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.

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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.

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