Tuesday, May 31, 2016

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Life from death.  As Christians we’re all familiar with the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and how this act of loving sacrifice revealed God’s power over death itself.  While this may be the most significant story of resurrection, it is not the only story of resurrection in the Bible.  In fact, as we go through this Sunday’s readings, we see that resurrection of the dead is one of the more important threads that runs through all of our Holy Scriptures.

1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-19
Luke 7:11-17

Our first reading from 1st Kings is one of the more significant resurrection stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the story of how the great prophet Elijah raised a widow’s young son from the dead.  It is a time of famine in the land, and the leaders of Judah blame Elijah, so he has fled North and finds himself living with Zarephath, a widow, who also has a young son.  During his stay the widow’s son becomes severely ill and dies.  She knows Elijah is a man of God and believes he has done this to call attention to her guilt.  Elijah takes the boy, lays him out, and prays to God to bring life back to the boy.  The Lord hears Elijah’s prayer;  the boy’s life is restored and the widow knows that the Lord speaks the truth through Elijah.  This saving power of God is echoed in our Psalm as we sing “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

Our Gospel from Luke gives us a similar resurrection story.  Here we see Jesus and his Apostles entering the city of Nain, a small city in lower Galilee (60 miles north of Jerusalem, and 5 miles southeast of Nazareth).  As they approach they come upon a funeral party exiting the city.  A widow is about to bury her only son.  Taking pity, Jesus touches the coffin and raises her son.  Those present see the power of God that Jesus carries within him, and news of this miracle begin to spread.

Our second reading, as is typical in Ordinary Time, isn’t necessarily selected to complement the theme of the first reading and the gospel.  Now and for the next five weeks we will be going deeper into a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  This week’s passage, from the beginning of his letter, Paul is giving them his back-own story as a way of building credibility with the community.  He wants the Galatians to see that the message he brings is not his own, but that of the Lord’s.  Though not intentional it could be said that this is also a resurrection story:  The salvation of Paul.

Final thoughts:
With Easter and our special Solemnities now behind us, we begin to settle in to our long Summer stretch of Ordinary Time.  All the different Liturgical Seasons have a special theme or emphasis to focus our attention, and it’s no different with Ordinary Time.  Summer is a time to slow down from our usual activities.  Especially for those who are in school, or have school aged children, it’s a time for us to reflect back on the previous academic year, and make preparations for the Fall and the new academic year to come.  Similarly, the Church takes this time to slow down to reflect on the life and mission of Jesus, literally walking with him and the Apostles through their travels.  During this time we get to focus more deeply on his teachings in preparation for the Advent that is to come.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday we have the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, in which we celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Genesis 14:18-20
Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11b-17

We open with a short passage from Genesis, where we are introduced to the priest Melchizedek, king of Salem.  Here he offers bread and wine while giving God’s blessing to Abram (after his having defeated the forces and allies of the king of Elam).  While this is the one and only story we have in Scripture about Melchizadek, his legacy has carried through to the Psalms, the New Testament, and even to our Liturgy in the First Eucharistic Prayer.  Not only is he the first named priest of God Most High, but during his encounter with Abram we see the first time bread and wine as a blessed as an offering.  These “firsts” play through many important themes in scripture, including bread as a source of life, and the role of high priest as servant of the Lord.  This special position of high priest is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading is from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  In this passage Paul recounts the blessing of the bread and wine that Jesus performed at the Last Supper.  If these words sound familiar, they should, as they are the same words of consecration used during our own the Eucharistic prayer.  Paul’s words here are perhaps the first documented form of the Eucharistic blessing, which predate the Gospels where we also find similar blessings.

Our Gospel, as we are in Cycle C, is from Luke.  With our theme focused on Eucharist, you might expect to hear Luke’s Last Supper discourse.  Instead, the Lectionary gives us the story of the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fish.  A curious choice?  Not really.  In this reading we continue the theme of the bread as a central part of the story.  One could even present this story as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist Jesus would eventually celebrate with his Apostles.  Perhaps the most significant reason for using this story in today’s celebration is how through this miracle these loaves of bread feed everyone.  Jesus invites us all to eat at the table because he is the bread of everlasting life.

