Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time




The First Martyrs of the See of Rome

Additional Information about the First Martyrs of the See of Rome

Readings for Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Amos 2:6-10, 13-16

Placed in context, the prophet riles against the crimes of Moab (2 Kings 3:9ff). The selection from Amos begins with a detailed list of the crimes the Hebrew people of Jerusalem have committed. They disregard the poor and treat them without dignity; they take that which was given in tribute to God and use it for their own pleasure; they turned to idolatry (“…they recline beside any altar”). They did so in the face of God’s faithfulness. God stood with their armies as they defeated the Amorites and was with Moses who led them out of bondage in Egypt.

The prophet concludes with a warning oracle; (“I will crush you into the ground”) God will abandon them and they will not be able to hide from his punishment.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 50:16bc-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23
R. Remember this, you who never think of God.

Psalm 50 is a “covenant lawsuit”, that is a lament against those who have violated God’s law and the covenant made with Him upon which it was based. Much like the oracle from Amos, the strophes point to those who are unfaithful and contrast them with God who is always faithful.

Gospel Matthew 8:18-22

We come to an interlude between the miracle stories in St. Matthew’s Gospel. In this passage we find two sayings dealing with discipleship and what that means. The first of these is a reply to a scribe who wished to travel with the Lord. The Savior’s reply indicated that he must be prepared to have no permanent home if he was going to do so. He must give up material wealth.

In the second situation, the would-be disciple asks to be allowed to bury his father. This does not mean his father had already died but that he wished to wait for that to happen so he could carry out his family responsibilities. The Lord’s response makes it clear that ties to the family would be secondary to the disciples call to follow him.

Reflection:

Taken literally, the two saying of Jesus from St. Matthew’s Gospel sound almost as if the Lord is trying to dissuade a would-be disciple from following him. First the Lord tells him that he must be prepared to have no permanent home. And when this does not do the trick, again reading literally, Jesus tells the Scribe he cannot even pause to bury his father. We are given these two says to provide exaggerated examples of what is meant by the call to discipleship.

The point is made clear in the absolute – first, what must be first and foremost in the hearts and minds of the disciple, is Jesus’ discipline to the Father’s Kingdom and the values of that heavenly place. While people of the earth value property and material wealth, the Kingdom of Heaven values a pure spirit, one in love with the Father and those created in His image. Indeed, following Christ means placing that path in front of the pursuit of material things.

The second saying; “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead” is not meant to be taken literally either. Rather it prioritizes the call to follow Christ. The Scribe wishes to place his familial obligations before the call to follow Christ. In the absolute terms of St. Matthew those who have rejected Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promise are dead to him (hence a literal meaning for the terms used). But our enlightened understanding of this saying is that Christ must come first; before family, before wealth and power –everything else in our lives is predicated upon our call and response to Christ.

These two short sayings place Christ and God’s Kingdom first on our list of life’s priorities. The call to discipleship is not an easy one.

Pax


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today “Neither Shall He Stand That Handleth The Bow” Artist and Date UNKNOWN (Public domain Biblical clip art)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles


Biographical Information about Saints Peter and Paul[1]

Readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary: (Today I borrow, in part, from the commentary from Fr. Tom Welbers at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Berkley, California)

Reading 1 Acts 12:1-11

The Christian Jews in Jerusalem have fallen from favor, probably due to St. Stephen’s teaching and the subsequent back lash. The execution of St. James marks the beginning of the third persecution of the early Church in Jerusalem, this one from a more formal source.

The liberation of Peter from prison echoes many events of Jewish history (the deliverance of Joseph, Gn 39:21-41:57; the three young men, Dn 3; and Daniel, Dn 6) that consciously reflect the paschal liberation (Ex 12:42). Peter now undergoes the same trial and deliverance as his Master and in his own person becomes a sign of God’s deliverance of his people.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.

Psalm 34 is a song of thanksgiving and a favorite for celebrating the heroic virtue of the saints. The psalmist, fresh from the experience of being rescued (Psalm 34:5, 7), can teach the "poor," those who are defenseless, to trust in God alone. This psalm, in the words of one being unjustly persecuted, echoes hope for deliverance and freedom. Response: "The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him."

Reading II 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18

Paul is writing from prison at the end of his life. The only deliverance he can expect is death, and he confidently proclaims that it is the greatest deliverance of all. The death of the Christian who has lived and worked in union with the death of Christ through baptism is true release to freedom and glory. The Apostle views this deliverance as an act of worship. At the close of his life Paul could testify to the accomplishment of what Christ himself foretold concerning him at the time of his conversion, "I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name" (
Acts 9:16).

Gospel Mt 16:13-19

This passage is often used as a proof text for the primacy of the Pope. It may well be that, but to stop there is to set aside rich insight into our own participation in the mission of the Church. The "power of the keys" is rightly understood as referring to the authority of Peter and his successors in the ministry of leading and unifying the Church, but it also provides us with an image of the mission of the whole Church, ourselves included. The Church is the doorway to God’s kingdom. Each of us as a member of the Church has the power to unlock that doorway — to welcome all we meet, by our spirit of love and forgiveness, into association with us in the kingdom. But we can also close the door of the kingdom to others, excluding them by our attitudes of superiority, prejudice, selfishness, or negligence. As Christians, we have the power to open or to lock the door of God’s kingdom. By our own words and actions we cannot help but exercise this power — one way or the other.

Reflection:

As we think about St. Peter and St. Paul and all they did and endured for the sake of Christ’s mission we cannot help but be drawn to an image the Lord used on many occasions – the Parable of the Seeds. Peter and Paul were indeed like seeds that landed on fertile ground. And if we think about them as being the means by which the Church was founded, that image takes on new meaning for us.

