Sunday readings September/October 2016

Sunday 4 September
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Wisdom 9.13-18
Psalm 89
Philippians 9-10, 12-17

In his writing Paul is never afraid of giving a personal account of himself, his struggles and his feelings: we are allowed to see the real person. In the letter to Philomen, Paul portrays himself as an old man who is still struggling with his calling and knows the cost of it. Yet there is never in his writings any sign of wanting to give up. Paul is always an example of faithfulness whatever the cost. In that sense he is an epitome of the singlemindedness that Jesus calls for in the gospel. In contemporary society where life can seem divided into compartments called work, family, social life, hobbies and leisure and so forth, faith can be portrayed as simply a personal preference which is a segment in the whole. Jesus insists that the gospel cannot allow this: faith cannot be a pastime that occupies the believer for part of the time, or for part of one’s life. This is the real challenge: not that faith has a place in one’s life, but that faith interprets all aspects of how one lives one’s life.

The passage from the book of Wisdom insists that such an understanding is not achieved by human reasoning, but through inspiration, through the gift from God. It may not be reasonable to take up a cross, to give up all one’s possessions, to constantly struggle as Paul does, but it may well be what wisdom demands.

Sunday 11 September
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Exodus 32.7-11, 13-14
Psalm 50
1Timothy 1.12-17
Luke 15.1-32

The gospel passage is a familiar one, but note that it begins with a complaint about who Jesus eats with. In the gospel – as in much of the scriptures – there is a great emphasis on sitting at table with others. It is central to a culture where hospitality, ritual laws, fellowship, belonging and favour are all marked out by who is at table with you. The three parables that Luke gives us culminate in the parable of the ‘prodigal’ son. The father celebrates the return of the son in the only way possible – a feast. The son has been absent from the table while he was on his spending spree, and he ended up with pigs for table companions, now that is to be rectified. But alas the father now finds that there is still an empty place at table because his elder son won’t come in. Like the host in the parable of the wedding guests, the father desperately wants his table filled, and everyone who belongs to be present. But he won’t force the ones who choose to be absent. As the community gathers for the Eucharist, we can be sure that many will be absent, for all sorts of reasons. Some will be like the younger son who have found something more exciting, some will be like the elder son who choose to sulk because they feel others get a better deal than they have. Paul writing to Timothy acknowledges that he was lost because he had been acting in ignorance until he was called. The goal of the whole of salvation history is the wedding feast of the lamb, promised from all ages, the mission of the Church is to ensure that everyone hears the invitation and so can respond: ‘blessed are those who are called to the supper of the lamb’.
Sunday 18 September
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 8.4-7
Psalm 112
1Timothy 2.1-8
Luke 16.1-13

If we allow them, the readings today can challenge us and our society seriously. Amos is the great prophet of justice in the Old Testament, excoriating the powerful and wealthy who use their power and might for their own benefit and trample the needy underfoot. Paul insists that we are to pray for those in power, those who hold authority. Jesus gives us a parable that we find hard to fathom as it seems to sanction immoral dealings. We struggle in our much politicised society to determine what is right and what is wrong. We know we have a rich tradition in the Catholic Social Teaching, and we know that we are called to work for the Common Good. The difficulty so often is to hear the teaching articulated clearly and applied well. The Second Vatican Council called the Church to look for and interpret ‘the signs, not the times’. That is something that the Magisterium as the teaching authority in the Church, and the theologians as its interpreters, have been entrusted with. Nonetheless it is for all the faithful to seek to act in accordance with consciences that have been duly formed and informed. As the faithful listen to these readings this weekend, it is for each to recognize where Amos’ challenge is directed today and to join Paul’s call to prayer for those in authority where that is apposite. It is also for each person to wrestle with the parable of the unjust steward, and determine how to use money, ‘that tainted thing’, in accordance with the gospel. As always the scriptures ask us to do some serious work as Christians, for that is what it means to be a disciple.

