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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 22:19-23)
 
This is the sad story of two men who, in turn, held a powerful position in the royal house, being master of the palace. “Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.”
 
That seems to be it. God choses a new man who will be faithful and do the right thing. Shebna was a bad, self-absorbed leader, so God chooses Eliakim who will do better. But that is not the end of the story, because Eliakim turns out no better and abuses his power to enhance his relatives.
 
This passage prepares us for the gospel reading in today’s Mass in which Jesus promises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, who will faithfully carry out his responsibilities. Does God ask less of us?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 138:1-2, 2. 3. 6-8)
 
“Lord, your love is eternal: do not forsake the work of your hands.” There is another verse that follows. “When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.” This is certainly a time when we need to call out to the Lord. He does not forsake us nor the millions of people who are in far worse conditions than most of us and for whom we pray.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 11:33-36)
 
This is the way Paul ends his Letter to the Romans:
 
“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.”
 
Paul was always aware that all that we have and all that we are is all gift. We do not have a “deal” with God: “You do this for me God, and I will do this for you.” Our very lives and all that we have is a gift. Let us give thanks today and every day. Even on, no—especially on the days when we do not feel especially gifted.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 16:13-20)
 
This reading has a question from Jesus, an answer from Peter, and a calling from Jesus to Peter. Here is the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples tell Jesus what people are saying: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Good guesses, but no. Finally, “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ … Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’”
 
Then comes Peter’s calling from Jesus: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
 
Peter is the one chosen by God, but Peter is far from perfect. At crucial times, he denies Jesus, and after Jesus dies Peter is on the wrong side of one of the first crucial decisions for the early Church, whether non-Jewish converts must be circumcised. Peter said yes, but Paul said no. Peter eventually agreed. He was not perfect, but he was always faithful.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Have you noticed that people, and especially young people, do not make eye contact with others as much as they used to? Many individuals don’t look up from their cell phones or computers even when they are sitting at a table together. I think we miss a lot when we don’t look into others’ eyes. Tapping in words on a keyboard does not really convey connotation, emphasis, or attitude in the same way as facial expressions do. Some of the messages get lost.
 
We all know people who express themselves very well verbally. We may enjoy the way certain priests or deacons, for example, express themselves in homilies. If they look up at the audience instead of just reading words from a page they connect better and impress their message more effectively.
 
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) did not have the options of all our 21st-century computer devices, and it is probably better that he did not. One of the reasons Franciscan Media labels him the “man of the 12th Century” is the fact that Bernard was a very eloquent preacher. He spoke! I think I would have learned a lot from this gifted scholar and theologian. St. Bernard was also a reformer, a counselor, and a great arbitrator. All those talents require the ability to make one’s points out loud while maintaining another’s attention.
 
While we are not all called to be preachers or public speakers, we do have a wonderful, powerful message to share about how much we are loved by God and have the promise of eternal joy with him in heaven. In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us how to be deliverers of this good news. From my experience, witness accounts and personal stories conveyed as someone looks up at the listeners are quite effective and often enjoyable.
 
In the suggested gospel reading for this memorial for St. Bernard (John 17:20-26), Jesus prays for his disciples, for holiness and unity:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (v.20-21)

 
I am not saying we cannot evangelize by texting; but how much more meaning is shared with the help of heartfelt spoken words and eye contact! I am not talking about long, drawn out sermons either. If we are watchful and attentive, we will recognize many small instances in our daily lives wherein we have opportunities to remark about God’s goodness, his beautiful works of creation, his gentle mercy, and the numerous chances he gives us. We don’t have to have halos on our heads to say out loud that God is good, loves us, and is with us in all our challenges.
 
The first reading at today’s memorial of St. Bernard is from Sirach 15:1-6. It is about the happiness of someone who is seeking wisdom. Wisdom is referred to as she:

She will feed him with the bread of learning, and give him the water of wisdom to drink. He will lean on her and not fall, and he will rely on her and not be put to shame. She will exalt him above his neighbors, and will open his mouth in the midst of the assembly. (v. 3-5)

 
With Jesus calling us to talk to others about him and the confidence of having wisdom to help us, we should be joyful in saying over and over again, right to others’ faces, that we are constantly in good loving company!
 
(Resource: franciscanmedia.org)
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.

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My husband surprised me with a gift of an opal pendant. The pretty milky white stone has lots of “fire” in it—meaning there are a lot of color spots in it and it is pleasant to look at it as I turn it this way and that. As I thought about it, I could see some parallels between opals and ourselves.
 
