Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

“Tree of Jesse” by Jan Mostaert, c. 1500
Reading 1: Isaiah 11:1-10
Commentary on Is 11:1-10
Isaiah predicts that the line of David will produce the Messiah with the first verse: “stump of Jesse,” King David’s father. The stump refers to the line of David being cut back during the Babylonian Exile. For the first time in scripture, the prophet then presents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.[4] (Note also the reference to fullness. In Hebrew numerology the number “7” is the perfect number.) In the Septuagint and the Vulgate, the word "piety" is coupled with “fear of the Lord.
The description of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is followed with a list of the just and compassionate characteristics of the messianic rule. This is followed by a picture of universal peace under the messiah’s rule. Isaiah sees the return of the messianic King as predicting that the messiah will come from King David’s line and will ultimately bring great peace. The term used, “…on all my holy mountain” indicates this peace is for all the faithful, not just those in Jerusalem.
CCC: Is 11:1-9 672; Is 11:1-2 712, 1831; Is 11:2 436, 536, 1286
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
This Royal Psalm extols the virtuous characteristics of justice and compassion. In this selection we hear an echo of the justice and peace of the King’s rule that is reiterated in Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10).
Gospel: Luke 10:21-24
Commentary on Lk 10:21-24
Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit because his disciples have understood his role of Messiah in the kingdom. He restates his relationship as Son of God: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." The inference here is that we must approach our faith with “childlike” belief and trust in order to achieve true understanding.
Earlier in this chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sent out the seventy (two). Just prior to this selection (Luke 10:17-20), they returned and reported great success in doing what the Lord asked of them. These verses are his prayer of thanks to the Father. The Lord gives thanks that God has seen fit to reveal his identity and pass on his power to these disciples of his. It is reiterated that, the Kingdom of God shall be revealed to the childlike (see also Luke 8:10).  Turning to his disciples, he tells them that the victory they are witnessing is the Good News, hoped for by prophets and kings throughout history.
CCC: Lk 10:21-23 2603; Lk 10:21 1083
As we hear the words of St. Luke today, how Jesus is caught up in the Holy Spirit and begins to pray, thanking God for His aid in the Lord’s mission, we can’t help but remember Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  This great science fiction epic was written by in 1870. At one point in the story, the infamous Captain Nemo was asked if he intended to share his great scientific discoveries with the rest of the world. He informed his prisoner/narrator, Professor Aronnax, that he would never do that because the world was not ready for so great a power. This story is recalled because Jesus rejoices for the opposite reason.
While the great knowledge and power of the mythical antagonist in the novel needs to be kept secret, the great knowledge and power of the Lord must be spread so that all might have access to it and find hope as a result. This Advent season, as we look forward with hope to the Lord’s coming, we are reminded that this anticipation and hope are not shared by all of those we meet. Incredible as it seems to us, many of our colleagues, friends, and acquaintances think of this season only for the presents they must buy and the orgy of commercialism that infuses the economy of the country with great strength because of all the money that is spent. They do not realize that our Advent is first devoted to preparing for the Lord’s return when he comes again in glory!
In the Gospel, the Lord rejoices because God’s word has reached so many others. He thanks his Father that their ears have been opened by the words and works of his followers. This is the legacy we have been handed. As we prepare ourselves to join the Lord when he comes again and to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, we recall that we too are asked to joyfully make known the reason for the season (cliché but appropriate). Children understand this very easily, but they must hear it first. Adults need to overcome their cynicism and adopt a childlike attitude that recalls the Christmas proclamation, “Joy to the World!”
We hear St. Luke relay the story once more of how the Lord was ecstatic over the success of the seventy two in proclaiming the Good News. Now it is our turn. We must not, through our actions, seem to be like Captain Nemo keeping the great promise to ourselves. We are called to share that glorious message, and in sharing the joy of that announcement it is returned to us and we move closer to the promised peace of Christ.

[2] The picture used today is “Tree of Jesse” by Jan Mostaert, c. 1500
[4] From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1831 “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. “Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.(Psalm 143:10) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”( Romans 8:14,17.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle

“St. Andrew” 
taken from an 
antique French Holy Card, 
Artist and Date UNKNOWN.
Reading 1: Romans 10:9-18
Commentary on Rom 10:9-18
As part of his dialogue regarding why the Jews had failed in their mission, St. Paul calls upon the Roman Christians to profess their belief that Jesus is the Son of God, divine in his own person.  The Jewish converts could not say the name of God but referred instead to Yahweh as “Lord.”  By asking the Christians to “…confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord“, they professed their belief in his divinity and what flowed from that profession was justification (to be made just as if one had not sinned).  In justification is salvation since the physical act of confessing with the lips must come from an interior faith from the heart.
The Evangelist continues his call to faith explaining that this path to salvation is open to all peoples (“There is no distinction between Jew and Greek").  This invitation does not have any prerequisites (i.e. one does not have to have come to belief through Judaism) to be unified in Christ paraphrasing Isaiah 28:16.
In the next section (v. 14-21) St. Paul poses questions as to why the Jewish people forfeited their status as favorites in the eyes of God.  Perhaps there were reasons which he rhetorically proposes and then rejects; did they not hear; did they not understand?  To the question; have they not heard?  St. Paul responds quoting Psalm 19:5, which concludes this passage.
CCC: Rom 10:9 343, 186, 449; Rom 10:12-13 2739; Rom 10:13 2666; Rom 10:14-15 875; Rom 10:17 875
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
R. (10) The judgments of the Lord are true, and all of them are just.
R. (John 6:63) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Commentary on Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
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. The passage also reflects the idea that following God’s statutes leads to peace and prosperity.
Gospel: Matthew 4:18-22
Commentary on Mt 4:18-22
This passage is the account in St. Matthew’s Gospel of the call of the first disciples.  The important principle provided in this episode is the fact that the four disciples called by Jesus, the first four, followed the Lord immediately.  It is recorded that they left their entire livelihood and all their possessions behind and followed Jesus. (A similar abruptness is found also in the call of Levi, Matthew 9:9.)
Ironically the notes on this section point out that three of the four called, Peter, James, and John, are distinguished by a particular closeness to Jesus.  The reason that Matthew’s account indicates the disciples left work and family immediately without any explanation may be due in part to Andrew’s earlier encounter with Jesus as a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40).
CCC: Mt 4:19 878; Mt 4:21 878
What would the world be like if St. Andrew had not become a disciple of St. John the Baptist?  We don’t know what called him to follow the Voice, to become a member of that close circle of devout followers.  But we do that if the Apostle had not, he would never have been sent, as tradition holds, with his companion to ask Jesus if he was the one to come or if they should expect someone else.
And what if he had not gone to the Lord and heard those words: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:22).  Those words had meaning beyond the obvious.  While indeed the blind, the lame, and deaf were healed, those events were a direct reference to the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1).
And what did St. Andrew do?  He returned to the Baptist and then, perhaps taking St. John’s own mission to the next level went immediately to his brother (John 1:37-40).  The words he spoke to him echo through the thousands of years that have passed.  They are graven in the heart of every Christian who has ever come to faith, "We have found the Messiah."
From that point forward the profession of faith made by and to the brother of the one who would be given the Keys to the Kingdom would shape the whole world.  From St. Peter and those first four disciples would be added eight more, including the one who betrayed him.  From them, the Gospel of the Lord would travel to every part of the world.  It began with a simple statement of faith - "We have found the Messiah."
Today as we celebrate the feast day of St. Andrew, we thank God for the gift of faith; the faith he gave St. Andrew and all the Apostles and the faith he gives us.  We ask on this day that St. Andrew will intercede for us and the one he found will bless us with an abundance of faith so that we in our turn may announce it to the world - "We have found the Messiah."

In other years: Monday of the First Week of Advent

[2] The picture is “St. Andrew” taken from an antique French Holy Card, Artist and Date UNKNOWN.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First Sunday of Advent - C

Catechism Links
CCC 668-677, 769: the final tribulation and Christ’s return in glory
CCC 451, 671, 1130, 1403, 2817: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
CCC 439, 496, 559, 2616: Jesus is the Son of David
CCC 207, 210-214, 270, 1062-1063: God is faithful and merciful