In the beginning, Jesus chose them and flung them at the world. He charged them to take the good news to the people in two totally different ways that merged at the end of their ministries. St. Peter was called from the beginning of Christ’s ministry. He was called first and he was charged by Christ to be the rock upon which the Church would be built. This task was given to him not because he was he was superlatively trained in the classic school of theology (that was St. Paul) nor because he was so charismatic. He was chosen for his deep and abiding faith that was used by God to provide startling insights (although he did have human failings like all of us)

St. Peter’s first mission was to the Jews, the people God chose to reveal himself to from the beginning. It was from this population Jesus came and from it he chose special people to follow him. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and the rest of the Apostles did their best to bring the good news to the Jews. But as with the Lord himself, they were rejected, forcefully, violently, with extreme prejudice.

St. Peter was an intended victim of this pogrom. It is clear from the story of his rescue from prison that he was being watched over by God. Just when it seemed that the infant Church would be wiped out, an angel of the Lord appeared and, as God has done so many times in human experience, he rescued him from the grip of an authority that intended death for God’s chosen ones.

St. Paul’s story was quite different. Where St. Peter was called from the beginning, St. Paul was called at the end, after the Lord had come and gone in his public ministry on earth. St. Paul, who had authorized the execution of St. Stephen in Jerusalem and was on a mission to complete the eradiation of these “Christians”, was selected as a tool of Jesus as well. He, a classically educated scholar of both Hebrew Scripture and Greek Philosophy, was sent to the Gentiles. The cornerstone rejected by the builders was to be foundational to believers who had not come to faith through the Law of Moses, but by other paths.

St. Peter and St. Paul can be viewed as two germinating shoots of that seed that was to become the giant tree, the Church, which covers the whole world. With its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, drawing upon that early understanding of God the Just Judge and the new revelation of God through his Son as the God of love, those two budding shoots reached out to the world and brought the life of Christ to all its peoples.

We are the most recent branches of that ancient tree. We inherit the mission and, like all the faithful who have gone before us, we are called to bear fruit, to send out new life to a harsh world. Just as Sts. Peter and Paul were called in different ways with different missions, so we are sent out, each with our own gifts and charisms. May the example of these great Apostles serve to motivate us to vigorously carry the message forward; by word and example may we bring the “Good News” to all we meet as they did.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “Sts. Peter and Paul” by Guido Reni, c. 1600
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus


Bishop and Martyr

Biographical Information about St. Irenaeus

Readings for Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19

The reading from Lamentations begins with the author’s sorrow at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (587 BC). The sorrow and humble repentance of the faithful are expressed as is the plight of the people who remain. They are afflicted with famine and draught.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 74:1b-2, 3-5, 6-7, 20-21
R. Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones.

“A communal lament sung when the enemy invaded the temple; it would be especially appropriate at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Israel's God is urged to look upon the ruined sanctuary and remember the congregation who worshiped there.”
[3]

Gospel Matthew 8:5-17

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides us with the second and third healing episodes (out of nine). Once again these encounters serve as proofs of the Lord’s identity as the Messiah. Clear evidence is given of this purpose with the use of the quote “He took away our infirmities and bore our disease.” taken from the suffering servant oracle in
Isaiah 53:4.

Reflection:

While Jesus continues his healing journey, we are struck that there was a parallel between what he said to his disciples after hearing the deep faith of the Centurion and what was reported in the first reading from Lamentations.

In the first reading we hear the lament of the destruction of Israel and the Diaspora. We hear how the lack of faithfulness on the part of the Hebrews ultimately leads to their downfall and this is their lament:

Cry out to the Lord;
moan, O daughter Zion!
Let your tears flow like a torrent
day and night;
Let there be no respite for you,
no repose for your eyes.

It is a bitter people that remain in what is left in that city and make that cry. They turned their backs on the Lord and believe that is the reason they lost their land and freedom. They had not learned or did not understand the concept of "free will". And that is the glue that brings the Old and New Testaments together in this instance.

We believe that God made us in his own image and likeness and part of His design was that we should not be slaves or puppets but rather like him. To that end he gave us the freedom to make our own decisions and act upon them. If we learn anything from history, sacred or secular, it is that actions by individuals and groups have consequences.

It has been so since Eve decided to follow the advice of the serpent in the garden. When we as individuals choose to follow a course, we must accept the scenery along that path. And that brings us back to what Jesus said to the disciples about the centurion. He basically told the disciples that the Hebrews had missed the point on many occasions and as a consequence, people like the centurion who understood the spirit of the law would inherit the Kingdom.

"Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the Kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

When we choose to listen to the Holy Spirit and be guided by what we hear, we find the faith that Jesus says will place us at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven. It is not easy and society will not necessarily love us for the choices. But it is our way, the way of Christians, handed down for 2000 years and we must do our best to follow.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Faith of the Centurion” by Caspar Luiken (1712)
[3] Taken from the NAB footnote for Psalm 74

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop, Doctor

Biographical Information about St. Cyril of Alexandria

Readings for Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 25:1-12

This reading from 2 Kings details the final destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 587 B.C.. This occurred after the city had been besieged and invested for three years. All of the major buildings in the city were destroyed, its walls torn down, and the people killed or taken into captivity. Much of what is documented here is predicted by the Prophet Jeremiah (see
Jeremiah 38: 2-3ff)

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

The sadness that drove Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild is reflected in this communal lament. The people of God dispersed throughout the region recall the joys of being in God’s presence in Zion (Jerusalem). We feel in this hymn our own anticipation of being together in God’s presence as a community of faith.

Gospel Matthew 8:1-4

Following the first great discourse from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has attracted a large crowd. In the following chapters we see nine miracles. The cure of the Leper is the first of these. This action on the part of Jesus is proof of his identity as the Messiah; hence the usual formula “Your faith has cured you” is missing.

