Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent


Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Readings for Wednesday of the First Week of Lent[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Jon 3:1-10

Following his miraculous rescue from the belly of the great fish, the Prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh, a traditional enemy of the Jews, to spread the news that, unless they repented their ways the city would be destroyed. We don’t catch it in this reading but Jonah was sure he would fail and the city be destroyed. This reading, then, describes his unexpected success and God’s subsequent redemption.

Placed in context of the season of Lent, the reading reminds us of the need for repentance and the promise of God’s mercy.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

Consistent with the theme from Jonah, this selection is a lament, it expresses sorrow for sin and an understanding of the need to reform the heart.

Gospel
Lk 11:29-32

Jesus’ message, in this reading, echoes Jonah’s call to repentance but this time is it is directed to the Jewish people. Instead of a prophet he uses himself; “Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” The reference to the “queen of the south” is a reference to the Queen of Sheba who in the first book of Kings (1 King; 10, 1ff) came and saw God’s wisdom in Solomon. Using this imagery, the Lord refers to himself as Wisdom incarnate.

Reflection:

We continue our inward search to become the perfect disciple of Jesus. One critical element of that search is to look at our character with the lens of the perfect example, the Lord himself, and see what needs to be changed.

When all is said and done, repentance has two components. First there is recognition that the behavior that requires forgiveness is something for which we are sorry. There cannot be repentance without that sense of sorrow. If we commit a sinful act and feel no remorse or sorrow then we do not recant that action. It would be like going to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and, at the end of our act of contrition feeling, “Well, I guess there is really nothing to be contrite about.”

The second element of repentance is our reaction to that sense of contrition, sorrow, or remorse. We must change our behavior in such a way that our previous actions, which have offended God, do not have an avenue to return. We must be mindful that the evil one is constantly looking for ways to turn good intentions into evil outcomes.

In order for us to truly change ourselves, to repent and move toward God, we must look carefully at what we do and how we act. We must see there the fundamental weakness and use God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to bolster that area of our character. I know this has been a very “theoretical” kind of examination of the repentance theme and we must make it very personal for it to be effective in our lives. So let me sum up repentance in one short, very personal, statement: Repentance is first recognition that we have pierced God with our failure to love and recognizing our actions true contrition for them followed by a pledge and action to prevent its reoccurance. Or, in other words: “Turn away from Sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Pax

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent


Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Readings for Tuesday of the First Week of Lent[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Special Note: I noticed that the readings being used during Lent corresponded to the readings used on the same liturgical days in 06’ so I asked our Diocese Liturgist. She informed me that, while during Ordinary Time there are two cycles for weekday readings, year I and year II, during Lent and Advent the same readings are used on the same days. That means that on Tuesday of the First Week of Lent last year, which fell on Monday, March 6th, we had the same readings we see today.

I have been moving my posts from this time last year to another place (off of Myspace) and these can be seen at the Deacon-Sailor Archive (
http://deacon-sailor-archive.blogspot.com/).

Commentary:

Reading 1
Is 55:10-11

Since it’s short, here is what the Jerome Biblical Commentary says about this section of Isaiah:

“10-11. The Word comes from God, but it can be heard only when it is soaked up in human life and spoken with human accents. Dt-Is explains world history, particularly the sacred history of Israel, through the deep, omnipotent presence of the Word (cf. Wis 8:1; 2 Cor 9:10). M.-E. Boismard attributes to this text the immediate origin of the Johannine theology of the Word (St. John's Prologue [Westminster, 1957] 100). We hear its echo in John's doctrine of the Eucharist-the Word come down from heaven and received as bread (Jn 6:32, 35).”

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

We are given a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The just cry out to the Lord and he hears them and rescues them.

Gospel
Mt 6:7-15

We are given St. Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (see also Luke 11:2-4). We are told not to pray like the “pagans” notice he is not saying the hypocrites here – pagans of that era “babbled” long lists of names hoping one of them would be effective. The written commentary on this section is rich and I recommend reading the footnotes on this section for a good explanation of the various sections within the prayer.

Reflection:

While we used the JBC commentary above for the reading from Isaiah, we can take it a face value as well and understand that what the Prophet was saying was that his prayer would not be like sand thrown into the wind; that his prayer, his dialogue with God would bear fruit like rain falling on the crops.

Likewise, in the psalm, we give thanks to the Lord for hearing us in our distress. What does he hear? He hears our prayer. Prayers uttered at strange moments, at painful moments, even prayers uttered profanely and unintended are heard (think of that the next time you hit your finger with a hammer!)


Scripture brings us to closure on prayer with the story from Matthew about Jesus teaching his disciples to pray using the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern. We begin by, first, giving thanks and praise to God for all his works and all his kindness both now and in eternity. Then we ask for what we need each day, including forgiveness and asking for mercy as we show mercy (?).

The focus remains the same. We are called to be a people of prayer. Whether structured like the Liturgy of the Hours or short and simple like “God help me.” We need to be in constant communication with God. It is the Lord that provides us constant guidance, the Lord who leads us down right paths, and it is the Lord who speaks to us in the silence of our heart.

As we continue to grow in discipleship today, we remember that we are called to pray constantly. We ask for the strength to do just that.

Pax

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday of the First Week of Lent




We are given today rules of conduct from Leviticus, the third book of the Torah or Pentateuch. The book was so named because its contents are almost entirely legislative probably written by and for the priestly tribe of Levi.

Today we are given rules for relationships with others that begins with a phrase that is repeated many times in Leviticus; “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.” It continues with the ban against stealing, lying defrauding, having unfair business relationships and finally getting down to feelings toward the neighbor – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
R. Your Words, Lord, are spirit and life.

The psalm is a song of praise. It rejoices in the laws and precepts set down by God and asks the Lord to find favor in those who follow them.

Gospel Mt 25:31-46


Jesus, in this reading, is telling his disciples and us what will be judged at the end times, the eschaton. The reading gives us a vision of what will be asked and how judgment will be passed.

