Trinity Sunday – May 26
- Proverbs 8:22-31
- Psalm 8:4-9
- Romans 5:1-5
- John 16:12-15
Overview: The doctrine of the Trinity is not the result of abstract speculation, but arises out of the concrete experience of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ and the events following his ascension. Even the Old Testament bears witness to God’s triune nature. In the first reading the wisdom of God is personified as God’s “craftsman” who “was brought forth, while as yet the earth and fields were not made.” The idea of God’s wisdom present at the beginning creation stands behind the “Word” of John 1:1-14. The Psalm beautifully captures the story of creation. The climax of creation is humankind “crowned with glory and honor.” Made in the image and likeness of God, man reflects the triune nature of God, especially in the union of man and woman in holy matrimony. The love between husband and wife is an icon, as it were, of the Most Holy Trinity. In the second reading the Trinity is implicit in this brief, but theologically rich summary of the gospel. God, the author of our redemption, accomplishes our salvation through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit “that has been given to us.” The triune nature of the Christian experience is evident here and in many of Paul’s letters. This week’s gospel comes from the Last Supper discourse of St. John’s gospel (chs. 13-16). The word “Trinity” doesn’t appear and yet Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, speaks to his disciples about the Spirit who “will declare to you the things that are coming.” The Spirit does not speak on his own, but only what he hears from the Father and the Son.
Key verse: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.” [no. 221].
Pope Benedict XVI: “The gift of the Spirit, “Person-Love” and “Person-Gift”, as the Servant of God John Paul II described him, passes through Christ (Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 10). The Spirit of God reaches us through Christ as the beginning of new and “holy” life. The Spirit instils God’s love in believers’ hearts in the concrete form it had in the man Jesus of Nazareth.” [Homily, 06/03/07]
Life application: In one sense the Most Holy Trinity is a truly awesome mystery, far exceeding our understanding. In another sense, however, it is perhaps the one the most tangible doctrines of our faith. For, as Scripture teaches, God is love and love by its very nature desires another. From all eternity, God the Father gives himself to the Son who in turn gives himself back to the Father in an endless exchange of love that is so intense, so radiant and palpable that it is another person. As members of the body of Christ we actually participate in that exchange every time we receive the sacraments.
Pentecost Sunday – May 19
- Acts 2:1-11
- Psalm 104:1, 24-34
- 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
- John 20:19-23
Synopsis: Unity is one of the essential marks of the Church and a gift of the Holy Spirit. Since the Tower of Babel man’s pride has resulted in endless divisions and unending conflicts. In our first reading the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to reverse the effects of Babel by speaking with one voice. Even though they speak many languages they are understood by all. Speaking with one voice they proclaim one Lord and profess one faith. Though many languages were spoken, all heard the same message. The Church, filled with the Holy Spirit, “renews the face of the earth,” a refrain echoed in this week’s Psalm. In the second reading St. Paul reproves the Christians in Corinth about divisions that had arisen in their community. But the Church cannot be divided, he explains, because it is the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts shouldn’t be a source of friction or competition. Rather, the variety of gifts expresses the rich diversity of Christian life which benefits the whole community. In this week’s Gospel we hear how the risen Lord imparts the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on Easter Sunday. This isn’t an alternative tradition to Pentecost, coming from another source. The Holy Spirit is a gift of Christ to his Church which occurs more than once. In this instance the Holy Spirit is given specifically to the Apostles, empowering them with the gift and authority to forgive sins. It is, as it were, a private revelation between Jesus and the Apostles. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, on the other hand, is a thoroughly public manifestation of the Risen Christ acting in and through his Church.
Key verse: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12:13)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The Church is one because of her “soul”: ‘It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity.’ Unity is of the essence of the Church.” [no. 813]
Pope Francis: “Faith is first of all a gift we have received. But in order to bear fruit, God’s grace always demands our openness to him, our free and tangible response. Christ comes to bring us the mercy of a God who saves. We are asked to trust in him, to correspond to the gift of his love with a good life, made up of actions motivated by faith and love.” [Audience, 4.24.13]
Life application: Christ founded one Church, which exists in all its fullness in the Catholic Church. Certain elements of that one Church exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church; elements which “impel toward catholic unity” [Constitution on the Church, 8]. As Catholics we should be exceedingly grateful for the fullness of the Christian life that’s been given to us. It is an incredible gift and a big responsibility. Unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit and an essential mark of the Church. Pray for the unity of the Church and the whole human family, and the grace to share your faith with others.
Ascension Sunday – May 12
- Acts 1:1-11
- Psalm 47:2-9
- Ephesians 1:17-23
- Luke 24:46-53
Synopsis: The Ascension of Christ marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of his reign in heaven where he now guides and governs the Church. In the first reading the disciples ask Jesus if he is going to restore the kingdom. He doesn’t answer the question directly, but says that the kingdom of God will arrive when they receive the Holy Spirit, at which time they will receive “power.” Such power was not a worldly power, but the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses. There are two options for the second reading. Ephesians highlights the mystery of God’s plan fulfilled in Christ and the Church. The risen and exalted Lord sits at the right of God, “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.” Christ continues to act in the world through his body, the Church. The reading from Hebrews explains how Christ, having passed through the “veil” of human flesh, has entered into heaven ‘once for all.’ Through him we now have access to heaven through the sacraments. The gospel, like the first reading, records the ascension of Jesus. His final act is to commission the apostles to be his witnesses, but not before they had been “clothed with power from on high.”
Key verse: “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” (Luke 24:51)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has ‘opened’ heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.” [no. 1026]
Pope Francis: “I read a writer from the second century who imagined Easter as a path in its entirety, and he applied it to this life. He said, ‘Do not lose sight of where you are going, do not make the journey too entertaining, because then you may get carried away and forget the goal.’ We have to take on the responsibility of our journey . . . we must not forget that we are on a path toward a promise.” [On Heaven and Earth, Image Books]
Life application: People are fascinated with heaven. In 2010 “Heaven is for Real” became a New York Times best-seller. In just two years it had sold over one million copies. For us as Catholics heaven isn’t just a fascinating idea, it’s our destiny. And because it’s our destiny, heaven shapes our lives and the decisions we make. If you believe that this world is all there is then all your decisions will be made worldly ends in mind. But if you believe in God, I mean really believe, then all your decisions will be made with him forefront in your mind.
6th Sunday of Easter
- Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
- Psalm 67:2-8
- Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
- John 14:23-29
Synopsis: God’s plan from the beginning was to reunite the whole human family (Eph. 1:10). All those who are “in” Christ are children of God the Father and therefore brothers and sisters of one another. But what does this look like in practice? The reading from Acts gives us a clue. It describes the first council of the Church. The question to be decided was whether or not Gentiles had to become Jewish in order to belong to the Church. The apostles decided to place on them ‘no greater burden than necessary.’ The prohibitions against eating meat offered to idols, eating blood, eating meat that had been strangled and “unlawful marriage” (porneia) probably refers to Leviticus 17-18, which define the minimal religious and ethical norms applicable to foreigners living with the people of God (Lev. 17:8). The second reading describes John’s vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. The twelve gates and the twelve courses of stones symbolize the New Israel built on the foundation of the apostles. There is no Temple in the city because the Temple is “The Lord God the Almighty and Lamb” (Rev. 21:21). The last few verses of chapter 21 are not included, unfortunately. They describe how all the nations will walk by the light of the Lamb, thus underscoring the theme regarding the universality of the Church. In this week’s gospel Jesus says “Whoever loves me and keeps my word will be loved by my Father.” To ‘keep Christ’s word’ means much more than just following rules. It means giving ourselves completely to him who loves us unconditionally. The Bible is essentially a love story between God and his children. The unconditional love that God has for each and every human being was the Father’s plan from the very beginning. That is why he established the Church and bestowed on her his own divine life: the Holy Spirit.
Key verse: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ’s faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit.” [no. 737]
Pope Francis: “Let us ask the Father of mercies to enable us to live fully the faith graciously bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism and to bear witness to it freely, joyfully and courageously. This will be the best service we can offer to the cause of Christian unity, a service of hope for a world still torn by divisions, conflicts and rivalries.” [Speech, 03.20.13]
Life application: Jesus holds nothing back. In the Holy Eucharist he gives us everything, his very self: body, blood, soul and divinity. In doing so he binds us to himself and to the Father. In doing so he binds us together in brotherly love. What, then, does the Lord want from us? Nothing less than everything: our very selves freely given in love.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
- Acts 14:21-27
- Psalm 145:8-13
- Revelation 21:1-5
- John 13:31-35
Synopsis: A new heaven, a new earth and a new commandment. These are the main ideas in this week’s readings. The resurrection of Jesus opened up a whole new dimension of human existence, inaugurating the new and final stage of history. In this week’s first reading Paul had just arrived in Antioch after completing his first missionary journey. Antioch, located on the southeast coast of Turkey, was the headquarters of the early church, an important seaport, missionary ‘hub’ and the place where the followers of Christ were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Paul reported to the church there “how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Jesus’ mandate to spread the gospel “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) was being fulfilled through Paul and his companions. The second reading gives us a glimpse of the end – that is, the final destination that all creation, and all the church’s missionary efforts, is moving toward. The world does not end in destruction but “in a new heaven and a new earth.” Christ is the ‘first fruit’ of the new creation (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:15), a process that continues with every baby that’s baptized, every Mass that’s celebrated, every sinner that’s reconciled, every priest that’s ordained, every marriage that’s consummated. The “glorification” of Jesus in this week’s gospel refers to his passion, death and resurrection, which is a single, seamless ‘garment’ by which he “makes all things new” through the total gift of himself. The reading ends with a new commandment fitting for the new creation: “love one another, even as I have loved you.”
Key verse: “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man: The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, ‘so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,’ sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.” [no. 1046-1047]
Pope Francis: “Christianity is not simply a matter of following commandments; it is about living a new life, being in Christ, thinking and acting like Christ, and being transformed by the love of Christ! But this new life needs to be nourished daily by hearing God’s word, prayer, sharing in the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist, and the exercise of charity.” [Audience, April 10, 2013]
Life application: To much of the world, Christianity seems tired, old and out-of-date. But the world’s been thinking that for centuries. Christianity is always new because Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Risen now never to die again, Christ ‘makes all things new’ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s important to realize, however, that the newness of Christianity is only made evident by the love we show to others. Sin is the old, sorry story. The Gospel is always fresh and new because of “the love of God that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). This is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with others.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
- Acts 13:14, 43-52
- Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5
- Revelation 7:9, 14-17
- John 10:27-30
Synopsis: The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It’s also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In the first reading Paul and Barnabas go to Antioch in central Turkey. As was his custom, he went to the local synagogue and preached the gospel to his fellow Jews. But “filled with jealousy” they rejected the ‘good news’ of God’s plan, which included the Gentiles. Antioch was a turning point in Paul’s ministry for it was there that he decided to focus on the Gentiles who were much more receptive to the gospel. Paul’s calling as an apostle was inseparable from his vocation as an evangelist, as the Lord said, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In the second reading John’s vision of heaven includes “a great multitude … from every nation, race, people and tongue.” Standing in the midst of this vast assembly is he who is both Priest and Victim (hostia): the Lamb “who will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water.” The heavenly liturgy is reflected whenever the Mass is celebrated. In this week’s gospel Jesus describes himself as the “Good Shepherd.” Those who first heard this teaching would’ve been reminded of Ezekiel 34 where the shepherds of Israel are condemned for failing to care for the people: ‘The weak they did not strengthen, the sick they did not heal, the lost they had not sought.’ Because of their failure, God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep” (Ez. 34:15). Jesus fulfills Ezekiel’s prophesy, revealing himself to be God: “I and the Father are one.”
