Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 10:32-39

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened,
you endured a great contest of suffering.
At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction;
at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.
You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison
and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,
knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.
You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.

For, after just a brief moment,
he who is to come shall come;
he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith,
and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.

We are not among those who draw back and perish,
but among those who have faith and will possess life.
Commentary on
Heb 10:32-39

Hebrews continues instructing the faithful in the practical aspects of living the faith they have been given. The author calls on the readers to recall a time of great trial following their baptism into Christ (enlightenment in this context refers to baptism rather than just hearing the Gospel). The author refers to a persecution that was endured and now calls them to persevere. He quotes the Hebrew Scriptures to support the injunction to remain steadfast starting with a brief introduction from
Isaiah 26:20after just a brief moment” and continues with support from Habakkuk 2:3-4. (Note the Pauline usage of Hebrews 2:4 in Romans 1:17; Gal 3:11.[4])

Responsorial Psalm:
[5] Psalm 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40

R. (39a) The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests.

R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.

R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
By the LORD are the steps of a man made firm,
and he approves his way.
Though he fall, he does not lie prostrate,
for the hand of the LORD sustains him.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Commentary on
Ps 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40

Psalm 37 is a lament containing the plea to be faithful to God and remain steadfast in the time of adversity. The psalmist sings that the faith of the people will bring them salvation and that the Lord is faithful and intercedes for them against the wicked. Salvation comes from the Lord alone is the common message.

Mark 4:26-34

He (Jesus) said
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”
He said,
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
Commentary on
Mk 4:26-34

We are given two parables from the Gospel of St. Mark. The first is unique to Mark’s Gospel and follows the parable of the Sower we were given earlier this week. The mystery of the seed is analogous to Jesus’ own ministry which starts as a seed but grows to encompass the world.

The second parable, the parable of the Mustard Seed, echo’s the vision of the Kingdom of God described in
Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6 with the image of the Kingdom of God providing a resting place for all as the giant cedars of Lebanon do for the birds.


If we look to the leaders of the Church to be responsible for evangelizing the world and excuse ourselves because “it’s not our job and we’re too busy”, we have missed the point of the Lord completely. If that was our attitude, when the word of God first came to us we should have covered our ears and started mumbling nonsense words like a child. Every one who hears the word of God and listens to it is handed grace which, to have its potential realized, must be passed on.

Does that mean that we are called to stand on street corners calling out to passers by to “repent and turn to the Gospel”? In most cases, no (there are, however, some who feel compelled to do just that). We are, however, required to live our faith as best we can. That means applying the values we profess to believe in. Minimally it means loving God and neighbor, and even that is difficult at times for many.

The parables of the mustard seed and the sower are of critical importance to us. They tell us that we do not come to the faith simply to have it give us comfort or consolation (although it does). The parables tell us that the treasure contained in the “Word” must not be taken to our hearts like a comfort pillow and hugged closely never to be released (although at times we certainly need to treat our faith just that way).

Jesus makes it clear that what we are given is to be shared. Our very lives are a gift from God, how can we be so selfish as to think only that this word of salvation should be kept like some secret. No, our actions, all of our actions, should proclaim God’s praise. And when we complete our day’s tasks and reflect back on what we have accomplished we must ask if what we did accomplished what God would have intended.

As we have said before – the beauty of the parables of the sower and the mustard seed is that we are both the seed and the sower. These images compel us move forward with our faith, not passively accept what God sends to us. We are called to be active participants in God’s Kingdom on earth, there will be time enough for rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.


[2] The picture is “Sermon to the Birds” from the Legend of St. Francis by Giotto di Bondone, 1297
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] See NAB footnote on Hebrews 10:37-38
[5] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brothers,
since through the Blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,”
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.
We should not stay away from our assembly,
as is the custom of some, but encourage one another,
and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Commentary on
Heb 10:19-25

This selection begins a discourse on the practical consequences for the Christian that flow from the earlier reflection on the High Priesthood of Jesus and the sacrifice the Lord makes contrasted with the levitical sacrifices of the Hebrew Priests. In Christ the faithful have direct access to God, differentiating from the barrier veils that separate the Jews from the sanctuary. Christ is the eternal High Priest “a great priest over the house of God.”

