Friday, December 26, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family, 2014

The first Sunday after Christmas Day is reserved for the Feast of the Holy Family.  By Church standards this a relatively modern celebration, established in 1921, first celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany, but later moved to first Sunday after Christmas in 1969.  Coming as it does at this time of year, it crystallizes for us the importance of family life in our creation and formation.  Jesus, as the Incarnation, was born into a family and raised by that family.  Mary and Joseph may have had a sacred trust in parenting the Son of God, but it is also growing up in that ordinary family structure that brings Jesus closer to us.  Our readings this week offer a number of alternatives, but all focus on the importance of family life.  As it is most likely you will be hearing the first of all our selections, I will focus on these...

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Colossians 3:12-21 or Colossians 3:12-17 or Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Luke 2:22-40 or Luke 2:22, 39-40

Our first reading is from the book of Sirach... one of the wisdom books which is also sometimes referred to as Ecclesiasticus.  It comes to us from the 2nd century BCE, and like many of the wisdom books, serves as a practical catechism of day, and very likely well known to Jesus and the other Jews of his time.  This Sunday's passage, most scholars believe, was a commentary on the 4th Commandment (You shall honor your father and your mother).  It even reminds us that our obligations as children go beyond the age of childhood... that just as our parents cared for us as infants and children, we too have an obligation to care for our parents in their time of need.

Where our first reading would seem to focus on the ideal model of family life, St. Paul in our second reading seems to recognize that family life isn't always perfect.  In his letter to the Colossians he provides us with some guidance on how to live within a less than ideal family setting.  Many of us today think that life, including family life, was easier in times past, but as this passage shows us, there is nothing new to the struggles of living with one's family members.  While our day-to-day living situations may be different, our problems are still the same.  It's one of the reasons that the Bible still speaks to us, even in an age when we might think we've grown beyond it's experience.

Our Gospel from Luke gives us the story of the presentation of the Lord at the Temple.  This was done in accordance to traditional Jewish custom for their day, much the same as we Catholics bring our infant children to the Church for Baptism.  During their visit to the Temple, they encounter two other important people.  First, Simeon, who confirms for us that this child is indeed the Christ.  Second we encounter Anna the Prophetess, who also recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah, but also foretells of the pain this calling will have on this family.  As with so much of the Gospel, this story shows us both the ordinary and the extraordinary.  A humble young family presenting their child at Temple, like any traditional Jewish family would in that day, but in that ordinary moment recognizing the extraordinary nature of this child as the promise fulfilled for the people of God (Jews and Gentiles alike).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent, 2014

This 4th Sunday of Advent we focus on the Incarnation… God made manifest through the birth of Jesus.  Nothing captures this moment better than our Gospel, but as we will see, our other readings would suggest that this meeting between God and his people has been coming for some time…

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27-29
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

To better understand our readings for this week, I think we should first look at our Gospel.  In a story that is unique to Luke’s Gospel, we here the of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce God’s plan for the birth of his Son.  It’s not hard for us to imagine Mary’s amazement in this moment.  Not only is this humble girl from Nazareth (already likely anxious over her betrothal to Joseph) being approached by an angel, a messenger for the Lord, but the angel’s message is almost unbelievable:  God has chosen her to bear his Son.  Mary isn’t naive, however, and challenges Gabriel about this plan, but after some further explanation Mary agrees and says “yes.” (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”).  Every Christian is familiar with this story, but I often wonder if our familiarity with it drowns out the shear amazement of the moment.  Not only has God concocted this incredible plan for reconciling with his creation, but the whole scheme depends on whether this young unwed peasant girl from Nazareth is willing to go along with it.  The miracle is two-fold… God’s plan, and Mary’s “yes.”

As for God’s plan, we will see that this has been in the works for some time.  This is evident in our first reading from the 2nd book of Samuel.  David, God’s chosen, is now king of Israel… settled into his new palace.  But David is troubled… he now has a palace, but what of God?  Should the arc still be in a tent?  God wants David to dismiss this idea, however, and instead has Nathan remind David about the greater mission… where they’ve been, and where they are going, to establish a house, a son and a kingdom dedicated to the Lord.  This was the promise God made, and though it took some time, it’s the promise he fulfilled in our Gospel.  Our Psalm echoes that covenant… we praise the Lord, and he protects us.

Our second reading comes from the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In this passage from Paul we hear echoes of our Psalm… that it is through Christ we find strength, and from that grace we continue to bring the nations to give praise to God.

These readings from Samuel and Paul lead us to think of kings and thrones and majesty, with are all valid images for Christ.  But let us not forget that like David himself, Jesus was born of humble, ordinary means… just like Jesus… just like us.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  If a shepherd like David, or a carpenter’s son like Jesus can bring entire nations to the Lord, so can we.  Not through battles or revolutions, but by loving God and sharing that love with our neighbors.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent, 2014

The third Sunday of Advent marks the midpoint of the season… in Catholic terms, this is like “hump day”, where we happily see that the conclusion of our journey is within sight.  Referred to as Gaudete Sunday, it takes its name from the Latin word for rejoice.  We will hear this word several times throughout this Sunday's Mass in our prayers and our readings.  We light the rose colored candle on our Advent wreaths, rose being a mixture of Advent violet and Christmas white.  Not only is Christmas a joyous occasion to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but it reminds us that we are joyous (not fearful) of his return.

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

We open with a great announcement from Third Isaiah, that the anointed brings glad tidings to the poor.  If his words sound familiar, they should.  Not only are they reminiscent to the announcement made by the angels to the shepherd in the Nativity narratives, but these are the same words Jesus reads in the synagogue in Nazareth, after which he proclaims that this prophecy has been fulfilled.  Indeed, such news from God, in any age, is cause for great celebration.

Our responsorial Psalm mirrors this joy and praise to God, but its source and its voice are not what you might expect.  This passage isn’t from the book of Psalms… it’s from the Gospel of Luke, and it’s voice isn’t from David or an anonymous psalmist, but from the Virgin Mary.  Taken from a passage referred to as the Canticle of Mary, this song of praise follows right after she and the pregnant Elizabeth greet each other.  Both the message and the messenger are fitting for this Gaudete Sunday.

Our second reading comes from the concluding verses of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians.  His direction to “rejoice always” are words we ourselves would do well to follow.  But this isn’t a reckless kind of rejoicing, for in the same breath Paul reminds us that we must also pray and give thanks.  Our rejoicing comes from the gift of Spirit, given to us by Christ, so that we may find what is good in preparation for the coming of Christ.

This takes us to our Gospel, this week from John as he proclaims the coming of John the Baptist.  Our theme of rejoicing continues here as our messenger is almost giddy with anticipation for the great one who is to follow.  As the end of our Advent Season looms on the horizon, we too should be joyous for the Lord’s coming.

Final Thoughts:
Although Advent is meant to be a contemplative season, much like Lent, it carries with it a joy and anticipation that is hard to contain, and Gaudete Sunday is meant to reflect those feelings.  As Catholics this Sunday affords us the opportunity to celebrate the coming of Christmas in a special way.  For me and my family, this is when we go out and get our Christmas tree.  Like incense in church, that fresh pine scent fills the house telling us that the Christmas season is almost upon us.  Some folks say, “what?  you’re only now getting your tree?”  And believe me, some years this can be difficult as many tree lots are already closing up shop.  But we began this tradition in an effort keep from getting caught up in the commercialization of the holiday.  To ease our way toward Christmas, knowing that we don’t have to get all the decorations put up over night.  To embrace the spirit of Advent and take this time to prepare, both our home and our spirits for the Christmas season that is still to come.  Like Mary and Elizabeth, we take this time to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to our God for the gift of his son.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2014

This is the clarion call we receive for this 2nd Sunday of Advent.  Preparation is indeed the message that’s in the air as we are bombarded with all sorts of advertising right now... to find the perfect gift, create the perfect meal, decorate the perfect home, all the while surrounded by the perfect sense of family.  Trouble is, when we seek this type of perfection, we often find ourselves disappointed.  Not only have we missed the point of the season, we’ve allowed the secular world to obfuscate our understanding of the Gospel message…

The Word for the 2nd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

We open with one of the finest songs of forgiveness and triumph from the Prophet Isaiah.  There is an established pattern in all of our worship… that before we ask for something from God, we first must ask him for forgiveness for our sins.  We see this every time we celebrate the Mass as we begin with the Penitential Rite.  Preparation, in the truest Judeo-Christian form, means approaching God (and one another) with a clear conscience… with an unburdened heart and a cleansed soul.  Isaiah recognizes that the people’s sufferings in Exile have been more than sufficient payment for their sins, and God in his compassionate mercy, doesn’t merely forgive their sins, but states that “her guilt is expiated,”  as if that sin had never existed.  From this then comes the triumphant prophecy of the end of their exile.  By recognizing their mistakes, they have opened themselves to salvation… a promise echoed in our Psalm.

