2.14.2016 1st Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Welcome Back!
In every set of readings lies a treasure map to a broader message we are being called to ponder that week. That’s what this blog is all about – trying to connect those dots so we can train our ears and hearts to hear Him with greater clarity. To ask “How Lord, are you speaking to me this week through these readings?” Some Sundays the dots are easier to see than others. Today the thread of Deuteronomy is throughout.

Click here for the Sunday readings click here
Where in the bible are we? See areas in purple here 1.page.bible.timeline

Today’s fun fact:
St Valentine was a champion of love, yes, but he had a special heart for the sacrament of marriage. In the 3rd century, Claudius, a Roman emperor, severely restricted marriage between young people. He felt it made the husbands poor soldiers, and thus he’d have a weaker army. In addition, polygamy was more acceptable during that time. St. Valentine felt both attitudes were less than ideal, so he encouraged marriage between 1 man and 1 woman in the Christian church. He performed these marriages secretly for many years before he was caught, imprisoned, tortured and killed for his actions. St. Valentine, pray for us!

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10

BACKGROUND
“Deuteronomy” comes from the Latin “Deutero-nomium” or “Second Law.” Put simply, the book  is a commentary on the 10 Commandments – an “instruction manual” on how to live by God’s law. So if Deuteronomy is the second law, what was the first?
Back in Dt chapters 5-8, God gave the stone tablets to Moses atop Mt. Sinai. This is the 1st law. When I read these 4 chapters – I was overwhelmed by their beauty – God so eloquently and lovingly lays out His promises for His chosen nation. Nevertheless, while Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (hang on to that number for today’s gospel), the people became impatient and stiff-necked. Giving in to temptation, they built a golden calf to worship.*sigh* Moses probably felt like I do when I leave my kids in the room and tell them not to bicker while I’m gone. (I’m sure you can guess what they do.) So God’s people disobeyed – they broke the 1st law before they even had time to digest it. It was a very bad idea to worship a statue of a cow instead of God. This is called the golden calf incident. It was so offensive to God that scholars often refer to it as “The Second Fall.”

This broke Moses’s heart. He threw down the first set of stone tablets at the bottom of the mountain and they shattered. God said He would destroy this stubborn people. But Moses wanted to help the people, so he fasted. He laid prostrate before God. For 40 days and nights without food or water. All in an effort to save the Isrealites. This is a priestly action. Moses serves as an intermediary between the people and God. He takes the sin of his people upon himself and offers it to the Lord. Jesus, our High Priest, does the same thing for us on the Cross. Ordained priests all over the world do this every day, fasting and praying for their parishioners – and serving as an intermediary between the people and God both at the altar (preparing the Eucharist) and in the confessional (reconciling us to God).

BACK TO THE READING
Chapters 11-26 of Deut is a commentary on all 10 commandments. In Deut 26, we’re on #10: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods.” In short, Moses tells the people how to focus on gratitude. They are to “properly give the first fruits of the land to the Lord” via a priest. Moses tells them what to say when they tithe, (“You shall declare before the Lord your God…”). They are supposed to tell the story of God saving His people from the Egyptians in the Exodus – “The Story” of the Old Testament.

We too are called to give to the Lord from our first fruits, from the top. This can be in the form of dollars, talents, or time, but it should be the best we have. Two women in the gospels demonstrate this. In Mark, a widow giving her only 2 coins to Jesus (literally, her whole life). In John, Mary gives the equivalent of one year’s salary (in the form of precious nard or oil) to bless Christ’s head before Calvary. These women have put this reading into action in a really big way.

Response Psalm 91: “Be With Me Lord, When I am in Trouble”

The author of this psalm is unknown. Quite clearly, it is a call to the Lord for assistance. In times of trouble, we are to call to Him, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” There are words of comfort as well: “No evil shall befall you, nor affliction come near your tent, for to his angels he has given command about you.”  Psalm 91 includes the popular line from “On Eagle’s Wings” which is quoted later today by Jesus in the gospel, “Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

2nd Reading: Romans 10: 8-13

BACKGROUND
Rome, of course, was the imperial capital of the Roman Empire and the most populated city in the Mediterranean world. Paul wrote to the people of Rome around 57 AD, mainly to introduce himself in anticipation of his planned visit. He normally visited a city and wrote his apostolic letters after setting up the Church in that city (to correct them, to unify them, answer questions, etc.), but not the case in Rome. He wrote a letter before his first visit there, hoping to enlist their support in carrying out his apostolic mission. He also wanted to ease tensions that were straining the Church. (Unity is a common goal for all of Paul’s letters.)