The final instruction by Jesus to the cured leper is in accordance with Mosaic Law (see
Lev 14:2-9) His instruction to tell no one about this was probably to insure the priest who had to examine him would not reject the cure and the man.

Reflection:

The parallel stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament once again point out the stark contrast in God’s revelation portrayed at different times in the history of mankind’s encounter with Him. Nearly half a millennia before Jesus was born, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. The people of that city, the city where God’s permanent house was built, were either killed or taken into slavery by the King of Babylon. The complete destruction of the city and the removal by force of all its inhabitants should have been the end of the nation. But the faith of the once nomadic people was not destroyed. Psalm 137 reminds us of that and the promised renewal.

While the destruction of Jerusalem was the end of one chapter in God’s plan, the event stands in counter point to the Gospel. The Messiah, God’s Son, now sent to reveal God’s love to the people who still mourned the Diaspora is in the land, fulfilling prophecy as he heals the sick. With a force of will he tells the leper “I will do it. Be made clean.” It is this image of God’s power and love the Christ came for.

What Jesus does in this almost casual gesture is symbolic of his mission to us. The leper did not beg; he did not have to plead and follow the Lord from place to place. We are told he simply “did him homage”. He acknowledged Jesus for who he was and had faith that what the Lord wished to happen would happen. This leper was outcast. By Mosaic Law he could not enter the community until a priest could attest that his disease had left him. The Lord opened the gates of community to this poor soul with his will, his intense love.

Today we give grateful thanks for Christ’s love and kindness. We see in his cure of the leper, the condensed image of his mission to invite all of us who are “unclean” to be once more made whole and be brought home to God’s family. We also pray especially for all those who are ill or infirmed, that they might have the same attitude as the leper who said “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Knowing this in their hearts, may the healing love of Christ enter them and bring them back to full health, if not in body, in spirit.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Leper” by Alexandre Bida, c. 1875

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time


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

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 24:8-17

Following his father’s death, the young king Jehoiachin reigns for a very short period in Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar of Neo-Babylon has already been attacking Judah for some time and reaches Jerusalem just three months (history records that the wall around Jerusalem was breached on March 16, 587 B.C) after the new king ascends the throne. Following its capture, we hear of the great Diaspora and sack of the temple as all of the leadership and soldiery are sent into exile.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 79:1b-2, 3-5, 8, 9
R. For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.

Psalm 79 is a communal lament crying out to God that invaders have defiled the temple and killed the people. This lament is thought to reflect upon the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. The singer asks God how long his anger at them will last and pleads for pardon and deliverance.

Gospel Matthew 7:21-29

This is the final section of the first of five great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. In it he broadens his attack on false prophets to include those who perform acts in his name but lead lives of sin. He uses the analogy of the house built upon sand and the house built upon rock to indicate that those how have a deep faith and act out of that faith have a strong foundation and can stand against adversity; while those who give the faith lip service and for others to see but do not have that deep faith will fall. He will not even recognize them when they come before him in final judgment.

Reflection:

We are reminded of a story about the young Dutch boy who wished to hold back the sea so he could build a home by a wave swept shore. Each day he would go to the very edge of the shore at low tide and erect a wall as quickly as he could in hopes that it would prevent the water from washing over the place where he wanted to build when the tide came back in. Each day, no matter how fast and how sturdily he built the water would rush back and come around the sides of his wall and knock it down and wash over it.

The boy was becoming very sad and disheartened and went to his father and told him about his struggle. His father explained to him that, while he might be the best in the world at building dikes to hold back the water, he could not do what needed to be do by himself. He must enlist the aid of his friends and family that together they might create a structure that could hold back the sea for a day.

It was a week later that the boy, this time accompanied by his friends and family came to the shore. When the tide had gone out they worked furiously together and made an enclosure. When the tide came back in, the weak places were able to be reinforced and the dike stood throughout high tide. As the water receded, more dikes were added and in a matter of weeks enough ground was reclaimed from the sea to build several houses.

The young man thanked those who had helped and then together they thanked God because the Lord had given them strength to build, he had created the material with which they built, and had given them good weather without which all they had done would have been impossible.

We thought of this story, first because of the parable of the wise man who built his house upon a solid foundation, a rock. But when we think about that foundation we realized that it was not simply one rock that is the foundation for us but many. One man, though he was also God, came into the world and established the cornerstone of faith and upon that rock countless others of faith added their own effort and in many cases blood so that the great monument to the Father, the Church might be built.

We each must become like the rock that Jesus called in St. Peter. We must strengthen ourselves with what is good through prayer and discernment so we, like the friends and family of the Dutch boy in the story, might stand together against the storm of the world, remaining firm in the faith to God’s glory. We must reject what comes from the evil one and test each notion against the measure of the love of God and His Son.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “The House Upon the Rock and The House Upon the Sand” by William James Webb, c. 1860

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3

This passage chronicles the reign of King Josiah who followed King Manasseh who had reigned for 55 years and had done evil in the eyes of the Lord, following “abominable practices” (
2 Kings 21:2ff). King Josiah had ordered the gifts of precious metals given to the temple to be melted down and paid out to workmen who repaired the temple. During this renovation the book of the Law was rediscovered and the people were brought back to the faith through the reaffirmation of the covenant. The historical ebb and flow of faith in Israel continues.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 119:33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40
R. Teach me the way of your decrees, O Lord.

The strophes selected from this very long psalm focus on the fidelity of the singer to the “ordinances, statutes and decrees” of the Law in direct reference to the communal lament offered in 2 Kings 22. Psalm 119 is an individual lament asking for God’s support in times of difficulty.