If we took the last line from the Leviticus reading and asked; how is one to live that law in life? This reading sums it up with “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Reflection:

We begin our first week of Lent with the basics, the hard basics. You may be surprised to see in the Leviticus reading a familiar phrase; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is what the Lord would later link with the Love of God to form the Great Commandment. If we ever wondered why the Lord was so harsh with the Pharisees and scribes, the fact that they were supposed to be living under the “Law of Moses”, a small part of which we see in that first reading today, should tell us. They clearly did not understand the spirit of that law.

As if to explain the Law more deeply, we are given the familiar Gospel from St. Matthew. This Gospel too is the genesis of an axiom; the “Golden Rule” although it started with; “Do unto others as you would do for me.”

I am reminded what the great football coach Vince Lombardi is said to have told his players on the first day of training camp. He would hold up the football and announce; “This is a football.” The implication was clear, to become expert at something, we must constantly go back to the basics. That is were we are lead today.

Today we are asked to look at our own relationships with others, our friends, our business associates, and acquaintances. We ask ourselves, how do we treat and feel about them? Are we dealing fairly with them, are we truthful? Are we following God’s law of love? The answer is, for everyone, even the best intentioned, not as well as we should. Today we are told; “this is a football”, “This is love.” We are reminded that, as Christians we are called to that standard and cannot afford to miss the point as the Pharisees did. Today we look at our lives and reform.

Pax

[1] After 04/07

Sunday, February 25, 2007

First Sunday of Lent



First Sunday of Lent

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1 Dt 26:4-10

Moses gives the people a ritual formula to pronounce when making their offering to the temple. The rite recalls the nomadic nature of the people, and then follows the enslavement in Egypt and the release from bondage to be brought into the land of Israel. Essentially recalling the Lord’s mercy and salvation, the offering is from the first fruits of their harvest.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Psalm 91 is especially important as the reference Satan uses on the Lord in the desert when he tempts him to throw himself down from a high place so the angels of the Lord God might rescue him. “For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” we hear these same words in Luke’s Gospel story of the temptation in the desert below. .Taken in total, it is a song praising God for his saving works.

Reading II Rm 10:8-13

The author of the Letter to the Romans (probably from the Pauline Community) gives foundation to the concept held by many of the evangelical Christian communities that once saved (through the profession of faith – generally the alter call) always saved and that salvation comes from merely pronouncing the words.

Taken in context (the reading from the Jerusalem Bible gives some hint), this reading is part of a larger apologetic about Christ being the one who brings salvation and not the Law of Moses. In that context and in that time, this reading takes on a different meaning – professing Christ openly could result in persecution and even death.

Gospel Lk 4:1-13

The story of Jesus being lead into the desert to be tempted by the devil is consistent with the other synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Jesus is “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he is emerging from the baptismal waters. Forty days is symbolic of the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert during the Exodus.

The story serves to help us understand that the temptations we faced were also faced by Jesus who was totally human, like us in all things but sin. The Lord overcame the temptations of food when he was hungry and power when he was powerless. We note that the devil used scripture to support these temptations, twisting what was good to evil purpose.

Reflection:

On a day when we celebrate the goodness of God in giving us His Only Son, it is appropriate that we understand that all God created that was good can also be used by the evil one to lead us down the wrong path. Today we hear the story of Jesus, lead into the desert following his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Jesus wanders for forty days and when he is weak from lack of food, the evil one comes to him and offers him what his human self must want the most. Further, the devil uses the Lord’s own identity to tempt him. Had Jesus wished, he could have grasped at the devil’s rationalization (using scripture no less) and satisfied his hunger.

More tempting to the Lord must have been the second temptation. Jesus had a mission to lead all the people of the world to God. The devil offered him all of that in one instant. All Jesus had to do was give homage to Satan. We can almost image him, weak from hunger challenged by one who seemed so fare but felt so foul. He offered Jesus everything his heart desired. But the Lord was stronger. He drove the devil away with his words, “for a time.”

With all the cunning and power of Satan, is it any wonder that we are sometimes tricked into actions that we know are not in keeping with God’s commandment to us? This time of lent is our chance to look back at our lives and see there the fingerprints; the fingerprints of God who supports us in time of distress and the fingerprints of Satan who takes advantage of our weakness and even provides rationalization for us using scripture.

Today let us ask God to show us those times when we were buoyed up by his presence and ask him to forgive us for those time we were weak. Let us pray that he might strengthen us so that we might, in the future be more aware of the difference.

Pax



Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday after Ash Wednesday


Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Readings for Saturday after Ash Wednesday[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Is 58:9b-14

The Prophet continues where he left off yesterday in exhorting the people to understand that God desires a spirit of compassion and generosity. He tells the people that if they follow this course they will be greatly rewarded and will receive rich blessings from God.

In the second paragraph Isaiah tells the people what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. Again, following this command brings the faithful rich rewards from God.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

Psalm 86 is a lament. The psalmist sings of a life afflicted and asks God to give his servant relief. The song indicates the faithfulness of the singer, even in times of distress.

Gospel
Lk 5:27-32

We are given the Call of St. Matthew in Luke’s Gospel today. It is much more focused on the reaction of the Pharisees than the same story in Matthew (
Matthew 9:9). The message, however, is clear. Jesus came so that we (who are all sinners) might understand that God’s love is for them as well.

Reflection:

The call of St. Matthew should have a special significance for all of us as we embark upon our Lenten journey. We look for ways to express the gift God has given us in his Son and we are reminded that doing good deeds for the sake of our friends and to impress those who like us believe in the One Lord, Jesus Christ, is not what we are to be about.

Jesus came so that those who had lost their way could find it (and Him). Using an analogy, when we have already been to a place many times, do we need a map? Shouldn’t that map rather be given to someone who has not been to the place and needs to find it? The Lord is a map or as he was called in ancient groups a compass. He directs us to God and without him we cannot find our way.