READING
In today’s reading, Paul’s topic is the “Restoration of Israel.” From my study bible introduction to the book of Romans: “Though many in Israel have rejected the gospel, in this letter Paul insists God has not abandoned his covenant people but is planning to save ‘all Israel’ in Christ. This is consistent with the patterns of how God dealt with Israel in the scriptures.” Does that last part sound familiar? People reject God’s law…God’s chosen tries to restore them (here, that’s Moses in Reading 1 and Paul in Reading 2). Moses tried to restore the people after the golden calf incident, even though they had rejected God’s law. Paul is doing the same thing – trying to restore the people of Rome, to bring them back to God through His Church. As noted previously, Paul is a master at getting through to his audience. What does he do? He quotes Deuteronomy: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – a direct quote from Dt 30:14, just a few chapters after the 1st reading.

GOSPEL – Luke 4:1-13

BACKGROUND
Today, we’re with Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. This happens right after the baptism of the Lord (“Jesus returned from the Jordan”). What does our baptism do? It pledges us to Christ. What happens as soon as we belong to Christ? Satan wants to mess with us. So in this reading, Jesus goes to battle for us in the desert before he goes to battle for us against Satan a final time – and is victorious – when He rises from the dead.  So this is like Jesus’s “warm up” battle. But it has a purpose, too. He has some fulfilling of the Old Testament to do before He saves the world from sin. Biblically, “40” signifies waiting, testing, and purification… During the Flood, it rained 40 days and nights. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights and then interceded for Israel for 40 days and nights. Israel’s spies looked on Canaan for 40 days, and of course Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years.

Jesus goes out to the wilderness for 40 days – the wilderness was a scary, dark, barren place. While he’s there, satan tempts him. But because He’s God, He flips the situation on its head. The Israelites struggled so badly in the face of temptation throughout the entire Old Testament. They were punished for that – usually with “a 40” (see paragraph above).  In the desert we see Jesus – who is 100% human and 100% divine – go through some very human temptations. Importantly, these are the same temptations Israel struggled with in their Old Testament wildernesses: hunger, thirst, power, protection, comfort.

But here’s where it gets cool.

Instead of watching another episode of God’s law be rejected (yet again), Jesus puts it all to an end. He is The Answer. Previously, the Israelites showed unfaithfulness every time they were tempted. Here, Jesus shows us how to reject temptation and be faithful. He has the strength the Israelites did not have. He has the strength we often don’t. Jesus, in this one event of temptation in the desert, fulfills – answers – all the previous temptations in the Old Testament in one fell swoop.

But how does He do it? What does Jesus do when he’s tempted by the devil? If you said, “Well he quotes Deuteronomy, of course!” Then you’d be right.

Deut 8:3 “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Deut 6:13 “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Deut 6:16  “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Matthew 5:17

Come back next week to explore the link between the covenant with Abraham and the Transfiguration. May God bless your week!

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2.10.2016 Ash Wednesday

To see Ash Wednesday Readings click here

Today we begin one of the most meaningful seasons of the Church year: Lent. This time of penance – marked by bare churches, ashen foreheads, and the call to fast, serve, and pray – points us directly to the Cross and the journey Jesus makes for us.

Fun fact: Purple is the liturgical color for Lent (and Advent too). It signifies both royalty and suffering.  Purple was a rare and costly dye, so it was reserved for kings.

1st Reading: JOEL 2:12-18

We hear this reading every Ash Wednesday. Why does the Church choose to read from Joel every year? The reason is, we see in this reading the 3 pillars of Lent: Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer. It makes sense to us when we hear it today, but Joel was not getting ready for the distribution of ashes when he wrote this … what was the original purpose of his prophecy? A few basics:

Joel was a minor prophet (4 chapters). Scholars are unsure exactly when he prophesied, but the main theme is consistent with other prophetic books: God is calling the people to repent. Leading up to this passage, Joel uses some beautiful literary devices to show the people what’s happening around them. He tells Israel that destruction and death are coming if they do not repent (a sort of “de-creation” vs. the “creation” God brought forth in Genesis) via swarms of locusts (which symbolize the attacking Assyrian army) and severe loss of agriculture (food). If they abandon sinful ways and repent, they could be spared. In order to repent, though, the people need to rally, they need to act. So Joel gives them a pep talk: “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Call the assembly, proclaim a fast, assemble the elders! Perhaps He will again relent.” At the end of the reading, we see it is due to the people’s fasting that God reconsidered: “the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.”

