Saturday, October 31, 2015

Solemnity of All Saints

“Madonna and Child with Saints” 
by Andrea Del Castagno, c. 1445
Commentary on Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
St. John’s vision of the heavenly kingdom unfolds in this passage with an image of those who have gone from this life to the next and now stand before the throne of God.  “A seal is a mark of ownership and protection.  Here the seal of God is related to the seals of the scroll, giving protection to the believing remnant of Israel, who will pass through the tribulation.  This may refer to a grace of spiritual perseverance rather than a guarantee of physical survival.  In the broader context of Revelation, there is a contrast between the seal of God stamped on the foreheads of the righteous and the mark of the beast inscribed on the brows of the wicked (Revelation 13:16).  The former bears the divine name of God (Revelation 14:1; 22:4) while the latter bears the demonic name of the beast (CCC 1296). […] The entire scene parallels Ezekiel 9:1-7 where the messenger seals the foreheads of the righteous in Israel to protect them from the wrath of God poured out on Jerusalem. The seal was shaped like the Hebrew letter taw, which in ancient script looked like a cross (x or +).”[4]
Hebrew numerology provides the number- one hundred and forty four thousand (from each of the tribes of Israel) representing a huge number (1,000 times 12 times 12), possibly a number of completeness, and follows that with uncounted Saints from the Gentiles beginning with the martyrs (those who have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb).” The blood of the Lamb, who has been offered in sacrifice for all, has exercised its universal and most effective redemptive power in every corner of the earth, extending grace and salvation to that 'great multitude'. After undergoing the trials and being purified in the blood of Christ, they -- the redeemed -- are now safe in the Kingdom of God, whom they praise and bless for ever and ever" (Saint John Paul II, "Homily", 1 November 1981).
CCC: Rv 7:2-3 1296; Rv 7:9 775, 1138
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Commentary on Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Psalm 24 is a processional song. It recalls that God is the great creator and he calls his people to be faithful. It asks the question who can come into his presence and answers only those who are sinless (completely reconciled to God). They who achieve that beatified state will receive the reward of eternal life from the savior. It focuses on the character of the one who worthily seeks God and the one who is worthy to come into God’s kingdom and stand before him. We are answered; “He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”
This is part of a hymn of entrance, sung as the Arc of the Covenant was brought into the Temple followed by the faithful. Once again in this song we find a reference borrowed by St. John’s Revelation (Revelations 14:5) and an image created in Hebrews 10:22 . Who are the ones allowed full access to God?
CCC: Ps 24:6 2582
Reading 2: 1 John 3:1-3
Commentary on 1 Jn 3:1-3
“The greatest sign of God's love is the gift of his Son (John 3:16) that has made Christians true children of God. This relationship is a present reality and also part of the life to come; true knowledge of God will ultimately be gained, and Christians prepare themselves now by virtuous lives in imitation of the Son.”[5] the world” is the biblical term consistently used in reference to the non-Christian populations of that era.  In modern terminology it would refer to secular society.
CCC: 1 Jn 3 2822; 1 Jn 3:1 1692; 1 Jn 3:2 163, 1023, 1161, 1720, 2519, 2772
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a
Commentary on Mt 5:1-12a
This section of the Sermon on the Mount begins the first of five great discourses in St. Matthew’s Gospel.  He begins using a formula common in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:13; Sirach 25:8-9) with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  This designation identifies those without material resources, completely dependent upon God. (This distinction is for the devout poor).  The discourse continues blessing they who mourn, who are meek, who “hunger” for righteousness (-to adopt the Lord’s law of love in their hearts), the merciful, the clean of heart (-those who are reconciled to God), the peacemakers, the persecuted, and finally those who will be reviled because they profess faith in Christ.
The litany of praises for those to be blessed by the Lord has an overarching theme. It holds up the spiritual strength of complete dependence on God for life, health, and prosperity. St. Matthew captures the strength in that dependence and God’s promise of salvation through the words of the Savior.
It is noteworthy that the word “Blessed” [μακάριοι (makάrios) in Greek and Beati in Latin] is translated “Happy” in many Old Testament texts.  The idea of happiness or peace as a blessing from God is an important understanding about the intent of this discourse.
CCC: Mt 5:1 581; Mt 5:3-12 1716; Mt 5:3 544, 2546; Mt 5-7 2763; Mt 5-6 764; Mt 5:8 1720, 2518; Mt 5:9 2305, 2330; Mt 5:11-12 520
On this the Solemnity of All Saints we celebrate those who have listened to God’s word, heard his call, and faithfully followed him. We differentiate the Saints, known and unknown from those who we remember tomorrow on the Feast of All Souls because we do not know all those whom God has admitted to his heavenly court. Some of those whose lives we celebrate are in the list of Saints, the exact number is not easy to find but it is thought to be over 8,000 (Saints and Blessed according to the Saints.SPQN.Com) but a recent article from Catholic Exchange challenges that number. While one might think this is a huge number, consider that this list started two thousand years ago. If there are, as supposed over 8:000, that’s really only about four a year; roughly lottery statistics.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says the following:
By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. "The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history." Indeed, "holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal." (CCC 828)
The important fact about this celebration is that we remember all of the men and women who have demonstrated heroic virtue for the cause of the Holy Church. Their examples of faith and fidelity span almost every conceivable circumstance, era, and life-style. There is, within the ranks of those at the foot of the Throne of God, a Saint with whom every person on earth may identify and say – “That one is almost like me.” And that is the idea behind All Saints. To recall the various paths offered by God to the holy men and women who so faithfully served him on earth. We are given this day to reflect on our own lives and what they may yet become in the service of the Lord.
There is a reason that St. Matthew’s recollection of the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is given to us on this Feast Day. The Lord invites all of us to participate in being called “blessed”. He calls and has called all peoples of all nations of ranks from the loftiest halls of power to the lowliest beggar in the street to follow him and serve his great plan.
Today we think about all those wondrous men and women who have gone before us in faith and provided Holy Mother Church with the great and small Saints who have done the Lord’s will throughout the ages. We give them thanks for their examples, praise for their faithfulness, and ask for their prayers that we too might come into that heavenly presence and join them in their hymns of praise.