The Christian is enjoined to approach the Lord with sincerity of faith having been made a new creation in their Baptism “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience”. The faithful are encouraged to be steadfast in hope and unified, encouraging each other to “love and good works”. There is an urgent tone to this exhortation as reference is made to the return of Christ in the parousia (“and this all the more as you see the day drawing near” see also
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 24:1-2, 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.
Commentary on
Ps 24:1-2, 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 by St. John’s Revelation (
Revelations 14:5) and an image created in the Letter to the Hebrews (10:22) . Who are the ones allowed full access to God?

The psalm selection focuses on the character of the one who worthily seeks God and the one who is worthy to come into God’s kingdom and stand before him. We are answered; “He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”

Mark 4:21-25

He (Jesus) said to them (the disciples),
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed,
and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light.
Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”
He also told them, “Take care what you hear.
The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you,
and still more will be given to you.
To the one who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Commentary on
Mk 4:21-25

Jesus continues his private talk with his disciples, explaining the parables he had used when speaking to the crowds from the boat. The description of the lamp placed high so that all can benefit from the light continues the description of the seed that fell on fertile ground in the parable of the “Sower.” It therefore takes the character of a description of the duties of those who hear the word and have it take root in them.

The second part of the reading that speaks of “The measure” again refers to his disciples who are given the gift of the word. In them the word will grow. Yet he seems to understand that one of their number will fall “…from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."


We picture the scene once more. Jesus is sitting on the shore with his disciples after having spent much of the day teaching from a boat so the people could hear. His disciples are gathered around him, listening intently as the Lord explains the parts of his parables that were difficult for them to understand. He had used the parable of the “Sower” and had just finished his explanation that the seed that fell on fertile ground represented those who heard his word and had it take root in them. We pray we are among that number, don’t we.

He continues his explanation now, telling his disciples that the “Word” they are given is not private or secret knowledge. He has not given it to them so they alone can find peace and happiness in their own salvation. No, he asks them the rhetorical question; "Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” Their duty is to take their understanding into the world – to give it away. There is a resonance in this action. The more they give away their knowledge of the Kingdom of God, the love the father has for us, the greater that knowledge and understanding grows in them. He tells them to listen closely “Take care what you hear.” Each word from the Lord’s lips is precious, it carries life and hope.

Give it away, he tells them, like light from the lamp, let it illuminate all dark places. And the wonder of it, the light will be reflected back and grow and become brighter until it lights up the whole world. And even as he tells them how they will be filled up, perhaps his eyes rest ever so briefly on Judas Iscariot, the Zealot, and he is reminded that not all who hear will understand and even the little wisdom that is imparted will be taken away.

For us, we who have heard the word of love poured out from the Father through his Son, the injunction of Jesus comes to us clearly. We, like his disciples, have been given the gift of faith. Our faith is not a private thing. It is not a secret to be kept or a gift to be hidden. It is for the world, this Word we are given. Today we are reminded once more that we must live that word and speak that word so that all who hear us are bathed in the light of it. This is our great mission and we are also reminded that as we give away what we have, it will come back to us magnified and fill us up as well.


[2] The picture today is “Lamp on a Stand” by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1695
[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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Priest and Doctor of the Church

Biographical Information about St. Thomas Aquinas[1]

Readings for Wednesday of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 10:11-18

Every priest stands daily at his ministry,
offering frequently those same sacrifices
that can never take away sins.
But this one offered one sacrifice for sins,
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.
For by one offering he has made perfect forever
those who are being consecrated.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying:
“This is the covenant I will establish with them
after those days, says the Lord:
‘I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them upon their minds,’”
he also says:
“Their sins and their evildoing
I will remember no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.
Commentary on
Heb 10:11-18

We begin today with a statement of how the levitcal priesthood’s sacrifices for the remittance of sin is ineffective compared to the sacrifice of Jesus whose one sacrifice released us for all time. Then Hebrews again hammers the New Covenant home to us. The author quotes, first Psalm 110 (
Psalm 110:1) and then the book of the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He takes the prophecy of the New Covenant and shows how it is fulfilled in Christ.