An interesting thought exercise: I once heard at a talk, “If you really want the Lord to know you’re serious about your prayer request, fast.” Now, that does not mean God doesn’t hear our fervent prayers if we don’t fast or that He won’t answer them – not at all.  God doesn’t work like that. I think of it simply as a way to enter more deeply into prayer. The fasting is more for us than God. It is a means to an end. By going without, by suffering for another person in some small way, we employ a tool in our “prayer toolbox” that brings us closer to His Sacred Heart.

Responsorial Psalm: 51
“Be merciful O Lord for we have sinned.”

This psalm was written by a repentant King David after he had Uriah the Hittite killed. (David committed adultery with Uriah’s beautiful wife, Bathsheba, and then had him killed in battle) He felt deep, deep sorrow for his actions (see 2 Sam 11). Many psalms of David are about this sin of David’s. David returns to the Lord and seeks forgiveness, serving God with great fervor until his death. In this way, David is a good example to us on how to seek forgiveness from God no matter the sin, pick ourselves up again and live righteously.
We also see themes from Isaiah’s Sunday reading on cleansing of the lips (“and of my sin cleanse me”). David pleads, “create a clean heart in me O God.” Again we see the juxtaposition of a clean heart of flesh vs. a heart of stone hardened by sin. Jesus left us a means to receive this clean heart whenever we want – in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He can make a clean heart in us, and we can start anew. St. Faustina: “Jesus said to me, ‘There is no misery that could be a match for my mercy.'” A beautiful reality to ponder.

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

In Paul’s 2nd letter to the Church in Corinth, he is going through a bit of a rough spot, to put it mildly. The people Paul left in charge in Corinth, as well as the people in the city, are doubting his very apostleship and authority. That is no easy spot. And yet what a master rhetorician he proves to be. Key points:

– Paul reminds his fellow co-ministers (priests) that they are “ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” He wants them to set a good example.
– Whereas in the first reading from Joel we saw “de-creation,” here Paul calls the people to be “re-created” and reconciled to God.
– There are four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. In them, God calls His chosen people Israel to be His servant-nation. What an honor, to be God’s chosen nation! But in order to be this, Israel needs to be…well, servant-like. Yes, they will enjoy abundant blessings, but they must also suffer. Here, Paul purposely quotes Isaiah’s 4th Servant Song, which would be very familiar to his audience. He reminds them that despite the challenges brought about by God’s call to suffer, He never abandons them. “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you” (from Isaiah 49:8).
We are reminded that suffering does not mean we have been abandoned, but rather, it is part of being a disciple of Christ. Though it may be hard to see as we are in it, He is with us through every storm. We must pray for the eyes of faith to see Him.

Gospel: Matthew 6-1-6; 16-18 (The Sermon on the Mount)

Moses and Jesus have a lot in common. They both led the people out of slavery (in Egypt/of sin), they both dealt with stiff-necked people (Israelites/us), and they both delivered the law on Mt. Sinai (Moses in the form of the 1o commandments on a stony slab, Jesus in the form of His Word, and from His Sacred Heart of flesh, thus fulfilling or completing the law Moses gave). The Sermon on the Mount has 3 parts: Jesus gives the Beatitudes (Part 1) expands on them (Part 2), and offers warnings/woes (Part 3). Today’s reading is from Part 2, concerning fasting as prayer.

Jesus delivers a message on how to live as an upright people. He tells them/us to value humility over pride, a quiet, interior relationship with Him over loudly sounding our trumpets, and an outward appearance of joy and stability when we are fasting. These are goals we can constantly work to achieve. We many never “get there,” but with a spirit of faith we must try, and we’ll surely grow in His love along the way.

We are called for the next 40 days, to be like Christ in His passion. To strip ourselves of worldly desires. To retreat to the wilderness and enter into a deeper kind of prayer. To make our lives more bland for a time. In doing these things, we position ourselves to see the triumphant joy of Easter with increased clarity – a day when Jesus stomps on death itself and throws open the doors of Heaven for us.

The readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent are packed with meaning and connections. You won’t want to miss the next post!

 

2.7.16 – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome Back! Check Wednesday for a post as we begin Lent. The theme of Sunday’s readings revolve around “Being Called.” Let’s dig in!