When the Lord sat down to eat with the tax collectors he was doing more than just providing a wholesome presence to those who had adopted a lifestyle that was contrary to what God wanted. He gave us an example as well.

What good are we if we hide our spirituality under a basket? Today we pray for the courage to show our faith to all those with whom we have contact. On day four of Lent, our challenge to genuine discipleship grows.

Pax


[1] After 04/07

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday after Ash Wednesday


Friday after Ash Wednesday &
Memorial of Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
(a day of abstinence)

Biographical Information about St. Polycarp
Readings for Friday after Ash Wednesday[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Is 58:1-9a

We begin a short journey with the Prophet Isaiah with this passage from what is known as Deutero-Isaiah. Written in the latter part of the Babylonian exile (700 BC), the prophet begins this passage with his mission statement; “Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob.” (I like the Jerusalem translation here, it’s clearer.)

Isaiah’s prophecy continues as he chastises the people for missing the point of their fasts of atonement. They perform the rituals and follow the law but then violate the spirit of God’s Law by being uncaring and cruel to each other.

Finally the prophet explains what that spirit is and how it is to impact their actions and closes with the reward for following the spirit of God’s Law – “Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry, and the Lord will answer; call, and he will say, ‘I am here’.”

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19
R. A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

The psalm 51 captures nicely the sentiment expressed in Isaiah regarding first our need for repentance and second our need for forgiveness. The final strophe is parallel to Isaiah’s description of the acceptable sacrifice.

Gospel
Mt 9:14-15

Jesus is challenged by the disciples of John the Baptist and asked why his disciples do not keep the ritual fasts of Pharisaic Law (According to the apostolic response in their early teaching document, the
Didache (8.1), the early Christians were to fast on different days than the Jews.).

The Lord responds with the analogy of a marriage banquet were there can be no mourning as long as the bridegroom is present. He refers, of course, to his own presence and the need for fasting after he is gone.

Reflection:

Fridays during the Lenten season take on a special significance. First, long-standing Church teaching says that the faithful are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Here is the current teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2043 The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis (strict self-discipline or self-control, as for religious or meditative purposes.)
[2] and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

It’s a bit long but here are the rules from Canon Law:

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

From our perspective and in light of what scripture tells us today, the observance of these rules, while important, is less important than what is in our hearts as we do so. It is better for us to slip up and forget it’s Friday but help someone in need than to ignore that needy person so we can get to Stations of the Cross (another tradition during Lent that makes the day special).

Today our prayer should be that our observance of the Lenten Discipline be a reflection of a spirit-filled heart that yearns for the Savior’s love and mercy.

Pax


[1] After 04/07
[2]
Definition added from Dictionary.com

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle


Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Information about the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter
Readings for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:
(for parallel commentary from the JBC see
last years archive)

Reading 1
1 Pt 5:1-4

St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome writes to those who have been appointed to lead local Christian communities. He provides a view of leadership consistent with Christ’s teaching and contradicting the Jewish Leadership style which was authoritarian. He exhorts the Presbyters or Elders to offer their service as a gift to God and provide leadership through their example of humility.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Continuing the theme of shepherding the flock we have the most popular Psalm in all of Holy Scripture. While the theme of Shepherd is mentioned in the first strophe, the psalm really speaks to the peace given to those who follow, even into the “dark valley”.

Gospel
Mt 16:13-19

St. Matthew’s story of how Jesus asked about what people were saying about him has a profound impact on the Church. Here, when challenged by Jesus with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The second title is not present in St. Mark’s version of this encounter. It adds an understanding that Jesus is not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God.

Given this response, Jesus confers upon Simon a new name “Kephas” which comes from the root Aramaic word Kepa or “Rock”. When translated into Greek it came out Petros and from there to Peter. The name, however, becomes the foundation for the Church and Peter, as a consequence of this exchange is given Christ’s authority, an authority that is passed down through Papal Succession to Pope Benedict XVI today.

Homily:

The Gospel today tells the story of how Jesus first conferred a new name and title upon St. Peter. It was because Peter had been open to the Holy Spirit and was moved to give Jesus his true title; “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” In recognition of the Spirits outpouring, Jesus pronounced Simon – “Rock” and then handed to him the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. These same keys are passed from Pontiff to Pontiff and now reside with our Pope Benedict XVI.

Peter also provides the Church with a model of leadership that echoes Christ’s teaching – the shepherds of the Church are to lead through humility by their example of holiness. That example now comes from our Bishop and Priests to us. As we begin our Lenten journey we look to the Chair of Peter and his successors and see there the faithful shepherd broadcasting God’s love and forgiveness and as sheep, we follow the Lamb of God through them.

Pax

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday


Ash Wednesday
(A day of Abstinence and Fasting)

Readings for Ash Wednesday[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

The Lenten Season: The Lectionary readings for Lent fall into two basic themes broken into the first half of Lent and the second. In the first half, beginning today and running through the Saturday of the third week of Lent focuses on the model of discipleship. As we are confronted time and again with the demands of that call we come to understand that in spite of our best efforts, the call will always be out of our reach.

The second half of Lent the Lectionary shows us Jesus the Christ in the Gospel of St. John. We review his ministry, not so much as a synopsis, but rather to come to a closer understanding of the salvation He alone provides.

Taken together, the first half of Lent is ethical and the second is Christological. The first half empties us the second fills us up. At the end lies the great gift of Easter.

Reading 1
Jl 2:12-18

The land has suffered a great plague of locusts and Joel calls the people of Israel to repentance. He calls all the faithful to return to the Lord and have faith in him because they were in despair.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Supporting the lament in Joel, Psalm 51 provides a call to repentance as well. We acknowledge our sinfulness and vow to return to the grace of God.

