Holy Thursday

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Holy Thursday

Tonight’s readings are here

The Triduum begins tonight, a three day procession through Jesus passion (begins at Holy Thursday), death (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter Sunday). A few notes from the hymnal are helpful in understanding the significance of this mass and how it differs from others. Two sacraments are instituted tonight: The Eucharist and Holy Orders (the Priesthood). Therefore, it is a special night for priests all over the world as they recall their ordinations and their vows.

Image result for empty tabernacle on holy thursday

The tabernacle will be open and empty at the end of mass; a sufficient amount of bread will be consecrated tonight for communion tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the only day of the year that priests do not consecrate bread and wine. However, we are still able to receive our Lord tomorrow, but it will be with the bread and wine that is consecrated tonight.  Interestingly, whereas God told Moses and the Israelites not to save up the manna for the next day in the Old Covenant, today is an example where, in the New Covenant, we are allowed to “save the manna” for tomorrow and celebrate the gift of our Lord every day. (This is because we are post-resurrection whereas Moses was pre-resurrection.)

The 1st reading is from Exodus, and it is the reading of the Passover. This is such a formative event in the Old Testament. It is the precursor to the Eucharist, which is why it is read tonight. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Israelites were saved – an angel of the Lord literally “passed over” families  – if the angel saw the sacrificial blood of the lamb on the home’s doorpost. Now, we too are saved by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

This reading also explains why we consume Jesus in the flesh.  “That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” They were commanded to eat the flesh of the sacrificial lamb. This was the essence and climax of this feast. It was not a mere suggestion. We too are commanded to eat the flesh of the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus. This is the essence and climax of our feast, the Mass.

Psalm 116: “Our blessing cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ.”

The 2nd reading is quite straight-forward. The Corinthians had a lot of questions for Paul, and he answers them in his 1st letter. In this chapter he re-emphasizes the critical nature of liturgical practices, specifically the Eucharist. He reminds them of its connection to the Last Supper, which is why we hear it tonight.

Gospel: Tonight of course, is the Gospel of the washing of the feet. Jesus is the servant, not the served. Again he turns the situation upside down. He is an example to us. We must serve others. We must be His hands and feet. He couldn’t say it more clearly: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Most churches re-create the washing of the feet after the homily, although it is not required.

A beautiful part of tonight’s mass is the Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, when the Eucharist is incensed (with “holy smoke”). The Eucharist – the very presence of God – is then carried around the church  and brought to a place of repose. The congregation is invited to pray with Jesus “in the Garden” as He awaits the first trial at night. Let us accept this invitation to stay awake with our Lord, to watch with Him, to love and glorify Him before the dawn comes.

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Mission Talk by Fr. Greg Ames: Our Interior Gardens

This is a beautiful talk that is rich with analogies that compare our interior lives with the life of a garden. The core content runs about 50 minutes and I found it a lovely way to enter into Holy Week. Perhaps you will also!

 

04.14.2019 – Palm Sunday (Year C)

Palm Sunday is already upon us. These readings launch us into the most solemn of all weeks, Holy Week. There’s so much to uncover, it can’t possibly be done all at once. But we’ll zero in on some keys that will help unlock the beautiful and great mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection – the events that are the very foundation of our faith. We have one extra reading this week to open mass, the procession:

The procession: Luke 19:28-40
This is read at the entrance to the church.

BACKGROUND:
In this passage, Jesus enters Jerusalem. He comes to the city where he will be wrongly accused, put to death, and fulfill the mission for which He was sent. Let’s rewind 10 chapters. This is where we see Jesus begin “the home stretch” toward Jerusalem: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”. When a prophet was asked to do something significant, the phrase used was “to set his face.” For example, Jeremiah said of Jerusalem, “I have set my face against this city, for evil and not for good” (Jer 21:10). Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem, set to the cross.

The colt Jesus demands from the village has meaning, too. A colt without blemish and that had not been ridden was fit for sacred use. Zechariah prophesied the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt. “Behold; your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey” (1 Kgs 1:33-44). The people all knew what they saw when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. With palms in hand, they were experiencing a prophetic fulfillment – it was a momentous event, and it was happening right before their eyes. Thus the words of praise they all exclaim. “Glory in the highest!”

Image result for palm sunday photo jerusalem

Lyrics from a popular Lenten song come to mind, “Jerusalem My Destiny.” We must all “set our faces” or “fix our eyes” on this week.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills/Jerusalem, my Destiny! Though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away.We have set our hearts for the way; this journey is our destiny. Let no one walk alone. The journey makes us one.

Listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSep3JfI85I

1st Reading: IS 50:4-7

Isaiah writes 4 “Servant Songs” and all appear in part 2, the book of consolation. These songs describe the service, suffering, and exaltation of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. This “Servant” is a royal figure, representing Israel in its ideal form; He is the high priest, atoning for the sins of the world. Isaiah predicts that this Servant of the Lord would deliver the world from the prison of sin. We are in the 3rd Servant Song today.

He writes, “That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them… I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” And at the end, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” Listen closely to your reader. How are we sometimes like the Suffering Servant described here? How do we fall short? What can we do to conform ourselves to be more like this ideal Servant of the Lord?