Gospel Matthew 7:15-20

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against people claiming to be God’s messengers but whose message goes against God’s commands. Jesus uses an analogy of the fruit produced by various plants as a way to test the authenticity of those who claim to come in God’s name. He tells them that the product or result of the words offered by a self proclaimed messenger will identify them. In his time, this was probably another warning about the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees who placed self serving demands upon the people.

Reflection:

The journey of faith described in the historical books of sacred scripture (1 &2 Kings and 1 &2 Chronicles) describes a people whose experience of the God drew them closer then apart. As different influences impact them, whether it is an external force like an invading army or an internal force like a corrupt king their experience of God changes. In the scripture passage today we see a new king (Josiah) come into power and bring with him the reforms so needed. He calls the people back to Gods Law, supported by Shaphan a scribe and part of a prominent family. The continuity of this story is linked to the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (
Jeremiah 26:24) if we take the longer view.

The description of what takes place as King Josiah discovers, apparently for the first time, the precepts of the Law of Moses provides an example of what Jesus is saying in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Just because a king has a position of trust and authority does not mean they are leading in a direction that is in keeping with what God wishes for the people. In this case Josiah discovers the error of his predecessors and has a conversion experience which brings him and all those who follow him to the teachings of Moses. By fruits of his efforts we see him as just and wise.

We must look at this long view and turn it inward at ourselves. If we take the time to look at the events of our lives we can see there the times when we were faithful to God, walking closely with the Lord and other times when we strayed far from him. While our goal is always to be faithful, always growing closer, we can see people and situations that tempt us onto different paths. As much as we long for the company of the Lord, we are seduced by a path that seems easier, by actions that bring us more personal pleasure, by the veil of darkness that hides what we do sometimes even from ourselves.

It is because we can take these retrospective looks at our past that we can correct our course. If we look at where we have been and were we are, we can see that our path to the Lord may have wandered (never so far that we cannot come back). We can see, as if looking back at a path from a high hill, the times when we made wrong turns and bad choices and we can correct our paths. We can only do this if we are listening to the Lord who is our compass. There are so many others who would encourage us to take an easier way, a darker way. The Lord asks us; “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” He challenges us when we try to justify our actions that go against what he teaches.

Today we take a long gaze back along the path we have walked. We see the times when we have walked far from Jesus and we see where we stand now. We ask God humbly to help us correct our course – to change our path so that we might once more be walking that path that leads to the Father.

Pax
[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Josiah Orders The Book Of The Law Read Aloud To The Elders” by Merian Matthaeus the Elder, 1625-30

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist


Mass during the Day

Readings for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Isaiah 49:1-6

In this passage, the beginning of the second of the four “Servant of the Lord” oracles, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of his own call to service to God. Because this selection is used on the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, we see in Isaiah’s words the calling to which John was beckoned.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
R. I praise you for I am wonderfully made.

In support of the miracle of creation, Psalm 139 reminds us that like us St. John was formed and created in the womb as a gift from God to Elizabeth his mother. He came, known by God and God’s only Son.

Reading II Acts 13:22-26

St. Paul, speaking to Jews who were being called to deeper faith in Christ, reminds them that the prophecy that the Messiah would come from the lineage of King David had been fulfilled. He speaks of St. John the Baptist as the herald of that event by recounting his (St. John’s) prophetic speech on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan.

Gospel Luke 1:57-66, 80

We hear the angel’s announcement to Zachariah fulfilled in St. Luke’s account of the birth of St. John the Baptist. The naming of the child “John” broke tradition (according to the tradition of the day, the child should have been named after his father, Zachariah) and by acceding to the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement, we see the child set on a course directed by God and dedicated to him.

Reflection:

“What, then, will this child be?” This question is one that is always asked of parents, relatives, and friends at the birth of a new baby. Will he take after his father? Will he go into the family business? St. John was told by his father when he was less than a day old. Notice the Gospel jumps from verse 66 to verse 80. The intervening verses constitute the Canticle of Zachariah. The last part of St. John’s father’s blessing is;

“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace." (Luke 1:76-79)

The little baby was destined to be like the great Prophet Isaiah. How similar were their beginnings as we heard:

The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.” (Isaiah 49: 1b-2a)

We know that like Jesus, St. John’s early childhood through adolescence and early adulthood were hidden from history. We hear that at some point he was “revealed” to the people. When the time was right, he suddenly appeared out of the desert calling the people once more to repentance.

We wonder which of us will be next. Who has been called in a special way and is just biding time until they will be revealed as strong with the spirit and great in the eyes of the Lord? Which of us who carries the light of Christ into the world will emerge from darkness and be a herald of Him who promised to return on the last day?

We rejoice on the day we celebrate the nativity of St. John who preceded Christ in all things. Like his cousin, Jesus, his example of fearless faith and bold proclamation inspires us to take up his call as a light hope for “those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

[1] After Links Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Birth of St. John the Baptist” by Tintoretto, 1563

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18

In these verses from 2 Kings we see the history faith revealed as much of modern day Israel falls to Assyria. The root cause of this tragedy in the eyes of the chronicler is the people’s failure to be faithful to God’s statures given to them in the form of Mosaic Law. Weakened by this lack of fidelity, they were conquered and enslaved, “Only the tribe of Judah was left.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 60:3, 4-5, 12-13
R. Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.

Psalm 60 is a community lament. In these strophes we hear the psalmist complain that the armies of Israel have failed in battle and implore the Lord for his assistance. The consequences of this failure are the people have fallen into distress. The concluding strophe gives witness to their dependence upon the Lord’s aid; “Give us aid against the foe, for worthless is the help of men.”