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4

R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
till I make your enemies your footstool.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion:
“Rule in the midst of your enemies.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
“Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor;
before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent:
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
Commentary on
Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

This passage from Psalm 110 supports the Hebrews reading that quotes it today. The messianic reference in the first verse gives a clear indication of Christ’s eternal nature and ultimate destiny.

Mark 4:1-20

On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea.
A very large crowd gathered around him
so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down.
And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land.
And he taught them at length in parables,
and in the course of his instruction he said to them,
“Hear this! A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

And when he was alone,
those present along with the Twelve
questioned him about the parables.
He answered them,
“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.
But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that
they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”
Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
Then how will you understand any of the parables?
The sower sows the word.
These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.
As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once
and takes away the word sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who,
when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
But they have no roots; they last only for a time.
Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
they quickly fall away.
Those sown among thorns are another sort.
They are the people who hear the word,
but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches,
and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word,
and it bears no fruit.
But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it
and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Commentary on
Mk 4:1-20

St. Mark’s Gospel begins a section of teachings on the Kingdom of God through parables. We note that Jesus is teaching from a boat which would provide a natural amphitheater with the ground sloping to the shore. Here the Lord presents the parable of the “Sower”. As in St. Matthew’s Gospel he follows the unvarnished parable with a deeper explanation to the Disciples.

In the Parable of the Sower from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus uses the rich analogy of the seed (of faith given in Baptism) to show the various courses of faith in human endeavor. Because this selection gives not only the parable but the Lord’s explanation of its meaning the only historical note we will make is that, at that point in history in that region, when planting a field, the seed was sown first and then the field was plowed.


The Parable of the Sower is a powerful one. It reminds us that we are both the Sower/Harvester and the seed in the parable. Initially the sower was Jesus and before him to a lesser extent the Prophets of the Old Testament. They brought us the word of God and much of what they said fell on deaf ears. That would be, according to the parable’s legend the seed that fell on the “path “. It had no chance to bear fruit because it was never planted. Similar fates awaited the seed that landed on “rocky ground” and among the “thorns”, while they germinated they never reached maturity.

The Sower’s task was handed on. It was handed from the Apostles who received it from Jesus to the Saints and especially the Doctors of the Church like St. Thomas Aquinas whose memorial we celebrate today. The task came down through all those millennia to us, the Disciples of Christ in this age. And here is where the analogy gets interesting. Today if we looked at the same agrarian analogy we would wonder why in those early days so much was wasted. Today, mechanical planters multitask to plow the fields, plant the grain, and then cover it so the birds cannot get it. No waste and the labor of a single person can produce yields that far exceed anything the farmers of Jesus’ day could have expected.

The sowers of the word today have similar automated tools that can help spread the word. But unlike the agricultural counterpart, more is wasted, not less. In the end words are cheap. Words that are not backed by action are not only cheap but they could be analogized with sterile seed. As sowers we must first be the seeds that fall on fertile ground and grow to maturity. We must make sure our roots go deep to withstand the harsh conditions that will be faced. We must insure that that stalk of grain we hope will provide the next generation of grain is well nourished with food and water that is Word and Sacrament.

