4.3.16 – 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

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, which is May 15th.

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!

 

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3.26.16 Easter Sunday

Tonight our family will attend the Vigil Mass. This mass is part 3 of the Triduum, which is 1 liturgy that lasts 3 days. Holy Thursday was part 1: The Last Supper, the start of His Passion. Good Friday was part 2: His death. The Vigil is part 3: The Resurrection. The Saturday night Easter Vigil is beautiful. It has 4 parts.

1. The Service of Light. Then the story of salvation history will be sketched for us over the course of 9 readings. We begin in darkness, the light-less existence that was before God created the world. We also experience the darkness that fell over the Earth when Christ died, and the darkness we experienced while He is in the tomb.  “At the dawn of creation, God commanded: “Let there be light.” We all slowly light candles, lighting each others’ – the priests from a central bonfire, then everyone in attendance from the back of the church to the front until the whole space is lit.

2. Liturgy of the Word. We read 9 readings; 7 reading are proclaimed in the church with no lights on (all Old Testament) and 2 NT readings are proclaimed with lights on (1 reading from Romans, and then the gospel). We hear the big stories tonight. The first three alone are hugely pivotal. Creation, Abraham’s obedience to God as he nearly sacrifices Isaac, and the Exodus. Then we hear 2 readings from Isaiah, and one from Baruch. These tell of the people’s disobedience and God’s promise to restore them eventually. Ezekiel closes out the OT by telling us God’s point of view when his people continually turn away, and how he will still not forsake them, but turn their stony hearts into hearts of flesh. At the transition, all the lights go on at once, lively music starts. We hear from St. Paul and then the gospel, when the women discover that Jesus has indeed risen. He’s risen from the dead. Alleluia!

3. Liturgy of Baptism. We welcome new members into the Church. Some are being baptized and confirmed, some were baptized but never confirmed. They are baptized with water and receive holy oil on their foreheads. They choose a saint’s name who is their patron saint, which is announced to us as they are confirmed. I always enjoy hearing the names each person chose as their saint.

4. Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is familiar, the same as at a Sunday mass. After Jesus was in the tomb yesterday and no consecrations were performed across the globe, we are now able to partake in this great mystery again, and with even greater joy.

This piece of the gospel spoke to me:

The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

The women came with the news, but their story “seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” This is a sad reality, and it stirs the heart to consider how many do not know or do not choose to receive God’s love. Let us be witnesses this Easter.

And then Peter sees his chance. After denying Jesus three times at the cross and weeping bitterly, He can do nothing but run to the tomb. Think how he must have taken flight! Think of what his facial expression must have been at the moment the sound of the news reached his ears. He did not even think to respond to these women, question them, or ask how Jesus was or what he looked like. He just. Ran.  He ran, he saw, he believed, and “was amazed at what had happened.”

May we all feel the amazement of Peter this Easter season, and for the next 50 days, may we go forth as authentic Easter people.

Alleluia He is Risen.
Happy, Happy Easter! 

 

03.24.16 Holy Thursday

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Holy Thursday

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.

The tabernacle should be empty; 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.

The 1st reading is from Exodus, and it is the reading of the Passover. This is such a formative event in the Old Testament, and it is the precursor to the Eucharist, which is why it is read tonight. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Israelites were saved – were “passed over” – by the sacrificial blood of the lamb. We are saved by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Further, this reading 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. 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.

3.20.2016 Palm Sunday (Year C)

Well friends, here we are. 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 to Luke 9:51-52. 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” (RSV). 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!”

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, we’re walking through a book called The People of the Passion. We’ve 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 that highlights the “Upside Down” theme. Matthew Kelly suggests Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. He wants to turn our marriages upside down. He wants to turn our finances upside down. He wants to turn our communities, our relationships, our parenting upside down. He wants to turn your career, your business, your parish upside down. He wants to turn your health and well being upside down. He wants to turn your ideas, opinions, your conversations upside down. “If you let him,” says Kelly, “you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been in your life.” Maybe your brow is furrowed too.

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 “upside down”: 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 you. For 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 an upside down moment as we transition from the 40 day season of Lent into the glory of the 50 day season of Easter. And may God abundantly bless your Holy Week.

3.13.16 5th Sunday of Lent (C)

Welcome! Find this Sunday’s readings here.

1st Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

We are back in Isaiah this week. Quick setup – Isaiah is 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, many of which we explored last week. 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 1st reading 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.”

See you next week – Palm Sunday! Follow Banquet of the Word throughout Holy Week for in-depth commentary on the Passion and the Triduum.

