07.14.19 – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!

Join us every week for background on this Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Did you know?
This timeline will significantly help your understanding of the Old Testament – especially the first 5 OT books (referred to as the Pentateuch).

1) The first law God gave to His chosen people were the 10 commandments. These were written on 2 tablets and handed to the Israelites by Moses after God split the Red Sea. Moses got “1-on-1” time with God (a super huge honor).
2) Shortly thereafter, the Israelites erected the Golden Calf and began to worship it (idol-worship = a BIG no-no).
3) God became very angry at their disobedience. Moses interceded for the people.

The book of “Deuteronomy” – whee we start today’s mass – is what happens next. It is God’s way to mobilize the Israelites. In essence, the book of Deuteronomy is a commentary on the 10 commandments, an “instruction manual” if you will.

1st reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)

This book is 34 chapters in length, so we’re closes to the  end. At this point in the book, Moses is speaking to the Israelites about the laws he has given them in the previous 29 chapters or so. He’s trying to encourage them. “You can do it!” he tells them. “You CAN follow the law of the Lord! It’s already very near to you – just do what is deep within your hearts and carry it out.” We must all heed this advice from Moses.

“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the LORD, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.”

He continues to reinforce that this law is not abstract nor difficult:

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

In the gospel today, the Good Samaritan DOES heed this advice. He does reach out to help, and in doing so, he fulfills both the Old Testament law (written in Deuteronomy) and the New Testament law Jesus gives, to love your neighbor as yourself.

Psalm 19: Your words, Lord, are Spirit and Life

Or

Psalm 69Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

Whatever psalm is chosen by your pastor today, the concept and message is the same. God’s word is life to us. If we follow his word – his law – which was just read to us in the 1st reading, we will live uprightly, and as he desires us to live.

2nd reading: Colossians 1:15-20

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

This reading is beautiful; it is found at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and was likely penned while Paul was in prison. It is said to be written to young believers unknown to Paul personally who were being tantalized by false teachers. They needed clarity and Paul gave it.

The letter focuses on Jesus – who is God – as the singular Creator of all life from the beginning of time.  In my study bible, these 6 verses – which comprise today’s reading – are referred to as “an ancient hymn that extols Christ’s deity and supremacy over Creation.

Paul wants to drive the point home that no one is above Christ, not even the angels. “He has neither rival nor peer, and his redeeming work transforms the old creation into a new creation through his body, the Universal Church” (Ignatian study bible, page 366).  Here is the reading in full:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Gospel:  Luke 10:25-37

Interestingly, just a few verses prior to today’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples privately: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” In the Ignatius study bible notes for this verse, the explanation ties directly into today’s second reading, which we just cracked open above. For Luke 10:22 it reads: “Jesus is the divine SON of God and so, the heir of his Father’s authority and estate. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in being, and no one of them possesses more of the divine life and knowledge than another.” This, in essence, is what Paul said to the Colossians: “Even though Jesus is human, He’s still God and Creator of all.”

Today we have the Good Samaritan. To start of the gospel, Jesus talks about the Old Law (from Deuteronomy – Reading 1). Jesus was asked by a “lawyer” (someone knowledgeable about Mosaic law):

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says –

“What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

The man says, well, how is “neighbor” defined exactly? And then Jesus delves into the story about the Good Samaritan and his merciful love for “the least of these.”

Image result for good samaritan

We’ve all heard this reading before – probably dozens of times. It’s easy to say, well, “I do love my neighbor. I donate to the Church and they help the homeless and the hungry. I buy pancake breakfasts and I let the old man cross the street even when I’m in a hurry. I’m doin’ pretty good, I think.”

The irony is, as soon as we think “we’re doin’ pretty good”, it’s a call to re-evaluate. Maybe we aren’t seeing what God sees, we aren’t looking closely enough. We will never have helped enough people, prayed enough, nor donated enough time or money – to stop re-evaluating. To think we don’t need to work on this aspect of our lives. That doesn’t mean we should think, “oh well, what’s the use then?” It means that – as the saints have demonstrated – loving our neighbors is our path to sainthood.

If we help “our neighbors” with steadfast devotion for 5 years straight without fail, without frustration, and without regret or pride, we’re not done. God’s call to love our neighbor is a lifetime commitment. It’s a state of mind, not simply an action. It’s something we’re never “done” learning or doing.

Although loving our neighbor as ourselves seems a tall order, an unattainable goal, a challenge when it comes to certain people in our lives, God’s call remains the same.”Do it anyway. Love them as I love you. In doing so, you love ME.” Moses tells us this is already in our mouths and hearts, we need only carry it out.

