Can COVID-19 Restrictions Teach Us Gospel Values?

The Gospel for Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent (March 20, 2020) teaches about the Greatest of the Commandments, love of God and love of neighbor from Mark, Chapter 12.

The Gospel reads in part:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
   Hear, O Israel!
   The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
   with all your soul,
   with all your mind,
   and with all your strength.
The second is this:
   You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

My hunch is that the gathering, mobility, and social restrictions imposed by local, state, and federal authorities to help blunt the potential spread of the virus is causing us to find a “new normal” and to begin redefining work, schooling, family life, Church, and travel.

These challenges, no doubt, are turbulent, stressful and filled with anxiety, as partially evidenced by empty grocery store shelves, by lighter traffic on streets and highways, and sadly by a significant spike in ammunition purchases, stock sell off that seem remarkably like insider trading, and even Coronavirus scammers. But beyond the initial shock and fear there will be a new normal, a new routine, of some ilk that is yet to be developed.

Will simplifying and centralizing love of God and love of neighbor become a robust part of our new normal? Right now, we seem to be stripped down to the basics-relationships. Our relationship with God and neighbor is the foundation upon which all else is built. The facades created in the hustle-bustle world of luxury, affluence, power, control, security will be, if they haven’t already been, upended.

Our back to basics approach to life…wash your hands, cover your mouth, give people their personal space, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, will help us recalibrate our interactions and focus on the primacy of relationship near and far so that we can better understand our role and impact in perpetuating, protecting and insuring the Common Good, which is fundamentally loving neighbor over self.

Restrictions on liturgical gatherings affords us the opportunity to simplify our relationship with God and recognize that our foundation for public worship is our personal relationship with God as demonstrated by private prayer-talking and listening to God-in the quiet of our heart, and encountering Jesus Christ in Scripture. Once we are able to gather again for public worship those celebrations will be defined, as they always have been, by our personal relationship with God, but maybe, as a result of these restrictions we now face, our new personal relationship with God will usher in a new vitality within our Church, a new Pentecost of sorts.

Hopefully love of God and love of neighbor will be the flowers that bloom in this desert time.

3rd Sunday Lent: Worshiping When Your Church is Closed

The Third Sunday of Lent features the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well and her interactions with Jesus and her fellow villagers. 

This robust and beautiful reading speaks of thirst… and that Jesus provides living water for those to be Baptized, and for we who already are baptized,and gives us the opportunity to reflect on what it is that we truly thirst for and how Jesus quenches our thirst.

There is a poignant turn in the story whereby a woman outcast by the community because of her promiscuous behavior becomes an evangelist to the same people who shunned her, and how we too can repent, and turn back to God and become God’s instruments among our own people.

There are intricacies mentioned about the Jewish / Samaritan riff and an assault on the social and cultural mores of the day which we can apply to our lives today and the structural discriminations that we might encounter, or the stereotypes that we perpetuate. 

I have read this story many times, and written about it and preached on it, but today I’m drawn to a part of the story that has never resonated with mebefore.

Jesus said to the woman at the well,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”

As we face this weekend without gathering, our “mountain” upon which we historically worship is closed and we must worship in Spirit and in Truth.

This Covid-19 virus has disrupted our lives significantly and has required unprecedented actions, like closing churches and suspending public liturgies.

We do not know how the Samaritans in the Gospel reacted to Jesus’ observation that their worship would some day be upended but the important question is how will we react and what will we do in the absence of gathering around the Altar.

Will we worship God in Spirit and Truth?

Will we worship/work in a Spirit of charity and love for those whose lives and health are negatively impacted by this virus… whether we know them or not? Whether they are local or distant?

Will we worship/work in a Spirit of generosity… taking this opportunity to afford every individual the basic elements of their God given human dignity?

Will we worship/work in the Truth that we are agents of the common good of all people, and take this opportunity to focus on the welfare of other over our personal self-interests or over our long-standing habits and beliefs?

Will we worship/work in the Truth that God never abandons His people under any circumstances and we need to call upon the Name of Jesus in everything that we think, say and do?

While we cannot gather and receive the Sacraments of the Church at thistime, we are called to continue to be sacraments (efficacious signs) of Jesus Christ, and to bring His sacramental presence to those in our lives.

Deacon B Fobes© 2020

Out on a limb for Jesus

31st Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110319.cfm

In the Gospel of Luke we hear that Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” but he was short in stature so he climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd.

Zacchaeus did in fact get to “see who Jesus was” more than just physically. Zacchaeus saw Jesus for who he is- the one to come-the one to follow.

Zacchaeus encounters Jesus and his whole life changes. He abandoned his checkered past and commits to living a just life.

REFLECTION:

Who is Jesus to you?

Are you willing to go out of your comfort zone- to go “out on a limb” to see who Jesus is?

Do you recognize your encounters with Jesus in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in your sisters and brothers who gather in his name?

Will you allow yourself to be changed by your encounters of Jesus?

Piercing the heavens with prayer

30th Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102719.cfm

For the second Sunday in a row the Church provides scripture reading about prayer.

Recall last week Jesus taught about persistence in prayer and today we hear something about our disposition in prayer.

The opening line of the first reading from Sirach reminds us that the Lord is a God of justice who know no favorites. We all have equal standing before God. No one is disenfranchised from God even if we think we are unforgivable or unlovable or have been absent for a while. God always listens.

Sirach’s imagery illuminates my imagination when I hear… the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest until it reaches its goal, nor does it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly, and affirms the right.

My imagination sees an archer shooting arrows high into the heavens… each arrow a prayer – a petition… soaring high…piercing the clouds to reach its goal—God’s ears.

Arrow after arrow… petition after petition…prayer after prayer… flying towards God’s ear…residing in his heart… and God judging justly and affirming the right.

