Tuesday, December 17, 2013

4th Sunday of Advent 2013

During this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, our scripture reminds us of how it is that our Savior, Emmanuel, Jesus (Yehoshua, which means “God saves”) will come into the world… born by virgin.

The Word for the 4th Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Our first reading, from early Isaiah, give us the prophecy of how this “Emmanuel”, this “messiah”, will come into the world… “the virgin will conceive and bear a son.”  While our Christian ears recognize this as the prophecy of Mary, this was not the case for those who first heard and read these words.  At the time, King Ahaz was under threat from the Assyrians, and fearing the fall of Jerusalem, actually aided in the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  In this excerpt of the story, the Lord is upset with Ahaz, and is trying to give him one last chance to repent… to “ask for a sign from the Lord your God.”  While God sees this as an opportunity for reconciliation, Ahaz doesn’t take the bait, which causes God to get angry (…is it not enough for you to weary people…”), and in a show of power, tells Ahaz that “as a sign” a virgin will give birth.  This is a power play between Ahaz and God… Ahaz thinks he doesn’t need God, but God, of course, knows differently.  Some 730 years later, God makes good on this “sign”.

Our second reading comes from the opening greeting in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  From the opening lines of this letter Paul not only establishes himself as “a slave of Jesus Christ”, but establishes Jesus as the one, the Messiah, as foretold by the Scriptures… like the scripture we just read from Isaiah.  It is through Jesus we receive grace, and by our obedience that we (Jews and Gentiles) belong to Jesus.

This takes us to our Gospel from Matthew.  Matthew’s gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus, that starts with King David, and works its way to Joseph.  Then the story continues with our gospel passage today that explains the birth of Jesus, using those very same words prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading.  It’s no coincidence that Matthew made this connection to the original prophecy.  We need to remember that Matthew’s original audience was Jewish.  As such, a Jewish audience would know and remember these words from Isaiah, and Matthew is quick to make the connection from that older prophecy to that of Jesus.  This is typical of Matthew, drawing on the words of the prophets to reinforce is evangelization, to show his Jewish followers that Jesus is indeed the one who was foretold would come.  For us Christians, it is a reminder for us both of Jesus’ immaculate conception, and Joseph’s willingness to accept this calling.  It needs to be noted that Joseph, by Mosaic Law, did not have to accept Mary after learning of her pregnancy, and was will within his rights to have her stoned to death.  Not only was he willing to spare her shame, he willingly accepted God’s messenger and took her into his care.  This act of compassion is a sign of the Kingdom of God that is to come, and reminds us that our duty is to serve one another.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent 2013

The third Sunday of Advent is also referred to as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin “to rejoice”.  This Sunday we put away the violet color of Advent and put on the rose color vestments and light the rose colored candle to mark this festive moment.  So why are we rejoicing now?  Advent isn’t over yet.  First, because the 3rd Sunday marks that we are past the halfway point of our Advent fast.  While the practice of fasting for Advent was done away with in the early 20th century, we still recognize the day as a brief moment of celebration as we wind-down our period of penitent reflection.  It is also an opportunity to recognize that Jesus’ coming, both the first time, and the second time yet to come, are moments of great joy and celebration.  As such, our readings this week take a more joyous tone.

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
        Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
        Psalm 146, 6-7, 8-9, 9-10
        James 5:7-10
        Mathew 11:2-11

Our first reading, again from Isaiah, speaks of a glory to come… that the Lord will save Jerusalem.  The land itself will blossom with joy for those how are strong in the Lord.  It should be noted that at this point in the Isaiah narrative, the Assyrian forces are at King Hezekiah’s doorstep, and in desperation he turns to Isaiah for the Lord’s help.  While the Lord rebukes Hezekiah, he does show his mercy to the people.

Our second reading comes from the letter of James (a catholic letter written to everyone).  Here we face a people concerned that Jesus has not yet returned, so James is calling for patience, using images that his agrarian community can understand… that of waiting for the rains to come and water their crops.  Jesus, like the rain, will come, but in the meantime they should follow the examples of the prophets as they wait.

We then turn to our gospel from Mathew and pick up the story of John the Baptist now later in the narrative where he is in prison.  John, perhaps sensing his own death to be coming soon, sends his followers to see if Jesus is indeed the one of whom he foretold.  Jesus gives John’s followers a message to bring back to him, then turns to the crowd to speak of John as the one who was fortold (that voice in the wilderness to announce the coming of the savior).  We would be misguided, I think, to not realize that John’s followers, who were dismissed by Jesus halfway through the reading, also heard this as well.  So while this message may have brought John and his followers great joy, it won’t stop his execution 3 chapters later.

One of the common threads weaving its way through today’s readings is “prophecy”.  Isaiah prophesying the salvation of Jerusalem.  James prophesying that Jesus will return.  John the Baptist prophesying the coming of the chosen one.  While we Catholics hold these and other prophets in high esteem, we should not forget that the charism of prophecy is one that is in all of us.  By virtue of our Baptism we are called to be priest, prophet, and king.  We don’t have to be that voice crying out in the desert like John, but we do have a duty to speak the truth through our words and actions...  and for this Sunday, a word of joy that Jesus will come. 

Catholic Update:
A Tour of a Catholic Church
Advent Day by Day:  Opening Doors to Joy

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

2nd Sunday of Advent 2013

Most of the time our readings for a particular week give us a fairly clear message that threads itself through our Sunday readings, but looking at our readings this week, I find very challenging to find that common thread or theme.

