Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent


Readings for the First Sunday of Advent[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.
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Commentary on
Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

This reading is part of what is called the “Psalm of Entreaty”. The Jewish people have returned from exile and find Jerusalem in ruins. Completely without resources, their only hope is in the Lord.

We hear the psalmist in these verses identify himself with a sinful and fallen people who see the Lord’s redemptive acts in the distant past (“…such as they had not heard of from of old. “). Pleading their unworthiness, he calls upon God to come to them in their need; return to them, His creation (“we are the clay and you the potter”).

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
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Commentary on
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Here the psalmist implores the Lord to send the Messiah (“Rouse your power, and come to save us.”) This will be the gift that fulfills all hopes (“Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.”)

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Reading II:
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Commentary on
1 Cor 1:3-9

This is the salutation portion of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In typical letter format, he gives thanks to God for the gift of faith given to this community and continues his fervent wish that they (and we) be steadfast in the faith; “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).“

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Gospel:
Mark 13:33-37

“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
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Commentary on
Mk 13:33-37

Jesus, in the verses just prior to this selection, has just concluded his eschatological prediction about the destruction of the Temple (his body). He now renews and expands his exhortation to his disciples to remain vigilant. This commandment becomes the watch word of all Christians in that vigilance means love. Through love all the commandments are kept and the hope of Christ’s coming is strengthened. The final verse; “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” expands this injunction to all the faithful.
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Reflection:

Our Advent season holds a complex set of emotions for us. At once we recall the upcoming celebration of Christmas with great anticipation and joy; while at the same time we look to the future when the Lord’s second coming will bring to fulfillment the promise of the angels who first heralded his birth.

As we look forward to the Christmas season, the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, we are filled with wonder at the great love God demonstrated; sending his only Son to us as a revelation. He showed us in the great efficacious act (he who came bringing hope was hope, he who came bringing love, was love!) that God’s love knows no bounds.

In this anticipatory sense we feel the joy of the young child who has just learned they have won a great prize. Even though the prize has not yet been given, the simple knowledge of winning brings even greater hope and joy than the gift of the prize itself.

Even as we look forward to Christmas, now just a few short weeks away, we look beyond that date to the time when our Savior promised he would come again. As much as we must prepare for the Lord’s Nativity, we must be more diligent, more persistent in our preparation for the “Big Event”. The really good news is that if we prepare for the Lord’s birthday as we should, we are also preparing for his second coming as well.

This is the message implicit in the Gospel. Let’s review what we know of God’s commandments to us. If we are anxious to please him and thereby give him what he wants, we should look to what he has asked of us. His first and greatest commandment was to love God and, the second was like it; to “Love one another.” If we can get much better at doing this, our exterior actions in preparation for the Lord’s birthday will reflect our interior preparation for the day when we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

In our love for God we come before him like Isaiah’s great hymn of entreaty; “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” In our hearts God sees that love; a love most perfectly represented by His Son. In our own entreaty we call to him as generations of the faithful have done before “Come Lord Jesus!” In that call we express our love for him and our expectation of his coming.

Our Advent season is one of complex emotions. Let us pray this season that the dominating emotion is love – love for God and love for one another. In love is hope and in hope we experience the peace Christ brings.

Pax

[1] Begins Cycle B, Year I, ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is “The Tower Watchman” by Edward Jakob von Steinle, 1859
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday of the Thirty Fourth Week in Ordinary Time


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

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Revelations 22:1-7

Then an angel showed me (John) the river of life-giving water,
sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God
and of the Lamb down the middle of the street,
On either side of the river grew the tree of life
that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month;
the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it,
and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun,
for the Lord God shall give them light,
and they shall reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true,
and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits,
sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.”
“Behold, I am coming soon.”
Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book.
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Commentary on
Rev 22:1-7

This final vision of the heavenly kingdom provides us with the ultimate peaceful seating. God and the Christ, the Lamb of God presiding over the water of life flowing through a land filled with an abundance of good things and nothing evil present.

When the reference is made to the name inscribed on their foreheads; “They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” it is a direct corollary to the Hebrew
Phylactery, small, black leather, cube-shaped cases containing Torah texts written on parchment worn on the forehead to symbolize they had internalized God’s law. (Note; the sign of the beast is in the same place for those who are thrown down.)