In other years on this date: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

[2] The picture is “Madonna and Child with Saints” by Andrea Del Castagno, c. 1445
[4] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 501
[5] See NAB footnote on 1 Jn 3:1-3

Friday, October 30, 2015

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
On Saturdays in Ordinary Time when there is no obligatory memorial, an optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary is allowed. [1] Mass texts may be taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from a Votive Mass, or from the special collection of Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Madonna of Humility” 
by Domenico Di Bartolo, 1433
St. Paul asks his Jewish audience if God has rejected them. The answer “Of course not!” identifies the Evangelist as an Israelite and begins his ironic description of how God used the rejection of the Messiah as a reason to invite the Gentiles to participate in his salvation. He goes on, in the passages omitted, to indicate that the Israel remains holy in the eyes of God but the majority that has rejected the Lord paved the way for God’s plan to invite the world into that favored status.
The text he quotes is Isaiah 59:20-21 joined with Isaiah 27:9 providing a positive offering to the Jews whom he had previously condemned (v.8ff) for rejecting the Lord. The concluding verse makes it clear that even though the Jewish people who rejected the Gospel of Christ are “enemies on your account”. There election as the chosen people is irrevocable – the offer of salvation is not withdrawn.
CCC: Rom 11:12 674; Rom 11:13-26 755; Rom 11:25 591, 674; Rom 11:26 674; Rom 11:28 60; Rom 11:29 839
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 94:12-13a, 14-15, 17-18
R. (14a) The Lord will not abandon his people.
Psalm 94 is an individual lament. The strophes used today reflect the faith and confidence in God who will continue to support (linking to St. Paul above) them in the face of their enemies.
Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-11
Commentary on Lk 14:1, 7-11
This parable, found only in the Gospel of St. Luke, gives us Jesus teaching the need for humility. The Lord’s indirect criticism of those who seek the attention of the rich and ignore the poor sets the stage for the next passage and the parable of the great banquet. Jesus is giving some wisdom of his own. He first speaks of the charism of humility using the example of a feast (just like the one to which he was invited) saying that one should assume the lowly station and be invited up, rather than assuming the higher station and being dismissed.
CCC: Lk 14:1 575, 588
The Gospel parable from St. Luke requires that we examine humility; our own virtue with regards to pride and our desire to assimilate into the secular culture. True humility can only come if a person has faith in God! It will flow from the knowledge that God is omniscient, and always present in his triune nature, creator of all that is. How can personal pride stand when we know that, not only did God create us; give us life in the flesh, but also gave up his only Son so that we could enjoy eternal life? Can a person who recognizes that they owe everything that they have and are to God be prideful, self-indulged, or self-adsorbed?
Going even further, once we understanding that the Savior of mankind walks with us daily; that through the Holy Spirit he is with us constantly, how can we take pride in what we do? If that activity serves God’s purpose, is it not God who should be parised? It is his strength and wisdom poured out for us that allows us to do what we do. And even further still, if we also know that God not only created and gave us life, but also created and gave life to all living creatures, how could we disrespect the dignity of another person or casually destroy God’s creation?
True and virtuous humility comes from faith in God. That same faith demands that we also respect ourselves; the very personal gift God gave us. How can we think that we are anything but beautiful in the eyes of God? We are his favorite creation and he loves us more than anyone can imagine. Who are we to think poorly of ourselves? In humility we must prize what we are, as God created us.
As the Lord tells the Pharisees in the Gospel, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” In all humility we must respect others, not because they demand respect, but because they too are loved by God. It is the great paradox of faith that in humility we are glorified. Today we pray that our faith in the Father, His Only Son, and the Holy Spirit, inspire us with awe and wonder imparting to us true humility and grace.

