Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial of Saint Justin, Martyr

“St. Justin, Martyr, Patron of the Destitute” 
from an antique holy card, 
artist and date are UNKNOWN
Commentary on 2 Tm 1:1-3, 6-12
This selection contains the formal beginning of the Second Letter of St. Paul to St. Timothy. Following the formula address, the Apostle exhorts his former student and traveling companion to be forthright, even outspoken in proclaiming the faith (“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control”).
There is a clear reference that St. Timothy was ordained for this task by St. Paul as is shown by his statement: “…the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” This passage is also foundational to the understanding that there is an indelible change imparted by the reception of Holy Orders. The Apostle concludes his introduction, summarizing the call they have both received, and his faith in salvation through Christ (important here because he (St. Paul) is in prison and his physical well-being is in question).
CCC: 2 Tm 1:3 1794; 2 Tm 1:6 1577, 1590; 2 Tm 1:8 2471, 2506; 2 Tm 1:9-10 257, 1021; 2 Tm 1:12-14 84; 2 Tm 1:12 149
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 123:1b-2ab, 2cdef
R. (1b) To you, O Lord, I lift up my eyes.
Commentary on Ps 123:1b-2ab, 2cdef
Psalm 123 is an individual lament. In these strophes we hear the prayer of the psalmist who expresses faith in God’s love and compassion.
Gospel: Mark 12:18-27
Commentary on Mk 12:18-27
The Sadducees are approaching Jesus, in this passage, with a twofold attack against his teaching on the resurrection (Sadducees, as a group, do not hold with the theology of resurrection of the dead). First they ask Jesus to solve the puzzle of whom the widow of seven husbands would be married to in heaven. (It is likely this example was taken from Tobit 3:8.) Jesus chides them for their lack of understanding, telling them that life in the Kingdom of Heaven transcends life in the body. He then goes further, attacking their disbelief in the resurrection by quoting Exodus 3; 6, telling them the Father is the God of the living not the dead.
CCC: Mk 12:24 993; Mk 12:25 1619; Mk 12:27 993
St. Paul challenges us as he addresses his second letter to St. Timothy. Notice, in the language employed, he twice uses the word “ashamed.” The first time he tells St. Timothy directly: “…do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,” and a second time, using himself as an example: “On this account I am suffering these things; but I am not ashamed…” It is clear that he feels it is necessary to tell his student and disciple that the proper social view of Timothy consorting with one who is arrested and in jail (Paul) must not be a source of shame. He is to remember that it is Christ they both serve, and it is his work they must continue.
This message, although it should not in any way be considered an analogy, could be addressed to the religious sisters whose leaderships are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). They have recently been under a cloud because of the social positions adopted by this body which were opposed to the Church’s teaching, and this has caused great scandal in the Church. The Church had seen fit to apply new oversight to this group, and now the message of St. Paul must shine on them. Their mission, like that of St. Timothy, is to throw off shame and proclaim Christ in the world.
This example was used intentionally to surface thoughts by some that might be uncharitable. Some might believe that what was done in Christ’s Name by a small group should have evoked more drastic action. It is the same with how the world generally sees the actions of Church leaders who have exercised poor judgment in the handling of sexual abuse issues, also causing great scandal and even more pain. Whether for good or ill, Christ’s message of forgiveness tempers all decisions made by his servants who tend to err on the side of love, rather than on the side of mistrust and hatred.
For us too, the shame of these scandals can cause us to pull back from proclaiming our identities in the world. Have these very public secular events caused us to shrink from a public witness to our faith? Have we said to ourselves: “Perhaps it will be better if I just withdraw from the public spotlight for a while until these issues are forgotten by the public at large?” Now is the time, as the Apostle says, to “stir into flame the gift of God.” Let the call of the pious and unchurched for justice be met with our assent, and our call for forgiveness as well. Christ is our banner and we must not forget.
Our friend, St. Paul, has good words of encouragement for us today. It is a difficult world we face, and we pray for the strength to carry the word to it through our voices and our actions. We need all the prayers of the saints today as we take the call of Christ forward.