Key verse: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Through the sacrament of Holy Orders priests share in the universal dimensions of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles. The spiritual gift they have received in ordination prepares them, not for a limited and restricted mission, but for the fullest, in fact the universal mission of salvation ‘to the end of the earth,’ prepared in spirit to preach the Gospel everywhere.” [no. 1565]
Pope Francis: A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with ‘unction’, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives.” [Homily, Chrism Mass, 03/28/13]
Life application: This week we are asked to pray in a special way for an increase of vocations to Holy Orders and religious life. Without priests and deacons, sisters and nuns, Christian life would be impoverished and the gospel incomplete. Priests are especially important because without them we wouldn’t have the Mass and without Mass we wouldn’t have Jesus Christ present to us ‘body, blood, soul and divinity’. Another vital aspect of Holy Orders is preaching, for without a preacher, “how are [men] to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14)
Third Sunday of Easter
- Acts 5:27-32; 40-41
- Psalm 30:2-6, 11-13
- Revelation 5:11-14
- John 21:1-19
Synopsis: From its very beginning Christianity has posed a challenge to rulers. Sometimes it did so directly, like in our first reading. Peter and the other apostles had been under strict orders by the Sanhedrin (governing council) not to talk about Jesus. But in a bold act of defiance Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men!” With unexpected chutzpa he starts to preach to the very men who ordered him not to preach! Peter’s speech is one of most concise explanations of the gospel in the New Testament. It consists of three basic statements: (1) Christ was killed, having been “hung on a tree;” (2) God raised him from the dead thus making him “leader and savior” (3) through whom one can obtain forgiveness. In this week’s second reading from Revelation, John has a vision of heaven where he heard the sound of countless angels and souls praising “the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb.” The liturgy of heaven is reflected in the Mass whose focal point is “the lamb that was slain” who alone is “worthy to receive honor, glory and blessing.” This week’s gospel is rich in symbolic meaning. The net was drawn up from the right side of the boat suggesting a connection with the Last Judgment of Matthew 25. The crucified and risen Lord stands on the shore calling his disciples. Peter, stripped for work, “puts on” Christ (Gal. 3:27) and plunges into the water (of baptism?). The miraculous catch of fish is connected with Luke 5 and the calling of Peter. The precise number of fish, 153, has been the subject of much speculation. St. Jerome (d. 420) has an intriguing explanation. Ancient zoologists calculated the total number of fish species to be exactly 153. The fish, therefore, signify all the people of the earth to whom Peter and the apostles are to be sent. The symbol of the net represents the apostolic mission to preach the gospel to all nations. Notice that it’s Peter who drags the net ashore; it’s Peter that Jesus singles out to shepherd the worldwide Church.
Key verse: “Peter and the apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:29)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis: “Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.” [Homily, Inaugural Mass, March 19]
Life application: God is the author of the moral order to which all are subject. We will be judged by whether we ‘obeyed God or men.’ Jesus is Lord, which means Caesar isn’t. We should of course respect civil authorities, but our first allegiance is to the ‘Lamb who was slain’ who alone is “worthy to receive honor, glory and blessing.” The remarkable boldness of Peter and the other apostles should encourage us when our faith is challenged and the Church is ridiculed. We need to respond boldly, but kindly. We must be humble, but firm in our faith. We need to develop the virtue of fortitude.
Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday
- Acts 5:12-16
- Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
- Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19
- John 20:19-31
Synopsis: The second Sunday of Easter was designated “Divine Mercy Sunday” by Pope John Paul II April 30, 2000 when he canonized Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska. It is especially fitting that this Sunday should be named “Divine Mercy” because the theme of mercy is especially pronounced in this week’s readings. The first reading describes how the risen Lord healed the sick through the apostles. The sick were brought out on stretchers in the hopes that the mere shadow of Peter might fall upon them. The reading says that “great numbers were added” to the Church indicating that was the Lord who was adding them. Multitudes came to believe in Christ not because of the apostles’ themselves, but because of God’s mercy which came through them. The second from Revelation begins with a vision of the risen Christ “on the Lord’s Day.” John was by this time an old man imprisoned on the island of Patmos. The fact that his vision of heaven took place on “the Lord’s Day” underlines the link between the heavenly liturgy and the Mass. The mercy of the Lord is conveyed to him when Jesus touched him and said “Do not be afraid.” John’s vision is not unlike the vision of St. Faustina who had a vision of Jesus as the “King of Divine Mercy.” Finally, this week’s gospel describes the appearance of the risen Christ to Thomas who initially doubted the resurrection. But Christ, in his great mercy, appears to Thomas inviting him to touch his wounds. The sense of touch is an important element in conveying God’s mercy, as the anointing of the sick and the laying of hands demonstrates. Thomas, touched by Divine Mercy, saw and believed.
Key verse: ““He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “In her motherly care, the Church grants us the mercy of God which prevails over all our sins and is especially at work in the sacrament of reconciliation. With a mother’s foresight, she also lavishes on us day after day in her liturgy the nourishment of the Word and Eucharist of the Lord.” [no. 2040]
Pope Francis: “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think – and I say it with humility – that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.” [Homily, March 17, 2013]
Life application: The message of mercy is one that desperately needs to be heard today. Far too many people suffer from want of love. Simple acts of kindness and affection convey God’s love in a way that words can’t. Thousands of new converts were added to his Church at Easter because they experienced the mercy of God through the dedication and hard work of numerous catechists and sponsors who have journeyed with them for many months. Each one of us is called to be an agent of Divine Mercy, sharing the love of Christ with everyone we meet so that they too can enter into Holy Communion with God.
- Acts 10:34, 37-43
- Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
- Colossians 3:1-4
- John 20:1-9 or Luke 24:13-35
Synopsis: The first reading throughout the Easter season is from the Acts of the Apostles. It shows how the gospel, starting in Jerusalem, quickly expanded to encompass the entire Roman Empire. That expansion included Caesarea, an important Roman colony on the Mediterranean coast about 60 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The first reading is from a speech by Peter to a Roman Centurion in that city, along with many friends and relatives. This short passage contains the essential gospel message, or kerygma. The basic outline of Peter’s message is the foundation of creeds. At the heart of his message is that Jesus Christ, executed by crucifixion, rose from the dead. Whoever who believes and is baptized will receive forgiveness of their sins and the promise of eternal life. In the second reading Paul connects the resurrection of Jesus with baptism. Colossae, in Asia Minor, was influenced by Gnostic teachings that believed in astral powers and ascetical practices aimed at escaping the material world. Paul therefore stresses the fact that spiritual renewal and redemption is not about denying the world, but of raising it up in Christ through baptism. Elevated to higher ‘mode’ of existence, those whose lives are “hidden with Christ in God” seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. John’s account of the resurrection calls our attention to a peculiar detail: the burial cloths. The empty tomb, it is often said, was the first sign of the resurrection. But it wasn’t entirely empty. Many people believe that the Shroud of Turin is the very same ‘burial cloths’ mentioned in John’s gospel. You don’t have to believe that the Shroud of Turin actually covered the body of Christ; you do have to believe he really rose from the dead if you call yourself a Christian. It is, after all, what we profess when we say the creed.
Key verse: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities,’ just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ (the Great Sacrament).” [no. 1169]
Pope Francis: “Let us never yield to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day; let us not yield to pessimism or discouragement: let us be quite certain that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church, with his powerful breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization, so as to bring the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth.” [Homily, March 17, 2013]
Life application: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central mystery of our faith. Everything hinges on the fact the he really and truly rose bodily from the dead. As Paul said “if Christ has not be raised then your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:18). But we must also remember that Jesus did not rise from the dead in same state as when he died. His body now possesses ‘the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time.’ [Catechism, 645] This belief, this conviction instills in us the virtue of hope, which keeps us from yielding to ‘pessimism and discouragement’ inspiring us always to ‘seek what is above.’
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
- Isaiah 50:4-7
- Psalm 22:8-9, 17-24
- Philippians 2:6-11
- Luke 22:14 – 23:56
Synopsis: The liturgy for Palm Sunday begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels record the event, but each one brings out different aspects. Luke doesn’t use the Hebrew cry of praise, “Hosanna!” but rather “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This not only helps explain the meaning of the Hebrew word to his Greek audience, it also recalls Christ’s nativity when the angels appeared to the shepherds. For Luke, Christ’s passion is the fulfillment of the angelic acclamation. The first reading from Isaiah is called “the third suffering servant song”. Isaiah was a prophet to the exiles in the 6th century B.C. His mission was to instill hope during a very dark time. But the people turned against Isaiah because they were sick and tired of hearing about God and how he was going to save them. In a manner foreshadowing Christ’s passion, Isaiah suffered abuse at the hands of his own people. And yet, despite the abuse Isaiah remained faithful to his mission, setting his face “like flint.” Most scholars believe that the passage from Philippians in this week’s second reading was a hymn composed and sung in churches prior to Paul’s letter. The hymn echoes the reading from Isaiah, describing Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” who was “born in the likeness of men” and “became obedient unto death.” The hymn connects the incarnation of Christ with his suffering and death. Each gospel tells the story of Christ’s passion a little differently to bring out important theological points. St. Luke highlights Christ’s solidarity with outcasts and sinners represented by the two criminals. The Lord’s promise of Paradise to the ‘good thief,’ for example, only appears in Luke.
Key verse: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world. God’s saving plan was accomplished ‘once for all’ by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: ‘This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.’” [no 572; 599]
Life application: Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most important time of the year. This week we’re called to enter deeply into the mystery of our faith and ponder God’s plan in the redemptive suffering and miraculous resurrection of our Lord. All the pain and anguish, all the sin, suffering and sorrow that is so much a part of the human condition is shouldered by Christ, who destroys the power of death by his own death and brings life and immortality to light by his resurrection. All of Christ’s life, especially his passion, death and resurrection, is the key that unlocks the mystery of human life. He is the ‘pattern’ by which we attain God. The more you put into Holy Week, the more you’ll get out of it.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
- Isaiah 43:16-21
- Psalm 126:1-6
- Philippians 3:8-14
- John 8:1-11
Synopsis: Isaiah ministered to his people in exile in Babylon. Their physical separation from the land represented spiritual separation from God. Isaiah recalls the Exodus, reminding them of how God had delivered their ancestors from slavery and led them to the Promised Land. Now, he says, God is ‘doing something new!’ The exile will end and they’ll return to the Promised Land. The Psalm this week commemorates the return from exile. Those who had been taken into captivity “come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.” The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is full of hope. Paul could relate to the idea of exile from his own experience as he was often imprisoned for preaching the gospel. This letter was written during one of those times. Even though his freedom had been taken away Paul does not lose heart. “Forgetting what lies behind” Paul had his sights set on God’s upward calling. He was full of hope because of his faith in Christ. This week’s gospel is about the woman caught in adultery. Because of her transgression she was in a kind exile – spiritually far away from God. According to Jewish law at the time, the punishment for adultery was stoning to death. “The wages of sin is death” Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus demonstrates his supreme authority, even over the Law, by forgiving her sin. When one is enslaved by sin he, or she, is far away from God. “The Word became flesh” in order to deliver us from sin and death, and lead us back to God.