But how long until we are saved?  This is the question St. Peter is faced with in our second reading.  The communities to which he is writing were made a promise… that by renouncing sin and following the way of Christ they would be saved.  The next obvious question, then, is “when?”  Peter, in the voice of the wise Church elder, reminds us to be patient.  In a society where we are increasingly accustomed to instant gratification, rushing around to make sure everything is ready for the holidays, Peter’s message serves as a poignant reminder for us all;  we should be patient and focus instead on how we are conducting ourselves.

Our Gospel then takes us to the opening of Mark’s Gospel, where we hear again those same words from Isaiah, prepare the way of the Lord.  In this case, the announcement of John the Baptist preparing the people for the one who is to come… Jesus, the Christ.  An how does he prepare the people?  By baptizing them in the Jordan River as they acknowledge their sins.

We are all attracted to the idea of having the “perfect” holiday.  But none of us are perfect.  We all come with some baggage.  But guess what… God knows that.  And yet he still wants us.  God isn’t looking for us to be perfect, but he does expect us to take stock of our failings, acknowledge our sins, and strive to learn from those mistakes for the betterment of all.  This is how we prepare for the coming of the Lord.  Repent, give thanks, and then give praise.

Final Thoughts:
When I think about Advent I think about cleaning my kitchen before preparing something special.  All the dishes from previous meals need to be clean and put away.  The counter tops need to be cleared to have plenty of working space.  All the items I need to cook with need to be clean, staged, and standing ready.  How, I ask myself, could anyone cook in a dirty, disorganized kitchen?  You can’t.  No good cook would.  The first order of business is always to make sure everything is cleaned and organized before you start.  This is Advent.  This is the time to clean the dishes, to cleans our souls, to organize and prioritize our lives for the feast that is the coming of Christ.  So let go of the commercial chaos of the holidays and take this opportunity to “clean your kitchen, ” and prepare the way of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

1st Sunday of Advent, 2014

With the 1st Sunday of Advent we welcome a new Liturgical Year, but unlike our secular celebration of the new year, we don’t do it with champagne and noisemakers. Instead the Church begins her new year with a season of solemn reflection. One secular new year’s tradition that does carry over well with our season of Advent is that of making new year’s resolutions, an opportunity to look how well we are following through with following Christ, and ask ourselves if we are ready for his return.

The Word for the 1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

The beginning of the new Liturgical Year also brings with it a new Lectionary cycle. Last year, Cycle A, we spent with the Gospel of Matthew, but now we transition to Cycle B with a focus on the Gospel of Mark.

Our first reading comes from the Prophet Isaiah… in this case, from third Isaiah. Here we have a vision that has us begging for God to take us back, to make us his own again. These pleadings ring true to the heart of a people who feel abandoned by God, and even though this particular passage comes from the post-exile period, it still gives us a portrait of a people yearning for a closeness to God that traditionally was authoritarian and distant. This is seen in the opening line… “You, Lord, are our father,” a phrase that we Christians find very familiar, but coming from Isaiah, was something radically new and different. Our Psalm echoes this yearning of a people begging God to see us and save us. The Psalm’s reference to the “son of man” is also very prophetic to the Christian ear.

Our second reading is from the opening of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. In his opening lines he is reminding the community that they have been given all they need in preparation for the end of days, and that the revelation of Christ will keep them strong to the end. As descendents of these disciples, we too have been given this knowledge and possess these same spiritual gifts.

This takes us to our Gospel from Mark, where he says quite clearly that we must always be alert and ever on watch. This warning, which comes just before Mark’s passion story, is Jesus’ final attempt to explain the trouble that is to come… not only his arrest, passion and death, but his resurrection and eventual return. These will be times of tribulation, but if we remain alert, we will not be caught unprepared. In order to better understand this Mark gives us the final parable of his Gospel… the Parable of the Watchful Servant. The master is putting his estate in our hands while he is away… a responsibility for which we should never become complacent. In other words, Jesus has given us a great responsibility, and we must care for his estate (the Church)as though his return could come at any time, and we would not want to be caught unprepared.

Final Thoughts:
Are you prepared for the Master’s return? The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to ask this question of ourselves. Unfortunately this meaning can be lost in our modern secular interpretation of the Christmas season. In our eagerness to remember the coming of the infant Jesus, it’s easy to forget that we should be focused on our preparation for his second coming. Our challenge as Catholics is to reclaim our tradition of thoughtful introspection between now and Christmas. We should forgo the manufactured chaos of “black Friday” along with frenzied need for shopping and decorating and planning parties. The people who spend so much time stressing out during the holidays are those same people who are ready to kick the tree to the curb on December 26th,wrongly thinking that Christmas is over. It is in fact just beginning. Let us all remember that Christmas is not just one day, but an entire season lasting to the Epiphany. There is plenty of time for celebration and time with family and friends, so let’s ease into the holiday season by remembering that Advent is our opportunity to prepare our spirit as well as our homes, not with gifts and decorations, but with hearts ready for Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 2014

The phrase, "to judge the living and the dead" comes from our Creed, but has its origins in scriptures like this Sunday's Gospel.  It reminds us that God alone determines our fate after death, but that fate is also determined by our own choices in life... our free will to follow a path of righteousness or selfishness.  In one of Jesus' final sermons to his Apostles (a continuation from last week's Gospel), Jesus gives us concrete examples to follow.

The Word for Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Our first reading comes Ezekiel, the exiled priest who found his prophetic voice in Babylon.  At a time where the exiled Jewish community is feeling abandoned by God, Ezekiel is called to bring a message of hope.  He speaks of God as a shepherd who seeks to bring back his lost sheep.  It’s a powerful image that we Christians easily recognize from Jesus’ teachings.  This message of the caring shepherd is echoed in our Psalm as we hear again those memorable strains of Psalm 23:  The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

Our second reading is from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul explains that just as humanity fell from grace through Adam, eternal life was brought back to humanity through Christ.  Through his death and resurrection he has the power to defeat God’s enemies, and as everything becomes subject to Christ, Christ in turn becomes subject to his Father… “so that God may be all in all.”

Our Gospel, unique to Matthew, presents us with Jesus’ final teaching before the events that lead to his passion and death.  Subtitled “the Judgment of the Nations,” Jesus transports us to a scene at the end of time where he explains that whatever we have done to the least his brothers, we have done it to him.  This final teaching of the last judgment reminds us that we not only have a duty to server our fellow man, but how well and how completely we follow this teaching will be how we are judged worthy in Christ’s eyes at the end of days.  It’s a powerful and poetic teaching which serves as a constant reminder that our duty to Christ is in fact a duty to serve others.  That we will not only be judged on our faith in Christ, but how we live out that faith.

Final Thought:
The celebration of Christ the King marks the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year.  Although being one of the newest feast days on the Church calendar, having been established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, its importance in the life of Christians should not be overlooked nor taken lightly.

The Feast Day was established by Pope Pius’ encyclical Quas Primas, (In the First), which establishes Jesus as our King.  For 21st century Americans, as well as most modern democratic societies, the meaning and importance of this Feast can easily be lost without understanding the context from which it originated.  Since the end of the Great War, Europe, both economically and politically, was in shambles.  The long established monarchies from Europe and through to the Far East were being challenged by popular uprisings, only to be replaced by equally dangerous movements fueled by nationalism and fascism.

Amid this turmoil, The Holy See saw the need to remind the Church that we owed our allegiance not to any temporal or political authority, but only to Christ.  This idea of Christ as King of All, having been well established in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, served to remind the world that we are bound to a higher authority.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

God the Father has endowed us with many gifts.  Not only does scripture recommend that we give thanks for these (as in our readings from Proverbs and Psalms), but it recommends that these gifts must be put to use for the greater good and the love of God.

The Word for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

We open with a reading from the book of Proverbs.  This book falls within the category of “wisdom literature” in the Bible.  Like it’s other wisdom book counterparts, it is a collection of wise sayings used as a type of “catechism” to teach right living.  Proverbs is thought to originate during the period of the Monarchy, but doesn’t reach its final form until the post-exilic period.  Our passage for this coming Sunday gives us the example of the value of a “worthy wife,” and how we should honor that value.  “Wisdom” in this period is considered more practical than theological, but to us modern Christians we recognize how wisdom is an important part of forming our character.  Our Psalm echoes the spirit of Thanksgiving that comes with such gifts as we see in our passage from Proverbs.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians.  In this passage Paul is beginning his conclusion of this letter by reminding the community to be vigilant in their faith.  He believes Christ’s return is imminent, so he is reminding them to maintain their watch… to stay in the light.