[2] The picture is “St. Justin, Martyr, Patron of the Destitute” from an antique holy card, artist and date are UNKNOWN

Monday, May 30, 2016

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“The Visitation” by Tintoretto, 1588
Information about the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary [1]

Readings for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary[2]

Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1: Zephaniah 3:14-18a

Commentary on Zep 3:14-18a

The Prophet Zephaniah begins this passage with an exaltation of praise to God. His invitation sounds in the present tense, but then he says: “On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem,” which places the event, the rejoicing over the Lord God being in their midst, in the future. In effect, this is a prediction of events to come. Zephaniah also includes the effects of God’s presence as he continues: “a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.
We hear the expectation of the Messiah: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” In this case the effects of the Messiah on the people are the focus. The prophet proclaims a renewal of God's loving adoption and the joy felt by the Father at his favorite creation.
CCC: Zep 3:14 722, 2676; Zep 3:17a 2676; Zep 3:17b 2676
Or: Romans 12:9-16

Commentary on Rom 12:9-16

St. Paul gives a litany of instructions to those who wish to remain faithful to Christ’s teachings. He is speaking to a community that is one in faith in Christ. He tells the community that, in their union, the gifts of each must serve the needs of all, and these gifts need to be exercised. In this selection the Evangelist gives a litany of exhortations to live the love of Christ, following his command to love one another sincerely, and to forgive those who persecute them.
CCC: Rom 12-15 1454, 1971; Rom 12:9-13 1971; Rom 12:11 2039; Rom 12:12 1820; Rom 12:14 1669, 2636
Responsorial Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

R. (6) Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Commentary on Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

This hymn of praise is a profession of faith: “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.” It also does something interesting in that it challenges those who profess their faith in the Lord to proclaim it in the world: “…among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name.
This canticle emphasizes the peace and confidence found in his servant, enjoying the salvation of God. He sings his praise to God and exhorts all of Israel to praise him as they see his constant presence among them in the blessings they receive.
CCC: Is 12:3 2561
Gospel: Luke 1:39-56

Commentary on Lk 1:39-56

The Gospel selection from St. Luke gives us the story of Mary’s journey from Nazareth, over the mountains to Hebron, south of Jerusalem, to visit her cousin St. Elizabeth, who was also with child. St. Elizabeth’s greeting gives us substance for the “Hail Mary,” and Mary’s response is the great Canticle of Mary, which exemplifies her faith and faithfulness appropriate for the Mother of Jesus, who is the Christ.
Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth follows the annunciation by Gabriel, that she would carry the Son of God, which proclaims the coming of the Lord, and the faith of Mary before the nativity event. We note that Elizabeth is first to identify Jesus as Lord as she says:” …how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She not only professes the identity of the infant, but foreshadows Mary’s leadership standing, elevating the stature of her much younger cousin with reverence. Elizabeth continues her praise of Mary by establishing that her (Mary’s) faith had allowed her to accept even the incredible role God had offered her.
In response we hear Mary’s humility as she gives us the Magnificat: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior...” This opening phrase establishes that the Blessed Mother gives herself to God eternally (her eternal self -Soul) and completely (the very core of her being -Spirit). What follows in her great song is an abject expression of faith in the Father’s omnipotence, and her own humility and awe in the face of his request of her – to carry God’s only Son.
CCC: Lk 1:41 523, 717, 2676; Lk 1:43 448, 495, 2677; Lk 1:45 148, 2676; Lk 1:46-55 722, 2619, 2675; Lk 1:46-49 2097; Lk 1:48 148, 971, 2676, 2676; Lk 1:49 273, 2599, 2807, 2827; Lk 1:50 2465; Lk 1:54-55 706; Lk 1:55 422

As sometimes happens when we reflect upon the Visitation,  we consider the event in broad or general terms. Mary, the vessel of Jesus, visits St. Elizabeth, the vessel of St. John the Baptist. The mothers greet each other, but only after the Lord and St. John have already communed in spirit: St. John “leaped for joy” in the presence of the Lord, communicating his own exultation to his mother. 

We see the reaction in St. Elizabeth when she greets Mary, already knowing the identity of the child her cousin carries. St. Elizabeth clearly recognizes the holiness of Mary. This is remarkable when we consider that St. Elizabeth is far older than her young cousin. We were told that she was barren: “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived  a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren,” (Luke 1:36) when Mary received the news of her own conception from the Archangel Gabriel. Yet, her cousin not only defers to her, but offers her worshipful praise: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

This meeting, as we look back upon it, is much more than an encounter between faith-filled women, rather it is the Messiah, the Only Begotten Son of God, being introduced to the world in the person of St. John the Baptist, and secondarily to his mother St. Elizabeth. It is for this reason we celebrate this event in solemn worship. It is, in essence, our first meeting with the Incarnation.

Our joy in this meeting is echoed by St. Elizabeth who gives us the words of the Hail Mary in her salutation. It is a reminder, not only of the Blessed Virgin’s own faith in God and acceptance of his will, but our own need to thank St. Mary for her obedience, St. Elizabeth for her understanding, and St. John for his recognition of this wondrous event.

Today we pray that our faith may be as perceptive as St. Elizabeth’s in recognizing Christ in our brothers and sisters, and that St. Mary’s unwavering obedience to God might give us courage to obey him as well.