So which “neighbors” are hard for us to love? Which places in our hearts are hardened toward certain neighbors? We can’t overcome these obstacles alone, but God can help us. We just need to place that specific prayer in front of Him, “Lord, you know this neighbor is tough for me to love! Help me! Please give me the strength to love them as you would. I want to try. I want to do it your way.”

And then, slowly, we begin to see that person who is hard to love as a child of God. As a person God created in His image. As our hearts begin to soften (usually very slowly…), we grow, and we take one step closer to the best version of ourselves.

This week, let’s go out! Let’s be Christ to a difficult-to-love neighbor. Ask God to help you. And let’s watch the Holy Spirit work in our lives, and in our neighbor’s.

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07.07.2019 – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!

Join us every week for background on this Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Fun Fact:
Quick refresh. The book of Isaiah is broken into 2 parts:
1) The Book of Judgment (ch 1-39). Here, Isaiah’s message centers on how unfaithful the Israelites have been to God’s covenant despite the great things the Lord has done for them.
2) The Book of Consolation (ch 40-66). Here, Isaiah consoles the people that even though they’ve turned on God repeatedly, He will never turn on them.

God allows hardship, but always for the sake of restoring them. He never abandons them. In the same way, when we encounter hardship, although difficult, we must Trust in His ways. He will never abandon us, either.

1st Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14c
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)

Today’s reading is from the very end of the book, chapter 66 of 66. As such, and based on what was outlined above, there is a lot of rejoicing and consolation:

Image result for isaiah 66 joy

“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her;
all you who love her, exult with her.”

For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;
the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.

Isaiah describes a new birth for Jerusalem using terms we can understand. “Oh that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort.” The image of a child nursing is to show us that Jerusalem, the mother, is a source of life for her children; God endowed mother Jerusalem with all the nurturing character she needs to comfort and nourish her children. Why this language and imagery? To answer that, we must reflect on where the Israelites are when God speaks these words through Isaiah.

After the long ordeal of Exile the people have just experienced, they hear now the joyful news of the end of that Exile and the return home to their mother city of Jerusalem. Even though the city and temple lay in ruins, the people will rejoice. God will undo the destruction and “spread prosperity like a river.” As we reflect on this imagery, we can apply it to our own lives. During very difficult trials in life when our own proverbial “cities and temples” have been destroyed and ruined, we must look to God to bring us out of despair and into hope. For He will never abandon us.

Responsorial Psalm 66:  “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

A psalm that definitely responds to the joy-filled first reading! One of abundant praise:

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”
“Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!”
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

2nd Reading: Galatians 6:14-18
(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).

Also at the end of a book, today we have the last 5 verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Remember that this is one of his most heated letters. Paul has been vehemently defending his authority and the authenticity of the Gospel against false prophets.Paul says that he will never boast except in the Cross of Christ. Meaning the only glory or “boasting” he allows himself is through the Cross of Christ. This comes at a cost, and he later states, as evidenced by the marks on his body from being wounded and beaten for the missionary work he ha done.

Circumcision was also a big issue. To circumcise new members coming into the Church, or not to circumcise them? The false teachers insisted that pagans needed to be circumcised in order to embrace the gospel. Paul says this law is over. Now instead of circumcising, we baptized in Christ Jesus.We see the confusion that existed at that time concerning the Old Jewish Law and the New Law in Christ Jesus. The religious leaders didn’t get that the old law wasn’t worthless or useless, but that in Christ has been fulfilled and is now different.

What do we make of this reading? For me, I marvel at the apostle Paul and his ability to grow the Church without bending on issues or arguments that came to him. That he fought so hard to keep Christ’s church as Christ wanted it to exist is evidence that he was indeed chosen for the task, and guided by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. That we might all look to Paul as an example of evangelization!

Gospel: Luke 10: 1-12; 17-20
(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.)

Today’s gospel picks up right after last week’s gospel. Jesus appoints 70 others and sends them ahead, two by two. This is called  the second missionary tour, found only in Luke’s gospel.  Why 70 and not 71, or 76? Interestingly, Jesus patterns his missionary effort after Moses, who commissioned 70 elders to be prophets and Israel.  Another cool Old Testament/New Testament link.

It’s a familiar reading, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Go on your way, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Jesus tells them don’t bring anything and greet no one along the way. By the end of the reading he says, if people don’t listen to you – if they reject the gospel – shake the dust off your feet and move on. We are told to do the same when people refuse to hear the word of God through us. We are not the ones who can change hearts, only the Holy Spirit can do that. All we can do is put the truth before them as best we can.