Reading II
2 Cor 5:20—6:2

St. Paul calls the Corinthians to reconciliation with God. He reminds them that through reconciliation grace is received and through grace, God pours out salvation. His urgent call tells us that now (not later) is the time for this to occur.

Gospel
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

To begin our Lenten journey we are given the instruction on almsgiving, prayer and fasting from St. Matthew’s Gospel. We are reminded that what we do for God is for Him to see not for others to see.

In all three instances, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting the same instruction is given. We are to give generously but in private, we are to pray fervently but alone, and we are to fast with purpose but to hide our discomfort. (The section left out of this reading, Matthew 6; 7-15, is Jesus giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.)

Reflection:

Today we begin our Lenten celebration. During Mass we will be reminded once more to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” or “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. These pronouncements are summaries of what the goal of Lent is meant to be. The readings give us the same message.


In Joel, the prophet calls; “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart,” and in the Psalm we hear, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” The same message of reconciliation and conversion is echoed in St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians; “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

All of these calls to holiness come from scripture and we ask; how shall we respond? The Lord answers in his sermon. He calls us to be a people who give generously of our material goods, to be a people of prayer, and to recognize our own failings and in a real way, through fasting, repent our sin and vow to return.

Today is a day of fasting and abstinence in the Church. We look will not be required to refrain from eating, and abstain from meat again until Good Friday, the day after Lent ends. Today we offer our hunger to those for whom hunger is constant. We offer our goods for those who have none. We offer our prayers for all peoples, that they too might turn away from sin and return to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Pax

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Tuesday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Sir 2:1-11

The son of Sirach begins the second chapter of his work with an injunction to keep faithful and steadfast in God. He asks that we not waiver in the face of adversity which will come. He also uses that analogy from Daniel of being tested as gold and silver are tested.

In the second paragraph we begin with a litany for the faithful – first to wait for the Lord, then to trust him, hope in him, and finally to love him. He reminds the reader of God’s compassion and mercy in the past and assures his forgiveness to those who seek it.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
R. Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you.

Psalm 37 continues the plea to be faithful to God and remain steadfast in the time of adversity. The psalmist adds that those who turn away should return and God will give them salvation.

Gospel
Mk 9:30-37

The Gospel story picks up following the cure of the boy with the Mute Spirit from yesterday. Jesus and his disciples continue their journey through Galilee and he teaches them in private about what is to come.

While the disciples clearly understand the Lord is to leave them, they do not yet grasp the nature of his mission as they are arguing about who among them will be greatest once victory is achieved. The Lord sees this in them and when they don’t respond to his direct question he gives them the example of first a servant and then a child so they can understand that it is through humility and innocence that God’s servants lead.

Reflection:

We find ourselves on this last day before we begin our Lenten journey with a message from Sirach that sets us up spiritually for tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday celebration. The author reminds us that we have and will be tested if we remain faithful to God. And that faithfulness is what we must understand today.

Faithfulness to God means following his commandments, his law. His Law is not simply the one that the son of Sirach understood. He saw the law as the Torah which contains the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and the associated laws from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers. We have that set of laws but they were interpreted for us by God’s only Son who placed a law above the Law of the Torah – the Law of Love in the Great Commandment.

When Jesus wrapped God’s Law in love he transformed it from a burden to be borne on bowed back into a garment to be worn lightly, protecting us. He took away the strict but purposeless discipline and replaced it with a life that naturally conforms itself to God own. Suddenly the face of mercy is truly revealed and the giant Hammer of Justice is replaced with the Cross of Salvation.
The words of Sirach remind us that we are called to be a people who to wait for the Lord, then who trust in Him, hope in Him, and finally to love Him with all our hearts, all our strength and all our spirit. This goal is filled in with Jesus reminder from Mark’s Gospel that if we wish to lead others to him we must first be servants and finally form our faith as an innocent child. In this way we are faithful to him – this is our goal.

As we anticipate our Lenten season of introspection and penitence and think about those things we will do over the next forty days to prepare our selves for Easter joy let us pray first that we have the strength of faithfulness, the humility of the servant, and the innocent faith of a child.

Pax

Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Reading for Monday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Sir 1:1-10

Today we begin the Book of Sirach. Written in about 175 B.C., this sacred text’s author, the son of Sirach, writes extensively about the Law and our relationship to it. It is not considered to be part of the Jewish Bible after the first century and is not contained in the protestant cannon either. The church has always considered it sacred and it has been included in the Catholic Cannon since it was first established.

Today we hear how the Wisdom of God is poured out on all God’s creation through the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, the author notes, can only come from God and there is, of course only one God. The wisdom spoken of here is God’s external revelation of himself, present in all His creation.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

The external revelation of God mentioned in Sirach is celebrated in this song of praise. The image of God’s throne on high, repeated here reinforces God’s omnipotence.

Gospel
Mk 9:14-29

In St. Mark’s Gospel today, the Lord encounters a “situation”. When he comes down the mountain where Peter, James, and John had just witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord, he discovers the rest of the twelve being challenged by scribes and Pharisees because they cannot cast out a “mute spirit”.

Jesus’ reaction seems a bit exasperated. He remarks on the faithlessness of the crowd (including the Scribes and Pharisees) and proceeds to cure the boy. He then explains to the disciples that in such cases, cure can only be effected through prayer.

Reflection:

I have been in northern Michigan with my family for the past two days and have not been able to post to this Blog. I hope those of you who, like me, are addicted to Holy Scripture have kept up with the readings in my absence.

Today we are given, as food for the soul, the beginning of the Book of Sirach and St. Mark’s story of the cure of the boy with the “Mute Spirit”. In the first, Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, the inspired author, tells us that wisdom or what God chooses to reveal of his nature, comes only from God himself. The inference is that we cannot discover it by looking for it. Rather it is given to us freely.

This understanding has tremendous importance to us. It means that, as individuals who seek to follow the Lord, we must depend entirely on that gift of faith. It is not always plane to us what God intends and it is not always easy to follow the path we see or believe we see before us.

