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June 25, 2017


Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33

The whole missionary sermon of Jesus as he sends forth his disciples on a “practice run” was probably compiled by Matthew from an original brief instruction (see Mk 6:7-13), combined with sayings of Jesus from other times and places. Matthew’s intent here would be to provide a more or less complete teaching on the Christian mission, just as he had compiled many sayings of Jesus into the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) in order to give a full picture of the moral demands of the kingdom.

Today’s passage forms a commentary on Jesus’ words in vv 19-20. Those who are sent to continue the message of Jesus must be prepared to face persecution, but can rely on the presence and power of God to sustain them.

Vv 26-27 are quoted as a command of Jesus, but the same saying is used elsewhere as a statement of the power which the Gospel possesses within itself (Mk 4:22; Lk 8:17; 12:2-3).

Vv 28-31 describe two motives for confidence. First, the only real adversary to be feared is Satan, the force of evil whom Christ will have already overcome. Secondly, as it is evident that God cares for all his creation, so much more does he look after those chosen and sent as his own.

Vv 32-33 emphasize that fidelity is not a one-way street. Those who are faithful to Christ can expect him to be faithful. But infidelity cuts oneself off from Christ’s promise.

The expression, “soul,” in v 28 reflects the Hebrew concept of life. The word refers to life itself, rather than the Greek-Christian concept of a soul as a distinct entity from the body. The meaning here is that “real life” or the “whole life” cannot be destroyed by persecution.

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah’s hymn (20:7-18) gives voice to the anguish of the person who feels the relentless pursuit of God’s love. This love isn’t a cozy and warm feeling, but is the all-giving, all-embracing, all-demanding power of him who seeks nothing less than total submission, and who gives nothing less than his own self. Jeremiah feels within his heart both the stern yet loving call of God, and the sin and rejection of his people.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 69:8-10, 14-17, 33, 35

This lament can be viewed on two levels of meaning: it expresses the pain of an individual in the midst of oppression as well as the suffering of the entire people of Israel at the hands of conquering enemies. It is messianic first of all because it maintains hope in deliverance even without seeing evidence of it, a hope which is to be fulfilled in Christ. Response: “Lord, in your great love, answer me.”

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-15

This is one of the most difficult passages in all the New Testament. Although Adam and Christ are shown in parallel, the basis for the comparison is Christ, not Adam. Having experienced Christ and his new life, we look backwards to the origins of human sinfulness in the act of primal disobedience in order to perceive more fully the grace of salvation. The shadow helps to define and understand the light. Paul is not trying to prove the existence of sin in the world — that is obvious. Rather, he is saying that just as all humanity experiences the bonds of sin, so the liberation from sin by Christ is universal — it extends to all people, not just a chosen few.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. What gives you a sense of your own self-worth? How can you help others understand their own worth?

2. How does your awareness of your own sinfulness help you to understand the greatness of God’s love? How can you help others to understand it?


Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

June 18, 2017


Gospel: John 6:51-58

The entirety of Jn 6 focuses on the eucharist. The nearness of the Passover (v 4) ties the occasion both to the celebration of God’s deliverance of his people in the past, and to the fulfillment of Jesus’ sacrifice in his death and resurrection. The multiplication of loaves and the walking on water unite Jesus’ power as the Son of God to the elements of nature — his is not a dominating and manipulating power but a perfecting and liberating power. The elements — bread, wind, sea — in obedience to him become more truly what they already are: instruments of grace.

Those miracles are a prelude to Jesus’ teaching about himself as “bread of life,” of which this passage is the concluding section. The word “flesh” is unmistakable in its concrete meaning. Jesus is no longer speaking metaphorically of “food” — as in “I am the bread of life” (vv 35, 48) — but now is calling his disciples to participate intimately in the incarnation itself. The word “incarnation” means “enfleshment,” and Jesus’ words here recall the beginning of John’s Gospel: “The Word became made flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). Jesus is “God-in-the-flesh” fully and really.