In other years on this date: Tuesday of the Nineth Week in Ordinary Time

[1] The image used today is “The Visitation” by Tintoretto, 1588

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Monday of the Ninth Week In Ordinary Time

“Parable of the Vineyard” by UNKNOWN
Reading 1: 2 Peter 1:2-7
Commentary on 2 Pt 1:2-7
This is the brief introduction to the Second Letter of Peter, similar in form and language to the introductions from Jude and the First Letter of Peter.  The book was admitted to the canon of the New Testament late because it is thought to have been written under a pseudonym by someone other than the Apostle Peter . This first section set the stage for the principal thrust of the letter which is Christian knowledge, which should arm them against false teachers, specifically those who doubted that there would be a “second coming” of Christ.
The author points out that knowledge is the key to understanding and realizing the gift of the divine promises of Christ. He then goes on to present a gradation of qualities beginning with faith that leads at last to Christian love, the ultimate expression of Christ’s gift in the world.
CCC: 2 Pt 1:3-4 1996; 2 Pt 1:4 460, 1129, 1265, 1692, 1721, 1812
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 91:1-2, 14-15b, 15c-16
R. (see 2b) In you, my God, I place my trust.
The hymn of thanksgiving that is Psalm 91 gives praise to God for the salvation of his people. He saves those who believe in him from distress and fear.
Gospel: Mark 12:1-12
Commentary on Mk 12:1-12
In the first part of the Gospel we hear the Parable of the Vineyard. Since this story is directed to the Chief Priests and Scribes, we understand that the Vineyard represents the Kingdom of God and the tenants are the Sanhedrin. They should have been working on behalf of God, but instead they misused their power and disregarded the Prophets, killing some, beating others. And when the son of the owner comes and is killed, Jesus prophesies his own death.
The final section of the reading uses the image found in Psalm 118; 23-24, “the stone rejected.” Jesus uses this scripture quote to drive home his point, that the Sanhedrin had completely missed God’s intent, and that the one they rejected, Jesus himself, the Messiah, was to be the cornerstone of the New Jerusalem, God’s Kingdom on earth and in heaven.
There is an ongoing struggle, even within our Christian ranks, to discover how best to follow Jesus’ teachings. Some argue that “I don’t need a church. I am a spiritual person and I read the Bible. I am a good person.” We would not argue with the last statement. There are many people who are good; look at Gandhi who was a very good person. An individual, doing their best to follow their impulses to do “good,” is not what Christianity is about. It is the sum of its members responding together to challenge the status quo and transform the world, driven by their faith and belief that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God, and it is his example Christians follow.
Christ’s mission was not to introduce an individual form of self-improvement. He came so that salvation might be given to those who could find the strength to follow him. An individual doing “good” things, reading the bible, praying to God, has found a selfish expression of faith that will make them feel good, and not require any effort to change, either what they do (they have excluded from their circle anyone who would challenge them), or how they interpret “good” from what they read. That individual might rationalize excellent reasons for rejecting “organized religion.” Most commonly heard are things like: “I don’t need them to know what’s right or how to pray,” or “They are all a bunch of hypocrites.” It is like a soldier saying: “I know that our side is right in going to war, but I’ll fight when the enemies are at my front door,” or “Soldiers are supposed to be brave, the ones I met were all scared.”
The expression of faith lived in the world is something that Christ calls us to. It is difficult to do what he asks, and if we find ourselves comfortable in the pew, content with the faith, we probably need to fire ourselves up. The Second Letter of Peter pushes us hard in that direction, and the Gospel reminds us that when we push as he wants us to, others will almost certainly push back (“So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed.”).
Our prayer today is that we will not be complacent in the faith we share; that we will take that faith boldly into the world and demonstrate the love Christ calls us to share as our badge of Christianity.

[2] The picture used is “Parable of the Vineyard” by UNKNOWN

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

If this solemnity was celebrated on Thursday: Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Catechism Links[2]
CCC 790, 1003, 1322-1419: the Holy Eucharist
CCC 805, 950, 2181-2182, 2637, 2845: the Eucharist and the communion of believers
CCC 1212, 1275, 1436, 2837: the Eucharist as spiritual food