Responsorial:  Psalm 22
My God, my God, Why have you abandoned me?

Psalm 22 is powerful – I encourage you to read it in its entirety from your bible. Jesus quotes it from the cross. As a Jew, Jesus knew the psalms by heart. As God, and in a divine way, Jesus inspired them to be written. He was intimately connected to these words …of dogs that surrounding him, those who’ve pierced his hands and feet, and on and on.

But the psalm shifts with verse 3, “But you O Lord, be not far from me. O my help, hasten to aid me. I will proclaim your name to my brethren, all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him, revere him all you descendants of Israel!” What begins with torture and humiliation ends with praise and glory. This serves as a model for us about we can regard and endure suffering: From pain to praise.

2nd Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

We remain in Philippians, the letter Paul wrote from jail. The verses right before this reading speak to the importance of selflessness. Paul says, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” The next verses are today’s reading.

This phrase “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” This has always given me a furrowed brow. What does this mean? Let’s dig in. We know Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. You may have heard it said that “Mary is the new Eve.” Well along those lines, Jesus is the new Adam. This is worth some contemplation. How is Jesus the answer to Adam?

Adam fell short. He did not fulfill the purpose God intended, which was full friendship with God. Adam (and Eve, too) disobeyed God’s command. In doing so, Adam regarded equality with God as something he could “grasp” or attain. Adam thought equality, or at least some form of it, could be had.  The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into thinking they could be more like God if they ate of the fruit of which tree? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As Adam and Eve literally “grasped” for the fruit, they figuratively “grasped” for a level of knowledge that was not to be theirs. Jesus however, does not display the same behavior. Instead of grasping for more, he humbly obeys God’s command. He rights the wrong. Even though it means he will die a terrible death, Jesus displays supreme selflessness. Jesus emptied himself. He lays down his life for us. And then what happens? God turns the situation upside down by greatly exalting him. He bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Gospel: 
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 22:14-23:56

At a Lenten bible study, a few years ago we walked through a book called The People of the Passion. We noticed how “backwards” some things seem in the passion narrative. For example, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. We associate a kiss with love, or the “kiss of peace” at mass. It’s interesting that Judas would betray the son of God, sending him forth toward the crucifixion itself, with a kiss. It was more like a kiss good-bye. The other theme we discussed concerned Jesus’ responses during the trials. Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus replies, “You have said so.” We sat around the table discussing what a strange and indirect answer that was. Why is that all he said? One woman said, “I think his responses were unclear in order to stir the hearts of those who were questioning him. To try to get them to see what they already knew in their hearts, and act on that truth.” I thought that was brilliant.

I watched a post from Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” series this year about “Holy Moments.” Matthew Kelly surmises that most of us see holiness as an unattainable goal. How can we achieve holiness if we’re not saints? We’re not saints yet, but we’re called to become one. And saints in heaven now all started out pretty broken in their human lives, but what set them apart was their thirst for holiness. They never gave up, they trusted God’s guiding hand, and they knew the path to heaven was real. When they fell they reached for Jesus’s hand. When they despaired they called on His spirit. When they suffered they knew it had purpose.  They became holy by experiencing and creating one holy moment at a time. A holy moment is one of love. Kindness. Compassion. Care-giving. Forgiveness. A moment where God is present and we’re responding to what He wants us to do – not what we want to do.

Below, I’ve listed 12 elements of  Jesus’ life, most referred to in The Passion account, that seem upside down. Allow them to penetrate your heart. Maybe 1 or 2 will be a bridge to your own life to see what God wants to turn upside down in you that will in turn, glorify Him. Time and again, I’d find a perspective in the passion that I’d never considered, that seemed so upside down. This struck me. It led me to think…what signs are we missing that God is so obviously telling us?  What if we could let God turn us upside down? What might happen to us, to our families, to our faith? Amazing things, I presume.

1. Born in a Stable
Jesus, the king of kings, Lord of Lords, was born in a stable. A lowly, dirty, stable amongst animals, hay, and a trough served as his manger. No one had room for Jesus in their inn. Are we one of the inns in Bethlehem, or do we let God in no matter what we have at that time to offer Him?

2.Rides on a Donkey
Jesus rides humbly on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Earthly kings in the region would be set atop beautiful stallions or tall horses. They’d come with an entourage and be clad in royal gowns wearing extravagant jewels. How are we doing with humility? Do we feel the need to make a grand entrance wherever we go? Or can we walk into rooms, situations, and relationships with humility and check our ego at the door?  Are we “real” with people?

3.Jesus was Abandoned
Despite the fact that Jesus asked his disciples to stay faithful, he knows a betrayer sits with him at the last supper. Judas will Abandon Jesus. He will not call Jesus “Lord” – he will call him “Rabbi.” This shows he’s lost his faith that Jesus is the true Messiah. Are we able to confess that Jesus is Lord with our mouths and in our actions? Or do we occasionally abandon Him?