Our Gospel from Matthew is the Parable of the Talents.  It is the final parable Jesus gives in Matthew’s Gospel just before the story of the Passion begins to unfold.  On the surface, this parable would seem to support our basic capitalistic model for society… the servants who are able to double their wealth are rewarded, and the servant who buried his talent is thrown out.

To understand the deeper meaning of this parable, we first need to get beyond our modern views of capitalism and economics, and look at it how the ancients would have looked at it.  Here we see nothing of what we would expect as “Christian charity” or “forgiveness”.  These are not the lessons being taught in this parable… these are other lessons for another day.  Remember the society who first heard this story.  They have no concept of democracy or capitalism.  What they do know is the master-servant relationship.  What they know is what it’s like to not be in control.  Jesus is trying to teach them that they do have some control  and that they have a duty to make a difference.  To make something of the gifts (or responsibilities) given to them.

 It is somewhat ironic that the coinage in our story is called a talent… while an accepted translation of the term for this kind of coin, modern English has a much different definition for the word “talent”… what we might also consider our “gifts from God”… those abilities and personal capabilities that not only make us unique, but can and should be put to use for the greater good, both now and for the future.  We are in fact, stewards of the Church, called to use our gifts for her continued growth.

When the Church talks about “stewardship”, it usually centers on the importance of our financial giving… but that is an old-school, narrow view of stewardship.  It is our duty as Church not only to grow the church, but to insure its continuation beyond our own lives.  More recently, this has grown to include the stewardship of God’s creation… that is the stewardship of the planet and its natural resources.  That is not to say that our financial support of the Church isn’t still important… it is, but we also need to focus our time, talent, and treasure on her greater mission:  Building the Kingdom of God.  In a society that focuses on personal success and material wealth, this is indeed a challenge.  As Christians we’re not only called to give thanks for our gifts, we must also use them for the greater good.

Final Thoughts:
Thanking God for our gifts and putting those gifts to use is a very appropriate theme as we prepare not only for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the end of our Liturgical year.  It's important for us to take this time and remember what and who is important in our lives, and give praise to the God who makes this possible.  There used to be a time where we could at least get through Thanksgiving dinner before we get inundated with Christmas holiday advertising... but I've noticed particularly this year an unabashed assault of holiday adverts before we had a chance to finish the Halloween candy.  As Catholics we might do better to put this frantic commercialism behind us and follow more closely to our Liturgical calendar... a calendar more attuned to our seasonal shifts... one that allows (in fact, insists) that we slow down and do some soul searching as winter begins to wash over us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, 2014

November 9th marks the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.  Why are we celebrating the dedication of a church?  Well, because this is perhaps the most important church in all of Western Christianity.  The official title of this church is:  The Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist at the Lateran.  “The Lateran” in this case refers to the Lateran Palace which belonged to the Laterni family, an ancient noble Roman family.  The palace was acquired by Constantine and donated to the Pope in order to be the cathedral of the city of Rome.  This is where the cathedra, the Bishop’s Chair, sits.  Contrary to popular belief, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is not the Pope’s Cathedral.  The Pope is foremost the Bishop of Rome, so therefore his Cathedral Church is in the City of Rome (not Vatican City, which at the time of Constantine was little more than a hill outside of Rome).  This is the oldest church in the West, and as such is considered the mother church.

The Word for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

Our first reading comes from the book Ezekiel… the priest and prophet who was among the first to be sent into Exile in Babylon… some ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the mass deportation that followed.  He was first and foremost a Temple priest, but it was in his Exile he developed his prophetic voice (though his prose sounds very much like priestly law at times).  This Sunday’s passage come from the later part of his book, where he is describing visions of hope for a return to Jerusalem.  He is describing a vision where the angel brings him to the entrance of the Temple, and from that entry flows water… water that flows to the sea and brings life to all it touches.  Not only does it remind us of our baptism, it shows the ancient Israelites (who are in Exile) that a new Jerusalem and a new Temple can be a source of light and life.  Our Psalm is a reflection of this vision.

Our second reading is from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  It is here where Paul teaches us that we are all temples of God.  This is new thinking, not only for the Jews of the time, but gentiles as well, who both have a firm understanding that the Temple is the home of God, and this is where we worship.  Paul’s teaching is both practical and enlightened.  Practical in the fact that he is dealing with a people who have no Temple… how can God have a home if there is no Temple?  But the enlightened aspect of this teaching reminds us that God is and lives within us as well as outside of us.  In us Paul laid the foundation of our faith… Faith in Christ Jesus… and from that foundation we build our lives of faith, hope, and love.

Our gospel, being a special occasion, comes from John.  Here we have the story of Jesus expelling the moneychangers in the Temple.  This story is such a powerful and important moment in the story of Jesus it is included in all four Gospels.  As is typical with John’s Gospel, however, there is both the story on the surface and the story underneath.  This is much more than a purification of the Temple, but Jesus himself is established as the new Temple… the body of Jesus to be destroyed in the soon to come crucifixion, but restored through the Resurrection three days later.  God is not within these stone walls, but within us.

So on this day where our readings make clear that our bodies are the new Temples of God (made holy through our Baptism), why all this fuss about a building?  We've firmly established that God does not need a house (you can’t put God in a box), yet we Catholics still place an importance on our church buildings.  Why is that?  Simple…while God may not need a house (or a Temple), the people of God, us, still need a place to gather… a place we can call home.  A place where we can gather and worship together.  A sacred space where we can feel safe and at peace.  A place where we can be reminded of that spirit of God within each of us and celebrate that fact in quiet contemplation or joyous celebration.  The Laterni family gave their home as Rome’s Cathedral, and from that many more homes and buildings became communal gathering places for the faithful.  Hence we celebrate the dedication of this Archbasilica as a reminder that we from this place we gathered and grew as Church.

Final Thoughts:
As our Liturgical year draws to a close, we have a number of special celebrations the US Bishops have put on the calendar.  The Church has a hard time letting go of certain seasonal cycles, so she has a tendency to position important memorials and feast days at the beginning and the end of Ordinary Time, I think this allows us to ease in and out of the liturgical cycles without such abrupt change.
This year our calendar is as follows:

  • Nov 4:  Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop
  • Nov 9:  Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
  • Nov 10:  Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
  • Nov 11:  Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop
  • Nov 12:  Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr
  • Nov 13:  Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin
  • Nov 17:  Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious
  • Nov 21:  Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Nov 22:  Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr
  • Nov 23:  The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
  • Nov 24:  Memorial of Saint Andrew Dŭng-Lạc, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

November 23rd marks the final Sunday of the Liturgical year, in which we celebrate Christ the King. For us Here at Our Lady of Refuge, we have our traditional Thanksgiving Day Mass on Thursday, November 27th, at 9:30 AM.  This is a true celebration of parish family, and helps take us out on a high note before we begin the penitential season of Advent.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day), 2014

This coming Sunday is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or more commonly referred to as All Souls Day.  As this special day falls on a Sunday this year, we put aside our readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time to focus our attention on those who have passed on before us.

The Word for All Souls Day:
Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Romans 5:5-11 or Romans 6:3-9
John 6:37-40

What happens after we die?  This is the question that our first reading from the Book of Wisdom tries to answer.  Here the passage states that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God.”  In other words, those good people who have passed on are in good hands.  The book of Wisdom comes to us about 50 years before the birth of Christ from the Jewish community in Alexandria.  In many ancient cultures sickness and death were equated to sin, so those who were passing before their time, that is, those who didn't die of old age, must have done something to anger God.  Our passage from Wisdom is meant to assuage that fear.  Our Psalm is meant to echo that comforting notion through the very popular Psalm 23… the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Our second reading gives us two options for the All Souls Day celebration, both from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In the passage from Chapter 5, Paul tells us that “Hope does not disappoint.”  That through Jesus’ suffering, we have been reconciled with God.  In the passage from Chapter 6, Paul reminds us that by our own Baptism in Jesus, we too are baptized into his death.  While this might not sound very comforting, Paul continues by saying that just as we share in Jesus’ death, we also share in his resurrection.  In both these passages we learn that although there may be suffering in this life, there is resurrection and reward in the next life.

Our gospel, as often occurs with special celebrations, comes from John.  In this passage we have Jesus addressing the crowds, teaching them that he is their conduit to the Father.  That his power and authority comes from the Father, and that salvation (that is, being risen on the last day), also comes through him.  Jesus is establishing himself as the official go-between… sent from the Father to bring others to the Father, and therefore it is through following Jesus that we have eternal life.

During All Souls Day we remember all those who have passed on before us.  Ever since we were children we have asked what happens to us after we die.  In times of loss we like to comfort ourselves with the idea that “they’re in a better place.”  Our readings today reinforce that understanding.

