06.12.16 – 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Find Sunday’s readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061216.cfm

Fun fact #1:
Nathan was a special kind of prophet who lived during the time of King David. He was part of the king’s Court, meaning he was one of the king’s closest and most trusted advisers. We hear from Nathan today, and he has some harsh words for King David who has greatly offended God.

Fun fact #2:
There were only three kings of Israel before the kingdom divided. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the order, but I just remember S-D-S, as in Saul-David-Solomon. I never thought about it before today- but there were 3 kings before the kingdom divided, when there was was a period of relative peace. “Three” is a significant biblical number – as in three persons of the Trinity, three days in the tomb, three days in the belly of the whale. Maybe something, maybe nothing.

1st Reading  2 SM 12:7-10, 13

Today we are in the second book of Samuel. David is King of Israel. As we enter the reading, the backdrop is that he has just done something very offensive to God: He fell in love with a woman named Bathsheba, whose husband was Uriah. David loved Bathsheba and wanted her for his wife. In order to get rid of Uriah, David sent Uriah to the front lines of battle. Uriah, being a good and faithful servant, obeyed his King. And Uriah died by the sword in the front lines of battle. David did marry Bathsheba.One of their sons was King Solomon, who went on to build the temple. He asked for wisdom and loved God deeply as his father did. Although David sinned greatly with Bathsheba, God still brought good (Solomon) out of bad (adultery). God always does. What we here today are Nathan’s words to David after Uriah was killed.

The notes from the lector manual are spot on this week:

“David was a shepherd, psalmist, warrior, king, adulterer, and murderer and the only person in the Bible of whom God said “A man after my own heart” (Acts). David did not earn his distinction because of righteousness. He had sins a plenty, but his saving grace was his reverence. He had great respect for God and understood fear of the Lord [one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit]. Despite the greats in recounted here, he walked by the light of God and never forgot who his shepherd was. A man after God’s heart is not a perfect person. When Samuel anointed David king, God told him not to judge from outward appearance, because the Lord looks into the heart. What distinguished David’s heart was his dependency on the Lord. David was always aware of his need for God. But most of all, David’s was a repentant heart. When confronted with sin, David didn’t despair like King Saul who threw himself upon the sword, or like Judas who hung himself after turning Jesus in. David understood the nature of his sin. He realized he had betrayed the Lord he truly repented and accepted the consequences of his sin.”

During my years in the biblical School, I had a hard time with David at first. David prefigured Christ, and he did this? How selfish my thoughts were, how immature. I was judging him – which we are forbidden to do – and not me seeing David as the repentant man who loved God despite his disposition to sin. Because in reality we are all like David – we all sin. I figured if David is the only person in scripture of whom God said “a man after my own heart,” then I am the one who is off base here, not God. I came o see that we most certainly should model ourselves after David when it comes to our response to sin. We must seek out his quality of heart and never give up. David had a heart of flesh, not of stone, and it is a heart of flesh that God desires from all of us. One that overflows with love and is malleable to His will.

Responsorial psalm: 32
“Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”

This is an appropriate for the response to the first reading. “Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. I acknowledged my sin to you my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confessed my faults to the Lord’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

The last verse brings brightness to this psalm: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just exult all you up right of heart.”

2nd Reading : GAL 2:16, 19-21

The second reading is Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This is one of the most misunderstood readings in all of scripture. Protestants and Catholics have been fighting over the meaning of this reading for centuries, and probably will until the end of time. It’s the reading that speaks to how we are saved or justified … is it by works or by faith?  Paul begins, “We do know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” It sounds like Paul says the law (also called works) doesn’t matter – only Faith matters.  That if we only believe in Christ, we’re saved. However,  when Paul speaks about the law, and works of the law, he is talking specifically here about the old law – the Mosaic law. The Old Covenant.

