Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sunday


(Mass during the Day)

Readings for Pentecost Sunday[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 2:1-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
"Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God."
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Commentary on
Acts 2:1-11

When the Time for Pentecost was fulfilled” – the word in its Greek form means “fifty” so we understand this phrase to mean – fifty days after Christ’s resurrection (Easter). An interesting coincidence is the Jewish Festival of Weeks (Harvest Festival “Shavuoth”) was also called Pentecost. Whether it was taken first by the Christians and later adopted by the Hellenistic Jews we do not know.

Those present (not just the disciples) heard a loud noise like the rushing of the wind. This signified a new action by God. Indeed we see the symbol of the Holy Spirit, a flame, descend upon the Apostles launching them into prayers of ecstasy that were heard by all present in their own language. This event can be interpreted as a representation of the universal mission of the Church to all peoples of all nations.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34

R. (cf. 30) Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O Lord!
the earth is full of your creatures;
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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Commentary on
Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34

In Psalm 104 we find a refrain that is the most popular hymn sung a Pentecost. The final strophe recognizes the third person of God and asks for its blessing.

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Reading II:
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
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Commentary on
1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13

In this letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul acknowledges the role of the Holy Spirit and the different gifts supplied to the members of the Body of Christ. At the same time he also proclaims the oneness of the triune God. The unity theme is carried finally to the people of God who are one in the spirit and therefore one with God.

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Or:
Galatians 5:16-25

Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.
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Commentary on
Gal 5:16-25

St. Paul in this selection reminds the Galatians that with freedom in Christ comes a higher calling. He contrasts “works of the flesh” with “fruit of the Spirit”, providing a catalogue of sins and virtues. The evangelist gives the community a clear warning that those who follow the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God but those who “belong to Christ Jesus” have experienced an inner conversion. Those “crucified in their flesh” are able to rise above worldly desires and live in the spirit.

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Gospel:
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."
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Commentary on
Jn 20:19-23

St. John gives us the picture of the disciples (now Apostles) in hiding immediately following the Lord’s crucifixion. Twice Jesus comes to them once with Thomas absent and then again when he is present.

There are a number of very important elements of this version of the story. First, the Lord’s greeting, “Peace be with you.” While this may have been a simple Shalom, it is more likely intended to emphasize the rejoicing sense of the meeting. Immediately the Lord sends them on their mission, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you." As part of this action we are told the Lord gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and gives them authority to act in his name.

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Or:
John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you."
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Commentary on Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Jesus’ farewell speech continues with the theme of the strength to be given in the “Advocate”, the “Spirit of truth”, the Holy Spirit (see commentary on
John 14:15-21).. His reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit is explained further and the unity of the trinity comes into focus as the Lord tells his friends that this Advocate will give them what is also his (the Lord’s).

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Reflection:

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, the Divine Advocate is celebrated today. How great is our God that, not only did he send his only begotten Son to reveal his great love for us, he sends us His guiding Spirit to be our strength and compass.

It is the Holy Spirit that we look to for the daily miracles in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit that was given to us at our Baptism, that gives is the ability to understand what God wants for us and from us. It is the Holy Spirit that is the glue of the great covenant sealed with the blood of Christ.

Today we, as Church, complete our Easter Celebration with this great feast that reminds us in John’s Gospel how the Lord himself sent the Divine Advocate to his body, the Church so that all we hold as bound on earth shall also be held bound in heaven. He gave his Holy Spirit first to the Disciples that infusion of grace that allowed them to convey the message of love and life through our Heavenly Father to all peoples of all nations. Through that Holy Spirit he gives us a glimpse of Divine Wisdom that directs us.

Today we, as individuals, thank God for his gifts of love an mercy, communicated to us directly from the Heavenly Throne by the Holy Spirit. We recognize these gifts as we reflect on the bounty God has given us in our lives. Gifts that start with the life we dedicate to His service and all of the things we have been given since.

Today, the whole world holds its breath in wonder as the Church proclaims once more that the gift, guide and Advocate left to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is alive and well and living as the visible Body of the Risen Christ – the Church. Praise be to the Triune God and all His marvelous deeds.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used is” Pentecost” by Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1618-20
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter


Readings for Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself,
with the soldier who was guarding him.

Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews.
When they had gathered he said to them, "My brothers,
although I had done nothing against our people
or our ancestral customs,
I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem.
After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me,
because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty.
But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar,
even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation.
This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you
and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel
that I wear these chains."

He remained for two full years in his lodgings.
He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance
and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Commentary on
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

In this selection from Acts we hear of St. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome and how he used his affiliation and knowledge of Jewish Law and customs to reach out to the Jewish community in Rome with an eye to conversion.

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Responsorial Psalm Psalm 11:4, 5 and 7

R. (see 7b) The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD's throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold,
his searching glance is on mankind.
R. The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD searches the just and the wicked;
the lover of violence he hates.
For the LORD is just, he loves just deeds;
the upright shall see his face.
R. The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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Commentary on
Ps 11:4, 5 and 7

The psalmist sings of his trust in God’s protection and laments those who trade in violence. The song continues with praise for the one who is steadfast in God’s law.

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Gospel:
John 21:20-25

Peter turned and saw the disciple following whom Jesus loved,
the one who had also reclined upon his chest during the supper
and had said, "Master, who is the one who will betray you?"
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about him?"
Jesus said to him, "What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours?
You follow me."
So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die.
But Jesus had not told him that he would not die,
just "What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours?"

It is this disciple who testifies to these things
and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.
There are also many other things that Jesus did,
but if these were to be described individually,
I do not think the whole world would contain the books
that would be written.
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Commentary on Jn 21:20-25

Here we see the very end of the Gospel of St. John. In it we pick up the dialog between Jesus and Peter. Jesus has just told Peter he will be lead where he does not wish to go indicating that he (Peter) will suffer martyrdom. Peter sees St. John following and asks about his fate, to which the Lord replies “What if I want him to remain until I come?” Peter interprets this as an affirmative statement and tells the others.

This part of the selection caused problems among the early Church when St. John did die before the Lord came again. The Church lost some credibility and followers as a consequence.

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Reflection:

The very end of the Gospel of St. John tells us something that we suspected throughout its reading to be true, that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was the author himself. He alone among the disciples did not suffer martyrdom. Even Matthias, chosen to replace Judas the betrayer, was martyred for Christ. In his life St. John had time to reflect upon Jesus and all of the events of his life on earth. It was St. John’s community that often grasped the most significant meanings of these events and provided a theological subtext for our understanding of the three previous Gospels in our canon of the Bible, Mark, Matthew, and Luke – the synoptics.

From the Evangelists perspective, as he either wrote or more likely dictated this end to his great work, we wonder about his own feelings. He reveals in these final verses that he alone will not follow his Lord in the kind of death his brothers will suffer. Did he feel guilty? As he set those final words on the page, did he feel fulfilled or did he look at his work as so many authors do and fell that he had not done credit to the subject of his most important work?

As the “Beloved Disciple” we can only speculate that he, knowing Jesus as intimately as he did, would have accepted his role the one who must tell the story of Jesus with the clearest understanding of the Lord’s deeper intent and with a view born of decades of reflection and contemplation.

For us, who read his work and marvel at his truth these millennia later, Saint John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Love. Here more than any other Book in Sacred Scripture do we most completely feel Christ’s love for us and hear most clearly his commandment to love God and love one another.

For the sake of the Savior of the world and to please the Beloved Disciple who even now must “…reclined upon his chest”, we pray that from this hour onward our effort to follow these simple sounding commands will be redoubled.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used is “St John the Evangelist on Patmos”, Hieronymus Bosch, 1504-05
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter


Readings for Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 25:13b-21

King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea
on a visit to Festus.
Since they spent several days there,
Festus referred Paul's case to the king, saying,
"There is a man here left in custody by Felix.
When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews
brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation.
I answered them that it was not Roman practice
to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers
and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge.
So when they came together here, I made no delay;
the next day I took my seat on the tribunal
and ordered the man to be brought in.
His accusers stood around him,
but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected.
Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion
and about a certain Jesus who had died
but who Paul claimed was alive.
Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy,
I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem
and there stand trial on these charges.
And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody
for the Emperor's decision,
I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar."
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Commentary on
Acts 25:13b-21

Here we see the interesting secular response to the “Christian Controversy” from the perspective of St. Luke’s portrayal of the dialog between King Agrippa and Festus. St. Paul’s protective custody is about to be moved to Rome fulfilling the Apostle’s prophetic vision, "Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome” from
Acts 23:11.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab

R. (19a) The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.

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Commentary on
Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab

Psalm 103 is an individual hymn of praise. In this passage, the song acknowledges the blessings the Lord has given to those who believe in him and then proclaims the universality of his reign.

