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The Conventional Wisdom

Photograph of Rodin's

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time

Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 20:1-16

Following the commonly accepted wisdom isn’t always the wisest thing to do. Abimelech asked the leaders of Shechem whether they thought it would be better for their people to be led by 70 people or by one. He convinced them to accept one, and he proceeded to murder his 70 brothers. Abimelech proved to be a terrible leader. Shechem soon revolted against him, and he was eventually killed when a woman in a house he was attacking dropped a stone on his head.

In today’s gospel parable, Jesus challenges our commonly accepted notions of what is fair. The master of a vineyard gives the same wage to his day laborers, regardless of when they started their work.  Those who started early grumble with resentment. Those who started work with just an hour to spare are silent. We don’t know if they were overwhelmed with gratitude or simply made a quick get-away to celebrate their good fortune.

The point of this story is two-fold: it demonstrates that the gates of salvation are open to all, and it underscores God’s almost incomprehensible generosity and the richness of his grace.  We live in a world that often demands that there be winners and losers, the chosen and the left behind. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is a different world, and he invites and challenges us to live in it. jc


Miércoles de la XX semana del tiempo ordinario

Jueces 9,6-15; Mateo 20,1-16

Seguir la sabiduría comúnmente aceptada no siempre es lo más sabio. Abimelec preguntó a los dirigentes de Siquem si pensaban que sería mejor para su pueblo ser dirigido por setenta personas o por una. Los convenció de que aceptaran a uno, y procedió a asesinar a sus 70 hermanos. Abimelec demostró ser un líder terrible. Siquem pronto se rebeló contra él, y acabó muriendo cuando una mujer de una casa que estaba atacando le tiró una piedra a la cabeza.

En la parábola del Evangelio de hoy, Jesús desafía nuestras nociones comúnmente aceptadas de lo que es justo. El dueño de una viña da el mismo salario a sus jornaleros, independientemente de cuándo hayan empezado a trabajar.  Los que empezaron temprano se quejan con resentimiento. Los que empezaron a trabajar con sólo una hora de sobra se callan. No sabemos si estaban abrumados por la gratitud o simplemente hicieron una escapada rápida para celebrar su buena fortuna.

El sentido de esta historia es doble: demuestra que las puertas de la salvación están abiertas para todos, y subraya la generosidad casi incomprensible de Dios y la riqueza de su gracia.  Vivimos en un mundo que a menudo exige que haya vencedores y vencidos, elegidos y excluidos. El reino de Dios que Jesús proclamó es un mundo diferente, y nos invita y desafía a vivir en él. Jc

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Photo by Avery Evans on Unsplash

Love Your Enemies

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

On the 7th Sunday of the Year, Series C, we hear one of the more challenging and central teachings of Jesus: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This is another example of how Jesus challenges our natural human tendencies.

He is, in effect, telling us to be more like our merciful God, who lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He is telling us to act out of mercy and certainly not in anger and revenge. Our world still badly needs to learn that lesson.

When I read this passage, I stop to consider if I have any enemies. I am not aware of people who are trying to hurt me in any way. We who can say that are blessed. However, if not enemies, there are people who do things that I don’t like and who can stir anger in me. I disagree with them. They do things which seem wrong and unjust. How would Jesus want me to think and act with regard to them? I cannot agree with their behavior. Perhaps I can try to better understand. And I certainly can pray for them. I can be honest about my own faults.

No matter how hard we try to live the Gospel, we will never be in complete agreement with everyone. There will remain evil in the world. We will stumble ourselves once in a while. We will have to leave much up to the mercy of God.

The strong words of Sunday’s Gospel remain an ideal which we may never fulfill in this life. We keep reading and listening and allowing these words to speak to us and slowly transform our lives.

Kingdom of Heaven

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In our Gospel passages for the 17th Week of Ordinary Time, there are many references to the “Kingdom of Heaven.” In some other places and translations there will be references to the “Kingdom of God” or “The Reign of God.” All point to the same reality. But what comes to mind when we hear of the “Kingdom of Heaven?” We may have different ideas about that, but the actual meaning can be a bit unclear. It is not first of all a place to which we travel.