Paul is not saying that we should rely on faith alone. He is not saying that good works don’t matter. What he is saying is that the old Mosaic law has passed away with the old Covenant and that the new law requires both faith and works. This theme will resurface in the gospel when a woman shows her intense love to Christ through both faith and repeated actions of love.

How do we know this interpretation is correct? As Catholics, we believe in that “three-legged stool.” Versus counting on “sola scriptura” or “scripture alone”, we believe our faith and our interpretation of scripture stands on 1) scripture, 2) tradition, and 3) the magisterium. We believe these 3 legs of the stool were established at the time of Christ and that they continue to be present in the Catholic church with the help of the Holy Spirit.  I admit, it can be confusing, and I continue to work through this concept. But hopefully this provides a new perspective to think about as you hear this scripture proclaimed.

This reading also includes one of my favorite parts of Paul’s letters. He says “I have been crucified with Christ yet I live no longer I but Christ lives in me.” This speaks to Paul’s deep and constant relationship with Jesus Christ. When we come upon hard times or difficult people or situations, this is a simple prayer we can think in our hearts and minds. We can say, “Lord in this situation, please live boldly through me. Be at the forefront of my actions, and do not allow my sinful and selfish nature to take the stage.”

Gospel: LK 7:36—8:3

We are in chapter 7 of Luke again this week. Jesus is in Galilee at this time, performing many miracles as he goes. Today Jesus dines with the Pharisees and a woman comes who was a sinner. The dinner host knows her reputation and does not want her there. The woman proceeds to bring in an alabaster jar of ointment, stand behind Jesus, and while weeping, wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. She continues to offer actions of praise –  actions that show her faith; “works” one might say. The Pharisee don’t see this. They say, “well if Jesus knew who this was he would not want her to do that.” Not so.

Jesus tells a parable about two debtors. Neither could pay the debt, so the creditor forgave both men. Jesus wants to know: who should love the creditor more? The Pharisee answers, “the man whose debt was greater should love him more.” Jesus says, “Yes you have answered correctly.”

Jesus is drawing a parallel to the woman who washes his feet. She has not stopped showing Jesus love since she entered the room. Therefore, her sins must have been quite great. He said to them, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But he who is Forgiven little loves little.” At the end of the scene, those who are present are in awe that Jesus says he can forgive sins, something only God can do. We must acknowledge what a remarkable statement this would have been to hear. That a man named Jesus can forgive sins.

In summary, we have readings today that point us toward living righteously. We have David as a model in the first reading. Though we sin, we must always know repentance is available. As opposed to being Saul or Judas, we must always have faith, get up and keep trying.

In the 2nd reading we have Paul as a model. He desires that his actions be Christ’s; that Paul be merely a vessel for Christ’s righteous actions.

And in the gospel we see once again the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and his readiness to give it in abundance, to give us the peace only He can give. The Old Mosaic law by which David lived has passed away; that covenant is no more. In the story of the sinful woman, we see the new law in action – one of both faith AND works – the New and Eternal covenant of Jesus Christ.


6.05.16-10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

This post is dedicated to a friend of mine who recently had a scary and serious brush with death. As I went through today’s readings, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similar themes that are here that echo what she experienced. I visited with her very briefly this week, and when I left her house I became overwhelmed with an interior joy that I did not expect. I suppose I should have expected it though, for I had just been in the presence of one of God’s latest miracles (two actually, since a baby was brought I to the world during this young mother’s crisis). It gave me a small glimpse into what the crowds in today’s readings must have felt when God performed these miracles before their eyes.

Find today’s readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060516.cfm

Fun facts:
The theme for today’s readings is resurrection. Not Jesus’ per se, but everyone in today’s readings has been brought back to life. They have all experienced the life-saving power of God.

A brief note about widows is also important. Historically, if you were a widow, you were cared for by your children. However, if you were a widow with no children the local governing body (“the State”) did not consider you much use at all; you would be considered a burden and they considered it their right to take from you your possessions. As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a widow, to be a widow with no surviving children  was not a good place to be: these women had no family, no home, no possessions.

