PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First
Impressions," the worshiping community at St Albert the Great
Priory in Irving, Texas.
You know, don’t you, there are Bible readers in prison? There are
also scripture study groups led by volunteers from the outside and
some by the prisoners themselves. Volunteers and religious
communities also donate Bibles for the women and men inmates. These
prisoners don’t get extra benefits from the prison administration;
nor do they get time reduced from their sentences if they belong to
a scripture group. As they live under the harsh prison conditions
the word of God provides consolation and hope when none seem
Like some of you I have been a volunteer at the prisons near
where I have lived. If I were asked, "Which book of the Bible is the
most popular among prisoners?" – I am not sure about the most
popular; but a favorite, from my informal survey, is the Book of
Revelation. I have to admit I don’t spend a lot of time reading
Revelation. I can’t remember the last time I preached from it. So, I
challenge myself and you preachers to attempt a preaching from
Revelation, at least once, this Easter season. I also encourage you
who will be attending Mass these weeks to jump into Revelation –
which can be quite a bracing swim.
First, some background. The liturgical readings from Revelation
selected for these post-Easter Sundays give a clue about the person
writing and the conditions the Christian community was experiencing.
The weekly sequence of Revelation readings began with John’s self
- "I John, your brother, who shares with you the distress, the
Kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus, found myself on the
island called Patmos because I proclaimed God’s word and gave
testimony to Jesus". - (Rev 9:9 – 2nd Sunday of
The clues are there: the early Christian community was under
stress; as it always has been, right up to the present. For what
particular reason? John spells it out, "I proclaimed God’s word and
gave testimony to Jesus." Faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ have
suffered since the very beginning of the church.
The immediate audience for this apocalyptic writing were
believers who suffered under the persecution of the emperor
Domitian, who claimed the title, "Lord and God." He demanded worship
from all people in the Roman empire. Those who chose Domitian as
their "Lord and God" survived; those who refused were tortured and
killed. It is clear from these Easter season readings why inmates in
prison and Christians under stress, would be drawn to Revelation –
it was written to stir hope for people suffering.
John, the visionary, describes huge crowds, "from every nation,
race, people and tongue" before the throne of God and the Lamb."
They have "survived the time of great distress." The lamb image
recalls the Passover lamb and God’s deliverance of the Israelites
from Egyptian slavery (Ex 12) – and also the lamb the prophet Isaiah
describes: "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (Is. 53:2).
Revelation draws from the Hebrew texts to help us interpret Jesus’
saving death. Christians who suffer persecution have been purified
by Christ death, the Lamb’s saving blood.
Imagine how those suffering servants who received the John’s
message were comforted. Their sufferings were a witness to the world
of their faith in Christ. Because of the Lamb’s sacrifice their
trials will come to an end and they will celebrate the heavenly
feast. Hear the promise: Then "they will not go hungry or thirst
anymore… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Christians suffering for their faith are promised a glorious
future. Imagine what an inmate in one of our violent prisons (and
most are!) must endure trying to practice their faith. At Easter
time converts to the faith were baptized in prison chapels
throughout the country. We pray with them and others throughout the
world suffering for their beliefs.
In his vision John saw a vast multitude worshiping in the
heavenly court, standing before the throne and the Lamb. He’s
drawing on God’s promise to Abraham that his and Sarah’s descendants
will be as numerous as "the dust of the earth" (Gen 13:16). It is
not just a matter of impressive numbers, but the diversity of
peoples from every "nation, race, people and tongue." John’s vision
challenges our narrow and exclusive notions of those who are favored
by God. God’s embrace is wide. What unites those people in the
heavenly court has nothing to do with nationality or race, but their
common worship of the Lamb.
