Sunday Scriptures — OT C 04, Jan. 31, 2016

Today we hear about the opposition that prophets encounter and we hear about love.

 

Our first reading — Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 — tells of  the call of Jeremiah and of the Lord’s promise not to give Jeremiah ease and comfort in his vocation but to enable him to fulfill it despite all opposition. God planned this role for Jeremiah while he was still in the womb: from conception. In verses which the reading passes over, Jeremiah tries to refuse the call, but God doesn’t accept his excuse. Jeremiah will proclaim the Lord’s word to a people who don’t want to hear it, and he will be persecuted because of it, but he will be faithful to his call.

 

In the responsorial psalm — Ps 71:1-6, 15, 17 with a refrain based on v. 15 — we ask for protection such as God gave Jeremiah. Like him, we have our vocation from before our birth, and like him we proclaim God’s deeds.

 

The gospel — Luke 4:21-30 — repeats the last line of last Sunday’s pericope and tells of what happened after that. Jesus has said he has been anointed by God to proclaim a sort of jubilee year. The people like what he’s saying, but find it hard to believe tat Joseph’s son should be the one with that vocation. They want him to do what he has done in Capernaum. Luke hasn’t provided any specifics (see 4:14-15), but it is safe to infer that he had performed healings such as marked his subsequent ministry. There seem to be two possible meanings of the request that he do what was done in Capernaum. Possibly they want these things for their own sake. Miracles are ore important to them than the good news Jesus proclaims. Alternatively, they could be like the scribes and Pharisees elsewhere in the gospels who want Jesus to perform signs to show that he is approved by God. Either way, they don’t simply accept his message. The prophet is rejected, but, just as God promised Jeremiah, he is given enough protection to enable him to complete his work.

 

The familiar words we heard from First Corinthians in the second reading — 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 — invite us to think about love.

Most of us have heard this passage at weddings. But we should realize that it’s not just talking about the love of husband and wife. In fact, that is really incidental to what St. Paul is thinking about. Paul is thinking of love as the preventive of strife and divisions in the church of Corinth. The second readings of the past two weeks and today follow each other without a break in Paul’s letter. Two weeks ago we heard that there is a variety of ministries in the Church, but all come from the one Holy Spirit. Then last week Paul used the analogy of the body. Just as the body needs all its parts, and all parts need the rest of the body, so the Church needs its members and they all need one another, in all their varied ministries and roles. Today we are told that love matters more than any specific role or action, no matter how great the role or action may be. Love manifests itself in how we deal with the other members of the community. The love that is patient, kind, not jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, self-interested, quick-tempered, brooding over injuries, or rejoicing over wrongdoing, that rejoices with the truth, and bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things is the love that unifies the community. This is not passion, or being “in love.” This love is permanent, and it is needed not only in marriages and families, but also in parishes, dioceses, and the universal Church, and in the societies in which we live.

So we ask ourselves, “Are there ways in which we fall short of this patient and kind love for all? Do our dealings with others spring from love? Even when we need to try to correct them on some point, does  the correction express the love that motivates it?”

 

May the Holy Spirit, giver of all gifts, guide our words and actions to witness to God’s word to his people, soften our hearts to make them more loving, and show us how to let love be the ground of all we do.

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Sunday Scriptures — OT C 03, Jan. 24, 2016

After last week’s passage from John, today we resume with Luke, the Year C evangelist. The reading — Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 — gives us Luke’s introduction to the gospel and then jumps forward to Jesus’ first preaching. We hear that Jesus “stood up to read.” We aren’t told whether this was by invitation and pre-arrangement or whether he just took it on himself “in the power of the Spirit.” I’m inclined to believe the latter. It further says that “he opened the scroll and found the passage,” which also sounds as if he was making the decision for himself. He reads Isaiah 61:1-2. Then he sits down— sitting being the posture of a teacher — and his teaching is that the passage is fulfilled in their hearing: it applies to him. In other words, he is claiming the mandate of the one anointed to bring good news, healing, liberty, and a year of favor.

The word anointed is the word we use to refer to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism. Now he is acting in the power of the Spirit, and h is applying the word anointed publicly to himself. That word anointed is in Hebrew the word we transliterate Messiah. In other words, Jesus is saying, at the start of his ministry, that he is the Messiah, but his Messiahship is not one of establishing the independence of the people of Israel. He is not a political-military messiah. He is a Messiah who lifts up the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

Jesus proclaims “a year acceptable to the Lord.” In the context of what goes before, we may well think of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The anointing which Jesus has is to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy. With our own baptismal anointing, we too are called and empowered to perform works of mercy.
The first reading — Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 — presents us with another, earlier reading of scripture to an assembly. The Israelites have returned from exile and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Now Ezra reads the Torah to the assembled people to renew their way of life according to the Covenant. The people are distressed when they realize that they have been acting in ways contrary to the Law. But the day is holy and it must be a day of rejoicing.