1st Reading – 1 Kings 17: 17-24

 With this background, we can see in the first reading why this woman’s situation is so serious. The story begins with a widow whose son has died. She seeks the help of Elijah the prophet. Next, Elijah has a conversation with God asking him why he would choose to kill this woman son and would he please intervene and save the boy? Then Elijah prays to God, lays on the boy 3 times, and the boy miraculously comes back to life. The woman sees in Elijah the hand of God at work.

This event foreshadows what Jesus will do in today’s Gospel. It reminds us that the work of God was active in the Old Testament through God’s prophets whom he sent before He sent Jesus Christ. In the same way, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophets. Jesus does not have to have a conversation with God begging to save the son in the gospel, nor does Jesus need to lay on the boy three times or do any other specific act. Jesus wills the boy’s return to life. He merely sets his divine hand on the casket of the boy, and he will rise again.

Psalm 30
“I will praise you Lord for you have rescued me.”

This clearly is an appropriate response to our first reading, in which a widow’s very life has been rescued because God saved her son. This response is also appropriate for a second reading and gospel. In the second reading we will hear about Paul and his return to grace from a life of sin when he persecuted the church. In the gospel, God in the form of Christ, the 2nd person of the trinity, will save another boy from death, thereby saving another widow from loss of life.

Key phrases of today’s psalm: “I will extol you oh lord for you drew me clear and did not let my enemies Rejoice over me. Oh Lord, you brought me up from the Netherworld you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.”

My friend who had her brush with death is a psalmist herself. She has a most beautiful voice, and I can almost hear her singing this the at the ambo. I know in her heart she sings this song today, for she has indeed been rescued by our good and gracious God. To be sure, we all have been rescued by God in some way. We can all take a moment to rejoice in his never-ending love for each one of us.

2nd Reading: GAL 1:11-14A, 15AC, 16A, 17, 19

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Galatia is actually a region vs one city, like Corinth, Rome, or Ephesus. Once again, and now through Paul’s witness, we see someone come out of a place of darkness and into a place of indescribable light. This is just what happened for the widow. I mean, who would have thought that Paul of all people would become the great Apostle he did become? He says from the beginning that he did not come to knowledge of Christ through reason alone. But he came to Jesus through a revelation from Christ himself. Then he tells his audience what a sinner he once was! “For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” Those phrases stayed with me as I read this. Paul persecuted the Church beyond measure. He did not just hate it, or not agree with its teachings, or think it might be occasionally in error, he tried to destroy it. And yet God chose him.

Paul goes on to tells us that God had set him apart from the time he was in his mother’s womb. God was pleased to reveal Jesus to him so that he could proclaim the mystery of Christ to the gentiles and beyond. What a remarkable transformation to witness.

For my friend, she truly was brought back from the brink of death. Her time in the hospital was exactly 40 days. Forty days in the wilderness. Forty days in a sedated and complete darkness as her body fought and battled to come back to life. The prayers that surrounded her from around the globe are truly a testimony to the power of prayer. Now that she is home with her family, she is on the road to recovery, a beautiful road indeed!

Gospel  LK 7:11-17

For the gospel this morning we need to set the scene a little bit first. What we have is Jesus entering the city of Nain with his disciples. He has a large crowd accompanying him. Doesn’t Jesus always have a large crowd accompanying him? Most of the time it is a crowd of believers or those who are curious about Jesus, and sometimes it is a crowd of naysayers. Because Jesus is with his disciples, we can assume this crowd is a crowd who believes in his divine nature.

As Jesus makes his way with his crowd, they bump into another sizable crowd, a funeral procession. So we have two large crowds merging together and this sets the scene for Jesus to perform a miracle. There are likely dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of people present to witness what Jesus will do. Elijah had a conversation with God before he was able to heal the boy from the first reading. He laid down over the boy’s body 3 times before the boy came back to life. This could signify three days in the tomb, three days in the belly of the whale, “three” is a number related to the resurrection. Jesus, however is God himself. He only needs to lay his hand on the coffin to bring the boy back to life. His words are not words of anxiety, for he is God, but words of comfort for the mother.