Prayers for justice and right… are what God responds to… not to self-serving supplications.

The Responsorial Psalm adds to the picture of our prayer disposition when we hear the refrain “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” because the poor know first had what it means to be dependent for their very existence… the rich seem to have a harder time admitting dependence… on God or anything else.

To be dependent on God we often have to pierce our bloated self-image to make room for the image of God.

The Gospel illustrates much of these notes on our prayer disposition with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

The two characters in the Gospel—the Pharisee and the tax collector are as far apart as the east is from the west to those who heard Jesus tell this story, with the Pharisee being the envied one while the tax collector is disenfranchised and despised.

We can see from their position in the Temple and their approach to prayer that their polar opposite positions are reinforced in their disposition towardsprayer.

In listening to the Pharisee’s prayer—front and center in the Temple– he almost approaches it as if his role in prayer is to inform God of all the good things that the Pharisee does that separates himself from all the lesser mortals of which there are many… while the tax collector is on the periphery of the temple—at a distance– and there is not much to listen to from the tax collector prayer. He is short on words… but what he does say speaks volumes… “have mercy on me a sinner.” What else truly needs to be acknowledged…I am a sinner…have mercy on me.

The one tries to justify himself before God with words and his prayer if filled with pride… the other says little and in humility… listens a lot.

In looking at the Gospel the Pharisee manufactured many finely crafted words to deliver his message. The Pharisee’s tone was self-aggrandizing and his demeanor was one of superiority. How effective do your think his message was?

The tax collector used few words, took a realistic and humble tone, only asked for mercy, and was postured in supplication.

Who do you think communicated more effectively with God?

Follow his lead.

Rendering a just decision

29th Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102019.cfm

One could be distracted by the judge in this Gospel story but he is not the primary person of interest here. The widow who persists in her petition has the qualities worth emulating.

All the widow is seeking is a JUST decision and the bad judge is withholding from her that just decision. She is not asking for anything exorbitant or anything beyond what she is due. She only asks for a just decision.

Contrasting the bad judge’s delay at delivering justice for the widow the Good Judge (God) swiftly provides justice for those who petition.

Being persistent in the pursuit of justice is a prayer answered speedily.

Early in his pontificate Pope Francis said “The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”

We could paraphrase Pope Francis today and with equal accuracy, “The Lord never tires of listening to our prayers, it is we who tire of praying.”

We do not pray to inform God-God knows all-we pray to inform ourselves.

REFLECTION:

Do you pray often? Are you persistent like the widow in the Gospel?

What gets in you way for praying regularly? Why do you loose interest in praying?

For what do you pray? Do you imagine a glorified vending machine with prayers as the coins in the slots and your desired things as the reward that drops to the tray?

Are you praying for justice?

Thanks be to God

Jesus heals ten lepers

28th Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101319.cfm

Ten Samaritan lepers ask Jesus to have pity on them in their suffering and he did and sent them off to show the priest they were healed so they could be restored to the community. One came back to give thanks, and Jesus responds, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”

Reflection:

How often do you petition God with your urgent needs and how infrequently do you stop to give thanks?

Maybe the ratio of petitions to thanks needs to improve?

Garth Brooks sings “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” Think of some of those things that you petitioned God for and you imagined them as unanswered prayers. God’s Wisdom is beyond our understanding. Thank God for protecting me from my own I’ll formed desires.

So you do know my name!

Homeless Jesus Sculpture

26th Sunday. Readings http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092919.cfm

In the Gospel reading for the 26th Sunday we hear of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus-lying at the rich man’s doorstep. The poor wan was hungry and destitute and covered with sores that the dogs came and licked. Only the dogs offered this poor man any comfort as the rich man ignored him, never spoke to him, and probably thought it was right for this dog to associate with his own kind—other dogs. The rich man did not see a human being he just saw Lazarus as another dog.

When both men died the poor man went to the”bosom of Abraham” while the rich man went o the netherworld where he was in torment. The rich man calls out to Abraham with instruction for Lazarus. In death the rich man calls Lazarus by name…which he never did in life. He knew Lazarus’s name in life but seems to have intentionally ignored him and not acknowledge him. His intentional sin of omission warrants eternal torment.

Reflection

Who in your life do your ignore?

What humans do you consider “less than human?” Think race, religion, gender, social, financial and political orientation.

Actively ignoring and discounting another human say more about you then about them. What are you saying by your behavior, prejudice, indifference?

Divided Loyalty

25th Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092219.cfm

The Gospel for this 25th Sunday ends with, “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.”

Trying to serve two master that demand loyalty, attention, devotion leaves one “between a rock and a hard place.” Serving two masters simply cannot be accomplished successfully. Inevitably, a time will come when the two masters interests are at crossed purposes and there is no way to reconcile the two. Choose one, ignore the other.

In this case one’s loyalty is divided between our worldly life and our eternal life. Can you remember a time when you were “in between” the world and God and had to make a choice between the two? How difficult was that choice? What did you choose-the world or God-and why?

In the Gospel the master of the house commends the steward who just defrauded him. The master did not commend him for his virtue-after all he was dishonest- but he did comment on his industry, his long-view, his advanced planning, his self preservation.

Jesus comments the we who follow God should learn some of the attributes of the worldly to apply the same enthusiasm and determination to achieving eternal life.

Sometimes I think that we imagine eternal life as something later in life and mysteriously believe it to be a long way off, and that the outcome is inevitable. These notions lull us into an apathetic stupor that clouds our personal responsibilities for our lives. We seem to simply blow with the winds and hope things will be alright- without any work, commitment, energy expended to embrace the ways of Jesus.

Daily decisions await us now that will move us deeper into the allurements of the world or closer to the ways of Jesus.

“You will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

Which will it be today?