Unfortunately, verse 16 is skipped today:

“he who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me,
and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

That is a whole blog post in itself. In this reading,  we basically have 70 priests who have gone out spread the gospel in difficult circumstances. When they come back, they are enthused at their power over demons, (a dangerous thing to be enthused about).  Jesus reminds them their power came from him  and that it is salvation not power that is the only real cause of rejoicing.

God gave authority to these 70, the same authority continues to be given to the priests we know and live amongst throughout our world. Today we can ought to recognize and pray for our priests and priests in training. In recent years they have struggled greatly as scandal once again rocks the Church. For in so many ways they are lambs among the wolves of our day; the few laborers amongst an abundant harvest.

A few years ago my oldest daughter asked me questions abut the likely presidential candidates. We talked about immigration and the pros and cons of building a wall, and the pros and cons of inviting immigrants and refugees in, as Pope Francis has done. Neither solution is perfect, neither route solves the problem cleanly. It’s easy to feel powerless and consider giving up.

This led to an interesting discussion about the state of our world, how it will never be “fixed” no matter who we vote for. Why? Well, we live in an imperfect world and always will. Our job is to be as “Paul-ine” as possible and bring as many to the gospel – toward Heaven – as possible.

But the only perfect world? That’s Heaven.  And we can never lose hope that our names will be written there, just as the names of the 70 were written there in today’s gospel.

6.30.2019 – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Tie (Year C)

Welcome back! Read the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062616.cfm

Today’s theme: how much are you willing to leave behind in order to follow Christ?

Fun Fact:
Did you know that the first time we hear about Elijah the prophet is in 1st Kings chapter 17? And that only two chapters later the Lord asks Elijah to anoint Elisha as the prophet to succeed him? We only read about Elijah for 6 or 7 chapters in all of scripture (I’m not counting NT references). For such influential prophets as Elijah and Elisha, I was surprised to see this.  However, we all know that God works in mysterious ways and apparently this includes how much print his prophets ended up getting in Scripture 🙂

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21

Our first reading is from 1 Kings chapter 19, which means Elijah has been introduced and is at work on behalf of God. The reading begins with the Lord telling Elijah, “You shall anoint Elisha as a prophet to succeed you.” Elijah goes forth to find Elisha who was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen. (The fact that he was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen tells us his family was wealthy; he would have a lot to leave behind should the Lord call him).

Next, Elijah does is throws a cloak on Elisha. This dramatic gesture signifies God’s call to Elisha assume the prophetic ministry of Elijah. Elisha is immediately willing to leave all this behind and even offers his animals and equipment as sacrifices to God.

We see here that discipleship comes at a cost. Both of these great prophets had to leave everything behind in order to serve the Lord. This theme will resurface in today’s Gospel reading. But we can ask ourselves now, how willing am I to leave all that I have in the form of earthly goods, relationships, and personal pride, in order to serve God? What holds me back from being a better servant?

Psalm 16
You are my inheritance, oh Lord.

The psalter will sing today about the benefits of being a disciple of Christ. It is a song of praise to God who is and always should be the guiding force in our lives.

first verse: Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.”
last verse: You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.

Gal 5:1, 13-18

Today we are back in the letter to the Galatians.  He speaks of the difference between the fruit of the spirit vs. the works of the flesh.

This is one of Paul’s most heated letters; it is peppered with some fiery language (he says in 3:1, “O foolish Galatians!”). It was written to defend his gospel against opponents who were preaching a false gospel.  Paul explains that the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ does away with the Old Covenant. We saw this theme last week in the second reading and it continues today. Paul sees the Galatian crisis as a great spiritual threat to all.

In 5:1 Paul tells them to “stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery”, or slavery to the flesh. “The flesh” does not mean only inappropriate sexual desires but everything in our human nature that draws us away from God. That can be jealousy, anger, selfishness, addiction, fighting, and so on. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we succomb to such sins of the flesh every day in one way or another.

Next, Paul talks about “freedom.”  He says we are free to love as God calls us to love. This is the type of freedom we are given by God as a result of his son’s sacrifice on the cross.  Paul says, “For you were called for freedom, but do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, rather, serve one another through love.”

“Freedom ” does not mean freedom to do whatever we want or whatever we think is right. As has been the case throughout all of human history, however, the world, its leaders, its citizens, have all interpreted this word in vastly different ways, to the detriment of the unborn, the institution of marriage and family, contraception,  the sex trade, and on and on. It’s a tough call, but we are asked in this life to model the kind of freedom God has given us, and gently steer others toward it. How? By living a life so filled with joy at what it means to follow Christ, that we attract others by that life we lead. When we live according to God’s definition of freedom, and not the world’s – and do so joyfully – people are curious. They want to know how and why. They want to learn more. That’s how we can be a light of Christ.