You may have heard the phrase that “Jews don’t believe in Heaven.”  Like so many other “beliefs” and stereotypes we learn through popular culture, this idea is but a broad brush being painted over a highly diverse people with varying teachings with regard to the soul and the afterlife.  There are some Jews that don’t believe in an afterlife.  There are some that do have some concept of an afterlife, but perhaps not to the extent of how we Christians understand Heaven and Hell.  What we do know is that the ancient Jews struggled with this question throughout their history, just as we do when we were children, and little by little, through the wisdom of the prophets and others, grew to understand that there was much more to us than our mortal coil, and that understanding continued to evolve through Jesus and the Apostles.

When we pray in the Creed that we believe in the “communion of saints,”  the special nature our All Souls Day celebration becomes clear.  That we all can attain eternal life.

All Souls day is the conclusion of what we referred to as the triduum of Hallowmas, a celebration that honors the dead (saints, martyrs, and all the dearly departed).  It begins with All Hallow’s Eve, 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 celebrated on  November 2nd.  Our neighbors in Mexico celebrate this time as Dia de los Muertos… the 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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

What is the measure of a person? From a Biblical perspective, it’s how you treat others. In fact, the Scriptures are quite consistent on this point. From the Mosaic Law Code in Exodus, to the teachings of the prophets, to the parables of Jesus, to the teachings of Paul and the Apostles, we are constantly reminded about how a God-loving people are expected to act toward one another. Our readings for this coming Sunday provide us the best examples of this most important teaching:

The Word for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40

We open with a reading from the book of Exodus. When we think of the Exodus, we always remember the Ten Commandments, but we tend to forget that these Ten are just the beginning of the Law Code. Just as with the preamble to the Constitution for the US, there’s a whole lot more that follows, providing the nuts-and-bolts (the context and applications) of how this new Covenant with God is going to work. The Ten Commandments can be found at the very beginning of Chapter 20, but the Law Code continues all the way through Chapter 23.

Our passage from Exodus for this Sunday is perhaps even more important than the Ten Commandments because it establishes how the law is to be applied, and it does this through a most effective means… by reminding the Israelites that they themselves were the beneficiaries of God’s compassion. It explains how the Israelites are expected to treat those who are most venerable… widows, orphans, aliens (foreigners), and the poor. To use a modern legal term, it gives definition to a “protected class, ” a class that the Israelites themselves were a part of, and a class deserving of the same compassion that God provided to the Israelites when he heard them “cry out” for deliverance.

Our second reading, continuing our study of the letter from St. Paul to the Thessalonians, also touches on the subject of how to act toward one another. Paul’s teaching is simple… just do what we do. The Thessalonians were concerned about what was considered proper behavior for the members of the community. Instead of going into a lot of detail, he tells them simply to become “imitators of us and the Lord.” Put another way, “we learn by doing.”

“Which commandment in the Law is greatest?” This is the question the Pharisees posed to Jesus in our Gospel for this week. After he slammed the Sadducees along with the chief priests and elders (in our previous weeks Gospels), the Pharisees and the Scribes (literally, “scholars of the Law”) pose this as a test to Jesus, not only of his knowledge of the Law, but depending on how he answered, hoped to trap him in debate in an effort to discredit his teaching. Instead, Jesus, the master of getting to the point, gives us the Two Great Commandments (what we also call The Golden Rule). The beauty here is how Jesus was able to summarize all of the Law Code down to its core elements… Love God, Love your neighbor. These building blocks not only summarize the Law, but also allow us to argue the Law (in fine Jewish tradition) from a new perspective... In other words, giving deference to the Spirit of the Law, not just the Letter of the Law. And reminding us that our “neighbor” includes everyone else other than ourselves, including those in that “protected class” from Exodus.

There are those that believe religious teaching is essentially black and white… “this” is right what “that” is wrong. But if we’ve learned anything in our journey of discovery through the Catholic Faith, it’s that nothing is that simple. Nothing is black and white. Our faith is not lived in a vacuum, but rather is both of and in the world. But using these Two Great Commandments as our guide, we can navigate our way toward the light.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

Sometimes it can be aggravating when someone answers a question with a question, but when looking for the theme of our readings this week, that’s what I get.  Who is God and what do we owe him?  The answer to both questions is “everything.”  This theme has its origins in the 1st Commandment, “I am the Lord your God… there is no other.”  But what does that mean to us on a practical level?  In short, it is God whom we thank for everything we have, and because of this, it is only to God whom we owe our allegiance.

The Word for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah… in this case, “Deutero” or Second Isaiah.  The Exile is coming to an end.  The Babylonian Empire has fallen to the Persians and now Cyrus, whom we know as Cyrus the Great, has been, according to Isaiah, anointed by God.  Cyrus?  A pagan?  A foreign king?  Yes.  How could this be?  Simple… God can choose whomever he wishes.  The hand God chose to free Israel from her Exile was in fact the hand of Cyrus, the king of the Persian Empire, who through the defeat of the Babylonians, now has set Israel free and wants to send them home.  To Israel, this is not only redemption, but an opportunity to show everyone, God’s power and God’s mercy.  To show all nations, that it is God whom we thank, God whom we honor, and God who we owe everything.  Our Psalm echoes this song of praise.

Our Gospel from Matthew picks up, again, where we left off last week.  The Pharisees, whom after having been confronted by a series of parables from Jesus (chastising them severely), go off and plot their revenge.  They send their disciples back to confront Jesus with a question about paying the Imperial tax.  The question is a trap.  If he says pay the tax, he gives the Sanhedrin evidence he’s siding with the Romans.  If he says don’t pay the tax, he give the Romans evidence for inciting rebellion.  But Jesus knows this is a trap, and finds a way around it.  He asks for a coin, and then asks them to identify who’s image is on the coin.  It is, obviously, Caesar’s, whereupon Jesus says, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

This story, shared in all three Synoptic Gospels, marks a profound break from Hebrew tradition… that is, separating fealty to God from that of the temporal authority.  Jewish tradition puts its focus on the Jewish state… in other words, Israel ruled by Israelis.  Jesus, on the other hand, sees fighting against the Roman occupation (and the Herodian dynasty) as counterproductive.  Instead we should focus on our relationship with God and let everything else flow from that.  I would argue that it is here where Jesus himself originates the concept of a separation between church and state.  Empires come and go, but God remains.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Invitation.  This is the theme that resonates through our readings for this 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time.  And not just any invitation… an invitation to the Lord’s house.  Who wouldn’t want to go?  Who would turn down this invitation?  Let’s explore our readings to see what we might be missing…

The Word for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14

We open with a reading from Isaiah at a point where he sees great hope for Israel (for a brief time as King Hezekiah begins his reign).  In this poem of praise for God, he describes what it is like to live on the mountain of the Lord… a paradise with rich food and choice wines… a place where God’s people rejoice under the umbrella of his protection.  Our Psalm echoes this joy with its chorus “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”  Who would want to leave?

Our Gospel from Matthew has Jesus using this image of a Heavenly banquet as he confronts the chief priests and elders with another parable.  In this parable of the wedding feast, the king has prepared a wedding feast for his son, but none of the people he has invited wants to come.  Why would anyone refuse such an invitation?  Yet that’s exactly what happens, so the king sends his servants out into the streets to invite all anyone and everyone they found, and fills the hall with guests.  If the king’s chosen guests refuse his invitation, then his invitation will be extended to everyone else.

We all have been invited by God to his Heavenly banquet.  Will you accept the invitation?  But even if you accept… you still must come dressed for the occasion.  The long form of our Gospel takes on issue when the king finds someone at the feast who’s not wearing his wedding cloths.  He has the servants bind his hands and feet, and has him tossed out into the night.  Imagine his dismay… having been invited but then tossed out.  It’s a reminder that even though the Lord invites us to his banquet, there still remain certain protocols and obligations to follow.  By accepting a wedding invitation it’s expected that you will dress nicely and bring a gift.  Similarly God’s invitation to us also comes with certain protocols and obligations, but the focus here isn’t on those, it’s on the benefit of having a seat at the table for the feast.
Our second reading concludes our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and not surprisingly, his message provides us with the reassurances we need should we fear getting tossed out of the banquet.  Paul explains how he has been through good times and bad times, but regardless of circumstance, we, like he, can find strength through Christ Jesus.  The Lord will provide us with what we need.

This themes played out in these readings can also be seen in our celebration of the Mass.  The invitation is to everyone, Catholic or not.  We come dressed for the occasion both physically and spiritually.  We make our offering and find strength in Christ himself through the Eucharist.  A weekly (even daily) reminder that we’ve been invited to the Heavenly feast that awaits.  All we need do is to accept the invitation.

