Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul, Apostles 2014

June 29th is celebrated as the Feast Day for Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles… a feast that this year happens to fall on a Sunday where we would normally be celebrating the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time.  While these two Saints have been celebrated since the earliest days of the Church, with their own feast days (St. Peter on June 29th, and St. Paul on June 30th), the 1962 revision of the General Roman Calendar combined the celebrations.  It is also the day set aside for when newly consecrated Metropolitan Bishops (or Archbishops) receive their pallium from the Pope… the white woolen band with three “fingers” worn over their shoulders as a sign of their office.  The Pope also wears a pallium as the sign of his office as the Archbishop of Rome.  Because we are celebrating the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, our readings naturally turn our attention to these two pillars of the Church.

The Word for the Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Matthew 16:13-19

We open with a reading from Acts of the Apostles where find Peter imprisoned by King Herod Agrippa and awaiting execution.  As our reading tells us, both James and John have already been executed by Herod (with the support of the Pharisees) , and Peter’s execution is being planned for after the Passover.  Peter double chained and under heavy guard as Herod is eager to make an example of him and thus end this Christian movement, but an angel of the Lord appears to Peter, unchains him and leads him out of the prison to safety.  Peter sees this as the miracle it is, and our Psalm echoes the blessings and thanks that are felt by this occasion.  Though not part of the passage we read this Sunday, the text continues with Herod having the guards tried and executed for letting Paul escape… only to die himself shortly after, giving Peter the opportunity to continue his mission.

Our second reading comes from Paul and the closing of his 2nd letter to Timothy.  Paul is in prison and with a sense that his life is nearly over, pens those famous those famous words, “I have competed well;  I have finished the race;  I have kept the faith.”  Though Paul’s weariness is apparent to the point of resignation, he reminds his young protégé, Timothy, and all of us, that it is the Lord who gives him, and us, the strength to carry on, and in the end, bring us safely to Heaven.

Our Gospel from Matthew takes us back to that moment where Jesus asks the Apostles, “Who do people say that I am?”  After their answer, he directs this same question to the Apostles themselves, “But who do you say that I am?”  This is where Simon stands up and proclaims, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus sees his sincerity and gives him the name Peter, meaning “rock”… the rock on which he, Jesus, will build his Church.

Simon, through his faith becomes Peter, the Rock, and leader of the Apostles.  Saul, the persecutor of the early Church, through his conversion becomes Paul, the voice of inclusion for both Jews and Gentiles.  These two great leaders of the early Church gave us the path to follow, as handed to them by Jesus.  Their writings and their example were entrusted to the Church whose teachings, for the most part, have stood the test of time and continue to inspire and guide us today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ 2014

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but for those who remember their Latin, you might better recognize it as the feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ).  The Feast was originally established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Torete, of the Diocese of Liège, Belgium, but not without the 40 year effort of St. Julia of Liège, a Norbertine sister who had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, who spent most of her life petitioning for this special feast day.

The Word for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

When Jesus established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, his use of bread and wine was deliberate and purposeful.  They were the most ordinary of foods, yet represented what was necessary to sustain us.  In Jewish ritual, bread and wine are an important part of the Passover meal, and have long been associated with their covenant with God.  Our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, reminds us how God sustained his people during the Exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, during which time God provided them with manna and water.  In our reading this week Moses urges the people to remember not only how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but how he sustained them in their journey.  The praise we have for the Lord for this is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading is a very short passage from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  In one of Paul’s more poetic moments, he reminds us that it is through the Eucharist, through the bread that is Christ’s body, through wine that is Christ’s blood, that makes us one body.  In this very economic passage we are not only reminded of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but it is that Eucharist that forms us into the Body of Christ.

Our Gospel for this feast day comes from John, where Jesus is preaching to the crowd about what we read in our first reading with Moses… How God provided them with “bread from heaven.”  Jesus uses this opportunity to extend this idea to himself, explaining how his flesh and his blood are the true food and drink that provides eternal life.  Those in the crowd, including the Apostles, have great difficulty with this teaching, as we read beyond this passage.  In fact, after two millennia and volumes of writings from theologians, we still have difficulty with this teaching… that Jesus is real and present in the Eucharist… that we are in fact eating his body and drinking his blood.  It requires a leap of faith.  Jesus himself told us this, and it is our faith in him as Lord that allows us to accept this great Mystery of the Church.  It is also through this same Eucharist, the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, that binds us together as Church and makes us the people of God.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Most Holy Trinity 2014

With Pentecost behind us, the Easter Season comes to a close as the Church welcomes a long stretch of Ordinary time.  But as is typical for the Church, she’s not yet ready to leave the party behind, so for these next two weeks we continue the celebration by looking at the Church’s most sacred mysteries:  The doctrine of the Trinity with this Sunday’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday), and next week with doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist with the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also remembered as Corpus Christi).

It is most fitting to celebrate these solemnities at this time of year because the theologies they represent are what we as a Church have come to realize through the Easter Season, and gives us the spiritual food we need to sustain us through the remainder of the Liturgical Year. Both solemnities, though firmly grounded in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church Fathers (the two pillars of the Church), they also require us to make that all too necessary leap of faith… to suspend our human senses and reason to reach for something beyond our physical understanding. We believe in a Trinitarian God, we believe bread and wine can be transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Neither of these believes came to us overnight, but they evolved as our understanding and relationship with God evolved.