Key verse: “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles ‘so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.’ (Lk. 24:47). There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.” [981, 982]
Life application: To one degree or another, we’re all subject to sin and slaves to our appetites. Only by the grace of God can we overcome our selfish inclinations. This week’s readings are a sobering reminder of the consequences of sin and how it kills the life of God in us. But they should also give us hope because they remind us that Christ can – and will – deliver us from any sin, no matter how serious it is, as long as we turn to him. In this age, the age of the Church, Christ lives and acts in and with his Church through the sacraments [Catechism 1076]. The Lord has given us the sacrament of reconciliation to bring us back from ‘exile’ and restore our communion with God.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
- Joshua 5:9-12
- Psalm 34:1-6
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
- Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Overview: This week’s readings focus on reconciliation. The first reading is about the Israelites celebrating the Passover just before they entered the Promised Land, forty years after the first Passover and their escape from Egypt. The Passover not only commemorated their liberation from slavery, it signified and renewed their covenant with God. The connection to the gospel may not be immediately apparent. The key lies in the words: “I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” The Hebrew word for “reproach” – Cherpah – can also be translated as ‘disgrace’ or ‘shame’. Just as God had delivered the Hebrews from shame of slavery so God in Christ has removed the stain of sin by “reconciling the world to himself.” The Christian Passover is the death and resurrection of Jesus. As St. Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). Hence, the celebration of the Passover in this week’s first reading prefigures Christ’s sacrifice by which we are reconciled to the Father. It also prefigures the father in this week’s gospel who generously removes the reproach of his prodigal son. The second reading helps make the connection clearer. The “new creation” of which Paul speaks alludes to the new life in Christ by which the baptized “die” with him as they go down into the water and then rise with him when they come up again. Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week, inaugurated the new creation. Thus, those who are baptized become new creatures, just like the rebellious son in the Gospel who ‘was dead, but came to life again.’ The story of the prodigal son is one of the best known and most beloved stories in the Bible. It beautifully captures the essence of the Gospel and who God is.
Key verse: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “’You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has ‘put on Christ.’ Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom. Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.” [1425, 1427]
Life application: For the prodigal son in this week’s gospel the whole world must’ve felt totally new as he was reconciled to his father and welcomed home. He was dead to his father and his father to him. But through the boundless love of his father he was ‘born again.’ We too have been “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” through our Baptism (1 Peter 1:3). And not only that, we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation and so we are ambassadors of Christ, sent out into the world to share the message of God’s love, ‘glorifying the Lord by our lives.’
Third Sunday in Lent
- Exodus 3:1-8; 13-15
- Psalm 103:1-11
- 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
- Luke 13:1-9
Overview: This week’s first reading is about Moses’ famous encounter with God in the burning bush. Moses removed his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The only other time this word appears in the Bible before this is on the seventh day of creation when God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” The place is holy because God is present, just as he was in the beginning. The name of God – “I am who am” – shows that God is not an abstract reality like the “Force” in Star Wars, but is a personal presence who cares for his people and acts in history, who “has come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.” This event prefigures Christ who came down from heaven to deliver all people from the slavery of sin. God is not just present generally; he is present with the downtrodden and all who suffer. In our second reading, St. Paul warns the Corinthians about the danger of complacency. Corinth was a prosperous city and the people were well-off. But their material comfort obscured the things of God. Paul points to Israel and how despite the fact that God had delivered them from slavery and fed them in the wilderness, they neglected the covenant. They were ‘struck down in the desert because they desired evil things.’ In this week’s gospel Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree. The tree represented Israel which had become morally bankrupt and spiritually barren. Jesus warns them that unless they repented, disaster would befall the nation. They no longer produced the fruit of holiness that God desired. For three long years Jesus labored to lead his people back to their divine calling (Leviticus 19:2). But like the fig tree they failed to ‘bear fruits that befits repentance’ (Luke 3:8).
Key verse: “I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex. 3:7-8)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom. Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.” [no. 1427]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Genuine freedom is the fruit of a personal encounter with Jesus. In him God restores to us that freedom that we had otherwise lost forever because of the sin of our forbears. We can undoubtedly try to build our life without Christ, but with the one consequence of remaining always alone and disconsolate.” [Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI]
Life application: Lent is a time for conversion and a renewal of our faith. This week’s readings should remind us of those times when we’ve neglected our baptismal promises, ignored the teachings of the Church and failed to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). Material comfort isn’t necessarily bad, but it can make us complacent when it comes to our relationship with God. Sometimes the very things that make us feel good can enslave us or at least impede our spiritual growth. The Lord has come down to save us from our sins so that we will bear fruit befitting God’s people.
Second Sunday in Lent
- Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
- Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
- Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
- Luke 9:28-36
Synopsis: As Christians we live on earth, but are citizens of heaven. This week’s readings point to the resurrection and our ultimate destiny. The first reading tells the story of how God established a covenant with Abraham. God had promised Abraham countless decedents, but Abram was 90 years old and his wife Sarah was barren. They had no children. As far as Abraham could see, his only possible heir was his servant, Eliezer. So God takes Abram outside and tells him to look up. “Count the stars if you can …” he says. A few verses later it says “When the sun had set ….” indicating that Abram was told to count the stars in broad daylight! Even though Abram had no children, and hence no possibility of descendants, they were there. He couldn’t see them, but God could. Abraham believed God and his faith was “credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” In the second reading, St. Paul talks about the transformation that awaits us in the future when the Lord will change “our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.” Like Abraham we can’t even imagine how such a thing is possible, let alone how it will happen. But we believe it. The gospel for the second Sunday of Lent is always the Transfiguration. This event marks the transition from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his final act in Jerusalem. It mirrors the Exodus and how Moses’ face shone after his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29). The narrative even refers to Jesus’ passion as his “exodus” to make the connection clear. And just as Aaron, Nadab and Abihu accompanied Moses up the mountain (Ex. 24) so Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, which prepared for the coming of Christ. The apostles were given a glimpse of heaven to help them through the ordeal that lay ahead.
Key verse: “Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:30-31)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “For a moment Jesus discloses his divine glory, confirming Peter’s confession. He also reveals that he will have to go by the way of the cross at Jerusalem in order to ‘enter into his glory.’ Moses and Elijah had seen God’s glory on the Mountain; the Law and the Prophets had announced the Messiah’s sufferings.” [no. 555]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The mystery of the transfiguration must not be separated from the context of the path Jesus is following. He is now decisively oriented to fulfilling his mission, knowing all too well that to arrive at the Resurrection he must pass through the Passion and death on the Cross.” [Angelus, 03.04.12]
Life application: Nothing in this world lasts forever, including the world itself. Our true homeland, our ultimate destiny lies elsewhere. “… here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Jesus revealed his glory to Peter, James and John to show them that the suffering and death he was to endure would not end in annihilation, but in glory. At the beginning of Lent we are given a glimpse of heaven and foretaste of Easter to sustain us on our Lenten journey. The way to the Promised Land goes straight through the cross.
First Sunday in Lent
- Deuteronomy 26:4-10
- Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15
- Romans 10:8-13
- Luke 4:1-13
Synopsis: The first Sunday of Lent always includes the story of Jesus’ temptation. The forty days of Lent are meant to remind us of his time in the desert. It’s also meant to remind us of the Exodus and Israel’s journey in the wilderness. At crucial points in her history Israel didn’t trust God and fell into sin. Jesus symbolically relives those events in order to do what Israel failed to do. In this week’s first reading Moses recalls for the people how their forefather Jacob (“a wandering Aramean”) had gone down to Egypt centuries ago. His decedents multiplied and became exceedingly numerous. Eventually they were enslaved and cruelly treated by the Egyptians. God saw their affliction, took pity and delivered them from their oppression, then for forty years they, like Jacob before them, wandered in the desert until they arrived at the Promised Land, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ This passage later became a kind of creed the people would recite each year as they offered the first fruits of the land in commemoration of all that God had done for them. The second reading contains a rudimentary profession of faith. It contains language that would eventually become the basis of the creeds. This brief summary of the Christian faith contains the essential beliefs of the Church; beliefs that catechumens were called to profess in preparation for baptism. The mere recitation of words, however, wasn’t enough; they had to be accompanied by a sincere faith. The gospel reading recalls Jesus’ time in the desert and the temptations he experienced. There in the desert he relived the Exodus and the time his people spent in the wilderness. His temptations, more precisely tests, were the same ones that Israel was subject to (Ex. 16; 17; 32). Where they failed, however, Jesus triumphed.
Key verse: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.” (Luke 4:1)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert.” [no. 538]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Apostles’ Creed speaks of Jesus’ descent ‘into hell.’ This descent not only took place in and after his death, but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings – from Adam on; he must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it.” [Jesus of Nazareth]
Life application: Creeds are important. They remind us of who we are and where we come from. They also remind us of whose we are. In this Year of Faith we are called to remember who we are as Catholics. We need to know our history, the teachings of the Church, and the stories that define us. Just as Jesus relived the events of Israel in order to redeem her, so we relive Christ’s life and by so doing are saved. That which we profess with our lips must be believed and lived day by day. As we begin our Lenten journey, let us follow the Lord in the way of life and renew our commitment to the faith first given to us at our baptism.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Isaiah 6:1-8
- Psalm 138:1-8
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- Luke 5:1-11
Synopsis: The Church is missionary by her very nature (Ad Gentes, 2). From the very beginning the Church has been called to “put out into deep” of the world. The calling of the Church and of each one of us originates in our encounter with the living God. This is the idea behind the choice of the first reading where Isaiah describes his calling. He describes a vision where he saw the Lord ‘seated on a high and lofty throne’ in his Temple surrounded by the heavenly host. Struck with awe and his sense of utter unworthiness, he prostrates himself before God. An angel appears who touches his lips with a burning coal which signifies the divine message he’s called to proclaim. At first Isaiah is reluctant, but by the end of the reading he responds in confidence: “Here I am. Send me.” In the second reading St. Paul recounts his calling. Like Isaiah before him, he felt wholly unworthy of his office, calling himself ‘the least of the apostles.’ He then outlines the basic gospel message, or kerygma, which forms the nucleus of the creed which we say every Sunday. Finally, this week’s gospel describes the calling of Peter, James and John. After witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” upon which Jesus calls Peter to follow him and commissions him to be ‘a fisher of men.’ In each case, the calling and sending of Isaiah, Paul and Peter was not based on their qualifications, but on God’s election and grace. The reading mirrors the pattern of the Mass, which begins with the word of God and ends with the following of Christ.
Key verse: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Confirmation ….. gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.” [No. 1303]
Pope Benedict XVI: “After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant “dismissal.” However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word “dismissal” has come to imply a “mission.” These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church.” [Sacramentum Caritatis, 51]
Life application: This week’s readings remind us of the well-known axiom: God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies those He calls. One of the aims of Vatican II was to highlight the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. In fact, an entire document was devoted to apostolate of the laity, whose activity, it says, is “directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel” (Decree on the Laity, 2). Inspired by God’s word and strengthened by the Eucharist, we are sent out into the world to proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Jeremiah 1:4-5; 17-19
- Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
- Luke 4:21-30
Synopsis: This week’s first reading describes the call of Jeremiah, who was chosen by God to be a prophet long before he was born. Jeremiah was the son of a priest. He grew up in the village of Anathoth, which was about two miles from Jerusalem. Jeremiah lived in one of the most traumatic periods of Israel’s history when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians and her people sent into exile. Injustice and idolatry had undermined the Jewish nation, which led to Jerusalem’s downfall. Israel’s destiny has always been closely connected with that of other peoples and so Jeremiah’s calling was not limited to his fellow Jews. Rather, he was called “to be a prophet the nations.” This reading forms the background for this week’s gospel where Christ preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth, saying, in effect, that God’s love extends beyond the boundaries of Israel. The second reading is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Often referred to as St. Paul’s “chapter on love,” this reading sums up the essential gospel message. Of all the Christian virtues, charity is by far the greatest. In this week’s gospel Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth. At first, the people were amazed, but soon their mood quickly changed. Jesus’ allusion to the widow of Zaraphath and Naaman the Syrian said to his audience that just as God had blessed the Gentiles in the past, he was going to do so again through him. Jesus warned them that if they failed to live up to their calling as a holy nation, God would punish them just as he had punished their ancestors.
Key verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jer. 1:4-5)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Christ… fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy… but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word. ‘To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.’” 