These words are not “merely symbolic,” but neither are they merely literal. They are symbolic in the fullest sense of the word. To eat and drink, as the action of the eucharist, is the sign of intimacy of the union with the human and divine Christ in the sacrament, as well as the means to it. This action brings us into the family relationship of the Trinity (v 57). By uniting with Christ totally (“in the flesh”) we share in the same life-receiving relationship he has with the Father.

Obviously, “flesh” here does not refer to the corrupting tendencies of lower nature, as St. Paul uses the term. (See Rom 8; Gal 5.) Instead, the flesh encompasses the total humanity of Christ as the dwelling place (Jn 1:14) of the divinity.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16

God is closest to his people in times of suffering and trial — just when he seems farthest away! In the midst of “the test” he sustains those who are faithful to him by the continuance of his creative Word. This type of sustenance is symbolized by the manna. God’s work is not finished in creation alone; he remains active in history, bringing his creation to perfection.

We can no more “test” God than we can prove his existence. He is fidelity itself, and what is self-evident is incapable of test or proof. On the other hand, God has the right to test us, so that through trial we may be led to the perfection that he seeks for us. The faithful, tried and true, become the strongest evidence for God’s existence and his fidelity.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20

These verses, from the second half of a two-part song, praise God for his goodness to his people. Response: “Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Pagan mystery religions held that the worshiper who shared in a sacrificial meal participated in the power of the god being worshiped. St. Paul both compares and contrasts this to the Christian eucharist. Sharing the one loaf and the one cup of the eucharist make us one with the whole Christ. And this participation cannot be half-hearted, divided among other “gods” as well. The union signified and brought about in the eucharist must permeate every aspect of our lives.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. How is sharing Christ’s body and blood in communion an act which affirms our union with one another as well?

2. Discuss the eucharist as the continuation of “God-with us” —Emmanuel

Featured image: the earliest known depitction of the Eucharist,
Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, 2nd century AD.

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

June 11,2017


Gospel: John 3:16-18

This brief section is from the dialogue of Jesus with Nicodemus, which unfolds the relationship of baptism to faith. Read all of chapter 3 carefully to get the context. (It is likely, though not certain, that vv 13-21 are John’s commentary on the words of Jesus rather than a quotation of them directly.) The whole chapter continues what John the Baptist alluded to in 1:33.

Jesus, as the revelation of the Father, vv 11-16, echoes for us the beginning of the Gospel of John — Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. Why did God reveal himself in this way? The only possible answer is love — he loves us and wants to share his life with us, and this is how he shows it (vv 16-17).

Acceptance and belief, as the condition for salvation, are contrasted with rejection and “love of darkness” as bringing condemnation. The situation of those who have not had the opportunity (as far as we are able to know) to accept or reject Christ is simply not referred to here. This moral imperative is for those who hear the word of Christ, but it also involves a serious obligation on the followers of Jesus to make that word known. It does not, however, give us the right to judge the salvation or condemnation of anyone else.

First Reading: Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9

A person’s name identifies him or her. Here YAHWEH (which means “He Who Is”) is affirmed as Israel’s God. This name (see Ex 3:14) points to the oneness of God in distinction to the many gods of other nations. Jesus, in turn, reveals this same one God to be a Trinity of distinct Persons, sharing their family life with us in knowledge and in love.

Note that a few Bibles, especially the Jerusalem Bible, consistently use the proper name, Yahweh, for God whenever it appears in the Hebrew text. Others, like the New American Bible, translate it more familiarly to us as “the Lord.”

Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

These verses are from the magnificent song of the three young men in the fiery furnace, giving voice to the praise of all creation to Yahweh as Lord of all. Response: “Glory and praise for ever!”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-12

The Christian Scriptures, especially the writings of John and Paul, speak of the three divine Persons as intimately sharing their family life with us. And so Christian love, which overcomes obstacles and difficulties, is the sign of union with and in the family life of God.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. Do the names by which we call God say more about him or about ourselves? Why?