Paul is instructive in his letter: ” I say then, live by the spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. They are opposed to each other so that you may not do what you want. But if you are Guided by the spirit, you are not under the law.”

Live by the Spirit!

Luke 9: 51-62

The gospel links us directly back to the first reading from the book of Kings and the story of Elisha. At the beginning, it says that Jesus was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”

They came up on a man who said to Jesus “I will follow you wherever you go.” Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus gives a stern response. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to rest his head.” He says this partly to show the man that he will not have a place to rest his head if he wants to be a disciple. He tries to tell the man what is serious decision this is. It reminds me of the Sacrament of Confirmation, where young people make the serious decision to confirm their faith and be a follower of Jesus come what may.

Another man in the gospel wants to follow too, but says “let me go bury my father first.” Jesus adds urgency to the call of discipleship. He says, “Let the dead bury their dead but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”, implying that the proclamation of the kingdom is far more important than burying the Dead, for it can win souls.

Summary:
Today we are challenged to consider what we are willing to give up to follow Jesus. Are we willing to give up our egos, our pride, an easy way of life, fitting in, gossip, envy, laziness and other inconveniences that the world says we should embrace? What is God calling us to do in this moment? How are we turning away from Jesus right now – wanting to stay and “bury our dead” – and how can we turn back toward him? Perhaps we need an infusion – an infusion of faith that we lack. That infusion can be given to us through acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But more than anything, we must understand what we don’t understand. We must know ourselves intimately and recognize what our personal pitfalls are, where we are weak. This requires a long, hard look in the mirror. We must give these weaknesses to Jesus who knows them intimately. And together – with the help of Jesus and a growing relationship that we seek with him – we can truly become the disciples he desires us to be. One day at a time.

May God bless your day!

06.23.19 – Corpus Christi (Year C)

Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!

Join us every week for background on this Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Today we celebrate Corpus Christi, which translates to “the body of Christ.” This feast day is, in a sense, a continuation of our Easter celebration. On Pentecost we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit. Last week, Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrated our trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the manner in which Jesus remains with us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist for Catholics, according to the Catechism, is “the source and summit of our faith life.” So all of today’s readings are about bread and wine, body and blood. Let’s dig in.

Image result for in the line of melchizedek

1st Reading: Genesis 14: 18-20
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)

The story today puts us during the time of Abram (before he became Abraham). Abram has just come back victorious after defeating 4 invader kings. This was a big victory, a big deal (think WWI).  The won him the title “king of kings.” Then something curious happens. Abram – the king of kings – gives someone named Melchizedek one tenth of everything he owns … as an offering. This action suggests that Melchizedek is “greater” than Abram.

So who is this mysterious figure Melchizedek? His name translates to “King of Righteousness.”  He only appears 3 times in scripture: In chapter 14 of Genesis, in Psalm 110, and in the letter to the Hebrews.  From today’s 1streading we know Melchizedek:
1) was king of Salem
2) was a “priest of God most High”
3) blessed Abram and offered him bread and wine
4) received 1/10 of everything from Abram

The important piece to walk away with is:

  • Melchizadek prefigures Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Melchizadek.

Both are kings of kings. Both are High Priests. Both offer blessings of bread and wine (Melchizadek offered actual bread and wine; Jesus becomes bread and wine). Both receive an offering (Jesus receives what we offer him; His Church, which is His bride, receives our financial tithes).

Responsorial Psalm (110): “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizadek”
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)

What does it mean to be “in the line of Melchizadek”? Well I’ve done some reading, and it’s a bit of a humdinger. So I’d like to bring you along, because it’s pretty cool.

Melchizadek  is the first person in the bible to be given the title “priest.” But what kind of priest? There are two types of priesthood in the Old Testament. There was 1) the line of Melchizadek and 2) the line of Aaron, (the Levitical priesthood).

  • To be in the line of Melchizadek meant that you were righteous and “more perfect.” This priestly line existed for centuries. It ended during the time of Moses when the Levitical priesthood began.
  • To be in the line of Aaron meant that you were part of the Levitical priesthood, and well, a little “less perfect.” Why? Because the Levitical priesthood – which lasted over 1000 years – was created by Moses after the Golden Calf incident took place (due to idol worship). Remember? The tribe of Levi was the only tribe that did not worship that golden calf, so Moses blessed this tribe and instituted the Levitical priesthood.

See, perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priesthood (see Hebrews 7:11). “Only the Messiah (Jesus) risen to an immortal life, qualifies for the everlasting priesthood envisioned by psalm 110 (the line of Melchizadek).”

So to say that Jesus is a “priest forever in the line of Melchizedek – instead of the line of Aaron –  means that Jesus is righteous and more perfect, the fulfillment of the high priest Melchizadek. So there you have it. Pretty cool.