3.06.16: 4th Sunday of Lent (C)

Welcome! Ten years ago, had I sat in the pew and heard the 1st reading from Joshua, I would not have understood its greater significance at all. Maybe you can identify with that.  The hope is that when we spend time unpacking the readings each week, you will have a feeling of satisfaction in your heart because you know more of the story. More about what God has done and what He is doing. We will unpack a great story today. Let’s go.

Today’s readings are here.

Today’s fun fact:
The book of Numbers is like a zoom lens. It takes us down into the desert during the time after Moses has led the people out of Egypt, and before they cross over into the promised land. It’s important to touch on it here in order to understand the 1st reading. We get an intimate look at the people’s relationship with God (which is quite rocky) as they travel through the desert. Summary of Numbers: It’s one thing to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but it is wholly another to take “the Egypt” out of the Israelites.

BACKGROUND

Part I: The People Complain
After Moses is called from the burning bush, he leads Israel out of Egypt. Once in the desert, God commands that they obey him from then on. He rescued them from slavery, and now it’s their turn to hold up their end of the covenant. Can they do it? Not at all. Instead, Moses ends up with 600,000 soldiers complaining incessantly about lack of food and water, not trusting that God would provide. To teach them obedience, God gave them manna, but just enough for that day. If they tried to squirrel it away (which they did), it would rot (and it did). The disobedience continues. When God sends 12 men to check out the Promised Land, the men return complaining. “Thanks for the Promised Land God, but the people in it are too many and too strong for us. We’d rather go back to Egypt.” That’s right, they actually wished that not only could they go back to being slaves in Egypt, but further, they wished that God had just killed them there! As you can imagine, this greatly offended God.

Part II: God’s Response to the People
Moses intercedes for Israel, even though they are a difficult people to defend.  God responds favorably to Moses’s prayer. He forgives them but does not withhold punishment. “I will forgive them. But none of these people will live to enter that land. They have seen the miracles I performed in Egypt, but they have tried my patience over and over again and have refused to obey me” (Num 14: 21-23). The only ones who make it to the Promised Land are Joshua and Caleb. They remained faithful.

When a child throws a baseball through a neighbor’s window and apologizes, the neighbor may say “I forgive you,” but the child still needs to fix the broken window to restore it to its unbroken state. His mother may not let him play with the ball for a few days as punishment. When it comes to sin, the same is true for Israel (and us). God forgave them for their enormous lack of faith and trust, but they must live out their punishment. God says,“You will die here in this wilderness.  You will suffer the consequences of your sin for 40 years, one year for each of the 40 days  you spent exploring the land [remember “40” is a purifying number in the bible]” (Num 14:33-34). When God punishes, He does so for the sake of restoring. The restoration though, may not come in the time of the generation that committed the sin, but further down the line. God’s time is not ours.

The scene above challenges us to consider times in our own lives when we have forgotten the miracles God has done for us. When we have not trusted God to provide for our every need. It’s true, Israel’s behavior is shocking to us now. But are we any better behaved now? In what ways are we like the Israelites?

Joshua 5:9A, 10-12

The book of Joshua
Whereas Numbers is a bit sad and gloomy due to Israel’s poor behavior, Joshua, and this reading in particular, brings joy. Remember that Joshua did make it to the promised land, and now he leads Israel. When the people cross the Jordan in chapter 3, this is truly like a 2nd Exodus – a 2nd crossing through a “Red Sea”, only now it’s the Jordan river. This is no easy feat in the spring when the banks have swelled over with water (“It was harvest time, and the river was at flood” Jos 3:14).

Today’s Reading: Let’s Party!
We’re finally at today’s reading! In the first line God says, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” What does that mean? It means that after 40 years of their ancestors roaming the desert because of disobedience, the debt is paid. They are free. They’ve made it to the promised land. This is great news! This is cause for great rejoicing! They should throw a party! And so they do, they celebrate the Passover. This is fitting, because to do so is to recall the miracle of God saving them from the Egyptians. Our Eucharistic celebrations at mass are the fulfillment of the Passover feast. We celebrate a miracle too – our liberation from sin through the death of Christ on the cross. Instead of the manna God rained down in the desert, we are fed with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. A beautiful celebration – or “party” – indeed.

Responsorial Psalm: 34
“Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”

A psalm of David, we can read this in light of the first reading: Taste and see the goodness (manna, saving power, forgiveness) of the Lord.

2nd Corinthians 5: 17-21

In this section of the letter, Paul is addressing the ministry of reconciliation, or coming back to God. In other words, listen for the link to the first reading, which is also about coming back to God’s favor (when Israel was released from 40 years in the desert).