by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1712
Reading 1: Genesis 14:18-20
Commentary on Gn 14:18-20
The Melchizedek story in this chapter of Genesis drives the interpretation of the entire chapter. Using the lens of this passage, the chapter becomes a testament to the power of God and the irresistible nature of his plan.
Placed against the tapestry of God’s involvement with mankind, Melchizedek, Priest-King of Jerusalem (Salem is likely a reference to the same geographical place) is probably celebrating a covenant meal with Abram following their great victory.
CCC: Gn 14:18 58, 1333, 1544
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
Commentary on Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4
We are given the reference point used in Hebrews 5:1-10. The psalmist, David, reflects upon the call to service of the people. The final verse specifically mentions the High Priest Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the ancient king of Salem (Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20). Like other kings of the time, he also performed priestly functions.
Psalm 110 thanks God for earthly authority, recognizing that it is only through the Lord's strength that authority is exercised. The psalmist uses Melchizedek as an arch-example. He was a secular king in the time of Abraham who ruled on the spiritual side as well. Though he was not of the Hebrew race, he was nonetheless chosen by God to be priest, not of the line of Aaron. Since the ancient text refers neither to his lineage nor his death, his office is seen as eternal, “You are a priest forever.
CCC: Ps 110 447; Ps 110:1 659; Ps 110:4 1537
Commentary on 1 Cor 11:23-26
St. Paul gives us the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This account is used by many protestant denominations to define their understanding of this event as symbolic rather than efficacious, that is, they believe the Lord’s actions did not transubstantiate the bread and wine, but that the action was simply a “remembrance.” The Church looks at the whole body of scripture, especially St. John’s Gospel, and understands the Sacrament as the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood.
CCC: 1 Cor 11:23-26 1339; 1 Cor 11:23 610, 1366; 1 Cor 11:24-25 1356; 1 Cor 11:24 1328, 1329; 1 Cor 11:25 611, 613;  1 Cor 11:26 671, 1076, 1130, 1344, 1393, 2772, 2776
Gospel: Luke 9:11b-17
Commentary on Lk 9:11b-17
The story of “Feeding the Multitude” from St. Luke’s Gospel serves as the image for the Eucharist. The statement: “Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them,” is a clear reference to the institution of the Eucharistic (see Luke 22:19, cf Mark 14:22).
Today we celebrate Sollemnitas Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  The older traditional name shortened this formal title to simply the Feast of Corpus Christi.  For those of us who are liturgy junkies, it feels like déjà vu since it closely parallels the first celebration within the Triduum that takes place on Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  In both cases these celebrations recall the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist but there the similarity ends.  The Mass of the Lord’s Supper sets the stage for what must follow: the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, and his joyous resurrection on Easter.  Our celebration today focuses us on the great gift given by Christ in His Body and Blood.
St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the purpose of this solemnity as he rejoices in the great gift of our Lord:
It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly
upon the hearts of the faithful that our Lord instituted
this sacrament at the Last Supper. As he was on the point
of leaving the world to go to the Father, after celebrating
the Passover with his disciples, he left it as a perpetual
memorial of his passion. It was the fulfillment of ancient
figures and the greatest of all his miracles, while for those
who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it
was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.
St. Thomas Aquinas
-Opusculum 57,in festo Corporus Christi, Lect. 4
The scripture readings proclaimed give us yet another sense of what is taking place in the institution of the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  In the first reading from Genesis and in the Responsorial Psalm, we hear the story of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is a unique figure in Hebrew Scriptures, for he was both King of Salem and Priest of the Most High God.  Mosaic Law called for priests to come from the tribe of Levi and Kings from the tribe of David – Aaron.  Melchizedek was both King and Priest.  In very important ways, he prefigured another who was to be both King and Eternal High Priest, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We note also that Melchizedek’s signature offering was, like our Lord’s, bread and wine.  His blessing was from God, as Jesus was a blessing from God, who sent his Only Begotten Son to become the perfect sacrifice of atonement that takes away the sins of the world.
St. Paul reminds us of that fact in the second reading from 1 Corinthians as he recalls the Last Supper, and how the Lord blessed and broke the bread, and how he took the cup and likewise blessed it.  It is one of faith’s great foundations that we gather to recreate that supper each time Holy Mass is celebrated.  As St. Paul concluded in the second reading: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Finally our Gospel reminds us of another Eucharistic meal as Jesus feeds the multitudes.  They were fed first by his words, and then with real food.  In the same way we are fed first with the Word of God, and then with real food which strengthens us.
There is another important aspect of the miracle story in the Gospel that we must also take to heart.  Notice that when the disciples come to Jesus initially they tell him:
"Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here."
And what was Jesus’ response?
"Give them some food yourselves."
What we receive in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is not just physical food, but rather spiritual food.  It is a gift we are called to share with others.  When the Eucharist is received in faith and piety, the grace of God infuses us with great strength.  When we accept the gift passed down from the Last Supper and recreated by all the faithful and presided over by our Priest who stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), we once more recall that this gift was given not just for the few but for all, who are children of God.
Today we celebrate once more the Holiest Gift left to us by Jesus.  We see in the Word of God how our Eternal High Priest and King, Jesus, was prefigured in Melchizedek, once more reminding us of what St. Augustine said over a thousand years ago: “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the new.”
In this year of Faith and Year of Prayer, let us renew our faith in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ and pray that through the grace we receive from it, we may be what the Lord intended us to be, a Eucharistic people, leaven for the world.

[1] The picture used today is “Communion” by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1712
[2] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014