October 12, 2019
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 467

Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1
Psalm 113:1-2, 3-4, 5, 6-7
Luke 11:29-32

Praying Ordinary Time


The Christian liturgy was first practiced and then flourished in the northern hemisphere. Israel, the birthplace of Christianity is in the northern half of the globe and the proclamation of the Gospel moved out of the Middle East and across the northern hemisphere first. With this awareness it makes some sense that liturgical time often echoes the reality of themes that mark the natural world in the north.  As we have passed the “middle point” of the long summer and fall Ordinary Time of the Church, the second half of counted time (which is what ordinary means in liturgical lingo) there is a movement in the liturgy toward the completion of the earthly life cycle:  The days are growing shorter as the northern half of the earth shifts on its axis away from the sun.  With the waning of the light comes the drop in temperature and the more rapid movement of air (wind) all of which presages the period of death in nature called winter – the season of fear.

Liturgy, however, does not focus on death itself, but upon the “last things.”  Death is recognized as the passage to a new and fuller life, to the fullness of God’s Reign of justice and mercy where the Savior, Jesus Christ is King.  But we are also reminded that this is a period of judgement.  We must choose between an eternal life of slavery to fear-filled hatred or to a life of freedom, a fearless commitment to relationship in Christ Jesus.  

St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians interprets a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures to point to the choice or judgement that humans must make between slavery to the old law of death, or freedom in lives of love through the Spirit of Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus chide us for not being open to having our hearts converted to love through relationship with him – even though men and women ahead of us heard that message from the prophets and changed their lives with less witness to count on.  The sinners of Nineveh heard the preaching of Jonah, who didn’t even want to tell them of God’s judgement because he didn’t want them to change, and we won’t hear the preaching of Jesus to loves us and longs for us more than we can ask or imagine.  The Queen of the south heard and followed the wisdom of Solomon (a very fallible human) and yet men and women today will not hear one far greater than King Solomon call us to repent and believe in God’s mercy.

The simple fact is, we who have been brought by God’s compassion to new life in Baptism already dwell in the Reign of God and could be enjoying its benefits more fully even now as we gaze at the natural world bursting with life.  Why do we choose unhappiness?  Why do we assume the fears others want to foist on us?   In his recent encyclical “All Brothers and Sisters” Pope Francis points out: “The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. . . hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism . . .  one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.” (#15 ) 

Why do we take on the chains of laws, expectations, and cultural norms rather than listening closely to the Heartbeat of the Beloved within whose Body we dwell?  We could be acting with freedom and hope, confident of God’s mercy and the final success of God’s plan, instead of groaning in enslavement to the custom, biases, hatreds and fear that induces discouragement and even despair.  Why do we resist Jesus?  Of what are we afraid?

St. Paul implicitly asks the Galatians and us that question in today’s reading.  Jesus asks the same.  On this day in which we honor the re-discovery of the Americas by Europe  - or conversely remember with sadness the suffering case upon the indigenous peoples in the Americas – it is a good day to end our fear by choosing the lasting freedom and joy that a real relationship with Jesus, in a community of love and mercy, brings us.  I recall a prayer my parents taught me against fear – my father recited it often aloud and invited me to pray with him – a fragment at the heart of it claims:

I arise today . . .
Through the strength of Christ's birth . . .

Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul, . . .

I embrace
Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ above me and beneath me …
I arise today through the power of the Trinity   (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

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