4.Misinterpretation (Swords)
Jesus’ disciples often “don’t get him.” Jesus tells them he will soon be sold for 30 pieces of silver, and they say to him, “Lord, Look! There are 2 swords here!” In other words, “Lord look! We will fight this battle with you, we will defend you!” Jesus replies in frustration, “It is enough.” He’s frustrated by their lack of understanding. The disciples don’t understand that the battle is a spiritual one, not a physical one. How often do we misunderstand Jesus? Probably frequently. But Jesus doesn’t give up on them – not ever. And we must always return to Him with hearts at the ready. “Lord, help me hear what you want me to hear. Help me see what you want me to see.”

5.Stay awake! (Fall alseep)

Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake in the garden. They can’t. They try, but they turn his request upside down and fall asleep. They don’t get the fullness of what’s happening. We too are weak. We make promises to God we can’t keep. We fall asleep, though we’ve promised to stay awake. Are you asleep in part of your faith life now? How is Jesus trying to wake you up?

6.The garden of death vs. the garden of Eden
Here we are, at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, in a garden at night. What a juxtaposition from the Garden of Eden, where God began human life with Adam and Eve. Where all was good, all was light, all was perfect. Jesus sits in the garden now at night. He awaits trial. He will die for the sins of Adam and Eve and everyone who followed. He’ll die for the sins we have committed. He’ll die for the sins of all who are to come but have not yet been born. The garden of Eden was turned upside down by sin. Jesus prays in a garden – a garden of His people – that desperately needs growth, light, renewal and life. The weeds are plentiful, the flowers slim. Jesus will transform this garden through His death. He will turn it right side up again.

7.Tell us why you’re not guilty! (Silence)
When questioned at the trials, Jesus often opens not his mouth (“like a lamb led to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth”).  When God seems silent to us, could it be because we have some digging of our own to do? I don’t suggest that’s always true, nor that God isn’t present in that digging, but perhaps some of the time the answer lies within our very selves. How might we respond differently when God seems silent?

8.Mockery of Kingship
Though Jesus truly is the King of Heaven and Earth, he is mocked and dressed in rags. A crown of thorns is affixed to his head, and a reed (signifying a scepter) in his right hand. This is upside down. How do we respond when others mock Jesus?

9.Pilate is on trial, not Jesus
One chapter in our book is called “Pilate is put on trial by Jesus,” a title that caught my attention. Wait, I thought Jesus was on trial? But in the narrative, it rightfully suggests that Pilate, who stands before Jesus, the very God who created Pilate in his mother’s womb, is the one on trial. Will Pilate pass judgment on God’s son? Will he condemn him to death? Yes he will. In doing so, he’ll turn justice upside down. Pilate is a complex character from many perspectives. He tells the crowd repeatedly that he finds no guilt in Jesus, but he still hands him over. He washes his hands (literally) of this incident, but clearly he is pleasing a riot prone crowd. His priorities are upside down. Pilate’s actions scream: “He’s not guilty, but go ahead and crucify him.”

10.Freeing Barabbas, condemning Jesus
The Greek translation of “Barabbas” is “son of Abba” or “son of the father.” Isn’t that fascinating? So in the 2nd trial, those in power are choosing whether or not to free Barabbas, “son of the father,” or Jesus, Son of THE Father. How wrongly they chose.

11.”Good” Friday
The very name of the day He died is, at least in a sense, upside down: “Good Friday.” But we know the eternal good that came from that Friday, because without the events of this day, we would still be upside down.

12.The man who knew no sin, put to a shameful death
This is the biggest “Upside Down” of them all. Jesus, the sinless one, the one who never once did any wrong at all, is put to death on a cross, as a slave, beaten and bloodied for the world to see. And yet this event has been known by the Father all along, since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve turned the world God had created upside down.  Jesus came so that we might be right side up again.

When we reflect on His teachings, so many seem backwards: Blessed are the poor in spirit, they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are you who hunger, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep, someday you shall laugh.” Such simple words, and yet so challenging. He goes on. Embrace your cross, it will save you. Love your neighbor, even if they hate youFor whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Jesus ate among sinners and was a servant to us; He washed our feet. There is seemingly no end to Jesus’ call to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He wants us to let him turn our lives upside down. Easter’s coming…a time for re-birth. Let’s let Him.

May you have a prayerful, quiet, Holy Week. May it be different than any other week of your year. May you delve deeply into the scripture of the Triduum. May you experience numerous holy moments as we transition from the 40 day season of Lent into the glory of the 50 day season of Easter.

04.07.2019 – 5th Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome! Find this Sunday’s readings here.

1st Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

We are in Isaiah this week, 1 of the 4 major prophets. Often dubbed “the 5th gospel,” he covers a ton of ground, does not write chronologically, and can be difficult to follow. Scholarly work on Isaiah to date could fill an entire library. The book of Isaiah is broken into 2 major parts:
1) The Book of Judgment (ch 1-39) – central theme: Israel’s unfaithfulness to God
2) The Book of Consolation (ch 40-66) – central theme: Despite this, God has not and will not abandon you.

BACKGROUND
Israel was conquered by the Babylonian army around 586 BC. Back into “slavery” (exile) they went, for 70 years. This timeframe fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy. He tried to tell them to turn back to God, but they didn’t, so here they are. Here is a painting of the exile with the temple in the background.

daniel-9_472_313_80

Isaiah 41 sets such a beautiful tone of consolation, and it’s so straight forward. God says:

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham my friend—You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and summoned from its far-off places … You are my servant; I chose you, I have not rejected you—Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is 41: 8-10). Consoling indeed.