Interestingly, in both readings, the child who was raised from the dead is promptly returned to his mother. This is significant. When Jesus is on the cross, he has his mother there with him also. And instead of giving himself back to his mother (though he does rest in her arms briefly) right before he dies, Jesus gives his mother to the world.

Mothers have a special place in God’s eyes. For my friend who was so sick, she is a mother of 5 beautiful children. In an emergency situation, she gave birth to her fifth child in the hospital as she was nearing death. Her own mother who doesn’t live here, stopped her life to come to her daughter’s aid. She has been at her daughter’s side through it all. And when my friend returned to her home, her mother was there. In this way, she was returned to her earthly mother while her heavenly mother watched over and interceded for all of us, as our mother.

In summary, these readings are about return and restoration. We must ask ourselves, where have we seen the hand of God restoring us to life recently? This does not have to be a life-and-death situation. God works in the small ways and in big ways. Perhaps we’ve been restored to a friendship, to a relationship, or to our own lives that is filled with an increase of faith. Everyone in today’s readings had the seed of faith. Everyone in today’s readings was chosen by God from their mother’s womb to do great things. We are all chosen to do great things. It is up to us to choose to do them, and to follow God’s lead.

5.29.2016 Feast of Corpus Christi

Welcome back! Find the readings here.

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.

1st Reading: Genesis 14: 18-20

The story today puts us during the time of Abram (before he received the blessing and became Abraham). Abram has just come back victorious after defeating 4 invader kings. This was a big victory, a big deal (think WWI).  The victorious Abram, having won great battles of neighboring kings, earns 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 1st reading 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.
  • Furthermore, 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”

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 Davidic 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 – vs. the line of Aaron –  means that Jesus is righteous and more perfect, the fulfillment of the high priest Melchizadek.

2nd reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

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.

Luke 9:11b-17

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.

05.22.2016 (The Most Holy Trinity)

Welcome back! Here are Sunday’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052216.cfm

Fun Fact:
Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity. We believe in a Trinitarian God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit, three in one. It’s fitting that we should celebrate the Holy Trinity today, given that last week the apostles received the third person of the Trinity the Holy Spirit.

1st Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31

Our first reading comes from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is one of the OT books of wisdom. Other examples of wisdom literature include the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon and Job ( who is not technically a prophet as many assume). The primary purpose of the Book of Proverbs is to teach wisdom. This wisdom comes in pithy sentences, and is not to be read from beginning to end. It’s more like a handbook of tips – tips on how to live a righteous life.

These tips are offered by many wise men, including King Solomon. In other areas of the book, the writer personifies Wisdom as a woman, drawing a (lengthy) analogy between finding a wife, or founding and maintaining a household, and finding wisdom. We see that personification in today’s reading.

Before I looked at my notes, and as I read the reading (in preparation for writing this post), I had the phrase in mind from the Apostles Creed, “begotten not made.” I really did not fully understand that term until I was an adult. It means that Jesus Christ was not made he was begotten. That is he – like God  (because he IS God)- always existed he does not have a beginning nor an end. Although he was born of Mary, he has always existed. Let’s look at a few phrases from the first reading with that in mind.

“The Lord possessed me, the beginning of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago. From of old I was poured forth at the first before the Earth. When the Lord established the heavens I was there… when he set for the sea its limit so that the waters should not transgress his command, then was I beside him as his Craftsman and I was his Delight day by day… and I found Delight in the human race.”

The Christian tradition has understood wisdom as representing both Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is why the Church chose this reading for today, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

Responsorial Psalm: 8
“O Lord Our God how wonderful your name in all the Earth.”