Our passage ends, appropriately; “Behold, I am coming soon.” Advent begins tomorrow.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 95:1-2, 3-5, 6-7ab

R. (1 Cor 16: 22b, see Rev. 22: 20c) Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great king above all gods;
In his hands are the depths of the earth,
and the tops of the mountains are his.
His is the sea, for he has made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

R. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
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Commentary on
Ps 95:1-2, 3-5, 6-7ab

This psalm again points forward to the new liturgical year. It is a touch of liturgical irony since this is the psalm recited each morning as the Invitatory, “Come, let us sing to the Lord and shout for joy to the rock who saves us…” A psalm of thanksgiving, it is the beginning of prayer.

The response itself is explained thus; “Marana tha: an Aramaic expression, probably used in the early Christian liturgy. As understood here ("O Lord, come!"), it is a prayer for the early return of Christ. If the Aramaic words are divided differently (Maran atha, "Our Lord has come"), it becomes a credal declaration. The former interpretation is supported by what appears to be a Greek equivalent of this acclamation in
Rev 22:20 "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"[5]

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Gospel:
Luke 21:34-36

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”
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Commentary on
Lk 21:34-36

Jesus again finds it necessary to remind his disciples not to become complacent in their practice of the faith. It is one of his sternest warnings that the end will come without notice and judgment will be immediate.

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Reflection:

It is almost like those who assembled our reading could not wait for Advent to begin. The passage from St. John’s Revelations ends with; “Behold, I am coming soon.” The Psalm response is “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” and it is interspersed with Psalm 95, the invitatory psalm we use in the Divine Office. And finally we are given a Gospel that has Jesus telling us that we must hold ourselves in consent preparation because we do not want to be caught unawares when the Lord comes again.

On this last day before the season of Advent begins, it is good to think about this past year and what we have done – right and wrong; “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (
2 Cor 5; 10) As the analogy we have been using implies – take one more good look in the mirror of our souls. What do we see there that we had not noticed before?

Let’s think about our interactions at work or school; were we living God’s law of love as best we could? Did we consciously hurt or degrade a person? Do we need to make amends and apologize to anyone specifically?

What about in our family; did we set the good example that we are asked to? Did we show those we love the most that God does rule in our hearts? (This is one of the most difficult!)

And finally, in our solitude, have we worked hard at allowing the Lord to guide our inmost thoughts and therefore drive our actions with those about us? Have we been diligent in our prayer; in praise of the one who saves us all; for ourselves; and for the world? Have we been faithful in our participation in the sacraments of Eucharist, Reconciliation, and, as needed Anointing? Have we allowed God’s grace to buoy us up and give us strength?

As we think through this short list most of us will find ways to improve, to grow closer to God in the coming new year of grace. Let us add a prayer for strength that we might walk hand in hand with the Lord through out the year.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is “The River and the Tree of Life” by an UNKNOWN; Illustrator of 'Bamberg Apocalypse', Reichenau, 1000-20
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved
[5] See NAB footnote on 1 Cor 16:22

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday of the Thirty Fourth Week in Ordinary Time


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

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Revelations 20:1-4, 11—21:2

Then I (John) saw an angel come down from heaven,
holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain.
He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss,
which he locked over it and sealed,
so that it could no longer lead the nations astray
until the thousand years are completed.
After this, it is to be released for a short time.

Then I saw thrones; those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment.
I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God,
and who had not worshiped the beast or its image
nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands.
They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it.
The earth and the sky fled from his presence
and there was no place for them.
I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne,
and scrolls were opened.
Then another scroll was opened, the book of life.
The dead were judged according to their deeds,
by what was written in the scrolls.
The sea gave up its dead;
then Death and Hades gave up their dead.
All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
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Commentary on
Rev 20:1-4, 11—21:2

In this long selection from John’s Book of Revelations we are given the vision of Christ defeating sin and death (holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss”). The thousand years here is not to be taken literally. Like other numerical references in apocalyptic literature different numbers have different significance (i.e. 7 the perfect number or fullness, 6 the least perfect number – hence 666 the mark of the beast, and 40 the number of years for a generation), this on simply represents a long period of time between Christ’s first victory and his second coming, the Parousia.