Final thoughts:
Many older Catholics may remember this feast day referred to as Corpus Christi, Latin for the Body of Christ.  But what about the Blood of Christ?  We need to remember that prior to the Liturgical reforms of the 1950’s and 1960’s, lay Catholics never received the Blood of Christ during Eucharist.  As such, the focus of the feast day centered only on the Body of Christ.  This separation of the species of Communion naturally lead to a separate feast day for the Most Precious Blood of Christ, but when receiving of the Precious Blood was restored to the Laity, the separate feast was considered redundant.  Thus the 1969 reforms of the General Roman Calendar combined the two separate feasts to the Solemnity we celebrate today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

With last week’s celebration of Pentecost we officially put the season of Easter behind us.  But in typical Catholic style, we’re not quite ready to end the party.  We open this period of Ordinary Time with two very important Solemnities:  This week, the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday) and next week, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).

Proverbs 8:22-31
Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

We open this Solemnity with a reading from the Book of Proverbs.  One of the early wisdom books, a large portion of the book is considered to be a collection of the sayings from King Solomon.  While portions of the text do date to the early monarchy, scholars also believe the book continued to be edited and developed through to the post-exilic period.  One of the trademarks of wisdom literature in the Bible is that wisdom itself is personified (often as a beautiful woman). 

Our passage for this Sunday is unique in that instead of presenting wisdom and her lessons in the third person, Wisdom herself is the narrator.  This is an important point, because the opening line of the reading can cause us some confusion with the rest of the text.  Our passage opens with, “Thus says the wisdom of God:”  That might cause us to think that God himself is talking to us, which makes the rest of the text very confusing.  We so often hear prophetic readings open with “Thus says the Lord,” so we can easily mistake this opening as something similar.  If we were to think that, however, passages like “When the Lord established the heavens I was there, ” would give us pause.  If God himself was speaking that makes it sound like God is talking about himself in the third person, or worse, wasn’t alone at the creation.  When we consider that it is Wisdom herself speaking, as a wholly separate person, the reading makes much more sense, reminding us that Wisdom was always with God, and is working alongside God.  The importance of this reading for this particular Sunday to remind us of God the Father and creator.  Our Psalm reminds us of the beauty of his creation when we sing, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.”

Our second reading is a short passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul reminds us that God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the integral component of the Trinity, for it is through Christ we have peace with God, and through Christ we receive the Holy Spirit.  It is through Christ that our faith is justified, and through Christ we are able to live that faith.

So with God the Father and God the Son represented in our readings, God in the form of the Holy Spirit is the message from our Gospel from John.  Our passage, from the Farewell discourse right before the Passion, has Jesus telling his disciples about the “Spirit of truth.”  Jesus knows what is about to happen, and he knows his disciples are still not ready for how events will be unfolding soon.  He reminds them that the Spirit will guide them and tell them what to do.  He concludes by reminding them that God has given him everything, and that now he gives it to them.

Final thoughts:
Our Trinitarian understanding of God is a core element of our faith, and it is our baptism in the Trinitarian form (In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) that binds us to the Christian community.  Pentecost, which we celebrated last Sunday, marks the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, providing that final piece of the puzzle that reveals our Trinitarian understanding of God.  It seems only fitting then that we celebrate the Trinity as we begin our long journey through Ordinary Time.  During the Easter Season the nature of our God is revealed.  Now as we enter into Ordinary Time the lessons of Christ will be revealed as we journey through his ministry together.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday the Easter Season comes to a close with the celebration of Pentecost… that moment when the Holy Spirit came upon the Disciples, and whose gifts allowed them to leave the upper room and spread the Gospel to Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and throughout the world.  It’s the birthday of the Church!

Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1st Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Romans 8:8-17
John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26

The readings for Sunday open with the Pentecost story from the Acts of the Apostles.  It is after the Ascension and the Apostles have gathered again in the upper room, along with Mary and some of the other women.  The remaining 11 Apostles have just selected Matthias to take the place of Judas, and now with everyone present, our passage describes the moment of the descent of the Holy Spirit.

From the upper room our scene then jumps to the busy street below… busy because there is a lot of activity this time of year in Jerusalem.  In the first line of our passage we hear, “When the time for the Pentecost was fulfilled.”  That passage, to our Christian ears, sounds simple and obvious, but it actually refers to the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, or what Hellenistic Jews referred to as Pentecost (which is Greek for “fiftieth day,” that is, fifty days since the Passover).  The celebration also refers to as the Festival of Weeks  (Shavuot) which celebrates the giving of the Torah… the Law.  This celebration also coincides with Israelite harvest season marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, or the Day of First Fruits celebrated at the Temple.  With all these various celebrations, a large, multi-national crowd is in the city streets as the disciples preach the Good News with tongues understood by everyone present.  This not only speaks to the power of the Holy Spirit, but to the understanding that the Gospel is for all nations.