The Word for the 2nd Sunday of Advent
        Isaiah 11:1-10
        Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
        Romans 15:4-9
        Mathew 3:1-12

We open with a reading from the prophet Isaiah.  Here he describes for us a vision of the ideal king… the one who will “fear the Lord” and be a just judge.  His words will be his only weapons and his reign will bring universal peace.  It will be so glorious that all nations will seek it out.  To our Christian ears, it sounds as if he is describing Jesus himself.  While this would not  be incorrect, neither would it be completely correct.  First we need to consider where Isaiah is coming from… The previous chapters just before this verse are a long and scathing oracle against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Kingdoms that have turned their back on God.  Isaiah is prophesying that from the root of Jesse (the line of King David) there will rise a new king who will love the Lord, and this is how he will be… the “ideal” king.  So while it is unlikely that Isaiah had Jesus specifically in mind when he made the prophecy, neither is it a coincidence that it is just this kind of king Jesus turned out to be.  It’s a real “chicken and egg” scenario.

So while our 1st reading gives us a glorious vision of what is to come through the love of God, our Gospel gives us dire predictions and warnings is we turn away from God.  This Sunday we get Matthew’s introduction of John the Baptist.  Using another of Isaiah’s prophecies about the announcement of the deliverer, Matthew gives us a good description of John, not only about what he looks like, but how he feels about the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the perceived hypocrisy employed by those charged with following and teaching God’s law.  John mission and baptism is a call for repentance.

Meanwhile, our 2nd reading from the letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of the important of the Scriptures, and how provide endurance and encouragement.  Further, Paul explains that while the Hebrew scriptures are meant to give us hope, we also need to welcome everyone as Christ welcomed them… meaning that, just as Isaiah’s vision showed this new King to be a beacon for all nations, that the Gentiles are aosl to be welcomed so they might give glory God.

So what is our common thread in these readings?  The Foundations in Faith text we use for RCIA suggests the theme as “Justice and Peace as Signs of the Messianic Era.”  What does that mean?  Clearly that can be seen more directly from the first reading than the Gospel, but there is a connection in that those who are genuine in their repentance… that is those who strive for peace as pictured in the first and second reading, can indeed bring Isaiah’s vision to life… the vision of the Kingdom of God. 

Catholic Update:
Advent Day by Day:  Opening Doors to Joy
‘Light of Faith’:  Key Themes from Pope Francis’ First Encyclical

Hopefully you all had a joyful and relaxing Thanksgiving Holiday, and avoided the commercial mayhem that seems to have overtaken our culture.  I think our Holy Father's most recent comments about capitalism bears some careful consideration...  As Advent is a time of reflection, don't just rely on what the media has said, take the time to read it for yourselves and decide:  Apostolic Exhortation:  Evangelii Gaudium




Tuesday, November 26, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent 2013

This Sunday marks the beginning of the new Liturgical Year with the First Sunday of Advent.  Advent is the season wherein we ask ourselves, “Are we ready for the coming of Christ?”  While our secular culture is frantically running around making sure that everything is ready for Christmas (which they think is just one day), the Church is asking us to slow down, take a pause, and look into our own hearts to make sure that we are ready to meet the Lord when he comes again.

The Word for the 1st Sunday of Advent
        Isaiah 2:1-5
        Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
        Romans 13:11-14
        Matthew 24:37-44

Our first reading comes from the second chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The book of Isaiah is one of the longest of all the prophets, and spans a period from before the Assyrian attack on the Northern Kingdom, all the way through (and long after his death) to the end of the Babylonian Exile.  This Sunday’s reading opens with a vision of Zion… the ideal, Heavenly Jerusalem where God reigns and his people serve as an example to all nations.  It’s place here a the beginning of Advent reminds us of both what is expected of us, and what we can look forward to.  While this is indeed a glorious vision, Isaiah’s purpose in showing this is to remind the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of how far they have fallen from God’s graces.  Without a change of heart, the promise of Zion could be lost.

In our second reading, the often poetic Paul doesn’t mince words in this excerpt from his letter to the Romans.  He flat out warns them that the time of Jesus’ return is at hand, and that they need to behave accordingly.  He specifically warns against “desires of the flesh.” and the sort of behaviors we often associate with the excesses of the Roman Empire.  While it is unlikely that the behaviors Paul warns against were rampant, they were still prevalent (not surprising in a metropolis like Rome), giving Paul cause for concern, and wanting to reinforce for this young Christian community that a life following Jesus requires that one look outward to a life of service, not inward to a life of self-gratification.

This takes us to our Gospel.  As we start the new Liturgical Year our Lectionary (the book of readings selected for all Masses for this year) goes back to Cycle A with the emphasis on the Gospel of Matthew.  This week's reading gives us a very vivid image of (for lack of a better term) the Judgment Day.  Matthew, who's audience was primarily Jewish, makes use of the stories and characters in the Hebrew scripture not only in to help draw a connection to Jesus with the stories and traditions that are part of their cultural identity, but to also show them that Jesus is indeed the messiah... the chosen one foretold by the prophets.  In today's Gospel he draws on the memory of the story of Noah, asking them to remember what a terrible day it was when the flood came and why.  Jesus uses this example to warn his disciples that such dark times could come again if for those who are not prepared for when he returns.  Those who do not "stay awake" and live their lives for God are at risk of loosing their souls.  It is a very challenging reading, particularly as we prepare for the Holiday season... but this is what Advent is all about... asking ourselves if we are ready for Jesus' next coming.

While readings like this are meant to "put the fear of God" in us, as Catholics, we also need to remind ourselves that we have nothing to fear if we are doing our best to live according to Jesus' teachings... which are quite simply, to love God and love our neighbors.  Through Jesus' death and resurrection we are already reconciled to God... through our baptism we are already saved.  Our job now is to stay on the side of light.  If we slip, Jesus also reminds us that we can be forgiven.  So while our readings this week are stark reminders of what happens to those who turn away from God, we also need to remember that God wants us to be saved, and we should take this season of Advent as an opportunity for some self-examination, and see how we can live better... for God, for ourselves, and for everyone else. 

