I was reading a newspaper on a park bench a while back, before the pandemic, and was approached by a young couple who both carried bibles and wanted to talk to me about the coming end of the world. They got my attention! I admired their missionary zeal (wish our church had more of it) and their sincerity, so we talked. Using quotes similar to today’s first and third readings, I was given the "key" to understanding when all this was going to happen. These pandemic days, accompanied by global warming and violent weather incidents have had a lot of people talking about the end times – dates, times and portents. I must admit the approaching new year has me wondering and a bit anxious about what dark clouds await our country and our world. The young couple in the park were sure it was all about to end – everything. "Me too," I thought as I glanced at the headlines of the newspaper I was reading. I longed for all the suffering of humans and our lovely planet to end, and a final peace be declared – forever.
Today's first and third readings are pieces of apocalyptical literature. There are people who claim to have a "bible code" and an ability to determine dates and times when the cataclysmic events portrayed in the readings will occur. All this preoccupation with figuring when all these things will happen is really a distraction because apocalyptical readings in the scriptures are meant to be a consolation, not a means to predict events, or scare people about what lies ahead.
If there is a misreading of the intention of the literature, maybe we preachers have no one else to blame but ourselves. After all, when was the last time any of us dared preach on apocalyptical themes, like the ones we have today in our liturgy? Why do we leave such preaching to fundamentalist preachers who use these texts to frighten and confound? If we have been paying attention to the scriptures these past Sundays, we might have noticed how many apocalyptical images pervade both Hebrew and Christian testaments, e.g., "Son of Man," resurrection, the return of Christ, the reign of God, the angel holding the seal of God, etc. Shouldn't we serious preachers face this particular form of biblical literature and use it as a way of helping ourselves and our hearers interpret our world and strengthen our hope?
The writers of this genre of literature are writing in a time of collapse, persecutions, loss of ideals, despair and faith under duress (sound familiar?) that characterized the 200 years prior to and after the birth of Christ. Writers from both testaments found it necessary to offer assurances and comfort to the faithful: good will triumph, God will reign, evil will be finally overcome. This message needs to be reaffirmed for out time, not as a way of putting off doing anything about the problems in our world, but as a way of reassuring us when we don't see a lot of results from our labors. God has not abandoned us and will bring to completion what God has promised and what we are working so hard to bring about.
It sounds like the author of Daniel is writing about the future; but the present is the main concern. The Book of Daniel is intended to strengthen the faith of Jews in the 2nd century (B.C.E.) and encourage them to stay faithful to the teachings of their ancestors, rather than turn to the attractive "modern" philosophies and lifestyles of their day. The author lived in a time when Greeks ruled over Israel and were attempting to unify the world of their conquests by establishing their culture and political system everywhere they ruled. In Israel, it was a crime to
practice Judaism and people were killed for their faith (cf. 1 &2 Maccabees). Thus, the author in today's selection, is offering an optimistic view of the future. Justice will triumph, and even those seemingly overcome by death will rise. (We have here the earliest reference in the Bible to the resurrection of the dead.)
The Gospel selection is also an example of apocalyptical writing. Like the first reading, this is not a prediction of the future, but an attempt to help the suffering Christian community, for whom Mark was writing, keep faith and be comforted by the assurance that God will bring victory in the future. Mark's Gospel stresses that with Jesus' death, a final age had started and the end was near. When the Temple was destroyed in the year 70, it looked like the end was about to happen. When it didn't, the next Gospels (Matthew and Luke) had to rethink the parousia; it wasn't to happen as soon as Mark expected.
Mark, like us, was waiting for Christ to come "with great power and glory" to bring an end to suffering and oppression. All that Christ taught about the forgiveness of sins, his authority, the promise of life, the victory over evil, and the triumph over death, would be accomplished. For Christians still engaged in the struggle, this glimpse into the assured future must have been very helpful and encouraging.
Each generation must deal with this teaching about the end of the world, or worlds, we have known. We already have known many endings in our lifetime. We don't have to be morbid or pessimistic about how things will end, but reflecting on the end of our world may help put things in perspective. I heard someone pray at mass this morning, "Thank you God for this day." I think that person sees things in the perspective of this Gospel, appreciating the present in the light of the future. The world will end, but how are we now living in it? We are invited to welcome each moment, live it fully, grow in love for God and others. Jesus says that we don't know what hour will be our last – so let this hour be important. We Americans live so much in the future, we plan how things will be when we get out of school, settle into a job, marry, retire, get the kids through school, etc. We need to look and plan for the future, but we cherish "this day" and God's presence to us at this moment with all the opportunities this moment offers us.