2nd reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. He’s instructing them on the liturgy, as many liturgical abuses had taken place. In this reading, we see the words of our Eucharistic Prayer at mass. They come straight from Jesus, and then are repeated by St. Paul here as he rights the wrongs of the church in Corinth.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

This is one of the only times we hear these words proclaimed by a lector; usually they are spoken solely by the priest during the prayer of consecration.

Gospel: Luke 9:11b-17
(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.)

Fittingly, the gospel is the story of Jesus performing a miracle, multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed thousands before him. We are reminded that no human effort is enough to fulfill our deepest hunger; only God can do that. God can fill what is hardest of all to fill, the human heart.

It begs the question, if this story foreshadows our experience at table when we receive the Eucharist, what do we do with the abundance? The last line of today’s reading says, “And when the leftover fragments are picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.”

We’ve all received abundant blessings from God that fill our hearts and heal our souls. But what do we do with the “12 wicker baskets” that contain that abundance? Surely there’s a reason there were 12 wicker baskets…12 tribes of Israel… 12 apostles… Does this not imply that we ought to take the abundant baskets of blessings we’ve received…and share them? That we ought to spread the joy of Christ’s love for us, his unconditional love, his blessings upon us and our families?

This is an image worth sitting with, worth taking a walk and thinking more about. When God blesses us, He always leaves abundance. Do we even recognize those 12 wicker baskets? What are we doing with that abundance, and how are we sharing it?

This week, go out. Go out and share your abundance with others. Do so righteously, in the line of Melchizadek.

06.09.19 – Pentecost (Year C)

Welcome back to Banquet of the Word!
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Find this week’s readings here.

Where in the liturgical year are we?

Today we celebrate Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season. After today, the first reading will no longer be from the New Testament.  We will instead return to Old Testament readings, and for Reading 2 we will hear from one of St. Paul’s letters. Because we are in year C, we will continue to hear from Luke in most Gospels (unless it is a feast day, in which case we usually hear from John). After today, we return to ordinary time. “Ordinary” does not mean plain, it means ordinal, as in, “in a numbered fashion.”

Pentecost originated in the Old Testament; it was called the Feast of Harvest. “Pente” + “Cost” translates loosely to “fiftieth” – as in 50 days after the resurrection.

Fun fact:
For the Jews, Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. This is when the people gave an offering to the Lord from their first fruits (from the best, heartiest foods they’d grown).

For us today, Pentecost is  celebrated 50 days after Jesus was crucified. This begs the question, how was Jesus’s death considered a first fruit? Well, if a first fruit is an offering, then Jesus’s death certainly was an offering, and a big one. He offered his life for our sins.

Reading 1: Acts 2:1-11

Today we see the gift Jesus left for his people after He Ascends into Heaven. He gave us the Holy Spirit, which comes as boldly as ever – in the form of fire. You may recall that God’s presence is represented by both Cloud & Fire. Today is all about fire. God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. When Moses led the Israelites through the desert he was guided by God’s presence – a cloud led them by day, and fire led them by night. God signed a contract with Abraham using fire. There are many examples. Fire is not always destructive, but as in this case, fire is a sign of God’s intense love for his people.

The reading begins by stating “they were all in one place together.” This is similar to the Feast of Pentecost from the Old Testament, which was a pilgrim feast. Many came from distant lands to one place. Then we hear that a noise like a strong driving wind, and “there appeared to them tongues as a fire which came to rest on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the spirit enabled them.” In the next section we see that people from all different lands were able to speak their own native languages and yet understand everyone around them.

This is the complete antithesis of the Tower of Babel story from the Old Testament. In that story, God’s people tried to build a tower that would reach the heavens so that they could be more like God. In response to this sinful act, God mixed up their languages so they couldn’t understand each other. Today’s reading is the resolution of that story. The Tower of Babel story is flipped on its head, and now as the Holy Spirit comes down upon the apostles. Everyone can understand one another and there is peace and harmony among the people, as well as great joy.

Responsorial Psalm 104:
Lord send out your spirit and renew the face of the Earth.

For the Lord has indeed sent his Spirit to abide with us on Earth for ever.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is largely written to help the early church understand the need for Unity. Paul is responding to questions that were posed to him by the church in Corinth. Many of the Corinthians used to be pagans and idolaters.

The reading encourages them to remember that despite our differences we are one in God’s Holy Spirit. That Spirit has been poured out upon the apostles today – the Feast of Pentecost. Paul takes note of the differences we all have and says they all are good. Importantly, these differences do not negate our oneness because all of our ministries are inspired and guided by God. What are your specific gifts from God? How are you using those to bring glory to God?