Our great comfort is that we are not alone in this and further, we were given help that the son of Sirach did not have. He lived and died almost 200 years before God fully revealed himself in Christ, which leads us to the second great comfort. Even those who knew Christ in the flesh battled with their lack of faith.

In today’s Gospel we hear the father of the boy who was ill rebuked by Jesus. He said the Lord; “…But IF you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Emphasis added). The Lord caught that “IF” and sharply replied; “‘IF you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Following this exchange is the prayer that should be part of our prayer each day; “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Today we pray with that ancient father who prayed the Lord could heal his son. He prayed knowing that, like our own, his faith was incomplete. Let us echo his prayer today; “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Pax

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Friday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 11:1-9

The author here uses the explanation of how there came to be multiple languages used around the world to illustrate how pride in ones own strength is punished by God. In the story of the Tower of Babel, based upon the temple towers or ziggurats of Babylonia, the author describes the increasing wickedness of the people as they thought they could accomplish anything they wanted without God’s help.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Psalm 33 used here today echoes the lesson presented in Genesis. “The Lord brings to nuoght the plans of nations; he foils the designs of peoples.” Without God there is no creation, progress or salvation.

Gospel
Mk 8:34--9:1

Jesus calls all of those who are with him to authentic discipleship. Answering that call means placing Christ first and if necessary denying even ones life for the sake of the truth of the Son of God.

He challenges those who are wavering by indicating the sort of reception they will receive when they come before him on the last day; “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Homily:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

In these economic times, the words of the Lord can give us peace. While it sounds like a huge challenge (and it is) there is a sense of hope. Hope because what the Lord is telling us is that what is truly important is not strictly our physical or financial well being, but our spiritual focus.

We listen to the news each day and see what is going on around us in the secular world. Worse, much of this news affects us directly and if we dwell upon it we find only depression and hopelessness. It seems in parallel to the story from Genesis we heard today about the great tower the Babylonians were building. Because they were so arrogant, they thought they could undertake a work of human hands that would rival God’s creation.

In response to their arrogance and unbelief, God showed them the error of false pride by introducing serious communication problems – they could not understand on another. We see that today, in the work place and in our lives. Without the common language of a united purpose or goal, our language fails us and what we attempt is doomed to failure.

Into this confusion comes the words; “follow me.” Christ is our uniting purpose. He is the one who gives us direction and shows us what is truly important in our lives. In difficult and desperate times, we contemplate drastic and extreme actions. Christ calls to us – what good is it to gain the whole world and loose you life?

He keeps us focused on what is important; what is at the core of Christian faithful; love of God and love of neighbor. Let us keep those words in mind in the difficult days ahead.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Pax


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis[2]

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 9:1-13

In the first section of this reading we are given God’s blessing and instructions to Noah and his sons who are to no repopulate the earth. They receive first dominion over all life as did man at the creation and no dietary restrictions save one, don’t eat raw meat or living flesh. Dire consequences are given for violating that law.

There follows a short statement that echoes Mosaic Law – thou shall not kill.

The Lord then goes on to establish and seal his covenant with the earth in the person of Noah, using as an eternal symbol, the rainbow. In this covenant, God promises not to destroy the earth using a great flood.


Responsorial Psalm
Ps 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 and 22-23
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.

Psalm 102 gives us a prayer of thanksgiving for the restoration of the people to Israel after the Diaspora. God brought them back from their captivity and reestablished them in Zion. The prayer prefigures God’s salvation offered in the New Jerusalem – God’s heavenly kingdom.

Gospel
Mk 8:27-33

At this point in Mark, Jesus first asks the disciples what the popular belief is about his identity. He then asks them the same question and Peter, apparently spokesperson for the twelve, answers, “You are the Messiah.” Because the popular expectations about the Messiah differed greatly from the image and demeanor of Jesus, the Lord instructs them not to broadcast his true identity.

He goes on to explain that “the son of man”, using his true humanity as a title, must go through suffering and humiliation before his final victory. Peter, again exerting his leadership, takes the Lord aside to convince him to follow the expected path of the Messiah and Christ, seeing this as temptation lashes out; “Get behind me Satan.”

Reflection:

“Who do you say that I am?” That question is on that is asked of us each day. It is so easy to answer with the “right” answer – like Peter; our lips announce that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Savior of the world predicted by the prophets. What follows from that profession of faith, however, says what we really think.

I was listening to a motivational speech by
Jerry Linenger recently as he described his mission to the MIR Space Station. He was saying that after he came back to earth following having been in space for 5 months he had difficulty adjusting to the presence of gravity. He would, when finished writing for instance, simply set his pen in the air beside him, expecting it to just float there as it did in space. He was always surprised to hear it dropping. He joked that he broke a bunch of glasses at home that way and his wife ended up making him drink out of one of his son’s sippy cups.

The point of this anecdote is that if he were asked; “Is there gravity?” His answer would be; “Of course there is gravity.” However, his reactions were not consistent with his words. His subconscious memory of the lack of gravity caused him to behave as if things were weightless.

“Who do people say that I am?” We must look at our reactions, our instinctive behavior and understand our answer from the heart. Our goal must be to subconsciously act as Christ would have us act. When that happens we know that we have succeeded in putting on the mind of Christ.

It is difficult, we know. It may be impossible (like lifting your right foot and moving it in a clock wise direction and trying to write the number six with your right hand – your foot will reverse directions against your conscious will. – Don’t waste too much time trying to prove me wrong). We continue to strive for that goal.