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

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

1st Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8

BACKGROUND
Isaiah is by far one of the most difficult books of either testament. It was so tough that even St. Augustine, doctor of the Church, admitted he did not understand what he was reading. So he put it aside. See? Even saints don’t get Isaiah! Don’t feel bad if you don’t either. St. Jerome, another doctor of the church, explains: “No one should think I mean to explain the entire subject matter of [Isaiah] in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the Lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. I need say nothing about the natural sciences, ethics and logic. Whatever is proper to Holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.”

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

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

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

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

Response Psalm 138:
“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord”
This psalm of David is one in which angels figure prominently, making it a fitting response to our first reading. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth…when I called you answered me, you built up strength within me.”

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Luke 5:1-11

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

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

REFLECT
What is God asking you to do that seems ridiculous? Unreasonable? Foolish? Can you throw our your net at His command and “do whatever He tells you?” Even if it defies logic? This is difficult indeed. But when Jesus tugs at our hearts to be His hands and feet and voice, we must respond with faith as Peter did.  We must go out, go forth, and even if the proverbial water looks empty of fish and we’ve been up all night … we must cast that net anyway. Be Not Afraid. Jesus, I Trust in You.

1.31.2016 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome back!

Resources:  This week’s readings are here. Here is the 1.page.bible.timeline.

Fun Fact – The Divided Kingdom:
Today’s fun fact is a actually a quick lesson. One of the most important OT events involves the division of The Davidic Kingdom. If you are familiar with this event, reading the bible becomes far more exciting! In the simplest possible terms, here it is:

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

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

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

1st Reading: JEREMIAH 1:4-5, 17-19

BACKGROUND
Jeremiah prophesied before Babylon conquered Judah (the South) in 586. He’s there to warn them. Often referred to by scholars as “the weeping prophet” Jeremiah weeps for his people who are far from God. We’re hearing God’s prophetic calls this January. God calls Jeremiah this week, and next week, we hear God call Isaiah. Perhaps, as we start the new liturgical year and approach Lent, this is the Church’s way of “calling” us, too. (We are after all, baptized priest, prophet and king.)
READING
When God calls Jeremiah to be His prophet, we hear, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer 1:5). That verse is enough to ponder and pray on this week. We are each infinitely precious to God, and infinitely important. Interestingly, when God calls Jeremiah we hear echoes of God’s call to Moses:
– Ex 4:12: “Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
– Jer 1:7 “Whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” In sum, Jeremiah has a very hard job ahead of him (“gird up your loins”). He will take on the unpopular role of whistle-blower – he has to tell God’s people that due to their unfaithfulness, Judgement is coming.  God assures him “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.”
God says the same to us today – no matter your current struggle, God will deliver you.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM 71
“I will Sing of Your Salvation”

This is a Psalm of David. To be sure, it sounds like something Jeremiah would have said in reply to God (especially with the reference to birth). It’s also something we can sing to God when we are in a difficult situation: “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength.”This song of hope continues, so listen closely to your Sunday psalmist!

A beautiful description I found online: “This is the prayer of the Aged Believer, who, in holy confidence of faith, strengthened by a long and remarkable experience, pleads against his enemies, and asks further blessings for himself. Anticipating a gracious reply, he promises to magnify the Lord exceedingly.”

2nd READING: 1 Cor 12:31, 13:1-13

BACKGROUND:
This is a common “wedding reading,” but I challenge us to look at it in a new light today.  Remember – Corinth was “The Big Apple” of the time, a place bustling with commerce and social and intellectual growth. Believers there had started to return to old ways. The Church was fracturing. The people were engaging in immoral behavior and had become careless in their treatment of the Eucharist. In sum, they were acting very selfish. The reading aims to unravel their selfishness by talking on Love. Today’s reading is the centerpiece of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts.
READING:
Last week’s reading comes immediately prior to the start of today’s. It begins, “And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”  The point throughout is, without authentic love, our actions are loud, pointless, and noisy. Actions are not wholly pleasing to God unless LOVE is at the heart of them.  We know God = Love. SO, read another way, actions are not wholly pleasing to God unless HE is at the heart of them.

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

GOSPEL – Luke 4:21-30

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

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

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

1.24.2016: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Greetings and Welcome!
Resources for today:
Please view this Sunday’s readings by clicking here.
The One-Page Bible Timeline  is available here.
Fun Fact:
Today’s psalm response (that we sing), is not from the book of Psalms, nor from any of the books of Wisdom. It’s from John 6:63.