We also are given the image of the final judgment when the dead rise from their graves ("I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne") with a list of all they had done, the scrolls. They were judged according to their actions and then either passed to the New Jerusalem or cast into the pool of fire. Finally comes the new age and God ruling over it for eternity symbolized by the wedding.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a

R. (Rev. 21:3b) Here God lives among his people.
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. Here God lives among his people.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young–
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. Here God lives among his people.
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
They go from strength to strength.
R. Here God lives among his people.
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Commentary on
Ps 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a

Here we are given a hymn of praise for those who depend on God (Blessed they who dwell in your house!). The psalm is once again linked to the first reading, this time by the use of a response actually taken from Revelations (Rev; 21; 3b).

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Gospel:
Luke 21:29-33

He (Jesus) taught them (the disciples) a lesson.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”
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Commentary on
Lk 21:29-33

We have here the end of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. When talking about the immediacy of the signs and symbols, most scholars agree he is speaking of his own crucifixion and resurrection. He also mentions the timelessness of the truth of the Gospel. (“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”)

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Reflection:

The line we walk in tightening circles is drawing back upon itself as we mark this second to the last day in the liturgical year. This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season and we must prepare to shift gears, as they say. Today we continue our thoughts of the end of all things and hope desperately that our names are inscribed in the book of life and we will eventually find that eternal home promised.

Jesus parable in the Gospel reminds us that the end will come sooner than we think and that we dare not procrastinate. The New Jerusalem is waiting for us and the longer we delay in our own preparations the longer the journey will be to get to that final destination.

The analogy of approaching the mirror has been used before but is apt at this time as we come to the end of another year. From a great distance we see ourselves, our spiritual selves, looking very presentable. Especially standing next to our brothers and sisters we may even look positively sparkling. As we draw closer to the mirror that represents our spiritual introspection, as we hopefully have in the past year, we begin to see things that we had not noticed before. We see little flaws that were not apparent from the previous distance but become glaringly apparent as we stand closer.

Each cycle of spiritual effort brings us closer to that mirror and each year we find elements of our faith lives that need to be repaired, replaced, or completely overhauled. Just as the fastidious dresser looks at each seam, at each article of clothing– its color, its fit, the way it lays, so we look at each element of our spiritual lives. What seemed fine just a short year ago may not do at all with our new heightened sense of spiritual awareness.

For now we take our steps toward a New Jerusalem where there is no more suffering or pain; where all our spiritual blessings will be heaped upon us and we will know what it is like to be in the presence of pure love – for that is what God is. We have just one more day beyond this one to contemplate that wondrous journey before we will look once more at the mirror to see if we have prepared ourselves for the advent of the King who is Christ.

Pax


[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is” Old Woman at the Mirror“ Bernardo Strozzi, c. 1615
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time


Thanksgiving Day[1]

Optional Readings for Thanksgiving (to God) [2][3]
(Lectionary Vol. 4 943-947) Note – Readings, commentary and reflection for Thursday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time follow this optional section)

Reading 1:
Sirach 50:22-24

And now, bless the God of all,
who has done wondrous things on earth;
Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,
and fashions them according to his will!
May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel
to deliver us in our days.
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Commentary on
Sir 50:22-24

“Praise and thanksgiving are given to God for his wondrous works, and a blessing is invoked on man that he may enjoy peace and gladness of heart and the abiding goodness of the Most High.”
[4]

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Responsorial Psalm:[7]
Psalm 138:1-2a, 2bc-3, 4-5

R. (2bc) Lord, I thank you for your faithfulness and love.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all of my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple.
R. Lord, I thank you for your faithfulness and love.
I will give thanks to your name,
Because of your kindness and your truth.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. Lord, I thank you for your faithfulness and love.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
And they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
R. Lord, I thank you for your faithfulness and love.
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Commentary on
Ps 138:1-2a, 2bc-3, 4-5

This is a song of thanksgiving to God for having answered our prayers. We, who sing these words, pray also that the Lord will continue to shower his blessings upon us.

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Reading II:
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Commentary on
1 Cor 1:3-9

This is the salutation portion of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In typical letter format, he gives thanks to God for the gift of faith given to this community and continues his fervent wish that they (and we) be steadfast in the faith; “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).“

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Gospel:
Luke 17:11-19

As he (Jesus) continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
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Commentary on
Lk 17:11-19

The Gospel is an indictment of the Hebrews who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus’ comment; “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” is a clear indication that this lack of faith will have consequences. Especially when he follows this statement with; “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” This would seem to imply that those who refuse to accept Jesus’ status as the Christ would not receive that salvation.