(At this point during the mass, many parishes will sing the Veni sancte spiritus which translates Come Holy Spirit. This is also frequently song during confirmation masses.)

Gospel Option 1:
John 20:19-23

The likely choice for today’s Gospel is from John chapter 20 (priests have 2 options). This is likely what you will hear. It begins, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst. He said to them “Peace be with you.’ when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. He said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so I send you.’ When he said this he breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Interesting, this is one of only two times we are told that God breathed on man. The other time was in Genesis chapter 2 when God made man a living Soul. It emphasizes the importance of the sacrament of penance which is instituted in this reading. This reading is really a sending forth of Jesus’s first priests. The apostles were asked to carry Christ’s message to the whole world and to carry his forgiveness. These priests and all priests today are ambassadors for Christ in a special way.

I’ve struggled with John 20:23 – the part about retaining sins. Maybe you have too, and maybe this will help. From Catholic.com: “Q: Does a priest always have to forgive a person’s sins? A: No, the priest does not always have to forgive your sins. For example, if you confessed the sin of adultery, and the priest asks, “Have you ended the affair?” If you reply, “No, I’ll continue seeing her,” then forgiveness would not be possible because there is no purpose of amendment.

The Advantages of Confession are many. Again, from Catholic.com:

Is the Catholic who confesses his sins to a priest any better off than the non-Catholic who confesses directly to God? Yes. First, he seeks forgiveness the way Christ intended. Second, by confessing to a priest, the Catholic learns a lesson in humility, which is avoided when one confesses only through private prayer. Third, the Catholic receives sacramental graces the non-Catholic doesn’t get; through the sacrament of penance sins are forgiven and graces are obtained. Fourth, the Catholic is assured that his sins are forgiven; he does not have to rely on a subjective “feeling.” Lastly, the Catholic can also obtain sound advice on avoiding sin in the future.

Gospel Option 2
from John 14

One option for today’s Gospel is from John chapter 14. As I’ve mentioned before, John is special. His gospel includes the bread of life discourse and also a great deal of his writing is dedicated to the very intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father. In this gospel Jesus says to his disciples “if you love me you will keep my Commandments and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” At the end of the reading he says “I have told you this while I Am with You The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

Jesus Is providing his apostles with some certainty in his teachings that the holy spirit is in fact the third person of the Trinity and he will always remain with them in that form on Earth.

Happy Pentecost! See you next week, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

05.12.19 – 4th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome back to Banquet of the Word!
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.

Find this week’s readings here.

Fun Fact:  
The fourth Sunday of Easter (today) is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for vocations. Let’s look for this theme throughout today’s readings.

Image result for shepherd god

1st Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52

In Acts 1:8 Paul gives us a nice, neat outline for the book of Acts. Jesus tell the apostles, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses 1) in Jerusalem (Acts chapters 2-8), 2) in Judea and Samaria (Acts chapters 8-12), and 3) to the ends of the Earth(Acts 13-28)” [emphasis and chapter additions mine]. Imagine a photo of water after a stone has been thrown in it and now the rings surround the area. Same idea here. We are in Acts chapter 13. Based on the outline above, that means we’ll hear about the apostles be witnesses “to the ends of the Earth.”

The first 2 verses tell us Paul and Barnabas are in the synagogue in Antioch. Barnabas is Paul’s missionary companion – they went out “two by two” for accountability and to avoid teaching falsely.  Then we jump ahead almost 30 verses, which is unfortunate because it’s important stuff. In the omitted verses, Paul gets up and delivers a beautiful homily that amounts to a summary of salvation history. Just grab a bible and read it, or google the verses. You’ll be glad you did. Paul recounts all the great work God has done for his people, from Egypt straight through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. He stirs the hearts of his audience so fervently that they beg Paul to return again the next week and give another homily. They are being converted by Paul’s words, like a “mini-Pentecost.”

Now we’re back in the verses that pick up in today’s reading, verses 43 and following. It is important to note that when Luke says “the Jews” (“When ‘the Jews’ saw the crowds, they became jealous”), he is speaking of the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish people who loved hearing Paul speak. The Jewish leaders are “jealous” because they know they were supposed to spread God’s word, but failed. Throughout the entire Old Testament, the Jewish people were given a mission by God, but they essentially failed. These Jewish leaders represent Israel. So Paul basically says to the leaders, “So here’s the deal. You were supposed to do this job but you didn’t. So I’m doing it now, and I’m going to bring not only the Jews to Christ, but also the Gentiles. I’m going to the ends of the earth and I’ll bring anyone and everyone to Christ that I can.” This fits the theme of Acts chapters 13-28: “Be my witnesses to the ends of the Earth.”