The fig tree is used as an example and it stirs us memories for me. I remember my grandfather's two fig trees in his backyard in Brooklyn. After they bore fruit, their leaves would fall off and the trees would look dead. He would cut back the branches, tie up the trimmed trees and wrap them in black tar paper to protect them from the winter cold. They looked dead, wrapped in black tar paper, as if in shrouds. Miracle of miracles, each spring, once they were unwrapped, they would sprout new branches, grow leaves and by August we would have another harvest of dark succulent figs again.
Maybe that's why Jesus uses the fig tree as an example of the coming of the Son of Man. Ancient civilizations considered the fig tree a symbol of peace and fruitfulness. In hot climates it provided abundant shade from the heat and was a rich source of food. It's growth in Spring was seen as a sign of the coming of summer and a promise of fruit at harvest time. Mark sees the struggles in faith of his community and the accompanying persecutions they suffered, as a sure sign of the harvest that was coming when Christ would return.
Jesus seems to be saying it is useless to wonder about when all will be finalized. The passage calls for the community to stay alert. It must have been a comfort to those who were suffering for their faith. They had the kinds of questions believers have always pondered – why must good people suffer? Why do they get sick? Why does a child die? Why is the world so violent towards the innocent? Why doesn't an all-powerful God do something to change the way things are? If God loves us, why must we suffer so? Doesn't our faith in Jesus mean anything in God's eyes? Both Daniel and Mark are reminders to our faith that God has promised to be with us no matter what we must suffer and to bring to completion the victory promised us today.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111421.cfm
It is not easy to start on Tuesday with the scriptures and commentaries. But we should. It is not easy to read, read, read, and take notes or clip items, but we should. We hear, with some dismay, of a few Protestant preachers who devote an allotted portion of time each week for various
kinds of reading--fiction, biography, theology, poetry. Now I would add science and contemporary affairs. We should love reading and practice the art of listening as we read.
We must build up a good homiletic tradition. Stop treating the homily as an extra, a disposable item. Believe in the power of the word to deliver you and those who hear it into the presence. This means the word proclaimed, the word preached, the word prayed and welcomed. When have you last heard the old reproach, "You didn't give us the word"? If all this sounds more like the Protestant tradition of worship than the Catholic, we must stop thinking that way. Of course we have the Eucharist, we know that. But we have united at least on biblical preaching, the cycle of scripture readings, and the place of the word.
--Joseph T. Nolan, in THE WORLD, THE CHURCH AND PREACHING
And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.
One of the organizations that will be stars forever are those working with and supporting the work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Founded in 1969 by the bishops of the United States as a Catholic antipoverty initiative, CCHD has addressed the problem of poverty by attacking its root causes. By funding projects for community-based programs that empower people who live in poverty to make permanent changes for themselves and their communities, CCHD promotes self-reliance as a means to end the cycle of poverty.
These days, it is not hard to imagine having to choose between rent or health care, food or transportation, household bills or clothing for your children. For most Americans, these decisions stem from a layoff, pay freeze, retirement fund decrease, or the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the millions of Americans who live below the poverty line, these choices are only getting worse.
Over the course of more than 50 years, CCHD has funded nearly 12,000 projects that empower the poor to come together and solve community problems with grants totaling over $400 million. CCHD funds projects that produce real and lasting change. These projects are funded by Catholic parishioners just like you who graciously donate to the CCHD collection. In parishes across the country, this collection makes a difference to end the cycle of poverty. Twenty-five percent of our donations will be kept in our diocese to fund local projects. In the past, the funds have helped local organizations such as Community Success Initiative, with their focus on helping the previously incarcerated merge back into life outside prison, and Step-Up Ministry that helps people find good jobs. The remaining 75% goes to the CCHD national office to support antipoverty initiatives across the United States.
The main source of funding for CCHD is the annual parish collection. Without your support, CCHD’s mission would not be possible, and poverty would go on without a fight. With your help, we can work to end poverty—not just for a day, but for a lifetime. Please give generously to the CCHD parish collection NEXT WEEKEND!Light up the night sky with stars! Thank you in advance.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
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 Gospel reading:
Heaven and earth will pass away
but my words will not pass away
Our faith invites us to trust that, even amid complete upheaval, God has not abandoned us. "The tribulation" Jesus predicts for his disciples is about to take place for him. When their world collapses with Jesus’ death, will they remember and cling to his words and look forward to an entirely new Spring? The same can be asked of us.
So we ask ourselves:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247, Phoenix, MD 21131
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:http://www.pfadp.org/
"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 email@example.com.
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:https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations
1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
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, OP, atJboll@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, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Click on a link button below to view the reflection indicated.
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