Pope Benedict XVI: “The service of charity is a constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being; all the faithful have the right and duty to devote themselves personally to living the new commandment that Christ left us (cf. Jn 15:12), and to offering our contemporaries not only material assistance, but also refreshment and care for their souls.” [Moto Proprio, On the Service of Charity, 11.11.12]
Life Application: The Catholic Church is like a sacrament – “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Lumen Gentium 1). Each one of us, as members of the Church, has been called to announce God’s love and profess faith in Christ publicly in both word and deed and thereby draw all people into the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity. In this way we participate in the prophetic office of Christ. This divine calling, however, is fulfilled to extent that we do so with love.
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Nehemiah 8:2-10
- Psalm 19:8-10, 15
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-30
- Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Synopsis: The books of Ezra and Nehemiah pick up where 2 Chronicles leaves off with the end of the Babylonian Captivity. Originally one book, Ezra-Nehemiah tells the story of Israel’s return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra was a priest and responsible for the religious restoration of the people, while Nehemiah was a layman and responsible for rebuilding the community. In this week’s first reading, Ezra leads the people in renewing the covenant by reading from the Torah. The fact that the people wept tells us that it was an incredibly meaningful moment for them. Standing on a wooden platform he “opened the book in the sight of all the people” and began to read. Ezra then explained its meaning to the people “interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.” Ezra’s reading and explanation foreshadows Jesus’ reading from Isaiah in this week’s gospel. In the second reading, Paul explains that the Church is the Body of Christ. The organizational structure of the Church is sacred because “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.” The Church therefore, at its most basic level is not a human invention, but a divinely constituted society. Finally, the gospel reading this week describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Like Ezra, Jesus “unrolled the scroll” in the sight of all the people and began to read. After reading the word of God, Jesus explained its meaning, saying, “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue was yet another manifestation of his divinity.
Key verse: “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:21)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “’The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone.” [no. 85]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The homily ‘is part of the liturgical action and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful.’ The homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives. It should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic liturgy.” [Verbum Domini, 59]
Life application: The Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) “urges all the Christian faithful … to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the ‘excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ’ for ‘ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.’” While it may be true that prior to Vatican II Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible, that’s not the case today. As Catholics, however, we must read the Bible with the Church, not in isolation. It is the task of the clergy to help us do that.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Synopsis: After Christ’s manifestation to the Magi in Bethlehem and then to the crowds at his baptism, the next manifestation of the Lord’s divinity was at the wedding in Cana. There he performed his first “sign” by changing water into wine. The first reading comes from the part of Isaiah that celebrates the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem, which had long since been desolate and forsaken, shall once again be joyful and alive as the people come home. God rejoices over Jerusalem as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. God’s relationship to Israel is described in many ways: Father; Judge; Rock; Fortress; Warrior, etc. But one of the most unique and evocative image is that of husband. This nuptial imagery inspired Jews for many generations prior to Christ, giving them hope for a renewed and lasting covenant. In our second reading, St. Paul uses the image of the body to describe the relationship between Christ and his Church. Paul explains that the Church is not like Christ’s body, but is his body. Each member of the Church therefore is important, equal in dignity though each with a different function. All work together for the good of the whole. The presence of Christ at the wedding in Cana and the miracle he performed signified to his disciples that the divine Bridegroom foretold by the prophets had at long last come. The miracle of the water changed into wine signifies the transformation of the old order into the new. When the servants and disciples saw how the water had become wine, they “began to believe in him.”
Key verse: “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Is. 62:5)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.” [no. 1617]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his ‘marriage’ with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist. For this reason the Church manifests her particular spiritual closeness to all those who have built their family on the sacrament of Matrimony.” [Sacramentum Caritatis, 27]
Life application: There’s no question that marriage and the family are under great stress today. The very definition of marriage is questioned as is the meaning of “family” and what it means to be human. Marriage is a universal institution rooted in the natural relationship between man and woman. Its main purpose is to provide a secure environment for children. The presence of Christ at the wedding in Cana raised marriage to an even higher level, elevating it to the dignity of a sacrament. The union of man and woman in Holy Matrimony signifies the covenant between Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:21-32) and is also a sign of God’s love for the world.
Baptism of the Lord
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Synopsis: The Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday highlight the various ways Christ’s divinity was revealed. The first such manifestation was to the Magi. This Sunday focuses on the Baptism of Jesus, the first in a series of epiphanies culminating in the miraculous catch of fish and the calling of Peter several weeks from now. The passage from Isaiah in the first reading foreshadows the events surrounding Jesus’ baptism and illuminates his mission: He shall “bring forth justice to the nations” and be “a light for the nations.” His gentle demeanor and patience is expressed in the verse: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” The second reading, from Peter’s speech to a Roman Centurion, contains the essential gospel message, or kerygma. Peter explains how Jesus, at his baptism, was anointed by the Holy Spirit who empowered him to perform the miracles that Cornelius had heard so much about. The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his public ministry and is an important turning point in salvation history. Many people wondered if John might be the Christ. John, the last of the Old Testament prophets, is the ‘bridge’ to the New Testament (see Malachi 3:23). Christ’s divinity was revealed to all by the voice from heaven: “Thou art my beloved Son.” Thus Jesus began his missionary activity by revealing his divinity while simultaneously identifying himself with sinners. Jesus would complete his mission in the same way it began by identifying himself with sinners on the cross.
Key verse: “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.” [no. 1212]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word ‘baptism’ to refer to his death.” (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1)
Life application: Our entire life as Christians is patterned after Christ’s life. As such we’re called to be a ‘light to the nations.’ Some people think that Catholicism is a set of rules we have to follow. But really the whole Christian life is about becoming one with Christ and reflecting his glory. Through our baptism we are mystically united to Christ. Baptism not only cleanses us from sin, it makes us a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17), a child of God and a partaker of the divine nature. We don’t just believe in Christ in a detached, impersonal sort of way. We actually take his life into us and, over time, are transformed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).
Third Sunday of Advent
* Zephaniah 3:14-18
* Responsorial: Isaiah 12:2-6
* Philippians 4:4-7
* Luke 3:10-18
Synopsis: The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday” because the theme of the readings is joy. In the first reading Zephaniah beckons “daughter Jerusalem” to “shout for joy!” Zephaniah ministered in Jerusalem in the 7th century B.C. during a time of religious and moral decay. Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom and was threatening to overcome Jerusalem. The leaders of Jerusalem, however, had made an alliance with Egypt, Assyria’s rival. Meanwhile, King Josiah had begun to implement religious reforms. Assyria’s departure was seen as a sign that God’s favor had returned. The book is very short; only three chapters. In the first two chapters Zephaniah warns his people about God’s judgment and impending doom. Chapter three, however, is full joy. It foresees the day when the Lord’s judgment will turn to songs of gladness for “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” “Daughter Zion (Jerusalem)” prefigures the Blessed Virgin Mary, while Mary, for her part, embodies the ideal Israel. In our second reading, St. Paul urges the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul’s joy is striking given the fact that he wrote these words from prison. Despite the wretched conditions, Paul was joyful, and urged the Thessalonians to be joyful too because “the Lord is near.” The gospel reading for the third Sunday of Advent again focuses on John the Baptist. In this week’s gospel he tells tax collectors to take no more than what is prescribed, soldiers to be satisfied with their wages, and those who were better off to be generous. These elementary acts of justice paved the way for the Lord who will come in judgment to burn away the “chaff” (sinners) and gather the “wheat” (the righteous) into his barn. Those who heeded John by turning away from sin could rejoice because their redemption was at hand.
Key verse: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!” (Zephaniah 3:14)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory.” [no. 2639]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The liturgy of this Sunday, known as “Gaudete” Sunday, is a special invitation to us to joyfulness, to a vigilance that is not sad but happy. True joy is not a fruit of “divertirsi” (diversion; having a good time). True joy is linked to something deeper. [It] is linked to our relationship with God. Those who have encountered Christ in their own lives feel serenity and joy in their hearts that no one and no situation can take from them.” [Angelus, 12.11.11]
Life application: Joy is a virtue and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says “rejoice always!” even in tough, unpleasant situations. True joy, like Pope Benedict said, isn’t about having a good time; it’s about being right with God, confident in his love. When you’re right with God, full of faith and hope, even the worst affliction can’t take away your joy. And joy is contagious. Spread it around.
Second Sunday of Advent
- Baruch 5:1-9
- Psalm 126:1-6
- Philippians 1:4-11
- Luke 3:1-6
Synopsis: The context of this week’s first reading is ancient Babylon where the people of God had been languishing in exile for nearly seventy years, more than five hundred years before Christ. Jerusalem was in ruins, forsaken, all her inhabitants gone. God’s word is addressed to the Holy City, telling her that soon her children would return home. “Look to the east” the prophet says, “and see your children gathered at the word of the Holy One.” Baruch’s words inspired tremendous hope among the exiles. Their ordeal was about to end. Soon, God would bring them back to the Promised Land. St. Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while he was in prison, probably in Rome or perhaps Ephesus. He thought he might be killed, and yet his words are full of joy and hope. The “day of Christ” – a phrase that appears in several other letters – refers to the Second Coming. For Christians, ‘the day of the Lord’ is nothing to fear. It’s something to look forward to for it represents the completion of ‘the good work which was begun in you.’ The gospel readings this week and next, focus on John the Baptist. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets and a vital part of God’s plan of salvation. His mission was to prepare the way of the Lord by calling the people to repentance. John, in a sense, embodies the entire Old Testament, which was a preparation for the coming of Christ.
Key verse: “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One.” (Baruch 5:5)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “With John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness,’ prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ. John’s baptism was for repentance; baptism in water and the Spirit will be a new birth.” [no.720]
Pope Benedict XVI: “All of these Old Testament texts envisage a saving intervention of God, who emerges from his hiddenness to judge and to save; it is for this God that the door is to be opened and the way made ready. These ancient words of hope were brought into the present with the Baptist’s preaching: Great things are about to unfold.” [Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1]
Life application: Advent is both a time of preparation and repentance. It’s also a time to remember “Last Things” – the end of the world, final judgment and a new creation (Rev. 21:1). The end of one liturgical year, which focuses on last things, dovetails with a new year and the new order of reality inaugurated by the Incarnation and Nativity of the Son of God. As Christians living in a world of flux and change, sin and sorrow, we stand, as it were, on the border between the old reality which is passing away and the new reality manifest in Christ and his Church.
First Sunday of Advent
- Jeremiah 33:14-16
- Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
- 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2
- Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Synopsis: Jeremiah lived in the 6th century B.C. during the Babylonian Captivity. He had warned his people earlier that the nation was in grave danger because of sin and corruption, which stemmed from a general lack of faith. Eventually the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, looted the city, destroyed the Temple and took the people captive. It was an unmitigated disaster, but one that was meant to chasten the people, lead them to repentance and eventually back to God. This Sunday’s first reading was written after the people had been exiled for many years. As their exile dragged on, they began to despair of ever returning home. Jeremiah gave them hope. He told them God will “fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” The kingdom of David would be restored. The second reading strikes a similar note as Paul urges the Thessalonians to stand firm in the faith despite the difficulties of living in a culture hostile to the Church. He tells them to “abound in love” and be “blameless in holiness” so they’ll have the strength to endure persecution. In this week’s gospel Jesus warns his disciples about the trials and tribulations that are soon to come. They must be vigilant and not become preoccupied with daily worries and other distractions lest “that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” As in the days of Jeremiah, Jerusalem was in danger because of sin. Jesus’ words, therefore, had immediate significance for those who heard him. But they also have a timeless significance for Christians in every age, including our own. The call is the same: be vigilant and pray.
