Ash Wednesday — 2018

Joel 2:12:18
2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2
Matthew 6:1- 16-18

The readings for Ash Wednesday are the same every year. Joel calls for fasting and penance accompanied by assemblies in which the priests would pray for mercy. He concludes with an assurance that God is moved by these things to have pity on his people. Paul starts with the same premise as Joel: the people have sinned. They need to be reconciled to God, and this is the time to do it. In today’s context, the Church views Lent as Paul’s “acceptable” time. In the gospel, Jesus refers to the elements of prayer and fasting called for by Joel, and adds almsgiving. He takes for granted that his followers will do all three, saying, “When you give alms, … When you pray, … When you fast, ….” His command is that we not do it for our own glory, but, as St. Paul told the Corinthians in last Sunday’s second reading (1 Corinthians 10:31 — 11:1), for the glory of God.

We don’t undertake our Lenten practices so we can congratulate ourselves on how much we’ve done, much less so others will be impressed. We do these things — extra prayer, extra fasting or self-denial, extra almsgiving — because as sinners we need to turn away from evil and do good, to develop habits of doing good, and to join our penance to Jesus’ supreme self-denial on the cross for our redemption and that of the world.

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Sunday Scriptures — OT B 06, Feb. 11, 2018

I think that listing the assigned scriptures at the beginning can make it easier to relate them to one another, so I’m giving it a try.

 
First Reading — Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

Second Reading — 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Gospel — Mark 1:29-39

 

Leprosy, diagnosed by a priest, excluded a person from contact with the community of Israel. A cure also had to be diagnosed by a priest, and a sacrifice was offered when the cure was confirmed. Jesus was not concerned with the prohibition of contact with a leper, but cured him by touching him and speaking an effective word of healing. To enable the man to return to the community, Jesus tells him to follow the rules of the Law to have his cure certified. There are three aspects that invite some reflection.

First, Jesus in effect trades places with the leper. The reading tells us that the result of the leper’s proclamation of what Jesus had done, the crowds that mob Jesus when he enters a town make it necessary for him to stay in deserted places, as the leper previously had to, while now the leper is free to go around in the towns and villages. Jesus also trades places with us. He takes away our sins by dying on the cross in our place. We are the ones who deserve to be punished by death, but Jesus accepted death for our sake.

Second, the leper feels compelled to spread the good news of what Jesus had done for him. In last week’s second reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-23, esp. 16-17), St. Paul stated that he also felt obligated to announce the gospel. Do we feel a similar compulsion to share the good news about Jesus? We don’t need to buttonhole strangers in public and tell them all about it, or pass out tracts on the subway. In fact we’d probably do better not to do that. But do we want to take advantage of chances people give us to speak of our faith. Do we show the joy of a redeemed life?

Third, Jesus heals the leper, and he wants to heal us spiritually. Lent — which began as the time of final preparation of catechumens for Baptism, which was conferred at Easter — soon also became the time for notorious sinners to perform public penance in preparation for being reconciled with the Church by the bishop at Easter. Now the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available all year, and for lesser sins as well as notoriuos ones. But Lent is still a good time for us to do penance for our sins, using the three practices mentioned in Matthew 6 (read on Ash Wednesday) — prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — to a higher degree than during the rest of the year. Jesus wants to heal us of any “spiritual leprosy” we have incurred; and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is his chosen means for doing so, especially for serious sins, which separate us from God. After the encounter with Jesus in the sacrament, people have a feeling of joy and relief, as did the leper.

 

St. Paul’s words can also help us think about our approach to Lent. Like everything else, Lent is for the glory of God. This ties in with the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, which tells us not to do good things in order to win praise. If we make a show of it, there is no merit in it for us. We are to pray, fast, and give alms as quietly as possible. When we do that, our acts are done for the glory of God, not for our own glory. Even our own sanctification, which these things lead to, is for the glory of God. Beyond that, our quiet holiness gives an example of a life well lived which can help lead others to goodness as well.

Sunday Scriptures — Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) A, Apr. 9, 2017

The first two readings and responsorial psalm of Palm Sunday are the same every year. The gospel is the Passion Narrative of the gospel being read on Sundays throughout the year. So this year we hear the Passion according to St. Matthew.

 

The first reading — Isaiah 50:4-7 — is the third of four “Songs of the Suffering Servant” in the book of Isaiah. The servant of the Lord undergoes sufferings like those of Jesus, but he has confidence in God that he will ultimately be vindicated.

 

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 22, with verse 2 as the refrain — is quoted by Jesus on the cross. Like the first reading, it tells of one who is being tormented, but concludes with an expression of confidence in being vindicated by God.