Pax


[1] After 04/07
[2] The readings offered at Universalis differ somewhat from the USCCB in that they follow the Canadian calendar. I find them useful as an alternate scripture translation for study purposes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius



Memorial of Saint Cyril, monk, and Saint Methodius, bishop &
Saint Valentine (Optional)

Biographical Information about St. Cyril
Biographical Information about St. Methodius
Biographical Information about St. Valentine

Readings for Wednesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time[1]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible at Universalis
Comments from 2006

Commentary:


Reading 1
Gn 8:6-13, 20-22

We are given the conclusion of the flood story today. Again Hebrew numerology plays a big part in the symbolism of the story. Forty days represents the fullness of the Flood, and the seven day periods waiting for the dove, the perfect number.

Noah completes the test by building an altar and offering a sacrifice to God that seems to appease his just anger at mankind.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
R. To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.

The psalmist sings of salvation, as Noah must have done upon finding dry land. In accordance with the law sacrifice is offered “in the presence of the people”.

Gospel
Mk 8:22-26

I like what the footnote on this section has to say: “Jesus' actions and the gradual cure of the blind man probably have the same purpose as in the case of the deaf man (
Mark 7:31-37). Some commentators regard the cure as an intended symbol of the gradual enlightenment of the disciples concerning Jesus' messiahship.”

Reflection:

Perhaps because it is Valentine’s Day, or perhaps because of the Gospel reading, today we look at relationships. For those of us who are in long term personal relationships we see the benefits of those relationships. We also recognize that they are not static – they are dynamic. If we look back to the beginning of a relationship it is easy to see the changes that have occurred as we have gotten to know the other person better. Many times, the things that initially started the relationship have become secondary and other facets have become more important. In other cases the things learned become additive in their importance.

The important fact about relationships we remember here today is that relationships require work. Work because in even casual relationships, the other person’s needs and wants must be considered, frequently before our own. Work because in knowing a person, there must be changes in what we do and how we react. The better we know a person, the more we can anticipate the person’s needs or reactions in life circumstances.

This description has been purposely kept very aloof and detached – as if feelings were not a consideration. Of course, they are. Our feelings about others are key both in starting a relationship and maintaining one. It is generally the emotional component that breaks relationships. That brings us to the most important element of relationships – love. Love at many levels is foundational. Love, as described in scripture is self-sacrificing, outward focused. Love is the true celebration today.

In the same way our relationships and love of others is dynamic, so is our relationship with God. Like our human relationships, our very personal relationship with God in Christ is dynamic. When we were young, we saw the Lord as a child sees – “Jesus loves me, this I know…”. As teenagers, with everything seen in absolutes, that relationship is frequently at risk – free will not understood. As adults our mature faith grows and changes, we see God and our response to God differently. Along with that gradual personal revelation, our love for God grows and changes.

Today, as we celebrate our love for one another, let us remember our love of God and his love of us.

Pax


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time[1]

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10

What we are given today is the condensed version of God’s commands to Noah in preparation for the great flood that is God’s punishment for the sins of man. This passage is full of numerological symbolism. Seven is the number of completeness, 40 the period of a generation. The story itself probably relates a real event. There are numerous mentions of a great flood in other ancient near eastern texts although no specific archeological proofs have been found.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 29:1a and 2, 3ac-4, 3b and 9c-10
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.

This song of praise alludes to the impending event from Genesis as it reveres God’s might and control over the “vast waters”.

Gospel
Mk 8:14-21

The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod probably refers to their inability to accept Jesus as who he is, the Messiah. They take the message of hatred and spread it though all the people like yeast in bread.

The disciples don’t get it, which is more or less typical in St. Mark’s Gospel. Jesus tries to show them their error again using Hebrew numerology – the 12 baskets of fragments – he came for the twelve tribes of Israel; the 7 baskets – the perfect number for completeness. Almost ironically he asks after all this; “Do you still not understand?”

Reflection:

Once again today we are shown the contrast between the old and new covenants; the God of Justice vs. the God of Mercy. In the first reading we hear God if finally fed up with man, after first man fell and was thrown out of the garden, then their sons committed even more heinous crimes. He vows to wipe our all the life he has created with a great flood.

However, he looks upon Noah and his family and sees that not all that he has created his evil. He tells Noah to build an ark and save the life he has created so that all might not be lost. While the story probably describes an actual event (a great flood has been described in other sources from the period), it serves to set the stage for God’s covenant with Noah (the one sealed with the rainbow).

The recognition and remembrance of the Hebrew people of God’s reaction to sinfulness is apparent as they sing songs about how mighty God is and how he alone controls the vast waters and lives above the flood they view as being held in check only though his power. Psalm 29 of which we were given a piece today is such a remembrance.

In the Gospel we see Jesus trying to teach his disciples what he came to do. He speaks of leaven or yeast as we call it in modern usage. He tells them they must not be like the Pharisees or the Herodians who wield power and punishment over the people. They just don’t seem to get it so he tries to explain using the symbolism buried in the miracles he has performed. He must have sighed to himself as he said; “Do you still not understand?”

We must understand what he meant. We are called to be a different kind of leaven in the world. God sent his Son to show us what we must be. Where the Pharisees and Herodians used discipline and punishment to drive the people, we must use compassion and forgiveness to lead the people we meet. Where the Pharisees and Herodians set themselves in positions of power and placed burdens on the faithful, we must be humble servants who take away their burdens.

We look at the contrast between the God of Justice and the God of Mercy today and choose to follow the Lord of Love, Jesus our Savior, Son of the Ever Living God.

Pax

Monday, February 12, 2007

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Monday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time[1]

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 4:1-15, 25

The story of Cain and Abel gives us the rational for some of the peoples being nomadic. It also establishes the rights of these peoples to subsist on the land. At a deeper level, however, we see that when Cain first became envious, the Lord warned him about sin. God explains that it is always reading to take the unwary, a “demon barking at the door”.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 50:1 and 8, 16bc-17, 20-21
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

Placed as it is next to the story of Cain and Abel, this part of Psalm 50 bears witness to Cain’s folly in being envious of Abel’s sacrifice. God looks beyond sacrifice to a sincere and righteous heart.

