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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

20th SUNDAY -C- August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

In July I watched clips from the Tour de France. I don’t understand the rules of this annual world championship bicycle race. It lasts 23 days and Wikipedia calls it, "the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race," It was won by 22-year-old Egan Bernal, the first South American to win the tour.

I did not understand much of what was happening, but I was taken back by one thing I saw during the course of the race. Thousands of spectators lined the roads cheering and waving flags. But, unlike other sporting events, they were not behind barricades. Instead they were on the road, barely leaving room for the racing bicyclists. As the riders passed the crowds reached out to pat them on the back, shouting encouragement in their ears. At first I was put off by the mess and the disorderly intrusion these crowds made; hardly anything like the reserved spectators at a golf tournament! Then I thought again.

In a mountainous 23 day bicycle race those cheering, back-slapping crowds may have energized the bodies and spirits of the straining competitors. Judging from the grimaces on their faces they certainly needed all the help they could get.

Believe it or not, the crowds and the bicyclists at the Tour de France reminded me of today’s Hebrew reading – in particular the opening line:

  • "Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."

The author of Hebrews is reminding us of the need for faith and discipline in the race we are running. This race is no quick 100 yard-dash to the finish line. Rather, in the metaphor of athletics, we are in a long, cross-country race that involves steep hills and sudden declines. We need assurance and encouragement, we need a "cloud of witnesses" to inspire and cheer us on.

Hebrews has previously given a long list of heroes in faith from the Hebrew Scriptures (Heb 11:5ff), names of Israel’s greatest: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph etc. (It’s a shame the author didn’t include the heroic women who were also great models of faith like: Sarah, "Mother of the Jewish Nation," Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, etc.) These and so many unnamed ones in both Testaments, are "a great cloud of witnesses," for us as we continue to keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." Maybe it is not too far afield to liken our past and present heroic ones to spectators in our long and taxing athletic event. And not just idle spectators, but they are those who cheer us on, support us in our efforts and inspire us to keep at our, sometimes, difficult task of being Christian witnesses to Jesus Christ.

"Cloud of witnesses" was a phrase taken from ancient Greek Olympic events. The "cloud" was supposed to encourage those undergoing the dangerous and taxing competitions. The athletes were expected to train arduously and put aside all that would distract them from their goal – victory in their competitive event. In the language of ancient athletic training, Hebrews encourages believers to trim down, rid themselves of unnecessary baggage and anything that would slow them down, especially "every burden of sin that clings to us." Being weighed down by the sinful distractions of this world would only divert us and prevent us from achieving our true goal – the joy that Christ has shown awaits us. "For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame…."

As a young priest, struggling with a difficult assignment and its daily trials, I went to speak to a senior priest friend for advice He summed up his counsel to me in one brief sentence, "Jude, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus." I did not know at the time that he was quoting the letter to the Hebrews. Looking back I realize my

friend, Father Louis, was also one of the "cloud of witnesses," who was setting an example, patting me on the back and shouting encouragement in my ear as I strained forward – just like those spectators at the Tour de France!

It isn’t just a matter of keeping our nose to the grind stone, is it? It is not just about our "keeping on, keeping on." And it is not just keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus because he is an inspiration. There are plenty of examples of wise leaders and teachers in the history of the world who also suffered for their beliefs. No, it’s because by Jesus’ fidelity, endurance, and victory, that we, the baptized, have received his life along with his promise of future victory, "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus."

The last verse, "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood…", while initially true, did shine a light on what the letter’s readers would one day have to endure for their constancy and faith. They did shed their blood for their belief.

Let’s return to the "great cloud of witnesses" that Hebrews says surrounds us. We know the names and the lives of the ones whom the church declares as "saints." Among them we have our favorites, those we turn to for prayerful support and inspiration by their example. But who else is in your "cloud?" – and we are not talking about the internet here! Who are those who support you in dire times? Who gives you courage by the example of their lives? Who keeps you in the Church, despite the failing "witnesses" of the recent scandals? During this Eucharist imagine those good souls standing around you as you pray. Name them and give thanks to God for them. After all, isn’t the Eucharist a prayer of thanksgiving at its heart?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081819.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me.

Psalm 40:18

If the Lord thinks of people who are afflicted and poor, shouldn’t we do the same? Last week I wrote about the work of Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing and this week I want to tell you about other ministries in our parish that are also trying to help alleviate this silent crisis.

I spent part of my vacation trying to assist a family with an autistic young man and three other children keep a roof over their heads in a local hotel. The mother has a section 8 voucher but was having great difficulty finding an apartment that would accept it. Thanks to our Door Fund Ministry, the goodness of parishioners and other area churches, the regional office of Catholic Charities, and the Autistic Society, we were able to help her. She has recently found an apartment and another church in the Emergency Assistance Provider network, of which HNOJ is a member, is providing funds for the deposit. The Door Fund Ministry was started in 2002 by Anne & Bill Werdel. This ministry acts to prevent homelessness by helping financially with past due rents and eviction notices. Thanks to parishioners’ contributions, we helped almost 500 fellow citizens last year.

However, we also have other ministries that try to help people out of homelessness. Family Promise has area churches host homeless families in their facilities. Other churches in this ministry bring meals for the families in the evening. Cathedral parishioners help with families being hosted at Edenton St. United Methodist Church and First Baptist on Salisbury. This is a quarterly endeavor. We also prepare dinner once a month on the fourth Friday at the Helen Wright Shelter for about 30 homeless, single women. Finally, at the new Oak City Cares Center, we have teams of parishioners bringing food on the second and third Saturday of every month. Area citizens that come often find that their food stamps do not last until the end of the month. Elizabeth White, one of our coordinators, said that she is now serving up to 130 people when her team serves. This ministry used to operate on the sidewalk at Moore Square. All of these ministries could use more parishioner help. What is really nice is the opportunity to accompany a poor person or family if only through a meal. Through you, the "Lord thinks of them."

Please advocate for more affordable housing and contact socialconcern@hnojnc.org to add your help.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

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 Gospel reading:

Jesus said, "I have come to set the earth on fire

and how I wish it were already blazing!"

Reflection:

In the beginning of his gospel Luke gives us the story of Jesus’ birth, with the warming scene of the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those whom God favors." It is clear from today’s passage that the peace Jesus brings to his followers is not the peace of comfort and the well-being the world desires. Following him will not be a life of calm and tranquility.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What makes us uncomfortable about Jesus’ teachings?
  • Does what he asks of us set us apart from those who know us?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

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:

  • Terry Robinson #0349019 (On death row since 4/10/00)
  • Mark L. Squires #0688223 (5/17/00)
  • Paul A Brown #0051026 (8/11/00)

----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: www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"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 jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

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: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

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.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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