READING:
The reading walks us beautifully through the events of the people’s past. God saved Israel from Egypt (“he opens a way in the sea”), he trapped the Egyptian army in that sea (“lead out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army”), etc. But God tells them not to remember this, and that instead they should look forward to what God is doing for them now – He is doing something new. Isaiah delivers a poignant line at the end when he refers to Israel as “the people whom I formed for myself.”  Truly we are formed for God, and this comes into play in the second reading from Paul.

Isaiah’s words are meant to reassure Israel, give them a peaceful heart.  They were doubtful that God still loves them. And can’t we identify with that? When we are“exiled” into a painful time in our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, or relational – it may seem God doesn’t walk with us. When it is time to carry a heavy cross, turn to these words for consolation from Isaiah 41 and 43.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM 126
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

This is a reminder of God’s great gifts to the Israelites. This psalm was written after the people had returned from exile – after the 70 years were complete – to their home in Jerusalem. (This is similar to last week’s theme, when the people were freed from their 40 year punishment in the desert, and they were finally freed.) The term “captives of Zion” equates to “Israelites”: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with rejoicing.”

2nd Reading: Philippians 3:8-14

BACKGROUND:
Philippians is often referred to “the letter of joy.” Paul wrote this joyful piece from jail, which makes it all the more powerful and intriguing, given the suffering he endured. Thematically, we see Paul’s authenticity here; he shares his joys and fears, sufferings and hopes for the future of the Church.

READING:
At this point in the letter, Paul turns to the task for every Christian including himself: accomplishing the final goal of Heaven. He desired to leave everything behind and follow Jesus to the end. “For his sake, I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” He depends on “faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death.” Let’s pause here.

Paul says that to know his resurrection, we must share in his suffering – be “conformed to his death.” That is a profound point to ponder. Although we don’t like suffering and we rather wish it didn’t exist, it is through the act of suffering that we are able to more fully share in Christ’s life, love, and resurrection.  I once heard it put rather well by a priest: If we are born in God’s image and likeness, we are called to “look like” him as best we can. We prefer to look like the beautiful face of the resurrected Jesus, the face of love, kindness and free of pain. Most artists depict this face. But to only recognize that face of Jesus would be to look past what He did for us. Jesus’ face was also badly beaten and bloodied. Sometimes we are called to look like this face of Jesus – His suffering face. God is not asking us to like the suffering. But he does call us to bear all suffering with grace, confident that He is carrying the cross with us. If over the course of our lives we have embraced the opportunities to look like both the resurrected and suffering faces of Jesus, we have indeed received a great gift. When we suffer – in large or small ways – we are more fully united with Him. We resemble his image and likeness, which is how He created us, even more. In that way we have answered the call to discipleship well.  When we see that suffering brings us closer to Christ, an amazing transformation takes place. We are able to – with God’s help – actually find joy in our suffering. Just like Paul.

Paul ends by sharing how hard it is to attain maturity in being Christ-like. He acknowledges that he has yet to reach his full potential, “It is not that … I have attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.”   This is why I love Paul. Great saint that he is, he never allows himself to think that he “has arrived.” That he is done trying. Rather, he wants so badly to allow Christ to literally “take possession” of his thoughts and actions. He reveals that he falls frequently, he often just can’t be perfect. Nevertheless, he strains forward to what lies ahead: “I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling.”  If we could also see ourselves as Paul sees himself, be more forgiving of ourselves, and reach to God for help, how transformed our lives might be. May we never tire of getting up again when we fall.

 Gospel Reading: John 8:1-11
The Woman Caught in Adultery

A key thread through today’s readings is “the reassurance of God.” In the 1streading we saw Israel feel abandoned by God. Isaiah’s words console them. In the 2nd reading Paul is literally abandoned (in jail), but is reassured by his relationship with Christ. More mature than the Israelites, Paul knows that he must dig deep for courage and finish the race strong. In the gospel, a woman faces certain death and permanent abandonment. But Jesus remains at her side and reassures her. He reflects the words of Isaiah 41 in a very literal way.

PART 1: THE CROWD AND THE WOMAN
Jesus is in the thick of his public ministry at this point in John’s gospel.  As he continues to perform miracles, he causes quite a stir wherever he goes. Here, the Jews are trying to trap Jesus. They bring him a woman who has committed adultery. They expose and humiliate her in front of everyone. The punishment for adultery, according to Mosaic law was death by stoning (Leviticus 20).  This was a gruesome way to die. Some methods included tying the criminal’s hands behind the back and throwing him/her off a cliff onto a pile of large, jagged rocks. Then a large rock might be dropped and/or people would throw grapefruit sized “stones” at the person’s face. This woman did not want to be issued this sentence.

The crowd questioned Jesus specifically “to test him.” Pope Benedict frames it: “Those questioning Jesus were aware of his mercy and his love for sinners and were curious to see how he would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear.” If he says yes she should be stoned, then where is His merciful love? If he says she shouldn’t be stoned, he breaks the Mosaic law, which forbids adultery. We might say Jesus is between a rock and a hard place.

