Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading I:
2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13

An informant came to David with the report,
“The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.”
At this, David said to all his servants
who were with him in Jerusalem:
“Up! Let us take flight, or none of us will escape from Absalom.
Leave quickly, lest he hurry and overtake us,
then visit disaster upon us and put the city to the sword.”
As David went up the Mount of Olives, he wept without ceasing.
His head was covered, and he was walking barefoot.
All those who were with him also had their heads covered
and were weeping as they went.

As David was approaching Bahurim,
a man named Shimei, the son of Gera
of the same clan as Saul’s family,
was coming out of the place, cursing as he came.
He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers,
even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard,
were on David’s right and on his left.
Shimei was saying as he cursed:
“Away, away, you murderous and wicked man!
The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul,
in whose stead you became king,
and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom.
And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.”
Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king:
“Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?
Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.”
But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours,
sons of Zeruiah, that he curses?
Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David;
who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants:
“If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life,
how much more might this Benjaminite do so?
Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.
Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction
and make it up to me with benefits
for the curses he is uttering this day.”
David and his men continued on the road,
while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside,
all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.
Commentary on
2 Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13

Recall that Nathan had said that the Lord would put enmity in the House of David for the sins of murder and adultery he had committed when he took Bathsheba. Following this prediction, the child born to David and Bathsheba died in spite of David’s contrite attempt to convince God to spare it. In addition, David’s eldest son Amnon was killed by another son Absalom after he (Amnon) had raped Absalom’s sister and then further dishonored her by casting her out.

These actions ultimately led to the situation we hear about today. King David goes to the Mount of Olives, once more to beg for God’s mercy. Even though God has promised that David himself will not be killed, nothing good will come of this and he is humiliated even further as he goes on his penitential pilgrimage.
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (8a) Lord, rise up and save me.

O LORD, how many are my adversaries!
Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
R. Lord, rise up and save me.

But you, O LORD, are my shield;
my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD,
he answers me from his holy mountain.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.

When I lie down in sleep,
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people
arrayed against me on every side.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.
Commentary on
Ps 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

The third psalm is an individual lament, clearly an echo of Kind David’s sorrow as all that the Lord has given to him seems to be at risk with no sign that God will come to his aid. In spite of this apparent abandonment, the singer has faith that God will continue to defend his servant.

Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea,
to the territory of the Gerasenes.
When he got out of the boat,
at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him.
The man had been dwelling among the tombs,
and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain.
In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains,
but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed,
and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides
he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
Catching sight of Jesus from a distance,
he ran up and prostrated himself before him,
crying out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I adjure you by God, do not torment me!”
(He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
He asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.”
And he pleaded earnestly with him
not to drive them away from that territory.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.
And they pleaded with him,
“Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.”
And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea,
where they were drowned.
The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town
and throughout the countryside.
And people came out to see what had happened.
As they approached Jesus,
they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion,
sitting there clothed and in his right mind.
And they were seized with fear.
Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened
to the possessed man and to the swine.
Then they began to beg him to leave their district.
As he was getting into the boat,
the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him.
But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead,
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.
Commentary on
Mk 5:1-20

We are given St. Mark’s version of Jesus casting out the multitude of demons and sending them into the heard of swine. It is important to note that this is a pagan region so what the Lord is doing in helping the man with unclean spirits is ministering to non-Hebrews indicating the breadth of his mission. Also in this story the demon addresses him as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” a title that identifies him clearly and without equivocation.


Those of us who are not mystics (which is probably most of us these days) may have some belief issues with the story of Jesus casting out the unclean spirits described in the Gospel of St. Mark. Did Jesus really cast out these unclean spirits and cause them to go into swine? From a purely logical perspective, we see the message from the Gospel in the following way:

First, we understand, as St. Mark did, that Jesus has authority over all of God’s creation. This authority is constantly being contested by the evil one who himself was cast out of God’s presence. If we believe that God’s essence manifests itself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; can we not also believe that God’s greatest foe would not also have a spirit of evil that could find entry into the soul of humankind?

When Jesus encounters these manifestations, as he does in this fifth chapter of St. Mark, he recognizes it for what it is. The man “…had been dwelling among the tombs”; in other words living among the dead and completely out of touch with humanity. The encounter between this man and Jesus must have seemed to the pagans who inhabited this region must have seemed surreal. As we have seen time and again, evil recognizes good. The spirit of evil recognizes its foe announcing ““What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Seeing the essence of what he faced, Jesus commanded the spirit of evil to leave its human host. The evil responds “Swear by God you will not torture me!” (using the Jerusalem translation).

The next part of the exchange has its roots in ancient lore. It is presumed from ancient times that in order for one person to have authority over another person or thing they must use the proper name for that individual or item. We see this from the earliest biblical references as God gives man authority to name all of his earthly creation but withholds any name for himself. The implication is that man may not command God. In this instance Jesus asks for the name of the unclean spirit to which he receives the reply “Legion is my name. There are many of us.”

The formula is established, Jesus knows the name of the unclean spirits and that fact is recognized as the spirit pleads with Jesus not to destroy them outright. The spirits ask that they be sent into the swine that are there. To the Jewish reader, to whom Swine are considered “unclean” this would make sense – unclean spirits being sent into unclean animals, reinforcing Mosaic Law. Clearly even the lowly hogs could not stand since we are told the rushed into the sea and were drown.

We’ve spent a lot of time dissecting the incident in Gerasenes; so what is the lesson there for us? First we must come to grips with the notion that there is a spirit of evil that is ready to move into us as soon as we let our guard down. Second the only protection we have against such attacks is the one who has authority over them, Jesus. We must have him thoroughly installed so that when we encounter that spirit of evil we can recognize it instantly and it will of course recognize Jesus, Son of the Most High God, in us.

Our prayer today is that we may grow in faith and love of God to a point where we have the ability to resist evil in all its forms. We also pray for those who have succumbed to that force and ask that they find the Lord who will wash all evil away.


[2] The picture is “Christ Encounters ‘Legion’”, Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[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, January 29, 2010

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17

The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him,
Nathan said: “Judge this case for me!
In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers.
But the poor man had nothing at all
except one little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children.
She shared the little food he had
and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom.
She was like a daughter to him.
Now, the rich man received a visitor,
but he would not take from his own flocks and herds
to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb
and made a meal of it for his visitor.”
David grew very angry with that man and said to him:
“As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death!
He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold
because he has done this and has had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!
Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘The sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Thus says the LORD:
‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.
I will take your wives while you live to see it,
and will give them to your neighbor.
He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.
You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel,
and with the sun looking down.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.
But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed,
the child born to you must surely die.”
Then Nathan returned to his house.

The LORD struck the child that the wife of Uriah had borne to David,
and it became desperately ill.
David besought God for the child.
He kept a fast, retiring for the night
to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth.
The elders of his house stood beside him
urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not,
nor would he take food with them.
Commentary on
2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17

Following King David’s sins of adultery and murder the Prophet Nathan is sent to him. Nathan uses a hypothetical story of injustice to provoke David to pronounce sentence upon the wealthy land owner that had stolen and killed the lamb from the poor man. Nathan’s use of the tenderness and affection the poor man had for the lamb that was slain can be seen as analogous to the Lamb of God who likewise was taken and slain, however, in this case, for David it would be to show the love God had for Uriah and the sacred nature of the relationship between Uriah and Bathsheba. David, who is a just king, pronounces a harsh sentence immediately only to learn that the story was an analogy of his own behavior.

Because David is instantly contrite, God does not take his life. Rather the punishment meted out was first David’s public humiliation for the acts he committed (“You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’
”). In addition to the destruction of his house and reputation, the child of David and Bathsheba will also be stricken to demonstrate the injustice of the union between them.

Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

R. (12a) Create a clean heart in me, O God.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Commentary on
Ps 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

This personal lament is the alternate to Isaiah’s hymn. Psalm 51 is the fourth and most famous of the penitential psalms. The psalmist sings in these verses that only God can reverse the awful affects of sin. Through this action, taken by the Holy Spirit, God’s salvation is made manifest in the repentant and contrite heart. We are also reminded of Baptism and the purifying effect of that bath.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Commentary on
Mk 4:35-41

In this passage, Jesus embarks in what is probably a fishing boat with his disciples. A storm comes up and the disciples are afraid. Jesus with a word; “Quiet! Be still!" silences the storm and waters; demonstrating the authority of the Messiah over the elements of the created world. The implication of his next statement is that if the disciples had a mature faith, they could have done the same. The disciples are awed by his power and do not yet have faith to understand its source.


The effects of sin un-reconciled impact David in the first reading. Following the actions that led directly to the death of Uriah (the lawful husband of the woman David coveted – Bathsheba), God sends Nathan the Prophet to accuse David of the crime against God’s commandments and to inform David of his temporal punishment. While David is contrite, the effects of the sin he has committed impact everyone associated with it, including the child of that union forged with the blood of Uriah.

We of the modern age see the punishment of the innocent child of David and Bathsheba as an instance where the Old Testament authors misunderstood events. They presumed that the illness visited upon the child was the result of a Just and Vengeful God punishing the couple, most directly David, the father. They could not understand a God of mercy who would not answer sin with sin. Rather the sin that was witnessed by those who composed this account in the Second Book of Samuel needed punishment and they saw the illness of the child as appropriate given the magnitude of the sin. It is the same view of God we see Jesus encountering during his healing ministry in Galilee, those where were blind, lame, or otherwise physically afflicted (lepers) were seen as being punished by God for sins unknown.

The reality of un-reconciled sin is actually much worse. Where there is no contrition for sins committed, guilt becomes like a cancer that festers. Indeed, intense guilt will manifest itself outwardly and even physically. It can cause a person to sink into deep depression, neglecting work, family, and self. Guilt may cause other defensive responses and the personality of one so afflicted may become amoral, suppressing any understanding of sinful acts and embracing sin and completely rejecting the one who has the power to take all of that pain away.

When David had relations with Bathsheba, when he had Uriah sent to a place where he would surly be killed, when he took the dead man’s wife, God was not stepping away from David – David was stepping away from God. Likewise when we sin, who has moved? Fortunately for us, in spite of the outward sings of sin, we have an all powerful Savior who came into the world so that we could understand a loving and merciful God who would not punish a child for the sins of its parents.

Today we are given one more example of why Christ had to come into the world. He came with power over all things to become the sacrifice that makes us whole. It was Christ who became the bridge to heaven over which we must travel if we are to find our heavenly home. Today we pray that we find the strength to offer our sins to Christ and thereby mitigate the affects of sin in our lives.


[2] The picture is “David” by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1500
[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, January 28, 2010

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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:
2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign,
David sent out Joab along with his officers
and the army of Israel,
and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.
David, however, remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David rose from his siesta
and strolled about on the roof of the palace.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.
David had inquiries made about the woman and was told,
“She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam,
and wife of Joab’s armor bearer Uriah the Hittite.”
Then David sent messengers and took her.
When she came to him, he had relations with her.
She then returned to her house.
But the woman had conceived,
and sent the information to David, “I am with child.”

David therefore sent a message to Joab,
“Send me Uriah the Hittite.”
So Joab sent Uriah to David.
When he came, David questioned him about Joab, the soldiers,
and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well.
David then said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.”
Uriah left the palace,
and a portion was sent out after him from the king’s table.
But Uriah slept at the entrance of the royal palace
with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down
to his own house.
David was told that Uriah had not gone home.
On the day following, David summoned him,
and he ate and drank with David, who made him drunk.
But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his bed
among his lord’s servants, and did not go down to his home.
The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab
which he sent by Uriah.
In it he directed:
“Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce.
Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.”
So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah
to a place where he knew the defenders were strong.
When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab,
some officers of David’s army fell,
and among them Uriah the Hittite died.
Commentary on
2 Sm 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17

In this passage from the Second Book of Samuel King David falls prey to his human desires and human weakness as he allows the power of his high station to permit an act of adultery. He then compounds his sin by contributing directly to the death of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. God’s laws have been violated and there will be justice.

Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6a, 6bcd-7, 10-11

R. (see 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

I have done such evil in your sight
that you are just in your sentence,
blameless when you condemn.
True, I was born guilty,
a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
the bones you have crushed shall rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins,
and blot out all my guilt.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Commentary on
Ps 51:3-4, 5-6a, 6bcd-7, 10-11

Psalm 51 is a communal lament, perhaps the most penitential of the psalms. These strophes constitute a song of contrition as the sins of the signer are acknowledged. We note the results of un-atoned or un-reconciled sin is the anguish of guilt which the singer begs to be lifted.

Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds:
“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. The mystery of the seed is analogous to Jesus’ own ministry which starts as a seed but grows to encompass the world. The parable takes that image to its completion the reference to grain being the completion of the evangelical mission followed by the harvest of the Parousia.
The second parable, the parable of the Mustard Seed, echo’s the vision of the Kingdom of God described in Ezekiel (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..


There are two related concepts presented in sacred scripture today. First we have the story from the Second Book of Samuel about King David’s fall into sin with Bathsheba. His example, while serving as a warning, also has some comfort for us. It demonstrates clearly that even the mightiest anointed one of God might be tempted to sin and fall from grace. The side not is one that most of us are also familiar with, that is that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. David fell into the sin of adultery because it was within his power to take whatever he desired and he was not strong enough to resist the call of the flesh. Further demonstrating human weakness and the corrupting influence of power, David kills Bathsheba’s husband indirectly by placing him in harms way. He essentially orders the death of Uriah.

The story of David and Bathsheba is compellingly human and serves as a warning to all persons who ascent to positions in which they have power over others be that in politics, business, the military, or even the Church. The temptation to abuse power and misuse trust is one of the greatest evils of our human condition. The dangers of greed, lust, and pride should be identified with giant letters whenever a person is promoted to a position of power or authority. And the greater the power the more temptation to these sins we ill grow.

We go so far as to suggest that in addition to swearing allegiance to the US Constitution (or any other country’s form of government) any person who accepts the public trust must be publicly warned of the danger of this kind of corruption. People who lack principles routinely fall into scandal as a consequence. Some so identified are contrite others demonstrate by their behavior that contrition is not part of their character.

On the heels of this story of power greed and corruption comes the Gospel which reminds us that what we risk when we fall into the trap of sin is nothing less than the Kingdom of God and eternal life. What we also recognize from the Gospel is that the more gifted the person is the higher the bar is set, the greater the Lord’s expectations (e.g. the parable of the talents). As members of the most affluent societies on earth, this should be a grave warning for us indeed. We are called to a higher standard of behavior, a greater love of neighbor and God, a more charitable life-style.

The Lord calls us not to be comfortable with our wealth and power but to see it as both a responsibility and as a risk. Instead of seeing those with great wealth through the eyes of envy we should look at them with pity for their accountability will be great and the risk they face is immense. Today we pray for those of great wealth or power, may they be stronger than King David and listen to the Holy Spirit as their guide.


[2] The picture used today is “Bathsheba Goes to King David” by Cecchino del Salviati, 1552-54
[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, January 27, 2010

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas,
Priest and Doctor of the Church
(Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time)

Alternate Proper for the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
2 Sm 7:18-19, 24-29

After Nathan had spoken to King David,
the king went in and sat before the LORD and said,
“Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house,
that you have brought me to this point?
Yet even this you see as too little, Lord GOD;
you have also spoken of the house of your servant
for a long time to come:
this too you have shown to man, Lord GOD!
“You have established for yourself your people Israel as yours forever,
and you, LORD, have become their God.
And now, LORD God, confirm for all time the prophecy you have made
concerning your servant and his house,
and do as you have promised.
Your name will be forever great, when men say,
‘The LORD of hosts is God of Israel,’
and the house of your servant David stands firm before you.
It is you, LORD of hosts, God of Israel,
who said in a revelation to your servant,
‘I will build a house for you.’
Therefore your servant now finds the courage to make this prayer to you.
And now, Lord GOD, you are God and your words are truth;
you have made this generous promise to your servant.
Do, then, bless the house of your servant
that it may be before you forever;
for you, Lord GOD, have promised,
and by your blessing the house of your servant
shall be blessed forever.”
Commentary on
2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29

Nathan’s oracle has been communicated to David, that the Lord has established the Davidic dynasty. In this passage from 2 Samuel, David now goes to the tent where the Ark of the Covenant is kept (“King David went in and sat before the Lord”) and prays that all God has promised will be fulfilled. The prayer is in the form of a response to a covenant proposed; if you do this… I will do that….

Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 132:1-2, 3-5, 11, 12, 13-14

R. (Lk 1:32b) The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

LORD, remember David
and all his anxious care;
How he swore an oath to the LORD,
vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob.
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

“I will not enter the house where I live,
nor lie on the couch where I sleep;
I will give my eyes no sleep,
my eyelids no rest,
Till I find a home for the LORD,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

The LORD swore an oath to David
a firm promise from which he will not withdraw:
“Your own offspring
I will set upon your throne.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

“If your sons keep my covenant,
and the decrees which I shall teach them,
Their sons, too, forever
shall sit upon your throne.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he prefers her for his dwelling:
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her I will dwell, for I prefer her.”
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
Commentary on
Ps 132:1-2, 3-5, 11, 12, 13-14

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

Mark 4:21-25

Jesus said to his 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 the final verse tells us he understands that one of their number will fall “…from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."


There have been few “lamps set on a lampstand” that burned brighter than the Saint whose feast we celebrate today. St. Thomas Aquinas was truly one who shaped the Church’s understanding of God’s revelation through Christ Jesus. Not only did the great saint hear and listen attentively to the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed that truth eloquently and with passion.

The Lord, in the Gospel proclaimed today, tells the disciples that the great truth of revelation may not be buried or hidden that it is meant to be given freely to the whole world. It is for this very reason that those simple men and women that comprised the Lord’s close circle of friends (and family, we cannot forget Mother Mary to whom these words were also addressed) took the Word of God to all they met; even though in most cases this action cost them their lives.

Today that instruction is passed on to us once more. Like St. Thomas Aquinas and like the disciples we are called to take the word of God into the world. We ask this rhetorical question of you – if you were able to put a message on a huge sign along a busy stretch of road where others could see it, what would you write? What short message would you use to convey your faith, hope, and love to others who passed by?

We pray today for ourselves that we can be more like St. Thomas Aquinas who was a beacon of truth. We ask for his intercession that the gifts of wisdom and understanding given so lavishly to him might in some small part be given to us as well, for God’s greater glory. We ask also that the love of Christ, poured out from those many faithful will illuminate the world with his love and peace.


[2] The picture is “Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas” by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1471
[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, January 26, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Saint Angela Merici, Virgin

Alternate Proper for the Memorial of St. Angela Merici

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
2 Samuel 7:4-17

That night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?
I have not dwelt in a house
from the day on which I led the children of Israel
out of Egypt to the present,
but I have been going about in a tent under cloth.
In all my wanderings everywhere among the children of Israel,
did I ever utter a word to any one of the judges
whom I charged to tend my people Israel, to ask:
Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’

“Now then, speak thus to my servant David,
‘The LORD of hosts has this to say:
It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his Kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
And if he does wrong,
I will correct him with the rod of men
and with human chastisements;
but I will not withdraw my favor from him
as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul,
whom I removed from my presence.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.’”

Nathan reported all these words and this entire vision to David.
Commentary on
2 Sm 7:4-17

Following King David’s final battles when all was at peace, David consulted Nathan, “the prophet”. It is clear that the King wishes to build a permanent structure to house the Ark of the Covenant. Nathan’s first answer is; do what you wish, but our reading today tells the story of his vision that evening.

In addition to providing reassurance to David this vision is given again in poetic form in Psalm 89 cited below. It is the basis for the Jewish expectation of the Messiah, a son of David. The prophecy was fulfilled in a transcendent way by Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 89:4-5, 27-28, 29-30

R. (29a) For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
I will make your dynasty stand forever
and establish your throne through all ages.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

He shall cry to me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock that brings me victory!’
I myself make him firstborn,
Most High over the kings of the earth.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

“Forever I will maintain my love for him;
my covenant with him stands firm.
I will establish his dynasty forever,
his throne as the days of the heavens.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
Commentary on
Ps 89:4-5, 27-28, 29-30

Psalm 89 is a communal lament sung after the defeat of the Davidic King. Because it calls into question God’s promise made in the strophes cited here where in God promised David’s throne to stand forever, the community asks God to remember his promise.

Gospel: 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.


“…to those outside everything comes in parables,”

When Jesus says these words to the Disciples, he does so just before he has one of those wonderful teaching sessions with them. We envision them sitting around an open fire later that evening when the crowds have faded away and they finally have time to be alone. St. Mark’s portrait of the Disciples makes them very human for us. They don’t instantly grasp everything the Lord tells them and in this way we, who are also very human, get the benefit of the Lord’s more intimate contact with them.

What catches our eye today is the statement with which this reflection began; “…to those outside everything comes in parables”. Who are those “outside” and what is meant by the statement “everything comes in parables”?

There is the quote in the Gospel immediately following this phrase that gives us an idea of who the Lord is speaking of when he says “those outside”: “…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
.” The selection is in italic because the Lord is quoting part of the Old Testament. Here are the words of Isaiah “And he replied: Go and say to this people: Listen carefully, but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall know nothing!” (
Isaiah 6:9ff) If we take the time to look at this particular passage we note that just before it is the verse remembered in song: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’"

We must gather from the context of what Jesus is saying that those on the “outside” are those who will not or cannot listen to the promise, to the offer of salvation. As difficult as it is for us to understand, there are those who cannot understand that God’s love is so intense that he gave us His Only Son so that we might be saved. Instead, as they look at the proofs of that very promise, all they see is the surface, as a person looking at a lake on a sunny day. They see but a reflection of the sky above and perhaps a piece of the shore with its trees and rocks. They cannot see into the depths and to the wonders of God’s creation that lay beneath the surface.

When we encounter people like these, on the “outside”, we frequently think of them as having heard and rejected the invitation. We generally think they do not want to embrace the Son of God because they would have to turn from the lives they lead and follow a more difficult and disciplined path. We must revise our thoughts, mustn’t we? They do not understand, or cannot understand the meaning of what they see; “everything comes in parables.”

Today we thank God that he has provided us with a faith that allows us to see the promise and understand. Today we feel, as the Disciples did, sitting by the fire with the Lord, that there is an immense job for us to do, reaching out to the world so that they might finally see, understand, and find salvation in Christ.


[2] The picture is “The Word of God Came to Nathan” by Charles Joseph Staniland, 1838-1916
[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, January 25, 2010

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Alternate Proper for the Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus*

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

Readings and Commentary:


First Option
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.


Second Option
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
Titus 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.).

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 ch. 40-55, as does Psalm 98. Another version of the psalm is 1 Chronicles 16:23-33.”[ii]

Mark 3:31-35

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.
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

The first part of this reading from St. Mark’s Gospel is somewhat controversial in that many of the Protestant and Evangelical apologists take the term “and his brothers” to mean his familial or biological brothers. The Church teaches that Mary bore only one child – Jesus. Responding to this scripture, Catholic scripture scholars teach that “…in Semitic usage, the terms "brother," "sister" are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters; cf
Genesis 14:16; 29:15; Leviticus 10:4.”The Lord, in hearing of the arrival of his mother and relatives uses the announcement as a teaching moment telling those gathered that “…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


If Jesus waked the earth for the first time today instead of two thousand yeas ago, his story would have been instantly known around the world. Can you imagine? A man walks out of the desert in Israel and feeds five thousand people with a few fish and some bread – it would have been tweeted around the globe in minutes. His sermon on the mount would have been broadcast globally and his words debated endlessly on CNN.

It is difficult for us to imagine an era when such amazing things could have been lost because they happened in obscure region of the world. News, even news of such magnitude was passed by word of mouth. Insulated small communities like the Hebrew community around Jerusalem could have and almost did suppress God’s message completely.

The Lord used a slower but more flexible medium to spread the word. He used people. He called them, first the Apostles and St. Paul. They in turn found others whose faith allowed them to hear and understand the truth of the Gospel. Sts. Timothy and Titus were of this generation. They received the Gospel of Christ from St. Paul who charged them to take it where it had not been before; being faithful to what he had been given and fearlessly take it into the world.

Saints like Timothy and Titus are important not just for what they did in bringing the world of God into the world, but also for their example to us. Imagine how difficult it was for them to bring Christ to those who had never hear of him. We are asked to do the same, although it’s not likely that we will find anyone who has never heard of the Lord.

Today we ask for the intercession of Sts. Titus and Timothy. We ask that they send us their prayers and strengthen us for our evangelical journey. May we proclaim the Lord with all we say and do.


* Note: The Gospel for this day is taken from Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time.
[i] 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.
[ii] See NAB footnote on Psalm 96

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Conversion of Saint Paul

Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Additional Information about the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul[1]

Readings for the Conversion of Saint Paul[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading I:
Acts 22:3-16

Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.
“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’”
Commentary on
Acts 22:3-16

This is the second account given in Acts of Paul’s conversion experience. In this account Paul himself recalls his role in the Hebrew Temple as an enforcer. The reason related for his trip to Damascus was the persecution of Christians whom he was to return to Jerusalem in Chains. By this miraculous event, Saul who is renamed to Paul, becomes a witness to the resurrected Christ and an Apostle.

Second Option
Acts 9:1-22

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, AAnanias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
“Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?”
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.
Commentary on
Acts 9:1-22

This selection is the first the three accounts of Paul’s conversion. In this passage we are given more details about the events leading up to Saul’s actual experience adding the mind set of Ananias and his fear of approaching Saul because of is reputation. We are also given a little Hebrew numerology as we hear that Saul neither ate nor drank for three days, the same period Jesus was in the Tomb, prior to his conversion.

Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 117:1bc, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Commentary on
Ps 117:1bc, 2

“This shortest of hymns calls on the nations to acknowledge God's supremacy. The supremacy of Israel's God has been demonstrated to them by the people's secure existence, which is owed entirely to God's gracious fidelity.”

Mark 16:15-18

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“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.”
Commentary on
Mk 16:15-18

In this passage we are given St. Mark’s version of Jesus’ final commissioning of the Apostles. This Gospel account is the final recorded meeting between Jesus and the Apostles. Given to us as it is, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, it is important because it supports the mission Paul is given in his time of conversion; “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission was shared by Paul.


The Church finds the conversion of St. Paul to be so central to its purpose it has dedicated a Feast in its honor. On this Feast we ask ourselves a question’ why are we celebrating this event and what relevance does it have for me?

Yes, it was a spectacular intervention by Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the life of the Church. Saul, who is Paul, was given the task of taking the faith in Jesus, the “Way” as it was called by the early Christians, to the Gentiles. Without his acceptance of that mission we know the name of Christ would have taken much longer to reach the known world.

It does show us once more the mystery of God’s plan. The Lord could have taken any of his existing converts and assigned that task to them. Instead he picks not just a member of the Pharisaic Community, but one of the most zealous, prone to violence against the early converts. In addition to his stated purpose for the mission to Damascus of bringing those who had come to believe in Christ (people he called heretics and blasphemers) back in chains to face the Sanhedrin, Paul is thought to be the same Saul that authorized the stoning of our first martyr, the Deacon, St. Stephen (
Acts 7:58—8:1). No, the Lord did not pick and easy target, he chose a passionate person who was misguided.

Jesus looked into Saul’s heart and saw there the overwhelming desire to do God’s will. Paul admits in the account from Acts that he was trained in Mosaic Law (“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law”). All the Lord needed to do to gain an effective servant was to give Saul that last piece of understanding, that the very person Saul was persecuting was the Son of the God he served.

We have answered the first part of our question; why do we celebrate this conversion event? But what is its relevance for us? We see in Saul, to some degree, ourselves. Part of us is always fighting the Lord. It is easier not to love one another, to allow our natural selves be guided by the evil one on a course that leads to our destruction. We see in the converted St. Paul what we wish to become.

We see in St. Paul, through his conversion, how our internal conflict should be resolved. We see in the Apostle’s example of zealous love for the Lord, the way we want to be. We have answered the question. St. Paul’s conversion should be echoed by our own ongoing conversion. Even though we might say “But I do not need conversion, I am already a Christian.” We recall that St. Paul was already in love with the Father as well. Just as he needed to come to a complete understanding of what God was calling him to be, we must daily look deeper into our own call to holiness. Our prayer today is that our eyes might be as completely opened as were St. Paul’s and that we too might become the “Way “for others to follow.


[1] The picture is “The Conversion of St. Paul” by Juan Antonio Frias y Escalante, c.1667
[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 Ps 117

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

Readings and Commentary:

Reading I:
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
“Amen, amen!”
Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”—
for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
Commentary on
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

We delve into the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah and since this is a book we do not hear much from perhaps a little explanation is useful, especially since today Nehemiah’s reading deals with Ezra, who’s Book precedes Nehemiah in the current canon of the Bible.

Both prophets were active at the time of the Restoration. That is the time following the Babylonian exile during which the Jewish people were returned to their historical geography and the nation of Israel was reestablished.

In the reading today, we hear Ezra, who of the two was more responsible for reintroducing the Law as the constitution of the reformed state, proclaiming the Law. Now comes Nehemiah, the Administrator telling the people who were overcome with emotion at hearing God’s word once more, explaining that it is a time for rejoicing because they are once more united under God’s Law.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15

R. (John 6:63c) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Commentary on
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15

Psalm 19 is a hymn of praise. In this passage we give praise to God’s gift of the Law which guides us in our daily lives. The hymn also extols the virtue of obedience and steadfastness to the Law and its precepts. It captures the joy of the people we hear in the reading from Nehemiah.

Reading II
First Option:
1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Brothers and sisters:
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.

Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “

it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the church
to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Commentary on
1 Cor 12:12-30

In this selection we are given the great Pauline analogy of the Body as Church. He goes first into detail enumerating the parts of the body and distinguishing their functions. He then proposes that the body needs the diversity of parts and could not function effectively without all of them.

St. Paul then goes through the same process with functions within the Church, again enumerating the functions; “first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.” His message is clear, the Church needs all of these functions and even though some get more attention, all are prized.

Shorter Form
1 Cor 12:12-14, 27

Brothers and sisters:
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.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.
Commentary on
1 Cor 12:12-14, 27

This passage is a short summary of St. Paul’s teaching on unity of purpose of the members in the Church. He points out that in baptism we are all adopted into the same family becoming the Body of Christ. While each has a separate purpose and ability, all are one in Christ.

Gospel :
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events
that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided,
after investigating everything accurately anew,
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you,
most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Commentary on
Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

The Gospel selection today is actually two different passages from Luke’s Gospel. In this passage we start with the introduction to Luke’s Gospel as he writes of his purpose to Theophilus.

We then pick up the story of Jesus following his baptism and temptation in the desert. These will be dealt with in more detail during the Lenten Season. Luke’s Gospel refers in a summary way to Jesus early ministry in Galilee (The works we have been hearing about in Mark’s Gospel during the week.)

Jesus comes to the Synagogue and reads from Isaiah (
Isaiah 61;1-3). The passage refers to the coming of the Messiah and the mission of the Son of God to the poor and marginalized. He then tells those listening; "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." The Gospel tells us that Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the coming Messiah.


Have you ever considered for a moment how utterly alone those who do not believe in God must feel. Yes, while they are young and vital they can ignore the huge gulf of emptiness that surrounds their spirits. They are empty because they do not perceive what is there. Like a person who is color blind, they cannot feel the loving presence that is God who wants only there happiness and love. It is when they see the lonely path they have traveled coming to an end that most call out in despair for a face or a hand they have rejected.

While some of these atheistic people are in that situation because they have never been told that God exists (if you want a test some time, try evangelizing a young person from mainland China where atheism is the norm), others have found faith elusive and as a result have rejected God, sometimes in a benign way and sometimes violently.

Our Father has tried through the years to reach out to these self-excommunicated individuals in various ways. He invites all people to look at and marvel at his creation in all its richness and diversity. He has inspired some of those who were able to perceive his will over the ages to codify and record what God has revealed to them. This written record of God’s presence and intent has become for us a principle means by which we come to know God and his will for us.

The prophet Nehemiah was one of these special persons whom God selected to call his children to faith and happiness. Part of his story was presented as the first scripture passage and in it we find him calling all who can understand to feel the love God has for them and the love God asks in return.

St. Paul, the great evangelist and another one chosen by God to reveal his will to us, recognizes the unifying effect that the love of God in Christ must have on those who understand that God is alive and active with his people. He sees the marvelous diversity of the gifts God bestowed on his people and sees how those gifts may cooperate forming the living body of Christ on earth.

And finely, in St. Luke’s Gospel, revelation is presented in a way that pulls all of God’s historical revelatory efforts to its climax as Christ announces that He has come to fulfill what the sacred authors have long predicted, that God would come among them and show himself to them in a real way.

We marvel at God’s love for us, that he would so persistently work for our salvation and happiness. He asks that we, who have been graced with understanding and wisdom do not hide that understanding, keeping it as a persona treasure, but rather share it with those who have not yet been able to accept the love of God or the reality of his gift to us.


[2] The picture is “Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue” by James Tissot, 1886-96
[3] [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.