Catholic Update:
Thanksgiving:  It’s What We Do All Year
The Liturgical Year:  Simple Facts, Deep Truths
Advent Day by Day:  Opening Doors to Joy


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Solemnity of Christ the King 2013

This Sunday marks the end of our Church year with the Feast of Christ the King.  By church timelines, this feast day is very much born in the modern era.  In response to the growing nationalism and secularism of the early 20th century, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas Primas.  At the time the world was still recovering from the Great War (World War I), but as we all know, the turmoil that followed created the economic and social instability that would eventually bring on the Great Depression and World War II.  Revolutions in Russia, China, and Spain were sparking unrest worldwide, and calling into question the their models of governance and economics.  It is in this chaos that Pope Pius understood the need to refocus our attention on who it is that we must serve.

The Word for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
        2 Samuel 5:1-3
        Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
        Colossians 1-12-20
        Luke 23:35-43

While some feast days retain the same readings year after year, other more important feasts have different readings unique to each Lectionary cycle.  Whereas last year’s readings for this time continued with the apocryphal visions of the end times from Daniel and Revelation, this year with Luke gives us a more glorious vision of kingship as it should be, that is, a kingship dedicated to God.

In our first reading from 2 Samuel we hear of Israel’s anointing of David as their king.  As we read this particular passage in the context of the solemnity, our focus shouldn’t be so much on David as is it should be on the connection of Jesus to the House of David.  The prophecy has been that the deliverer, the messiah, would come from the house of David.  This connection then makes Jesus a legitimate heir to the throne and brings God’s promise full circle.

That throne indeed sounds glorious as Paul explains this to the Colossians in our second reading.  The people of that early church struggled with the idea of “who was in charge.”  An issue we face regularly in our human experience throughout history.  Here Paul refocuses our attention to the fact that it is Jesus to whom we owe our allegiance… it is Jesus who is our one and only king.

As we next turn to our Gospel from Luke, he gives witness to Jesus on the cross.  It is in that moment we are reminded this Heavenly throne came at a cost.  It was through his death and resurrection that God gave Jesus dominion over the earth (and indeed the Universe).

It is here where we must also remind ourselves that the whole Israelite experiment with monarchy was in fact not what God wanted (as seen in 1 Samuel 8:6-18), and was in the end a colossal failure.  Even though it was God who chose David to be King, and by all accounts was better than most, it was still an appeasement on God's part.  So it begs the question… why use the image of a kingdom?  Why portray Jesus as a King?  Simply answered, it speaks to the people’s idea of leadership and society while it also harkens back to the idea of God as king… a reminder that no matter who is in charge, God (in the person of Christ) is still the ruler over all.


Friday, November 15, 2013

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As we near the end of the Liturgical year the church takes a pause to focus on the most basic of questions:  “what’s all this for anyway?”  The simple answer is, eternal life… but to me that answer is kind of a cop-out, because life itself is rarely simple, especially when you consider that our lives our played out in the context of our environment.  For some people, that environment is so difficult that all hope can be lost.  It is out of that reality that divine justice is best understood:  That all will be made right in the end.

The Word for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Malachi 3:19-20a
Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

This week’s readings continue our topic of the afterlife, reminding us that God, the just judge, will make everything right in the end.  Those who do evil in this life will be destroyed, and those that are on the side of light will be saved.  ,

Starting with a short reading from the prophet Malachi, literally “my messenger” in Hebrew (because the author feared retribution) gives us a view of post Exile Jerusalem in the time before Ezra and Nehemiah (around 445 BCE).  Here the prophet warns what will become of “evildoers” while there will be justice for those who “fear the Lord”.  This was a time of great spiritual upheaval in Jerusalem.  God loves his people, but the prophet finds that love is not being reciprocated.  It’s been almost 100 years since the joyful return from Exile, and the populace has forgotten what it means to “serve the Lord.”  Malachi message is a harsh reminder of what can happen when one turns away from God.

In the second reading Paul continues his discourse with the Thessalonians explaining how everyone should earn their keep, using their time with them as an example.  Though not directly tied to our theme, the idea of justice rings true:  there’s no such thing as a free ride.  A community depends on everyone doing their fair share with all due civility toward each other.  Paul finds that he must remind some of those in Thessalonica that they would do better attending to their own chores and minding their own business.

Finally, Luke gives us a rather pessimistic (but all too true) picture of what is to come.  This text, as spoken by Jesus, is often referenced by those looking for signs of the “end times”.  It is important to note here that Jesus’ words are not just a general warning for the ages, but more a prediction of events to come in their lifetimes.  Of course, much of what was predicted by Jesus had already come to pass as of the writing of this Gospel, so it is no surprise for those first listeners and readers that what Jesus has foretold came true.  As with Revelation, this Gospel is speaking of a specific moment in history, but it’s meaning is not lost as subsequent civilizations seemingly repeat the same mistakes.  Even in the face of these dire predictions, Jesus reminds us to stay true to his teaching… for it is through following him that one can be saved.  All too often these predictions are used to instill fear, when in fact Jesus is teaching us that, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  In other words, as Malachi teaches us today, “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” for those who follow the Lord.

Catholic Update:
Youth Update:
Ask a Franciscan:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

For these past weeks and months as we've been traveling through this long stretch of Ordinary Time, we've been following Jesus through Luke's Gospel as he began his ministry, traveled all around Galilee, and ultimately heading for Jerusalem.  As we wind down this season Jesus has finally made it to the city of Jerusalem, but we also see the forces of opposition are pushing hard to find fault in Jesus and his teachings...

