Monday, September 25, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial for Saints Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs)

“The Holy Family” (The Seville Virgin) 
by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1665-70


Commentary on Ezr 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20

This passage from the book of Ezra reports the completion of the great work of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem (although there is recognition that this hastily reconstructed [in only 5 years] structure was a far cry from Solomon’s great work).  Following Mosaic laws, Israel reestablished the infrastructure of the faith community and celebrated the first great feast, Passover.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5

R. (1) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Commentary on Ps 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5

Psalm 122 is a song of thanksgiving centered upon returning to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Mosaic Law required such a trip three times in an individual's life.) The song rejoices in the visit to the holy place, the seat of King David. The original singers would have been rejoicing at returning to the one temple. For Christians, the new Jerusalem is the one and only house of God in his heavenly kingdom. There the Lord sits in judgment.

Gospel: Luke 8:19-21

Commentary on Lk 8:19-21

In this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus identifies his family as the family of faith as opposed to just his blood relatives.  There are several connotations of the language used that are treated in the parallel story in Matthew 12:46-50 relating to the broader meaning of the language from the Aramaic, and also the apocryphal documentation regarding St. Joseph’s unnamed widow (prior to his betrothal to St. Mary).   St. Luke’s treatment of this topic is softer than that found in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 3:31-35), probably because St. Mary had already been introduced as the model of fidelity to the Lord.


The short Gospel passage provided today presents an interesting problem for those who are Catholic and at the same time are biblical literalists (we differentiate here from those who are by their confession sola scriptura – that is Bible-only folks).  A person who reads sacred scripture on the surface might find this passage contradictory to the Catholic belief that Jesus had no siblings; that the Blessed Mother bore only one child from her immaculate womb. (CCC 499-500)

499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin".

"500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus.[4] The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary".[5] They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.[6]

But there it is in black and white “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside.”  Scripture scholars who have looked deeply into the Aramaic language spoken at the time, but also into the Semitic usage of the language will tell us that this statement in no way contradicts the idea that Jesus was the only child born of St. Mary.  The term used for Brother refers to all male kinsmen which would include cousins (such as St. John the Baptist).  No other scriptural source mentions other children from St. Mary and St. Joseph (although there could be confusion over the first Bishop of Jerusalem over the same linguistic nuance since he is referred to as “James, the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19)).

We use this issue to point to a tremendous difficulty that arises when there is no authority over how the Holy Bible is interpreted and the rifts that appear among Christian brethren as a consequence.  Back in the 14th and 15th centuries when the sacred texts became widely available to the masses, well-meaning individuals thought to contradict the Church’s teaching authority, citing scriptural authority.  While the need for reform at that time in Holy Mother Church will not be denied, the schism that is known as the Protestant Reformation is due in large part to this very issue.

Today we continue to see various factions break off from mainstream denominations.  In many cases it is because they have no respect for a central authority that has prayerfully reflected on the sacred canon of the Bible and its contents for two millennia.  If one looks closer at the motives they are generally based on the biased view of a person or group that believes they have a special or unique insight (most commonly attributed to the Holy Spirit).  In the early Church this was known as Doceitism or Gnosticism.

This is brought forward not so we can be condescending or critical but rather as a caution.  When we take issue with the Dogmatic pronouncements of the Church or when we think to challenge the Teaching Magisterium we are treading on dangerous ground.  That does not mean we cannot think.  It simply means we must delve deeper into what the Church has taught; understand the incredible richness of what is contained not only in scripture, but also in what has been debated and written while attempting to understand scripture for over two thousand years.

Today our great thanks is for God’s gift of the Church and the wisdom of which she alone is custodian.  May we give thanks to Him alone for the truth that is Jesus.


[1] The picture is “The Holy Family” (The Seville Virgin) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1665-70
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[4] Cf. Mark 3:31-35; 6:3; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19.
[5] Matthew 13:55; 28:1; cf. Matthew 27:56.
[6] Cf. Genesis 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

“Lily of the Light and Morning Star”
by Philipp Otto Runge, 1808


Reading 1Ezra 1:1-6

Commentary on Ez 1:1-6

“The second book of Chronicles closed with an account of the fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of the city's repeated unfaithfulness to God (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:17-21), and with the news of Cyrus' calling, in God's name, for the rebuilding of the temple and the return of the exiles (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).” [4] The beginning of the Book of Ezra tells the story of the Hebrew return from exile and the instruction to build a temple in Jerusalem.  From the beginning it is clear that this effort was communal.  Along with Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles, this book is the first in the Hebrew canon.

Responsorial PsalmPsalm 126:1b-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6

R. (3) The Lord has done marvels for us.

Psalm 126 is a lament. In this short psalm, the singer rejoices at the return of Israel following the Diaspora, the conquering of Israel and its enslavement. In this hymn, the people remember the greatness of God as he restores their nation and brings them back to their own land ("Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves"). The sense is one of being overflowing with thanksgiving.

GospelLuke 8:16-18

Commentary on Lk 8:16-18

In this saying of Jesus from St. Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are enjoined once more to share their understanding of God's Kingdom, the Good News they are given, with the world. The metaphor, in this instance, sees the light of their understanding multiplying itself.  The greater the understanding of the light, by the person so enlightened, the more responsibility the one to whom that gift is given has for passing it on. Luke concludes by contrasting the disciples with the unbelievers who will not accept the light.


The image of light in darkness is one familiar to the practicing Christian.  The gift of illumination is prayed for constantly since it is the only way we can understand what we are called to do and be.  It is our actions, the result of the interior illumination, that are shown to the world.  It is our actions that flow from the light.  The Lord speaks of it when he says “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed.” Luke 8:16.