Gospel
Mk 8:11-13

Ironically, this passage follows the story of the “Multiplication of the Loaves”. The footnote form the NAP says it best: “The objection of the Pharisees that Jesus' miracles are unsatisfactory for proving the arrival of God's kingdom is comparable to the request of the crowd for a sign in
John 6:30-31. Jesus' response shows that a sign originating in human demand will not be provided; cf Numbers 14:11, 22.”

Reflection:

We continue to trace the evolution of sin in the readings from Genesis. It began with mankind violating God’s commandment that they not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It continues today with three more in rapid fire succession.

First we have Cain and Abel bringing to God sacrifices from their respective areas of toil. Recall that their toil was one of the punishments placed upon Adam’s descendants as a consequence of the fall. God looks with pleasure on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s there by setting up the first sin – envy.

God warns Cain about sin, telling him that it is always crouching by the door like a demon. Cain either ignores or disregards that warning and kills his brother and then, when confronted by God, lies about the crime. The response “Am I my Brother’s Keeper?” is a phrase we have heard quoted frequently. Do you think the person using that quote knew the original context?

Just as the creation stories were attempts by the sacred authors to explain God’s power and the beginnings of all things, so too do they explain how human nature and the influence of evil operate to place distance between God and his creation.

While the personification of evil in the serpent was probably not a real serpent and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not a real tree, good and evil are certainly real concepts and man’s fall from grace is a natural phenomena as a consequence of free will.

We can see in the analysis above the danger that lurks in breaking the scripture too finely. Demythologizing scripture to some degree also builds the logic trap that takes faith and places it into a box. It is this trap that we must fight against every day. We are called to be Disciples of Christ and Christ himself gave us an answer to that lack of faith today. St. Mark tells us “He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’”

What the Lord is saying is that our experience of God must come from within and that our acceptance of the Holy Scripture must be as a child but with the heart of an adult when it comes to acting on its precepts. We can examine it and understand its historical context, but recognize that God’s message is not in the literal words used but in the spirit of God’s Law.

Today we pray we never ask to see the bones of Abel or the remains of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Something is destroyed in that question. We ask instead that God lead us with his spirit and that we can avoid sin this day and all the days ahead.

Pax

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time[1]

Commentary:

Reading 1
Jer 17:5-8

The Prophet Jeremiah is doing his level best, in this passage, to call the people back to faith in God. He rails against those who believe that good is accomplished through human effort alone and pronounces the doom of those who do not rely on God for strength.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Jeremiah’s influence on the Psalms is evident in this section of Psalm 1. We see his analogy of the righteous man being like a tree planted by a river; always deriving sustenance from the Lord.

Reading II
1 Cor 15:12, 16-20

In this reading, St. Paul challenges those (probably Sadducees) in Corinth who are denying that there is a resurrection on the last day. Rather than try to provide commentary on this selection, I’ll let our Holy Father, Pope John Paul the Great, do it for me. Here is a brief selection from his teaching on this passage from one of his
General Audiences:

“It is difficult to sum up here and comment adequately on the stupendous and ample argumentation of the fifteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians in all its details. It is significant that, while Christ replied to the Sadducees, who "say that there is no resurrection" (Lk 20:27), with the words reported by the synoptic Gospels, Paul, on his part, replied or rather engaged in polemics (in conformity with his temperament) with those who contested it.(1) In his (pre-paschal) answer, Christ did not refer to his own resurrection, but appealed to the fundamental reality of the Old Testament covenant, to the reality of the living God. The conviction of the possibility of the resurrection is based on this: the living God "is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:27). Paul's post-paschal argumentation on the future resurrection referred above all to the reality and the truth of the resurrection of Christ. In fact, he defends this truth even as the foundation of the faith in its integrity: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.... But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15:14, 20).”

Gospel
Lk 6:17, 20-26

As a special treat we are given the Beatitudes from St. Luke’s Gospel. This part of the Sermon on the Plane (as opposed to St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount) has an almost covenantal feel to it since we are given not just what the “Blessed” receive but the “Woe to” as well.

This introductory part of the sermon addresses the conditions his mostly gentile audience are facing (note this sermon is delivered in the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon where there would be a mix of Jews from Jerusalem and gentiles present.

Reflection:

The Beatitudes are, for many of us, like a comfortable pair of old shoes. We have heard them many times and, because they are so broad in their reach we always can find one of the “Blessed” passages that feels like it applies to us.

As was said in the commentary above, this selection has the feel of the New Covenant to it. Jesus says; Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those outcast because they are Christian. In a sense they have done what God has asked. Then come the “Woes”. Woe to those who are rich, filled, laughing, and those who follow false prophets. The formula for a covenant given in the Old Testament says that first God says what he will do then says what man needs to do in return. The formula ends with the consequences of not doing what is required.

In the reading today it’s turned around a bit because Jesus says “Blessed are the poor”, before he makes the assumption that they will be shown mercy on account of their belief in the Son of Man. The consequences piece is clear enough though.

We look at this passage in a more complex way today so that the comfortable old shoe might take on new meaning in our lives. It is not so much a comfort bur rather a focus for our lens of faith. Look at what the Lord has denounced; the rich (How many of us live below the poverty line in the richest country on earth?), the filled (How many of us are hungry?), the laughing (How many of us deserve the depression that comes from a hopeless situation based upon our economic circumstances?)

No, the comfortable shoe challenges us today, as disciples. We are to reach out to those who are truly in need so that the mercy the Lord promises those in need will be seen through us. We who are given so much are called to share in the spirit of Love with which this sermon was delivered all those years ago.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”

Pax


[1] After 04/07

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Memorial of Saint Scholastica


Memorial of Saint Scholastica, virgin

Biographical Information about St. Scholastica
Readings for Saturday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 3:9-24

Today we hear God’s punishment placed upon mankind for violating the law God had given them. It is clear from the text what parts of man’s existence was viewed as harsh by the early authors.