During the 17th Week, we read some of the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. And as the early Christian community reflected on Jesus’ words about the Kingdom, they realized he did not describe it in precise terms. And so we hear over and over, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like” something. It is like the seed scattered on the land. It is like weeds growing up among wheat. It is like a great catch of fish. It is like a treasure or pearl of great price. It is “like” these things.

And so, what are we to think? Among other things, we may see the Kingdom of Heaven as a way of living or a state of mind. We might say those living in the Kingdom of Heaven are those who live in a certain way, who express certain values in their lives. They are, in other words, those who try to live by all the teachings of Jesus. They do this as individuals and in community with others.

The Catholic Church does not equal the Kingdom of Heaven, but we hope that Catholic people participate in the Kingdom in their behavior, along with their brothers and sisters in other groups and denominations.

Those living in the Kingdom of Heaven are those , indeed, who hear the words of Jesus and follow them with their lives. Could Jesus say to any of us: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like your life?”

St. Bonaventure

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

On July 15, the Church honors St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan mystic, theologian, and Minister General of the Franciscan Order. He is often called the “Second Founder” of the Franciscan Order for a couple of reasons. He lived in the 13th Century and joined the Order not too long after the death of St. Francis.

He took up the ideas and spirit of St. Francis and gave them some theological form and structure. His famous work, The Journey of the Soul into God, tells of a way of prayer and spirituality that incorporates the Franciscan spirit. He builds on Francis’ appreciation of nature and all of creation as reflecting the presence of God in all things.

He is associated with the phrase vestigia Dei, the “footprints of God,” which are to be found all around us in the created world.

Bonaventure is also considered the Second Founder in the way he helped to reconcile two factions in the Order, which were having disagreements about how to truly follow the spirit of Francis.

He was asked to become a bishop and he refused until finally he was prevailed upon to become bishop of Albano and was made a cardinal. With that is connected the little story of how delegates from Rome came to give him his cardinal’s red hat. He asked them at first to wait outside and hang it on a tree while he helped wash the dishes. The humble spirit of a great man.

“Our” Father

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The Gospel reading for Thursday of Week 11 contains Jesus’ teaching on prayer, which we have come to call the “Our Father.”

It is valuable to focus on the first word, “our.” At the meetings of some groups, the members pray this prayer and before they start, someone will ask “Whose Father?” And the prayer begins.

We pray to our Father, and not merely my Father. It is a reminder that we are all children of God and therefore related to each other as brothers and sisters. Everyone, not only Christians, but all people are thus related.

The human race has not learned that lesson well. Down through the centuries, it seems the history of humanity is a history of warfare, violence, racism and oppression. But we must not forget the many millions who did indeed try to live respecting their brothers and sisters.

And so, given the news of each day, we still have a lot to learn, based on the simple beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. We could also include concern for the earth and its creatures. Our God has created and presides over all. Francis of Assisi liked to call many creatures his brothers and sisters, all in view of our Creator God.

As we pray the prayer so often, we might see the many applications of that word, “our.” Lord, teach us to pray.


By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

As a priest, I get to listen to lots of people of all ages. Often with people who have been on the earth for some time, a similar theme appears. People who have been trying to pray, attend church, receive sacraments for many years often feel as though they should be “better” by now. They “should” have more patience, more charity, more kindness, be better at prayer.

It is probably natural that we wonder “How am I doing?” And many of us tend too easily to lean toward the negative and think less of ourselves than might be accurate.

The Gospel parables of the recent Sunday have something to say about all that. Jesus uses images of farm crops and the famous mustard seed. Many things come from very small beginnings, and often grow and develop in quiet and mysterious ways.

I would suggest the good people who tell me about their shortcomings have no idea how much good they have done in their long lives, how many good seeds they have planted by their care, their hard work, their responsible tending to children, relatives and friends.

Measuring such things is not necessary. We can leave that up to God, and keep on, in the present and the future, planting our seeds of kindness, justice, and compassion.

Disturbing Behavior

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Recently we have seen many reports of strange, dangerous and violent behavior. One doesn’t know if these are increasing or if the reporting has increased. There have been regular mass shootings. People have fought in airplanes, baseball stadiums, grocery stores, bars and other places. Why all this frustration and anger?

One could logically presume that these outbursts are the result of stress from the confinement and other inconveniences of the past year of the pandemic. Whatever may be the reason or cause of these behaviors, they do not remove responsibility from those involved.