[3] The picture is “Madonna of Humility” by Domenico Di Bartolo, 1433

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

”Christ at Simon the Pharisee” by Pieter Pauwel Rubens, 1618-20


Reading 1: Romans 9:1-5

Commentary on Rom 9:1-5

“The apostle speaks in strong terms of the depth of his grief over the unbelief of his own people. He would willingly undergo a curse himself for the sake of their coming to the knowledge of Christ (Romans 9:3; cf Leviticus 27:28-29). His love for them derives from God's continuing choice of them and from the spiritual benefits that God bestows on them and through them on all of humanity.” [4]
CCC: Rom 9:4-5 839; Rom 9:5 449
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20

R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Commentary on Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise. In these strophes the singer celebrates God’s gifts to his people; the gift of faith to the patriarch Jacob and the gift of his presence in the holy city Jerusalem. These strophes are from the third section (each section offering praise for a different gift from God to his special people). This section focuses of the gift of the Promised Land with Jerusalem as it’s spiritual center. We see the call to praise Jerusalem, the Holy city because in it was revealed the Word of God and a call to holiness. The Lord is praised for sending food that sustains the people. The final strophe also rejoices that the Law was handed on to them through Jacob.

Gospel: Luke 14:1-6

Commentary on Lk 14:1-6
The miracle of the cure of the man with dropsy (a condition in which there is severe swelling caused by the retention of water) is unique to St. Luke’s Gospel. The issue he addresses at the banquet, however, is also taken up in a different context in Mark 3:1-6 and Matthew 12:9-14. The point (logion) expounded upon here is that fanatical observance of Mosaic Law is not serving God. Rather, the spirit of God’s law is love and compassion which he demonstrates by curing the man.
There is also a pun used in the language Jesus uses. When he says “if your son or ox falls into a well”, the words in Aramaic are be’îrā (“ox”) and berā (“son”) followed by bērā (“well”) giving us insight into Jesus sense of humor.
CCC: Lk 14:1 575, 588; Lk 14:3-4 582

Sacred scripture gives us a look at the complexity of issues associated with the coming of the Messiah to the Jewish people. St. Paul becomes emotional over the problem his people have with this issue in his letter to the Romans. He is almost crying out to God to make them understand that Jesus came to fulfill all that had been promised by the historical relationship with God. He cites the gifts given by God (fulfilled in Jesus); “…the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” Yet even though they had been prepared as the chosen people, they could not recognize the Christ when he came in the person of Jesus, and St. Paul greaves for them – for their loss.

We follow St. Paul’s diagnosis of the Jewish problem with a typical example of that same issue. Jesus, in the story from St. Luke’s Gospel, goes to the house of a well-known Pharisee. A test or trap for the Lord has clearly been set up (…the people there were observing him carefully). They have invited a man with dropsy, a chronic and painful condition and seated him directly across from the Lord. Jesus understands their motives at which we can only speculate. They may have simply been curious (most likely, since he concluded his conversation with them with a pun) or it may indeed have been a more sinister motive, to see if he would violate the laws of the Sabbath and perform “work” on the day of rest.

Regardless of their motive, Jesus cures the man. His statement following the cure, in spite of the play on words, is instructive. His use of the statement “…if your son or ox falls into a cistern” would seem to imply both his love for the many he cured (son) and his feeling of responsibility for his wellbeing (ox). The larger lesson is the fundamental example Jesus always provides - love one another.