Key verse: “Be vigilant at all times and pray.” (Lk. 21:34)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, he always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day: today.” [no. 2730]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The essential meaning of the word adventus was: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not deserted us. Is it not true that activities often absorb us and that society with its multiple interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we devote a lot of time to entertainment and to various kinds of amusement? At times we get carried away. Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence.” [Homily, 11.28.09]
Life application: More and more people today live as if God didn’t exist. Unfortunately that seems to be especially true during the holiday season when people are more concerned with ‘having’ and ‘doing’ than with being. The readings this week call us to vigilance and prayer, reminding us that God is very near. Preoccupation with trivial pursuits and frivolous amusements can blind us to the reality of God’s presence. Despite rampant consumerism we mustn’t let ourselves be distracted from the things that really matter. The central message this week is pay attention! And pray. God is here.
Solemnity of Christ the King
* Daniel 7:13-14
* Psalm 93:1-5
* Revelation 1:5-8
* John 18:33-37
Synopsis: Daniel is set in the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century B.C. It includes a number of stories and visions that show how the Jews kept the faith despite harassment and discrimination. In this week’s first reading we hear about Daniel’s vision of four kingdoms, each of which passes away before God’s kingdom. The “Son of man” stands over and against the rulers of the world because he has “received dominion, glory, and kingship” from God. Unlike the kingdoms of the world, which eventually pass away, God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion.” Our second reading from Revelation was inspired by Daniel. It was written to encourage Christians who, like the Jews before them, were suffering severe persecution. John’s visions take place on the Lord’s Day, signifying a connection with the Mass. The salient point is that Jesus Christ is “ruler of the kings of the earth” and that we, the people of God, belong to his kingdom, not Caesar’s. In this week’s gospel Pilate questions Jesus about his identity and authority: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replies that he is a king, but that his kingdom is not of this world. That doesn’t mean his kingdom has nothing to with politics; it means it’s not defined by ordinary political categories. Christ’s kingdom is not defined by political power the way we normally understand it, but by truth. Even though Pilate, that is to say, Rome, presumes to judge Christ; it is really Christ, that is to say, the truth that judges them. Speaking truth to power is part of the Church’s mission in the world.
Key verse: “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev. 1:5)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The People of God share in the royal office of Christ. He exercises his kingship by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection.The People of God fulfills its royal dignity by a life in keeping with its vocation to serve with Christ.” [no. 786]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Respect for the just autonomy of the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion.” [Speech to U.S. Bishops, Jan. 19, 2012]
Life application: The Mass is our “declaration of independence” and the Creed our “pledge of allegiance” to the Lord and his kingdom. Our liberty comes not from the state, but from God, regardless of what government officials say or do. This week’s solemnity reminds us that religion has political implications, for if Christ is King then Caesar isn’t. That’s why totalitarian regimes suppress the Church whenever they can. In some places, Saudi Arabia for example, churches are prohibited and it’s illegal for Christians to practice their faith openly. If you think that the Church should stay out of politics, just remember Mass itself is political because when we worship God we express our ultimate allegiance to Christ the King.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
* Daniel 12:1-3
* Psalm 16:5-11
* Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
* Mark 13:24-32
Overview: As we near the end of the Church year the readings call to mind Last Things. The story of Daniel is about faithful Jews living under tyranny and oppression. It was written to strengthen their faith in God and help them stand firm under persecution. The first reading is a vision of the final battle between good and evil where Michael the archangel overcomes Satan. The righteous and the wicked will rise and those who were faithful to God will go to heaven where they will “shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament” while those who opposed God will be condemned to “everlasting horror and disgrace.” The second reading compares the temple priests with the priesthood of Christ. The former offered sacrifices repeatedly, while Christ made one sacrifice – himself – which destroyed the tyranny of sin forever. Having conquered evil Christ now reigns over all, but he still has enemies. They will continue to oppose him and his Church until the end when they will become his “footstool.” This week’s gospel is from the so-called the “little apocalypse” of St. Mark. The disciples would’ve immediately recognized the allusion to Daniel. Notice, however, that the “end” to which Jesus refers is not in some distant future. He said it would happen within the lifetime of his disciples. He couldn’t tell them the exact day or hour, but the end of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem was certain. Indeed, forty years later, in the year 70 A.D. the city and the Temple were destroyed by Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian during the Jewish rebellion.
Key verse: “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Mk. 13:30).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.”Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation.” [no. 1816]
Pope Benedict XVI: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life . . . we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace.” [Speech Jan. 9, 2012]
Life application: Jesus said that the Church would go through difficult times, but that in the end the Lord would “make his enemies his footstool.” The readings this week remind us that despite opposition we must stand firm in the faith because God is faithful. He shows his love for us in the Mass especially, which strengthens us in our earthly pilgrimage “as we await the blessed hope and coming of our savior Jesus Christ.” In light of the first reading, this might be a good time to say the Prayer to St. Michael.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
- 1 Kings 17:10-16
- Psalm 146:7-10
- Hebrews 9:24-28
- Mark 12:38-44
Synopsis: In the 9th century B.C. ten tribes in northern Israel seceded from Jerusalem after rebelling against Solomon’s tyrannical son, Rehoboam. His rival, Jeroboam, led the northern tribes into schism and idolatry by building sanctuaries where he set up golden calves (bulls actually) for the people to worship so they wouldn’t be tempted to go to Jerusalem. About 50 years later, Elijah, the subject of this week’s first reading, comes on the scene. Elijah was called by God to lead the people of the north back to the Lord. The poor widow who Elijah stayed with represents all those in Israel who still believed in God despite the apostasy of their leaders. She expressed her faith by giving Elijah the last of her oil and flour. She thus foreshadows the widow in this week’s gospel. Like widow of Zaraphath, the widow in the gospel is contrasted with the Scribes and Pharisees who were more concerned about their power and reputations than fidelity and virtue. Jesus holds her up as a model of faith for his disciples to follow. Finally, our second reading is about Christ, the high priest, who gave himself “once for all to take away sin by his sacrifice” (Heb. 9:26). While Christ died ‘once for all’ the benefits of his sacrifice are made available to us through the Eucharist, enabling us to live lives of self-giving, sacrificial love like the widows in the other readings.
Key verse: “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.” (Mk. 12:44)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” [no. 1889]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The widow, who is very poor . . . expresses the fundamental characteristic of those who are the ‘living stones’ of this new Temple, namely the total gift of themselves to the Lord and to their neighbor; the widow of the Gospel, and likewise the widow in the Old Testament, gives everything, gives herself, putting herself in God’s hands for others.” [Homily, 11.08.09]
Life application: The widows in this week’s readings are a real inspiration. They demonstrate deep and authentic faith by giving everything they had for the love of God. They epitomize true discipleship by putting their faith into action without counting the cost. Would that all of us had such faith! Faith like that would free us to give ourselves completely and set the world on fire.
November 4, 2012
Thirty first Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Deuteronomy 6:2-6
• Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
• Hebrews 7:23-28
• Mark 12:28-34
Synopsis: After their deliverance from slavery, the Israelites lived in the desert for forty years where they gradually learned to trust God. As they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses exhorted the people to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your strength.’ The land they were about to enter was full of promise, but it was also full of temptations. The people would constantly be tempted to worship other gods, forsake the Lord and behave in immoral ways. They would have to renew their commitment every day if they were to resist temptation and be faithful to God. This week’s first reading contains the so-called Shema (Hebrew: Hear!) which is the backdrop for the gospel. The second reading continues the discussion of Christ as high priest. Unlike the Levitical priests who eventually died, Christ remains high priest forever. And unlike the Levitical priesthood, which disappeared after the destruction of the Temple, the priesthood of Christ endures. Therefore, believers in all times and places have access to God through faith in Christ who intercedes for them. In this week’s gospel Jesus is challenged by the religious authorities to prove himself. A scribe tested him with a supposedly unanswerable question: What’s the first and most important law? According to tradition there were over 600 laws in the Torah. Jesus responds by quoting first from Deuteronomy, which we heard in the first reading, and the second from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus combines the two commandments in a way that links the love of God and love of neighbor so that they are forever inseparable.
Key verse: “You shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Faith in God’s love encompasses the call and the obligation to respond with sincere love to divine charity. The first commandment enjoins us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him.” [no. 2093]
Pope Benedict XVI: “In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us. In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant.” [Deus Caritas Est, 1]
Life application: Love is a choice, as is faith. They go together. It took a long time for the people to believe in God and trust him. It took God’s definitive act of love in Jesus Christ for people to love him in return. It’s still not easy to believe in God for a lot of people, and even harder to love him. But when they experience God’s love through concrete acts of charity and kindness the door of faith can begin to open.
October 28: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Jeremiah 31:7-9
• Psalm 126:1-6
• Hebrews 5:1-6
• Mark 10:46-52
Synopsis: Life is a journey and a search for the one, true God. Though many deny God’s existence, the desire for him is written on every human heart. This week’s readings remind us of that journey, that quest, that hunger for God. In the first reading, Jeremiah tells his fellow Jews that their exile is about to end; God will soon “lead them on a level road” back to the Land of Promise. The psalm celebrates their return. Having been driven from Jerusalem in tears, the exiles returned with “mouths filled with laughter.”
In the second reading, Jesus, the “high priest,” has been “glorified,” that is, taken up to heaven through what he suffered. As man, he can sympathize with our weaknesses. As high priest, he gives us access to heaven and shows us the way. Indeed, he is the way.
In this week’s Gospel Jesus and his disciples begin their final ascent to Jerusalem. The healing of the blind man was a vivid reminder of Jeremiah’s prediction that God would gather the blind and lame and lead them to the Holy City. As soon as he regains his sight, the blind man, Bartimaeus, sprang up, joined the throng of disciples and followed Jesus “on the way.” The name Bartimaeus means “valuable” or “esteemed.” In ancient times, someone like him would have been considered a worthless outcast, unimportant, nobody: an attitude evident by those who rebuked him and told him to be quiet. But to God, Bartimaeus is precious in his sight and worthy of his kingdom.
Key verse: “I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng” (Jer 31:8).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The universe was created ‘in a state of journeying’ (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history” (Nos. 302-303).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The desire for God, the search for God, is profoundly inscribed into each human soul and cannot disappear. St. Augustine’s words are true: we men are restless until we have found God. This restlessness also exists today, and is an expression of the hope that man may, ever and anew, even today, start to journey towards this God” (Interview, Oct.15).
Life application: From the least to the greatest, God cares for everyone and wants to gather the whole human family to himself. In a world that typically values people only in terms of their usefulness, this message is both timely and significant. No matter how disabled or “useless” someone might seem, they are precious in God‘s sight. As Catholics we believe in the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death for we’re all, in a sense, like Bartimaeus: blind beggars touched by God and fellow pilgrims on the way to heaven.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 53:10-11
• Psalm 33:4-5, 18-22
• Hebrew 4:14-16
• Mark 10:35-45
Synopsis: The readings this week focus on the servanthood of Christ. A man like us in all respects, but without sin, Jesus is the model of true greatness. The first reading is called the “fourth servant song” of Isaiah. The suffering servant is God’s chosen one: the Messiah. Unlike David, the great warrior-king who vanquished his enemies by the sword, God’s servant-Messiah will redeem his people by suffering for them and bearing their guilt. But the fruit of his redeeming sacrifice will not be limited to the Jews alone. Through his suffering, he “will justify many.”
In the second reading, Christ is the great high priest who has ascended into heaven. But he is not so high or distant that he can’t relate to us. As he promised, “I am with you always even to the close of the age” (Matt 28:28). Seated at the right hand of God, he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he has taken our humanity into heaven with him. Therefore, we can approach the “throne of grace” with confidence because Christ is both God and man: fully human and fully divine.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus explains the nature of power in God’s kingdom. The disciples were not that different from us. Their idea of power was based on what they knew. They knew all about Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and other rulers who governed them. But true greatness, Jesus explains, true power means the ability to serve others, even to the point of laying down one’s life.