It was through the call of the disciples that the light (of Christ) was spread throughout the civilized world.  Those who lived in darkness and hated the light tried to extinguish the light.  They killed those disciples (except St. John) and on numerous occasions tried to kill all those who had inherited the light from them. 

But the light continues. It burns brightly in those who receive it, and enlightens others by their words and actions.  It will not be denied an outlet. No matter how hard the one who carries the light tries to hide it, it will become visible.  It is with great joy that we who love and live in the light see it arise in places unexpected, in people we thought were devoid of the light.  It is with greater sorrow that we find darkness where we expected to find light, in those who speak the words but whose actions betray the darkness inside.

That is the true nature of the Light of Christ.  It is not in the words alone.  It is only revealed when it is acted upon.  It only illuminates when it is handed on to others.  Then the amazing thing happens.  The light we offer to others comes back to us and we see yet more clearly.  That was what the Lord meant when he said “To anyone who has, more will be given.” 

Each one of us is given the light of Christ in Baptism.  The flame of faith is lit from the Easter Candle: the new fire, the light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In some that candle is not encouraged to keep burning.  Through lack of care, it is snuffed out. Who would hold up an unlit candle in the darkness?  It is only the candle lit with the flame of faith that lights the path.  Let us pray today that we pass on that light faithfully and extend the flame where the fire has died.


[2] The picture is “Lily of the Light and Morning Star” by Philipp Otto Runge, 1808
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[4] The Navarre Bible: “Chrnicles-Maccabees”, Scepter Publishers, PrincetonNJ, © 2003

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 210-211: God of mercy and piety
CCC 588-589: Jesus identifies his compassion to sinners with God’s

“Parable Of The Laborers In The Vineyard” 
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 


Commentary on Is 55:6-9

This passage begins with an exhortation to seek the Lord through prayer (call him while he is near), and to repent from sinful ways, asking for God's forgiveness.  The author captures the perfection of God's thoughts (and of Christ's actions prophetically), expressing the perfection of God contrasted with the fallen and sinful nature of mankind. The passage is taken from what is known as “Deutero-Isaiah,” that part written after the Babylonian exile. Using words common to the Old Testament (see Amos 5:4, and Psalm 9:11), the prophet exhorts the people to return to God. The essential paradox of God’s presence is explained: “God is transcendent yet near enough to help; man is helpless yet expected to act energetically, the ways of God are exalted yet required of man.”[5]


R. (18a) The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

Commentary on Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18

Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. The psalmist echoes the exhortation in Isaiah 55:6, to seek the Lord actively in the final strophe “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

CCC: Ps 145:3 300; Ps 145:9 295, 342

Commentary on Phil 1:20c-24, 27a

St. Paul writes to the church at Philippi during his imprisonment somewhere, in danger of death. In these verses he contemplates his own martyrdom. While death is seen as a return to Christ which the Apostle desires, his mission and continued service is seen as being united with Christ’s life on earth. This passage concludes with an exhortation to the Philippians that they might live lives worthy of Christ.

CCC: Phil 1:21 1010, 1698; Phil 1:23 1005, 1011, 1021, 1025; Phil 1:27 1692

Commentary on Mt 20:1-16a

The parable of the Laborers Hired Late continues the dialogue from Matthew 19:30: “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The inference here changes slightly: in Matthew 19:23-30 the Lord referred to those who would follow him into eternal life, while here he broadens the scope to imply that those called later to faithful service would receive the same reward as those first called.


Scripture today gives a unified call to come to faith in God and Christ.  Taken out of context, one might believe the Gospel parable of the Laborers Called Late might be seen as an invitation to procrastinate in responding to that call.  After all, why commit to the difficult path our faith requires if those who turn to an easier path and come late to faith will receive the same reward as we who strive to follow that path through most of our lives?

There must be reasons beyond the promise that comes at the end of the journey.  One of these is shown in St. Paul’s ethical debate about whether he should embrace death so he can be with Christ sooner, or if he should stay the course on earth, continuing his zealous efforts to proclaim the Gospel.  His conclusion – God’s gift of life is to be cherished in spite of the fact that at its conclusion the faithful receive the bliss of the heavenly kingdom.

What is it then that makes life worth living?  It is clearly not the excesses of the hedonistic goals society seems to embrace.  This lifestyle and world-view lead to spiritual death.  If wealth is what is to be pursued, there will never be enough, and even when great wealth is accumulated, those who achieve it find it an empty promise, a hollow shell with no life, no warmth, no peace.  No, life does not find fulfillment in “things.” 

Neither does life find fulfillment in labor, even labor for a worthy cause.  Fulfillment comes from an inner peace, and inner peace comes from the satisfaction of knowing that one is valued, supported, and protected by God.  It comes from knowing that nothing can take that peace from us while we remain in a lived relationship with God through Christ.  And when we enjoy that peace, in communion with others similarly motivated and infused, the resonance of their peace enhances our own.

Looking at those laborers who came late we see that indeed they will receive a reward for their labor.  Placed in the context of faithful service however, those who have labored long have received the rewards of their labor in the sense of fulfillment one finds in doing good things well. To put it another way, who would find their life’s experience better, a person who lived most of their life as a slave or one who lived their life free?

It is spiritual peace and the joy that flows from that motivates us to take up the mind of Christ as soon as we can, and maintain it throughout our lives.  While those who come late may receive the same reward, we who stay on the path longer derive greater joy in the promise fulfilled.


[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The Picture Used Is “Parable Of The Laborers In The Vineyard” By Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 

[5] Jerome Biblical Commentary, © 1968 Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 22:49, pp. 380