This response is fitting for our first reading. Wisdom is present from the beginning of time. “She” is present in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. She has been guiding us from the beginning of time, and she continues to guide the Holy Spirit in the Church on Earth.

In the first verse it reads, when I behold your Heavens the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place. We see another reference to the Finger of God. The finger of God was part of our Lenten readings when we saw Jesus write with his finger on the ground to prevent the adulterous woman from being stoned.

Reading 2: Romans 5:1-5

This is actually a joyful reading. The theme of Romans through Romans 8:39 is “Salvation in Christ.” In this part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul tells his audience and us there we have reasons to be grateful for the grace in which we stand.  Jesus has restored peace between God and Humanity by his death on the cross.  Faith in Jesus Christ gives us access to that peace and also access to Grace.

Themes of faith, hope, and love exist in this reading. From my study bible:

“The justified are endowed with theological virtues. By faith they live in peace with God and have access to his grace. in Hope they long for the glory of God. Through love they show that the charity of the Spirit dwells in their hearts. Equipped in this way, believers can become more like Christ through endurance and suffering.”

Paul says that we boast in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that but we even boast of our afflictions. Why would we boast of our afflictions? Paul says that affliction produces endurance. Endurance produces proven character. And proven character produces hope. Hope is something no one can take away from us, and hope does not disappoint. We have this hope because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which is the third person of the Trinity (which we celebrate today).

We must never forget that affliction is part of our life as Christians. Affliction or suffering is difficult – and yet it is what brings us closer to Jesus Christ. It also produces endurance so that we might continue on in our journey of life knowing that we have faith in God and hope in the resurrection and eternal life.

Gospel John 16:12-15

We remain in the Gospel of John this week. In this reading, we are again in the upper room, and Jesus sits with his disciples. Written from the perspective of St. John, we see Jesus’s close relationship to the Father in a special and unique way.

The line I like in this reading is at the very beginning when Jesus says “I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now.”  Jesus is telling them…there’s so much more to come, but you can’t handle it yet. After the events that happen in this reading, he will send them the Holy Spirit.

This sentence applies to us today in so many ways. Jesus has so much to tell you and so much to tell me that we cannot understand now. That’s why when we have to trust that when Jesus asks us to do something – we must do it even when it makes no sense. It’s because he has so much more to tell us and show us that we cannot understand now. Living a life fixed on God’s plan for ourselves can be difficult at times. But we must have faith in whatever God has chosen for our plan. because we can all use our own gifts to bring glory to his kingdom.

5.15.16 – Pentecost (Year C)

Where in the liturgical year are we?

Today we celebrate Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season. The first reading will no longer be from The Acts of the Apostles or Revelation.  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.”

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 of 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.

5.8.16: The Ascension of the Lord (Year C)

Welcome! Please find readings by clicking this link http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050816-ascension.cfm

Fun Fact: You may have noticed that the blog border for the Easter season has been yellow. This will change to red when we celebrate Pentecost next Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

The book of Acts, as we have mentioned before, is part II of Luke’s gospel. Both books are written to someone named Theophilus, though many scholars are not exactly sure who this person was. Today we have the first 11 verses of Acts.

In the first verse, Luke tells us that in his gospel (Part I), he dealt with all things Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up (which is today). In Luke’s gospel, Jesus lived, taught, suffered, died and rose from the dead. In Part II (Acts), He is now sending his disciples out to the ends of the Earth to be his missionaries.

There are two main parts to this reading: 1) Jesus tells the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit and 2) we behold the Ascension itself (the longer version).

 First, Jesus tells them the Holy Spirit will come. He says, wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak. For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The disciples are still caught up in logistics and asked him, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” But Jesus basically ignores the question and reinforces his earlier point (I do this with my kids sometimes). He says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my Witnesses in Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.” The disciples will eventually come to understand Jesus’s plan, but right now they will have to trust Jesus is words.