Key verse: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Messiah’s characteristics are revealed above all in the ‘servant songs.’ These songs proclaim the meaning of Jesus’ passion and show how he will pour out the Holy Spirit to give life to the many: not as an outsider, but by embracing our ‘form as slave.’ Taking our death upon himself, he can communicate to us his own Spirit of life” (No. 713).
Pope Benedict XVI: “How often are the symbols of power, borne by the great ones of this world, an affront to truth, to justice and to the dignity of humanity! How many times are the pomp and the lofty words nothing but grandiose lies, a parody of their solemn obligation to serve the common good. Jesus, the true king, does not reign through violence, but through a love that suffers for us and with us” (“The Way of the Cross”).
Life application: What are the symbols of power in our world today? What kind of people does society esteem and hold up as examples of greatness? Celebrities? Sports figures? Politicians? Billionaire tycoons? In God’s kingdom it’s different. Humility, patience, generosity, purity, self-control and similar virtues are what God values. Christ showed us what true greatness is “by giving his life as a ransom for many” and by doing so showed us the path to follow.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Wisdom 7:7-11
- Psalm 90:12-17
- Hebrews 4:12-13
- Mark 10:17-30
Overview: Some things are more important than others. This week’s readings focus on what’s most important. The first reading extols wisdom as the highest value, above success, prosperity and even health. The author also praises prudence, which may be defined as practical wisdom. The Catechism calls prudence “the charioteer of the virtues” because it guides all the other virtues (CCC1806). Material comfort isn’t bad, but there are some things that are more important than riches or renown, fitness or even health. The second reading relates to wisdom insofar as it focuses on the word of God, which is “sharper than a two-edged sword” and is able to “discern the thoughts of the heart.” The word of God exposes us to the light of truth who knows us better than we know ourselves. Finally, in this week’s gospel we hear about a rich man who was drawn to Jesus, but was unwilling to follow him because of his possessions. When he called Jesus “good” the Lord replied, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus wanted him to understand that the answer to his question, “what good must I do?” can only come from the One who alone is Good, namely God. “Only God,” Blessed John Paul II said “can answer the question about what is good.” The difficulty for the rich man wasn’t in his head – he knew the commandments. He knew the truth. The problem was in his heart. He knew what was right, but he lacked the will to do it.
Key verse: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.” [no. 2563]
Pope Benedict XVI: “How can the free world do justice to its moral responsibility? Freedom preserves its dignity only as long as it retains the relationship to its ethical foundations and to its ethical task. A freedom that consisted solely in the possibility of satisfying one’s needs would not be human freedom, since it would remain in the animal realm. An individual freedom without substance dissolves into meaninglessness.” (Values in the Time of Upheaval)
Application: The rich man went away sad because his attachment to possessions prevented him from following Christ and finding the true meaning of life. He did ask the right question though. Despite his selfishness, he recognized the connection between the good and his eternal destiny. As Americans we tend to be very pragmatic. Things like worship, faith and prayer seem like a waste of time to a lot of people. And yet it’s the lack of faith and Godly wisdom, and the predominance of materialism and the quest for riches that underlies so many of our current problems. We need to be free from attachment to worldly things so we can be free for the most important things.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Genesis 2:18-24
- Psalm 128:1-6
- Hebrews 2:9-11
- Mark 10:2-16
Synopsis: This week’s readings focus on marriage. The reading from Genesis is about the creation of Eve. When Adam sees her he exclaims: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Adam sees her as a person like himself, equal in dignity though clearly different. It’s precisely because of her difference that Eve compliments Adam, enabling him to fulfill his vocation of love. In the union of their bodies human nature is complete, reflecting the love and fecundity of God. Adam had companionship with the animals, but only with Eve did he have communion. This week’s second reading begins a series of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews about the nature and role of Christ in God’s plan. In this week’s installment the author proclaims the divine origin of Christ while emphasizing his union with our lowly, human nature. We are consecrated through his suffering and death. Such language is a clear assertion of Christ’s singular Priesthood, which will be developed over the next few weeks. The first qualification of the High Priest was that he had to be human! Thus, the reading ends saying “he is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers.’” In this week’s gospel Christ is questioned about divorce. He uses the opportunity to explain the true meaning of marriage in God’s plan. Divorce was allowed by Moses because of people’s “hardness of heart,” that is, their lack of faith. But Jesus explains that divorce was never part of God’s plan. Man and woman were meant to be a gift for each other. And He most certainly never meant that women should be treated like property and simply discarded with a ‘certificate of divorce.’
Key verse: “And the two shall become one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God.” [nos. 1614-1615]
Pope Benedict XVI: “God created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life. It is love that makes the human person the authentic image of the Blessed Trinity.” [Homily, World Meeting of Families, 06.03.12]
Life application: Who would’ve thought that marriage would become such a contentious issue? Marriage has always had its difficulties, but no one ever questioned what it was. Rooted in nature marriage is and always has been a union of man and woman. This was an obvious fact of life – until now. Despite efforts to redefine marriage and regardless of what other people think or what the government does, the Catholic Church will always defend the dignity of marriage. As Catholics we owe it to God, our children and to society to patiently explain what marriage is and what it’s for when the opportunity presents itself, especially to those whose hearts are hard.
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Numbers 11:25-29
- Psalm 19: 8, 10, 12-14
- James 5:1-6
- Mark 9:38-48
Overview: A prophet is not a fortune teller, but someone who is able to read the signs of the times in the light of God’s word. In the first reading, seventy elders were appointed by Moses to assist him in guiding, governing and teaching the people. Each of them was given a share of the spirit that was initially given to Moses. But two chosen men, Eldad and Medad, even though they weren’t present, also received the Spirit and proclaimed God’s word. Rather than quenching the spirit by forbidding them to speak, Moses praises God for having bestowed his gifts on them. This incident foreshadows the event in this week’s gospel where certain people proclaimed the good news even though they weren’t part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. In the second reading, James chastises the rich members of the Church for their greed and exploitation of the poor. He exhorts them to be just with their employees, for if they do not, he warns them, the corruption of their wealth will “devour your flesh like a fire.” Echoing the first reading, the gospel shows how even those who did not belong to the Twelve were also given a share of the Spirit to perform “mighty deeds” in the name of Christ. It is worth noting that this reading immediately follows Jesus’ teachings about the ‘greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mk. 9:33-37). The point of this week’s gospel is that sometimes even the “littlest ones” and those who aren’t members of the Catholic Church sometimes do good works and speak the truth of God.
Key verse: “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!” (Num. 11:29)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “‘The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office,’ above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy, when it ‘unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints,’ and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ’s witness in the midst of this world.” [no. 785]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Bring the love of Christ to everyone! How? By turning unreservedly to God the Father, who is the measure of everything that is right, true and good. Meditate on God’s word! Discover how relevant and real the Gospel can be. Pray! Prayer and the sacraments are the sure and effective means to be a Christian and to live “rooted and built up in Christ, and established in the faith” (Col 2:7).” [Address to Young People, Lebanon, 09.15.12]
Life application: All the people of God, clergy and laity together, share in the prophetic ministry of Christ and are called to proclaim the gospel wherever they are, according to their particular state in life. Jesus’ advice to his disciples is instructive for us in light of our relationship with non-Catholics: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” The gospel reminds us that even though someone doesn’t belong to the Catholic Church, he or she can still speak the truth. We should make common-cause with those who though not yet belonging to the Catholic Church nevertheless share our values and are willing to work together for the common good and the unity of Christ’s Church.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
- Psalm 54:3-8
- James 3:16 – 4:3
- Mark 9:30-37
Overview: This week’s readings contrast good and evil and show how goodness is often vilified by those who don’t believe in God. The first reading paints a stark contrast between the righteous person and the wicked. The “just one” is reviled by ungodly men who test his faith by subjecting him to cruelty and torture. They hate him because his goodness, purity and faith call attention to their wickedness. From earliest times the Church has interpreted this passage in light of Christ’s suffering and death. It was chosen for its connection to this week’s gospel where Jesus predicts his passion for a second time. The second reading also contrasts good and evil. It describes the virtues of the righteous person who is first of all ‘pure and peaceable.’ The righteous person experiences a deep, inner peace that comes from a clear conscience; a peace that bears fruit in the world. By contrast, the unrighteous person is full of “jealousy and selfish ambition,” the fruit of which is “disorder and every foul practice.” This week’s gospel has two parts. In the first part we hear Christ’s second prediction of his passion (the first one occurred after Peter’s profession of faith in last week’s gospel). The second part contains Christ’s teachings about true leadership and greatness. The one who is called to lead, Jesus says, must be willing to serve and give his life for the sake of others. A truly great leader identifies with the poor, weak and vulnerable of this world, represented by the little child which he places in their midst. Putting his arms around him, Jesus shows his disciples how they must renounce worldly power and embrace humility.
Key verse: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us.” (Wisdom 2:12)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” [no. 675]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” [Speech to U.S. Bishops, 01.19.12]
Life application: This week’s readings remind us that belief in God, fidelity to the Church, decency and moral rectitude are rarely rewarded. More often than not, vice is celebrated and virtue is mocked. Jesus said “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:12). The righteous person, however, doesn’t follow the herd or worry about what other people think. He trusts in God and stands firm in the faith for he knows that in the end his reward is in heaven.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Isaiah 50:5-9
- Psalm 114:1-9
- James 2:14-18
- Mark 8:27-35
Overview: Following Christ not only involves correct beliefs and right behavior – or “faith and works” as St. James says – but also sacrifice as this week’s first reading and gospel tell us. The first reading is called the “Third Suffering Servant Song.” It is one of several Messianic prophesies in Isaiah (the others being Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6 and 52:13 – 53:12). With determination and commitment the suffering servant trusts God and puts his faith into action. He “sets his face like flint” and bravely confronts danger, even letting himself be mocked and abused. Faith is not a private affair. The second reading teaches that we must ‘practice what we preach’ and put our faith into action. Good deeds are the fruit of honest faith.On the other hand, good works by themselves won’t save us. It’s not enough just to be a ‘good person.’ We must believe and act in accordance with our beliefs. True faith produces good works as a flower produces sweet smell. In this week’s gospel St. Peter makes his famous profession of faith – “you are the Christ!” But it’s not enough just to believe in Christ. One must stand with him, follow him, willing to be ridiculed, slandered and mistreated for the sake of the gospel. “Whoever wishes to come after me,” Jesus says, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Faith alone will not save you. It must be lived and if necessary suffered. To follow Christ means to deny oneself, embrace the cross and stand firm in the faith of the Holy Catholic Church.
Key verse: “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith;it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.” [no. 162]
Pope Benedict XVI: “Faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This ‘standing with him’ points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes.” (Porta Fidei, 10)
Life application: This week’s readings are fitting prelude to the Year of Faith, which begins October 11. In his apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said that “a profound crisis of faith has affected many people.” Only one-third of Catholics attend Mass on any given Sunday. And many of those who do attend Mass are – how shall we say? – a bit ‘wobbly’ in their faith. The ‘seed’ of faith planted at baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished by the Eucharist must also be fed by knowledge, love and good works. Faith, in other words, involves your entire being: head, heart and hands.