 

In the gospel — Matthew 26:14—27:66 — we hear of Jesus fully aware of what is about to happen to him. Although he wishes that it weren’t necessary, he accepts it as the will of his Father. At the Last Supper, he gives the Twelve his body and “[his] blood of the covenant.” “Blood of the covenant is significant because it recalls the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:8. To ratify God’s covenant with Israel, Moses offers a sacrifice and takes the blood of the animals sacrificed and splashes half of it on the altar and sprinkles the people with the other half, Now Jesus’ sacrifice establishes God’s covenant with his people and brings forgiveness of sins. At Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the people say, “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” not realizing that his blood is the blood of the covenant. What they are really saying is, “We accept God’s covenant through the sacrificial offering of Jesus.”

Jesus unflinchingly proclaims his Messiahship and accepts his crucifixion. Others actively seek his death, yield to pressure, betray him (and despair), deny him (and repent), run away, mock him, follow loyally, or come to faith. If we sin, we are yielding, denying, or running away from him, and seeking our own comfort or pleasure. But he will forgive, as he forgave Peter and the other disciples after he rose.

I was at a lecture where someone asked where was Jesus’ mercy when he said of Judas, “better for that man if he had never been born.” The answer is that all of God’s threats are conditional: this is what will happen if you don’t repent and change your ways. When Jesus spoke to Judas, it was a warning and a plea: what you are about to do will turn out very badly for you; don’t go through with it. But even when Judas led the arresting force and gave the sign by kissing him, Jesus called him, “Friend.” He invited him to return to friendship with him. Judas could have repented and been restored to God’s grace, rather than despairing. God’s mercy remained available to him, as it is to all of us.

 

The second reading — Philippians 2:6-11 — also speaks of the sufferings of Jesus, putting them in the context of his divinity. As God he was unable to suffer and die, so he became human in order to die for us. His exaltation shows him as Lord, our Savior, deserving of our reverent and grateful praise.

 

I don’t think I’ll have a chance to write new posts for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but the readings are the same every year, so you might want to check out those from last year in the archive.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 3 & 4, Mar. 19 & 26, 2017

In the early centuries of Christianity, Baptisms normally took place at Easter, and Lent was the time for the final preparation of the catechumens who were to be baptized that year. Gradually it came to serve as a season for the rest of the faithful to prepare spiritually for their celebration of Easter. Over time, as infant baptism became the most common way for people to enter the Church,the formal catechumenate as the process of preparation for baptism fell out of use. Following the Second Vatican Council, the catechumenate was restored as the means of preparing adults and older children for baptism, and the Mass readings for the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent in Year A in the revised liturgy were chosen for their connection to baptism.

 
On the 3rd Sunday water is a unifying theme in the first reading and the gospel. In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, these readings were assigned to the Friday of the third week of Lent.

The first reading — Exodus 17:3-7 — tells of Moses providing water from a rock in the desert for the thirsty Israelites. This physical water is understood as a type of the water which Jesus promises the Samaritan woman in the gospel — John 4:5-42. The water in the desert sustained physical life. The water Jesus provides sustains eternal life. Water is, in scripture and in at least some Jewish tradition, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him. He told Nicodemus that entry into the kingdom of God required being born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), and at his own baptism the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. The offer of the life-giving water to the Samaritan women, and subsequently to her fellow villagers, tells the catechumens and us that this grace of baptism is available to all, not just to the Jews.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 95 — includes a reference to the incident of the water in the desert.

In the second reading — Romans 5:1-2, 7-8 — we find a reference to the three “theological virtues:” faith, hope, and love. Paul reminds us that faith in Jesus has brought us justification and hope of glory because of God’s love for us, made effective in Jesus’ saving death. There is also an allusion to the other readings: Paul says that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

 
The 4th Sunday has images of light and vision. On the first reading — 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a — tells of Samuel’s anointing of David as king to replace Saul. Although Jesse’s son Eliab looks like a king to Samuel, God sees the heart, not just outward appearances and chooses David. The anointing of David brings the Holy Spirit powerfully upon him. We too, receive the Spirit at our baptism.

The responsorial psalm — Psalm 23 — attributed to David gives us the image of God as the good shepherd, with its allusion to David’s having been a shepherd.

The second reading — Ephesians 5:8-14 — exhorts us to live in the light. Formerly we were in darkness, but Christ has enlightened us. The final lines, “Awake, O sleeper … and Christ will give you light,” are thought to be from an extremely early baptismal hymn. The light of Christ comes to the catechumens and us through baptism.

The gospel — John 9:1-41 – formerly read on Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent, the day of an important examination of catechumens in early times, tells of Jesus’ cure of a man born blind. He comes into physical light, just as baptism brings spiritual light. We can think of Jesus’ making of clay with the earth and his saliva and putting it on the eyes of the blind man as a sort of “anointing.” The pool of Siloam, where the man washed, in a prefiguring of baptism, was the source of water for libations in the temple on the first seven days of the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles, or Booths). The healing of the blind man was apparently on the eighth day of the feast, when the water was no longer brought from Siloam to the temple. Perhaps this timing has significance for understanding Jesus as “greater than the temple” (Matthew 12:6). Certainly, the fact that Jesus earlier on that day had promised “rivers of living water” that is the Spirit, flowing from within those who believe in him (John 7:38-39) establishes the baptismal meaning of the healing of the blind man, and recalls the promise to the Samaritan woman of living water.