At the end of the reading, we watch Jesus ascend to the Father. “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” Remember that a cloud was present always during the time Moses wandered in the desert with the Israelites. A cloud signifies God’s presence. Next we see two men dressed in white garments standing beside them. These are angels. They have an important line in this scene. “Men of Galilee why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” What they’re telling the apostles is, don’t just look toward the sky and daydream about the future and about what Jesus meant. He gave you a job to do. Take action and get going on your missionary ways.

Psalm 47:
“God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

In this psalm we see the notion of hands clapping. In a website article, I found this description: “The most natural and most enthusiastic tokens of exultation(clapping hands) are to be used in the view of the victories of the Lord, and his universal of reign. This joy is to extend to all nations. Israel will lead the way but the Gentiles are all to follow in the march of triumph for they have an equal share in the Kingdom.”

The psalm only increases in feelings of joy as we see more images of the Lord mounting his throne amid shouts of joy and trumpet blasts.

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

For the first time in the Easter season, we are not in the Revelation for the second reading. Today we are in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The main theme of this letter is the mystery of Jesus Christ, which was once concealed but now revealed. Therefore, this is a fitting reading for the Ascension. Jesus, who was once concealed to his followers and so many others, is now revealed as the son of the Father in a most definite and visible way.

In these six verses, Paul provides a prayerful reflection for his readers. “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” May our hearts be lit up – be aflame with love for Christ. (More on the flame next week at Pentecost…)

Later in the reading we hear that he has been seated at the right hand in the heavens “far above every principality, authority, power and dominion in this age and and the one to come.” Everything is beneath his feet. Jesus is head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. It states plainly in this reading that the Church is his body. We also hear that the Church is the fullness of the one who fills all things. Put simpler still, the Church is the fullness of Christ.

We the church on Earth are intimately connected to Jesus Christ and we are his body. This is a beautiful image indeed! Today we are called to act like Christ’s body and show others in our actions and words how Christ lived and loved.

Gospel: Luke 24:46-53

In the first reading, we heard one version of the Ascension from Luke (Acts chapter 1). We hear another version of the Ascension now from his gospel. This is a shorter version then the one in Acts. It is also the final six verses of the entire gospel of Luke.

In the verses before today’s Gospel, Jesus had just opened the disciples minds to understand the scripture and to remember that Jesus came so that he might suffer, die and be raised from the dead. At the start of the reading, Jesus refers to OT prophecies about this theme. He told them,”Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” This was prophesied many, many times (e.g. Isaiah). Throughout the NT, Jesus himself tells them – also on numerous occasions – that he will suffer die and be raised. Now it is time for him to return home. His earthly mission is complete. I suspect this would have been a rough day for the disciples, to see Jesus whom they have come to love and worship, leave them.

In both the first reading and the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to “stay in the city.” This implies that the people the disciples are trying to leave, likely as a result of the animosity they are facing from the religious leaders. The power they will be clothed with is the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will give them strength to go out and accomplish their mission with great joy.

The Feast of the Ascension is a day for celebration. One of the promises God made to us is being fulfilled. God sent us his only son to save us from our sins. Jesus did that through his death on the cross. He opened Heaven’s gates. God will continue to keep his promise by next week sending us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

This week, perhaps we can simply contemplate and experience the joy that comes with knowing that Jesus is our Messiah and Lord, and that he does sit at the right hand of God the Father. Further, because of his great and endless love for us, he did not plan to leave us alone on Earth. He gave us the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Stay tuned for next week’s readings at Pentecost and a Happy Mother’s Day to all!

5.01.2016 – 6th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Welcome Back! Find the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050116.cfm

Fun fact: This week’s readings are a set-up The Ascension (May 8). Jesus promises the people the Holy Spirit, which he gives them the following week at Pentecost (May 15).