Then Jesus does a curious thing. He is silent, he does not immediately respond. Perhaps this was to allow the woman to acknowledge the wrong she had committed, and also to allow the people to undergo a personal examination of conscience. He writes with his finger on the ground. Though we have no way of knowing what he wrote, we do know that God has written with his finger in many places in the bible. He created the heavens with his finger (Psalm 8), He wrote the law with his finger (on the 10 commandments), he casts out demons with his finger (Luke 11). Some scholars suggest that he may have written the names of those present in the ground, or perhaps, their sins.  Wouldn’t that shock you? “Hey wait a minute, that’s my sin! How does he know that? Erase it!” Whatever is actually written, this action opens their eyes to their sins. Jesus tells them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The people walk away, beginning with the elders (who are the wiser among them). They know that they too could be in the center of that circle for the wrong they have done.  And couldn’t we all.

PART 2: JESUS AND THE WOMAN
Jesus asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies no. Then Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” By extending His mercy, he has saved her from a brutal, terrible death. How amazing that must have felt. God saves us from a brutal, terrible existence – eternal separation from the Father – every time we repent and receive His mercy. He asks us to “Go, and sin no more.” Though we will fall again in the future, the point is to try harder. To be conscious of what causes us to fall. Over time, we truly will improve. “Go and sin no more” is echoed in the act of contrition:

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.

St. Bede ties up commentary on this reading nicely: “Christ, who twice bends down to write on the ground, teaches us to bend down low in humility to examine ourselves both before and after addressing the faults of our neighbor.”

This is a thought-provoking reading, no doubt.It raises as many questions as answers. I keep going back to a challenging line in this year’s workbook for lectors: “Neither he [Jesus] nor anyone else can condemn her. Our sins, those freely chosen acts of selfishness we make, condemn us, not God or man.”

03.17.19 – 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome Back, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Click here for the readings.

Today’s tip:
Use the 1.page.bible.timeline to track the major stops on the bible’s “roadmap.” On the left, are boxes that go up like stairs…1 Holy Couple, 1 Holy Family, 1 Holy Tribe, etc. Today’s reading comes from the 1 Holy Tribe box– the covenant between God and Abram (later, Abraham).

                                                         1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
BACKGROUND
If the bible is a “roadmap” and the destination “Heaven,” it helps to know the major stops along the way. We might say creation is the starting point. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God’s original plan of perfect love between God and man was thwarted. The problem of sin was born. The solution to that problem, we’ll see, is Jesus. Between creation and the arrival of Jesus in the manger, a lot of important things happened.

Today is a really important Old Testament stop. Today marks the “birth” of the nation of Israel, also known as God’s chosen people. This group has many names in the OT: “Israel,” “Israelites,” “Jews,” “Hebrews,” “Daughter Zion,” “Children of Abraham,” and more. Whatever you call them, this group is the main character for the rest of the OT.

READING: THE COVENANT WITH ABRAM
When God first called Abram it went something like this: “Abram, I want you to pack up everything you own, trust in my plan for your life, and go to the land of Ur.” That’s one tall order. God went on: “If you trust me I will bless you with 1) descendants, 2) a land flowing with milk and honey (the promised land), 3) a kingdom, and 4) through these descendants, all nations will be blessed (a worldwide blessing).”

Today we see the part where Abram learns about the 1st blessing – descendants. Abram is asked to count the stars. God says they will be as numerous as the descendants he will have (even though he and Sarah are childless). As the reading goes on, we see God actually make the covenant – a serious, unbreakable, lifelong vow with Abram and all who will follow. Abram asks for a sign from God about God’s promises. God says, “OK Abram. I will give you a sign. Go get a variety of animals, split them in two and put them opposite each other  to form an aisle.” Abram obliges. After dark, God – in the form of a smoking fire pit and a flaming torch – goes down the aisle. The act of going down the aisle is how God seals the contract – it’s like his signature. From that time on, God keeps His Word.

There are some interesting links here. 1) A deep sleep fell upon Abram, just as one fell upon Adam, just as one will fall  Peter, James, and John in today’s gospel, and just as one will fall upon the disciples in the Garden. When disciples “fall asleep”, God does important work. Out of Adam’s side came woman, out of Abram’s “side” comes a new nation, out of the disciples comes a new church. 2) The God-Abram covenant calls to mind the marriage covenant, when a man and a woman also walk down an aisle. They vow to love and cherish one another for life, and seal a covenant. When you attend a wedding, you sit on one side or “half” of the aisle. When the covenant is sealed, the people on the left side of the church comprise half of the new family (broadly speaking). Those on the right comprise the other half of the newly formed family.

REFLECT
At our baptism, we “sign” a covenant with God. In marriage, we sign a covenant with another person and with God. How are you doing in your covenant relationships?

Responsorial Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my Light and my Salvation”

The psalm is always a response to the first reading. God sealed the covenant with Abram in the form of light (smoking fire and flaming torch).  The refrain speaks of the Lord as light itself, a theme that returns in the gospel.