First Reading: NEHEMIAH 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

BACKGROUND 
Nehemiah’s best friend was Ezra, who is also a prophet and has his own prophetic book. These 2 books center on the return of God’s people and  their joy. So who were they, and where in the bible are we? Click on the bible timeline above and look at the title labeled “Return.” Remember how the Israelites turned from God and were then exiled out of their land? (This happened twice, once by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians.) In previous weeks, we heard Isaiah tell the people that in time, their light would come, in time, they would be called by a new name (“Epoused,” “My Delight”). Well guess what? Now we’re at that time! The people have returned to their homeland – to which they are “espoused,” and this is cause for great rejoicing – “Delight!” Each figure has a job: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the People.
  • Ezra is the priest. His job is to rebuild the people’s spiritual health. He re-teaches them how to worship rightly.
  • Nehemiah is like the Site Manager on a major construction site. His job is to rebuild the actual city – to physically rebuild the temple walls.
  • The People are having  their biggest “a-ha” moment in all of Israel’s history. They’ve “seen the light” – they’ve come to terms with their past sinfulness. They vow to turn back toward God’s grace. They realize they are a people of worship. It can be considered a precursor to the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son.  The people are returning to their loving God and Father, crying tears of repentance. Their hearts are less hearts of stone, and more hearts of flesh.
READING
In the reading, Ezra reads the scroll (the law) to the people. Just as the deacon or priest stand up higher in front of the assembly to read God’s word, Ezra “stood on a wooden platform that had been made … he opened the scroll so that all might see it, and as he opened it, all the people rose.” Then he read plainly from the book of the law of God, “interpreting it so that all could understand what was read” (the homily). “There was great joy that day in the assembly and the people were encouraged to ‘go, eat rich foods and sweet drinks!'” This is the basis of feast days – when we celebrate with a great feast!

Responsorial Psalm (19):
Response – “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

The verses of psalm 19 reflect beautifully what the people might have said or thought as they heard Ezra read God’s law for the first time in generations. At mass, we “answer” the psalm with words from John chapter 6, which echo the feeling of the people. If we were in the audience listening to Ezra, hearing God’s word after a time of  silence and despair, I think we would consider the words in the scroll to be spirit and life indeed!
Let us all grab hold of the last line in the psalmists’ prayer, underlined below. Let it guide us this week. Now, picture the people in Ezra’s audience saying:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom  to the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

 2nd Reading: 1 COR 12:18-30

BACKGROUND
This reading is similar to last week’s 2nd reading, so it will sound familiar (we have many gifts but the same Spirit). Paul stayed in Corinth longer than any other city. Corinth was the cosmopolitan center – the  Big Apple of the Christian world – politically, economically and socially. The letter is thought to be written 5 years after he founded the Church in Corinth. The people struggled to stay united as they faced vices and heresies that threatened to fracture the foundation Paul built. He was deeply troubled by the condition of the Church and wrote this letter to provide instruction and spiritual direction until he could arrive in person.
READING
We’re familiar with this reading (one body made of many parts). It is a metaphor for the Church yes, but how can we think more deeply about this reality?
Paul posits that small body parts are not insignificant – think eyes (sight) or ear (hear), heart valve (life) or ovary, (potential life). Each part, no matter its size, plays a vital role. The same is true for us as people, and also our actions.  None of us are too small to make an impact. No act is too small to help the Church grow or thrive. We all matter. God’s love for each of His children knows no bounds. And what amazes and bewilders me when I stop on this thought, is how God put us each here for a reason. A very specific one. Inside each of us lies a “brick” that will build the kingdom of Heaven in a way only God can design. Much like Nehemiah was the Site Manager to rebuild the city, Christ is our builder, our creator.

St. Therese of Lisieux lived this beautifully, believing, “If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

To God, “littleness” does not mean “insignificance.” That idea is a human construct. The Lord needs our littleness to complete His glorious kingdom! May we never forget that every small act, every kind utterance, every tiny sacrifice known only to God, MATTERS.