It has been said Sunday morning is the most segregated time of
the week. John’s vision may be about the future consolation of those
who suffer for their faith, but it is also a challenge to us now. He
saw a vast and diverse multitude before the throne. How inclusive
and welcoming are our worshiping communities to minorities,
newcomers, physically and mentally challenged, the elderly and the
young. How inclusive are our liturgical celebrations? As we worship
before the altar are there women, people of color, recent immigrants
ministering in the sanctuary?
The Lamb "sits at the center of the throne" and, at the same
time, shepherds the faithful to "springs of life-giving waters." The
dual images of both the Lamb and nurturing shepherd are a comfort to
those in the congregation currently suffering and to the prisoner
isolated in his/her cell reading this passage.
The Lamb is an image that reminds us of Christ suffering for us.
We also note Jesus, the shepherd’s, mandate to care for the least of
his brothers and sisters. We do this now, reminded by John, the
visionary, that one day we will be a vast and diverse community,
before the throne worshiping our saving God together.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"The purpose and spirit of the homily is to inspire and
move those who hear it, to enable them to understand in
heart and mind what the mysteries of our redemption mean
for our lives and how they might call us to repentance
and change" (p. 30). "The purpose and spirit of the
homily is to inspire and move those who hear it, to
enable them to understand in heart and mind what the
mysteries of our redemption mean for our lives and how
they might call us to repentance and change"
--"Preaching the Mystery of Faith,"
Conference of Catholic Bishops (p. 30).
made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of
salvation to the ends of the earth"
I learned something new the other day. It comes from a book
titled, Words of Wisdom (Novalis, 1999) by Fr. Walter Vogels.
The book is centered on the Wisdom literature of the Bible that has
been called "the neglected side of biblical faith" (16). In liturgy,
we more often hear texts from the Law and the Prophets in which
salvation-history theology is presented. Wisdom literature does
not belong here. Vogels says Wisdom writings could be considered as
Vogel writes, "In the creation theology of the Wisdom literature,
God has put humanity in charge. Individuals have to use their minds
and reflect on their experience to determine for themselves what
ought to be done. . .See--judge--act is how the wise
function" (18). He states, "In salvation-history, God tells the
human being what to do and how to act, since God is in charge" (17).
"[In creation theology] God trusts people because God has endowed
humanity with minds to think (Genesis 2:19). People may make the
wrong decisions. We grow not only by our successes but--sometimes
more quickly--by our mistakes" (19). In the scripture above, both
theologies are working. God makes us a light and we, in turn, will
help create by seeing, judging and acting [instrument].
When God asks us to create a more just world because God is just,
we are to use our minds and experiences to make this happen. We do
not have to wait for God to tell us what specifically to do, it is
already written on our hearts and we have only to see the unjust
problem, discern the correct path, and respond.
Last week, I talked about Pope Francis’ distress for the earth
that his encyclical Laudato Si’ addresses. Have you read the
document? Do you feel the urgency of his call to respond? Our common
home is crying out. Vogel writes, "In the Wisdom literature, God
does not determine history, people do. . .After God created the
universe and other living beings, as his last work on the final day,
God created humanity and entrusted the world to them. . .Humankind
is now in charge of its world (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 8)" (17).
Msgr. Michael Shugrue will be leading an introductory seminar on
Laudato Si’ on Tuesday, May 14 at 7PM. Seating is limited to
30. RSVP to
Director of Social
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 Revelation reading:
the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
lead them to springs of life-giving waters
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Imagine what an inmate in one of our violent prisons (and most
prisons are!) must endure trying to practice their faith. At Easter
time converts to the faith were baptized in prison chapels
throughout the country. We pray with them that Christ will shepherd
them and that God will wipe away their tears
So we ask ourselves:
- To whom can I be a comforting and shepherding presence?
- Is my heart as open to all people as God’s?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Keith B. East #0511998 (On death row since 11/8/95)
- John D. Mc Neil #0275678 (11/10/95)
- Stacey A. Tyer #0414853 (11/14/95)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday
worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like
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1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
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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:
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2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These
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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
you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
Vince Hagan Drive
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