Responsorial Psalm: 100
“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”

Today is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and thus the response echoes that theme.  The author of the psalm is not identified, though many scholars think David wrote it (David was also a shepherd. He was called out of the field by Samuel and soon anointed King). The psalm is joyful. It helps us recall that God is worthy of our highest praise and adoration. When a man’s heart has been filled with God’s grace, his countenance and lips should reflect it. The whole earth (all of its inhabitants) is called to praise the Lord.

2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9, 14B-17

We’re in Revelation again, as we will be for many weeks. John is in another vision. He’s seeing a great multitude of souls which cannot be numbered and they are” from every nation.” This reflects God’s grand plan, which is that He may have called the Jewish people first, but once Jesus died and rose again, He gave “The Great Commission.” The Great Commission is given to the apostles, but also to us. Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples of ALL men. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I will be with you until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).” That is definitely in the top 5 of my favorite lines in scripture. So the term “from every nation” tells us that at the end – in the Heavenly throne room – we will see people of all walks of life, not just the Jewish people God originally chose.  These souls are wearing white robes because they’ve been cleansed – forgiven, absolved, perfected – by the blood of the Lamb.

There is a shepherding term too, “the one who sits on the throne will shelter them.” They will not hunger nor thirst. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. We are his people. The sheep of his flock.

Gospel: John 10:27-30

One of the shortest gospels we’ll read, today’s spans only 3 verses. It reads:

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

One of the reasons John’s gospel is different from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is that he talks at length about Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus says in many different ways that He and the Father are one. This affirms our belief in God and Jesus as 2 of the 3 persons of the trinity, and also the teaching that Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human (a hotly contested issue in the early Church, eventually resolved at the Council of Nicea).

This gospel begs for our personal reflection. If we are God’s sheep, we should know His voice. We know that we are God’s sheep, so do we hear his voice? Do we know it? Recognize it? This is a never ending process, and a beautiful one indeed.   When we are lost and cannot hear or see the way, we need to simply ask: “God, I cannot see or hear the way. Please help me hear you more clearly.” Sometimes I’ll add, “God, you know I’m not very good at this sometimes, so please! Make it really clear what you want me to do!” And more often than not, He does.

We can listen to God…but only if we are quiet. We can hear Him…but only when we are not talking. So we must make our requests known to God and be still. Be very still. It may be a while until clarity comes. Be patient. He is doing important work in us while we wait. That is hard to do, but it is often during this “waiting time” that we bear the most fruit spiritually. Remember that God’s time is rarely ours. No matter what difficulties we bear in life, they are always opportunities for us to grow closer to Him. Because that’s our only aim in life: To know, love, and serve God in this life so we can be happy with Him in the next.

Today, let us give thanks to God for the shepherds in our parish families who guide us every week, year after year. Our bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians. Let us pray for the young men around the world who are discerning, who are trying to hear. How serious it is to know whether God is calling them to the priesthood. They need our support and prayers.

4.28.19 – Divine Mercy Sunday

Happy Easter! For this weekend’s readings, click here.

Fun Fact:
After 40 days of Lent, we now get to celebrate 50 days of Easter! That’s right, Easter will not end for another 43 days, so continue to wish each other a Happy Easter. Easter officially ends on Pentecost.

Bonus Fun Fact:
Because we are in the Easter season, we take a break from the Old Testament, in a sense, from the Old Covenant. When Jesus died on the cross, He ushered in the New Covenant. The Church marks this by always readings from the New Testament during Easter. In Year C, we’ll read mostly from Acts, Revelation, and John’s gospel.

FIRST READING ACTS 5:12-16

The book of Acts is written by Luke. It is literally “Part II” of Luke’s writing, his gospel being Part I. The Greek word for “acts” is “praxis”, which means “Acts of.” “Praxis” was a literary genre, and in such writing, the story was usually about a great figure who built a great city.  So when Acts was written, one of the other writings in circulation was called, “the Acts of Caesar Augustus,” indeed about a figure who built a great city.  So while it is the case that this book is the actions of the apostles, Luke is also trying to resonate with his audience. Luke shares with us a story about another great figure who will build a great city. That could be Jesus building Heaven and/or the Apostles building the Church. A great rhetorical move on his part.

What Luke does thematically is quite interesting. In his gospel, he writes about certain acts Jesus performs that demonstrate his divine kingship – that He is the Messiah. In Acts, Luke writes about the acts of the apostles, and these actions largely mirror the actions of Jesus. So if you make a list from left to right of the stories Luke tells in Acts of the Apostles, and lay them over a similar list of the stories Luke told about Jesus, there would be a lot of matching stories. And that’s what we have here. In this reading, Luke is sharing the miracles that the apostles are now able to perform, since they have been sent forth by Christ himself.

