Worship At Home
Small Group Reflection of 09-27-20
In these days of social distancing we have endeavored to provide a Corpus Christi online worship experience. The Worship At Home web page has been our attempt to provide that. One of the ways our community has used this resource has been to gather virtually in real time using video conferencing software like FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, and Zoom. In an effort to hold onto our deep liturgical roots, one virtual group has gone to the point of having rotating presiders, lectors, and even homilists. The reflections provided by the members of this group have often been very inspiring. In an effort to share these reflections with the larger community several of them have been collected and published here on the CC website.
Reflection from 09-27-20, provided by Aaron A.C. Bohr, S.J.
My spiritual director, Sr. Jane Ferdon, is a Dominican sister who has directed generations of Jesuits studying at the Jesuit School of Theology here in Berkeley as they have prepared for the priesthood. Due to the pandemic, our spiritual direction has shiGed to the phone. Every few weeks I put in my earbuds and share with her the ways I have encountered God in my daily life and studies. It is very intimate and highlights the power of the human voice. Sr. Jane’s style of spiritual direction and her wisdom have inspired many of us to the point that we can tell whom she has directed by the way we repeat her wise words to one another. Among these wise words is that God does not force us to do anything, rather the way of God is one of gentle invitation. This invitation flows through today’s readings. They challenge us to continue along the journey of Christian discipleship and conversion. They are reminders that God is continually inviting us to conversion, and reaching out to us in mercy. It is never, ever too late to turn towards God, whose merciful gaze is full of love.
In the first reading, God through the prophet Ezekiel is inviting the people of Israel to return to the ways of the Torah. They have gone astray, cast into exile far away from their homeland by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. A member of the priestly upper class, Ezekiel himself experienced the trauma of deportation to Babylon. Ezekiel reminds the children of Israel that they each have a personal responsibility to do their part in living in God’s ways. The exile is God’s punishment for their sins, but it is not the end of the story. Ezekiel reminds his people of the centrality of loving one’s neighbor. Through Ezekiel, God gently and lovingly invites the Israelites to return to him, to live in God’s ways. Conversion is an ongoing journey, and it is challenging. At the end of this particular chapter, the Lord says, “Turn back and live!” God is merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness. And God is full of surprises. Sometimes God’s ways might strike us as unfair and surprising, especially when we get caught up in our own sense of selfrighteousness. This is what Ezekiel describes as turning away from virtue. Our gaze focuses on our egos and away from God. And still God turns his eyes of mercy towards us and gently invites us back, inviting us to the fullness of life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to turn the words of Ezekiel into a parable. The Jewish scholar of the New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine has fallen in love with Jesus and his parables. She describes them as true gems of Jewish teaching, and says that they make her a be[er Jew. Indeed, this is a reminder that Jesus’ primary ministry was to his fellow Jews. Levine notes the power of the parable to surprise, disturb, and shake us out of rigid ways of thinking. Jesus’ parables are actually quite wild, strange, and untamed. There are in fact moments in my New Testament classes when the original power of a particular parable has been uncovered and many of us are disturbed and shaken into new ways of seeing. Jesus in fact tells this parable aGer he has entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple, upse]ng the religious authorities. This particular parable of the two sons is very Jewish. The Jewish Scriptures, starting from the very beginning, have many stories about the rivalry between two sons and sometimes two daughters. So imagine that as Jesus began this parable, his Jewish hearers would have thought, “I can see where this might be going.” These two sons are both less than ideal. Neither of them actually does what he says he will or won’t do. Yet Jesus poses the question, which of them does the Father’s will? Jesus is provoking with this parable. And his provocation leads to a surprise. God’s gentleness and mercy extend to the tax collectors and prostitutes who are accepting God’s invitation to return to him. Who are the tax collectors and prostitutes of today? Perhaps they are the immigrants, the undocumented, communities of color, the imprisoned, the LGBTQ community, those from opposite political parties, and the many others who are pushed to the margins and dismissed as the threatening other. This parable serves as a warning to guard against egotistical self-righteousness and to pray for humility and compassion.
But how does one do all of this? St. Paul’s words from the le[er to the Philippians provide us with some practical wisdom. We are invited to practice mercy and compassion, to let go of our own pride and ego and serve one another with love, as Christ does. We are invited to turn our gaze to Christ, to breathe in his love and Spirit. In my own prayer with this passage, I prayed with the image of the Sacred Heart- a heart of love and compassion that beats at the heart of the Trinity. And this brings us back to Ezekiel. Just a few verses aGer today’s reading, the Lord says that he will make for his people a “new heart and a new spirit.” How is the Lord inviting us today to accept this new heart and spirit?