When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” He means “If anyone is baptized…” The sacrament of baptism is packed with power and grace. It is truly a type of Exodus experience for all who receive this gift. It transfers us from sin and slavery (Egypt), across the proverbial ”Red Sea/river Jordan” (requiring trust and obedience), into the blessing of forgiveness and salvation (freedom). I might add a phrase before one of Paul’s sentences: When Jesus went to the cross, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and in trusting to us (the church) the message of reconciliation.”

Baptism is not a “one and done” event. We can call on our baptismal grace at any time, and the graces that came with our baptism are always available to us.

Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

The story of the prodigal son is so familiar to us, and there are many perspectives one can take. Priests probably look forward to this preaching opportunity because it only comes around once every three years on a Sunday, so get ready. 🙂

There are interesting OT/NT parallels. This story is arguably a fulfillment of our first reading. Instead of Israel disobeying God the Father (in the OT), we have a disobedient son disobeying his earthy father (NT). The son – in a shocking decision,  asks his father for his inheritance before the father actually dies. He squanders his inheritance and does the work of a slave.  He returns to the father saying “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” As soon as the father catches a glimpse of the son returning, he has the fatted calf killed and a party thrown in his honor. For his son was once lost (in sin and despair), but has been found (forgiven, reconciled). The father represents God the father.  God left us a tool to use whenever we want to return to him. Every time we go to confession, as soon as God catches a glimpse of us coming down the road, we are welcomed back with open arms.

This parable struck a chord with me after we discussed (in a bible study) with great curiosity, what might have happened to Judas if he had only repented.  If he had more faith in Jesus as the Messiah, he might not have hung himself. If he had waited for Jesus to fulfill His mission, if he had waited until the first Easter Sunday, he too could have come back to the father, been welcomed back into the fold.

Who are you in this reading? Are you the son or daughter who has left something or someone and not returned?  Are you the child who has stayed close to the father but is jealous? We are reminded here that if we are that child, we shouldn’t be jealous, for everything God the Father has, is also ours to enjoy (grace upon amazing grace). Or are you the father, always ready to open arms toward someone who needs forgiveness, holding back nothing and preparing the feast? Should you be one of these characters, but something is keeping you it?

May we all embody the words of the father when someone seeks to return to us, or to the Church: “Bring quickly the best robe, put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

2.28.2016 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome back! Today’s readings can be found here.
Where in the 1.page.bible.timeline are we this week? Click to see shaded areas in purple.

Today’s Fact:
Mt. Horeb is later renamed Mt. Sinai – Sinai translates literally to “bush” in Hebrew. After Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, he returns to this mountain and receives the 10 commandments from God.

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15

BACKGROUND
Let’s return to our analogy of the bible as a roadmap. Last week God made a covenant with Abram (around 2000 BC). It was the beginning of of “1 Holy Tribe.” This week God calls Moses (around 1300 BC). It is the beginning of “1 Holy Nation.” Like Abram, Moses is “a biggie” when it comes to OT figures. He’s definitely earned a paragraph…

Moses endured the 10 plagues with the Israelites and tried to convince the Pharoah to free them. He was present at the Passover, led the Israelites through the Red Sea, distributed the manna in the desert, received the 10 Commandments from God, observed the incident of the golden calf, and oversaw the construction of the tabernacle.  Hands down, Moses is one of the  most prominent figures in the OT.  He prefigures Jesus in many ways. They both save their people from slavery – Moses literally (from Egypt), and Jesus spiritually (from sin).   Moses was obedient to God, even when it was hard. In this way he serves as a model for us today.

THE READING
First, we find out Moses is a shepherd, a biblical image familiar to us.  King David started out as a shepherd, and of course Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Moses is in the desert, in the wilderness. In the reading, God identifies himself, calls Moses through fire (assigning him to save His people), and Moses asks God what his name is.

Fire in Scripture
Last week God signed a contract with Abram using fire. We recently saw the seraphim cleanse Isaiah’s lips of sin using coal from a burning fire. And of course we have Pentecost. Just as God comes to Moses as fire in the OT, the Holy Spirit comes in the form of fire in the NT. “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (Acts 2: 3-4).  Banners and even priestly vestments at Confirmation masses reflect the image and color of fire to communicate this sacramental reality.