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Isaiah 35:4-7
- Psalm 146:7-10
- James 2:1-5
- Mark 7:31-37
Overview: The prophet Isaiah ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah in 8th century B.C. It was a time of danger and uncertainty as the Assyrians and then later the Babylonians threatened Jerusalem. People were paralyzed by fear. In our first reading Isaiah reassures them saying, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God!” In the midst of darkness and despair Isaiah speaks a word of hope. This passage, especially the verse that says “The ears of the deaf will be cleared . . . the tongue of the mute will sing,” echoes this week’s gospel where Christ fulfills Isaiah’s words in the healing of a deaf man. The second reading speaks about a healing of a different sort: the healing of injustice. In the Church, James says, there shouldn’t be any distinction between rich and poor. Everyone is equal before God regardless of their economic or social status. Respect for the poor has always been a central part of Catholic social teaching. If the first reading speaks of hope and the second reading of charity, this week’s gospel speaks of faith. The healing of the deaf-mute in this week’s gospel is unique to Mark. The location of the story within the larger narrative is significant. It is part of a litany of healings and other miracles which point to the divinity of Jesus, which as yet not clear to the disciples. All the healings and teachings, including this one, are leading up to the climactic moment when the disciples finally understand who Jesus really is and profess their faith as Peter, speaking for the twelve, declares (in the next chapter): “You are the Christ!”
Key verse: “The man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” (Mk. 7:35)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child.” 
Pope Benedict XVI: “Let us never forget that ‘when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel’. The homily is part of the liturgical action and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful.” [no. 45, 46]
Life application: When Scripture is read at Mass, God speaks to us. Whether we really “hear” or not, is another matter. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the meaning of God’s word. The purpose of the homily is to ‘open’ our ears so that we can really hear and understand what the Lord is saying to us. This week’s gospel illustrates what happens at Mass. Having heard and understood the word of the Lord, we then open our mouths and profess our faith. But it doesn’t stop there. The second reading reminds us that the genuineness of our faith is expressed in how we treat others.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
- Psalm 15:2-5
- James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
- Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Overview: Our actions spring from our deepest convictions. Therefore, what we believe is of vital importance. In the first reading, Moses addresses the Israelites as they’re about to enter the Promised Land. Mindful of the temptations that awaited them, Moses urges them to observe all the statutes and decrees which had been revealed by God so that that the “may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land.” They must neither add to nor subtract from the law, he says, but carefully observe everything. By doing so, they would enjoy God’s blessings. The second reading echoes Moses’ exhortation as St. James urges us to “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you”. When we hear Scripture read at Mass we should listen carefully and receive it for what it really is: the word of God. When we read (or hear) Scripture God speaks to us. We in turn respond in prayer and action. When we put the word of God into practice our faith comes alive. That’s why James says “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” This week’s gospel deals with the subject of ‘practicing what you preach.’ Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees who were more concerned about external religious activity and looking pious, than with the essential meaning of those activities. Jesus wasn’t critical of religious traditions per se; rather, he was critical of those who used piety to hide their neglect of justice and charity. Religious activity is meant to foster and deepen our relationship with the Lord, which in turn should be reflected in our relationships with others.
Key verse: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is: the word of God.” “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” 
Pope Benedict XVI: “At its best periods, Israel saw in the law something that set them free for the truth, free from the burden of uncertainty, the gracious gift of the way. We should learn to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. The true law of God is not an external matter. It dwells within us. It is the inner direction of our lives, which is brought into being and established by the will of God. ” [Benetictus Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI]
Application: The teachings of the Church are important for they are the “lights along the path of faith” (Catechism no. 89) leading us safely through life. Just as the decrees and statutes were meant to protect the people of God from evil and temptation in a strange land, so the teachings of the Church are meant to protect and guide us as we strive to faithful in the world today. Rituals and devotions are meant to strengthen our faith so that we can be God’s instruments of love and truth in an unsteady and confusing world.
August 19, 2012
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Proverbs 9:1-6
- Psalm 34:2-7
- Ephesians 5:15-20
- John 6:51-58
Synopsis: A proverb is a short, easy to remember couplet of practical wisdom. “Proverb” is a translation of the Hebrew verb mashal, which means to rule or govern. The purpose of a proverb is to help us govern our lives by wisdom so that we can flourish and be happy. In the first reading wisdom is depicted as a woman who invites the simple and those who lack understanding to a sumptuous banquet. Her “house” is supported by “seven pillars.” In the Bible, ‘seven’ stands for holiness, perfection and covenant. ‘Seven’ also stands for the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity. This reading sets the stage for the gospel where the Eucharist is Wisdom’s banquet and Jesus is “the living bread that comes down from heaven.” The passage from Ephesians nicely compliments the first reading by contrasting wisdom and folly. Wisdom involves more than knowledge. Wisdom involves knowing the will of God and living “in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10). This week’s gospel continues the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. Jesus doesn’t simply associate the ‘bread of heaven’ with himself in a symbolic, abstract sort of way. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol. It is a tangible sign of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the bread of heaven: solid and indivisible: “My flesh is true food,” he says, “and my blood is true drink.” In this week’s gospel we hear an echo of John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). “Word” (Greek: logos) is the divine wisdom which became incarnate in Jesus Christ. God’s wisdom is thus no longer distant and abstract, but is a person “in whom we live, and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Key verse: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:51)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “‘Daily’ (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken literally, epi-ousios: ‘super-essential’, refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the ‘medicine of immortality,’ without which we have no life within us.” 
Pope Benedict XVI: “Saint Jerome’s Vulgate translates the mysterious word epiousios as supersubstantialis (i.e. ‘super-substantial’) thereby pointing to the new, higher ‘substance’ that the Lord gives us in the Holy Sacrament as the true bread of our life.” [Jesus of Nazareth, vol 1]
Life application: Knowledge is one thing, wisdom quite another. There are lots of smart people around, but far too many of them don’t use their intelligence for good. They might be highly educated and have multiple degrees. But without moral intelligence, without wisdom, their knowledge and education is practically worthless. You don’t have to be a genius or have an advanced degree from a prestigious university to be wise. To be wise you need faith. As Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7). The ‘super-substantial’ bread which we receive in the Eucharist is Christ himself in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:30).
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- 1 Kings 19:4-8
- Psalm 34:2-9
- Ephesians 4:30-5:2
- John 6:41-56
Synopsis: For the third week in row the readings revolve around the Eucharist. The first reading recalls the account of Elijah after his victory over the prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18). Their defeat so enraged King Ahab and Jezebel they wanted to kill Elijah, and so he fled south into the wilderness. Alone and utterly dejected Elijah was ready to give up and die. “I’ve had it Lord!” he says. “Take away my life.” Then suddenly bread and water appeared out of nowhere. “Arise and eat,” an angel says, “else the journey will be too long for you!” In this week’s second reading, Paul urges us to “be imitators of God as beloved children, and “live in love and Christ loves us.” The Greek word parapateo, translated here as “live,” actually conveys the idea of movement. The spiritual life is a journey, often fraught with difficulties. We need God’s love and grace to help us along the way and so He gives us Himself as food for the journey, which is the subject of this week’s gospel. Jesus had said at the beginning of his discourse “my Father gives you the true bread of heaven.” The crowds could accept the idea that God feeds them spiritually, but when Jesus identifies himself with the bread of heaven, they begin to grumble. He doesn’t stop there, however. He further aggravates the crowd by using even more graphic language: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Key verse: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” [1 Kgs. 19:7]
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,’ preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum.” [no. 1392]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Son of God, becoming flesh, could become bread and in this way be the nourishment of his people journeying toward the Promised Land heaven. We need this bread to cope with the toil and exhaustion of the journey. The Lord does not leave us alone on this journey. He is with us; he wishes to share our destiny.” [Benedictus, Daily Meditations with Pope Benedict XVI]
Life application: Through many signs and wonders the Lord showed himself to be the one, true God. But Elijah became discouraged and disconsolate because the people refused to believe. Being Catholic and following Christ isn’t always easy. Some of the teachings, like the Real Presence, are hard. Sometimes we can get discouraged, even depressed. The Lord understands and so He gives us the Eucharist to encourage us and strengthen us for the journey. The next time you’re feeling blue, or that living the Catholic faith is just too much trouble, remember the angel’s message to Elijah: “Get up and eat!”
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
- Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
- Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
- John 6:24-35
Overview: Starting this Sunday and continuing through the end of the month the gospel will be from the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. The first reading each week prefigures the Eucharist in one way or another. This Sunday we hear about the manna from heaven. Following their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites began to make their way south to Sinai. Their provisions had run out and food became scarce. The people grew hungry and began to complain, wishing they were back in Egypt where they had more than enough to eat. God responds to them as a loving Father by giving them quail and bread in the form of manna. This mysterious food was a type of the true bread of heaven. The Psalm celebrates this miracle, recalling the “bread of angels” which rained down upon the people like dewfall. In the second reading St. Paul reminds us that we mustn’t live ‘as the Gentiles do,’ hungering only for the things of this world. Rather, exhorts us to be ‘renewed in the spirit of our minds and to put on the new self.’ After the feeding of the five thousand, which we heard about last week, Jesus now begins to explain the significance of the miracle. The manna which sustained their ancestors in the desert was but a foretaste of the true bread from heaven. He reminds them that the manna did not come from Moses, but from God. The true bread from heaven, the bread of life, is Christ himself, the Son of God ‘incarnate of the Virgin Mary.’
Key verse: “”I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.” (John 6:35)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.” [no. 1090]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The first element of Eucharistic faith is the mystery of God himself, Trinitarian love. In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a “thing,” but himself; he offers his own body and pours out his own blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. Jesus thus shows that he is the bread of life which the eternal Father gives to mankind.” [Sacramentum Caritatis, 7]
Application: The Eucharist is not simply a meal among friends, but a participation in the very life of God himself. The liturgy is not primarily the ‘work of the people’ but the work of Christ who “continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church” (Catechism 1069). At Mass we receive the ‘bread of God which comes down from heaven;’ bread which gives life to the world. The love of God which is poured into our hearts at Mass is not something we can keep to ourselves; by its very nature it must be shared with others.
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Jeremiah 23:1-6
- Psalm 23
- Ephesians 2:13-18
- Mark 6:30-34
Synopsis. In our first reading the Lord denounces Jerusalem’s shepherds “who mislead and scatter the flock” through negligence and false teachings. They were more concerned about their own welfare than about being faithful to God and speaking the truth. But one day, the prophet says, God will “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.” He will also raise up a “righteous shoot” from David’s line who will “govern wisely and do what is just and right.” The much-beloved 23rd Psalm echoes the first reading. The Lord is depicted as a good shepherd who leads his flock to verdant pastures and quiet waters where they can find rest and refreshment. He protects them with his rod and staff, and feeds them from the table of plenty. In the second reading St. Paul says that Christ not only preached peace, he is peace. Through the total gift of himself on the cross Christ broke down the wall of enmity that separates people from each other. Reconciliation is the key to peace. In Christ reconciliation and peace are one. In the last few weeks we’ve heard about how the disciples were sent by Christ and worked tirelessly to spread the gospel. After they returned, and seeing how tired they were, Jesus leads them to a deserted place where they can rest. Still, the work must go on. Seeing the crowds who were “like sheep without a shepherd” Jesus goes to them “to teach them many things.” Jesus showed his love for them not by being ‘nice’ and saying things they wanted to hear, but by teaching them the truth. To “shepherd” the people means to care for them, and one of the most important ways of doing that is through teaching.
Key verse: “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis.” [no. 1548]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The homily is part of the liturgical action, and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture. Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided.” [Sacramentum Caritatis, 46]
Life application: This week’s gospel reading occurs right before the feeding of the five thousand. The liturgical significance should be obvious. Following the example of the Good Shepherd, preachers care for their flock by feeding them with the solid food of sound doctrine. Preaching is a big responsibility. But we must do our part too. Reading Scripture and praying every day will help prepare you for the homily. Attentive listening and active participation are also necessary if you want to get the most out of the homily.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Amos 7:12-15
- Psalm 85:9-14
- Ephesians 1:3-14
- Mark 6:7-13
Overview: This week’s readings stress the mission of the Church. Like Amos and the other prophets of the Old Testament, the Church and her teachings haven’t always been well received. In the first reading we see how Amos was driven out of the temple in Bethel by Amaziah, a priest and member of the ruling class. Amaziah believed that the temple belonged to the king and that the purpose of religion was to reinforce his power. Amos however, a common man, believed that Israel belonged to God and that she was called to serve him and be a light to the nations. All this took place in the 8th century B.C. during a time of relative peace and prosperity. Things seemed to be going well, but injustice, immorality and false worship permeated society. Amos warnedIsrael’s leaders that ruin would befall them if they didn’t change. He had the audacity to challenge the king and his minions, and was banished as a result. In the second reading Paul talks about the mission of God’s elect “chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him.” Baptized into Christ and “sealed with the promised holy Spirit” the elect “exist for the praise of his glory” and to sanctify the world by their lives. In this week’s gospel we hear how Jesus commissioned the Twelve and sent them out in pairs to heal the sick, expel demons and preach the gospel. These signs were evidence that God’s kingdom was at hand, present in Christ working through his disciples. Jesus warns them, however, that sometimes they and their message would not be accepted.