Gospel Matthew 7:1-5

The beginning of the seventh chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel finds Jesus teaching his disciples about being judgmental. They are told to first look at their own transgressions before judging others. “This is not a prohibition against recognizing the faults of others, which would be hardly compatible with
Matthew 7:5, 6 but against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of one's own faults.”[3]

Reflection:

Once again we see the contrast in understanding God’s intent brought to us in Christ’s revelation. In the first reading from 2 Kings supported by Psalm 60’s lament, we are told how, as a consequence of failing to follow God’s law faithfully, God “…till, in his great anger against Israel, the Lord put them away out of his sight.” The psalmist expresses the same idea “O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses”.

Given the fact that “God so loved the world that he sent his Only Son…” we see clearly how the experience of our Jewish predecessors missed the intent of the Law and the God’s hope for them (and us). It is amazing that such thoughts persist in the face of Jesus great sacrifice for us. Just as those ancient Jews looked at the great trials that feel upon them and cried out “ God why did you do this to us?”; we hear people today ask the same question.

How many times have we heard; “Why did God allow (cause) this to happen to a good person?” It is as if they think God had a personal grudge against an individual or community. At least in scripture, they reflected and said it must be because we abandoned God first. In our day there is not even an attempt to look at the actions of the one who feels they are wronged to attempt to find an alternate reason for the bad thing that has happened.

Forgive me for relating a personal experience. I was once taken seriously ill and required to undergo some tests at a major research hospital. One of the doctors doing the procedure was a parishioner and we chatted about churchy stuff while the procedure took place. As I was being wheeled back to the recovery area by a nurse she asked if I was a member of the Clergy to which I responded, yes. She asked if she could get my opinion on something and I said “sure.” She said that she had recently meet and fallen in love with a young man. It had only taken a few weeks but she was smitten. After only three weeks, however, the young man took his own life. Her question was, why had God put this young man in her life and then taken him from her in such a tragic manner.

Understand I was on a gurney (mostly naked – too much information?) and pretty stunned by her accusatory tone toward God whom she clearly blamed. I proceeded to explain that God was a loving Father and had created her boyfriend with free will, like the Father, in his image. I told her that all of us make choices and his was the worst one. It was not God who had chosen to put the gun in his hand. It was not God who had caused his depression. He had made a very bad choice, possibly because he had either not been introduced to God or because he had earlier rejected that hand that brings salvation. I don’t know if that go through to her, I hope so.

In scripture today we are told not to judge others because that same measure will be placed against us. It is clear also that we must never try to judge God, but rather look to our own choices and be constantly guided by Christ who set the bar for us, that by his example of love for us, we might express the non-judgmental love for others.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria” by Charles Joseph Staniland, c. 1900
[3] NAB footnote on Mt 7:1-12

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20

This story of the succession of the kingship of Israel to King Joash begins with the fulfillment of the prophecy that the house of the sons of King Ahaziah would suffer God’s wrath. We see in the beginning of this story Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah learning of her son’s death. He was in fact a price of Judah (see 2 Chronicles 22:9ff) killed by Jehu. This action sets off the sequence of events that ends with the rightful king – Joash, installed and the return of Israel to faithful worship and another suppression of
Baal worship (note: Baal was not a single god but had many guises depending upon the region. In Holy Writ the various forms are not usually distinguished.)

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 132:11, 12, 13-14, 17-18
R. The Lord has chosen Zion for his dwelling.

Psalm 132 is a song of thanksgiving song by the community as they remember the establishment of God’s salvation expressed in the Davidic dynasty. The promise of God is fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, who comes from the house of David to rule forever.

Gospel Matthew 6:19-23

Jesus concludes his sermon with a caution about placing importance on “treasures on earth.” In this context, St. Matthew’s Gospel also recalls the Lord’s analogy using the as a symbol of seeking one’s desires. Here we see that if what we seek is of darkness (material wealth) as contrasted with seeking the light (spiritual wealth) how dark will that spirit inside us be?

Reflection:

As we grow older, our view of time changes. We have heard many times how a brush with death causes a person to come to grips with his or her own mortality. Yet, for the most part, we go through our lives thinking in terms of tomorrow, next week, next month or on rare occasions, next year. It seems the furthest out we seem to go is when we are looking at retirement and what kind of stability we can provide for ourselves. With the current crop of “Baby-Boomers” coming to retirement age, we hear more and more about 401Ks and retirement planning – how we need to plan so we can enjoy the rewards of the “Golden Years”.

One would think that with all this attention paid to retirement planning that one might think in even longer terms. If we think about it, in the United States today a typical retirement expectation is that a person will retire at around 68 or 70 (some wealthier might even retire at 55). With current life expectations, that means that the “Golden Years” may last for 20-40 years at the longest. At the end of that time, another phase in our lives begins – eternity. Since once the body dies we do not have to worry about things like heath insurance and a fixed income, the planning we did for our financial health is now meaningless. What is important at that time is what we planned for with what we did with our lives.

That is what Jesus spoke about in the Gospel of St. Matthew. That is what the story from 2 Kings should have reminded us. Only the greatest figures in history are even remembered (who even remembers what was accomplished by some of the Kings of Israel?) so out of the six billion people on earth, who are we trying to impress with our wealth, our treasure, our power, our prosperity? Before someone says it; yes, we need to provide for our selves and our families. Yes, we should use the gifts God gave us to the fullest extent of our abilities. But where is the true treasure? What are we storing up and how do we see the “Golden Years”.

Jesus reminds us today that what we need to store up is “…treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal”. We need to come as close to the Lord as we possibly can in terms of our character. That means love of God, love of others, service to all. Our prayer today is that we see our response to the Lord, not just as our duty as Christians, but that it becomes our passion so that like the Lord says; “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Proclaiming Joash king” by Edward Bird, c. 1815

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Romuald, Abbot

Biographical Information About St. Romuald[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1
Sirach 48:1-14

The final 9 chapters of Sirach are devoted to praise of the glory of God. The first of these chapters is devoted to God in nature, the final chapters to great prophets and leaders of Israel. In the reading today we hear of the Prophet Elijah who came with a fiery message. Reference is made to Elijah’s passing (
2 Kings 2:1ff). The image of Elijah is the precursor to St. John the Baptist during Advent and echo’s his prophetic work.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 97:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!