2. What do the titles Father, Son, and Spirit say about our relationship as Christians with God and with one another?


Solemnity of Pentecost

June 4, 2017


On Pentecost, we Christians celebrate the final day of the great feast of Easter, the day marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to empower them to continue and bring to completion the work of Christ. The ancient Jewish feast of Pentecost foreshadowed this Christian feast as the commemoration of the giving of the law of Mount Sinai. For the faithful Jew, observance of the law was the way of fulfilling the Covenant (celebrated at Passover) in daily life.

One set of readings is given for the evening before the feast itself (the vigil), and these convey a sense of anticipation. The readings of the feast day speak of fulfillment. Our consideration of all the readings will enable us to see the theme of Pentecost completeness developed in them. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, enthronement at the Father’s right hand, and sending of the Spirit are all aspects of one saving act of God. The new life of glory that belongs to Jesus in his resurrection is ours through the coming of the Spirit.

Vigil of Pentecost

Gospel: John 7:37-39

Jesus is the pivot point of history, the fulfillment of all past expectation (v 38), who promises to be the source of life for all time. Note in v 39 that the Gospel author connects the resurrection and glorification of Jesus with the coming of his Spirit — the Spirit is the gift of Jesus who passed through death, and is raised to glory. By the power of the Spirit, the disciple becomes a source of living water (living water means the saving word) just as Christ himself (see 4:14).

Chapters 7 and 8 in John (except for the adulteress story, which was added later) form one unit culminating in Jesus’ clear statement of his divinity in 8:58.

First Reading: there is a choice among four.

Genesis 11:1-9 depicts the fragmentation and alienation in human relationships that comes as a result of greed and self-interest. The confusion of tongues symbolizes the deeper disunity of heart caused by sin, while the many tongues of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12) signal the unity of humankind restored in the Spirit.

Exodus 19:3-8,16-20 recalls the Hebrew origins of Pentecost, the command to live in accord with the Covenant. This is not an order expecting blind obedience or empty hope, but is based on the experience of God having already shown his saving love to his people.

Ezekiel 37:1-14, the famous vision of the dry bones being joined together again and enfleshed with new life, speaks of restoring the unity of the Israelite nation, which had become disintegrated and corrupt. However, we can see the fulfillment of this strikingly vivid image in the new life of the risen Christ that is the Spirit’s gift to humanity.

Joel 3:1-5 paints a different and more personal picture than Ezekiel. The action of God’s Spirit lifts his people out of the ordinary, and challenges them to face the fullness of God’s work.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1-2, 24, 25, 27-28, 29, 30

Different verses from the same psalm are chosen for the vigil and the feast day. The psalm, a hymn of praise to God for the creative work of his Spirit, depicts the goodness of creation, summed up in life and nourishment, as speaking of renewal in God’s Spirit. The verses chosen for the vigil emphasize the hunger of God’s people for the life he gives them. Response: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27

Our present condition of weakness and lack of perfection gives evidence of our need for redemption. But the life of the Spirit enables us to rise above these present limitations, and so his activity is the guarantee of future fulfillment. The Spirit is also the source of our prayer, the only sure foundation from which we can address God. We have now, imperfectly and initially, what will be fulfilled and perfected in eternity.

Pentecost Mass of the Day

Gospel: John 20:19-23

John portrays Jesus giving his promised gift of the Spirit in the evening of the day of his resurrection, and thus shows clearly that the Spirit is the fulfillment of the presence of the risen Christ in his followers. The Spirit is to continue Jesus’ mission of reconciliation, the heart of which is not preaching, but living what one preaches — in a word, forgiveness.

This forgiveness of sins should not be taken in a narrow legalistic sense, but should be seen as the entirety of God’s saving power which is his gift to the Church. The Christian community’s success or failure will be measured only by the degree to which its members are reconciled to one another — in other words, love. Forgiveness is the catalyst that enables reconciliation and love to happen.