GOSPEL: Luke 1: 1-4, 4:14-21

BACKGROUND
As you may know, Luke is not an apostle – not an eye-witness to Jesus’ miracles or his passion and death. He was, however, the right-hand man of the apostle Paul, his scribe. In his gospel, we see Jesus through Paul’s eyes. Consequently, Luke has something to prove to his audience- that he knew his stuff. That is the reason for verses 1-4 where he sets the stage and strengthens his credibility.
READING
Here we are with scrolls again! I love it when the connection is so clear. Remember when Nehemiah wrote about Ezra proclaiming the law? How he had found the scroll which had been lost for generations? Here Jesus takes out the scroll and draws the connection to Isaiah 58:6. Isaiah prophesied that God would eventually free them from the bondage of Babylonian slavery. In the gospel, Jesus promises, through his eventual death on the cross, though he does not refer to it directly here, to free the people from their current oppressors (the Romans). If you were in the audience and heard Jesus say these words, don’t you think you’d be able to hear a pin drop?
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Let us go forward this week thinking on the themes of “Scroll” and “We are all One Body.” Do you need to return to the scroll – to God’s law – more perfectly? Is there something or someone you’re wrestling with that God could help you understand? He’s ready to walk with you. What part of the Body are you? Forget about size…what is God calling you to be for His kingdom? You are a critical piece to His masterpiece. Consider carrying out one act that will build up the Body of Christ this week.
Until next time!

 

1.17.16: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome back! I hope you all had a blessed week.

Resources for today:
Please view this Sunday’s readings by clicking here.
The One-Page Bible Timeline  is available here.

Fun Fact: The Baptism of the Lord (last Sunday) is a “both/and” day. It is both the last day of the Christmas season and the first Sunday in Ordinary Time. As a result, here we are in the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. Why does the Church use the term “Ordinary?” It doesn’t mean “ordinary” as in – “regular” or “without excitement.”  At its root is the term “Ordinal” or “Order” – as in, going about the year in an orderly fashion of first, second, third, all the way to thirty-third. Now the liturgical color is green, signifying a time of growth in the Church (vs. penance during Lent or Advent, and vs. celebration during Christmas, Easter, or other feast days).

Let’s jump in!

First Reading: Isaiah 62: 1-5 

It helps to know that the book of Isaiah is broken into 2 major parts: 1) The Book of Judgement (ch 1-39: the people have turned their back on God and Judgement will come) and 2) The Book of Consolation (ch 40-66: God will restore them eventually, and never abandon them.).  Despite the people’s stubborn nature, God consistently shows His parental nature, correcting His children repeatedly.  Yes, he allows hardship for them, but always for the sake of restoring them to Him. He never abandons them. He loves them unconditionally. In the same way, when we encounter hardship, we must Trust in His ways, recalling that He will never abandon us either.

We’re in chapter 62 this Sunday – a joyful part of Isaiah’s book of consolation. Isaiah is so filled with joy that he cannot be silent! Despite the darkness the people are in at Isaiah’s writing (we’re around 800-700 B.C. and the Assyrians are knocking on their door, about to conquer and exile them), God will eventually do some truly great things for His people and lead them back to their land, land which God promised them in the covenant with Abraham.

Think for a moment about your name. What is your birth name? Your maiden name? Your Confirmation name? Your married name? When do we receive new names? During life’s big changes when we experience personal re-birth, or re-dedication – either to the Lord (at baptism, confirmation, entering religious life) or to your spouse (women taking on a new last name).

Did you notice Isaiah had some issues with his ‘caps lock’ key? He capitalized words like “Forsaken”, “Desolate”, “My Delight” and “Espoused.” These are “before and after” names for God’s people Israel. What we see here is that God comes, He re-names His people.  God will re-name His people. He will bring them out of the old ways of slavery and sin (when they were “Forsaken” and “Desolate”) and into new life. For the people in Isaiah’s time this means they’ll eventually return to their land; for us it means that through Christ, we are reborn in baptism and referred to as “My Delight” and “Espoused.”

Responsorial: Psalm 96

Response: “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.” The theme here is prophecy, as in the verb “to prophecy”, which is translated literally as “The act of interpreting divine will or purpose.” This is what the prophets of old did, and it is what we are called to do as well. How do you interpret God’s will in your life? Are you a good listener? Do you spend time in the classroom of silence to truly put your own will and desires aside to hear His will and desire for you? He speaks in the silence. He speaks through people and events. He’s always speaking; but how well do we listen? The psalm calls us to proclaim his marvelous deeds to the ends of the earth, to all the nations.

How exactly are we supposed to proclaim these marvelous deeds? Paul has some words of wisdom for us in the next reading, a guidebook if you will…

 Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

Paul tells the Corinthians – and us – to prophecy by using our spiritual gifts.  “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” (Paul specifically mentions “the gift of prophesy”). This is how we proclaim His marvelous deeds.