Psalm 97 is hymn praising God in his majesty. The first strophes provide us with an image of God appearing in a storm and fire, a picture reminiscent of Elijah’s ascension recounted in Sirach and proclaimed in 2 Kings 2:1.

Gospel
Matthew 6:7-15

The Gospel passage from St. Matthew today actually jumps back and fills in a gap in the reading from yesterday. Today we go back and pick up right after Jesus was telling the disciples to pray in private. He continues his instruction saying to pray clearly and goes on to give Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Reflection:

One thing we can say about our faith that will be true regardless of our age an maturity is it will always challenge us to dig deeper and work harder. We take a step back today and look at where the Gospel of St. Matthew has lead us so far in the Lord’s teachings in the first discourse. It has forced us to re-examine our application of the commandments dealing with how we interact with others. We are to rise above our human nature; a nature that would have us hate those who hate us; a nature that would demand revenge; a nature that would allow us to satisfy our earthly desires without regard for others who might be negatively impacted. We, as Christ’s disciples are to love as God loves, deeply, unconditionally.

And while we struggle with this new understanding of how we are to deal with those with whom we have contact, we must constantly be reinforcing our interior faith through prayer. Jesus teaches us a form to use in that communication with God in the selection we are presented with from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It has become for the Christian community worldwide the most popular prayer in use today. It is almost assuredly the first “adult” prayer children learn (right after “Now I lay me down to sleep…”) and as a consequence it has become almost meaningless in it’s familiarity.

To be gauche, it is like the language a person taking tickets in a movie theater might use; “Down the hall to your right, first door on the left. Enjoy your show.” Do they really want us to enjoy the show? There are hundreds of every-day examples, but we all agree on one thing – our prayer should not be meaningless; especially one given to us by Jesus himself. Prayer is defined in the Catholic Encyclopedia as “The raising of the heart and mind to God.” We cannot become like him unless we know him and allow him to guide us.

As we raise our hearts and minds to God today, let us beg him for the grace to hear his response to our words of praise and supplication. Let us implore him to make us examples of faith to inspire other and offer our unwavering love in return.

Pax

[1] The picture used is “St. Romauld” by Fra Angelico, 1441-42
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Kings 2:1, 6-14

The story of Elijah being taken bodily to heaven gives some unique insights into the reverence with which he is held. We note first that he parts the waters of the Jordan with his cloak; a clear reference to other great leaders of the people; Moses who, through God, opened the Red Sea and Joshua at the Jordan.

We also note that Elisha asked for a “double portion” of his spirit as an inheritance. “Double portion of your spirit: as the first-born son inherited a double portion of his father's property (
Deut 21:17), so Elisha asks to inherit from Elijah his spirit of prophecy in the degree befitting his principal disciple. In Numbers 11:17, 25 God bestows some of the spirit of Moses on others.[3]

Following the ascension of Elijah, Elisha’s request is apparently granted as he uses the cloak of Elijah to repeat the miracle, opening the Jordan once more. The succession of Prophets is complete.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 31:20, 21, 24
R. Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31 is an individual lament. The faithful are comforted that God may be trusted and that even in the face of enemies, God, who has shown His love from age to age, will save his people. Placed with Matthew (6:1-6, 16-18), a clear reference is made to God’s love of those who are humble.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

The Lord continues the sermon we have been hearing for the past two days. In this selection the Lord specifically addresses the pious acts of charity, prayer, and fasting. He tells us that when we do these things, do them for God to see not other people. We are to do what is right for God’s glory not our own, not so that others will place us in high esteem because of our piety or generosity.

Reflection:

There is an interesting contrast provided today between the very spectacular ascension of Elijah, accompanied by miracles and chariots of fire, and the instruction by Christ to his disciples that our pious actions must done with humility. As contrasting as the stories are, the point is well taken. God’s glory is important because it constitutes an invitation to salvation. Our own glory leads only to pride, envy, jealousy, and hate.

How wise is the Lord to make sure we see where the path of pride leads us. When we take our eyes off God and try to put ourselves in front of him, how vulnerable we become. If what we do, we do for God’s glory, so that others might see his greatness, his love, we have offered his message to them. “Come to the Lord” we say with our actions. “In Him there is comfort, peace, and true strength that flows from the Holy Spirit.” Could we use those words directly without scaring many of our friends? It would be difficult. But, with our actions, that is a different story.
When a person comes to us and tells us what a wonderful job we have done and we explain that is only with God’s help we accomplished the task, where are we pointing? When, in a crisis, supported by God’s spirit for which we pray constantly, a person comes to us and says “I don’t know how you can remain so calm.” Our answer could be “It is because I am brave and can withstand any pressure.” Who does that point to? If we recognized were our strength comes from our answer would be “It is my faith that supports me and gives me courage”, pointing to God.

It is good that we are reminded that God sees our hearts and knows when we have been true to His Son. We rejoice that what we do, whether it is fasting, praying, or alms giving is known by the Father and he is keeping our treasure for us in His Heavenly Kingdom.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used is “Ascension of Elijah” by Juan de Vald├ęs Leal, 1658
[3] See NAB footnote on 2 Kg 2;9

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Kings 21:17-29

Following Jezebel’s successful plot to murder Naboth and seize his vineyard, Elijah is sent by God to pronounce judgment. He comes to Ahab who is found taking possession of the spoils of the plot and Elijah, speaking for God, promises him the same punishment as that given to the families of Jeroboam I (1 Kings 14:9-11) and Baasha (1 Kings 16:2-4).