“This incident recounting the thankfulness of the cleansed Samaritan leper is narrated only in Luke's gospel and provides an instance of Jesus holding up a non-Jew as an example to his Jewish contemporaries (cf
Luke 10:33 where a similar purpose is achieved in the story of the good Samaritan). Moreover, it is the faith in Jesus manifested by the foreigner that has brought him salvation (Luke 17:19; cf the similar relationship between faith and salvation in Luke 7:50; 8:48, 50).”[5]

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Reflection:

Today is the secular holiday of Thanksgiving. It was officially sanctioned as a holiday, first by the State of New Hampshire in 1782 and as a National Holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War.

Thanksgiving is one of the few secular holidays the Church has fully embraced, for very obvious reasons. While the tradition began as a harvest celebration by a predominantly agrarian community, the fact that its focus is on thankfulness to God is a very Christian ideal. As we see in the scripture above, it is at the very heart of our faith and has been promoted for as long as we have had our Judeo-Christian roots.

Today as our nation goes to parades, watches football games and waits with bated breath for the launching of the giant commercial orgy that precedes the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, we as a people of faith once more turn to God in prayer. We all have special prayers that we can utter on this occasion. We all have special things that we can give thanks for. I give you this prayer, paraphrased from the reading in Sirach;

And now, bless the God of all, (and His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ)
who has done wondrous things on earth;
Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,
and fashions them according to his will!
May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel (and the whole world),
to deliver us in our days.

Pax and Happy Thanksgiving
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Readings for Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time1
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:[2]

Reading 1:
Revelations 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9a

After this I (John) saw another angel coming down from heaven,
having great authority,
and the earth became illumined by his splendor.
He cried out in a mighty voice:

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.
She has become a haunt for demons.
She is a cage for every unclean spirit,
a cage for every unclean bird,
a cage for every unclean and disgusting beast.”

A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone
and threw it into the sea and said:

“With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down,
and will never be found again.
No melodies of harpists and musicians,
flutists and trumpeters,
will ever be heard in you again.
No craftsmen in any trade
will ever be found in you again.
No sound of the millstone
will ever be heard in you again.
No light from a lamp
will ever be seen in you again.
No voices of bride and groom
will ever be heard in you again.
Because your merchants were the great ones of the world,
all nations were led astray by your magic potion.”

After this I heard what sounded like
the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying:

“Alleluia!
Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great harlot
who corrupted the earth with her harlotry.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

They said a second time:

“Alleluia! Smoke will rise from her forever and ever.”

Then the angel said to me, “Write this:
Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
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Commentary on
Rev 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9a

“A stirring dirge over the fall of Babylon-Rome. The perspective is prophetic, as if the fall of Rome had already taken place. The imagery here, as elsewhere in this book, is not to be taken literally. The vindictiveness of some of the language, borrowed from the scathing Old Testament prophecies against Babylon, Tyre, and Nineveh (
Isaiah 23; 24; 27; Jeremiah 50-51; Ezekiel 26-27), is meant to portray symbolically the inexorable demands of God's holiness and justice; cf Introduction. The section concludes with a joyous canticle on the future glory of heaven.)”[6]

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Responsorial Psalm:
[7] Psalm 100:1b-2, 3, 4, 5

R. (Rev. 19: 9a) Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
R. Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
For he is good:
the LORD, whose kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 100:1b-2, 3, 4, 5

Psalm 100 is a song of praise sung by the assembly. It affirms God’s saving grace given to His sons and daughters through all generations

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gospel:
Luke 21:20-28

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,
know that its desolation is at hand.
Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Let those within the city escape from it,
and let those in the countryside not enter the city,

for these days are the time of punishment
when all the Scriptures are fulfilled.
Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days,
for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth
and a wrathful judgment upon this people.
They will fall by the edge of the sword
and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles;
and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles
until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Lk 21:20-28

The apocalyptic discourse continues in St. Luke’s Gospel. The first part of this section deals with the destruction of Jerusalem (which actually took place in 70 AD). Since this event took place before the Gospel was published, Luke and his community look back upon the event. This provides the assurance that, just as Jesus' prediction of Jerusalem's destruction was fulfilled, so too will be his announcement of their final redemption. The prediction itself is validated by the historical account of Eusebius of Casoria. When the Christians saw the approach of the Roman armies recalled Christ’s prediction and fled across the Jordan.
[8]

The second part of the reading provides a description of the actual events of the end times. The Lord assures his disciples that he will return and those who follow him should not be afraid, even as the terrible signs manifest themselves upon the earth.