The Word for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
        2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
        Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
        2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
        Luke 20:27-38 or Luke 20:27, 34-38

This week our readings focus on the afterlife.  We start with a story from 2 Maccabees, a book written about 100-150 years before Christ, which tells the story of a family being tortured and killed by their Greek Seleucid overlords.  The reading shows their valiant desire to keep God’s law, which is in itself, noble, But that’s not the point of the story.  Yes, being willing to die for one’s faith is a powerful story of courage amid adversity, but what is it that helps them to find that strength?  According  to the text, it is the promise of resurrection… that there is a better life awaiting us after this one.

To understand the power of that message it also helps to understand that the concept of Heaven and a resurrection were relatively new to the Hebrew people at the time this was being written, and still not fully accepted during Jesus’ time.  In fact, the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees mark a dramatic turning point in the geo/political reality of the Jewish people.  The Greek Empire is in its final death-throws… with Seleucid faction pushing in from the east (and north) against a faltering Ptolemaic faction, while also facing the rising power of the Roman Republic on the Mediterranean.  Once again, the Jewish people are caught in the middle of epic events, and setting the stage for the world we eventually see in the time of Jesus.

Which takes us to this week’s Gospel.  For the past few months we’ve been traveling with Jesus through Luke’s Gospel as he makes his long journey to Jerusalem (and his eventual crucifixion).  In our story this week, Jesus has finally reached the city of Jerusalem where the various factions have lined up against him and have been actively engaging him in an effort to find fault in his teaching.  In this week’s gospel it’s the Sadducees who confront Jesus wherein they try to debate him into a corner on his teachings of the afterlife (a premise not accepted by them, in contrast to the Pharisees).  Although it seems like Jesus is ducking the question, he is in fact confirming two solid beliefs… First, that God is a god of the living, not the dead, and therefore we must have life after death.  Second, that life after death is so radically different that the rules that bind us on earth simply don’t apply.

To round out our readings we continuing our journey through Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians.  Here Paul acknowledges that the parousia so anxiously awaited for has been delayed, and as such we need to continue to persevere in our Christian life.  The community has been struggling due to some false teachings they received about the “end times,” which Paul is trying to correct.

Teachings like these have lead to our Catholic understanding of the immutable nature of the soul… that we were created, and that we are unique, and that how we chose to live our lives will ultimately determine our fate after death… Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.

Catholic Update:
Youth Update:
Ask a Franciscan:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The theme for this week is Justification… but what exactly does that mean?  According to Merriam-Webster, "justification" is “the act, process, or state of being justified by God”.  Looking more closely at the root word, “justify”, means “to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.”  So it begs the question… what is right or reasonable by God?  How do we justify ourselves before the Lord?  Let’s see what our readings have to say…

The Word for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
       Wisdom 11:22-12:2
        Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
        2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
        Luke 19:1-10

Our first reading this week comes from the Book of Wisdom.  Similar in style and teaching to the Book of Sirach (which you may recall dates to about 150 BCE), the Book of Wisdom is newer (dating to about 50 BCE), and comes from the Jewish community in Alexandria instead of Jerusalem.  What makes Wisdom stand apart from Sirach, however, is its perspective from a people who are being oppressed.  By the time of the writing of the Wisdom, the geo/political winds had changed, setting up the conflicts that eventually blossom in the New Testament with the rise of Roman authority and the eventual fall of Jerusalem.  The Jewish people in Alexandria are suffering, a feeling to which early Christians can easily relate.  From this standing as a people feeling persecuted, it’s easy to understand their need to reach out to God, and the Book of Wisdom delivers.  Our passage shows the depth of God’s love for his people and his creation.  By this passage, it would not be unreasonable to say that our mere existence, as God’s creation, is enough to be justified.  That does not mean we are without fault, but because we are God’s own, he is patient with us, giving us time to turn away from sin and believe in Him.

Our second reading gives us an excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.  Though not intentionally related to our theme, this opening passage has Paul reminding us that we should not be “shaken or alarmed” with regard to the second coming of Christ.  The community in Thessalonica is concerned about news they have heard and read from those not associated with Paul or the other Apostles.  This is not unlike the fear stoked by many others today with their predictions of the end times and the rapture.  As Catholics, we embrace the coming of Jesus.  We don’t fear it.  This is the message that Paul wants to convey to the Thessalonians… that through our faith, we are justified.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are justified.  Those doing their best to live as Jesus taught have nothing to fear, because as the Book of Wisdom has taught us, God’s “imperishable spirit is in all things, ”and can “loath nothing" that He has made.”

This same spirit is evident in our Gospel.  In another story unique to Luke’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates this justification… this love… to someone whom others would marginalize.  Many of Jesus’ detractors criticized the company he kept, spending time with what they considered the dregs of society (tax collections, prostitutes, the sick) who are unworthy of his attention.  Jesus, however, recognized that these people too are justified in the Lord, and if anything  are in more need of this “good news” than others.  The story of Zaccheaus is just such a story.  The gospel tells us that Zaccheaus was the Chief Tax Collector and a wealthy man.  If that were not enough to alienate him from the rest of the people, we are also told that he was “short of stature.”  Yet something within him made him eager to see Jesus as he was traveling through town.  So eager he was that he climbed a tree just to get a look.  Jesus, in seeing this, stops, recognizes him, and invites himself to stay with him.  The crowd grumbled about this, seeing Zaccheaus as unworthy of this honor, yet Jesus sees an opportunity to reclaim one more lost sheep… an opportunity that leads to his salvation.