It appears that the punishment promised is for the sin of Idolatry (“…He became completely abominable by following idols”). The punishment for Ahab may also have had its roots earlier in
1 Kings 20:35-42. Jezebel for her part does not escape God’s notice although the fulfillment of this sentence does not take place until 2 Kings 9:30-37. It is also clear that following stoning, the bodies of those killed are left for the animals.

When Ahab demonstrates true repentance, the Lord relents, postponing the judgment and leveling it against his sons. This too finds fulfillment later in
2 Kings 9:7-10.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 11 and 16
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Psalm 51 is an individual lament imploring God for mercy and forgiveness. We not the request is coupled with an explicit understanding that the singer has sinned in the eyes of God and complete dependence on His mercy for the expiation of those offenses.

Gospel Matthew 5:43-48

The Lord continues extending the understanding of Mosaic Law. He first quotes
Leviticus 19:18. Jesus tells the disciples once more that their behavior must be reflected in how they treat others and must go beyond what was customarily understood. He tells his friends directly to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (not curse them as was customary).

He goes on to contrast the response expected from is disciples to the response customarily given (e.g. loving those who love you, greeting only one’s friends), asking “Do not the pagans do the same?” The passage concludes with “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Only in St. Matthew’s Gospel is the word “perfect” used. In St. Luke’s Gospel the word is “merciful”.

Reflection:

Given the Gospel passage today one might think the obvious reflection would be on the Great Commandment as Christ interprets the Law and commends us to be “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” It is this concluding line rather that directs our thoughts to the topic presented in the first reading from 1 Kings and Psalm 51 – forgiveness.

How inextricably love and forgiveness are linked. With Jesus telling us we must love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us we depend upon his forgiveness because we are not “perfect”. If we say we love someone (even a member of our family for whom our love has been demonstrated time and again) we must first learn forgiveness. It is like training wheels on a bicycle. We cannot truly love a person (except God) unless we first learn to forgive them. Even a child’s love for its parents must be coupled with forgiveness. What parent (except of course our Heavenly Father who is perfect) did not, at some point, fail to show love and respect for their child? What father or mother did not renege on a promise or place unnecessary burdens of guilt on their children? Yes, even the love of a child for its parents (and vice versa) must be coupled with forgiveness.

Forgiveness is ultimately charity of the heart. Forgiveness is not a word to be spoken, although it is a reality that must be expressed. Forgiveness is a state of mind, true acceptance that others, like us, are flawed, and that while their intentions may at times be misguided, they too are God’s children and deserve the respect due all of God’s creation. It is not for us to judge.

As we contemplate the love and forgiveness of Christ it strikes us we may be trying to unravel a paradox like “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” Love and forgiveness are united at the heart of God and must, therefore be united in us as well.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “Jezebel” by John Byam Liston Shaw, 1896

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time




Readings for Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Kings 21:1-16

The story of the murder of Naboth by Jezebel is within the Elijah cycle of this historical book. In this part of the story we are given some insights into ancient Hebrew tradition. First, Naboth did not refuse to sell his vineyard because the price was not fair, rather because of the tradition of retaining ancestral inheritance. Even the king could not command its sale.

In Jezebel’s treachery we see that first, proclaiming a fast would have been done to atone for sin, in this case some negative event thought to be brought on by a violation of God’s law. Placing Naboth “at the head of the people” would have identified him as the one to whom this sin was attributed. Then having two dishonest witnesses (recall Mosaic Law requires two witness
Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6) accuse him of blasphemy would have cost Naboth his life. Apparently, as a result of this type of death, the condemned’s property was forfeit to the crown.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 5:2-3ab, 4b-6a, 6b-7
R. Lord, listen to my groaning.

Psalm 5 is an individual lament contrasting the saving power of God with the lies of evil people. In these strophes, the psalmist pleads that God will visit judgment on those who lie and commit evil deeds.

Gospel Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus quotes Mosaic Law from
Leviticus 24:20. The Old Testament commandment was meant to moderate vengeance; the punishment should not exceed the injury done. Jesus forbids even this proportionate retaliation. Rather he redefines the term “neighbor” who was traditionally held to be one’s countryman. Jesus extends his commandment to “love your neighbor” to even enemies and those who persecute “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

Reflection:

Every once in a while we are given readings which by their contrast provide us with a glimpse of just how radical Jesus’ teaching was. Today we see such a contrast. In the first reading note how Mosaic Law could be twisted and used for evil purposes. Jezebel clearly knew what she was doing when it came to the Law. She used the tradition that any negative impact on the community, such as famine, crop failure, disease, or even accidents that resulted in crippling injury or death thought to be purposeful punishments initiated by God for sins committed by an individual or group. As we can deduce from the story in 1 Kings, sometimes it was not clear who the punishment was aimed at or what the sin was.

Jezebel arranged for these two facts to become clear; first by singling out Naboth as a person upon whom the blame should be cast and then providing witnesses that would perjure themselves accusing Naboth of blasphemy, a crime under Mosaic Law punishable by death (see
Leviticus 24:14-23 note also that this is the same section of the Law Jesus is interpreting in the Gospel of St. Matthew.).

We see the evil plans of Jezebel playing out as she intended and Naboth killed as a result. The Law was used, not as God intended, but to fulfill the greedy desires of people. Those who committed this brash act were quite aware of what they were doing. The Psalmist sings about such people, imploring God to punish those who lie and deceive. We suspect that Jezebel and her schemes will not go unpunished.

But we can see the Law used time and again for purposes other than that for which they were handed down. Jesus takes the very Law Jezebel uses and tells his followers that God’s will does not include vendetta. It does not include extracting justice (had the Lord’s interpretation of the Law been in effect at the time of Naboth, he could not have been killed at all). In extending God’s law of love to the whole of humankind, Jesus changes how Christians, his followers, must behave toward others. In such a faith community, abuses of the Law are not possible because the principle or foundational law is “Love one another.”