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Gospel:
John 21:15-19

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
He said to him the third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
"Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
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Commentary on
Jn 21:15-19

This selection describes events following the passion and resurrection. Jesus has already revealed himself to the disciples in the “locked room”. He now addresses himself to St. Peter. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times during the night of the Lord’s arrest. He now recants that betrayal with a three fold response to Jesus questions.

The First Vatican Council cited these verses in defining that Jesus, after his resurrection gave St. Peter the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over the whole flock. It is interesting to note that this section of St. John’s Gospel is referred to by scripture scholars as “Peter’s rehabilitation”.

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Reflection:

We can only imagine the remorse St. Peter felt after the Lord’s prediction, that he would reject him three times before the crowing of the cock, came to pass. Peter would have been virtually crippled by guilt; having first pledged his undying loyalty to Jesus at the Last Supper, and then publicly rejecting the Lord three times that same night out of fear. How many times between that night and the event described in the Gospel from St. John on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias had St. Peter despaired that he had committed a treason that rivaled that of Judas?

It is in St. Peter’s equally public oath and profession there at the Sea of Tiberias that he was able to atone for his failure and reaffirm his love of Jesus. Scripture scholars have long recognized this important event and even label it “Peter’s rehabilitation”. The Church sees this moment as one in which Jesus confirms his choice of St. Peter as the leader of the disciples and the one upon whom the primacy of the Church falls as first Pontiff. We, the Lord’s disciples these two thousand years later see another lesson in the story.

Imagining ourselves walking in St. Peters shoes, we feel ourselves responding the Jesus as he asks us “Do you love me?” We feel the unworthiness of our own actions behind us as we struggle to answer him. We recognize that beyond sacramental reconciliation and the penance we have done in atonement for the times we have failed him, we must prove our love for him by taking his message to the whole world. “Feed my Sheep.” He calls us to do that, one hungry soul at a time.

It is our own rehabilitation that we find in responding to Jesus. In a very real way, we find ourselves reinvigorated; our lives gain purpose, and our inmost being rejoices in the knowledge that Jesus loves us still and that we can respond to that love in a way that magnifies it. As we stand at the very edge of the great Pentecost celebration this reminder brings us great peace. It also brings us resolve that we might not fail again, but move forward in his love.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used is “Handing Over the Keys” by Raphael, 1515-16
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter


Readings for Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11

Wishing to determine the truth
about why Paul was being accused by the Jews,
the commander freed him
and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene.
Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.

Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees,
so he called out before the Sanhedrin,
"My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees;
I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead."
When he said this,
a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the group became divided.
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection
or angels or spirits,
while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.
A great uproar occurred,
and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party
stood up and sharply argued,
"We find nothing wrong with this man.
Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?"
The dispute was so serious that the commander,
afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them,
ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their midst
and take him into the compound.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage.
For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome."
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Commentary on
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11

In this passage about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, the Apostle has been recognized as the one who is converting many outside Jerusalem to the “Way” and the Jews are furious. A riot has broken out in the Temple precincts (Paul takes a beating) and he is taken into custody by the Romans (probably saving his life).

The Centurion, learning that Paul is a citizen of Rome, allows him to speak to the Sanhedrin which is what we hear today. He has just recounted his conversion story to them and now fuels an argument between the Sadducees and Pharisees over the concept to the resurrection which the Pharisees believe in and the Sadducees deny. A second time Paul is rescued from Jewish violence by the Romans and then hears from Jesus that he will be sent to Rome to bear witness there.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

R. (1) Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, "My Lord are you."
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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Commentary on
Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

Psalm 16 is an individual hymn of praise. The psalmist prays that God will shield the faithful from harm and expresses confidence in the Lord’s salvation; closing the passage with praise for God’s loving mercy. This selection seems to resonate with the emotions St. Paul must feel as he undergoes physical and mental abuse in the story above. He remains faithful in the face of persecution and accepting as he is sent on yet another journey.