So our lesson is clear… no one is unworthy to hear the Good News.  No one is to be marginalized, for we are all created by God, infused with the Spirit of God, and all worthy of redemption.  All they need do is ask.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As you may be aware, Halloween is next week.  While some of our Christian brothers and sisters have developed a disdain for the holiday, we Catholics choose to join in the celebration while also reminding ourselves of the holiday’s uniquely Christian origins.  What was called All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated the night of October 31st as the vigil celebration of All Hallow’s Day… what we now call All Saints Day… which is celebrated November 1st.  This is followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd.  These three celebrations together form the triduum of Hallowmas, a celebration that honors the dead (saints, martyrs, and all the dearly departed).  Our neighbors in Mexico celebrate this time as Dia de Muertos… Day of the dead.  All these traditions have their origins in pagan mythology, but as with many pagan celebrations, they translate to Christian theology in a way that enlightens our faith, while maintaining certain cultural heritages.  But for now, we still have our session for this week to discuss… so on to this week’s readings:

The Word for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
        Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
        2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
        Luke 18:9-14

This week’s readings complete our trilogy on the theme of prayer.  Instead of focusing on a particular type of prayer, we discuss how we approach God in prayer, that is, with humility.  Our first reading from Sirach is an example of this where he reminds us that all our prayers are heard by God, but those coming from the most humble among us “pierce the clouds”.  The book takes its name from its author, Sirach in Greek, but in the original Hebrew, would be called the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Yeshua, son of Eleazar, son of Sira).  Ben Sira was not a prophet, but a sage who lived in Jerusalem in the early 2nd Century BCE with a love for the Wisdom tradition, the law, the priesthood, and divine workshop.  Like most of Wisdom literature in the Bible, the Wisdom of Ben Sira is a sort of catechism used right before and during the life of Christ, but was ultimately not selected for inclusion in the Hebrew canon.

Our second reading concludes our 7 week journey through the Pauline letters to Timothy.  As we know, Timothy was a protégé of Paul’s, a young priest in search of guidance, which he receives in these letters.  This week’s excerpt has Paul continuing our theme of humility as he draws his second letter to Timothy toward a close.  He has suffered to bring the Gospel, but has no regrets.  You can hear Paul’s sadness as he acknowledges he is nearing the end of his life, but this is anything but a lament... he is proud of the work he has done, and as always, offers himself as an example to his younger charge.

We then hear from Luke’s Gospel where we pick up right where we left off last week (with the dishonest judge).  In yet another story unique to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus turns from his disciples (who just heard the last parable) and faces the larger crowd (no doubt with some Pharisees among them) and gives them two examples of examples of prayer – one from a supposed holy man, and the other from a supposed sinner.  But which is the holy man, and which is the sinner?  Jesus gives us the answer… the one who’s prayer is honest is the one who will be saved.  Honesty and Humility work hand in hand as we face the Just Judge in prayer.  One other point to note from this parable:  The Pharisee, in making his prayer, compared himself to the tax collector, while the tax collector, in making his prayer, made no such comparison.  Humility demands that we not make such comparisons.  God doesn’t grade on a curve.  Instead, the Just Judge views each case on its individual merits.

Catholic Update:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As for this week’s readings... we  continue our theme of prayer.  Last week we focused on prayer of thanksgiving.  This week we focus on petition and intersession… in other words, making requests of God, either for our benefit, or the benefit of others.  There are actually two types of intercessory prayer:  One is praying directly to other souls to intercede on our behalf to God, such as in a prayer to Mary or one of the saints.  The other is us praying on behalf of others, such as what the lector or the priest does at Mass during the “prayers of the faithful”.  In this second case, we are the soul interceding on behalf of someone else.  So as you can see, we can serve both as the intercessor, and the intercessee in this type of prayer.

The Word for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Exodus 17:8-13
        Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
        2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
        Luke 18:1-8

As for our readings, we open with Exodus.  Moses and the Israelites are pushing into the Southern Canaan where they are experiencing resistance from Amalek.  Amalek is the nation inhabiting this region, and the name suggests a relationship to Esau, Abraham’s other son (though this may just be a literary device).  Moses holds out his hands (in a prayer position) and the battle goes in favor of Israel, but as Moses grows tired, the tide of battle shifts.  With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses is able to keep his arms up so that Israel wins the day.  There are actually two important points made with regard to prayer in this reading.  First is persistence:  As long a Moses persevered in his prayer, the Lord responded in kind.  Second is help from others.  As Moses began to tire, Aaron and Hur were there to hold up his arms, acting as intercessors in his prayer, and reinforcing the idea that we all need the help of others from time to time.

In our Gospel from Luke, we hear another story of how one’s persistence in prayer can be beneficial.  Continuing from where we left off last week, we get yet again another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Here a widow (part of the underclass) keeps pressing her case with a dishonest judge.  Her perseverance ultimately leads the judge to rule in her favor, if for no other reason than to get her out of his hair.  Jesus’ approach is a little unusual (typical of Luke), but he uses the widow as an example of how we need to be persistent in our prayers to God if we are to be heard.  Is persistence necessary in prayer?  There are some interesting ideas to explore here… not the least of which is “does God even hear us?”

In our second reading, though not specifically related to our theme, continues with our examination of the 2nd Pauline letter to Timothy.  Here again, we see the need for persistence, but in this case, not necessarily in prayer, but in the fulfillment of his ministry.  As Paul continues to exhort his younger charge to persevere, he also tells Timothy that the message of Scripture remains true.  In fact, this passage from Paul sets the precedent for how the Church views scripture and how it has become one of the pillars of our formation.  It is also an example of how we are never left to deal with issues on our own.  Even in his absence, Paul is telling Timothy that he has the scripture to fall back on and to support him in his ministry.  For us today this is fairly easy to understand and accept, but in the first century this was not necessarily the case.  It is also important to note here that the scripture Paul is referring to is fact the Hebrew Bible… the Christian scriptures as we know them didn’t yet exist.  Not only did Paul’s teaching encourage us to keep reading scripture, but his ideas encouraged the young Church to document their own testament.