A few months ago, someone sadly characterized the new American spirit in this way: “No one can tell me what to do!” This doesn’t do much to enhance the common good, much less connect at all with “love your neighbor.” Much of this attitude and the behavior mentioned above flow from an inflation of ego, or a distorted sense of self. “It’s all about me, and I don’t care about you.”

We are often told what to do and are expected to obey. We have stop signs, traffic lights, seat belt laws, as well as laws against bodily violence. These are simply parts of good social order.

We have all been under stress this past year. We all ought to take a deep breath, turn and look at our neighbor, and see how we can mutually support each other rather than shouting or throwing the first punch.

Ordinary Time

In the Catholic calendar, now that Pentecost is past, we return to “Ordinary Time.” In Church language, “ordinary” here simply means a way of counting days and weeks, using the “ordinal” numerals: first, second, third, and so forth.

But as soon as our minds see the word “ordinary” we easily jump to other meanings of that word: simple, plain, unremarkable. And perhaps that is the way we  judge many hours and days. “Oh, it was nothing special; just an ordinary day.” And we may want to be satisfied with that. Ordinary does not have to mean “boring” or “disappointing.”

We can, however, take another look at some ordinary moments and see that they can be special and not “merely ordinary.” To get a feel of that, I suggest looking back on some “small” moments which, recalled in memory, can now seem special. Maybe it was a recent visit with a friend, or noticing the visit of a hummingbird or other birds to the feeder. Maybe there was a chance, pleasant encounter with an old acquaintance at the grocery store. Ordinary and yet special.

Teachers of prayer are always urging us to pay attention to the present moment. Noticing how some past moments were special may encourage us to focus on new present moments and be willing to see that the moment has a special quality of its own.

You look across the table at a beloved face. You behold the fresh face of a grandchild. There is a special moment of prayer in church.  I see a mother duck and a row of ducklings in a parking lot (which I did!). These can be openings to gratitude: not merely “ordinary” at all.

Signs of Spring

By Fr. Tom Zelinksi, OFM Cap.

In recent years I have been thinking that it’s important for us to look and look again at familiar things so that we really see and appreciate them.

Here in the upper Midwest we are surrounded by signs of spring. Little ducklings already; soon little geese; buds and new leaves on trees; soon new fawns will appear. The birds flutter in their nest building. Hummingbirds, tiny creatures, return after traveling hundreds, maybe thousands of miles from their winter homes.

The skeptic may say “So what? This all happens every year.” Indeed it does, and it all appears like so many miracles. We ought to pay attention. Against this backdrop of the “peaceable kingdom,” we see less appealing news. I saw a scary statistic that said 75% of all plastic is NOT recycled. Where does it end up? Our planet home is sick. We need to do better for the sake of all the creatures, including ourselves.

There is the steady drumbeat of war and violence in the news; some things seem downright evil.  I watch the silent holy deer in our woods and ask “How can there be evil in such a world?”

We come back to ourselves in the springtime. Can we look, and look again, and appreciate what we see? Can we find peace and justice in ourselves and share these with all neighbors?

Living the Resurrection

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the Catholic calendar we have come to the Fourth Week of Easter. We are reminded that Easter is not just a day, but a season. We are invited to “celebrate” Easter and Resurrection for 50 days, until Pentecost. Obviously we do this, not in lively, tumultuous parties, singing and dancing, but in quiet reflective ways. (Nothing wrong with lively Resurrection parties, if you are up to it, but I do not hear much about such things!)

To continue celebrating Resurrection may be a challenge, especially in the face of the constant barrage of current events. We continue to hear reports of so much violence and hatred. One wonders where all this comes from. Why do people pick up guns and shoot at people? And there remains news of rather high numbers of cases of the Covid virus, especially here in Michigan where I live.

And yet in the midst of all we experience, we are to remain open to the presence of the Risen Christ. It is important to take a historical perspective. Down through the centuries, Christian people have celebrated Easter in the midst of all sorts of circumstances, happy and tragic. It is for us to look around and be reminded of the life of Christ in all things, such as the things of nature, and especially in the kindness and goodness of our brothers and sisters.

Blessed Easter Time to all!

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