Final Thoughts:
If you're familiar with the quote "Many are called, but few are chosen," you're not alone.  A quick internet search will show you that not only is it a popularly known phrase, but many people seem to not know where it comes from or what it means.  The internet being what it is, however, has no shortage of "answers."  The phrase actually comes from more traditional translations of the end of our Gospel reading for this week, but in the New American Bible we read it as "Many are invited, but few are chosen."  This is one of those rare occasions where I feel the New American translation go it right.  The word "call" in the biblical sense tends to carry a lot of weight.  We tend to equate it to a "calling" from God, like someone being "called" to the priesthood... something we can't ignore.  But God's not calling us out, he's inviting us in.  It's an invitation, and with all invitations the ball is put into our court... do we accept or not?  The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew's Gospel is deeply layered with meaning, but you may need to read through it more than once to see the points Jesus is trying to make. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

This week we continue with our series on morality.  While our readings give us examples of what could be considered “bad behavior”, the focus is not so much on the behavior but the consequences of that behavior.  Bad consequences for bad behavior is indeed a motivation for right behavior, but it is not, and should not, be the only motivator for taking the right path.  God wants us to see the right path, but we sometimes miss the opportunities that are right in front of us...

The Word for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 5:1-78
Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 16-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

We open with a lament from early Isaiah.  Remember that Isaiah is known as one of the greatest prophets, and is often quoted in the New Testament.  His prophetic book, by three different authors, takes us from a time before the Assyrian uprising, through the Babylonian uprising, through the great Babylonian Exile, and all the way to the return to Jerusalem.  In this week’s passage, Isaiah sings a song about a landowner and his vineyard, which we equate to the people of Israel, but then he poses the question back to us, as if we are the Lord and what should we do with these “wild grapes.”  His song is a lament…of sadness and confusion over what to do.  Our Psalm reflects this same story, looking for God’s mercy.

Our Gospel from Matthew takes a similar tact as we continue on from where we left off last week where Jesus is telling parables to the Chief Priests and Elders.  Here Jesus gives us another parable, this time  about another landowner and his tenant farmers.  The story starts from a familiar place, keeping in mind that both Jesus’ audience and Matthew’s are quite familiar with the story we heard from Isaiah, only this time Jesus is equating the behavior of the tenant farmers to that of the Temple elders.  Jesus warns them explicitly that if they can’t produce fruit in the Lord’s vineyard, it will be taken away and given to others that will.  A stern warning that is just the beginning of the end for Jesus in Jerusalem.

Least these readings fill us too with dread and lament, our second reading should provide us with some hope.  Here in our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he starts the closing to his letter by telling us to “have no anxiety at all,”  Reminding them that if they continue to follow what they have been taught, “Then the God of peace will be with you.”

If our readings for this week make it seem like God is frustrated with us and is ready to brush us aside, you would be correct.  That lesson, however, must always be counterbalanced with God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness.  As Paul reminds us, if we do what is right, God’s peace will be with us.  With God there is hope.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

How do we know what is right or wrong? But even when we think we have a firm hand on morality, how then do we turn that into a consistent life ethic… a way of living each and every day in a manner that reflects our beliefs? These are difficult questions… but as Christians we turn to our scriptures for some answers.

The Word for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 18:25-28
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32

This Sunday we open with Ezekiel. You may recall that we heard a passage from this same prophet a couple weeks ago. This week Ezekiel, our great prophet from the Babylonian Exile, has a stern warning for us. This passage comes from a time just before the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel sees the “writing on the wall” and is urging the people of Israel to reconsider what is fair in the eyes of the Lord, and do what is right and just. While Ezekiel’s message didn’t help the Israelites at that time, it does provide us with a valuable lesson today.

Our Psalm this week not only helps us draw the message of our readings together, but it also serves as an important counterbalance to those readings. Our reading from Ezekiel is quite clear on what behavior allows us to live or die in the sight of the Lord, but as good Catholics we must also remember that God is merciful. With God we have the ability to repent of our sins and be forgiven.

Our Gospel from Matthew this week has Jesus teaching a parable to the chief priests and elders.  Jesus’ teaching authority is being called into question, so in response he gives us the Parable of the Two Sons.  A father asks his two sons to go work in the vineyard. One says, “no” but later goes out to work.  One says, “yes” then does not go out to work. Which of the two did the father’s will?  The answer not only teaches a valuable lesson, but exposes the hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders.  In the end, it is our actions, not our intentions, that speak the truth of our hearts.

Then there is our second reading… a continuation of our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Today’s passage, though not directly related to our topic of morality, does provide us with the key to unlocking its mystery.  Paul teaches us to “do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.”  in other words, to put others needs before our own. This change of focus is what defines Christian morality and serves as the cornerstone of how we should approach life.

Many people look to the Church to tell them what is right or wrong.  If only it was that simple.  The context in which we live our lives is not black and white.  Following up on our topic of penance and the examine of conscious from last week, we will spend this week and next week looking at Christian morality… providing us with the tools to determine right from wrong, and how we can use those tools to navigate through the gray areas between right and wrong. Our lives and our society provide many challenges, but the combination of God’s guidance and God’s mercy will bring us to his light.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

When we talk about the Sacrament of Penance, we generally think about what is right and what is wrong… what is a sin and what isn’t a sin.  But our readings for this coming Sunday don’t so much focus on what is right or wrong in God’s eyes, but rather on what is fair in God’s eyes.

The Word for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20-1-16a

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah… in this case, from the closing chapter of Deutero or “second” Isaiah.  This comes from a point in Israelite history where the people have been released from their Exile in Babylon.  The Lord has shown them great mercy and forgiveness, and freed them from exile.  But why?  They broke their covenant with God and they were punished.  Why now take them back?  By our human standards of fairness, this is difficult to understand.  Because, as the prophet tells us, for those who turn to the Lord, he is always near.  The people have changed their ways and turned back to the Lord.  God understands that we may find such mercy and forgiveness impossible, but he reminds us through Isaiah, “your ways are not my ways.”  Like a loving parent trying to teach a child, God is asking us to trust him on this.  Stay near and follow my example.  Our Psalm for this Sunday continues this theme as we sing “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.”

Our Gospel from Matthew continues on this theme of fairness and forgiveness.  In order to help us better understand God’s idea of fairness, Jesus, the master teacher, gives us the Parable of the Landowner.  At first reading, it seems easy to side with the laborers who were in the field all day.  If the landowner pays a full day’s wage to those who only worked a few hours, it only seems fair in our minds that those who worked longer should get even more.  But in order to truly grasp the impact of this teaching you need to dive deeper into the story and see the larger implications.  As a follower of Christ, our human sense of fair-play has to be completely put aside.  We need to recognize that our sense of what is fair is often coming from a place of selfishness  (I worked in the field all day, I deserve more).  God is saying, “no, you don’t”.  True love comes from a selfless place… putting others first.  As the parable suggests, we shouldn’t envious of God’s generosity.  Instead we should revel in it.  Not only does this parable speak well to the passage we read today in Isaiah, it’s teaching runs deep through the Gospels.  While this particular parable is unique to the Gospel of Matthew, its lessons can also be found in the familiar parable of the prodigal son (which is found only in Luke’s Gospel).

For our second reading we leave behind our long study of Paul’s letter to the Romans and turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In today’s passage Paul teaches us that our bodies are magnified by Christ, whether by life or by death.  But this creates a conundrum for Paul and causes him some lament.  He sees life with Christ, either here on earth or after death, to be a gain.  So which to choose?  As you read this passage it seems as Paul is longing for death… not surprising since he is sick and in prison.  Death would bring him closer to Christ, but yet he also sees that his continued work here on earth is a benefit and can also bring him close to Christ.  It is a challenge for him, and for us, but his final message is clear… we need to conduct ourselves in a way that is “worthy of the Gospel.”  Even the blessed Mother Theresa wrote of her moments where she felt God had abandoned her, but she, like Paul, continued to serve the Gospel.  It’s a reminder for us, that no matter  how we feel, we much continue to serve the Gospel… and if we do, as our Psalm reminds us, when we call, God will be near.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 2014

This week we take a break from Ordinary Time to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This particular Feast is fixed to the date of September 14th (marking the date of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 335 CE).  As this feast falls on a Sunday this year, we use the readings chosen for this feast.  We last celebrated this feast on a Sunday in 2008, but it won’t fall on a Sunday again until 2025.  The Feast itself is a celebration of the cross itself as an instrument of salvation.

The Word for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

In order to understand this feast day, one must first understand the nature of the Cross.  Crucifixion is a pre-Roman form of execution which was adopted by the Romans during the time of Jesus.  Crucifixion was not only used as a form of brutal punishment for accused criminals, but it was meant both as a humiliation to those being crucified, and a warning to others.  Roman citizens were never crucified;  If any Roman citizen was found worthy of the death penalty, more “humane” or “dignified” methods were used.  Only the “lowest of the low” were crucified.  Crucifixions were generally held outside the city walls, not only because the process was prolonged and distasteful, but also as warning to travelers that Roman law was in force.  The bodies of those crucified were not allowed to be removed, but instead left to scavengers and natural decay, stripping the accused of any final dignity or respect for their customs.