We are not vending machines for God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness of one another is the perceptible and genuine sign that God’s forgiveness is happening. This unconditional love and forgiveness is the distinguishing mark of a true Christian (Jn 13:34-35) because it is beyond unaided human powers (Mt 5:38-48) and therefore is a sign of the Spirit’s presence. Forgiveness and love are not merely ethical precepts, they are the overflow of the new life that is God’s gift.

First Reading: Acts 2:1-11

Just as the Jewish feast of Pentecost, celebrated fifty days after Passover, was seen as the completion of the covenant, so the coming of the Spirit is celebrated as the completion of the new covenant accomplished in the Easter mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As narrated in Acts, the Holy Spirit is the source of the mission of witness to the resurrection and lordship of Jesus, which characterizes the entire life of the Church. In graphic and symbolic detail, this passage emphasizes the power of the Spirit impelling the disciples to go forth and preach the Word of Life to all people (v 4), and the universal effect of their mission (vv 5-11). With good reason the Acts of the Apostles is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34

These verses simply praise God for his eternal deeds, and thus foreshadow the new creation in the Spirit. Response: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

The diversity of gifts is not only the source of our glory as a Christian community, but unfortunately is also the reason why we need reconciliation —it is difficult to recognize and accept another’s uniqueness as a gift. Often we view others’ gifts with suspicion as a threat to our own. The Spirit gives this diversity of gifts (v 11), and we must allow the Spirit to open our eyes to see the unity in this diversity, and to proclaim the lordship of Jesus (v 3).

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. How do you recognize the Spirit’s activity in the Church? in your own life? in the lives of others?

2. How are peace and forgiveness important characteristics of the Christian life?

Ascension of the Lord

May 28, 2017


Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Through his death-resurrection passage, Jesus has been given lordship over heaven and earth by the Father. In turn, he shares this power with the Church, the community of his disciples. The early Church was very conscious that it was living and acting, growing and expanding by the power of the risen Jesus.

Baptism is entry into the new mode of life of the risen Lord. A person passes through the waters of Christ’s death-passage to share his Spirit and power. Baptism “in the name” of the three Divine Persons is not just a formalized invocation of them, but a making present of their life and power. Baptism immerses the Christian into the life-sharing relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

The presence of Jesus makes effective the whole life and activity of the Church. In the power of Jesus, Christians live in a way that attracts and forms disciples. In his power they go forth and make him present in the world.

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension is seen in the Christian Scriptures as the point of transition from Christ’s activity as Savior to the continuation of his mission by his disciples as the “saving community.”

Both the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of his Acts of the Apostles narrate the same event, but each has a different emphasis. Both stress the witness of the apostles to continue throughout the world what Jesus began in Jerusalem. The Gospel account, however, looks back to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the content of this witness, and penance and forgiveness of sins as the result (Lk 24:46-48). The book of Acts looks forward to the coming of Christ in fullness (the restoration of Israel) as the content, and the fulfillment of God’s rule over humanity as the result (vv 6-8).

Luke’s Gospel account ends on a note of joyful resolution — as a result of the Ascension of Jesus, the apostles are depicted in almost “happy-ever-after” terms (Lk 24:53). The beginning of Acts, however, is filled with tension and anxiety to get about the business of witnessing — “why do you stand here?”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

This processional song of exaltation proclaims God’s rule over all the peoples of the earth. Response: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

The Ascension celebrates the exaltation of Christ rather than merely his departure. Enthroned at God’s right hand, he is more than just the object of our worship — he is the source of our new creation. His position is not so much that of domination as that of sharing life.

Questions for thought, discussion, and prayer:

1. What does this feast mean to you?

2. Are you more comfortable thinking of Christ as exalted Lord whom you worship, or as the head of the body of which you are a member? Why?