So while our Jewish ancestors celebrate Pentecost as the giving of the Law, Christians celebrate Pentecost as receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This gave them the courage to go out and 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 as we sing, “Lord send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the Earth.”

Since it is this first reading that gives us the focus of our celebration for this Pentecost Sunday, the Lectionary provides the presider with a couple options when it comes to our second reading and our Gospel.  Since they generally select the first option, these are the readings I will review.

For our second reading we look at the passage 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.

For our Gospel we look to the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel and his account of the Pentecost.  Here John takes us back to the upper room where Jesus for the second time has 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.:”  While this version may differ from what we read in the Acts of the Apostles or the other Gospels is irrelevant.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit so that they would not be alone on their quest to spread the Gospel.  We, the Church, continue that stewardship of the Gospel and praise the gift of the Holy Spirit which still moves and guides

Final thoughts:
Pentecost is celebrated as the birthday of the Church.  This reminds me of birthday cake, sweet on the surface, but with layers of flavor underneath.  So it is with our readings for this week.  On the surface, we are told the coming of the Holy Spirit, but underneath that narrative I’ve tried to show you some of the depth we can find by scratching below the surface.  But here’s one more observation: 

Right before the Pentecost story, we read that Mary and some of the other women were also present with the Apostles in Jerusalem.  Though the Pentecost narrative doesn’t mention who specifically was in the room when the Spirit came, our tradition teaches that Mary and the other women were also present and received the Holy Spirit.  In fact, many of the depictions of this moment in art throughout the ages will generally show Mary (or Mary and the other women) receiving the Holy Spirit along with the men.

For me this scene only reinforces the inclusive message of the Pentecost story:  That Christ is for everyone.  The Holy Spirit seeks to include everyone, praising a God who created everyone, and lives in everyone.  This inclusivity was revolutionary during the time of the Apostles, and remains so today.  In a world that seems to grow ever divided, Pentecost reminds us that the Good News of Christ is not just for a select few, but for everyone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

7th Sunday of Easter

The End.  When we reach the end of a book or a film, we sometimes see these words telling us that our journey through this particular story has concluded.  As our journey through the Easter Season comes to a close, our readings for the 7th Sunday definitely give us a feeling that we have reached the conclusion of a story:

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
John 17:20-26

Our first reading continues our journey through the Acts of the Apostles, but actually takes a step to Chapter 7 and a time before Paul makes his appearance.  Here we meet Stephen, a deacon in the church of Jerusalem and a fierce defender of the faith.  He has been arrested and is standing trial in front of the Sanhedrin.  During this trial Stephen is boldly condemning the Jewish authorities for being blind to prophecy, giving a long discourse that takes us from the patriarchs of Genesis to Moses to Jesus.  Our passage begins with Stephens closing words, and the Sanhedrin can hear no more.  Stephen is ordered out of the city and stoned to death.  The Church recognizes St. Stephen is the protomartyr… the first martyr for the Christian faith.  An interesting side-note to this reading is that the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus (whom we would eventually come to know as St. Paul) was witness to this event.

Though the death of Stephen is tragic, our Psalm reflects the heart of his message to the Sanhedrin, and the joy he felt through the Holy Spirit when we sing, “The Lord is king, the most high over all the earth.” 

Our second reading brings our study of the book of Revelation to an end with some passages from the book’s conclusion.  Here John, imprisoned on Patmos island, hears a voice that says, “Behold, I am coming soon.”  The great battle between good and evil has been fought and won.  John’s visions for the past two weeks has shown us that God and the Lamb were victorious, and those dressed in their robes washed white in the blood the Lamb are being told to come and receive life-giving water.  John is telling us, the Baptized, that Christ is coming soon to claim us for his own and bring us to salvation.

Our Gospel from John gives us a passage from the conclusion of the Last Supper discourse.  Jesus has known that this moment is the beginning of the end for his time on Earth, so he’s taken this final opportunity with his Apostles to tell them what they need to know (to love one another).  In proper fashion Jesus concludes with a prayer to his Father, praying that the Father will be known through his disciples through him.  As is typical of John’s Gospel, this prayer is both spiritual and catechetical, explaining the intertwined relationship between him and the Father, and how through them (the disciples), the Father can become known through their love.