The main body of the pin-fire opal, such as I have, is usually white and shows a myriad of small pinpoint-like colors all through the surface. The flashes of color are due to a special optical effect occurring when a ray of light meets a very thin film of the opal which has a different optical density from that of the light. Precious opal contains a large number of these thin films which are thin layers of submicroscopic spheres. The flashes of color vary as the stone is rotated.
 
Now, how can we compare ourselves to opals? First of all, an opal with lots of fire in it, is attractive, and is very precious. When we have the fire of the Holy Spirit in us, we can attract others by our Christian attitude and behavior. We can draw more people to us and to our Lord.
 
Every opal is different. Each of us is very different—unique and precious in God’s eyes. Each of us has different color spots: different ways of reflecting to those around us the Light that is Jesus. When I turn my opal, I see different colors; when we show our talents and God-given gifts to our brothers and sisters, we find more colorful ways to lovingly serve the Lord.
 
Color, or fire, in opals is caused by the collision with light. Our fire is caused by our collision or meeting with the Holy Spirit who can fill us with zeal and power if we are open. In the Old Testament especially, fire was a symbol of theophany, the presence of God, and it was an instrument of his power. God came to Moses in a burning bush.

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire…(Exodus 19:18a, NRSV).

Fire is refining and purifying in its power, as we read in Isaiah 43:2b:

…when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you;..(NRSV)

The fire is purifying us and many times in the scriptures, God speaks of the refining fire.
 
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit brought power to the disciples as tongues of fire rested upon their heads. And after that, the disciples were filled with evangelizing zeal and the fire of God’s message of love.
 
For years, there was a lot of mystery surrounding the opal and what caused its various properties. We, too, are accustomed to certain mysteries of our faith that we don’t fully understand. However, we do have faith and that does not have to be totally explained to be beautiful.
 
There was an ancient superstition that opals could restore keenness of vision. We know that the light of Jesus Christ can bring greater clarity to our vision of his kingdom. We see things of this world differently when we look through Spirit-filled eyes of joy-filled faith.
 
Opals can be fluorescent, can glow in the dark. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, we can have a special glow about us amid the darkness of temptations, materialism, pandemic, and worldly unrest.
 
How do we keep our fire burning? We need to be prayerful and willing to surrender to the Lord who is our source of heat, light, and breath of life. We must fan our fires and stay close to the one who adds the color to our humble lives.
 
One final note about the opal: potch is opal that does not show the play of color, or as miners say, is not alive. Let us be sure we treasure and nurture the fire within us, so no one can say we are potch! Let the glow show!
 
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.
 
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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Jesus, our Friend,
thank you for your presence with us today.
Be with us,
especially as we perform our chosen actions
and listen for your call.
Help us always to keep you in mind,
to seek in every moment
a chance to grow closer to you
in those you send into our lives.
In your name we pray.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 56:1, 6-7)
 
The context for this passage is the return of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. Isaiah starts off with a call and a promise: “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” There were many foreigners who wanted to convert to Judaism. “Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” Isaiah is proclaiming a much more inclusive religion, one that welcomes foreigners.
 
Our Catholic Church in the United States has always welcomed immigrants and foreigners, including our own ancestors. Today, immigrants are still a growing part of our Church and we welcome them.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)
 
“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Imagine, if that really happened!
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
(Chapter 11:13-15, 29-32)
 
Paul refers to himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles,” and he is saying that both Jews and Gentiles have a history of rejecting Jesus. Yet, from their disobedience has come reconciliation. “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
 
God made a promise to the Jewish people and, even though many of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, the promise remains. “Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that , by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all,”
 
Have you thought very much about God’s mercy? Pope Francis has and has written about mercy because he experienced it many years after he made a decision that harmed some of his fellow Jesuits in Argentina.
 
Whatever you or I may have done, the loving mercy of God is always there for us. We need only ask for it and express genuine sorrow.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 15:21-28)
 
Matthew wrote his Gospel especially for his fellow Jews. So, at first, he has Jesus being reluctant to deal with a Canaanite woman because she was not a Jew. “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” The disciples were annoyed at her. “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” But the woman did not give up. “Lord, help me.” Then, Jesus said something that seemed to be a rejection: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman was desperate and not deterred. “‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ … Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ … And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”
 
Matthew clearly sees the mission of Jesus as the savior of Israel and yet, he adds this story that expands the mission of Jesus to all.
 
The lesson for us is perseverance, even when we too are desperate, frustrated, and almost without hope. God hears us but not necessarily on our time.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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