It does not feel like we have adequately described the huge contrast here but, as always we leave it to prayer – today we pray that when we encounter those who are uncharitable we meet them with charity. When we meet those who hate, we counter with love. It is what we are called to be as followers of Christ.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Men of Belial witnessed against him”, by Charles Joseph Staniland c. 1900

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time


Catechism Links:[1]

CCC 551,761-766: The Church prefigured in Old Testament community
CCC 783-786: The Church a priestly, prophetic, royal people
CCC 849-865: The apostolic mission of the Church

“Heads and hands of the Apostles”
by Raffaello Sanzio, c. 1515



Readings and Commentary: [4]

Reading 1: Exodus 19:2-6a

In those days, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai and pitched camp.
While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain,
Moses went up the mountain to God.
Then the Lord called to him and said,
“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob;
tell the Israelites:
You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians
and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself.
Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my special possession,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on Ex 19:2-6a

This passage marks the opening verses of God’s covenant with Israel following the flight from Egypt. Through Moses, God makes a divine offer (“…if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession”). The offer includes the entire people of Israel, consecrated to God a “kingdom of priests.” When Christ was rejected by the Jewish leadership, the promise fell to the faithful Christians; a priestly people, guided liturgically by priests of the Aaronic tradition (like Melchizedek of old).

CCC: Ex 19 751, 2060; Ex 19:5-6 709, 762, 2810; Ex 19:6 63, 1539
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Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 100:1b-2, 3, 5

R.(3c) We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Know that the LORD is God;

he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on Ps 100:1b-2, 3, 5

Psalm 100 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In this selection we praise God because he created us. We praise God because he continues to guide us. It affirms God’s saving grace, given to his sons and daughters through all generations.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reading II: Romans 5:6-11

Brothers and sisters: Christ, while we were still helpless,
yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
Not only that,
but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on Rom 5:6-11

In this selection of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle speaks of how the love of Christ is not just for those who are righteous, but for those who are sinners as well. His love of all mankind was demonstrated vividly as he laid down his life so we might be reconciled to God.

The Apostle speaks of the hope of Christians who have been made holy, sanctified, “justified” by their faith in Christ Jesus. This faith was “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” [in Baptism]. (This linkage between Christ and the Holy Spirit begins the apostle’s Trinitarian theology)

Justification was not through some merit of theirs (ours) but through God’s infinite mercy. The demonstration of this mercy was Christ’s sacrifice for those who called him “enemy.” While still burdened by sin (the Law of Moses defined sin and all were sinners because of this), Jesus became the sacrifice of atonement. His blood reconciled us to the Father by removing the sin that kept us apart.

CCC: Rom 5:8 604; Rom 5:10 603, 1825
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Then he summoned his twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits
to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the twelve apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon from Cana, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on Mt 9:36—10:8

This selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel includes Christ’s sense that the disciples are ready to take a more active role in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He asks them to pray for God’s spirit and strength (“…so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.").

At the beginning of Chapter 10, St. Matthew names the twelve and calls the disciples Apostles, which means “one who is sent” (the only time in St. Matthew’s Gospel this term is used). They are then sent, but only to the “chosen people.” It is not until after Christ’s death and resurrection that the Gospel is brought to the Gentiles.

CCC: Mt 9:38 2611; Mt 10:5-7 543; Mt 10:8 1509, 2121, 2443
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Reflection:

As we think about the history of God’s revelation, our readings today give us a glimpse of one of His first offers of salvation. Through Moses he tells the people he has just rescued from bondage that all they need to do is “…if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession”. What an amazing offer, to be beloved of God in a special way. Moses even tells them that God created all things (“…though all the earth is mine”). But they can enjoy a special relationship, consecrated, made sacred, adopted as sons and daughters of God, a holy people, a royal priesthood. What joy such attention should have brought, what love the children of Jacob should have shown for the Creator of the universe.

But like the deluded child who becomes spoiled with riches, even the small effort necessary to maintain that place of favor was too much. They could not see the Law of Moses as a path to happiness and peace; they saw it as rules of the disciplinarian, rules any child knows can be interpreted to circumvent the intent of the one making it. If, for example, the rule said- a young lady must be home before 10:00 PM- the young lady could easily bring her boyfriend home with her and spend as much time together as they wanted. Until, that is, the parents discovered them and sent the young man home. She had followed the letter of the rule, hadn’t she? It was the same with the Hebrews who found God’s rules could be interpreted to their advantage. Like parents who must constantly refine the rules to avoid misinterpretation and remind the child that the rules are for the child’s own good, God sent the Prophets to call the people back to the love of God.

Finally, God sent His only Son. Jesus came into the world and attracted a small following. In today’s Gospel he looks around and sees how the Law has been misused and how unhappy the people are “…like sheep without a shepherd.” He laments, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” So he calls the small group he has been teaching and sends them out to expedite his own mission. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” is the message he sends, and with it the signs of what that means: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”

Just like Moses in ancient times, Jesus offers in more eloquent and succinct terms a special relationship with God, His Father. We know, of course, that this offer too was rejected, violently, cruelly, indelibly. As a glorious consequence, the offer was extended to us, the adoption was offered to us, Christ’s love is offered to us.

We see the lesson once more unfold in Sacred Scripture. The mission begun all those millennia ago is still not completed. As Jesus pushed the Apostles into the world to continue his work, we are pushed to extend the promise. What a noble and difficult path we walk. Our prayer today must be for the strength to accept the offer from Christ who reconciled us to the Father with His Blood.

Pax

[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 today is “Heads and hands of the Apostles” by Raffaello Sanzio, c. 1515
[4] 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.