                                                         2nd Reading: Philippians 3: 17-4:1
BACKGROUND
Phillipi was a Roman province. It was an important city for retired military (think Boca Vista). Having dedicated their lives to Caesar, the inhabitants valued their Roman citizenship.  Citizenship in Phillipi translates to citizenship in Rome. Paul wants to show them a similar link – that citizenship in Christ’s church translates to citizenship in Heaven. He challenges them to look beyond and see themselves as citizens of heaven in addition to being citizens of Rome.

READING
In light of the above, we see Paul’s clever word choice – it has a militaristic twist. It’s a pep talk soldiers might hear before going into battle – a call for unity and support of one another. “Join with others in being imitators…”; “many conduct themselves…as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach, their glory is in their ‘shame.’”

REFLECT
To “make God your stomach” is to seek out physical nourishment that fills us up temporarily, (food, a new car, riches, technology), versus spiritual nourishment that fills our souls and lasts. If ordered correctly – God first and then the things we enjoy (new car, riches, technology), our earthly desires absolutely have an appropriate place. But God wants to be first. How well-balanced is your physical vs. spiritual nourishment?

GOSPEL – Luke 9:28b-36

BACKGROUND
In today’s gospel, we’re standing at one of the main NT stops: The Transfiguration. Before these verses, Jesus had just foretold his death to the disciples. They were probably distraught to hear Jesus talk of his death, so perhaps the transfiguration served as spiritual nourishment (as noted in the 2nd reading). Maybe Jesus wanted to reassure them that He is God’s son by demonstrating this reality before their very eyes.

At the top of the mountain while Jesus was praying, Peter, James and John see his clothes “become dazzling white.” When Jesus prays – when he communicates with The Father – He emits a blinding, pure light. Recall that in Exodus, Moses also came down the mountain after communicating with God and was glowing white. His was a reflective light. Here Jesus IS the light, it comes from within.

The reading goes on to say that Peter and his companions – like Abram and Adam before them – had been overcome by sleep. A divine light woke them up to see Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Let’s stop here and do some basic math:

Moses (the law) + Elijah (the prophets)=Old Testament.
Jesus = New Testament.
Moses + Elijah + Jesus = The fullness of the scriptures.

On the mountain, these men embody the fullness of the scriptures. That is an awesome reality to ponder for a moment. Here we have the Old Testament “talking” to Jesus, the New Testament. What are they talking about? The subject is the Exodus (“Exodus” means “a journey from slavery to freedom”). In the OT, Moses’s Exodus was physical. He led the people out of Egyptian slavery into a land of freedom. The NT Exodus Jesus will soon lead is spiritual. He will lead us out of a spiritual slavery (sin) into spiritual freedom (salvation). Atop the mountain, Jesus is answering the Old Testament – answering it by fulfilling it.

Lastly, God says to them from a cloud, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.” In sum Peter, James and John get a glimpse: Jesus is the answer. Jesus is the New Covenant. He fulfills the old one. And we must listen to Him.

REFLECT
This week, let us reflect on the words from God the Father, and consider how we might spend time listening to Him in silence. Take a long walk without headphones. Drive without the radio on. Sit in adoration without route prayers or booklets. Sometime this week, just “be” – and see what He says.

May God bless your week! Come back next week to dig into Moses and the Burning Bush and the peculiar role of the fig tree in the gospel.

02.10.19 – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Welcome Back!

The theme of Sunday’s readings revolve around “Being Called.” Let’s dig in! We also hear a lot about the angels, and the 9 choirs of angels. This visual explains the 9 choirs:

Image result for 9 choirs of angels

For the Sunday readings click here
Where in the Bible are we? We’re in the GREEN areas (click here 1.page.bible.timeline)

Fun Fact:
There are 16 prophets in the Old Testament (who have books titled after their name). Four are major – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah; Twelve are minor – Hosea, Amos, Zechariah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, Nahum, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jonah, Habakkuk & Joel (our Ash Wed. reading). “Major” or “Minor” refers to the length, scope, and depth of the book, not its importance. Hmmm… there are 4 major prophets … 4 gospel writers; there are 12 minor prophets … 12 disciples, 12 apostles. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

1st Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)

BACKGROUND
Isaiah is by far one of the most difficult books in scripture. It was so tough that even St. Augustine, doctor of the Church, admitted he did not understand what he was reading. So he put it aside. See? Even saints don’t get Isaiah! Don’t feel bad if you don’t either.

St. Jerome, another doctor of the church, explains: “No one should think I mean to explain the entire subject matter of [Isaiah] in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the Lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. I need say nothing about the natural sciences, ethics and logic. Whatever is proper to Holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.”

Scholars have remarked on Isaiah’s eloquence and poetic style, calling him “The Shakespeare of the Bible.” They often refer to it as “The Fifth Gospel” because of the book’s scope. The kicker is, Isaiah doesn’t write in chronological order. He jumps around, and frequently. This is why we don’t see God call him until chapter 6 (chapters 1-5 serve as The Prologue). Isaiah is divided into 2 parts, chapters 1-39 concern judgment (bad news, Israel, you’ll undergo judgment because you turned from God); chapters 40-66 concern restoration (good news, Israel, you’ll eventually be restored and brought back).

