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.