The indignity of Jesus, the Son of Man and our Lord, being crucified was purposeful on the part of the Sanhedrin and the Roman authority.  It was meant to be both a humiliation to him and his followers, and a deterrent to any other self-professed “messiah” that might come along.  Yet it is this very indignity that became a symbol of triumph.  Jesus concurred the cross, and in doing so made it a symbol of joy and great hope.  It is this exaltation that comes through in our readings this Sunday.

We open with a reading from the book of Numbers.  The Israelites traveling with Moses have become impatient, complaining against God and Moses.  The Lord, incensed by their impatience, sends down seraph serpents (venomous snakes) to bit the people.  When they cry out to Moses, the Lord instructs him to make a bronze seraph and mount it on a pole, so that those  who are bitten can then look up at the pole and be saved from death.  This is an interesting story that can lead to some interesting discussion, especially when reference to that same serpent staff is found both in the book of 2 Kings, and today’s Gospel.  To help us draw a better understanding of this story, our Psalm reminds us “not to forget the works of the Lord.”

Our second reading is a magnificent passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Here St. Paul is at his best both poetically and theologically, and establishes the basis for how we as Christians should approach life and the Lord...  That by humbling ourselves we not only imitate Christ, but can receive eternal salvation.  The line “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” should come through more deeply based on our discussion on crucifixion above.

This takes us to our Gospel from John.  Here Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who grew to have high regard for Jesus.  Jesus explains to Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the serpent to remind the people of the Lords works, so the Son of Man will be raised up as a reminder of God’s glory.  It is also within this passage we give context to that often shown “John 3:16” poster during football games… “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.”  While we Catholics may not be as literate when it comes to sighting chapter and verse for scripture, we clearly understand the meaning and context, which is why we no longer consider the cross to be an object of shame, but rather a symbol of God’s glory.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2014

This week our theme is conversion… a most appropriate topic for the opening sessions of the RCIA!  But as can sometimes happen, a quick read of the text might leave you asking where this theme is coming from.  That is because it’s not so much a story about a conversion as it is a teaching on how a converted person should act.

The Word for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, who tells us that we are not only responsible for our own actions, but for the actions of others as well.  Ezekiel is teaching us that the sins of others, if left unchecked, becomes our sin as well.  This is at the heart of issues that revolve around the idea of “social sin.”  In other words, if we know what is right, we can’t just turn out back to it.  For indeed, the mark of a civilized society are the establishment of rules of behavior that all members of that society are expected to follow.  Further, it dictates that we all are responsible for making sure those rules are followed.  Ezekiel is in a unique position to understand this problem, as he is considered to be the “first prophet of the Exile,”  In this case, the first Exile when Jehoiachin surrenders to Babylon, and Ezekiel, not just a prophet but a priest of the royal court, is sent with them.  This is the beginning of the end for an independent Israelite kingdom, and is a pivotal moment in Hebrew history.

Our Gospel from Matthew sounds very similar.  Here Jesus is teaching his disciples that they are responsible for their “brother’s” actions.  Now on the surface, that might seem unfair (especially those of us who grew up with some unruly brothers and sisters), but to insure that we are not held unjustly for the actions of others, Jesus provides us with a stair-step plan:  First tell him privately.  If that doesn’t work tell him with at least two or three witnesses.  If that doesn’t work, tell the whole church.  Only then, if that doesn’t work, he should be treated as an outcast, both from this life and the next.  It is important to note, however, that while not mentioned in this passage, the text around this passage also reminds us of our need to be merciful and forgiving, as our Father is merciful and forgiving.  While the disciples have been given the authority to “bind” and “loose” people’s behavior, it’s not a license to do what they want… they are still bound by the example and teaching of Jesus  in the ways of mercy and reconciliation.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here he explains as Jesus would what it means to love one another.  As is typical with the Roman Church, you have Jews and non-Jews trying to determine how “jewish” they need to be.  Using Jesus’ example, Paul explains what we call “the greatest commandment”, and how that is enough to satisfy the Law.  In other words, we should not let ourselves get caught up in the “letter of the Law” without keeping in mind the “spirit of the Law.”  When viewed in context with our other readings, it’s a reminder that absolutism is itself a sin where there is no due consideration for context.

So while it might initially seem like the topic of “conversion” misses the point of the readings, deeper consideration helps us to see it is through our actions that conversion takes place.  Behavior repeated becomes habit, and if our behavior mimics that of Jesus, then those too become habit, and conversion occurs.  How one is called to Christ is as unique as each individual.  And make no mistake, it is God who calls us here to gather and to learn.  What we do with that knowledge… how we act on it and how we grow it into a way of life is part of an extended process.  Conversion is more than just a moment, it is a process that needs to be nurtured and allowed to grow and evolve (that’s right… the Church does believe in evolution…).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

What is the cost of discipleship?  Since the beginning of their journeys together, Jesus has been teaching his disciples of the difficulties they face by following him.  They will need courage, and strength of conviction as they continue to follow him and preach the Gospel.  Our readings for this 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us that following Jesus is not only difficult, but can come at the cost of our very lives.

The Word for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm: 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

We open with a reading from the prophet Jeremiah.  In a passage that is typical of what I call “the prophet’s lament,” we hear Jeremiah complaining to God about how he has been duped.  His life as a prophet has brought him nothing but derision and reproach, yet he cannot help himself… he still must preach God’s message.  The pain of holding back is still greater than the pain he must endure by those who don’t care for his message.  While we feel for Jeremiah, his complaint is nothing new.  All the prophets that came before him, and all those after him all face similar difficulties.  Speaking truth to power is both challenging and dangerous, yet God’s voice compels them to carry on.  Jeremiah, who’s ministry saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the fall of Jerusalem was perhaps the most tumultuous of times for the people of Israel, yet against great opposition Jeremiah continued to prophecy on behalf of the Lord.

Our Gospel from Matthew, which picks up right where we left off last week, also reminds us that the cost of discipleship can be great.  Jesus is telling them that they must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer greatly and be killed for what he has to say.  Peter, who just moments before was praised by Jesus for recognizing him as the Christ, now calls him “Satin” for suggesting that nothing bad would happen.  Jesus reminds them all that if they wish to follow, they must deny themselves and “take up your cross,”  an admonition he’s given them before, but now made all the more real by learning what fate awaits him in Jerusalem.  Though their path will be arduous, however, Jesus also reminds them that he will “repay all according to his conduct.”  That is to say, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits.

This is the same message we here in our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In the opening of Chapter 12 Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  Paul is well aware of Roman ways, and reminds these early Christians not to “conform yourselves to this age,”  but instead “discern what is the will of God.”  We are similarly challenged in our own age.  Much of what modern American society preaches and projects runs counter to the Christian message of loving God and loving your neighbor.  In a society that values self-interest and personal success, it is hard to explain the joy of living a life of service to others, and in accepting that the neighbor Jesus wants us to love is not necessarily the one we like or even want as our neighbor.  Yet even in this age great prophets continue to spread the message of the Lord.  Living the Christian life means sacrifice… bearing our own crosses.  But Jesus also reminds us that through our suffering there is redemption…  That we will be repaid, if not in this life, then the next.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

Who’s in charge?  Whenever we find ourselves working in a group situation this is a very fundamental question.  While all the members of the group may have certain skills they can bring to the table, it takes a leader to effectively marshal those skills (and individuals) to their goal.  In fact, it’s built into our human nature.  Think about any crisis situation… without someone to step in and take charge, chaos reigns.  Yet when it comes time for someone to step up, many people also find comfort in letting someone else do it.

When it comes to Church, however… the People of God, the question of who’s in charge is both simple and complex… and is the core question considered in our readings for this 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:

The Word for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22:19-23
Psalm: 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

Our first reading comes from a rather obscure passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  In fact, this passage is so obscure it only appears in our lectionary this once throughout all the Sunday and Daily reading cycles.  Upon first reading, without recognizing the characters nor understanding the context of the situation, it is still clear that God is not happy with Shebna, and intends to replace him with Eliakim.  This situation is not new or unique in scripture… in fact, God has made use of his prophets on many occasions to condemn leadership and anoint another in their place.  In this passage (and the many others like it in scripture), our initial question (who’s in charge) is answered quite plainly… It is the Lord God who is in charge, and God will appoint whomever he feels is best suited to lead his people and carry out his command.  While I find the deeper context of this passage quite compelling, in this rare occasion I can say that having a deeper understanding the characters and the situation is not necessarily relevant.  The “key” point of the story for this Sunday is in the line, “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder.”  God has said that Eliakim is now in charge.