God first punished the serpent, placing hostility between man and the snake in perpetuity. The snake or serpent in later theology actually became representative of evil, ultimately destroyed by the Son of God.

God next punished the woman by intensifying the pain of delivering children and made it even more severe by saying that in spite of the pain, woman would still be drawn to have more children (“Yet your urge shall be for your husband”)

Finally, God punished man for his role. No longer could he just reach up and take fruit to eat, rather he was forced to till the land to get food, hard work in uncertain conditions for all his life.

The final punishment was the most difficult to bear, man’s immortality was taken away. Through sin, death came into the world and man was forbidden to eat from the tree of live and man was cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

The song of lament in Psalm 90 reminds us of the dust to which we must return. The psalmist calls us back to God’s law and grace. Most interesting in this passage is the recognition that God’s time and man’s time are different (“For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night.”) This psalm files in the face of those who believe God created earth in seven 24 hour days. (“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”)

Gospel
Mk 8:1-10

Today we have one of the “Wow” miracles, the multiplication of loaves and fishes. There are actually two accounts; (
Mark 8:1-10; which we hear today and Mark 6:31-44). It is proposed that by scholars that this is actually the same event told from two different traditions, but regardless, the implication is Eucharistic.

Much can be speculated about this event. The number of the loaves being 7 would seem to indicate, through Hebrew numerology, the fullness of loaves was present. The fact that they all ate until they were satisfied (spiritually?) would indicate that the meal was complete. The fragments left over filled 7 baskets, again that perfect number is used.

Reflection:

The readings from Genesis and the Gospel from Mark clash today. In the Genesis story we hear of the Hebrew experience of a God of Justice. He hands out punishment to mankind for violating his law thereby condemning man and beast to lives of enmity, pain and toil. This punishment was handed out in God’s time, as the psalmist reminds us, not man’s time.

Juxtaposed with the God of Justice, the Lord Jesus Christ comes in the Gospel as the God of Mercy and Compassion. He sees the multitude that look to him for salvation through his words and gives them nourishment for the flesh as well.

We wonder, which is the true face of God? Then we remember that before the coming of the Messiah man was wandering without a shepherd. He looked at the physical world and saw there what he supposed was the punishment for sins against God. The people of the Old Testament knew the Law of Moses. It was a strict and detailed law and violation of it merited the punishment like that given to Adam and Eve. Even if they did not recall what sin they had committed, if misfortune befell them, it must be punishment from the God of Justice, omnipotent and omnipresent.

Than came Jesus in fulfillment of the recorded prophecy of God’s intent. His only Son revealed to us the true face of the Father, a loving God who was not vindictive. A Merciful Father who does not punish out of some whim. Yes, he created man in his own image and likeness. But that creation was given God’s own free will; a free will that lead Eve to accept the apple from the Serpent and lead mankind to death through sin.

Now comes the Lord, freeing us from that same death through his own sacrifice. Today we give thanks to God who, through his infinite love for us, gave us his Son so we might know his will for us and give us food for the journey he has planed for us.

Pax

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time


Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Friday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Commentary:

Reading 1
Gn 3:1-8

Today continues the Genesis account with the story of “The Fall”. We hear how man fell from grace through Original Sin. The account is given of the temptation by the serpent first distorting the truth to tempt the woman first telling her that there would be no punishment and then telling her that she would become like God. The use of the serpent to represent the fallen human nature is probably a reference to the serpent used in pagan fertility rituals at the time. The serpent is one of the “beasts of the field” named by man and is not intrinsically evil.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
R. Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.

Providing hope for mankind following the story of “The Fall” is Psalm 32 rejoicing for the one whose sins are forgiven. The psalmist gives thanks for God’s saving work, emphasizing that only He can deliver man from sin.

Gospel
Mk 7:31-37

Returning from his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, the Lord now heals the deaf mute. This action, especially the wording of the final quote, (“He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” ) which is a paraphrase from Isaiah, has a prophetic feel.

The Lord’s actions are sacramental in nature. That is they accomplish what they signify. As the Lord takes the man aside, he puts his fingers into the man’s mouth and ears. He then sighs or groans looking heavenward, demonstrating his intimate relationship to the father rather than in prayer, and says, “ephphetha!” or “be opened.

This passage has two unusual characteristics. First, the Lord takes the man aside, in private, implying something of the secret of the Messiah. Next, after his cure was affected he tells the man not to tell anyone but not only does the man continue to do so but proclaims it. We are given the feel that the event taking place is special in revelation.

Reflection:

The scripture readings we are given today are all tied together in an event we share. What is this event? It is our Baptism. In the first reading from Genesis we hear the story of “The Fall”. Man falls from grace by violating the only law God had given. The Original Sin is thrust upon mankind.

Following the story of the Fall, we find in the Psalm, the realization that it is only God who can wash the stain of sin away. Happy are those for whom this has been done cries the author.

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus cures the deaf mute. In doing so he opens the man’s ears and lips, pronouncing the word “Ephphetha”. In doing so he reveals his saving power.

Original Sin is the driving reason for our tradition of baptizing infants. The absence Original Sin was the gift given to Mary the Mother of God whose womb was free from all sin. Baptism restores us to grace by wiping away that fallen nature initiated in the Genesis story. It provides adoption to us and makes us children of God. Like the psalmist, we rejoice because “Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.”

If it has been a while since you have attended a baptism, let me refresh your memory a bit. Following the sacramental bath, that also does what it symbolizes, and following the anointing with Chrism and the vesting with the white garment, the celebrant goes to the child. He says:

“The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your lips to proclaim his faith, to the glory of God the Father. Amen”

The prayer is called the Ephphetha and we remember this very special event with that prayer each time a child is baptized in the Church. It recalls to us our adoption not only as children of God but disciples with all the responsibilities that go with it.

Today we thank God for our gift of Baptism and pray that the strength given in that sacrament will help us face the challenges of discipleship.

Pax