What are your spiritual gifts? Are you a good friend?  Maybe you’re a great cook, or pianist, or artist. Do you bring joy wherever you go? How do you live your faith? In what ways do you set a good example to others? Sometimes the greatest witness can be to simply “know thyself.” That is, figure out what your gifts are and spend your life honing and using them for the glory of God. When you know a person and they’re doing what God calls them to do, isn’t that obvious? It’s refreshing. It encourages others to seek out the inherent joy these people experience every day.  God has so much planned for us. He’s given each of us special and intentional gifts. This Lent, enter into prayer to discover His plan for your gifts.  Think you’re using them pretty darn well? Not sure what to do now? Tell God you need a kick in the rear to reach higher for Him. He will show you the way.

Gospel: John 2: 1-11

We’re in Year C, Luke’s gospel, but we hear from John this week. The Church chose to start us off in ordinary time in a beautiful way – with Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding at Cana. This story is only recorded in John’s gospel. Next week, we’re back to Luke.

This gospel is packed with meaning and connections. It can be dissected in myriad ways, from the fact that Jesus performed this miracle at a wedding feast (we refer to Mass as a wedding feast), to the numerology hidden in the six jars, to the meaning in the materials Jesus uses here,turning water into wine, both of which will pour from His side at the cross (Eucharistic blood is consecrated from wine). But today, let’s stick with the conversation between Mary and Jesus.

In those days, weddings were numerous days long and filled with much celebration. To run out of wine was no small issue, but an embarrassing concern for the couple and the family as a whole. Some scholars note that Mary’s concern for the situation may indicate that she is a relative of the wedding party. She goes to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.”

Let’s pause here. I heard a beautiful commentary on this. Mary knows what her son can do. She knows He has not yet performed any public miracles, but like a good mother who knows her son in a unique and intimate way, she nudges him. Notice she doesn’t go on and on about why there is no wine. She doesn’t give reasons, place blame, or offer suggestions on how to fix the problem (don’t we sometimes approach prayer requests like this?). She simply states a fact: They have no wine.

In this small act, Mary is a model for us in our prayer. First, she has utter and complete faith in her Son, that He will deliver. Second, she serves as an intercessor for the wedding couple by taking their wishes to Jesus, just like she takes our prayers to Jesus, with full faith that He will deliver. So next time you have a need, consider asking with the kind of faith Mary displayed here, (and ask Mary to take your prayers to Him).

“Jesus, my child is very sick.”
“Jesus, I lost my job.”
“Jesus, I’ve shattered a relationship.”
“Jesus, I’ve lost faith in our world.”
“Jesus, I’m afraid to hear the test results.”

All our hopes, fears, and dreams are already contained in these few words. Can you and should you pour out more to Him? By all means. But never think you must be verbose. Especially during times when we are drained of all energy and maybe even the desire to pray, we can at least tell Him as Mary did: “Jesus, I have no wine.”

This conversation between Mary and Jesus is also the fulfillment of an Old Testament story. As noted in the Ignatian Study bible, “Genesis 3 is the reverse image of the story of the Wedding at Cana. As Eve prompted Adam to defy the Lord and drag the human family into sin and death, so Mary, the new Eve, prompts Jesus, the new Adam, to initiate His mission of salvation.”  I invite you to sit with this statement, to think and pray on this beautiful reality.

Lastly, in John 2: 5, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” These are the final words of Mary in the New Testament. She commands the servants in the story – and we in the world – to follow Him, and do whatever He tells us. Those are some powerful “last words.”

So…what is Jesus telling you?

1.10.16: The Baptism of the Lord

Welcome to the first post of Banquet of the Word!

This blog is designed to help you get the most out of the upcoming Sunday and Holy Day readings. A mixture of history, context, and inspiration, I pray it will lead you closer to God in The Word. Please note the timeline posted here 1.page.bible.timeline. This tool allows you to get a glimpse of Salvation History in just one page. Refer to it weekly to deepen your understanding of scripture.

If you have limited scriptural knowledge, Be Not Afraid. Scripture is God’s voice; in It, He speaks to you personally. But believe me, I recognize how intimidating the Bible can be – in its length, the numerous styles in which it’s written, and the messages therein. This is why I find it works well to explore scripture through the Sunday readings, one week at a time. So stay with it! The “Commandment” of this blog is “Thou Shalt Not Get Discouraged!”

Fun fact: This week we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, the official end of the Christmas Season (According to the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time doesn’t officially begin until the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday after Epiphany.)

