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Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 24, 2018
SOLEMNITY OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST — (Vigil & Mass of the Day)

This year, the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary time is replaced with the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist because a solemnity outranks an ordinary Sunday. However, for the sake of completeness, I’ve given the commentary or the Twelfth Sunday below – Scroll down.

TO PREPARE THE LORD’S WAY

In celebrating the birth of John the Baptist, we are looking backward to the Jewish prophetic tradition as summed up in John, and at the same time looking forward toward Christ whose herald John was. There are two sets of readings, for the vigil and the day itself, and we will consider both sets together.

The GOSPEL readings (vigil, Lk 1:5-17; day Lk 1:57-66, 80) give us Luke’s account of the annunciation and birth of John. Although he may well have been a relative of Jesus, the events are told in a way that is obviously symbolic. Details are presented only as signs of God’s deeper works of salvation, and anticipate the fullness of salvation in Christ. Other persons in the Jewish scriptural history have similar birth stories, accompanied by wonderful events: Isaac (Gn 18:1-15; 21:1-9), Samson (Jdgs 13), and Samuel (1 Sam 1 and 2). These individuals marked significant turning points in Israel’s history, but were not themselves outstanding leaders.

Zechariah’s song (vv 68-79), which is omitted from these readings, stands at the heart of the daily morning prayer of the Church, and sums up the prophetic expectation for the Messiah.

Both FIRST READINGS describe the call of the prophet to announce God’s word. Jeremiah’s experience (vigil, Jer 1:4-10) was that the power of God’s word overcame his youthful weakness. This reading alludes to the eternity of God’s plan (v 5) and the insertion of God’s word into the present moment through the prophet (v 9-10). The second “Servant Song” of Isaiah (day, Is 49:1-6) speaks of the effectiveness of God’s word to accomplish his will.

The RESPONSORIAL PSALMS speak of God’s support of his faithful servant (vigil, Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 17; Response: “Since my mother’s womb you have been my strength”) and inner penetration of his word into the very heart of his servant (day, Psalm 139:1-3, 13-14, 14-15; Response: “I praise you for I am wonderfully made”).

The SECOND READINGS define the mission of the prophet as yielding to the greater reality of Christ’s presence. 1 Peter 1:8-12 (vigil) points to the activity of the Spirit in the prophets’ search to reveal the fullness of God’s favor to come. Acts 13:22-26 (day), an excerpt from Paul’s first missionary sermon, looks to John the Baptist’s role as messenger who calls attention to the fullness of the message, and then diminishes himself before it.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. What can John’s calling tell us about the vocation of the Christian today?

2. Discuss the relationship between humility and boldness in proclaiming the message of Christ.

[Image: Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594-1665), Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena]


TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — Year B

“PEACE . . . BE STILL!”

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

This story of Jesus calming the storm in the Sea of Galilee was undoubtedly very popular in the preaching of the early Church, for it is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels (see also Mt 8:23-27 and Lk 8:22-25). It serves as a prelude to the expulsion of the demons from the Gerasene man (see 5:1-20) and shows that Jesus has power over the forces of evil in nature as well as in the human heart. We see also a contrast between the disciples’ lack of faith (4:40) and the strong and active faith of the man healed of his demonic affliction (5:18-20).

The sea recalls creation (Gn 1:1-2) but was more often seen as the dwelling place of the forces of evil, and so control of the sea was a sign of divine power (see Ps 89:8-9; 93:3-4; 106:8-9; Is 51:9-10). Jesus’ sleep in the midst of danger echoes a recurring theme in the Jewish Scriptures: when God did not intervene to save his people and appeared to lose interest, he was said to be “asleep” and had to be wakened — see Ps 35:23; 44:23-24; 59:5; Is 51:9.

Jesus’ words to the storm recall Ps 104:7, and are the same that Jesus used in Mk 1:25 the first time he cast out a demon. They appear to be a standard Jewish formula of exorcism, and emphasize that Jesus is binding the powers of evil to render them harmless. Thus, this event is symbolic of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, and assures that God’s power will triumph.

First Reading: Job 38:1, 8-11

The book of Job raises more questions than it answers concerning the problem of evil in the world. The innocent afflicted man, although accused of guilt by his “friends,” must remain content with unseeing trust in God. In chapter 38, God is depicted as affirming his superiority over the seas, symbolizing evil. God implies that the final victory is his, therefore Job has no reason to doubt.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31

This psalm depicts God’s dominance over the forces of nature, and his protection of those who are afflicted by superior forces, if they place their faith in him. Response: “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Paul’s motive in all he does is the overwhelming love which Christ has for him and for all people. This love overcomes all contrary forces, and therefore we can become a totally new creation, no longer defeated by our human hesitations and limitations.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. Think about the water of the sea — and discuss the feelings and emotions you have about it.