The people show great reverence for the Torah scroll, the word of God. In our sacred assemblies on the Lord’s Day, we, too should show reverence for the scriptures. God is present to us in his word, and even the book in which it is written deserves respect. And as with the Israelites of Nehemiah and Ezra’s time, the Lord’s Day should be for us a day of rejoicing in the Lord.

In the responsorial psalm — Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15 with a refrain based on John 6:63 — we reflect onwhat a blessing it is to have God’s word in sacred scripture.
The second reading — 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 — picks up where last week’s left off.Paul underscores the variety of ministries with an analogy of the human body. Each ministry is given by God for the benefit of the whole church, not just for the one who possesses it. Each ministry has a function to play. As unimportant as it may seem, it is needed. Paul also presents the idea that this body, the church, is Christ’s body. We have often called it the “mystical body of Christ” to distinguish it from his physical body and from his sacramental body in the Eucharist. It is this body, of which we are all parts, through which Jesus continues to act in history., which is what it means, as I said above, that we are called and empowered to perform works of mercy — those listed in Isaiah, as well as Matthew 25, and elsewhere.

It is also worth reflecting that this reading occurs during the week of prayer for Christian unity. While Paul was not writing with the current divisions among Christians in mind, certainly we can see that a divided Christianity is not something he would have wanted, when even the factions at Corinth were unacceptable. So it is always appropriate for us to pray for the unit among Christians which is God’s will for his Church.

Sunday Scriptures — OT C 02, Jan. 17, 2016

Clearly, the connecting thread between the first reading and the gospel is marriage, or perhaps celebrating marriage.

We are at the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (the first having been last Sunday’s Feat of the Baptism of the Lord), and instead of a reading from Luke, whose gospel will be read on the remaining Sundays in Ordinary Time, today we have a reading from John — as it happens the story of the wedding feast at Cana, which gives us the third “mystery” of the Epiphany, the changing of water into wine for the wedding guests.
We begin with Isaiah 62:1-5 — a passage about the restoration of Jerusalem. After words about a glory that is manifested to the nations — the theme of Epiphany — the prophets turns to images of marriage to describe God’s relationship with his restored people. It is not just that God cares for his people and sustains them, but he delights in them, marries them, rejoices in them as a bridgroom in his bride. This powerful imagery tells us how intense God’s love is for us. Indirectly, it shows us an ideal for marriage and underscores its value.

 

The responsorial psalm — Ps 96:1-3, 7-10 — returns us to singing God’s praises among the nations and calling them all to join his people, implicitly in light of his espousal of his people.

 
The second reading — 1 Cor 12:4-11 — begins a series from First Corinthians 12 and 15 which continues in the lectionary through the 8th Sunday. But Lent begins after the fifth Sunday, and the 6th through the 8th are superseded by the solemnities which follow Eastertide. At any rate, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth in these chapters about right order in the community. Here he reminds them and us that whatever gifts we have come from the Holy Spirit, as do other people’s gifts, and they are all given for the benefit of all. Therefore, we shouldn’t regard ourselves as special or privileged because of our gifts.

 

The gospel — John 2:1-11 — is full of elements worth considering. There is the matter of the relationship between Mary and Jesus in this context. Mary acts as intercessor for the couple. Jesus accedes to her request. Then there is the matter of Jesus’ “hour,” when he will fulfill his purpose by going to the triumph of the cross. And, clearly, there is the context of the wedding feast. When I was in school, ou catechism said that “a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” Of course, marriage existed before the time of Jesus. It existed before the covenant at Mount Sinai. Genesis indicates that it has existed throughout the existence of the human race. But our definition tells us that Jesus instituted the sacrament of matrimony, raising the human institution to that level. We were told that it was at Cana that Jesus made marriage a sacrament for his followers. I’d be inclined to suggest that when he speaks of marriage as an act of God joining man and woman together (Matthew 19:6 and parallels), it is at least as clear a teaching that marriage is a action of God. Still. this passage does show Jesus’ esteem for marriage, not only in that he attended the wedding, but that he insured that the celebration would go well.

But John refers to what Jesus did as a “sign.” It has a meaning beyond the actual event. This meaning was sufficiently evident to the disciples that they “began to believe in him.” An important part of that obvious significance was probably the matter of “Messianic abundance:” the expectation that in the Messianic age, there would be more than enough of everything. So, as with the later feeding of the crowds, the change from insufficiency to abundance is an sign that the Messianic age has begun with the coming of Jesus. Beyond that, there is a sign that would only later become clear. Jesus transforms water into wine, just as, at the Last Supper, he would transform wine into his blood. The Eucharist, the Mass, is the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, Jesus, with his bride, the Church, and we are all participants in the celebration, made joyful with the wine transformed into his saving blood.