These very same “Keys to the Kingdom” is what connects this passage with our Gospel from Matthew.  We continue our Summer-time journey traveling with Jesus and  his disciples. 

This week we find ourselves in Caesarea Philippi, the area located some 100 miles North of Jerusalem, about 25 miles North of the Sea of Galilee, in the modern area of the Golan Heights.  The name alone tells us this is primarily a Roman city, no doubt with a majority Gentile population.  Here Jesus is compelled to ask his disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  After getting some of their answers, he then asks the disciples directly, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon, without hesitation, answers that he is the Christ, Son of the living God.  At hearing this Jesus is pleased that God has revealed this to him and gives him the name Peter (meaning Rock), making him the foundation of his church and giving him those same “Keys to the Kingdom.”  Following in the same tradition of the other great prophets, Jesus has put Simon Peter in charge.  Jesus knows his days are numbered, so he is taking this moment to establish how his Church will continue and grow once he is gone.

It is for this reason, by tradition, that we Catholics consider Peter to be the first Pope (though this isn’t a title that Peter himself would have recognized).  It was understood by Jesus’ followers that Peter had been placed in a special position of leadership, a leadership we see blossom in the Acts of the Apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit.  His position among the Apostles was so notable that upon his martyrdom in Rome the early Church fathers felt the need to appoint Linus to take his place, and so began a long line of succession which we honor today with our current Pope Francis.

The Petrine ministry – the Papacy – is one of the traditions that make the Catholic Church unique among the world’s religions, yet its purpose and authority can easily be misunderstood.  Everyone knows that the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.  But if you ask those same Cardinal electors that same question, their answer will likely be that it is “the Holy Spirit”  who gives us the next Pope.  Following the same prophetic tradition of the scriptures, our modern-day prophets gather to discern who is being called to lead the Church.  Who does the Lord feel is best suited to continue Peter’s mission of spreading the Gospel to the people of this age.


But how is it that they know who God is calling to be the next Pope?  I think our second reading holds the key.  In our continuing study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we learn that we need to trust in “the depth of riches and wisdom and Knowledge of God!”  This wisdom survives in our scriptures, from Moses, to Isaiah and the other prophets, to Jesus himself.  The beauty is that not only does God provide us with the love to know what is right, but he also shrouds us with his mercy when we fail and seek his redemption.  So while Peter and his successors my hold the “keys to the kingdom,”  they are also eager to share and give us a copy.  For as Jesus himself taught us, if we love God and love our neighbor, we too can unlock the gates of Heaven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Series: Catholicism

This summer RCIA will be hosting a summer series in which we will be going through the 10-episode series Catholicism by Fr. Robert Baron. For more information and to sign up please visit the Catholicism Series Page. Questions please email us at ourladyofrefugercia@gmail.com

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014


Who is God for?  EVERYONE!  The answer is almost automatic for modern day Catholics… one barely even needs to think about it to know this is true, yet our scriptures for this 20th week of Ordinary Time remind us that this understanding was not always so obvious nor accepted.

The Word for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Psalm: 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah… Trito-Isaiah or 3rd Isaiah to be more precise, authored during the post-Exile period.  This week’s passage has the prophet telling us that God will accept the sacrifices of all peoples… that is, people who are not of Israel.  The God of Israel is telling his people that he’s not just the God for them, but for all others who follow his commands.  The foreigner, the Gentile, also have an open invitation to join in the Covenant.  There are two ways to look at this passage.  On one side we see this a generous offering by a generous God… A God who wants to extend himself to all his creation.  The other side of this coin, however, is one of betrayal.  In the eyes of many Israelites, this could almost be seen as God reneging on his covenant… a covenant he made with Israel… not anyone else.

The idea wasn’t a new one… having been revealed not only to Isaiah but earlier prophets as well… but that didn’t make the idea any less controversial with the people of Israel.  One can almost hear them crying out, “he’s our God… not yours… you can’t have him.”  Yet in a post-Exile world… and to our own modern ears, this sounds much like the ravings of a toddler.  In a world in which a Gentile King,  Cyrus, is called “great” by the people of Israel for his defeat of the Babylonians and repatriating them back to the land of Israel, the world is becoming a much smaller, inclusive, and spread-out kind of place.  As the Assyrian and Greek empires spread, so do the people, including the people of Israel.  The God of Israel is becoming known, but Israel herself isn’t always ready or willing to share, and not without good cause.  Yet scripture is very clear on this issue, as our Psalm sings “O God, let all the nations praise you.”  God may have chosen the Israelites as his people, but it’s clear that invitation is open to everyone who believes.

Our Gospel from Matthew reminds us of this same conflict among Jesus himself and his disciples.  While traveling in the region of Tyre and Sidon (along the coast of modern day Lebanon), a Canaanite woman cries “have pity on my, Lord, Son of David,” looking to Jesus to drive out the demon from her daughter.  At first, Jesus is reluctant, claiming that he was sent only to save the children of Israel, not anyone else.  The woman, however, is both persistent and persuasive.  Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.  At first reading, Jesus sounds like a bigot… all but calling the Canaanite woman a “dog” and being dismissive of her.  Upon deeper reflection, however, it’s easy to see (as is so much the case) that Jesus’ actions speak louder than his words.  First, we need to look at where Jesus is… As the gospel states, he’s traveling through Tyre and Sidon… areas much farther North than even Samaria…. well past the Judean border.  Yet this is where Jesus has chosen to spread his gospel message.  Jesus, a noted Jewish prophet, is preaching in an area populated mostly by Gentiles.  The encounter with the Canaanite woman wasn’t a surprise… one could even say it was expected.  Matthew is using this encounter to show his audience (a primarily Jewish audience) that if Jesus’ heart can be changed, so can theirs (and ours).

Our second reading continues our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  This week’s passage reflects the same sentiments as our other readings: that God’s mercy is for all.  Paul is addressing a largely Gentile audience, calling himself the apostle to the Gentiles, while at the same time admitting that he has taken on this mission to “make my race jealous.”  Paul, that devout Jew and former persecutor of Christians has become the voice that rallies the cause of Christ for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.  It is Paul’s teaching, supported by the teachings of Isaiah and many more prophets that have us singing God’s mercy and praise to all the nations.  Let us all join the chorus!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Revelation.  The word itself is a noun formed from the verb “to reveal,” and for Christians, the revelation is that Jesus is Lord.  This is one of the most basic truths of Christian theology, yet for the average Christian (and for many non-Christians) the word revelation is not always understood.  Putting grand theological ideas aside for the moment, revelation, simply stated, is the act of how God reveals himself to us.  To help us understand this idea of revelation, we turn to our readings for this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

The Word for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm: 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

We open with a reading from the 1st book of Kings.  We enter the passage with great prophet Elijah as he is seeking shelter in the sacred mountain in the Sinai (mount Horeb).  While in the cave God tells him to stand outside, because the Lord will be passing by.    A strong wind comes, but that was not the Lord.  An earthquake comes, but that was not the Lord.  Finally, Elijah hears a tiny whispering sound, grabs his cloak, and stands ready.  What does this tell us?  That God reveals himself in the most unexpected ways.  Our expectation is to see God’s power and glory in storms, earthquakes, and choirs of Heavenly hosts.  Instead, God often is found in the less obvious;  A tiny whisper.  A feeling.  Not always a grand gesture, but in an intimate, quite way.  God is as much present in the stillness as in the noise… and how he chooses to reveal himself is as varied as there are individual souls.

Our Psalm takes this idea of revelation one step further.  If we hear God, we see his kindness and mercy.  God proclaims peace and salvation… not death and destruction.  For those who “fear” him, that is, respect him, love him, follow his covenant, salvation is theirs.

Our Gospel from Matthew is also a story of revelation.  Picking up where we left off last week (with the miracle of feeding the five thousand), Jesus sends his disciples ahead in the boat while he retires  to the mountain for some prayer and peace.  That evening, while Jesus is alone on the mountain, the boat that the disciples are in is getting tossed around by an angry sea.  In seeing their distress, Jesus walks out to help them… walking on the water.  The disciples think they’re seeing a ghost, but he calms their fears by calling out to them and telling them to take courage… to not be afraid.  But Peter is hesitant, so he cries out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus does, and Peter comes, but fear soon overcomes his amazement and he begins to sink, whereupon Jesus leads him back to the boat.  Back in the boat, the waters calm, and the disciples are amazed, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  Up to this point in the narrative the disciples have been traveling with Jesus for a while now.  They’ve heard him preaching and teaching.  They’ve witnessed his healings.  Clearly they saw something in him to have stayed with him this far, but now they are convinced.  This is their moment of revelation.  Jesus is Lord, the Son of God.