2. What do the readings today have to say about baptism?

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2018
ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — Year B (Scripture Readings)

THE SEED OF GOD’S REIGN

Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

The parables of Mk 4 concern the establishment and growth of God’s kingdom. The first lengthy parable of the sower and seed, and its explanation, is read in Year A, Fifteenth Sunday, in the somewhat more developed version found in Mt 13:1-23. Vv 21-25 explain how these parables are to be heard — they must be received and pondered with an open heart in a way that allows them to illumine the course of our lives. Only when we have made them our own can we begin to share their insights with others.

The two parables of the liturgical reading run counter to our desires for instant results. The seed when planted is gone from sight, but that does not mean nothing is happening. Similarly, the work of Jesus, as well as our ministry as his followers in God’s kingdom, cannot be measured by immediate and observable results. Christians have to resist the temptation to apply cost-efficient standards to ministry; we cannot let our share in the work of Christ be measured by outward evidence of success. Seeds that we plant will bear fruit in the Lord’s time by his work. Our task is to plant the seeds, and to plant them well. We cannot use God’s power to accomplish his work as an excuse for lazy ministry or shoddy work either.The use of parables in itself is a lot like planting seeds. A parable is not a lesson like “Today I learned that the kingdom of God grows slowly.” Instead, a parable is a story that draws the learner into it, and invites exploration of its meaning. Parables bear repeated telling and hearing, and each time new insight can be discovered.

First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

This poem is also a parable. The figure of a tree is strong and often used in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here, the old cedar is the old Israel, nearly destroyed by its enemies. But God himself will save a remnant — a tiny twig — and transplant it so that it might become a tree that will spread its branches over the whole earth. The little twig, however, is fragile and will grow only under the power and protection of God. The new Israel — the Church — is born in weakness and insignificance, yet spreads throughout the earth under God’s care.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16

This song of praise recounts the response of both the wicked (vv 6-12) and the just (vv 13-16) to God’s goodness. Response: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

The strength of Christian hope puts the rest of the world in perspective. On the one hand, the Christian cultivates a certain indifference toward his or her own position in the world. On the other hand, the world becomes extremely precious as the scene in which salvation is accomplished and God’s order restored.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. In what way could we say that patience is one of the most important requirements for Christian ministry?

2. Does storytelling have a place in your life as a follower of Jesus? Why or why not?

Image: Jan Luykens, 19th c, Parable of the Mustard Seed
Wikipedia

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 10, 2018
TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — Year B (Scripture Readings)

SIN AND HOPE

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

After laying the foundations of his ministry by proclaiming the presence of God’s kingdom as a call to repentance, and performing the works of the kingdom by freeing men and women from captivity to demons, disease, and legalism, Jesus shares this power with chosen disciples. The Twelve represent the original chosen twelve tribes of Israel, and so they are symbolic of the new people of God. Mark immediately contrasts their acceptance of Jesus with rejection by those who should have been the first to accept him — the religious leaders and his own family.

The Scribes were respected professional experts in the Jewish law, but their diagnosis of Jesus (v 22) is a good example of twisting the obvious to conform with a prejudgment. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and lived had no resemblance to their expectations; therefore, if Satan obeyed him it must be because he was in league with Satan. Jesus easily shows the lack of logic in this reasoning (vv 23-27), but then strikes forcefully at the heart of their attitude: they were closed to the working of the Spirit, and had made themselves incapable of salvation (vv 29-30). From God’s side, no sin is unforgivable; but we can render ourselves incapable of receiving forgiveness through hardness of heart.

Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus’ mother and his family as among those who misunderstood him and did not accept his kingdom (v 21). They were unable to rise above natural ties, and sought to limit him: “Why don’t you come home like a good boy, and stop making all this fuss? It’s embarrassing to us and dangerous for you!” Jesus, in answer, uses this rejection to put the relationship of his followers with himself on a higher level of faith and acceptance (vv 33-35).

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15

Sin always involves blindness, for sin is always a refusal to see and acknowledge God’s order. The basic temptation is for the human to want to become God (Gn 3:5). Once the attempt fails and the consequences must be faced, the flight from responsibility for sin is again a refusal to acknowledge light (vv 9-13). For eyes that feel comfortable and secure in the darkness, light is painful — yet healing can come only through letting the light in and facing up to one’s responsibility in sinning. The real tragedy of sin here is not the act of disobedience itself, but the refusal to acknowledge it and repent. Adam, in the name of all humanity, locks himself in sinful refusal of God’s forgiveness. Nowhere in the whole story is there any hint of sorrow for the sin. There is only shame and denial. But even in human weakness and hardness of heart, God promises that evil forces will be overcome (v 15). Jesus the new Adam would open himself to reconciliation, in the name of all humanity, by submission to the Father. (See also the commentary for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8.)