Catholic Update:

Also in keeping with our theme on prayer, we will spend some time with the Rosary.  A prayer that is uniquely Catholic, the rosary holds a special devotion for many.  It has an interesting history, with roots that go back to some ancient forms of prayer.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Thank you.  It’s a phrase we (hopefully) hear and/or express daily.  Sometimes it’s used so often it tends to lose its meaning.  Similarly, there are times when it should be or could be used, but doesn’t, diminishing its importance.  This week our readings remind us of the power and importance of the need to give thanks...

The Word for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        2 Kings 5:14-17
        Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
        2 Timothy 2:8-13
        Luke 17:11-19

We open with a reading from 2nd Kings.  Naaman, a Syrian military commander, seeks to thank Elisha for curing him of his leprosy (an act that King Joram of Israel is not too keen to happen).  Not only does he wish to give thanks to Elisha, but also to his God.  This is nothing short of a complete conversion for Naaman, who not only sees the glory of God, but recognizes the importance of the land in this covenant relationship.  He asks for two mule loads of dirt to take back to his homeland in order to worship God on his land.  Naaman’s experience shows us several lessons:  First, of the need to show gratitude and thanks.  Second, is both recognizing and giving honor to God.  Third, it is an example of a theme that is often played out in the story of the prophets… where a foreigner finds greater insight (and favor) with God than do his own chosen people.

All these themes are also reflected in our Gospel.  In another story that is unique to Luke’s Gospel (and a continuation from where we left off last week), we are told Jesus is traveling through Samaria and Galilee (the equivalent of the “outback”) on his way to Jerusalem when he happens upon ten lepers.  They ask Jesus to have pity on them, whereupon he tells them to go show themselves to the priest.  As they go on their way, they are cured of their affliction.  When this happens, one of the men, a Samaritan, runs back to Jesus to thank him.  Once again, the one who is a foreigner demonstrates a faith stronger than the others, and is blessed for it.

In our second reading, we continue our study of the 2nd letter to Timothy, where an imprisoned Paul urging Timothy to persevere in his call to Christ.  The message is clear… stick with Christ, and you will be saved;  deny Christ, and he will deny you.  It’s a harsh testament, but one must also realize that Jesus is also our advocate, our champion to the Father, willing to forgive us our sins if we stray.  To deny Christ completely so that he denies you would take a lot of effort, but we must always remind ourselves that it can happen.  Paul’s words are meant to inspire us while shaking us out of our complacency, fear, or guilt.  Paul himself would remind you that even a sinner such as himself can be saved.

Catholic Update:

Youth Update:

While our readings teach us about prayers of thanksgiving, there are also other types and forms of prayer.  Prayer is an essential part of our faith life, yet for many it is one of the most misunderstood and often elusive aspects of their Christian experience. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Much of what we read in the Bible is where the Lord (through the prophets) tells us how special we are... God's chosen ones, a people he has taken unto himself.  Sounds pretty good, right?  But then there are those other parts of the Bible where the Lord tells us that we have no right to claim any special privileges... even though we've been chosen.  What's going on there?  Sounds to me like our Scripture is giving us mixed messages... is it?  Let's see what our readings tell us this week... 

The Word for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
        Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
        2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
        Luke 17:5-10

Our opening reading from Habakkuk shares the same passion employed by Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to condemn the social abuses of their day.  To put this into context, Habakkuk’s ministry started about 140 years after Amos’ ministry.  Amos, a Northern prophet born in the South, spoke of the fall to come.  By the time of Habakkuk, Israel (the Northern Kingdom) had already fallen, and Nebuchadnezzar's forces are on Judah’s doorstep (although this is not clear on the reading of these passages).  The “violence” Habakkuk is referring to is the immanent destruction of Judah which in this case has the enemy acting as the hand of the God for the sins of Judah.  Habakkuk is crying out to the Lord for help, a complaint that lasts the remainder of the chapter as our text jumps ahead to the next chapter where the Lord answers, and assures Habakkuk all is not lost… “the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”  The words echo what the letter to Timothy said last week… “compete well for the faith.”  A theme that is carried forward to this week.

Our second reading continues our study of the Pauline letters to Timothy, moving to the beginning of the 2nd letter where Paul prays that his words will reassure Timothy in his mission.  But what is his mission?  While we know from the 1st letter that Timothy is a leader in the community and a “man of God,”  we don’t learn that Timothy is actually a priest until today’s reading from the 2nd letter.  How do we know he is a priest?  Because the text reminds him to… “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”  This action – the imposition of hands – is the sign of Timothy’s call to the priesthood, and  also provides us with our primary topic for the week… the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Our passage for this week is meant not only a reminder of what Timothy was called to do, but that he can also find strength in that calling… as can we.

Our Gospel is again a continuation of where we (pretty much) left off last week, and like the previous weeks, gives us another story and parable that are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Here we have the Apostles asking Jesus to, “increase our faith.”  Jesus responds by saying that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed (reminding us of the parable of the mustard seed several chapters back), they would be able to do great things.  In other words, a little faith goes a long way... yet the Apostles seem to want more, so he gives us the Parable of the Master and Servant.  It is a difficult parable and requires some unpacking, but the idea is that we should not anticipate reward for doing what is expected.  This is more than just humility… it is a reminder that those who serve should not expect special treatment.