Let’s dive in!
Access this week’s readings by clicking HERE

1ST READING (IS 42: 1-4, 6-7)

Isaiah is a prophet with whom we’re all familiar, even if just by name. In terms of length, Isaiah takes the cake for the Old Testament prophets at a total of 66 chapters. It is often called “The Fifth Gospel” because it bears witness to Christ unparalleled by any book in the OT. He prophesied for close to 79 years, during what is arguably the worst time in Israel’s history. Put simply, the people have turned their back on God in a serious way, for a seriously long time (think idol worship, really bad-behaving kings, and exile). But God gave Isaiah a message to share: Despite the deep darkness in which Israel found themselves, a great light would come.

For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded in significance. He constantly called his people back to reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues.  Isaiah is known for his 4 “servant songs.” This verbiage resurfaces in the New Testament (and in today’s Gospel). Isaiah writes to a people who are familiar with kings being anointed in their land at huge ceremonies. They would have heard this kind of language at one of those ceremonies – for example, when David anointed Solomon. In speaking to them in this familiar style, his message is more likely to stick.

As you hear this reading at mass, take note that what Jesus does when He comes to live among us in human form – fulfills the prophecy we hear from Isaiah.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (29)

“The Lord will bless His people with peace.”

The psalm is always a response to the first reading. Today’s response assures us that though the people are in darkness, the Lord will bless His people with peace. Interestingly, He doesn’t promise to bless the times and seasons  with peace (look at all the unrest around us today and throughout history), but he will bless His people with peace – peace in their hearts despite what’s happening around them. Take comfort in Christ our Savior. True peace will be achieved at the Second Coming. Until then, be a people of peace, a light to the nations.

2nd READING: ACTS 10: 34-38

Usually in the 2nd reading, we hear from one of the Pastoral Letters (Paul or Peter). In this pivotal scene from Acts, Peter, the Rock on whom Christ built the Church, the first Pope, makes a striking announcement to the people – and to us. Salvation through Christ – which comes through baptism –  is not just available to Jews, but also to the Gentiles! This was a shocking discovery. Let’s pause and consider why this is.

Up until this point, the people who believed Christ was the Messiah were elated to know that all the prophecies of old were now fulfilled. The Messiah had come! But it’s a sticky moment in Church history to a degree. Everyone who was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah – including the Apostles and Jesus himself – were Jewish. So to them, their Messiah had come, the answer promised to them for generations was here. But they didn’t really understand that this was  now a New Covenant – this would mean a “new faith” (Christianity) – new practices, new teachings. The concept of a “new faith” or “a new Church” was not yet established. Many of Paul’s letters are written to clarify these complex, generations-old traditions: “Do we still need to be circumcised? Can we eat ‘unclean’ foods? What are the new rules?”  If I were Peter or Paul, charged with that task, I can only imagine the reliance I would need to put on my prayer life and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Back to the reading: So who’s Cornelius? He’s a Roman Centurian – a Gentile. In the reading, Peter preaches the Gospel to Cornelius and other gentiles for the first time.   Here’s where it gets cool. After preaching the gospel (keep reading in Acts 10), Peter sees the gentiles experience the same things that had happened at Pentecost – like speaking in tongues – and he recognizes this as a “second Pentecost.” Peter proceeds to baptize this group of men. This is Peter’s “a-ha” moment: He knows with certainty that God wants ALL people to receive salvation through His Church, beginning with baptism. From this point forward, Peter takes this message out to the world begins to preach to all people.

GOSPEL (LK 3:15-16, 21-22)

The prophets of old said “Before the Messiah comes, look for Elijah.” John the Baptist is acting like “the new Elijah” – who leads the way to Jesus.  John brought words of power to the people to whom he preached, and the people thought he might be the Christ.In the reading, the people are baptized, and Jesus goes last. Jesus puts His people before Him.

Why is Jesus baptized if He’s God? I like this explanation from Catholic Online:

“The Word Incarnate stands in the waters of the earth which was created through Him, and begins the re-creation of everything. Into these waters, through which the people of Israel were once delivered, the entire human race is now invited to follow Jesus. What was once the means of God’s judgment and purification at the time of Noah, now fills the Baptismal font where men and women are delivered from sin and made new.”

At this moment, for the first time, we see all three persons of God present simultaneously: Jesus is there, the Holy Spirit descends on Him like a Dove, and the voice of God the Father is heard from above quoting the servant song of Isaiah 42: “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”

May God bless your week!