Sunday Scriptures — Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2016

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the last day of the Christmas season in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Tomorrow, we plunge back into Ordinary Time, where we will stay until Ash Wednesday, which is early this year: February 10. But there is some overlap. Although this is the last day of Christmastide, and tomorrow begins the first week in Ordinary Time, next Sunday isn’t called the first Sunday in OT, but the second — I suppose that’s so that weeks will take their number from the Sunday that begins them. More significantly, as I noted last week, Epiphany includes three events: the visit of the Magi, which was the focus last week, the Baptism of Jesus, and the wedding feast at Cana. Today, we get the Baptism; what about Cana? It’s the gospel passage next Sunday, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time!

Speaking of overlap, today’s readings carry us back to Advent and Christmas. The first reading — Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 — is read at Mass on the second Tuesday of Advent. Classical Music fans will also recognize parts of it as furnishing texts for Handel’s “Messiah.” And even though this precise passage isn’t read on a Sunday, the promise of Jerusalem’s restoration and joy and the coming of the Lord is a familiar Advent theme. The second reading — Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 — combines the second reading from the Midnight and Dawn Masses of Christmas. The gospel — Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 — includes two verses from the passage about John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-18) that was read on the third Sunday of Advent this year.
Our first reading contains nothing that seems to refer specifically to Jesus’ baptism by John. But there is a connection at a more basic level. There is a hymn which begins with the lines, “When Jesus comes to be baptized/ He leaves the hidden years behind.” Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. Up until then he had been living quietly as the carpenter’s son in Nazareth. After the Baptism, he fasts in the desert and then begins to go about proclaiming the kingdom of God. In that way, the Baptism was the moment, after his incarnation and birth, when he began to actively fulfill this prophecy. This is the moment when it becomes possible to say to all, “Here is your God.” This is the moment when he enters on the work of feeding his flock.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 29:1-2, 3ac-4, 3b&9b-10 with 11b as the refrain — has a theme of giving God glory and praise; but the refrain puts it all in the context of the blessing of peace which corresponds to the opening and final verses of the first reading. The verse about the voice of the Lord over the waters is clearly a reference to the scene at the end of the gospel, which means that it works best when we are already aware of the gospel accounts of the Baptism and thinking at least generally of the feast of the day.

 

Both parts of the second reading begin with a reference to an appearance (that is manifestation or epiphany, we might say) of the “grace of God,” the “kindness and generous love of God our Savior.” These are two ways of saying essentially the same thing. And this appearance happened in one way at Jesus’ birth but much more fully in the public ministry he began with his Baptism. It is fulfilled in his death and resurrection, which then is brought into our lives at our baptism — the “bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” which “deliver[s] us from all lawlessness and … cleanse[s] for himself a people as his own.” Our rebirth and cleansing is then brought to completion in our resurrection at his final appearance at the end of time.

 

The gospel begins with John’s acknowledgement that he is not the Messiah. The Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that the fire is the tongues of fire which accompanied the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:3) and that this is what Jesus meant when he said that he had come to cast fire upon the earth and wished that it were kindled (Luke 12:49). Luke does not dwell on the actual Baptism but on the immediate aftermath. As Jesus prays, the Holy Spirit descends on him with a visible manifestation in the form of a dove, and the Father audibly pronounces Jesus his beloved son with whom he is well pleased. Is is traditional to speak of this descent of the Holy Spirit as an anointing — the anointing of Jesus which made him God’s anointed one: Messiah, as we anglicize the Hebrew word for it, or Christ, as we anglicize the Greek. This is why Jesus did not begin his ministry until after his Baptism: it was only then that he was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the ministry.

We believe that this gospel account shows us what happens at our baptism. God pronounces us his children by adoption and sends the Holy Spirit (symbolized by anointing with the sacred chrism) to anoint us for our share in Jesus’ ministry of spreading the Kingdom of God.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 3, 2016

The Solemnity of the Epiphany is, along with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, one of the top four days in the Church’s calendar. Obviously Easter is the highest of all. Trying to rank the other three is not easy. But it is worth noting that Epiphany seems to have been celebrated even earlier than Christmas. Traditionally, the day was celebrated on January 6, which led to the 12 days of Christmas: December 25-January 5. But in order that everybody should celebrate this very important feast, it can be shifted to the Sunday after January 1, which has been done in the United States.