So... no special treatment?  Aren't we the chosen ones?  Why go to all this trouble then?  Look back at what Habakkuk says... "the vision (eternal life) will not disappoint."  It's also like we learned from the Parable of the Prodigal Son which we heard a couple weeks ago... when the father tells the eldest son that, "everything I have is yours."  As God's chosen, he's told us what we can expect, but that doesn't excuse us from out duties... from keeping up our end of the covenant... to love our neighbor, to serve... and in doing so, we learn that we need nothing else.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

We continue this week with part 2 of our two-part series on Social Justice.  What is Social Justice?  Our readings last week gave us a basic understanding, first with a warning about our fate based on how we treat others, especially the poor.  Not only will the Lord remember how we treat the poor, but in our Gospel he reminded us that we must be honest stewards, both of others and the message of the Gospel.  This week we our readings give us a warning of what will become of us should we not heed the needy’s cry for justice.

The Word for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Amos 6:1a, 4-7
        Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
        1 Timothy 6:11-16
        Luke 16:19-31

We open with another passage from Amos, our fiery Southern prophet giving a warning to those who have become complacent.  The imagery Amos uses speaks of excessive wealth, and while taking a jab at David, foretells of what will happen (and did happen) if they don’t change their ways.  It is a stinging indictment that is very much relevant today as we see an increasing disparity between rich and poor in our contemporary world.

Our second reading, continuing our study of the Pauline letters to Timothy, urges us to “compete well for the faith.”.  Though not directly related to our readings on Justice, its core message of remaining vigilant to the cause of the Gospel serves as a reminder that we must never cease in our efforts to bring justice to the poor and those in need.  It also reminds us that we to must be prophets, and in the vein of Amos and Jesus, call out what we see as injustice in our society.

Our gospel continues from where we left off last week, and like last week, gives us another parable that is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  To better set the stage, first let’s remember where we are:  Jesus still on his travels is seen by a group of Pharisees conversing with a group of “tax collectors and sinners.”  The Pharisees complained about this, so Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, gave us the parables we heard two weeks ago (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost – prodigal – Son).  Continuing then from last week’s Gospel, Jesus turned to his disciples and gave us the parable of the Dishonest Steward, a story pointed squarely at the Pharisees who were listening.

It is helpful to note that after last week’s gospel passage the text continues,  saying, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.  And he said to them, ‘You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.’”  To reinforce his point, he gives us this week’s passage, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  This parable, unique in its personalization of poor man, is both intimate in its telling and thick with meaning.  Using a familiar story telling devices (not unlike that used in A Christmas Carole and It’s A Wonderful Life) we are shown a future that can be avoided if we heed the moral of the story, and follow what Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus have been telling us… “whatever you for the least of my brothers, you do for Me.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

This week we begin our two-part study of Social Justice.  What does that have to do with becoming a Catholic, you ask?  Everything!  Jesus taught us that we needed to “love our neighbors,” but what exactly does that mean?  Our readings for this week should help us to understand this idea better…

The Word for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Amos 8:4-7
        Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8
        1 Timothy 2:1-8
        Luke 16:1-13

We open with a reading from the prophet Amos… and if there ever were an example of fiery prophetic rage and divine justice, it’s Amos.  A Southern prophet during the height of the Jewish kingdoms (some 150 years before the Exile), Amos, a shepherd by trade, was called to the life of a prophet to rail against the injustice and hypocrisy he saw all around him.  Our passage this week is thick with meaning, and if not read or proclaimed correctly, can cause us to mis-understand its meaning.  This is a classic rant he’s giving to the rich (…”you who trample upon the needy…”), warning them of their day of reckoning, but this warning is only the frame of a complex passage where at the heart of it, Amos is quoting the minds of the rich men bent on oppressing the poor.  As with much of Amos, this is not contemplative reading, but rather much better understood when read aloud as a fiery sermon.

Our second reading, a continuation of our Pauline letters to Timothy, is not entirely out of place here.  We pray for our leaders, and everyone else, not just those in the community.  This reminds us that justice is for all, and that we pray our secular leadership sees this need.

Our Gospel, another story unique to Luke, is no less difficult to unpack.  The Parable of the Unjust Stewart would seem, on its surface, to praise the steward for his guile, but like Amos, Jesus is condemning him.  Within his condemnation Jesus also gives us a warning… that we cannon serve both God and mammon (wealth).  But it is important to note that this gospel is not so much a condemnation of wealth as it is a condemnation of dishonesty.  If that were not enough, it also subtlety reminds us that we are all stewards… called to protect God’s creation during our short stay here, and called to help those in need. I expect these readings will lead to some interesting discussion.

Catholic Update:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

24th Sunday or Ordinary Time 2013

For many of us our busy Fall schedules are in full swing, making it harder for us to pause for a moment of prayer and reflection... to give thanks to God... to ask God for assistance... or to just be in his presence for a moment.  It is in these busy days and weeks that we need to make that time... to attend Mass, to have a moment of daily prayer... even if that moment is the walk from the parking lot to your office or classroom.  Not only does this allow us to reconnect with God, but it provides us a moment of self-reflection (the basis of the Jesuit tradition of the Examen of Conscience) to make sure we're still on the right path and still moving forward.

The Word for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
        Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
        1 Timothy 1:12-17
        Luke 15:1-32 (or 15:1-10)

All of this week’s readings scream the message of forgiveness and reconciliation.  In Exodus, God is extremely angry at the Israelites turning their back to him, but Moses, using God’s own words, is able to talk him down, revealing God’s ever-present offer of forgiveness.  Forgiveness, however, also required contrition.  After God relents from punishing Israel, Moses gets to the bottom of the mountain, sees the great sin they have committed, and offers them a choice.  If you are for God, stand with me.  Those who did not, were promptly dispatched.