Sunday 25 September
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Amos 6.1, 4-7
Psalm 145
1Timothy 6.11-16
Luke 16.19-31

We continue to follow Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching by parable, and this is another of the masterly examples of that genre used to express what it means to belong to the kingdom. It is a graphic and challenging story. We are told that the rich man dressed finely and feasted magnificently – we are not told that he was harsh, cruel, deceitful or unscrupulous. We might assume these things, but Jesus does not tell us that his damnation was due to such things; all we can determine is that he did not notice the poor man at his gate. He might have been wicked, but we know he was unconcerned. Luke frequently chastises the rich in his gospel, simply, it seems for being rich. That should disturb any reader of the gospel who lives comfortably. But the key to this parable is the oblivion of the rich to the needs of the poor. It is not the things that the rich man might have committed that bring him to Hades, it is the things he omitted. Abraham reminds him that access to the moral code (Moses and the prophets) is available to all and following it is not an option for human beings. Morality is not something that some can take seriously and others ignore. That is why Christians should – and do – get moved to take steps to act for justice and call others to account. Lazarus is literally laying on the rich man’s doorstep, the challenge to every hearer is to notice – and act – accordingly.

Sunday 2 October
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Habakkuk 1.2-3, 2.2-4
Psalm 94
2Timothy 1.6-8, 13-14
Luke 17.5-19

Paul quite happily sees himself as the person to give advice – indeed instruction – to Timothy, and is not embarrassed to offer himself as the example to follow. That is because Paul is totally convinced that all he has is gift, and all that Timothy has been entrusted with is gift: this is not something that is rooted in personal strength or quality. The only power Paul has – and the only power that Timothy can rely on – is the power that comes through faith and love in Jesus Christ.  In the gospel Jesus speaks of faith – and he speaks in words that challenge his hearers to take faith seriously. The image that Jesus offers of the relationship of master and servant is challenging, indeed   almost harsh. But it offers a true picture of the relationship between God and humanity. It can be comfortable to live the Christian life  with an implicit attitude that the practice of the faith, the moral life, the acts of worship engaged in are somehow what we do for God, and the presumption is therefore  that we expect God to reciprocate  in an appropriate manner. Such is the way the world works – that is certainly how many human relationships usually operate. But the relationship between humankind and God is not a relationship of equals, it is a relationship based totally on the condescension of God. Indeed it is always important to acknowledge that any response of humanity to God in terms of the moral life, worship or faith is always the work of grace. The natural relationship of humanity to God is always that of servant – but that ‘natural’ relationship has been changed by the one who said: I call you not servants but friends. (Jn 15.15) We are also offered today a passage from the prophet Habakkuk who writes at a time of devastation and disaster, he speaks the words of a people who are desperate, and he offers words of promise and hope – but the hope he offers is for those who keep faith. In today’s readings we are invited to explore what we mean by the word faith, and find out that it is not so much a ‘thing’ to possess as a challenging dynamism we are invited to enter into without knowing where it may lead us.

Sunday 9 October
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
2Kings. 5.14-17
Psalm 97
2Timothy 8-13
Luke 17.11-19