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Gospel:
John 17:20-26

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
"I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."
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Commentary on
Jn 17:20-26

Here is the final part of the “High Priestly Prayer” from the Lord’s final discourse. In this selection we are linked with the disciples as Jesus says; “…but also for those who will believe in me through their word”. Again the theme of unity between the Father, and the Son, and his followers is emphasized and brought to a conclusion with “…that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.

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Reflection:

It is a pretty natural feeling to feel defensive when our beliefs are attacked or criticized. In confrontation about the values we find central to our faith it is also natural that our strong feelings can lead us to be exclusionary or elitist; thinking that we are somehow better or more informed than our brothers and sisters who do not share our beliefs and traditions. These feelings can become obstacles to the very issue Jesus prayed about and for which St. Paul put his life at risk, unity in the faith.

How, one might ask, can we work toward unity without challenging those who deny the truth of our Christian faith? If we don’t correct them, are we not neglecting our own call to be heralds of the truth as Christ commanded?

To answer these questions we look as we should always look, to Jesus example. There are some human attributes that gave the Lord great power in effectively communicating his “Good News” to those he encountered. The first of these attributes was humility. The Lord always approached the people he loved with a sense of admiration for the Father’s creative force. That is he saw each person he met as precious (including those who hated him and wished him harm). In his intense love for them, he did not place himself in authority over them. He did not tell them – “Listen, if you don’t do as I tell you and believe as I tell you, I will curse you and condemn you to eternal damnation!” Rather he invited them. Above their abusive comments he reached out to them in love. Even in St. John’s Gospel of theology, his most abrasive statement was “If you do not believe… you have condemned yourselves.” And this statement was likely tinged with sorrow, as one might fill sorrow for the person who out of fear rejected a cure for some physical illness.

As we look at the Lord’s invitation to those who rejected him we see he consistently avoids a trap that we often fall into when attempting to use this same approach in dealing with those who reject or berate the faith. He is never condescending nor does he express his pity for those who cannot understand in a demeaning way. Jesus’ intense love for each person insures that his interactions always respect that person’s outlook and perspective. We must find that attitude in ourselves if we are to be effective in inviting others to share the faith which leads to salvation.

The final element or attribute that makes Jesus such an effective evangelist for the Father is exactly what we see in the Gospel passage proclaimed today. Jesus is a person of prayer. He is united to the Father, even as true man, in prayer. He is constantly communing with God, insuring that his course is in accordance with the Father’s wishes. Today that prayer expresses his hope that all of God’s creation might be united in faith so that “…where I am they also may be with me”. May we follow his example and proceed according to his wishes inviting those we meet to join us in praising God and giving glory to his Holy Name.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used is “Prayer on the Mount of Olives” by Hans Multscher, 1437
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter


Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop

Memorial Bench for St. Augustine of Canterbury

Readings for Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 20:28-38

At Miletus, Paul spoke to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus:
"Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock
of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers,
in which you tend the Church of God
that he acquired with his own Blood.
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you,
and they will not spare the flock.
And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth
to draw the disciples away after them.
So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day,
I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears.
And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.
I have never wanted anyone's silver or gold or clothing.
You know well that these very hands
have served my needs and my companions.
In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort
we must help the weak,
and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said,
'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

When he had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
They were all weeping loudly
as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,
for they were deeply distressed that he had said
that they would never see his face again.
Then they escorted him to the ship.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Acts 20:28-38

The discourse St. Paul began yesterday is concluded today. He is speaking to the presbyters that have been appointed over the various communities around Ephesus (a very large city at the time). He has already explained that he is returning to Jerusalem and does not believe he will see them again. Now he tells them to be on guard against false prophets and teachers and against members of their own communities who will spread dissension. He reminds them, finally, to keep focused on the Lord’s commands and to remain charitable.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab

R. (33a) Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Show forth, O God, your power,
the power, O God, with which you took our part;
For your temple in Jerusalem
let the kings bring you gifts.
R. Sing to God, O Kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
chant praise to the Lord
who rides on the heights of the ancient heavens.
Behold, his voice resounds, the voice of power:
"Confess the power of God!"
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Over Israel is his majesty;
his power is in the skies.
Awesome in his sanctuary is God, the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab

We continue in Psalm 68 for a third day. Our hymn of thanksgiving sings of the great favor the Lord has show to his chosen people. It rejoices in God’s salvation.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gospel:
John 17:11b-19

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying:
"Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.
Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Jn 17:11b-19

We continue the “High Priestly Prayer” started in St. John’s Gospel yesterday. This part of the prayer begins with a plea for unity between the Father and disciples (note the reference here to Judas Iscariot as the “son of destruction). Still speaking directly to God, Jesus again says he is going to the Father and that the disciples should share his joy at prospect. He then asks the father to keep them safe from the poison of sin (similar here to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer) and to consecrate them in truth (defining truth as the Word).