The situation remains complex for the Jewish people. Even with his physical presence, faced with the fact that Jesus fulfills the covenants of God, the Law of Moses and the oracular predictions of the Prophets, they cannot come to believe he is the Christ. While this seems, on the surface, to be less of an issue for us, as modern day disciples, it is also complex but in a different way. We have the benefit of scripture and the two thousand years of historical faithfulness passed down to us through the Church. Yet, we live in a world that is constantly trying to “spin” the Jesus story in a different way.

We pray today for the faith and courage to see the absolute love Jesus has for all peoples, whether they believe in him or not. We have faith that, the Holy Spirit which he left us as guide and advocate, will provide us with the help we need in our days labors and activities. And above all, we seek the peace that comes from knowing that Jesus loves us and offers himself to us this and every day in his body and blood.


[2] The picture is ” Christ at Simon the Pharisee” by Pieter Pauwel Rubens, 1618-20
[4] See NAB footnote on Romans 9:1-5

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

“No. 26 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 
10. Entry into 
by Bondone di Giotto, 1304-06
Reading 1: Romans 8:31b-39
Commentary on Rom 8:31b-39
St. Paul bursts into a hymn proclaiming the victory over death and suffering experienced by the faithful, lifted up by God in Christ. The premise that the love of God assures salvation to the faithful is strengthened as the evangelist asks the rhetorical question “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” Over all obstacles (human, physical, and metaphysical – “height and depth” probably referred to ancient astrological terms indicating the closest proximity and the most distant star from the zenith.) were the love of God expressed in Christ is the unshakable foundation Christian life and hope.
The Apostle quotes Psalm 44:23 as his song denies that even death is a barrier between the faithful and God’s love. No earthly or spiritual force can stand against such love as that shown in Christ Jesus.
CCC: Rom 8:26-39 2739; Rom 8:31 2852; Rom 8:32 603, 706, 2572; Rom 8:34 1373, 2634
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 109:21-22, 26-27, 30-31
R. (26b) Save me, O Lord, in your mercy.
Psalm 109 is an individual lament.  The strophes presented ask for the Lord’s mercy (the earlier part of this psalm speaks out vehemently against the enemies of the faithful with a series of curses).  The singer has faith that God will lead him to salvation and offers praise to God for his justice.
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
Commentary on Lk 13:31-35
In this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel we hear Jesus responding to Pharisees who are warning of a plot by Herod. Their motives are not made clear but we see Jesus using the opportunity to reinforce his role as fulfilling the Law and the Prophets- declaring in essence that he is the Messiah. There is a subtle message carried in St. Luke’s use of the number three and one half as well. This number (half of the perfect number “7”) symbolizes a time of dark persecution that will end with God’s glorification (see Daniel 7:25, 8:14, 12:12, and Luke 4:25).
The poem at the end, ending in a quote from Psalm 118:26, is found in St. Matthew’s Gospel linked with the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 23: 37-39). Placed here (and actually paraphrased again after Palm Sunday) it takes on a prophetic tone, an image of the passion to come.
CCC: Lk 13:31 575; Lk 13:33 557; Lk 13:35 585
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”  These words from St. Paul might cause the naïve person to think that simply by adopting faith in Jesus that everyone will love you; all opposition to your pursuits would be scattered because the Lord God has adopted us as his children.  It is a good thing then that we are also given St. Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus tells those who are trying to warn him about a plot on the part of the Herodians that he recognizes that he must be killed as part of his mission.
What is St. Paul saying then?  Clearly God is for us.  He sent his Son so that we might see his face clearly – in human form.  He offered his beloved Son as sacrifice for us so that we could be freed from sin and death.  Yet many stand against us, many hate us for what we believe and practice.  This will become increasingly evident as it does each time around the holiday season when those who deny God want no part of images that remind them that we lift him up in celebration.
St. Paul is not being naïve; rather he looks to that part of our being that is indestructible, our souls.  God provides an impenetrable armor around that essence of our being, protecting it from any harm, for it is precious to him.  Who indeed can stand against us when we are so protected?
Today we rejoice in the sure and constant hope that since we join ourselves to Jesus at the spiritual level, we will be with him always in the New Jerusalem, our heavenly home.  May our faith remain firm and our armor strong this day as we continue to work for his greater glory.

[2] The picture is “No. 26 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 10. Entry into Jerusalem” by Bondone di Giotto, 1304-06