Books have been written about the wondrous analogy of the Sower and the Harvester. We leave you today with a short quote from St. Thomas Aquinas whom we memorialize who was an example of what we can be:

Most loving Lord, grant me a steadfast heart which no unworthy desire may drag downards; an unconquered heat which no hardship may wear out; an upright heart which no worthless purpose may ensnare. Impart to me also, O God, the understanding to know you, the diligence to seek you, a way of life to please you, and a faithfulness that may embrace you, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen. - Saint Thomas Aquinas, from Something Of A Saint


[1] The picture today is “St. Thomas Aquinas” from the Demidoff Altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli, c. 1480
[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, January 27, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Saint Angela Merici, Virgin

Biographical Information about St. Angela Merici

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 10:1-10

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come,
and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect
those who come to worship by the same sacrifices
that they offer continually each year.
Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered,
since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer
have had any consciousness of sins?
But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins,
for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats
take away sins.
For this reason, when he came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”

First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
burnt offerings and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Commentary on
Heb 10:1-10

The author (and we are not sure if it is Paul) continues his apologetic by comparing the Law to the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. In vs. 5-7 a passage from
Psalm 40:7-9 is placed in the mouth of the Son at his incarnation. This again refutes the need of Christians to follow the Hebrew Law of Sin offerings (or guilt offerings see Lev 5:14-19) since the Lord offered his own body “once for all”.

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 40:2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11

R. (8a and 9a) Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.
R. Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Commentary on
Ps 40:2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11

We are given, in support of the reading from Hebrews, the very Psalm that was quoted in today’s selection (although the translation quoted in Hebrews is from the Septuagint traslation). The intent and action God wants from us is not burnt offerings but our own faithfulness.

Mark 3:31-35

His (Jesus’) mother and brothers arrived.
Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers (and your sisters)
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and (my) brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
(For) whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
Commentary on
Mk 3:31-35

This passage, while affirming our own adoption as brothers and sisters in Christ, does cause some confusion among those who take scripture at face value without understanding the culture of the time.

“In Semitic usage, the terms "brother" and "sister" are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters.”
[5] Because of this, when Mary comes looking for Jesus in this selection, she is, as would be expected, joined by members of the extended family. Jesus extends the family even further though his adoption of those who, as those “seated in the circle” who listen to his word and believe.


Today we can pause and thank God for his great gift that brought us into a new relationship with him. If Christ had not come as the perfect offering for our sins, we would still be obliged to offer sacrifices as our Hebrew predecessors did. We would be one step removed from the relationship we have in Christ who at once saved us and adopted us as children of God; “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

The sense of adoption contrasted with the former relationship of the Hebrew people can be analogized by examining the relationship between ourselves and family and ourselves and a guest. While we treat a guest with courtesy and respect, we do not have the same love for the guest as we would for our close family member.

A guest would be welcomed to our home. A family member lives with us sharing not just our food, but all that we have. A guest comes and stays a while and leaves, but a family member is with us and shares our lives with us, the good and the bad. A guest does not share our pain or our joy to the extent a member of our own family does. The guest is held at arms length, never quite achieving that place of familial intimacy that is part of the family’s members.

Jesus changed that relationship for us. He came making God, His Father, our Father. He brought not a guest to the table but a bride. He himself, out of his great love for us provided the sacrificial meal. He did this so we would have the intimate access to him and through that access find life eternal with the Father.

Because of this, we should take as our prayer today the family prayer of the Church, the Lord’s Prayer. As we say; “Our Father…”, let us embrace the Father who has adopted us, and through his great mercy has given us life with him.


[2] The picture used is “Mary Seeks Her Son” by Max F├╝rst, c. 1890
[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] From the reference note on Mark 6; 3 in the NAB

Monday, January 26, 2009

Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus


Biographical Information about Sts.
Timothy and Titus[1]

Readings for the Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
2 Timothy 1:1-8

Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God,
whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy,
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
Commentary on
2 Tm 1:1-8

St. Paul writes to one of his key disciples, St. Timothy, from Rome where he is a prisoner. It is clear that the affection between the two of them is strong as Paul reminds him of his installation as Bishop (‘…the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands”). Paul encourages Timothy to remain strong and faithful to the Gospel, even in the face of opposition.