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Reflection:

There is a kind of paradox associated with the peace of Christ we are offered that bears some reflection. We have all heard stories about people who, in moments of sever stress are able to accomplish physical feats that are seemingly impossible (a mother lifting a car off of her pinned child; a father standing on two broken legs catching his children as they leap from the second story window of their burning home). These documented events are the result of a physiological rush of adrenaline – a fear reflex. In the cases sited, this reflex was able to stimulate incredible physical strength and deaden pain reflexes. We must ask – would the peace of Christ interrupt this process, putting the devout Christian at a disadvantage?

The consideration of this question is, to be sure, fanciful. The examples used and the abilities exhibited during times of peril happen completely without conscious will or thought. The brain circuits used are not the same consciousness centers over which the peace of Christ descends. We submit that one whose faith is strong enough; whose spiritual growth is so advanced that this state of calm assurance, would actually allow the physical reaction to be channeled in such a way as to have an even more effective outcome. We take for example the expression found in St. Luke’s Gospel – “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world”.

People die of fright because that same fear reflex that directs some people to heroic actions causes others to go into cardiac arrest and die. In most cases, panic, the most common expression of the fear reflex, causes devastating outcomes. Take, for example, the swimmer who has a cramp and can no longer treed water. When an unwary life guard or some well meaning swimmer comes to help the person, they are likely to be fiercely grasped (using that same adrenaline enhanced strength) and pulled down, frequently to be drowned themselves. How often have we heard about panic driven crowds trampling others to death as they try to escape a threat?

The peace of Christ can stave off fear and allow us to see more clearly in difficult times. When we know and are convinced that God is there to help us; to buoy us up, in times of strife, we can take actions with calm assurance that avoid the disaster panic can bring. That peace is what we are offered by the one who defeated death and sin for our salvation. That peace is what we accept when we crown Christ the king in our lives.

Today we accept the life in the world to come. We know and understand that, in God’s time, the end of this world will come and we will stand before the thrown of the Just Judge, the Lamb of God. In His consolation and mercy we find his peace.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “The Virgin in Prayer” by Sassoferrato, 1640-50
[2] ALTRE
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] See NAB footnote for Sir 50:22ff
[5] See NAB footnote for Lk 17: 11-19
[6] See NAB footnote for Rev 18:1-19:4
[7] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved
[8] History of the Church from Christ to Constantine Vol. 3,Ch 5, 3

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time


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

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Revelations 15:1-4

Then I (John) saw in heaven another sign, great and awe-inspiring:
seven angels with the seven last plagues,
for through them God’s fury is accomplished.

Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire.
On the sea of glass were standing those
who had won the victory over the beast
and its image and the number that signified its name.
They were holding God’s harps,
and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
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Commentary on
Rev 15:1-4

This part of John’s eschatological vision shows us the victory of the martyrs (“who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name”). They are singing the same Canticle of Moses we hear in
Exodus 15:1-18 as the Hebrew people escape the bondage of Egypt. St. Paul’s vision of the body of Christ applying God’s offer of adoption (and hence salvation) to both Jews and Gentiles is supported by conjoining “…the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.”

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psallm 98:1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9

R. (Rev. 15: 3b) Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth;
He will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 7-8, 9

The psalm selection supports the vision of John. Here we have a song of victory, song in praise of God’s salvation. The imagery could have been borrowed by John; “Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell in it;”

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Gospel:
Luke 21:12-19

"Before all this happens, however
They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Lk 21:12-19

The Gospel today continues Jesus eschatological discourse from yesterday. Today we hear how the good news will result in persecution from every side for the early Christian community. The Lord foresees this time of intense persecutions and asks for a steadfast response. By not preparing a defense, he is asking that those persecuted not recant the faith and promises them the reward of the martyrs.

