Sunday Scriptures — OT A 07 & 08, Feb. 19 & 26, 2017

On the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first reading — Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 — gives us some of the background for Jesus’ teaching in the gospel — Matthew 5:38-48. In the gospel, a further excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues his expansion of the Old Testament teachings. First, he says it is not enough to limit oneself to demanding no punishment greater than the injury one has suffered. The first reading told us not to seek revenge or hold on to grudges. Jesus tells us not to seek satisfaction for injuries at all. We are to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Then he turns to love of neighbor, which was commanded in the first reading. We are also to love our enemies as well. The first reading said we are to be holy as God is holy. Jesus tells us to be perfect as God is perfect. Of course, we are limited creatures, so our perfection can only be a limited perfection. Furthermore, we can only achieve it with God’s grace, and most of us will finally attain perfection in heaven, after God has removed our lingering imperfections in the cleansing we call Purgatory.

The second reading — 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 — reminds us that God surpasses us and all our attainments, so we have nothing of our own to be proud or self-satisfied about. What is important is that we belong to Christ and to the Father, who gives us all we have.

 

The Eighth Sunday gives us readings which remind us that we can and should rely on God’s unfailing love for us. In the first reading — Isaiah 49:14-15 — the prophet delivers God’s promise that his love for his people is even more reliable than a mother’s love for her child. The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 62 — expresses our confidence in God alone. Jesus, in the gospel, another passage from the Sermon on the Mount — Matthew 6:24-34 — tells us that our confidence in God’s loving care for us should remove all anxiety. The passage contains the familiar examples of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field: God cares for them. It’s not that we don’t need food, drink, and clothing. We need them and even have to expend our own efforts to provide them. God doesn’t provide them miraculously. But we shouldn’t put them at the forefront of our concern. That would amount to serving mammon rather than God. We act prudently every day, dealing with what happens secure in our knowledge that God loves us always.

In the second reading — 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 — St. Paul reminds us that God is judge of all. There are two consequences: we are not to presume to judge other people; and we need to strive to use God’s gifts to us responsibly in his service.

 

Note: Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday, so Ordinary Time gives way to Lent and Eastertide. Ordinary Time will resume on Monday, June 5, but the Sunday Masses of Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi will replace those of the 10th and 11th Sundays in Ordinary Time. On June 25 we will have the Mass for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

President-elect Trump

I suppose he isn’t officially President-elect until the electors elect him, but that’s a foregone conclusion. Anyway, here are some thoughts I’ve been having since I woke up Wednesday morning.

 

I still think he’s unfit for office for all the reasons I’ve said, and maybe more. But there are some areas of expected action where it’s better to have him as President. The one I immediately think of is nominations to the Supreme Court. It has seemed to me for decades that many of the Justices of the Supreme Court have been reading their own personal preferences into the Constitution and creating “rights” which the framers never intended. This goes back at least to Roe v Wade. With the expected vacancies being filled by Trump nominees, we can hope for this judicial tyranny to stop, and even to have some of the willful decisions reversed.

 

More generally, we can hope to see greater recognition of religious freedom than a Clinton administration would have given and maybe even a curtailment of the scope of the federal government consonant with the 10th Amendment, although limited government as such wasn’t one of Trumps talking points.

 

Trump’s seeming willingness to ignore our NATO obligations, particularly toward the Baltic States, has me worried that Putin would see them as available for the taking. But it could conceivably happen that Trump’s friendly attitude toward the Russian dictator could end up making him feel more secure and therefore less inclined to grab more territory. This depends, of course, on whether his annexation of Crimea and attempted takeover of Ukraine are motivated by expansionism or insecurity, and which motives would apply to the Baltics.

 

On Thursday we’ve seen some hopeful signs. He assured Korea that under his presidency, the U.s. will continue to defend them. Maybe he’ll rethink out Nato obligations as well. His extended meeting with Obama and the kind words afterwards suggest that maybe he realizes that there’s more to being president that he had thought — although we have to bear in mind that it is normal procedure for him to say whatever he thinks people want to hear, with necessarily meaning it. And there was a recent headline stating that the mention of banning Muslims from entering the country has disappeared from his website.