The word “epiphany” means “appearance, manifestation” and at first it included Jesus’ baptism, the miracle of water and wine, and his birth, as well as the visit of the magi. Eventually, the birth of Jesus received its own separate feast, and later, the baptism and the wedding feast at Cana were separated as well. But still today, in its official Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer on this day, the Church has antiphons for the gospel canticles which state that today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism by John, the changing of water into wine at Cana, and the visit of the magi to Bethlehem. Still, the focus of the feast has become the magi, with three themes: glory, gentiles, and gifts.
Our first reading — Isaiah 60:1-6 — speaks of the glory of the Lord shining over Jerusalem, her light. This light will accompany her dispersed children as they return. Other nations, the gentiles, are in darkness, but the light of glory emanating from Jerusalem leads them to come with abundant precious gifts. The gold and frankincense mentioned here will also be found in the familiar gospel account of the magi.
In the responsorial psalm — Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 — we use the refrain, “Lord every nation on earth will adore you,” thus shifting the focus from the glory of the restored Jerusalem (which we take as a type of the Church) to the Lord himself. In that context we look to the king who will bring justice and peace, worldwide and forever, with gifts coming from the gentiles. In other words, we see Jesus, receiving the gifts of the magi, as the king we are praying for. An important element of his peaceful and just rule is care for the poor, the afflicted, and the lowly.
The gentiles are at the heart of the second reading — Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6. The main point that Paul makes is that the gentiles are now made members of God’s people along with the Jews, so that we can share in all the benefits brought by the Messiah to God’s people. He also points out that this is something we know now by God’s revelation. It wasn’t clear in earlier times. In Isaiah and the psalm, the Gentiles acknowledge God in Jerusalem and in the messiah king, but it isn’t stated that they become one with Israel. Now it is made clearer. The glory of the Lord draws them into God’s own people.
The gospel — Matthew 2:1-12 — presents one of the most familiar accounts in the Bible: the magi bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus as an act of homage to the king of the Jews. Perhaps the most important point with regard to this feast of the manifestation of the Lord, is that the magi are gentiles. Jesus is being revealed to non-Jews. We regard the magi as the first representatives of all nations. They bring gifts, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

We might also note that even though with the star God gave them a sign which they could recognize, they still needed the guidance provided from scripture (Micah 5:1) to find Jesus. Remarkable also is the point that the priests and scribes were so nonchalant: even though they were able to say that the Messiah’s birthplace was Bethlehem, they didn’t care enough to follow up. On the other hand, Herod did care. He seems to have believed in the birth of the Messiah more than the priests and scribes did. But, as we learn in the rest of chapter 2, he regarded this king not as a savior but as a threat.

 
For the magi, the encounter with Jesus changed their lives, in that they didn’t go home by the way they had planned. For us, it should be the same. The encounter should change the course of our lives. They offered gifts. We give ourselves, as he gives himself to us and gives himself to the Father for us. When we walk in the light of Christ and his glory shines on us, the light of that glory should also shine through us to enlighten others who do not yet know him. Do we show Jesus to the world and lead people to him? Are we called to do it better or differently?

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1, 2016

The Catholic Church teaches four dogmas about the Blessed Virgin Mary: that she is Mother of God (Theotokos, in Greek); that she was always a virgin; that she was conceived without the stain of original sin; and that after her earthly life she was assumed body and soul into heaven. The earliest of these to be formally defined as church teaching is that Mary is Mother of God. It was done at the Council of Ephesus, in 431. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that Mary preexists the Holy Trinity, or that God takes his being from her. But it insists that Jesus Christ, God and man, is one person, and that Mary gave birth to all of him; she couldn’t just give birth to him as a human, since he had no existence just as a person. It’s as much about the unity of Jesus as one person as it is about Mary herself.

Before 1969, January, the octave day of Christmas, was known as the Feast of the Circumcision,because it was on the eighth day after his birth that Jesus was circumcised. The gospel for the day was just the verse telling of the circumcision. But in the liturgical revisions of 1969, it was designated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Pope Paul VI had also designated it as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The readings of the Mass reflect the history of the day.

 
The first reading — Numbers 6:22-27 — may seem out of place at first glance, but the priestly blessing concludes by invoking peace on the people, which is apt for the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The full blessing also seems appropriate for the beginning of the new year in the secular calendar of most of the world. It reminds us that God is the creator and giver of all good gifts. In the responsorial psalm — Ps. 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 — we ask his blessing for ourselves and for the world.
The second reading — Galatians 4:4-7 — while not mentioning Mary’s name, speaks of Jesus’ being born of her. His birth into our humanity makes it possible for him to bring us into his status: we become adopted children of God. Mary’s son had to be God to save us.
Finally, the gospel —Luke 2:16-22 — unites the themes. The shepherds report what they have heard and seen: Mary’s son, Jesus, is the Savior, and his birth brings peace to the world from God. On the eighth day after his birth, he is circumcised, under the Law, and given the name assigned to him by the angel at the Annunciation — a name which means, “The Lord saves,” which is what he does.

 

We should have Aaron and the priests as models, as we pray for God’s blessings, especially peace, for the world. We should be like the shepherds and praise and glorify God for all that he has revealed to us of his saving activity. We should imitate Mary, reflecting in our hearts on all God has said and done; and may this bring us a happy year 2016.