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Reflection:

As we move closer to the end of our Liturgical year we are once again reminded of both the challenge we chose to accept by being followers of Christ and the ultimate reward of faithfulness. John’s Revelation shows us that what Luke’s Gospel means when Jesus says; “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” he is not referring to our physical body but our spiritual body. Only by denying the Lord can we be destroyed in that sense.

The Gospel predicts that; “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends”. The clear implication is that the Gospel message is so divisive that even family bonds can be shattered by it. While the great persecutions have ended in the western world, they are heating up elsewhere in the world. Especially in China where Christianity is suppressed, persecution still takes this form. In other parts of the world, specifically the Middle East, were radical Islam now flourishes; conversion to Christianity earns the death sentence. We should not forget to give thanks for our freedom of worship, still a somewhat unique gift of our great country.

We do not need to travel to the Orient or to the Middle East to find a more subtle form of persecution. We see it in the numerous law suits regarding religious displays spring up at this time of year. Couple the attacks on the symbols of the Lord’s nativity with intensified secular attacks on core Christian values’ the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, we see most clearly the divisive nature of the Gospel about which Christ spoke.

As families get together during this holiday season we see how the long held views of some family members clash with those who have been seduced by secular values. It seems there is always more family tension at this time of year as a result of these differences. It also seems that when families get together our normal “even tempered” defense of the faith becomes much more vociferous – the attacks more personal. It is especially at this time of year when we must recall Jesus own temperament – one of love, grace, and humility. We must contain our zeal and allow our love to take charge (without, we should add, coming across as patronizing).

Our response to these situations and to this message must be one that is consistent with Christ’s message; “Love one another.” It is only way we can respond and the only way that leads to the Peace of Christ. Any other response opens the gates of hatred that comes from the one whose number is defeated in the last battle.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture today is “The Seven Angles and Seven Plagues” by Stephanus Garsia Placidus, 11h century
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin, Martyr

Biographical Information about St. Catherine of Alexandria[1]

Readings for Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Revelations 14:14-19

Then I (John) looked and there was a white cloud,
and sitting on the cloud one who looked like a son of man,
with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
Another angel came out of the temple,
crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud,
“Use your sickle and reap the harvest,
for the time to reap has come,
because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.”
So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth,
and the earth was harvested.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven
who also had a sharp sickle.
Then another angel (came) from the altar, (who) was in charge of the fire,
and cried out in a loud voice
to the one who had the sharp sickle,
“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines,
for its grapes are ripe.”
So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage.
He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.
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Commentary on
Rev 14:14-19

St. John’s apocalyptic vision shows us the image of Jesus (one who looked like a son of man) harvesting the earth; bringing the faithful to the Kingdom of God. The vision also makes clear that not everyone will enjoy that salvific event. Some (“He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury”) will be thrown down; the doom of the ungodly (cf
Joel 4:12-13; Isaiah 63:1-6).

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 96:10, 11-12, 13

R. (13b) The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.

R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 96:10, 11-12, 13

This hymn of praise of God who is God alone poses an invitation to the faithful and links us to John’s vision above – “The Lord comes to judge the earth”

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Gospel:
Luke 21:5-11

While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
he
(Jesus) said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
He answered,
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Lk 21:5-11

We are given in today’s Gospel St. Luke’s version of Jesus eschatological (end times) discourse. This version differs significantly from the version found in Mark’s Gospel (
Mark 13:1-37) in that it does not anticipate the parousia (second coming) within the lifetime of the audience. We note from many of St. Paul’s epistles that the early Christian community anticipated that Jesus was coming again within their life times. In the version we hear today, Jesus points to events in the future as opposed to those that would have occurred during the author’s life time.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reflection:

Since the
5th Lateran Council in 1516 the Church has prohibited anyone from announcing or predicting the end of all things. So, when the end does come, you’re not going to hear it from us. That does not mean you will not hear predictions of the end of the world – the Apocalypse – Armageddon. There will always be people who have some special knowledge or have discovered some special code that tells them exactly when the world as we know it will end. The scripture we have today is an excellent example of a whole class or genre of biblical literature intended to vision what that end time must be like.

If I were an old time Preacher, I could take off in a fire and brimstone way using these selections, pointing out that “the bible says” the end is at hand. Pounding furiously on the pulpit, I would read the passage from Revelations once more that says; “He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury” and would probably add the next verse from this chapter of the Revelations that was omitted in our reading that says; “The wine press was trodden outside the city and blood poured out of the wine press to the height of a horse's bridle for two hundred miles.” (
Rev 14; 20) I’d add that just for the shock value.