“Solomon’s Portico” is a covered walkway in the temple, and this is where the apostles were. In the name of Jesus, the apostles displayed extraordinary power over demons, death, and disease. This was especially true of Peter, the leader of the apostles and the first pope. We see here that the seeds of the new Church are sprouting, and people are beginning to believe in the miracles God allows through His apostles, which is why a large number of people in the towns begin to bring their sick to be healed, even if it is “at least by his [Peter’s] shadow.”

Psalm 118:
Give thanks to the Lord, His love is everlasting

Key notes here are the repeated phrases concerning mercy, as today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Also the well-known verse, “the stone which the builder rejected (Jesus) has become the cornerstone (the Risen One, the Messiah, the King of Kings.)

Revelation 1: 9-13, 17-19

Here we are at the beginning of the book of Revelation, written by John, the beloved disciple. He is on the island of Patmos, where he’s been imprisoned for his belief in Christ and his desire to spread the faith. He enters into a beautiful, heavenly vision, and his notes become the book of Revelation. He took good notes (“Write on a scroll what you see”).

Of note is the line, “I was caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” The Lord’s Day by then, had switched from Saturday to Sunday. To say that he was caught up in the Spirit, scholars believe, is to say that John was engaged in prayer and worship – likely saying mass – when his vision began. Now that is amazing and striking to think about. He was in the middle of mass, and he was carried off into Heaven. In a sense, this happens to us every Sunday. If you’ve ever read Scott Hahn’s book, “The Lamb’s Supper,” you’ve heard the beautiful connection between the book of Revelation and its close ties to the Mass itself. We get the mass – the liturgy – from the book of Revelation. John’s heavenly visions directly inform our mass. As Hahn says, when we go to mass, we go to Heaven on Earth.

In the reading, we see John’s inaugural vision of the book of Revelation. The number 7 signifies completion in the bible. God created the world in 7 days. Throughout the book of Revelation we see a lot of “7s” – here, 7 lampstands. (The lampstands are the 7 churches about which John will write starting in Revelation chapter 2). John sees “one like the son of man” (sound familiar? Think back to Daniel 7:13). Jesus is described in both human and divine terms. Then Jesus tells him not to be afraid (in the bible, this usually means something big is coming for the person encountering Jesus, in this case John). For Jesus to have the keys of “death and of the netherworld” means that Jesus is the ultimate judge. He has power over life and death, not Pilate, not Caesar, not any man.

Lastly, we get an outline of the book. At the end of the reading, Jesus tells John to “write down, therefore, what you have seen (Christ’s death and resurrection), and what is happening (this vision), and what will happen afterwards (what Jesus is about to tell John about His Second Coming).”

Gospel
John 20:19-31

This is the well-known reading on “doubting Thomas.” Poor St. Thomas. He gets quite a bad rap sometimes I think. We shake our fingers at him for having doubted, and yet we doubt so often ourselves.

First, Jesus offers the disciples peace in this reading. He doesn’t suggest it, or say here take peace if you want it, take it if you promise to pass it on to others, he simply says “Peace be with you.”It is a gift He is giving them. I see this as his way of telling us that with closeness to Christ, in relationship with Him, comes certain peace. We will always know peace when we are nearer to Him.

Then we see Thomas put his finger into Jesus’s side so that he might believe. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and yet he still bears the wounds. He bears wounds from his crucifixion, the wounds we created. I find this fascinating, and worthy of time in prayer. The Church teaches that when we die, we go through a cleansing/purifying process in purgatory. This is a “pit-stop” on the way to Heaven. A priest explained it like this: A 2 x 4 piece of wood is your soul. It starts out clean and unblemished. With each sin, we drive a nail through it. When we are absolved in confession, those nails are removed! The sins are forgiven. But the hole remains. Because nothing imperfect can enter into Heaven, we must be fully healed of the holes too, and that happens in purgatory. Once the nail holes are filled in and perfected, off to Heaven we go.

So why does Jesus keep his holes? He’s the son of God, so why didn’t He heal them and close them up? I think it was so that He could show the apostles, of course, that it was indeed Him…but it also serves as a reminder that we put the holes there. We drove the nails in. Our sins put Jesus on the cross, and He embraced death without opening His mouth so that our holes can one day be fully healed. These holes are just one more way we see our Shepherd lay down His life for us. Let us remember to thank God on this Divine Mercy Sunday, for the unconditional love and forgiveness he offers us.  And let us thank Him for sending to us the apostles and priests who stand in for Him here on earth, so that we can keep trying. Keep working. Keep taking the nails out, even though his holes remain.

May God bless your week!