 

I suppose we can see it as a function of his being totally unprincipled that he has no problem changing his positions. Nevertheless, it does seem that he is making changes in the direction of more sensible policies and actions. So I see some basis for hope that in practice, he won’t be as bad as I feared. I think it all comes down to his having good advisers and actually listening to them. One in particular on whom I pin a lot of hope is Newt Gingrich. He’s a true conservative, devoted to governing by constitutional principles, and I think if Trump listens to him, we will not see Trump acting as a dictator rather than a President.

 

Ultimately what matters is what he does in office, not what he said during the campaign. We’ll have to wait and see.

Sunday Scriptures — Third Sunday of Easter C, Apr. 10, 2016

This Sunday’s readings continue the pattern from last Sunday: first reading from Acts, second from Revelation, and Gospel from John. This will also be followed in the remaining Sundays of Easter, except where the Ascension is transferred to the Seventh Sunday. It seems to me that the readings of a particular Sunday were not selected to develop a particular theme. Each stands on its own, although it may be possible to see some resonances between some of them.

 

The first reading — Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41 — brings us some of the account of the second appearance of the apostles before the Sanhedrin. Peter and John had healed a cripple and proclaimed that Jesus was the Lord through whose power it was done. The Sanhedrin had ordered them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. When they persisted, they were brought in again, and today’s reading gives the account of this second appearance, leaving out the speech of Gamaliel, who warned the Sanhedrin that if the apostles’ preaching was from God, they would be opposing God if they opposed the apostles. It also omits a line that says the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged before releasing them, which lets us know what the line about suffering dishonor for the sake of the name means. Peter’s speech is a synopsis of the more extensive proclamations reported elsewhere in Acts.

It is because the apostles have seen the risen Lord (one instance being given in today’s gospel) that they can stand firm in the face of the Sanhedrin’s orders, threats, and punishment. We, too, must be prepared to stand firm when our faith is challenged.
In the responsorial psalm — verses from Ps. 30 — we have a prayer that reflects the apostles’ thanksgiving after their release.

 

 

The second reading — Revelation 5:11-14 — gives us a view , in language and images that may be figurative rather than literal, of what is happening in heaven. Jesus is the Lamb, prefigured by the Israelites’ Paschal lamb, who is slain but who saves us from death not only by giving his flesh and blood, but also by rising from the dead, thus conquering death. The whole universe recognizes his glory. Chapter 4 of Revelation presented a scene in which 24 elders worshipped God who was seated on his throne surrounded by four living creatures — one like a lion, one like an ox, one with a human face, and one like an eagle in flight. The appearance of the living creatures recalls Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures, each of which had all four faces (Ezekiel 1:1-28). In chapter 10, Ezekiel again has a vision in which he realizes that they are cherubim. Beginning with St. Irenaeus in the second century, it has been common to see the four living creatures of Revelation as representing the four evangelists: the lion, Mark; the ox, Luke; the human, Matthew; and the eagle, John. Scholars think that in context they are intended to be angels that govern the physical world, while the elders represent the Church. In this reading, then, their worship symbolizes that of humanity and all creatures of the universe, now directed to Jesus, and joined to that of the angels.

In the first Eucharistic prayer, there is a sentence which asks that our offering (the consecrated elements, the Body and Blood of Christ) may be carried to God’s altar in heaven so that all who participate in the reception of Communion from this altar on earth may be filled with heavenly grace and blessing. Our worship is a sharing of the worship of God in heaven: one meaning of the “communion of saints” referred to in the creed.

 

 

The gospel — John 21:1-19 — presents three parts of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus: a miraculous catch of fish, a meal of fish and bread, and a dialogue of Jesus and Peter.

The catch of fish recalls the catch of fish which took place at the call of Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee (James and John) in Luke 5:1-11. In both, the fishermen have caught nothing all night, but Jesus tells them where to lower the net, resulting in a catch so large that they cannot haul the net into the boat. In Luke, Peter confesses his sinfulness. In John, the beloved disciple recognizes that the man on shore is the Lord.