We have to accept this scripture for what it was, symbolic literature of a style intended not to be read literally, but rather a vision seen through the lens of faith. What we need to take away from this scripture is a sense that all things come to an end, ourselves included. If scripture and history have taught us anything, we know that we will not be able to predict the day or the hour of that very personal event.

As disciples of Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, present before we were conceived and Great Judge whom we will come before when we return to Him, we are called to be prepared daily to face that event. We are reminded in harsh words and gentle invitation that we need to reconcile our debts to the Lord and our brothers and sisters so that we can fly home to that loving embrace when we are called.

Today we hear this message; there will come a time when the life we are living on this earth ends and we will be called to account for what we have done, whether good or ill. We must make sure that, as best we can, we have made every effort to be in complete accord with God and His Son, our Lord Jesus who is the Christ, the King at the end of all things.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “St. Catherine of Alexandria” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1595-1596
[2] ALTRE
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Monday, November 24, 2008

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac


Priest and Martyr, and his companions, Martyrs

Biographical Information about
St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his Companions

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

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Revelations 14:1-3, 4b-5

Then I (John) looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.
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Commentary on
Rev 14:1-3, 4b-5

The symbolism is clear in this passage from Revelations. Mount Zion represents the heavenly kingdom and the Lamb of God, Jesus. In spite of what has been written in the “Left Behind” series of books popularizing the idea that the one hundred and forty four thousand is an actual number, in the context of St. John’s numerology; “One hundred and forty-four thousand: the square of twelve (the number of Israel's tribes) multiplied by a thousand, symbolic of the new Israel (cf
Rev 14:1-5; Gal 6:16; James 1:1) that embraces people from every nation, race, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9).[4]” These faithful and unblemished (” On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished”) seem to be the faithful nucleus that forms the immediate worshipers of the Christ.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[5] Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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Commentary on
Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

This is part of a hymn of entrance, sung as the Arc of the Covenant was brought into the Temple followed by the faithful. Once again in this song we find a reference borrowed in the passage from John’s Revelation. Who are the ones allowed full access to God? They are those; “whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.” In other words they are clean in heart, body, and spirit.

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Gospel:
Luke 21:1-4

When he (Jesus) looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Lk 21:1-4

The widow in this Gospel story represents the poor whose focus must be on God rather than on material wealth. This emphasis in their lives brings them the blessing of God because of their genuine praise and love.

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Reflection:

It is appropriate on the eve (metaphorically speaking) of Advent we are given a scriptural arrow that points us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Notice how in Revelations we hear of the 144 Thousand who are unblemished and in the presence of the Lamb of God and then again in the Psalm we hear of the ones who are clean in thought, in body, and in intent or spirit.

Finally we are given the story of the widow in the Gospel who gives from her need rather than her excess, the purity of her intent is praised by Jesus himself. The message begs us to evaluate our own worthiness to stand before the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

We are asked to have the courage to look inside ourselves and see there the blemish that is a barrier to Jesus and to hold it up in contrition so that the Lord of Mercy can forgive it and it can be washed away.

There are some that argue that the Sacrament of reconciliation is not necessary, that if we say we are sorry to Jesus in prayer, that is enough. We argue that there is an analogy that shows how wrong they are.

If you go to the doctor because you are not felling well and he says he’d like to do some tests, and then if you went home and some time later started feeling better, you might think, I’m OK. In this, you would be in the position of the person who does not go along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation but feels that, since they were sorry for what ever sins they had committed, they must be forgiven. Would it not be better though to have the doctor call you up and say; “I’ve looked at the test results and you are fine” than just to guess.

That’s what happens in Reconciliation, the Priest, standing in the place of Christ, tells you directly, you’re all right. God’s love operates through the sacraments; grace is transmitted through them. We are foolish not to take advantage of it as we approach the make of God’s great gift in the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

For those who avoid going to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation we would encourage you to ask this question; why not? Is it because, in your opinion no sins worthy of God’s notice have been committed? Is it because it is embarrassing to go to your Priest and bear your soul, telling him your innermost regrets? Is it because it is inconvenient, it takes time to make a special trip to church? Is it because it does not seem like it has any real benefit to you spiritually?