“Holy Family with the Infant St John The Baptist” 
by Francesco de Mura, 1760s
Reading 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Commentary on Jer 33:14-16
Jeremiah predicts the continuation of the dynasty of King David (“I will raise up for David a just shoot”) in fulfillment of the prophecy made to Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:11-16. To contemporaries of the period, this would have announced the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem.  This selection is the second time the Prophet has predicted the coming of the Messiah; the first being in Jeremiah 23:5-6.  This prediction, fulfilled in Jesus, is one reason so much stress is laid on Jesus’ genealogy.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
R. (1b) To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
Commentary on Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
In this hymn of thanksgiving, we hear the petition we have all made many times.  In paraphrase, it is “God tell me what you want me to do.  Tell me how to follow you.”  It goes on to say how blessed are those who have found that path. This selection gives a clear sense of the Lord’s path announced by angelic messengers, prophets and the very Law of Moses; the culmination and completion of God’s covenants in the tradition of the Hebrews.
Commentary on 1 Thes 3:12—4:2
St. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about encouraging their already fervent love for one another and the Lord.  This selection (4:1ff) begins the Apostle’s exhortation on holiness and chastity.  He has warned them earlier that they will be facing resistance, and that it is now necessary to strengthen themselves for what is to come.
Commentary on Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Jesus finds it necessary to remind his disciples not to become complacent in their practice of the faith. It is one of his sternest warnings that the end will come without notice and judgment will be immediate. The final verses of this same Gospel reading concluded the Liturgical Year; having been used the previous day (Saturday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time) and is repeated to begin the Advent season. This duel use emphasizes that we celebrate not only the coming of Christ in his nativity but look forward to his second coming in Glory.
"It is clear from this short section that Luke (different from 1 Thessalonians) eliminated the idea of an immediate Parousia.  Sudden trials will strike everyone, and so there is need of continual vigilance.  Everyone, however, will eventually take part in the Parousia.  How a person lives now, determines how he will 'stand before the Son of Man.'" [5] Jesus reminds his disciples not to become complacent in their practice of the faith. It is one of his sternest warnings that the end will come without notice and judgment will be immediate.
CCC: Lk 21:27 671, 697; Lk 21:34-36 2612
I know there are many folks in our community who actually enjoy shopping.  Personally I do not.  In fact, I have a ritual at this time of year.  I get up at 2:00 AM the weekend before Christmas (this year that will probably be December 23rd).  I will go to Meijer’s, a local big box store, which is open all night and spend a maximum of an hour scurrying up and down nearly empty aisles and return home before 5:00.  I have never seen the attractions for mobbing a store for that “great deal.”  Because of that I had a fleeting thought this year as I watched what has come to be known as “Black Friday Creep.”  That’s the affliction many retailers have as they try to attract those die-hard shoppers to their stores earlier to gain a larger share of their shopping budget.
Perhaps this year, as we kick off the Jubilee of Mercy, the start of which is in just a few days, we can make a real change in our community.  If we provide a significant example through our words and actions, perhaps many we meet may be reminded what this season means.
The Advent season is intended to be analogous to a child’s gleeful anticipation on Christmas Eve.  From a spiritual perspective, our Advent Season is intended to rekindle our anticipation for Christ’s ultimate victory, coming in glory robed in light by reminding us of his enigmatic first coming for our salvation.
I have marveled before that for all of our reflection and prayer, for all of our questioning and study, we find that in the millennia since Christ walked the earth as man; others graciously endowed with the gift of faith, have reflected more deeply and expressed more clearly the ideals the Lord saw fit to impart. In this case I offer the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church who served us until his death in 386 AD as an example:
We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.
In general, what relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.
At the first coming, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming, he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels.
We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (From the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem) 
St. Cyril reminds us, as does the Gospel from St. Luke that the Kingdom of God has not yet been fulfilled. While we most commonly use this Advent season to anticipate the triumph of the manger, we need also to be vigilant in our faith as the Lord’s second coming needs to find us diligent in our faith.
What then will our Advent celebration look like this year?  Will there be enough thought and prayer over the Lord’s arrivals to offset the secular flavor that has taken over the public notion of this season?  Will we be able to remain focused on the sense of impending liberation from the bonds of sin in order to avoid the sins this secular season seems to bring out in many – greed, avarice, gluttony, and indifference?
This season, perhaps more than any in modern history will be the “Holiday Season”, not the Christmas season and Advent will be seen as an anachronism.  The MAJORITY of our fellow citizens prefer that we not emphasize the “reason for the season” as the old saying goes.  They prefer that it be a time of fun and good cheer; a time for excesses of all sorts, not the least of which is spending on meaningless gifts for the sake of spending.
How are we to avoid being sucked into this sense of self-service? Well, first we remind ourselves daily of what we look forward to.  There are some excellent aids developed especially for this and they have traditionally been available to anyone who wants one.  This year we are also given a special prayer to start us off from none other than St. Paul.  He writes to the Thessalonians a prayer that could have been directed at each of us:
Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.  Amen.
At the heart of this prayer is the one key command that will keep us focused on what is important: “Love one another.”  It was the Lord’s commandment to us and the one he exemplified as he came to the humble manger, born of our Blessed Mother. If we can keep the memory of that command alive, and how it came to us, we will triumph over all attempts to pervert the season of joyous anticipation into something it was never intended to be.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[3] The picture is “Holy Family with the Infant St John The Baptist” by Francesco de Mura, 1760s
[5] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 44:149, pp. 155

Friday, November 27, 2015

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth 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.