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

They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”

Think of what Jesus meant by this prayer to the Father! We do not belong to the world, yet, like the Lord when he was in the flesh; we walk in the world and must be part of it. But we do not belong to it. Is it any wonder that we sometimes fell out of place?

The Lord is fond of using parables. In his prayer; specifically in this part of his prayer, he implies that we are like seasoning in a dish to be placed in front of the king. Without the seasoning of the Good News, the dish that is the human race, tastes wrong; something important is missing. It is that Good News that the Lord brings that transforms the dish into something pleasant, into something delicious that the king will enjoy, savior.

We become that seasoning which is not part of the dish, but is necessary for that offering to be pleasing to our King. All parts of the dish are flavored by seasoning. Just so we reach out to all parts of the world, changing it by our presence but not being changed by it.

Today we hear Christ calling us to be in the world but not belong to it. We are to season those we meat with the attitude of Christ who is love. May we live up to that great call.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used is “Head of Christ Crowned with Thorns“, Lucas the Elder Cranach, c. 1510
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest


Memorial Bench for St. Philip Neri[1]

Readings for Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 20:17-27

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters
of the Church at Ephesus summoned.
When they came to him, he addressed them,
"You know how I lived among you
the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia.
I served the Lord with all humility
and with the tears and trials that came to me
because of the plots of the Jews,
and I did not at all shrink from telling you
what was for your benefit,
or from teaching you in public or in your homes.
I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks
to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus.
But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.
What will happen to me there I do not know,
except that in one city after another
the Holy Spirit has been warning me
that imprisonment and hardships await me.
Yet I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.

"But now I know that none of you
to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels
will ever see my face again.
And so I solemnly declare to you this day
that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you,
for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Acts 20:17-27

The steady and lively growth of Christianity has started to spark significant resistance from multiple sources. Paul now feels compelled to return to Jerusalem but wants to make sure he has left a final message with the leaders in the region of Ephesus. Here he begins his discourse reminding them of his fidelity to the message he received from Jesus.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 68:10-11, 20-21

R. (33a) Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance;
you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 68:10-11, 20-21

We use Psalm 68 for a second day in a row. The hymn of thanksgiving praises God for salvation and all that He has provided to the people and lifts them up even in the face of death.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gospel:
John 17:1-11a

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
"Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

"I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Jn 17:1-11a

We begin the part of Jesus final dialog called the “High Priestly Prayer.” In this first section, the Lord begins a petition for the disciples (those he has now and those to come) speaking directly to the Father (not to the disciples, they are just overhearing this prayer). The emphasis is clearly that the disciples have become what the Lord wanted, faithful believers, and he asks the Father to support them.

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

Today we hear the last we will hear from the Gospel of John for some time. Easter tide is ending and soon we begin a year of “Discipleship” from the Gospel of Mark. As we listen today to the words of St. John we hear the Lord completing his discourse to the disciples just before they go out to Gethsemane. It sounds as if Jesus is summing up what he has been saying to the assembly, reassuring us and them that while it seems to be the end, it is not and that all the Father and he have given will be saved.

This feels as if we have come full circle from the joy of Easter and the promise of salvation we received last Sunday with the feast of the Ascension. It almost feels melancholy, hearing the Lord speak this way – out of phase from where we would like to be. We look deeper to feel the power and majesty in these words.

If we have been prayerfully watching the story as it has unfolded over the past seven weeks we feel the endings. We feel Paul, now returning to Jerusalem and telling the leaders of the Church he started in Ephesus that he will not be seeing them again. (It seems like just yesterday we heard the story of Paul’s conversion and the beginnings of his journey to the gentiles.) We see Jesus with his disciples, having given them among other things the Vine and the Branches, the Shepherd and the Sheep, the greatest Commandment, now praying to the Father:

Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.”

And from Paul:

But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.

Our Easter Celebration is nearly over for another year and it is time for new beginnings. In a few short days we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the great feast of Pentecost. It is a signal that we need to reach into that holy place within us and draw anew on that power he left us, given in Baptism, strengthened and sealed in Confirmation, nourished with the Eucharist, demonstrated in Matrimony and Holy Orders and revitalized in Reconciliation and Anointing. We are, after all a sacramental people and it is the coming Spirit that makes us whole and one with Him.

Pax

[1] The picture used is “S. Philip Neri, author and date are UNKNOWN
[2] ALTRE
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter


Saint Gregory VII, Pope
Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, Virgin
Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest, Doctor

Memorial Bench for Saint Gregory VII
Memorial Bench for Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi
Memorial Bench for Saint Bede the Venerable

Readings for Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter[i][ii]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[iii]

Reading 1:
Acts 19:1-8

While Apollos was in Corinth,
Paul traveled through the interior of the country
and down to Ephesus where he found some disciples.
He said to them,
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?"
They answered him,
"We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
He said, "How were you baptized?"
They replied, "With the baptism of John."
Paul then said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance,
telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him,
that is, in Jesus."
When they heard this,
they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul laid his hands on them,
the Holy Spirit came upon them,
and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Altogether there were about twelve men.

He entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly
with persuasive arguments about the Kingdom of God.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Acts 19:1-8

While Apollos stays in Corinth strengthening the Church there, Paul goes down to Ephesus. In this passage he describes the difference between the Baptism of John which was for repentance and the baptism of Jesus (for forgiveness). It is important to note that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given in the sacrament of Baptism demonstrated here.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab

R. (33a) Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
God arises; his enemies are scattered,
and those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so are they driven;
as wax melts before the fire.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
But the just rejoice and exult before God;
they are glad and rejoice.
Sing to God, chant praise to his name;
whose name is the LORD.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The father of orphans and the defender of widows
is God in his holy dwelling.
God gives a home to the forsaken;
he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
or:
R. Alleluia.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab

Psalm 68 gives praise and thanksgiving for God’s salvation. It is from God alone that salvation comes replacing the loss of the poor (widows and orphans) with his justice and presence.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gospel:
John 16:29-33

The disciples said to Jesus,
"Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech.
Now we realize that you know everything
and that you do not need to have anyone question you.
Because of this we believe that you came from God."
Jesus answered them, "Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Jn 16:29-33

Here, in St. John’s Gospel, we see the great solace of the disciples as Jesus essentially forgives them in advance for deserting him when he is confronted in the garden. Even as they confess that they believe in Him, Jesus knows they will flee when he is taken prisoner.

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

What we hear in the Acts of the Apostles today is important in that it highlights what is accomplished for us in Baptism. Notice how Paul is asking members of the Church at Ephesus if they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and how they did not know what he was talking about? These must have been some of the Lords very first disciples. They had met John the Baptist or one of his disciples and had then turned to follow Christ. They only had the baptism of John.

We recall that John was baptizing in the Jordan. He had high jacked a Hebrew purification rite detailed in the book of the Prophet Ezekiel (
Ezekiel 36 24ff) and was asking the people to repent. Repentance is not forgiveness. What John the Baptist was asking for was a change of heart. There is a huge difference between what John was asking for and what Jesus accomplishes in our Baptism. Jesus does not ask for a change or heart, in Baptism he causes an indelible change in our very nature. He washes away sin, as if it were never there. He causes us to become a new creation clothed in him, reborn in him and invested with the Holy Spirit.

Is it any wonder the people who had only received John’s baptism were being re-baptized? It was completely different. When they came to John at the Jordan, it was like what happened to us on Ash Wednesday. We are told to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Repent, in other words. The Baptism we receive in Christ; in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is the gift of Jesus that makes us his adopted sons and daughters.

Through our Baptism into him and into his death, we have the gates of salvation opened up to us and we have the grace to access the Lord when ever we want. Is it any wonder that Baptism is called the most important sacrament? (The Eucharist is the most holy).

Pax

[i] ALTRE
[ii] The picture today is “St. Paul at Preaching at Ephesus” by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649
[iii] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Or on the same day - Ascension of the Lord
Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers
—there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place —.
He said, "My brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.

"For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office.

"Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection."
So they proposed two, Judas called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
"You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place."
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the eleven apostles.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26

We are given the story of how Matthias came to be called as the one to replace Judas. St. Peter assumes the leadership role noting that even the betrayal by Judas was predicted by Holy Scripture.

The two verses omitted (18,19) give St. Luke’s account of the death of Judas which differs from Matthew’s account (in Luke’s version, he buys property with his ill gotten gains and is killed in a gruesome fall). We see here how the Church’s tradition of selecting leaders from among the membership is developed with prayer and a vote.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20

R. (19a) The Lord has set his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has set his throne in heaven.
or:
R. Alleluia.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20

Psalm 103 is a song of praise to God for his mercy. These strophes emphasize the establishment of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the place to which Christ ascends to reign with him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reading II:
1 John 4:11-16

Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
1 Jn 4:11-16

As we look forward to the gift of the Holy Spirit, St. John’s letter follows his profession of God’s love with this instruction regarding how we must join with God’s love. “The testimony of the Spirit and that of faith join the testimony of love to confirm our knowledge of God. Our love is grounded in the confession of Jesus as the Son of God and the example of God's love for us. Christian life is founded on the knowledge of God as love and on his continuing presence that relieves us from fear of judgment.”
[4]

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gospel:
John 17:11b-19

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
"Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Jn 17:11b-19

This passage is a continuation of the “High Priestly Prayer” started earlier in St. John’s Gospel
John 17:1-11a. This part of the prayer begins with a plea for unity between the Father and disciples (note the reference here to Judas Iscariot as the “son of destruction). Still speaking directly to God, Jesus again says he is going to the Father and that the disciples should share his joy at prospect. He then asks the father to keep them safe from the poison of sin (similar here to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer) and to consecrate them in truth (defining truth as the Word).

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

We look at the scripture passages given and seek the common theme that we can take with us. We look first at the story unfolding in the Acts of Apostles. This story finds the Apostles seeing God directing them in scripture (they quote the Psalms) to replace Judas who fell, bringing their number back to twelve. The Apostles apparently did this in a very democratic way by voting among themselves as to who would be chosen to take up the ministry. We note that this process is followed today in selecting successors to St. Peter. It is one of the few times when the Church uses this method of choosing those she calls to ministry.

We look next to Psalm 103 and are reminded that God established his Kingdom above all earthly kingdoms and principalities which are mere shadows of God’s Heavenly Home, the place where Christ the Lamb sits on the right side of the Father’s throne, looking down on all creation.

Next comes St. John, his Gospel, the anvil and his epistle, the hammer. The Great Commandment is beaten home as it is so often by the Evangelist. As deeply has he delved into the mind of Christ he kept coming back to that central theme, the reason Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world was to reveal how much God loves us. Jesus, in his life on earth pointed to so many actions and attributes that would bring us peace in this life. In the end, his example on the cross, his words of forgiveness all point to the same thing; God loves us and asks only that we love him and one another.

All of the scripture we have today finds that underlying theme. Why do the Apostles find it necessary to add one more to their number? Their principle role, given to them by Christ was to take the Good News into the world. That Good News was that God’s Heavenly Kingdom, mentioned in the Psalm, was there, real and available. Why, because God loves us and wants for us not only peace in this life but also in the next.

The Lord is praying for us in the Gospel. He is asking the Father to keep those to whom he most clearly showed his intent firm in their mission. He prays that the love of the Father, transmitted through the Son, might continue to grow in them that they might understand the depth of that love and find joy in the knowledge of it.

As we continue to celebrate the Easter of our joy, let us recall in the Eucharist we share his great love and how he invites us to remain in him and he in us.

Pax

[1] ALTRE (7th Sunday of Easter)
[2] The picture used is “The Holy Spirit” by Corrado Giaquinto, 1750s
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[4] see NAB footnote on 1 Jn 4:11ff

Ascension of the Lord

Or on the same day - Seventh Sunday of Easter
Readings for the Feast of the Ascension[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with the them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for "the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

When they had gathered together they asked him,
"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, "Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."
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Commentary on
Acts 1:1-11

This selection represents the introductory comments of St. Luke as he begins the Acts of the Apostles. Like any well written story, he connects the events that have just taken place in his first volume- The Gospel of Luke, with what will follow.

Using the interval of days, Luke links the resurrection, Christ’s glorification, and his ascension with the appearance of the Holy Spirit – the Pascal Mystery. Christ’s departure marks the end of his direct involvement with the Apostles, except for his appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus. The passage concludes with a unique description of the actual event or Jesus being taken into heaven.

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Responsorial Psalm:
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.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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.
or:
R. Alleluia.
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Commentary on
Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

We hear once more the praise of the 47th Psalm. Since we celebrate Christ’s Ascension, the refrain uses the sixth verse to announce His entry to heaven.

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Reading II:
Ephesians 1:17-23

Brothers and sisters:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation
resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might,
which he worked in Christ,
raising him from the dead
and seating him at his right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion,
and every name that is named
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things beneath his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
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Commentary on
Eph 1:17-23

The selection provided is part of St. Paul’s introductory comments to the Ephesians. His focus in this passage underlines the enlightenment flowing from the Holy Spirit. The final sentences provide an understanding of the power assumed by the Lord as he ascends to the Father.

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Or:
Ephesians 4:1-13[4]

Brothers and sisters,
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the calling
you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your calling;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ's gift.

Therefore, it says:
"He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men."

What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.

And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.
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Commentary on
Eph 4:1-13

St. Paul issues his plea for unity in this passage. He defines unity, through his analogy and example as more than just sharing a belief in Christ. Unity is exemplified by the gifts (and grace) given by Christ. The apostle uses a quote from an older form of
Psalm 68:18-19 (the psalm itself depicts Yahweh leading Israel to salvation, St. Paul sees in this image Jesus entry to the New Jerusalem) to describe how Jesus (metaphorically capturing the spirits of the faithful) brought gifts to each person. The reference “…he also descended” likely refers to Christ’s incarnation rather than to his decent following his crucifixion.

St. Paul continues his discourse enumerating the leadership gifts given to “building up the Body of Christ”, bringing the fledgling Church to maturity. In maturity, the apostle tells the Ephesians, they will resist those who teach falsely and become more unified in the love they share.

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Or:
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters,
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the calling
you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your calling;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.
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Commentary on
Eph 4:1-7, 11-13

St. Paul issues his plea for unity in this passage. The Apostle’s direct reference to ascension (and decent into the lower regions) is omitted focusing this discourse on the need for Christian unity and the recognition of the varied gifts and charisms given through the Holy Spirit.

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Gospel:
Mark 16:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
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Commentary on
Mk 16:15-20

The verse just prior to this passage, which is the ending of St. Mark’s Gospel, indicates that the disciples are still not sure what has happened (typical of the image we have of the disciples in St. Mark's Gospel) and Jesus comes to them at table, rebuking them for their unbelief. That sets the stage for this commissioning address by the Lord. Once again the Disciples, now Apostles, are sent into the world with God’s blessing.

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Reflection:

According to St. Luke’s comments in the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, we have now celebrated the first forty days of the Easter season in which the Lord made appearances to the Disciples. He reassured them and brought them to final understanding of the events that had transpired and the role they were to play going forward.

With this event, the Lord takes his leave of them, not to be seen again in the flesh and only by St. Paul explicitly. From this point forward the Apostles (we call them that from this time forward because the have moved from the role of pupil to that of teacher) are tasked with taking the Word and the Way to the people of the world without Jesus presence. Well, that’s not exactly true, is it? They are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third of the Three Persons in One God to guide and sustain them. But that is next week’s story.

For us the Feast of the Ascension has an important inference, a lesson, if you will, about our own call and role. Since we constantly look for signs that the Lord has called us to do something definite or that he has some plan for us, this event helps us understand where we are to seek that guidance.

We know that the Lord has taken his leave of this earth until he comes again. We see that, with his closest friends, he has told them that they are to take the Word and the Way to the whole world. They must have been daunted by that enormous task, but they accepted what he asked of them. With incredibly little support and not inconsiderable resistance they started doing what he asked them. They literally took it one step at a time. What the Lord’s Ascension said to them was the baton had been passed. The Lord had ended one chapter in the salvation of the world and started another. The new model is the one were we ask for guidance and the Holy Spirit delivers it. It is, in effect, our right of passage. From today we stand on our own. It is a proud day for the Lord.

Pax

[1] ALTRE (Ascension)
[2] The picture used is “The Ascension” (detail) by Tintoretto, 1579-81
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[4] If you are referencing the USCCB site for readings, vs. 8-10 were omitted.