We would ask one more question – which underlying flaw does your reason represent; arrogance, pride, or laziness. Each time we take advantage of a sacrament, graces appropriate to that sacrament are given.

We hope to enter that eternal home as a people of whom scripture says; “whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.” We pledge to avoid sin as best we can and take advantage of the spiritual grace imparted by sacramental reconciliation with the Lord frequently. In doing so, may we also approach that spiritual place were the peace of Christ waits to embrace us.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is “The Confession” by Pietro Longhi, 1750s
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] See NAB footnote from Rev 7:4-9.
[5] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King


Readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17

For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.
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Commentary on
Ez 34:11-12, 15-17

The prophet presents the allegory of God, the shepherd. In this oracle the vision is God the Father, like a shepherd, will gather the people of Israel from the foreign lands to which they have been driven and bring them back to “the mountains of Israel”.

The tenderness shown by the good shepherd toward the sheep is especially poignant on a feast day were we celebrate the intense love of Christ for the people of the world. However, we are reminded in v. 17 that the each person will be held accountable for their actions.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6

The principle thrust of this, most popular of the Psalms, is trust in God. The figure of the Good Shepherd is later used extensively by Christ reinforcing his relationship to the Father.

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Reading II:
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

But now Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through a human being,
the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will (also) be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
1 Cor 15:20-26, 28

St. Paul reminds us that Christ is the King, in heaven and on earth, and that all things are subject to him. An important theological element contained in v. 28 is the unity between God and Christ implicit in St. Paul’s argument about Christ as King of Heaven (“…so that God may be all in all.”).

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Gospel:
Matthew 25:31-46

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."
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Commentary on
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.

This reading provides yet one more example of how Christ intends the Great Commandment to be lived. Loving God and loving neighbor would be judged by; “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” We note that while the general theme is broadly applied to all people, there is special emphasis placed upon the poor and marginalized.

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Reflection:

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The authors of the Roman Missal who prayerfully assembled the liturgy and readings for our common worship ended the year’s Sunday celebrations on this particular note suggesting that we have been building towards it for a full year. We have recalled the Lord’s nativity in our Advent and Christmas celebrations. We have remembered Christ’s struggle as our own in our Lenten observances. We have rejoiced in the Easter of our year, celebrating once more as Christ’s own resurrection brought us hope and joy. And in these past months we have looked at the life and teaching of Jesus, building our interior faith in him to this point.

Today we celebrate Christ as King, King of Heaven and King in our lives on earth. As people living in a democratic society, the idea of having a monarch in our lives does not have the visceral impact it did in centuries past when there were active monarchs and it was the standard form of governance. We consider for a moment the impact of naming a king would have, using that ancient vision of kingship.

The first thing we would understand would be that we owe the king our allegiance. If there were outside threats to the kingdom, we would be eligible for conscription into the king’s army to defend the kingdom against its enemies. Next, we would owe the king fealty, the dictionary defines this word as “the obligation or the engagement to be faithful to a lord, usually sworn to by a vassal.” Another word sometimes used in its place is fidelity. We owe that constant loyalty to our king. Betrayal is treason!

We understand that a kingship is a totalitarian form of governance. We cannot ourselves make new laws because we don’t like the old ones. The word of the king is law and we are expected to follow that law if we are to be in his kingdom. Part of what we swear in allegiance and fealty is to accept the king’s authority over us and we commit ourselves to follow his word to defend it as law, to die for it if asked.

Now that we understand what subjecting ourselves to the rule of a king, as those in Jesus time understood that subjugation to mean, we must ask ourselves, are we ready? Will we be the faithful nobility in the kingdom of God who chivalrously pledge our honor and life to our Liege Lord, ready to defend the Kingdom of God (on earth)? Or are we the surly peasant, who stands in the crowd because it is a social requirement; who would not lift a finger in the cause of the king unless compelled to do so or if it was in their own interests? We see both ends of the spectrum and know that at times we have been in each place.

Today we pray that, as we pledge our allegiance to Christ the King in the creed, that our faith will always be strong and our hearts will be full of zeal for the Kingdom of God whose citizens we hope to become.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is “The Dead Christ” by Sisto Badalocchio, 1810
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved