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Reflection on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on September 6, 2020, by Mary Swain SL

Ezekiel 33:7-9, Matthew 18:15-20

I find the Ezekiel reading today difficult to understand.  I also find it filled with thoughts of hopelessness. It seems to be about correcting the other person, the wicked one, and about being responsible for that person’s death if the individual’s behavior does not change. Hard sayings. We need to know, though, that Ezekiel is one of 8,500 people from Palestine in exile in Babylon. It is the year 587 “BCE,” the Babylonian Exile. As a fellow-exile, Ezekiel sees his role as one of a watchman, a familiar figure to this day at hotels, office buildings, airports and banks.  The task is ever so simple — to warn of the approach of any danger or threat. In exile, Ezekiel and the people had experienced the terrible collapse of institutions. All that the prophet could do was to speak to the individual, warning against any behavior that would harm that individual or others.  Ezekiel had to protect the community.  God had spoken to him.

In our day Dr. Anthony Fauci, Gov. Andy Beshear, Gov. Andrew Cuomo have spoken about the seriousness of COVID-19.  They have been the watchmen. They are committed to protecting the community. Perhaps God has spoken to them.

I find myself worrying about who the watchmen are in the federal government these days. So many of them have been put out of the room. I find myself wondering if God is speaking at all. 

Then there is white supremacy and Black Lives Matter.  Loretto is working here at the Motherhouse to find a way forward. God has spoken to us.

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel sounds like Ezekiel, different from how Jesus usually sounds. We are accustomed to hearing Jesus encourage his disciples to accept the tax collector or the non-Jewish person. Now Matthew has Jesus speaking of tax collectors and Gentiles as undesirable. Yet again, it is for the good of the community. Jesus wants the people to do something about any broken relationships. Jesus’ Father in heaven has spoken to him. God has spoken to Jesus.

There is yet another group of exiles today: undocumented persons in the United States who have been living and working here for years and who are being deported in a seemingly random fashion by the U.S. government.  Then there are the children, now adults, brought here by their parents, some of whom know little or nothing about the country in which they were born. For the present, these Dreamers are able to stay in the United States, but no permanent legislation has passed. Even this reprieve has come about because many in the U.S. have been speaking out; two or three are gathering; letters and phone calls have gone to Congress. God has spoken to us.

Ezekiel and Jesus remind us that we are responsible for the well-being of the community. We feel, perhaps, somewhat helpless in being responsible for the refugees and immigrants or for the Dreamers or even for the government. But various ones here at the Motherhouse and in the larger Loretto Community are acting: writing letters, calling congressmen, working with refugees, going to the Mexican/U.S. border, and holding all suffering people in prayer. Many in Loretto are working on committees, thinking about what can happen in the future, I try to tell myself: There is hope. God is speaking to us.


Mary Swain SL

Mary Swain SL has been a consultant to the National Religious Retirement Office and has served on the board for the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes. Along with her math background and service to the Loretto Community in the financial area, she has experience as a church organist and plans and prepares materials for Loretto liturgies at Loretto Motherhouse and for special occasions. Mary resides at Loretto Motherhouse, the grounds of which receive her careful tending and loving touch.