Rounding out our readings for this week is our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In this opening to the 9th chapter, Paul is lamenting how his own people, the Israelites, can’t see Jesus for who he is:  the Christ.  With all the prophecy, the Law, the covenants, from the patriarchs all the way down through history, Paul is willing to give up his own salvation if his people could see Jesus for who he is.  This just goes to show that even if all the signs are right in front of us, we can still not see it.  Paul’s own revelation is one of the most powerful and transformative in Scripture, yet even his own testimony isn’t enough for his own people.

How God reveals himself to us is as much an individual experience as it is a communal experience.  As we join with others in faith and worship, we can see the Holy Spirit at work, and seeing that Spirit at work can reveal God to us.  But it is also that personal calling, which isn’t always instantaneous, isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes the truth is revealed on a stormy sea.  Sometimes the truth is revealed in a tiny whisper.  The key is keeping ourselves open to seeing it, to hearing it, to feeling it, so when it makes itself known, we won't miss it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

“God will provide.”  It’s a common response by well meaning people of faith when we’re struggling with a difficult situation and we find ourselves in need.  Be these needs physical or spiritual or both, the phrase “God will provide” can be hard for us to accept, especially when our common human reason would seem to suggest otherwise.  Our readings for this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time helps us to find faith that God will answer our needs…

The Word for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm: 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

Our first reading comes from the book of Isaiah, “Deutero” or “Second” Isaiah to be precise.  This part of Isaiah speaks of redemption for an Israel that finds itself in Exile in Babylon.  The Babylonian’s destruction of Jerusalem and their subsequent Exile was a deeply transformative experience for the Hebrew people, and much of that transformation is seen in our Scriptures.  Yet through that pain, they came to realize that God’s forgiveness is still there for the asking.  The covenant is in fact, everlasting.  In our passage for this Sunday God invites us to “come to the water,”  To drink wine and milk, to eat fine food.  God’s promises are there if we only listen to his life-giving word.  Food and drink are some of our most basic needs, and Isaiah is telling us that the Lord will answer these needs.  A hopeful image of God as the provider of all our needs as echoed by our Psalm.

This theme of God providing for our needs is also seen in our Gospel reading from Matthew with the very real example Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000.  As our story opens, Jesus is despondent from hearing the news of the death of John the Baptist.  In this moment of personal need, Jesus seeks to get away from the crowds, so he gets in a boat and heads for a distant shore.  But as is typical, the people still find him and follow.  Moved with pity, Jesus cures their sick.  But as the day draws to a close, the Apostles urge Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can go into town and buy food.  But Jesus doesn’t see any need to send them away.  Instead, he tells the disciples to give them their food… five loaves and 2 fish… barely enough to feed themselves let alone such a large crowd.  Jesus standing before the crowd, takes the food, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and then gives it to the disciples to hand out.  The story tells us that all ate and were satisfied, with twelve baskets of leftovers to spare.

Much has been theorized about this miracle, with many people questioning if it was a miracle at all, suggesting instead that the people were inspired to share what they had stashed.  But those who dwell on how Jesus did this are missing the point.  The point is that “God provides”.  How God does this, through miracle or inspiration isn’t the point.  The point is one of faith in God.  That if we have faith, God will answer our needs.

This idea of “Let Go and Let God” is a difficult thing to put into practice, especially for those of us who like to be in control of our situations.  Indeed, when taken to extremes, this idea of letting God take care of everything is pure folly, and can lead us to not taking responsibility for ourselves or those around us.  On the other hand, there are those times when we must realize that we can’t control everything, and take that “leap of faith” and trust that God will indeed answer.

This level of faith and trust can be hard, but I think our second reading again holds the key… Love.  In our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that (to borrow an overused phrase) “Love will keep us together.”  Christ’s love does conquer all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

What is the Kingdom of God?  We hear this term so often it can lose its meaning, assuming we had any clear understanding of this idea to begin with.  The “Kingdom” is what we’ve been promised.  The “Kingdom” is what we struggle to obtain.  The “Kingdom” is why we follow Christ.  But ask your average Catholic what the Kingdom of God is, and you’re likely to get many different answers.  To help us wrap our minds around this concept, we turn our attention to our readings for this 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time…

The Word for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm: 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Our first reading comes from the 1st Book of Kings.  King David has died, passing his crown to his son, Solomon.  In this Sunday’s passage, the Lord appears to the young king in a dream, and asks Solomon what he, the Lord, can give him.  Solomon responds humbly, addressing himself as the Lord’s servant, and asks for “an understanding heart.”  God, recognizing that he could have asked for many other things, is pleased with his answer and grants his request.  What does this have to do with the Kingdom of God?  It gives us an important insight into what God expects of us… how his Kingdom operates.  Not by seeking riches for ourselves, not by seeking the lives of our enemies, but by seeking wisdom and understanding.  To take our place as servants, not masters… for there is only one master, the Lord God.  It is his command we follow, a sentiment echoed by our Psalm response.

Our Gospel from Matthew continues where the long form of our Gospel from last week leaves off.  Jesus, having told his disciples several parables, now uses some short parables to explain the Kingdom of Heaven.  He explains that the Kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field.  A person finds this treasure, sells all he has, buys the field and reburies the treasure (burying treasure being something of a common practice in ancient Israel).  He continues telling them that the Kingdom is like a pearl of great value where the merchant sells all he has to buy it.  In these two stories, Jesus equates the Kingdom as something so valuable anyone who seeks it must be willing to go “all in” to obtain it.  This same idea is expressed later in chapter 19 of Matthew when the rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to gain eternal life, and Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, give it to the poor, and then come follow him.  Following Jesus, living the Christian life, cannot be done part-time.  Why?  Jesus answers that with his next parable in our Gospel.  In the parable Jesus equates the Kingdom to a fishing net.  It captures every kind of fish, but when it’s hauled ashore, the fishermen must sort through the catch… good fish go into buckets while the bad fish is thrown away.  The sentiment is similar to last week’s gospel parable about the weeds in the wheat.  We don’t want to be the weeds that are burned.  We don’t want to be the bad fish that are thrown away.  The Kingdom is there for the taking (and God our Father remains waiting to forgive us our transgressions), but it takes a full commitment.

Our second reading continues our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Although our short passage for this week’s study doesn’t relate directly to our first reading and the Gospel, it does give us the keys to the Kingdom… Love.  The keys to the Kingdom are not found by following the letter of The Law, nor are they found through faith or good works alone.  Above all (as Paul reminds us in his 1st letter to the Corinthians) is love, and that love freely given to God and our neighbors is what opens the gates of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

One of the beauties of Ordinary Time is the opportunity to “play the long game” when it comes understanding Jesus and his teachings. We literally journey with Jesus and the Apostles during his mission to spread the Word, and because many of our readings pick up where we left off the previous week, we have an opportunity to learn as we go, much like the Apostles themselves.

The Word for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  This book, coming about 50 years before Christ (most likely from the Jewish Community of Alexandria) served, like most of the wisdom books, as a kind of “catechism” for the faithful. Our passage this week reminds us that God is both mighty and benevolent.  In fact, the text goes to great lengths to say that this might comes from his benevolence.  Not only has God taught us what good (through The Law), he gives us the opportunity to repent… to change our ways least we be judged by our sins. Our Psalm reflects God’s goodness and forgiveness.

This idea of giving us time to repent is also reflected in our Gospel from Matthew. Picking up where we left off last Sunday (with Jesus teaching us about parables), Jesus tells us the parable of the Weeds Among The Wheat. In a story that is unique to the gospel of Matthew, and enemy has sown weeds among the freshly planted wheat. When the master’s slaves see the weeds growing among the wheat, they ask if they should pull them out, but the master warns them that by doing so, they could uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, he instructs them to let the weeds grow, and come harvest they can separate the wheat from the weeds, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the weeds. In the longer version of this week’s gospel, Jesus continues with the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast. Then again like last week’s gospel, we are reminded why Jesus has chosen to teach using parables, and takes this opportunity to explain the parable of the weeds to his disciples (and us).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straight forward enough… even we can follow… the weeds are children of evil and are sent to be burned, while the wheat is gathered into God’s kingdom. What Jesus doesn’t explain, however, is why they wait until the harvest to separate the good from the bad… or does he?  The other two parables give us the explanation. The parable of the mustard seed shows us that the least among us can be the greatest, while the parable of the yeast shows us that the yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise. In other words, when good flourishes, it can be an example to others.  As reflected in our passage from the Book of Wisdom, God is merciful, and gives us every opportunity for repentance… but only until the harvest.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Picking up near where we left off last week (that through the Spirit we are redeemed), this week’s short passage, though short, gives us a lot to think about.  According to the text, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, but we don’t know how to pray as we ought?” Then the text tells us “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones…” In short, the Spirit knows our needs, even though we may not know them ourselves, and further, the Spirit knows our hearts.