In common parlance, when we refer to someone as a ‘leper’ we are not using the word in a medical, but in a social sense: the person is ‘cut off’ from others. This use is a consequence of the key role that the idea of lepers plays in the culture coming from the use of the word in scripture. In the Old Testament ‘leprosy’ was a general word used for many and various diseases of the skin. The book of Leviticus (ch. 13 & 14) carries a great deal of legislation on dealing with leprosy, because the diseases associated with it were perceived as something which made people unclean and so required them to be separated from the general community. To be a leper was to be an outcast, someone who was shunned and had no part in society.   It is interesting that both Naaman and the leper who comes back to give thanks are foreigners. That too meant that they were not part of the people – they were already outsiders – the fact that they are the particular recipients of mercy is therefore doubly significant. We can see their cure then as a sign that God’s care is far wider than the confines of social acceptance – perhaps a reminder to the Christian community that ‘our’ criteria for who belongs, may be overly restrictive. It is also worth noting that the cure of the two foreign lepers brings conversion. Naaman takes the soil of Israel back with him to Syria so that he can offer sacrifice to Israel’s God; the Samaritan falls at Jesus’ feet praising God – both acknowledge that what has happened is an act of God and requires a response of faith. The invitation to those who hear these readings is to ponder that experience of being an outsider, and to acknowledge that they too, through sin, are outsiders. But like Naaman and the Samaritan leper they have been brought into the people of God by an act of mercy. The response to that is one of faith and ongoing conversion. As Paul reminds us: ‘We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful.’ As Pope Francis constantly repeats, the mercy of God is always available to us, just as it was to Naaman and the Samaritan leper.

Sunday 16 October
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Exodus 17.8-13, Psalm 120
2Timothy 3.14-4.2
Luke 18.1-8

Many people have the experience of prayer as speaking into an empty place. It is common to hear people talk of their prayer as not being answered, of God not being there when they need him. It is significant that Jesus begins his teaching on prayer by telling his disciples to pray ‘continually’. This suggests that prayer is not a ‘now and then’ or ‘when I feel like it’ or ‘when I need something’ activity. There are many people in the Church who give their lives and put all their energy into working for justice: they are like the widow who knows how to persist. The Christian faith teaches that God desires the good of all, and that God is indeed aware of everything and omnipotent; prayer therefore cannot be like pestering an unjust judge who can’t be bothered. Prayer is a necessary part of Christian discipleship – it is simply being in the presence of God, and allowing God to be God. It is like Moses in the first reading simply standing with hands raised, simply being there. And it is significant that Moses needs the help of others – Aaron and Hur – it is something that requires community. That is why in the Catholic tradition the community is continually called to prayer throughout the day,  whether that be the Office recited by contemplatives or others, lay or religious; or whether it be the Angelus calling during the day, the rhythm of morning and night prayers, and the unceasing offering of the sacrifice of the Eucharist. The Church may be the bride of Christ, but she is also called to be the widow who calls unceasingly.

Sunday 23 October
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Sirach 35.12-14, Psalm 32
2Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18
Luke 18.9-14

This week Luke gives a second parable of Jesus on prayer. This one too is quite straightforward. Prayer is about God, not about the person praying – even though that person is part of the encounter.
The Pharisee simply gives an account of his activities and focuses his ‘prayer’ on himself (the word ‘I’ occurs six times!) The tax collector is much briefer, addresses God directly and simply acknowledges his need of God’s mercy. When Jesus teaches the disciples the ‘Our Father’ he gives them a prayer that is about God. Similarly when the Church celebrates the Mass, it offers the great prayer which is totally God-focused. To explore and unpack the Christian celebration of the Eucharist is a worthwhile task in learning what prayer looks like, for the Mass is always an offering to the Father in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian people do not gather for worship Sunday by Sunday to recount what they have done, but to make memorial of what God has done and is doing and seek to be more closely drawn into that.

The beautiful Apologia of Paul also reveals a single focus: a total commitment to the Lord and an absolute fidelity to his calling. The struggles and the difficulties Paul endured have only made him more faithful – even when he had no support from his community. Perhaps the community that hears these words might consciously seek to support those who are struggling with their own difficulties and burdens and so encourage them in their faith.