The Word for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

Our first reading for Sunday comes from Exodus, where God, after having set his wrath upon Israel for the Golden Calf incident, has agreed (with Moses’ urging) to take back his people. As you may recall, Moses went up the mountain for 40 days and came back with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Upon his return, however, he found the camp in disarray having created a new god (the golden calf) to worship. Moses threw down and broke the tables, and vengeance was enacted on those who turned away from the Lord. With today’s reading Moses has returned to the mountain with a new set of tablets in the hopes of reconciliation. It is interesting to put this reading, one that shows us a benevolent God, in context to the previous two chapters where Israelites are slaughtered for their transgressions, leaving Moses now having to reason with God to lead them on. Both God and the Israelites have grown from this experience.

Our Responsorial is not from the book of Psalms for this Sunday, but instead from the book of Daniel where we sing of God’s greatness. Though not from the Book of Psalms, it is a fitting response for our celebration, and echoes the desire of the people to follow the Lord. It is also interesting to note that one keys to recognizing that this reading is not from the Book of Psalms is the mention of the Temple, which of course wasn’t built until after David’s reign.

Our second reading comes from the closing of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Here he gives us his version of the now famous “can’t we all just get along” speech. It is appropriate here not only because it speaks to how we should treat each other, but closes with what has become the signature closing for the Church’s activities with the phrase, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” That familiar Trinitarian blessing that binds us together as one Church.

We finish with a passage from John’s Gospel that is perhaps the most quoted by non-Catholic Christians.  As Catholics our general unfamiliarity with Scripture usually has us failing to recognize the famous John 3:16 we read today. This passage reminds us of the relationship between God and Jesus, and how through Jesus we are able to be reconciled with the Father. It comes at the end of a discussion Jesus is having with the Pharisee Nicodemus, where Jesus is explaining how one is reborn through the Spirit. Though traditionally ascribed as a quote from Jesus, there does seem to be some peculiarities that could lead one to believe this is a narrative revelation from John. The passage works as a theological conclusion to Jesus’ teaching on Baptism and rebirth, but it seems a little out of place as it jumps to the third person past tense. Jesus has been having a rather intimate conversation with Nicodemus, and even though his referring to the “Son of Man” in the third person (as is typical in John’s Gospel), this passage takes a leap into what can be read as a historical perspective (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son:”). Even for the divinely enlightened Jesus we see in John, a lack of quotation marks can alter one’s perceptions of the text. This should remind us that as Catholics we should not be intimidated by Scripture (or our own lack of knowledge of it), nor should we stop ourselves from asking questions or accepting too readily “traditional” interpretations. Our understanding of Scripture continues to evolve as our relationship to God continues to evolve. A God, present as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit, who created us and continues to sustain us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pentecost 2014

This Sunday we bring the Easter Season to a close with the celebration of Pentecost… that moment when the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles, whose gifts allowed them to leave the upper room and spread the Gospel to Jerusalem and the world.  It’s the birthday of the Church.

The Word for Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2-1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Our Sunday readings open fittingly with the Pentecost story from Acts of the Apostles.  It is after the Ascension and we are back with the Apostles in the upper room.  Most of us are familiar with the story… The Holy Spirit come upon the like “tongues of fire” giving them the power to go down into the streets and preach the Gospel so that this international multitude can hear them speaking in their own tongues.  While this later part of the story is the part we tend to focus on, the very beginning of the story also has great meaning… a meaning that our modern ears tend to miss…

The fist line begins “When the time for the Pentecost was fulfilled,”  It sound so simple and obvious that we miss the author’s deeper intent.  In fact, this passage refers to the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, or what Hellenistic Jews referred to as Pentecost (which in Greek for “fiftieth day” since the Passover).  Also referred to as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah… the Law.  It also coincides with Israelite harvest season marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, or the Day of First Fruits celebrated at the Temple.  So while our Jewish ancestors celebrate Pentecost as the giving of the Law, Christians celebrate receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn gave them the courage to spread the Gospel… the new Law.  Coincidence?  Not at all.  This is one of those moments where our author sees an opportunity to draw a connection between the old tradition and the new, and bring with it a sense of renewal that is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul reminds us that our ability to say “Jesus is Lord” comes from the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, a fitting statement for Pentecost, but as Paul continues he presents us with one of the most important teachings of his ministry, that WE are the Body of Christ… though we have many parts, we are made one through the Spirit.

Our Gospel for this Holy Day comes from John, taking us back to the upper room where Jesus for the second time appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection (the first being that time when Thomas wasn’t present).  It is a simple, yet moving moment as Jesus “breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.:”  This is the “Pentecost moment” in John’s Gospel.  As we know, none of the Gospels go into a lot of detail with regard to Pentecost, but we need to remind ourselves that, as is typical with scripture, that it’s not always the details that are important, but the moment.

While the Gospels do not all discuss Pentecost in the same way, the importance of the moment is that the Holy Spirit came!  Jesus promised them the Spirit, and it came.  The Spirit that we celebrate in the Rite of Confirmation.  The Spirit that sustains us in our commitment to Christ.  The Spirit that binds us together as Church with Our Father and His Son.  This isn’t just a moment for the Apostles, but for the entire Church, as we witness the continuing coming of the Spirit to each of us, in its own way, in every generation. 

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