Catholic in Yanchep

Go out into the deep.

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time | God wants … what!?

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, Bernardo Strozzi, 1630, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, Bernardo Strozzi, 1630, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

In today’s stories of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (first reading) and the poor widow in the Gospel, God challenges us to think outside the square.

Here is a poor widow sitting down to her last meal, and not only does God’s prophet Elijah ask her to share it, but he asks her to make a scone for him first, and only afterwards to make one for herself and her son.  One’s first reaction is to wonder if he cares about her plight at all!  How arrogant this seems to our ears today!  At the same time Elijah promises that her meal and oil will not run out.  Well, a prophet is known by whether his prophecies are fulfilled, and we are told that they are.

The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.

So what is God’s point here?  What we have to understand is that it is our job to keep giving.  This might not necessarily be in monetary terms – it could also be in one’s time, one’s talents, anything, as long as we give.  Too many of us think we go to Church because we want to receive something from God.  (The “I never get anything out of Mass.” excuse.)  Actually our primary purpose in going to church is to give: our gratitude to God for giving us this wonderful gift of life, our practical talents voluntarily offered for the community, whether it be visiting the sick or the lonely, helping the needy, bringing hope to the despairing or any number of good works.

The woman in the story could have argued and said, “You lazy so-and-so!  It’s all very well to stand there prophesying, but why should I believe you?”  (Unlike me!) she doesn’t argue, but trusts and obeys in faith, and her trust is rewarded.  We have to give God a chance to act and not pre-determine the outcome by our lack of faith.  Is God giving you a challenge right now to keep giving despite the apparent futility?  How are you going to respond?

In the Gospel reading, we see two pictures: first the scribes, who in their long robes are addicted to receiving the honour of the crowds and make a show of their “lengthy prayers”; secondly, the poor widow who contributes everything she possesses, without ostentation and without recognition from anyone in the crowd except Jesus.

Ask yourself whether you, perhaps, might be one of these scribes.  Do you love to tell everyone how many hours you spend praying, going to Mass, saying the Divine Office or praying the Liturgy of the Hours?  Jesus warns us that we – especially his ordained ministers – are in great spiritual danger if we show off about these things.  Of the scribes, he says, “The more severe will be the sentence they receive.”   The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us about this danger:

1550 This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.

1551 This priesthood is ministerial. “That office . . . which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service.” [28] It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all. [29] “The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him.” [30]

Nevertheless, even though Jesus has harsh words for the scribes, he doesn’t expect the faithful to stop doing the right thing in protest at what the scribes are doing.  He praises the poor widow for giving all that she has to give.  Sometimes, when parishioners see a minister of God failing to fulfil his duty, they are tempted to leave the Church or shop around to find a better minister.  Perhaps, however, Jesus wants the faithful to give more in this situation.  Perhaps his word to us is, “Don’t worry about what the unfaithful are doing.  God will deal with them.  This is an opportunity for you to double your efforts!  Give of yourself with my blessing, and I promise you will not run out!”

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year B 32nd Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B 32nd Sunday 2015

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B | God’s Sacred Meal for the Spiritually Exhausted

Elijah fed by an angel, Ferdinand Bol, 1660-1663, Private collection, New York.

Elijah fed by an angel, Ferdinand Bol, 1660-1663, Private collection, New York.

Did God’s prophets ever contemplate suicide?  Not exactly, but Elijah did feel so mentally and spiritually exhausted that he asked God to take his life (not at all the same thing as taking your own life).  In today’s first reading from the book of Kings, Elijah,

sitting under a furze bush wished he were dead. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’

Why did he feel this way?  Dr John Bergsma explains:

Elijah was experiencing “ministry burnout.”  Just days before, he had won a great show-down with 450 prophets of the false god Baal on Mt. Carmel, calling down fire from heaven and proving, in front of a crowd of thousands, that the LORD alone was the true God (1 Kings 18).  Such a public demonstration of the power of God would seem like a tremendous victory that would lead to repentance and renewal in Israel, but that’s not what happened.  The queen of Israel, a Gentile (Phoenician) princess by the name of Jezebel, was incensed by Elijah’s victory over her 450 prophets, and vowed to kill Elijah.  When we find him in today’s reading, then, Elijah is fleeing for his life.

Elijah was waging a cultural and spiritual war in the kingdom of northern Israel.  The war was between worship of the LORD and worship of Baal.  One of the major cultural issues between these two religious was sexual practices and family life.  Baal was a fertility god, and one of the ways he was worshiped was through ritual sex or “sacred” prostitution.  What to do with the children that resulted? These could be sacrifice to the god (Jer 19:5). Needless to say, the standing of marriage in a culture with these practices was none too high.

By contrast, the law of the LORD had no place for sex outside of a covenant bond between a man and a woman, which would ensure that the child resulting would come into the world in the safety of a marriage, wherein he or she could be raised to adulthood by his/her own father and mother.  This is “best practice” for human society.  Marriage in Israel was modeled on God’s own fidelity to his covenant with the nation (Mal 2:16 and context).  “Casual” sex, “cultic” sex, promiscuity, and the killing of infants had no place in worship of the God of Israel.

The king of northern Israel, Ahab, had married this Phoenician princess Jezebel, who was a Baal worshiper and was using government authority to promote Baal worship and its debased view of sexuality, marriage, and the value of infant children; and to suppress the religious freedom of the worshipers of the LORD, the God of Israel.

For all his efforts, Elijah was losing this cultural war, and now was in danger of his very life.  We find him fleeing into the wilderness of Judah in order to escape from any of Jezebel’s agents.  There he collapses in physical and spiritual exhaustion, and prays for death.

Yet God extends to Elijah a very gentle mercy in this passage.  Twice he sends an angel to him, to awaken him and prod him to eat a mysterious meal: a jug of water and a cake of bread that inexplicably appears nearby.  The nourishment from this food strengthens Elijah for a forty-day fast during his journey to Mt. Horeb (=Sinai), the mountain where God appeared to Moses.  There at Horeb, Elijah will speak with God and his prophetic vocation will be renewed.

In this passage we see God’s compassion for the weakness of his prophet, expressed in the provision of this sacred meal which strengthens him for the next step in his prophetic ministry.  In Christ, we “have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tested in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).  He knows our weakness and so has provided us day by day with a supernatural meal, the Eucharist, in which he comes into us and supplies the strength of spirit we need to carry on in our vocations.

Today’s Readings:

Word format: Year B 19th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B 19th Sunday 2015