Key verse: “In him we were also chosen . . . so that we might exist for the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:11-12)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father; she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.” [no. 850]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Church always evangelizes and has never interrupted the path of evangelization. . . . . Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.” [Address to Catechists, 12.12.2000]
Application: Devotion to the false gods of sex, money, power and fame threaten our society as surely as idolatry and corruption threatened ancientIsrael. The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by the Apostles is still a message that needs to be shared, even though some people don’t want to hear it. We have been commissioned by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation and sent to share the apostolic faith, a message of hope and charity, and to sanctify the temporal order by our actions.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Ezekiel 2:2-5
- Psalm 123:1-4
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-1
- Mark 6:1-6
Synopsis: The readings this week deal with a cheery subject: rejection. In the first reading, Ezekiel is called by God to minister to the exiles inBabylon. But God warns him that they may not accept him or his message. It was their defiance and lack of faith that landed them in exile, and they are still, God says, “obstinate of heart” and a “rebellious house.” Nevertheless, Ezekiel must go to them. They need to know that the exile will not last forever. But they also need to repent. They need to change. It’s a message of ‘tough love’ that Ezekiel must preach. Whether they accept it or not isn’t his concern. His concern is to deliver the message. Second Corinthians is one of Paul’s most personal letters. Among other things, Paul has to defend his ministry as an apostle against those who questioned his authority. There has been much speculation about the exact nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but the fact is no one knows what it was. It’s possible that Paul’s affliction was caused by the frequent rejection of the gospel, and him personally. We know that his own people’s rejection of Jesus as the Christ caused Paul much distress (Romans 9:1-5). In this week’s gospel we hear about how Jesus was rejected by friends and relatives in his home town ofNazareth. He had travelled the region ofGalilee preaching, teaching and healing in many towns and villages. Many people believed and followed him. But many didn’t, including his relatives. Like the prophets before him, he was rejected by his own people because of their unbelief. Still, it was necessary that he should preach the good news to them too.
Key verse: “Our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.” [Psalm 123:4]
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus calls all people to come together around him. Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children ofIsrael, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus’ word.” [nos. 542, 543]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Church in theUnited States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering. There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part ofAmerica’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.” [Address to American Bishops, 01.19.12]
Life application: The Church, and each of us individually, are called to proclaim the Christian message faithfully and not worry about how people will react. Sometimes we’ll be mocked. Sometimes we’ll be hated. Rejection of the gospel and all that we hold dear is part of being Catholic, but that mustn’t stop us from sharing our faith. As Blessed Mother Teresa famously said, “God has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful.”
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
- Psalm 30:2-13
- 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
- Mark 5:21-43
Overview: Death is a natural part of life. But from a spiritual standpoint death is an alien intruder who entered the world through the devil’s envy (first reading). Made in the image and likeness God man was originally immortal. The reading from Wisdom echoes the first chapters of Genesis where death follows man’s disobedience brought about by the devil’s malice. Death is the ultimate symbol of man’s alienation from God, something only God himself can overcome, as is evident in this week’s gospel.
The second reading is about the need to support the Church. Paul was collecting funds for the Christian community in Jerusalem, which was spiritually rich but materially poor. Corinth, on the other hand, was well-off economically, but spiritually lacking. The primary motive for giving, Paul says, comes from a sense of gratitude for “the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One’s generosity, in other words, is a response of faith to the immeasurable generosity of God.
The purpose of Mark’s gospel, summed up in chapter one, verse one, is to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In this week’s gospel reading Jesus reverses the effects of original sin through the healing of two women: one who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years, and the other a twelve year old girl who had died. Another important character in the story, often overlooked, is Jairus, the girl’s father. “Jairus” means “he whom God enlightens.” And indeed, in the course of these two miracles Jairus comes to see who Jesus really is: not just a healer, but the Lord of life and master over death. The delay caused by the woman with the hemorrhage is reminiscent Jesus’ delay in going to Lazarus in John 11. The purpose of the delay was for the sake of those present: that they would come to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. The command to feed the girl after Jesus raised her from the dead is a clear allusion to the Eucharist.
Key verse: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” (Wis. 1:13)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him, who have eaten his body and drunk his blood. Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life, announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order.” [no. 994]
Pope Benedict XVI: “”The real alienation, unfreedom, and imprisonment of man consists in his want of truth. If he does not know truth, if he does not know who he is, why he is here and what the reality of this world consists in, he is only stumbling around in the dark.” [Behold the Pierced One; fr. Benedictus, March 6]
Application: Many homilies (and commentaries) focus on the miraculous healing of the two women, and how each of them points to Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death. Another way of reading the story, however, is through the eyes of Jairus, which may be Mark’s intension. While the two women seem to be the focus of the narrative, only Jairus is mentioned by name. Through the twin miracles we, along with Jairus, are meant to be ‘enlightened’ as to who Jesus is, and who we are in relation to him, so that we’re not ‘stumbling around in the dark.’
Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- Isaiah 49:1-6
- Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15
- Acts 13:22-26
- Luke 1:57-66, 80
Synopsis: The birth of St. John the Baptist marked the beginning of the Messianic age. Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, foresaw the day – the Day of the Lord – when God would send ‘Elijah’ to prepare the way for Christ. John the Baptist was the new Elijah who fulfilled Malachi’s prediction (Matthew 17:12). This week’s first reading was chosen to highlight the role of John the Baptist in God’s plan of salvation, who was called to “be a light to the nations.” These words foreshadow those of Zechariah, John’s father, who said of his son: “And you my child shall be called the prophet of the most high ….. To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:76, 79). The second reading is from Paul’s speech at a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia (central Turkey). Paul’s sermon, like most of the speeches in Acts, concisely expresses the essential gospel message. In this passage Paul stresses the role of John the Baptist who “preached a baptism of repentance” to prepare the way of the Lord. In this week’s gospel we hear about the birth of John and his naming. His father Zechariah had been struck dumb because he doubted the angel who told him that his wife would give birth, though they were both well past child-bearing age. When the time came for the child to be named Zechariah wrote on a tablet: “John is his name.” Immediately his tongue was freed and he blessed God saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! He has come to his people and set them free!” (Luke 1:68). “John” means “graced by the Lord.”
Key verse: “John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. ‘Prophet of the Most High,’ John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ.” [no. 523]
Pope Benedict XVI: “St Gregory the Great comments that the Baptist ‘preaches the right faith and good works … so that the power of grace penetrate, the light of the truth shine, the roads to God be made straight and that the words that are born in the soul after hearing the Word guide to the good.’ We too are called to listen to God’s voice, which resounds in the desert of the world through the sacred Scriptures, especially when they are preached with the power of the Holy Spirit.’ [Angelus, 12.05.10]
Life application: On this the first Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom it is fitting that we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist – the first in a long line of great martyrs who stood firm and courageously confronted the powers that be. John was imprisoned and eventually beheaded because he dared to question king Herod’s illicit union with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Like John, we too are called to bear witness to moral truth even though some will scoff or react angrily. Never mind. Stand firm in the faith. Freedom and truth depend on it.
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Ezekiel 17:22-24
- Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16
- 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
- Mark 4:26-34
Synopsis: The Lebanon Cedar was an extremely important tree in ancient times. The Egyptians used its resin in the mummification process and its bark was used by Hebrew priests to help heal leprosy (Lev. 14:4). Its precious wood was also used to line the interior of the Temple. Because of its majestic stature the cedar symbolized worldly power and pride (Is. 2:13). In contrast Jesus uses the image of a lowly mustard plant to describe the kingdom of God. In this week’s first reading Ezekiel describes how God will take a shoot from the top of a cedar and plant it “on a high and lofty mountain”- mount Zion in Jerusalem. Taking root the sprout will grow and become a place where “birds of every kind” can dwell. Ezekiel ministered to his fellow Jews during the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century B.C. His vision was meant to instill hope that God would bring the exiles back to Jerusalem where they will flourish like a cedar of Lebanon. The psalmist applies the image of the cedar to describe the person who worships God and gives him thanks. Faith is like a plant. It’s meant to bear fruit. In this week’s second reading St. Paul talks about how each of us will be judged for what we’ve done, or failed to do for God. Therefore, as Paul says, “we aspire to please him.” In this week’s gospel Jesus uses two parables to describe the kingdom of God. The main point of both parables is to show how God’s kingdom starts out small and almost imperceptible. But over time it grows and flourishes, “putting forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” Jesus planted the seed of God’s kingdom in the world through the establishment of the Church and taught us to pray for its realization “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church was founded to gather all the people’s of the earth into one, holy family where they can “dwell in its shade.”
Key verse: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed . . . that springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery. he seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the ‘little flock’ of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is.” [nos. 763, 764]
Pope Benedict XVI: “America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. It is in this fertile soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of you, Brother Bishops, are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel today.” [Address to American Bishops, 04.16.08]
May 27, 2012 – Pentecost Sunday
- Acts 2:1-11
- Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-34
- 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
- John 20:19-23
Synopsis: The readings for Pentecost are the same each year. “Pentecost” is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. It commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, which took place seven weeks, or fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt (Lev. 23:15-16). It also celebrated the end of the wheat harvest which began at Passover. On this day, then, we remember how God gave a new law, the law of the gospel, which brought about an abundant harvest not of wheat, but of new members for God’s family. The fire and wind in the first reading are reminiscent of the thunder and lightening on Mt. Sinai where the covenant between God and his people was first established. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples confirms the new covenant which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper. Along with a new covenant is a new law: the law of the gospel; the law of love. In the second reading St. Paul explains how the Spirit lives in the Church through her members. The Spirit is one, but the manifestations of the Spirit are many. As the soul is the life of the body, so the Spirit is the life of the Church. The unity of the Church is based on the unity of the Spirit. Every member is filled with the Holy Spirit and endowed some special gift for the good of the whole. In the gospel reading the Spirit is first given on Easter Sunday. Jesus imparts his own divine life to the apostles as he breathes on them, just as God had done with Adam (Gen. 2:7). With the giving of the Spirit a new creation, as well as a new covenant and a new mission begins. The giving of the Spirit is accompanied by a mandate: to reconcile all people with God, thus ‘renewing the face of the earth’.
Key verse: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Ps. 104:34)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church:” “On the day of Pentecost when the seven weeks of Easter had come to an end, Christ’s Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given, and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, the Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance.” [no. 731]
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Holy Spirit is most frequently depicted under one of two main images: wind and fire. Today’s newspapers are filled with references to the air pollution that our civilization inflicts on us. But no one speaks about the pollution of the spiritual environment that poisons the atmosphere. As Christians we must consider it our duty to preserve the pure air of the Holy Spirit to prevent pollution of the spiritual environment and to create in the faith community oases in which the heart and soul can breathe freely.” [Co-workers of the Truth]
Life application: The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church and of each member. Through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we receive God’s very own life into our souls. We are then sent out to proclaim the gospel in word and deed. “The love of God that has been poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with others.