Titus 1:1-5

Paul, a slave of God and Apostle of Jesus Christ
for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones
and the recognition of religious truth,
in the hope of eternal life
that God, who does not lie, promised before time began,
who indeed at the proper time revealed his word
in the proclamation with which I was entrusted
by the command of God our savior,
to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.
Commentary on
Ti 1:1-5

This selection is the introduction to St. Paul’s letter to Titus. In the second paragraph he lets us know what Titus’ mission is – to form the Church on Crete (which according to the best scholarship, Paul himself never visited.).

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Sing to the Lord; bless his name.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise;
give to the Lord the glory due his name!
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
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. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Commentary on
Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10

Announce his salvation, day after day.” This song of praise to the Lord invites all humanity to participate in God’s salvation. “This psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with
Isaiah Chapters 40-55, as does Psalm 98. Another version of the psalm is 1 Chron 16:23-33.”[5]

Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and
“By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”
Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables,
“How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided,
he cannot stand;
that is the end of him.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder his house.
Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies
that people utter will be forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Commentary on
Mk 3:22-30

The conflict between Jesus and the Scribes has come out into the open. They are now openly calling him “prince of the demons”. The Lord calls them before himself and demonstrates with parables the foolishness of their claim. He first asks the ironic question that could be paraphrased “If I, who destroy unclean spirits, am from the originator of those spirits, were in league with him, he has destroyed himself.” He continues an analogy about the strong man protecting his house. In this case he, Jesus would represent the defender of the house (of Israel) and those attacking him, attempting to tie him up.

He concludes this passage with an important theological understanding. The Son of God came into the world so that sins might be forgiven (“…all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.”) He then defines the Holy Spirit and Himself as one in the same (essence) by saying the whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (as the scribes had just done in calling Jesus an emissary of Satan) would be guilty of an everlasting sin (would never be forgiven).


We pause to consider this; if Jesus ran into vehement resistance to his message, him who is God and speaks with the power and majesty of Father, ran into significant resistance from those claiming to serve God on earth (the scribes and Pharisees), how much more difficult must it have been for those following in his footsteps decades later? The memorial we celebrate today, the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus, recalls to us these two Christian leaders of the infant Christian faith.

Sts. Timothy and Titus were both consecrated by St. Paul to assist in the work of building up the Christian community in places were Christ’s story was newly spreading. In the case of Titus who was sent to Crete, he was breaking new ground since most scholars agree St. Paul never visited there. We can only guess at the hardships and resistance they endured. In the case of Timothy, we know he was martyred like St. Stephen by being stoned.

The message passed clearly to us today is that if we live our faith in the secular world and, through word and example, attempt to bring others to understand God’s love, we to will meet resistance. Some of this resistance we know about. It is, in most workplaces and schools, forbidden to publicly express our faith. Much of the formal academic community resists violently any reference to our faith except as a “philosophy” to be considered along with others, not seeing it as anything beyond a moral code.

In other circumstances the resistance is much more subtle and, in some ways, more difficult to overcome. We speak of the resistance of our friends and acquaintances. We encounter in some of them the less formal rejection that seems as if they are accepting our message but behind our backs refute it and us as “Jesus freaks” or “Holy Rollers”. A noble title but used derogatorily can undue much of what we attempt.

Today we consider our own circumstances and look to Sts. Titus and Timothy for inspiration and intersession. We also seek the Lord’s help through prayer, remembering that if he faced opposition and hatred from those he loved, we should not expect a more gracious welcome.


[1] The icon of St. Timothy and the drawing of St. Titus were not attributed on the web but are in the public domain.
[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 Psalm 96

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Note: In 2009, the Jubilee Year of St. Paul, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul may replace the celebration of the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings, commentary and reflection for that celebration are posted in the
Memorial Bench for today. When this celebration option is used, Reading 2 from 1 Cor 7:29-31 (below) is used as Readings 2.