READING
Last week God called Jeremiah. He said he was too young to be a prophet. Now God calls Isaiah. He says he is unworthy, “Woe is me! For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips.” Seraphim are angels are in the highest of the 3 “choirs of angels”, and are sometimes called “burning angels.” With a purifying fire, they flew in and touched Isaiah’s mouth with burning tongs. Why? To cleanse Isaiah from sin and prepare him for the 79 years of the tough work that lay ahead. Fortunately, we too can experience being cleansed of sin through the sacrament of reconciliation. (Purgatory also contains a purifying, cleansing fire like the one in this reading.)

Today’s reading is full of liturgical meaning in what is said, smelled, and heard. In Isaiah’s vision of God, we hear the same words we recite at Mass: The seraphim sing their angelic proclamation, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” During Mass, an authentic experience of Heaven on Earth, we join the choirs of angels singing this same proclamation. Truly, at Mass, we are among the angels in Heaven and they are among us. So much of our Mass – including the Holy, Holy, Holy – comes straight from the book of Revelation. We can see this in action when the priest says, ” And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. [Right here, right now,] Heaven and Earth are full of your glory…”

Next, Isaiah notes the house was filled with smoke. Smoke signifies the presence of God and is a medium through which prayers travel (incense). The reading ends with Isaiah answering God’s call much like Samuel did, “Here I am’, I said, ‘send me!”

Response Psalm 138: “In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord”
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

This psalm of David is one in which angels figure prominently, making it a fitting response to our first reading. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth…when I called you answered me, you built up strength within me.”

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).

BACKGROUND
It’s our last week in Corinthians for a bit. Corinth is Paul’s 2nd of 3 missionary journeys, around 51 A.D. We’re getting to the end of his letter now, and he is addressing the subject of Christ’s resurrection. Some followers lacked confidence in this reality, and were fracturing the Church in Corinth as a result. The fracture was likely unintentional, but just like in our present day, we need a shepherd to help us distinguish the voices around us. Their shepherd was Paul. Basically, if the resurrection never happened, Paul says, they’re all teaching in vain. So here, Paul defends the doctrine of the resurrection for 58 verses. Today we hear 11 of those 58 verses.

READING
Paul takes on a pastoral tone. He’s their father in faith and they need to be re-taught. (Have kids? You can relate.) He starts by reminding them in simple terms, “I both delivered to you– and received myself from the risen Christ (on the road to Damascus) – the Truth of the gospel.” And here is that Truth. He tells the story of the resurrection. He names those to whom Christ appeared. He reminds them he was not an apostle, but quite the opposite – a persecutor of the Church and of Christ! And yet – just as Christ chose Peter, (who denied him 3 times on the way to the Cross) to lead His Church – He chose Paul for a significant role, too: Missionary. Amazing, isn’t it? Peter and Paul messed up big time, and God saw right through to their hearts and molded them to be His own. He can mold us too, we just need to give him our hearts of flesh to work with and let Him do His work in us; a heart of stone cannot be molded.

REFLECT
What are you chosen to do for God? If you haven’t killed men who believe in Christ, you’re doing pretty well compared to Paul. Never think you are unworthy to take on a task for God. God works through imperfect people. He has built His Church, His beloved Bride, through generations of imperfect people. But in that Church He abides. He can do amazing work through His imperfect children. When He calls us, Let us reply as Isaiah did: “Here I am, Lord, send me!”

GOSPEL – Luke 5:1-11
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.
We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)

BACKGROUND
This week we’re in the early part of Luke. At this point in the gospel, Jesus has just performed 2 healings. Now He’s ready to call The Twelve. God called Isaiah in the first reading, now Jesus calls the 12. In both cases, the one who is called tells God why he shouldn’t be called. Isaiah says he’s not worthy, and here Simon Peter sees Jesus’ miracle of catching an abundance of fish, and he replies: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Do you give God reasons why He shouldn’t call you? I know I have. How foolish we can be to think we are worth so little to God. How much are you worth to your parents, your spouse, your children? How much more are we worth to our Creator? How He longs for us to respond when He calls.

READING
We all know this reading. Jesus goes out into the boat with the 12. He needs to get away from the crowd that presses against him. He does teach them for some time, but then turns his attention to the 12. Jesus tells Simon (Peter) to lower the nets. What do you suppose Simon Peter was thinking? He was exhausted. He’d been up all night fishing in the dark. They had caught nothing! Sounds like a ridiculous request. But we catch here a glimpse of Simon Peter’s early faith, the mustard seed.  He models for us what Mary said to the servants at the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” Simon then pulls in so many fish that they have to load both boats until they are in danger of sinking. Simon was in shock (“astonished”). Jesus assures him, as He does us: “Do not be afraid.”

REFLECT
What is God asking you to do that seems ridiculous? Unreasonable? Foolish? Can you throw our your net at His command and “do whatever He tells you?” Even if it defies logic? This is difficult indeed. But when Jesus tugs at our hearts to be His hands and feet and voice, we must respond with faith as Peter did.  We must go out, go forth, and even if the proverbial water looks empty of fish and we’ve been up all night … we must cast that net anyway.

Be Not Afraid.

Jesus, I Trust in You.