“Heavenly Charity” 
by Simon Vouet, c. 1640
Reading 1: Daniel 7:15-27
Commentary on Dn 7:15-27
This selection from the Book of Daniel contains the interpretation of his dream which was described in the first fifteen verses of this chapter. Much of this imagery is consistent with but had different meanings from what was later used by St. John in his Revelation (see Revelation 11:2;  Revelation12:14ff).
The four kingdoms were those described in Daniel 2:36-45 in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. They represent the Babylonian (gold), the Median (silver), the Persian (bronze), and the Hellenistic (iron). The image of the final kingdom is interpreted in St. John’s Revelation as being the Roman Empire, in this instance it refers to Alexander’s kingdom.
“Alexander's empire was different from all the others in that it was Western rather than Oriental in inspiration. The ten horns represent the kings of the Seleucid dynasty, the only part of the Hellenistic empire that concerned the author. The little horn is Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), the worst of the Seleucid kings, who usurped the throne.”[5]
The reference to the persecutions of the holy ones by the “fourth beast” points at Antiochus IV. He attempted to force the Jews to give up their customs and adopt Hellenistic traditions (1 Maccabees 1:33-34). The Ancient One in this setting refers to God the Father; we might also interpret these remarks prophetically, as referring to the Christ, the Son, eternally begotten of the Father. In the final verses, heavenly court is convened and God’s eternal reign is promised.
Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87
R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.
The selection from Daniel used as a Psalm Response is once more take from the chant by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This long hymn of praise (from verse 24 to verse 90) is is broken into three litanies. This selection begins the third.  It is a blessing on those faithful to God.  We note with interest that earlier in this series of litanies, human kind was also blessed, but distinct from the faithful.  The authors clearly classified gentiles and pagans as separate from the faithful ones of Israel.
Gospel: Luke 21:34-36
Commentary on Lk 21:34-36
This selection is the end of Jesus' final public exhortation before his passion and death.  Some scholars have speculated that the Gospel author could be using a fragment of some forgotten scroll from St. Paul because the Hellenistic form is so similar (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4).
"It is clear from this short section that Luke (different from 1 Thessalonians) eliminated the idea of an immediate Parousia.  Sudden trials will strike everyone, and so there is need of continual vigilance.  Everyone, however, will eventually take part in the Parousia.  How a person lives now, determines how he will 'stand before the Son of Man.'" [6] Jesus reminds his disciples not to become complacent in their practice of the faith. It is one of his sternest warnings that the end will come without notice and judgment will be immediate.
CCC: Lk 21:34-36 2612
On this last day of the liturgical year, please forgive me as I preach to myself. Those of us who are fervent in the practice of our faith face a great danger.  The danger is that the practice of our faith becomes an end in itself. That is, we fall into the trap the Pharisees fell into, where the rigor we apply to insuring we are true to our traditions [and rubrics] becomes an object of pride. Or we have given so much to trying to follow God’s word that the acts of charity we have obligated ourselves to have begun to seem like a job, rather than a joyful sacrifice to Him who has given us everything.
When we begin embracing the practice of our faith or obsessing on some part of our ministry for the sake of that ministry, something very important is lost – we stop being present to God. That may sound cliché, but it simply means we have become so self-involved that the spirit is no longer being considered, only the activity.
Let’s look at this time of year from a secular perspective as our extreme example. These past few days in the United States are the busiest shopping days of the year. The malls and shops are packed with people shopping for gifts – looking for bargains so that on Christmas morning (whether they are Christian or not) they might have that special gift (at the best possible price) for a friend or family member. For many who were out at 4:00 AM on Friday morning it was the act of shopping that was the object of attraction – not the love of the person for whom they were buying (although in many cases they were shopping for themselves so that does break down a little). Does that not happen to us as well? Does the act of worship become more important than the object of our worship?
There are different ways of becoming complacent about our faith. We can make prayer a rote activity we have pledged to do and we can take for granted that we will go to Mass. We may even take pride in a perfect act of contrition or in the fact that we visited twenty six infirmed people in one week. We must step back and ask ourselves – but are we present to Christ in these activities? For whom did we do these things?
Tomorrow we begin our Advent season and look joyfully to the Nativity of Jesus the Christ. Let us pledge to make this season one in which we re-establish our unity with Christ in worship and join him in our humble praise of our Heavenly Father, who sent us such a gift.

[3] The Picture is “Heavenly Charity” by Simon Vouet, c. 1640
[5] See NAB footnote on Daniel 7:7-8
[6] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 44:149, pp. 155