Readings and Commentary for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Reading 1:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying:
"Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you."
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD'S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day's walk announcing,
"Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,"
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.
Commentary on
Jon 3:1-5, 10

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

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (4a) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Commentary on
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Psalm 25 is an individual lament. The sinful psalmist prays that “Your ways” be made know. This request directs us to repentance and ultimately justice.

Reading II:
1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
Commentary on
1 Cor 7:29-31

St. Paul is answering questions put to him by the Corinthians (
1 Corinthians 7:1-11:1). In this short passage we see the Apostles vision that the Eschaton is upon them, that is Christ’s second coming is eminent, to take place before their deaths (“For the world in its present form is passing away.”). His advice here has two levels of meaning. Understood from the perspective of the eminent return of Christ, the members of the community are to rejoice in the coming salvation. “The world . . . is passing away: Paul advises Christians to go about the ordinary activities of life in a manner different from those who are totally immersed in them and unaware of their transitoriness.”[5] Understood in a later period, he is echoing Christ’s urgency to reform, not to delay for “…you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13).

Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.
Commentary on
Mk 1:14-20

As it is in St. Mark’s account, it is noteworthy to observe that all of the Gospels show Jesus not beginning his public ministry until after the active ministry of St. John the Baptist has ended. The “Voice” decreases while the “Word” increases. We see the charismatic power of the Lord in the call of the first disciples in this passage. They come to him without inducement beyond his simple invitation to follow him. It is also notable that three of these first four, Simon, James, and John, develop the closest relationships with the Lord of all the disciples.


Sacred Scripture places before us the stories of how God calls individuals to his service. In the first reading from Jonah, the prophet has gone through a conversion experience, been rescued by God from certain death, and sent on a specific mission – to call the people of Nineveh to repentance. While we were not given the part of the story that tells of Jonah’s skepticism about the success of what he was asked to do, we see that even his voice, the voice of an enemy of the people he addresses, bears fruit. The call is answered, the people are saved.

The Gospel tells us of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry from St. Mark’s account. We hear the Lord’s mission unfold in what sound very similar to the call of the Baptist at least at first. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

We immediately see something amazing though. As Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee he calls to Simon and Andrew who are fishing. Mark does not give us the relationship between Andrew and St. John the Baptist we hear in St. Luke’s Gospel, we are just told that he calls to them “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They “left their nets”, they dropped their means of livelihood, essentially the most important things they owned, and followed him. Walking further Jesus encounters James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Again he calls to them. No explanation, just “he called them”, and they left their father, their family and followed him.

We begin to see the cost of discipleship in this short story. In no uncertain terms we are shown that the Lord’s most favored disciples did not need to be convinced by rhetoric or won over by long friendship. They heard the voice of Jesus and left all that was important in their lives, profession and family, to follow him.

The lessons we hear today take what we have built during the previous seasons of this year and push it to the next level. We have heard the Lord’s call. Now what shall we do? Our prayer today is that, like those first disciples, we can hear the Lord’s voice and place his mission first, in front of work and in front of even family in our hearts.


[2] The picture used is “The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew” by Jacob Willemsz. De Wet, the Elder, c. 1660
[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 7:29-31

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales

Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Biographical Information about St. Francis de Sales

Readings for Saturday of the Second Week on Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14

For a tabernacle was constructed, the outer one,
in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of offering;
this is called the Holy Place.
Behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be,
passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands,
that is, not belonging to this creation,
he entered once for all into the sanctuary,
not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own Blood,
thus obtaining eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes
can sanctify those who are defiled
so that their flesh is cleansed,
how much more will the Blood of Christ,
who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
Commentary on
Heb 9:2-3, 11-14

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews contrasts the tradition of Jewish animal sacrifice or sin offering with what Jesus has done for us. He describes, in detail, how Christ becomes the sacrifice that seals the new covenant. Using this specific Mosaic Law and imagery, he explains how the Lord came as the ultimate offering for our salvation.