Final thoughts:

It is a little sad that many of us won’t get to spend time with these readings because many diocese shift the celebration of the Ascension to the 7th Sunday of Easter, because these readings serve as a fitting conclusion to our Easter Season because they present to us a moment of transition.  Our story is coming to an end, but as with all endings, they also serve as transitions to new beginnings.  It is the ultimate metaphor for Baptism, where sacramentally we die to our old selves and become new creations:  reborn in the light and life of Christ.  We join in Christ’s victory over evil and death to become a part of the new Heaven and the new Earth.

As we conclude the Easter Season in Lectionary Cycle C we also conclude our extended study of the Book of Revelation.  There is no question that John’s Revelation is one of the most hotly debated books of the Bible, and has been since the beginning when the Church fathers in the 3rd Century debated whether it should be included in the canon.  As I’ve spent more time with this book, I can see why they opted to keep it in.  For as fantastical the story is, for however much it is shrouded in symbolism, in the end it is a story of Jesus’ triumph over death.  And this triumph extends to all of us who follow Christ.  For all the difficulties we face, whether in the past, right now, or sometime in the future, ultimately, in the end, we win.  When things are most desperate, how comforting to know that with the love of Christ we will attain salvation!

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Following the traditional calendar, the Solemnity of the Ascension falls on a Thursday… 40 days after the Resurrection, and 10 days before Pentecost.  But since the Ascension is such an important moment for us as Church, many diocese, including our own, have moved this celebration to this coming Sunday (in place of the 7th Sunday of Easter).  But regardless of when we celebrate it the readings are the same:

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:19-23
Luke 24:46-53

Our first reading is from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.  While it might be more appropriate that this reading should follow our Gospel reading for today (as it naturally follows after Luke’s Gospel), the book-end effect of these two readings remains intact, reminding us how this was a pivotal moment for the Church.  Like most sequels, our reading opens with a recap of where we left off at the end of Luke’s Gospel with the Ascension of Jesus.  Also like most sequels, this “recap” of the events also gives us more details than before, including the tradition of the Ascension coming 40 days after the Resurrection, and the 10 days after the Ascension before Pentecost.  Perhaps the best line in today’s passage comes at the end, when the two men in white garments say to the Apostles, "Why are you standing here looking at the sky?"  It’s an angelic reminder to stop standing there and get to the business at hand… to start spreading the Good News.

Our Psalm reflects the great joy the Apostles felt at the Ascension (which is described at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel) as we sing, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy:  a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

Our second reading is from the opening greeting of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  As is typical for Paul’s greetings, he presents us with the reason why we are all gathered:  Christ.  Not just Jesus the Rabbi, but the Christ, raised from the dead and sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Here Paul’s poetic imagery is the perfect complement to our celebration of the Ascension of the Lord.

As we may remember, our journey through Cycle C of the Sunday Lectionary celebrates the Gospel of Luke… so fittingly this year’s celebration of the Ascension has us reading from the closing lines of that Gospel.  Here we have Jesus’ final words to his disciples, remember that they were witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s promise, and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  After this he leads them out as far as Bethany, blesses them, and departs, whereupon the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

Final thoughts:
Most weeks when we review our Sunday readings we have to spend some time sorting through the meaning of those readings… digging into the details to find the lessons we are meant to learn.  When it comes to our solemnities, however, as with today’s celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, there isn’t a lot of unpacking we have to do.  Here we are just presented with the moment as chronicled in Scripture.  Yet it is these moments we find hardest to believe.  They shatter our perspective of reason.  It’s moments like these where I feel very much like the Apostle Thomas.  They seem so fantastic that I cannot help but to have some doubts… doubts that are fully supported my many in our modern culture.

Can we celebrate Christ without his Resurrection and Ascension?  We could, but then we would only be getting half the story.  Jesus the man was a great teacher and prophet, but he did much more than just teach us to love one another.  Jesus as the Christ also offered is life for our salvation and demonstrated God’s power over death.  His Resurrection and Ascension were an act of defiance over sin and death not just for himself, but for all humanity, for all time.  That is why Jesus lives.  That is why we believe.