Our second reading begins a review of Pauline letters to Timothy.  In this first passage, the author writing on Paul’s behalf give us a first-person account of Paul’s story of conversion.  Paul always held up his own weaknesses as example of God’s forgiveness.  You may recall that Paul himself a devout Jew, fought vigorously against the Christian movement until he had an encounter with the risen Jesus… and if this encounter could change a man like him for the better, then how much easier it would be for others.

As we turn to our Gospel from Luke, we are given three parables.  In the opening verses we are given the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Both of these show us the great length we take to find something that is lost, and the rejoicing that follows when it is found.  As it turns out, these were just the warm-up acts, and give added depth to the third parable, that of the prodigal son.  This is perhaps one of the most remembered and beloved parables, and is a unique gift from Luke’s Gospel.  One reason it sticks with us is because most of us can see ourselves in one or more of the characters in the story, yet can still be awestricken at the Father’s willingness and desire to forgive his son… a forgiveness we can share if needed and desired.

It is also important, with growing tensions over the situation in Syria, and on this anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to reinforce the Church’s ministry of forgiveness, and review the Church’s teaching on religious tolerance.  The prayer vigil hosted this past weekend by Pope Francis is an example of both our desire for peace, and our need to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” as rooted in the Lord’s prayer.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 9:13-18b
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

Our first reading comes from the book of Wisdom.  As the name of the book suggests, this work falls into the category of Wisdom literature.  Although the authors attribute this “wisdom” to King Solomon (970 BCE), the book, originally written in Greek, actually dates to some 50 years before Christ.  Like last week’s first reading from Sirach (dating about 200 years before Christ), the book of Wisdom not only acts as an early catechism for the Jewish people, but speaks very powerfully to the early Christian community, in part because it addresses a persecuted minority.  While the book of Wisdom is fairly clear in its teachings, there are times, as with this week’s passage, where we can get lost in the language of the text, and find it difficult to discern what it is trying to teach… so don’t get discouraged if you don’t “get it” after just one reading.  Read it several times, and then see if you see what I see…

The passage opens with a rhetorical question… “who can know God’s council?”. Not us, for as the text continues, we are just mere mortals, and our human needs often cloud our understanding.  In fact, it is “with difficulty” that we understand what the Lord wants.  This is why God sends us Wisdom from the Holy Spirit… and it by following this wisdom from the Spirit that makes our path straight.  Put more simply, just follow what the Lord says and all is good.

Trouble is… just following what the Lord says isn’t always easy.  This is exactly what our Gospel has Jesus telling the great crowds that are following him.  Not only does he tell them that following him will be difficult, but he reminds us that the any decision to become a disciple must be make with considerable discernment. In short, Jesus is telling us that there are costs… personal costs, to being one of his disciples, and it would be foolish to do so without understanding what the costs will be beforehand.

We round out our readings with a passage from Paul’s letter to Philemon.  One of the shortest books in the New Testement, and certainly the shortest from Paul, the Letter to Philemon is only one chapter with 25 verses.  The letter concerns a slave named Onesimus, whom he met in prison, converted, and is now being released.  Paul is asking his owner to welcome him not as a slave, but as a “brother in Christ.”  This letter is nothing short of astounding.  With brevity and cautious language (which is uncharacteristic for Paul, who’s letters are generally verbose and bold), Paul is telling us that slavery is wrong.  That within the Church, the body of Christ, there is no room for cast.  There is no master and slave, but rather, we are all slaves for Christ, brothers and sister in a common cause.

Catholic Update

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

If you had to describe this week’s readings with one word… it would be “humility.”  In our first reading from the book of Sirach, the author states this very clearly in the opening lines of the passage:  “… conduct your affairs with humility.”  Why is this important?  First, it’s good to remember that the book of Sirach falls under the category of “wisdom” literature in the bible, and because of it’s relatively late writing (around the 2ndcentury BCE), has been excluded from the Hebrew and Protestant bibles.  Catholics, however, find the work to be inspired and includes it in our Canon.  Like all wisdom literature, it is a cross between popular non-fiction and catechetical text.  In today’s reading, the author reminds us that the more we humble ourselves, the greater favor we will find with God.  And this humility isn’t limited to just how we approach God, but everyone, an idea Jesus himself codified when he taught us to “love our neighbor.”

Turning to our Gospel from Luke, Jesus gives us an example of this through his Parable of the Conduct of Invited Guests and Hosts (a prelude to the Parable of the Great Feast).  While dining at the home of the leading Pharisees, Jesus notices the guests jockeying for preferential positions at the table.  He uses this observation for a catechetical or “teaching” moment, and so as not to offend anyone directly, uses the form of a parable.  In the story, Jesus encourages guests not to take the highest spot at table, but rather, take the lowest.  Why?  If the host sees you in the wrong spot, placing you higher at the table would be an honor, whereas moving you further down the table would be an embarrassment.  In other words, we should not assume our place at table (or the heavenly kingdom), this is for our host (God) to decide.  Going back to our lesson from Sirach, letting humility be our guide, we should take our place last in line, and not presume that our place should be higher (for that would be a selfish indulgence).  Jesus doesn’t stop there, however.  He goes on to say that those who are in need (the poor, crippled, lame, blind…) should be invited as well, for as Jesus notes, the host would be blessed for their righteousness.

Not only does Jesus remind us of the need to be humble, but he reaches back to the core of the Mosaic Law, and reminds us that it is how we treat the underprivileged (the widow, the foreigner, the orphan), is how we will be judged.  In Christian theology, we call this “a preferential option for the poor.”  Those in need require our special attention.

And what of our second reading?  Here we continue our study of the Letter to the Hebrews.  This Sunday’s passage reminds us that through Christ, God is accessible.  No longer should God be feared (as it was with the Israelites in the time of Moses), but instead, wants to be with us.

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