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

R. (6) God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
For king of all the earth is God:
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
Commentary on
Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Psalm 47 is a hymn of praise celebrating God’s enthronement and kinship over the people. The imagery in the second strophe (v. 6) strongly suggests the procession of the Arc of the Covenant being processed and installed as part of this celebration. The song concludes with a proclamation of the universal claim of God – King of all the earth.

Mark 3:20-21

He (Jesus) came home.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Commentary on
Mk 3:20-21

Jesus returns to his home and is greeted with disbelief by some his own relatives. They likely believe, because of his excessive focus on his mission and the claims made about his actions, that he has become delusional.

This short passage provides a sense of the challenges Jesus faces in his mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. His fame had clearly spread as a consequence of his teaching, his natural charisma, and his miraculous healing power. The disbelief of even his relatives is a barrier to be overcome.


The Gospel begs a question of us today. If we took the Gospel completely to heart and lived it so diligently that every suggestion the Jesus made about how life was to be lived was followed completely, would our families think we had lost our minds? The answer that may have popped into our minds may have been “No, I try to do that now and no one thinks I am insane.”

We are invited to consider more closely the circumstances surrounding Jesus that would have caused that kind of reaction from those with whom he had grown up. We can only suppose that he had been apprenticed to his father (foster father) Joseph during his adolescent and early years before we encounter him at the Jordan with the Baptist.

He was no doubt thought to be a bit strange by his peers – probably too good. The adults would have loved him because of his seeming maturity beyond his years. Perhaps suddenly or with little discussion with his mother and foster father, he decides that he is called to begin something important and goes out to see John, baptizing at the Jordan River. Even if he had been accompanied by some of his relatives, what happened at the Jordan must have stunned everyone. But the Lord did not stay there to be questioned. He was lead or driven into the desert, by himself. He remains there, alone, for an extended period of time. His family and friends would have wondered what had happened to him.

Upon his return, the first person to recognize that event was St. John the Baptist who sees him and tells his disciples “Behold the Lamb of God” (John1:29). What a strange title to use. Yet some of John’s disciples follow him. This leads to the call of the first four and quickly that number grows to twelve (symbolic of the number of Tribes of Israel perhaps).

Some of these “disciples” were of questionable character and there would have been news of him having developed a power to heal. There would also be some rather disturbing news about confrontations with the religious leadership. His cousins would have heard that he had been challenging the Pharisees and scribes – not a good thing and highly uncharacteristic of the good and gentle young man they had known growing up.

This would have been the prelude to Jesus coming home. His excessive preoccupation with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the crowds that were following him around would have caused them to think that perhaps his sojourn in the desert had caused him to go mad. His unbending idealism would have been at odds with the person they thought they knew.

It’s fairly clear how these two short verses came about. Have we not seen similar situations in our own lives? Have we not known people who went off on a retreat or perhaps made a Cursio weekend and had come back changed, significantly changed, not the same person? Did we think of them as fanatics or religious zealots? We now come back to our original question. If we took the Gospel completely to heart and lived it so diligently that every suggestion the Jesus made about how life was to be lived was followed completely, would our families think we had lost our minds? The answer might be yes. And if we did, would that be such a bad thing?

Conversion comes in stages to most. It is a process rather than an event. What is clear is that even a gradual change will be met with resistance. The attitudes and values of Christ are not welcome in many parts of our society and attempts will be made to silence those who shout too loudly.

Today our prayer is that we too might be thought of as being a bit mad, if it is Christ’s madness we proclaim.


[2] The picture used today is “Communion of the Apostles” by Luca Signorelli, 1512
[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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Hebrews 8:6-13

Now he (our high priest) has obtained
so much more excellent a ministry
as he is mediator of a better covenant,
enacted on better promises.

For if that first covenant had been faultless,
no place would have been sought for a second one.
But he finds fault with them and says:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of
Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand to lead
them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they did not stand by my covenant
and I ignored them, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
and I will write them upon their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’
for all shall know me, from least to greatest.
For I will forgive their evildoing
and remember their sins no more.”