I had a realization this week about the Easter posts thus far. Maybe you’ve noticed the pattern. In Reading 1, we get about 2 verses, then skip 20+ verses, then we hear the rest of the reading. I’m puzzled by this, but there must be a reason. Interestingly, the portion of the reading that is skipped on Sunday is often one of the daily readings from the previous week. One way to get the “in-betweens” of Sunday’s readings is to download the “Laudate” app to your phone. You can, among many other things, download an audio file of the daily readings and just listen. I highly recommend it.

1st Reading: Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29

Here are the basics of what’s going on for this reading for verses 1-29.

  1. Problem: What do we do about circumcision? (verses 1-2)
  2. Council of Jerusalem (verses 3-21)
  3. The Letter from the Council is read (22-29)

First we hear, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic law, you cannot be saved.” Then Paul and Barnabas and some of the others go to Jerusalem about this question. In the missing verses (3-21), the Council of Jerusalem takes place – the first Council of the Church. At this meeting, several important matters are discussed. The Church leaders want to know – what do we do about circumcision? For centuries, circumcision was the rite of initiation into the covenant of Abraham. It was a badge of Jewish identity. It entitled them to share in the blessings of the Old Covenant. So they called a council, invited the Holy Spirit, and He guided them to a resolution.

The Councils of the Church – this one and all that came after it – were established to answer questions like this. Peter – the pope – spoke as the head of the Church. He formed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, a doctrinal judgment about the means of salvation: “Jews and Gentiles alike are saved, not by the flint knife of circumcision but by faith in Christ.”  The Council of Jerusalem also forbids the consumption of idol food, which is referred to in the letter we hear when the reading picks up in verses 22-29.

Responsorial Psalm 67
“O God, let all the nations praise you.”

The line I like best that relates to our 1st reading is “May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity; the nations on the earth you shall guide.

2nd Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

Chapter 21 of Revelation is only about 50 verses from the end of the entire body of scripture. We’re rarely here, so to read from Revelation brings a sense of excitement. Last week John told about the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, and that God would dwell with his people always. This week, John describes that city. He says it “gleams with the splendor of God. It’s radiance was like that of a precious stone, like Jasper, clear as crystal.” These gems, and others like it (e.g. onyx) are mentioned all the way back in Genesis 3 when God describes the Garden of Eden. The same gems with which God created the world will still exist at the end of time and adorn his creation.

We see that there are no more walls, no temple. Walls did not exist in the garden either, not until sin entered. Once the temple was built, the only way to be in the presence of God was to send the high priest, once a year, through wall after wall of the physical temple and into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God. Just look at all the walls, physical and otherwise, that were built because of man’s sin. At the second coming there are no more walls, and no more temple. Jesus is the temple, and he died once and for all. For us. It is a beautiful reading full of light, hope, and heavenly images!

Gospel: John 14: 23-29

Jesus speaks plainly today. John’s gospel is different than the others in that he talks at length about his relationship – and yet his sameness – to the Father. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” Jesus also offers us a peace that only He can give. This is not worldly peace, but eternal peace. We must guard it carefully, preserve it, protect it. This week a priest said we should imagine the words of the sign “Private Property: No Trespassing.” The peace Christ gives is deep, it is of a divine nature. Nothing should be able to rock it, no matter the storm.

Then we get a preview to next week: “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.” This is exactly what we saw transpire in the first reading at the Council of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit taught Peter the right thing to say, He reminded Peter of all that Jesus had said, and a new doctrine emerged from that Council. The same process happens today, more than 2000 years later, when the Church issues new teachings.

In preparation for His ascension, he tells them plainly “And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

Next week we celebrate the Ascension and the week after, Pentecost. Easter officially ends at Pentecost. Since Easter Sunday we’ve been called to be an Easter People. How are we doing? At Pentecost the Church reminds us of the beauty that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our partner, our Paraclete here on Earth. We’ll soon be called to continue forward after the official end of Easter and march into Ordinary Time renewed, refreshed, and rejuvenated by this beautiful season. Are we ready?