2.3.19 – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!

 This week’s readings are here. 
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Image result for love never fails

Fun Fact – The Divided Kingdom:
One of the most important OT events involves the division of The Davidic Kingdom. If you are familiar with this event, reading the bible becomes far more exciting!

  • ~200 years after the Exodus, there was a period of relative peace. The 12 tribes of Israel were united (One Holy Nation).  They asked for an earthly king. God obliged (reluctantly).
  • Israel’s first 3 kings were Saul, David, & Solomon (think “S-D-S” to remember the order). Israel became One Holy Kingdom. This kingdom wasn’t united for long.
  • When Solomon died, his sons (Reheboam and Jereboam) couldn’t agree on who should be king. These 2 sons divided the kingdom. A bad, bad decision.
    • 10 tribes went North and became “Israel.” Assyria conquered them later.
    • 2 tribes went South and became “Judah.” Babylon conquered and exiled them later.

When the kingdom divided, God’s voice on Earth was needed. So He sent prophets. Their job was to 1) reunite the people 2) encourage them to return to God, and 3) warn them about destruction from enemy armies (Assyrians and Babylonians).

When we hear “A Reading from the Book of the Prophet __”, we can answer the question, “Where in the bible are we?” As we keep learning, we’ll better understand the prophet’s message and audience. Some speak to the North, some to the South, and occasionally they speak to the reigning kings of that time. Where does Jeremiah fit? Let’s find out.

1st Reading: JEREMIAH 1:4-5, 17-19

(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)

BACKGROUND
Jeremiah prophesied  to the Southern Kingdom (Judah). He went there to warn them. He was referred to by scholars as “the weeping prophet” because he weeps for his people who are far from God. We’re hearing God’s prophetic “calls” this month. God calls Jeremiah this week, and next week, we hear God call Isaiah. Perhaps, as we start the new liturgical year and approach Lent, this is the Church’s way of “calling” us, too.

READING

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
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.

But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

When God first calls Jeremiah to be His prophet, we hear, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer 1:5). That verse is enough to ponder and pray on this week. We are each infinitely precious to God, and infinitely important.

Jeremiah has a very hard job ahead of him (“gird up your loins”). He will take on the unpopular role of whistle-blower – he has to tell God’s people that due to their unfaithfulness, Judgement is coming.  God assures him “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.”
God says the same to us today – no matter your current struggle, God will deliver you.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM 71 – “I will Sing of Your Salvation”
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.

Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.

This sounds like something Jeremiah would have said in reply to God (especially with the reference to birth). It’s also something we can sing to God when we are in a difficult situation: “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength.”

2nd READING: 1 Cor 12:31, 13:1-13

(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).

BACKGROUND:
This is a common “wedding reading,” but I challenge us to look at it in a new light today.  Remember – Corinth was “The Big Apple” of the time, a place bustling with commerce and social and intellectual growth. Believers there had started to return to old ways. The Church was fracturing. The people were engaging in immoral behavior and had become careless in their treatment of the Eucharist. In sum, they were acting very selfish. The reading aims to unravel their selfishness by talking on Love. Today’s reading is the centerpiece of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts.

READING:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails…

Last week’s reading comes immediately prior to the start of today’s. The point is, without authentic love, our actions are loud, pointless, and noisy. Actions are not wholly pleasing to God unless LOVE is at the heart of them.  We know God = Love. SO, read another way, actions are not wholly pleasing to God unless HE is at the heart of them.

“These three remain, Faith, Hope, and Love.” I heard an interesting reflection on this. In Heaven, Faith and Hope don’t really exist as on Earth. In Heaven we will be in the presence of God our Father. As such, Faith and Hope are realized by our being there. But Love? It remains, because God IS Love. And in Heaven, we abide with Love and praise God without ceasing.

GOSPEL – Luke 4:21-30
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.
We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)

BACKGROUND:
Each gospel writer starts his gospel with a different event to begin Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew, the “teaching gospel,” starts with The Sermon on the Mount. In Mark, it’s Jesus casting out a demon (a key Markan theme is “the spiritual battle”). John begins with the wedding at Cana. In Luke, today’s gospel reading is the start of His public ministry. Jesus preaches in the synagogue and is not welcome in his own native place.

READING:

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say,
‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'”
And he said, “Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Today Jesus uses two significant OT prophets, Elisha and Elijah, to make this point: OT Prophets didn’t just heal God’s people (the Israelites), prophets also went to the outsiders and the forgotten – even to enemies – to heal them and bring them into the fold.
– Elijah went to a widow (an outsider) and healed her.
– Elisha went to Naaman the Syrian and performed healing works.
In other words, God’s love and grace is for all of His children. He wants to bring every stray child back into His fold. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”

Throughout the gospels, we often see Christ evade death. This is so he can fulfill his purpose and go to the Cross. People in the synagogue try to stone him and throw him over a cliff, but He “passed through the midst of them and went away.” Imagining some cool special effects, I picture Him fading away in the distance. Efforts to hurt Him completely fail. He just walks away. A miraculous move indeed. If only, when faced with “buffets and spitting”, we could do the same. With God’s strength and His voice in our mouths, we can. “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”