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

This psalm of sorrow expresses deep trust in God even when the sinner must suffer the consequences of sin. Response: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”

First Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Hope is a very human virtue. We are carried through bad times by the hope of good times. Yet this virtue, so necessary for human survival, is not yet a God-centered hope. In fact, according to Paul in this passage, for our hope to have God truly as our goal, we must give up our human hopes and attachments (v 18). Paul had to struggle with his own set of inner forces (see 2 Cor 12:7-9) as well as outward opposition to come to this conclusion, and so he expresses it here with deep conviction. There is a temptation to put our real hopes in lesser things, like prosperity, health, and success; and use God as a last resort. To claim Christian hope, we have to place God first and put lesser hopes and goals aside for him.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. Is confession important for forgiveness? Why? Is it necessary to confess outwardly, as in the sacrament of reconciliation, or is it enough just to God alone? Why or why not?

2. What is faith? What is hope? How are they related to each other? What do these virtues mean in your life?

Image: Baal with Thunderbolt, from Ugarit, Syria, 15-13 c BC.
Louvre Museum. Wikipedia.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) (Scripture Readings,  Year B)

THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB

Gospel: Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

In omitting vv 17-21 about Judas the betrayer, the liturgical reading clearly shows the connection between the passover and the eucharist. Originally the feast of unleavened bread (mazzoth) and the passover ritual slaughtering and eating of a yearling lamb were two distinct celebrations. They were combined later in Jewish history to commemorate the deliverance from Egypt and so recall the most significant of God’s saving deeds for his people. See Ex 12 for the Jewish Scriptures’ summary of the meaning of these rituals.

Unleavened bread symbolized both getting rid of the encumbrances of household living to prepare for a journey, and ritual purity as well —leavening being a rather foul (“sour-dough”) substance that well signified corruption. The blood of the lamb symbolized the offering of life in exchange for life (the first-born) to assure continuity of the race, and eating its meat brought about a symbolic union with God, through sharing in the flesh of an animal that was God’s consecrated property.

In the eucharist, Jesus fulfilled and gave new meaning to this ritual. He is the passover lamb par excellence. He purifies us of the unnecessary things of life that stand in the way of union with God, and he is the effective sign which both expresses and brings about that union in its fullness (see Is 53:7; Jn 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19). Just as the occasion of the passover makes present the entirety of God’s saving acts of the past in the particular moment of celebration, so the future fulfillment of the kingdom is also contained in this ritual (v 25). Thus in the eucharist, the whole of salvation is focused in this moment of contact with Christ. The eucharist is not merely a passive reception of Christ, but an intensely active sharing in everything that he is.

First Reading: Exodus 24:3-8

Life’s blood is holy because it is the source of life, and reflects the life-giving power of God. The blood of young bulls — sacred animals because they symbolize strength and the male element of the transmission of life — in this ritual becomes the sign of contact with God. In the act of sprinkling the same blood on both God’s altar and his people, the covenant-union between God and the people is symbolically brought about.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18

God has shown his goodness to his people; their proper return is a sacrifice of the heart. Response: “I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11-15

The Letter to the Hebrews is concerned with relating the Jewish religious spirit and practice with who Jesus Christ was and what he did, and exploring the implications of a life of faith in him. The revelation and ritual of Judaism before Christ is seen to be good but imperfect, incapable of fully accomplishing what it signified, and so pointed towards the fullness of Christ. Jesus Christ, however, is the perfect sign, accomplishing fully the union of God and humanity that his sacrifice symbolized.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. Reflect upon your experience of blood — even though it may be unpleasant. What about blood makes it an appropriate symbol of life?

2. How would you describe the meaning of the eucharist in your own life from a biblical point of view? In the life of the Church?

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018
SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY (Scripture Readings, Year B)

WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus as risen Lord, the focal point of the renewal of all creation (v 18) sends his disciples forth on the mission that sums up the entire purpose of the Church: to make disciples of all nations. “Baptism in the name of” someone signifies belonging — immersion of one’s own reality into that person’s reality. Thus the Christian belongs to the Trinity, united to the Son as a child of the Father, a union accomplished and vivified by the Holy Spirit. The new covenant of Jesus is not merely a new set of laws, but a totally new way of life, founded on his continued presence. The life and activity of the Church continues (or should continue) to display the living Jesus to the world.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Moses’ exhortation here serves as a preamble to the Jewish covenant-law. The law was not simply a set of rules to be obeyed for good order, nor, as later tradition distorted it, a necessary condition for pleasing God. The law was the constitution of the people God had chosen as his own. Observance of the law was the way of life that corresponded to the covenant. Thus Jesus, by establishing the new covenant, did not so much replace the law as fulfill it.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22

This psalm praises God’s past works and acknowledges that he still works to save his people. Response: “Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”

Second Reading: Romans 8:14-17

This passage sums up the meaning of the Trinity for us. V 15 alludes to our right to make the prayer of Jesus our own. But union with the Trinity does not happen automatically. Our active participation means joining with Christ as he is — in the suffering of the cross — rather than as we might wish him to be.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. Describe your understanding of the distinctive personalities of the Three Divine Persons.

2. What difference does your belief in God as Three Persons make in your life?