In John 6: 1-14, Jesus feeds a large crowd with five barley loaves and two fish, which leads to their recognition of him as one promised by God in Deuteronomy 18:15 (see also Malachi 3:1&23). That previous miracle occasioned the Bread of Life discourse in which Jesus identified himself as the bread of life, whose flesh and blood he would give for the life of the world — whoever consumed them would possess eternal life. At the Last Supper and on Calvary, Jesus fulfilled his promise, and after his resurrection, the disciples in Emmaus recognized him in the breaking of the bread — Luke 24:35. Thus the miraculous meal of fish and bread symbolizes the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

In the scene of the call of Matthew, Matthew acknowledged that he was a sinner. He is again a sinner, having denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus undoes that denial by requiring a threefold declaration of love. But it doesn’t only mean that Peter’s denial of Jesus is forgiven. Peter’s leadership of the post-resurrection community of Jesus’ followers is affirmed three times as well. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18) who has laid down his life for his sheep and taken it up again. Now Peter becomes the shepherd.

Finally, Jesus tells Peter what he can expect. Just as Jesus was bound and executed, so, in his turn, will Peter suffer a similar end (with, of course, the promise of eternal life given in John 6).
So Jesus in effect constitutes his Church around the sacred meal of his body and blood with Peter as the shepherd. The success of the disciples as “fishers of men” depends on Jesus.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception wasn’t made up by Pope Pius XI in 1854, when he solemnly defined it. As early as the 5th Century, there was recorded discussion of the matter. St. Augustine opposed it because he believed that original sin was transmitted by human biological reproduction, and therefore Mary must have inherited it along with everybody else except Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. But alongside that theological belief there was also growing in East and West a liturgical celebration of the Conception of Mary. In the 15th Century the Feast was promulgated for the whole Church, without defining it as a dogma. In 1661 Pope Alexander VII stated that “Mary, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ her son … was preserved intact from the stain of original sin,” citing the consensus of the Christian people. So it was no novelty when Pius IX declared that that doctrine is “a doctrine revealed by God” which all the faithful are obliged to believe.
The scriptures assigned to the Mass for the Solemnity, December 8, situate Mary within salvation history.

Our first reading — Genesis 3:9-15, 20 — tells the aftermath of the first sin. Most significant for this feast is what is called the “protoevangelium,” the first gospel. The offspring of the woman would strike at the head of the serpent. While this can be read in a generic sense, it makes sense to read it as addressed to the one who tempted Adam and Eve, the devil, and for there to be a specific individual offspring, namely Jesus, who overcomes the devil.

Reflecting on Jesus who overcomes the sin of Adam and restores humanity — the second Adam — leads to the thought of a second Eve, who is the mother of the restored humanity, namely Mary, as Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother.”

In verses 1-4 of Psalm 98, we rejoice at God’s marvelous work of saving us, his people.

The second reading — Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 — gives us another expression if the idea we see implied in the protoevagelium of Genesis: God planned from all eternity to save us through the work of Jesus Christ. Mary’s salvation is through her son, not independent of him. Her role in the unfolding of God’s plan is a part of that plan.
The gospel presents the scene of the Annunciation. (Because this passage refers to the conception of Jesus, some people get confused and think this feast is about Jesus’ conception by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, but it isn’t. It’s about the conception of Mary without original sin ever touching her soul.) As in the other readings, Mary’s significance comes from her role in the events of her and our salvation. Two phrases point to her immaculate conception. The angel addresses her as “full of grace.” If we take this literally, it means that there is no deficiency in her spirit, no element where grace is lacking. But original sin would have been a lack of grace. Then Mary characterizes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.” We see this statement as absolutely true. Others of us may be imperfect servants or handmaids of the Lord, but she was the perfect handmaid of the Lord: her will in unbroken accord with his because it was unstained by original sin.

This passage is not an logical syllogism proving the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, but it corroborates it, and it is one of the passages, along with the one from Genesis and others, which formed the basis for the theological reflection which led to the development of the doctrine within the Church under the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And is there a lesson for us? Sometimes, we just rejoice in what God has done to save us, and I think that should be our primary focus: praise and thanksgiving. But we also learn that grace can overcome all sin. We can have forgiveness for our past sins; but beyond that, we are under no compulsion to sin. God’s grace is sufficient to enable us to avoid sin. We need to accept and cooperate with that grace.