The blind man has been given light, not just physically, but also spiritually, and he professes his faith in Jesus, whereas Jesus’ opponents among the Pharisees have blinded themselves to the truth about him.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 2, Mar. 12, 2017

In the first reading and the gospel we can discern a pattern of call and action which applies to us all, as shown by the second reading.

 
The gospel — Matthew 17:1-9 — gives us Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. In years B and C we get Mark’s and Luke’s telling. Briefly, the change in Jesus’ appearance gives a preview of his glorification after his resurrection, which is alluded to in the final verse of the pericope. The presence of Moses and Elijah can be seen as illustrating that the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) bear witness to, point to Jesus. The voice from the cloud repeats the words from heaven at Jesus’ baptism— he is God’s beloved Son — validating Jesus’ teaching and calling us to obedience. The apostles’ reaction of fear is natural enough.

We have all, no doubt experienced moments in which we have thought, “I wish this could last forever.” For Peter and the others, for whom he is speaking, this is such a moment: it’s good to be here; three tents can make it last. But after the voice comes from the cloud, Jesus is alone. The moment has passed. They must rise and be on their way with him. As at many other points, he tells them not to be afraid. This was one of Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite lines. Whether it’s after the miraculous catch of fish, at his appearance in the upper room after his resurrection, the angelic annunciation appearance of the angel to Mary and Joseph, the hearers have a mission to which they must confidently go. Here, the apostles can’t be content to know Jesus’ glory. They must accompany him to Good Friday and after Easter fulfill the Great Commission to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel.

 
The first reading — Genesis 12: 1-4a — presents the call of Abram (whose name later becomes Abraham). He is content in his home, with his relatives nearby. But God calls him from the condition which he could have enjoyed for the rest of his life. He must leave it behind and go to an unforeseeable future in an unknown country. In doing so, he will become the ancestor of a great nation which God will bless and which will itself bring blessing to the whole world. Abram obeys and becomes the ancestor of the Jews and the father in faith of Christians.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 33 with a refrain from verse 22 — encourages us to rely on God’s promised care.

 
The second reading — 2 Timothy 1:8b-10 — opens with an expression of the call that comes to all of us: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” More generally, we have been saved and called to holiness through God’s eternal plan brought to completion by Jesus. We can read “the appearance of out savior Christ Jesus” in two ways. Jesus appeared in his Incarnation and through is life here on Earth. In his appearance at the transfiguration Jesus manifests the glory of our immortality as well as his own.

We are called to holiness of life: living as God calls us. We do not know just what that will entail. Young people choose to pursue a career of one sort or another. Often it doesn’t turn out as expected. Older people may be called simply to continue on the path they are already following. Occasionally, some find themselves called to take an entirely new direction in their lives. The future may seem clearer for some of us, but it’s never entirely certain. There are always surprises, great or small. What is important, though is that we seek to do what God calls us to at every stage and in every moment. This will involve hardship, great or small. None of us is promised a perfectly happy life. But we keep alive the knowledge of the glory which will be ours after our resurrection, and this faith sustains us, as it sustained Abram and the apostles.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent A 1, Mar. 5, 2017

The gospel of the First Sunday of Lent gives us an account of Jesus’ experience of being tempted by Satan. This year — Year A — we hear Matthew’s account. In Year B it will be from Mark, and Year C brings Luke’s telling. The first and second readings give a theological context in which to understand the events of the gospel.

The first reading — Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 — tells briefly of the creation of man and woman and of the Garden of Eden. Then we hear the familiar story of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.

The responsorial psalm — verses from Psalm 51, with verse 3a supplying the refrain — can be taken as an expression of Adam and Eve’s mind after the fall, as well as our personal acknowledgment of our sinfulness and plea for forgiveness.

In the second reading — Romans 5:12-19 — St. Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus. Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death to himself and all his descendants. Jesus’ righteous act brings acquittal — forgiveness of sin — to all. Each one’s act affects the whole human race.

The gospel —Matthew 4:1-11 — tells of Jesus’ temptations by Satan. Unlike Adam, Jesus overcomes temptation. He thus becomes the new Adam, who reestablishes humanity in its proper relationship with God, definitively overcoming sin and death through his death on the cross in obedience to the Father and his resurrection.

Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and sinned, disobeying God, falling to temptation. Jesus was in the desert, hungry, and did not sin but obeyed the Father and resisted temptation. This encourages us to follow through on our lenten disciplines as a way of strengthening ourselves to overcome the temptations the devil will present to us to prefer worldly goods to those of heaven.