So what does the fire mean? God’s fire, unlike earthly fire, doesn’t necessarily consume. It’s more like a means of divine communication. It purifies; it cleanses us without hurting us the way earthly fire does. It communicates intensity – for example, Jesus’s sacred heart burns with intense love for us.  And in the NT, it takes on a sacramental reality. I searched for the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on google. I realized that in a beautiful way, it closely resembles the burning bush: The bush = crown of thorns, the flame above Jesus’s heart = an intense love for us. Similarly, Jesus’s love for us keeps burning on the cross, though others try to snuff it out. The crucifixion bears an interesting resemblance to the burning bush … the presence of God on top of wood, but not being consumed. Jesus’s burning love also purifies; cleansing us – freeing us – from sin.

The Conversation between God and Moses
Moses receives a job assignment from God. He’ll be in charge of guiding the Israelites out of Egypt. When Moses asks, “who should I tell them sent me?” God answers, “I AM who am. Tell them ‘I AM’ sent me to you.” This is a powerful scriptural moment. God gives himself a name – a name that evokes the very act of “being” itself. He is, was, and will always be. Another beautiful thought to take to our next quiet moments of prayer and contemplation. Just in case Moses wasn’t clear on this, God tells him, “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered by all generations.”  It calls to mind the last verse of the Christmas song, “Mary did you Know?” “The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great ‘I AM.’”

Responsorial Psalm: 103
“The Lord is Kind and Merciful”

This is today’s response to the first reading. We can see in the verses that the soul speaks to itself in prayer. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name.” We might say instead of “all my being,” “with all that I AM,” bless his holy name.

1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12

 As we’ve discussed before, the Church in Corinth was a mess. Basically, they are trying to keep 1 foot in the old lifestyle of pagan worship (easy, familiar), but they also want to go to mass and be good Christians (difficult, new). Paul’s telling them you can’t have it both ways, you are being a bunch of hypocrites if you think you can.

Paul uses the Exodus and a bunch of exilic language to teach them (under the cloud, passed through the sea, spiritual drink, spiritual rock, etc). He reminds them their ancestors received many blessings from God throughout the Exodus, but it did not guarantee future blessings. Many of the people who traveled with Moses during the Exodus still failed, in the end, to live upright lives: “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.” Those in Corinth, and all of us for that matter, must learn from them. He explains the situation well:

“These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

So, good job for doing the right stuff, but if you’ve got a side life with pagan tendencies, you might end up like your ancestors. You might not make it to the destination. So wake up. See the examples that came before us. Learn from the experience of others.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

This is an obscure and unfamiliar gospel, so buckle in. We are going to dig in and unpack it. Jesus tells 3 sad stories. Two are about current events of his time, one is a parable about a fig tree.

READING: Part One
In the first part of the reading we’re essentially “turning on the nightly news,” if there was one. Jesus mentions 2 current events of which the crowd was familiar: 1) “Breaking News!” Pilate took the blood of some Galileans who were killed and then mingled it with the blood of their sacrifices.” 2) “This just in… 18 killed by falling Siloam tower.”   Jesus then asks rhetorically, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners? Do you think those who were killed by the tower were more guilty than their neighbors? By no means!”

So what’s his point? He makes two: Those who suffer have not necessarily sinned, and those who sin will eventually reap the fruit they have sown. So when we suffer (from disease, death of a child or loved one), it is not necessarily because we have sinned. But at the same time, when we knowingly separate ourselves from God (i.e.sin), there are consequences, and we will be held responsible.

READING: Part Two
When you see a fig tree in the bible, it stands for Israel, God’s chosen people. Jesus tells a parable. A farmer plants a fig tree in his orchard, but it isn’t bearing fruit (Israel isn’t doing its job). He tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener says, “leave it for a year, I will cultivate the ground. If it doesn’t bear fruit, cut it down.” Here, God is both the farmer who is impatient with his stiffed-necked people AND the gardener who is merciful. Ultimately, if the people don’t repent – and God is a God of many chances (kind, merciful, slow to anger)- they will face His judgment.  Their blood may be “mingled with sacrifices.” A tower might fall on them. (In fact, when the temple does fall in AD 70, many are killed by its falling stones).

What do we take from these readings?
1) Like Moses, we must approach God with humility (take off our sandals) and know that He is God. God will put the right words in our mouths when He asks us to speak.
2) The Lord is kind , merciful, , slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
3) We must beware of  the double life. Learn from the examples of our ancestors.
4) Be a fruitful tree. We must plant ourselves in fertile soil. Anchor our roots therein. Reach with our “limbs and leaves” and grow. When we use our gifts, when we serve Him, when we serve others in love, when we forgive, when we carry our cross for Him and with Him no matter its weight, we are bearing fruit.

What kind of tree are you? How tall? How deep are the roots? Imagine yourself as this tree. Consider what your tree needs in order to grow.