When he speaks of a “new” covenant,
he declares the first one obsolete.
And what has become obsolete
and has grown old is close to disappearing.
Commentary on
Heb 8:6-13

In the prior verses (
Hebrews 7:25—8:6) there was a reminder that Jesus came as the new covenant, replacing the covenant and promises of Moses. Here, Hebrews continues on this theme explaining why the new covenant forged by Jesus was required. In language taken from the Old Testament prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-34), the fact that a new covenant was needed showed the old one to be flawed.

Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 85:8 and 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (11a) Kindness and truth shall meet.
Show us, O LORD, your mercy,
and grant us your salvation.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Kindness and truth shall meet.
Commentary on
Ps 85:8 and 10, 11-12, 13-14

Psalm 85 is intended as a “… national lament” a plea of the people, “reminding God of past favors and forgiveness and begging for forgiveness and grace. A speaker represents the people who wait humbly with open hearts: God will be active on their behalf. The situation suggests the conditions of Judea during the early postexilic period, the fifth century B.C.; the thoughts are similar to those of postexilic prophets (
Haggai 1:5-11; 2:6-9).”[5] This selection begins as a plea for mercy and salvation. It continues in expectation of God’s saving justice.

Mark 3:13-19

He (Jesus) went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted
and they came to him.
He appointed twelve, (whom he also named apostles)
that they might be with him
and he might send them forth to preach
and to have authority to drive out demons:
(he appointed the twelve:)
Simon, whom he named Peter;
James, son of Zebedee,
and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges,
that is, sons of thunder;
Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew,
Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus;
Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean,
and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
Commentary on
Mk 3:13-19

The setting for this event is placed on a “mountain” depicting the solemnity of the occasion as is done in other places in St. Mark’s Gospel (see also
Mark 6:46; 9:2-8; 13:3).. Having called certain people to himself (unlike St. Matthew in which the group is assumed to have been known - Matthew 10:1-15), Mark’s Gospel now names the apostles. He also defines the faculties that Jesus gives them – essentially giving them purpose;”… that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”


First we hear from the Letter to the Hebrews why Christ’s coming was so necessary; that the old covenants were flawed and the salvation of the people was incomplete. We are told that in order for the Prophets testimony to be fulfilled a new covenant must be forged that the forgiveness of God might be realized. Jesus not only made the promise that fulfilled Jeremiah’s oracle, he was also the sacrifice that sealed it according to Mosaic Law.

It was necessary, since the Lord himself was preordained to be that sacrifice that he must leave the treasury of his teaching with persons of faith. He selected the Twelve to accomplish this task. He even selected his betrayer as part of this group of students, friends, and heirs to his authority.

This event is of extreme importance to us since it is through this selection of the Twelve that the Apostles were consecrated to the great work that continues to this day – the propagation of the faith, the teaching of the whole world. It was necessary for Jesus to do as he did. There would be no other way the faith could spread since God made his creation, endowing the human race with free will. He would not make us a race of slaves, forcing faith and adoration for him who created all things upon his cherished people. Instead, his Son selected twelve, very human disciples. He gave them from his own power, the authority to cast out demons to refute the evil one who would bar the Kingdom of God on earth from coming forth.

One in particular, Peter - the one Jesus chose is the leader of this group, in his turn and when his formation was completed, having been tested, failed, and empowered with the Holy Spirit, passed on his task and authority to his own successors. Since that time the papacy has been handed down. And with that transmission of faith, the faith has been handed down to us, the adoption that makes us co-heirs with the twelve.

Today we pray that our own call might be clearly heard and that we might find the strength to express God’s love in a way worthy of that call. We thank God for this eloquent reminder that we too are called and we too are sent.


[2] The picture used today is “Exhortation of Christ to the Apostles” by James Tissot, 1886-96
[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 Psalm 85