Sunday 30 October
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11.22-12.2, Psalm 144
2Thessalonians 1.11-2.2
Luke 19.1-10

The section of Luke’s gospel that we have been following these last few weeks not only has some wonderful parables, but also some marvellous characters – like the Samaritan leper, or today, Zacchaeus the tax collector. He is described as rich and a senior tax collector – neither of which makes him a sympathetic character in the world of the evangelist Luke. Nonetheless this apparently unlikely person becomes a symbol of redemption – Zacchaeus has an opportunity and he seizes it – even if it means climbing a tree! This act of literally ‘putting himself out on a limb’ is a defining moment because being prepared to risk making a fool of himself means that Jesus recognizes his openness to conversion, and so it is that Zacchaeus hears the momentous promise: ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’

The reading from the book of Wisdom offers a different model of conversion: not a rash dramatic one, but something gentle and slow. The author paints a poetic picture of God loving and nurturing all life, and bringing it gradually to fulfilment – and that includes allowing time for conversion and repentance on the part of humanity. It is a tender and encouraging passage; not all may feel able to seize the moment as Zacchaeus does, but all can be assured of the love of God which will gently bring them into the divine mercy.

Prayers of the faithful
Michael A. Hayes

A suggested opening and concluding prayer for the Prayers of the Faithful for September – October 2016. Michael A. Hayes is the editor of the Pastoral Review and President of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

4 September 2016
Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
The book of Wisdom speaks of the gift of the Spirit from God. We ask for that Spirit as we now bring our prayers and petitions to the Lord.

Concluding Prayer
God our Father, hear the prayers which we your people make, for we make them in the name of Jesus who calls us to take up our cross and follow him.

11 September 2016
Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
St Paul assures us of the inexhaustible patience of God; trusting in that we now bring before God our needs, and the needs of the world,

Concluding Prayer
Heavenly Father, you wish no one to be lost, but all to be gathered into your house, hear the prayers which we make in the name of Jesus your Son, for he is Lord forever and ever.

18 September 2016
Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
Paul calls us to offer prayer for those in authority and for all. We therefore present our petitions for the world and all God’s people.

Concluding Prayer
Almighty God, you call us to be faithful servants of all you have entrusted to us, hear the prayers we offer, for we make them in the name of the Lord Jesus who lives and reigns forever and ever.

25 September 2016
Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
The readings today challenge the Christian community to take care of those who are most in need. We bring before the Father our prayers for all who need the grace and consolation of God.

Concluding Prayer
Almighty Father aware of our calling to live saintly and religious lives, we bring before you our prayers for the poor and needy conscious of your care for them, hear these prayers and grant them through Christ our Lord.

2 October 2016
Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
Heavenly Father you have given us the Holy Spirit to live in us as your holy people, hear the prayers we now present to you for the needs of the world.

Concluding Prayer
God our Father you call us to wait patiently for your will to unfold. Hear the prayers we make in faith, for we make them through Jesus Christ who will come again in glory, for he is Lord forever and ever.

9 October 2016
Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us.’ Like the lepers in the gospel we turn to the Lord and ask for his mercy for ourselves and our world.

Concluding Prayer
Like Naaman the Syrian we acknowledge you as Lord of all the earth, hear then the prayers we make today, through Christ our Lord.

16 October 2016
Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
In the gospel Jesus promises us that God will hear our prayers when we cry to him. We ask then that God hears the prayers we make today for this world and its peoples.

Concluding Prayer
Lord God, you heard the prayer of Moses when he called on you, hear now the prayers which we your people make through Christ the Lord.

23 October 2016
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (C)
Invitation to Prayer
‘The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds’ the book of Ecclesiasticus assures us, it is therefore with confidence and, in humility, that we bring these prayers before the Lord.

Concluding Prayer
God our Father we acknowledge our sinfulness, but like the tax collector in the gospel, we seek your mercy for ourselves and the people of the world, receive these prayers, and grant them through Christ our Lord.

30 October 2016
Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (C)

Invitation to Prayer
Zacchaeus sought out the Lord, and was rewarded for his effort with the promise of salvation. We seek the Lord now with these prayers and petitions, knowing him to be the source of salvation for all people.

Concluding Prayer
Lord God we are told that you are merciful to all, hear then, these prayers which we make through your Son Jesus Christ who is Saviour and Redeemer, for ever and ever.