and “friends”.
• So, how does “slave” fit with these?
• It doesn’t if you understand slavery as an oppressive relationship of subjugation and exploitation. But this does not necessarily characterize all these relationships in Jesus’s time.
• Think of Joseph in the Old Testament whose brothers sold him into slavery. He was eventually sold to Potiphor, the Egyptian Pharaoh’s captain of the guard and ended up rising to a position of importance in Egypt, in part through service to his master, Potiphor.
• One aspect of slavery is devotion to someone. Doing what they ask without question. Or, to repeat Jesus’s words from the Gospel, doing what was commanded, what ought to be done.
• And why might you do this? Well, maybe faith has something to do with it. You believe in the God who commands you to be good, to love your neighbour, to forgive those who offend you.
• These things do not depend on some rational calculus. They are simply norms we follow. Just as a slave follows the master’s orders.
• And the notions of our relationship with God in terms of being children, heirs and friends are also not far removed from this unswerving devotion.
• Why are children expected to obey their parents? Why does an heir inherit? What explains friendship?
• These are relationships that just are. Children do not choose their parents. Heirs do nothing to obtain their inheritance. True friendship is unwavering.
• It is difficult to compare these things to slavery, but think of it as a different kind of slavery, one that is about unswerving commitment to God and the Good News, one that is build on unshakable faith.

Sunday Reflection for September 22, 2019 by Joan O’Connell

Reflection for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 21-22, 2019

Joan O’Connell


We are more than halfway through this year’s Season of Creation, and only two weeks away from the start of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region.  Today’s readings seem tailor-made to keep us focused on a central issue of both these important events – the impacts of climate change.


Our first reading gives a stern warning about trampling the needy and destroying the poor of the land, those, we are told, who are most affected by climate change.  Yet in the reading, those who hear the warning are more concerned with when they can get back to work and start making some money, and if it means cheating others a bit, well no big deal.


I read a little further in this reading from the prophet Amos and it is indeed prophetic: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”  It is as if Amos were predicting the catastrophic climate events that are occurring around the world now – including here in Ottawa as we mark the one-year anniversary of the six tornados that changed our region.  We mistreat the poor and the Earth at our peril.


We hear again the emphasis on the poor in the Responsorial Psalm.  The poor were the priority of Jesus in many of his teachings and in his daily interactions while he lived among us. Care for the poor and marginalized has also been an ongoing refrain of Pope Francis throughout his papacy.


Pope Francis’ concern for the poor of the earth, for indigenous peoples and for the Earth itself, was the impetus for, and is an overarching theme of, the upcoming Synod on the Amazon.  It is also the theme of this fall’s Development and Peace education and action campaign.  It’s called “For our common home – a future for the Amazon, a future for all”.


So why this seemingly sudden focus on the Amazon?  The Amazon basin is home to the world’s largest tropical rainforest. As such, it plays a vital role in regulating the entire planet’s climate, and is one of our best defenses against catastrophic climate change. I learned at a Development and Peace webinar this week that one out of every five breaths we take is with air that comes from the Amazon and one in every five glasses of water we drink also is attributable to the Amazon.  This affects us. If we weren’t listening before, our own self-interest should make us pay attention.


We have all heard in the news about the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest and the frightening rate at which it is being destroyed.  Serge Langlois, the Executive Director of Development and Peace has said “…what’s behind the headlines [are] … policies that privilege profit over people, our own demand for resources that drives those policies, and the traditional and Indigenous people who resist the destruction of their territories and ways of life.” As the 1st reading warns us, God will not forget this.


As a perhaps telling sign of the times, guess what comes up first when you Google “Amazon”?  It is not the so-called “lungs of the Earth” that’s for sure.  It’s the Amazon that enables us to order more stuff on line and get it delivered right to our doors.  What does this reveal about us and what we give our attention to?


In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that “no servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  If my Google search result is any indication, might we be leaning towards mammon?


When confronted by huge societal problems, problems like climate change and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, I mean, isn’t easier to just throw up our hands and go shopping?  We can tell ourselves, “But what really can I do, by myself? What impact can I have on such insurmountable problems?”


But I ask you, what if Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, had said that?  She started a movement of young people the impact of which we have been seeing on the news in the last couple of days and will see firsthand in Ottawa this week with the climate strike and march this Friday.  One girl stopped going to school on Friday’s and instead showed up on the grounds of the Swedish Parliament to protest lack of action by adults on climate change.  People noticed; the media noticed; the world noticed and soon a world-wide movement was born.


The thing is we tend to underestimate the impact the smallest actions or words can have.  If you say hello to a neighbour on your way to the bus stop in the morning, you might be the only person who actually speaks to that person that day.  If you bring your own coffee mug instead of getting a take-out cup, or ride a bike or walk instead of driving, you don’t know who will notice.  You just might inspire someone else to re-think a choice of theirs, and so on and so on.  That’s how change can start to happen.  True, our individual actions alone do not solve huge problems, but incrementally they add up and, more importantly, they keep our hearts open and our minds and bodies engaged.


Like the steward in today’s Gospel, we have all been entrusted with a certain amount of resources to look after.  While it may not be wise to adopt all the steward’s methods, his employer – the rich man – does give him somewhat grudging respect for his cleverness and ingenuity after he was dismissed.  We might want to be clever about how we use our resources, our wealth.  Jesus constantly reminds us that when discerning how to share these blessings, it is the poor who have the preferential option.


We have also been entrusted with shared wealth – the Earth, our common home.  Becoming educated, judging for ourselves what we personally are being called to do and then acting in the spirit of faith, hope and love is another way of being a clever steward, of the Earth.