Sunday, January 15, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 22, 2017

First Reading Commentary
This Reading prophesies a day when the Messiah shall be a shining Light, a Joy that abounds; a God-Man Who shall rule with justice and peace, and bring an end to oppression.  This prophecy is very much a part of this weekend’s Gospel. 

Formerly and latterly are the two distinctions to keep in mind from this Reading.  Formerly there was degradation; latterly there is glorification.  Formerly there was anguish, darkness and gloom; latterly there is light, abundant joy and great rejoicing.  And, of course, it is the Messiah Who is the cause of Light, Joy, Rejoicing and Glory. 

The District of the Gentiles is northwestern Galilee which was inhabited by pagans; and Galilee is where Jesus began His Ministry.  Nazareth was in Zebulon and Naphtali was east of Zebulon along the Jordan River.  The seaward road was the trade route from Damascus to the Mediterranean which passed through Galilee.  It is, therefore, Galilee’s glorification that is prophesied in the opening verse.  The day of Midian deals with the defeat of Midian found in the Book of Judges.  The full story is too lengthy to highlight here but if you’re interested you’ll find it in chapters seven, eight and nine. 

Our own lives are full of former and latter occurrences: Sadness and joy, disappointments and accomplishments, sickness and health.  The emotional and physical roller coaster, however, is temporary.  There will come a day when those temporary let downs will cease forever; while the upbeats, although temporary now, will become eternal and inexplicably magnified.  Our current journey requires patient endurance, praise and faithfulness to our Lord.  

Second Reading Commentary
This could easily be the Scripture passage selected to open the proceedings of a Christian ecumenical dialogue.  Yes, indeed there are divisions among us: “I belong to the Catholics,” or “I belong to the Eastern Orthodox,” or “I belong to the Lutherans,” or “I belong to the Anglicans,” etc., etc., etc.  As evidenced in this Reading and from what we know today, obviously there’s nothing new under the sun.  Realistically, there will always be doctrinal differences that Christian faiths will likely never be able to get past or overlook.  But let us not forget what the most important line in this Reading is: “I belong to Christ.”  And let us pray that Christians never overlook that comforting and unifying fact. 

In case you’re curious, it is not known who Chloe is but obviously is known to the Corinthians.  Paul, however, doesn’t single out Chloe but instead writes, “Chloe’s people.”  Most likely he did this so that Chloe as an individual would not become a possible victim of resentment from the divided Corinthians.  Those who claim to belong to Paul are the first converts of Corinth and for that reason probably feel some sort of superiority over the converts who jumped on the Christian bandwagon later.  Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew who was a convert to Christianity and who also converted many in Corinth after Paul’s departure.  Cephas is Saint Peter and those who claim to belong to him most assuredly felt righteous about their decision because Peter, as we all know, was head of the Church. 

It is not factually known but many scholars have concluded that Peter paid a visit to Corinth shortly before this letter from Saint Paul.  There’s really no evidence to suggest that any faction in Corinth claimed to specifically belong to Christ.  Paul probably mentions it in this letter as a subtle hint to these rivals that Christ is the true Center of their faith. 

Paul writes that Christ did not send him to baptize.  This doesn’t mean that he never baptized anyone; nor is he in anyway attempting to de-emphasize baptism.  Baptism was a common ministerial function of all the apostles.  What Paul is expressing here is that Christ made him an apostle specifically to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Saint Paul was guided by the Spirit in his writings as well as in his preaching and did not rely on his own human wisdom or intelligence so that the Cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.  The Latin translates as: “lest the Cross of Christ should be made void.”  In other words, never credit anyone’s conversion to human wisdom and know-how; but only to the incomparable Power of God and Christ crucified.

Gospel Commentary
Saint Matthew begins here by letting his readers know that when Jesus heard John the Baptist had been arrested He withdrew to Galilee.  John was now finished with what he was called to do and now it’s time for Jesus to take over.  The red carpet has been rolled out and humanity now fervently waits for the Ministry of the King of kings.  Saint John Chrysostom, understanding the fulfillment of prophecy here, writes: “Jesus Christ enters more publicly on His mission, and about to occupy the place of His precursor, He chooses Galilee for the first theatre of His ministry, the place assigned by the ancient prophets.”  ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ was actually the proper name used in the time of Christ because it was a non-Jewish section of Galilee. 

Notice that Jesus uses the very same words which were exhorted by Saint John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He may have said this as a comfort for the followers of John who likely had lost hope after his arrest.  But Jesus is an assurance to them that the work of the Kingdom goes on because everything John foretold is about to be manifested.  Saint Jerome tells us that Christ will not only set out to prove that His ministry is heaven sent, but He will also humble the pride of man; and it is for this reason that He chooses fishermen instead of orators and philosophers. 

Ancient enemies of Christianity claimed that Christ chose simple, uneducated men to be His apostles because uneducated men could easily be deceived.  But as Saint Paul has pointed out, God chose the weak of this world to confound the strong (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27).  That is not to say that human wisdom and intelligence is evil.  Certainly Saint John Paul II, for example, was extremely intelligent by human standards: he was well-read, educated and fluently spoke several languages.  But surely no one can deny that this man’s level of humility afforded him a great deal of heavenly wisdom as well. 

The battle is between “Pride” and “Humility”.  Pride is an attaboy or attagirl, pat yourself on the back arrogance that credits only you for your achievements.  Humility understands and embraces the fact that all forms of wisdom and intelligence are gifts from God; or as Christ said: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

It may seem a bit strange or unusual to most readers that the first four called by Jesus to apostleship were immediately obedient and dropped everything.  You might be inclined to credit it to some sort of divine stare and certainly that’s a possibility; but if you read Saint John’s Gospel (1:35-42) it seems that Peter, Andrew and John were already familiar with Jesus. 

The closing verse is a summation of Christ’s Ministry in Galilee but in addition to that it is likely intended to create anticipatory emotions leaving us longing for a more detailed account of Christ’s miracles and teachings, in which Saint Matthew will gladly oblige throughout his Gospel.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 15, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The name "Israel" is used three times in this Reading but the only way to make any sense of this passage is to understand that the first Israel has a different meaning than the remaining two.  The first Israel, described here as a servant through whom the Lord will show His glory, clearly is a prophecy about the Messiah.  The remaining two speak of the nation of Israel.  Most likely the author used the name "Israel" to prophesy the coming of the Messiah because it is through the nation of Israel that He would come. 

God's initial plan for the servant is to bring back Jacob to Him and have the nation of Israel gathered to Him.  The mission here, then, is a spiritual one.  There does, however, seem to be a political mission as well which is to restore Israel's exiles.  But as we know, Christ did not come for political reasons and perhaps that is prophesied here when the Lord says that the political mission is too little for the servant.  God clearly calls His servant to be a light to all nations so that His salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. 

Christ extended that mission to all His disciples when He said: "Teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19).  With these words, then, we not only see Christ as the Messiah but also ourselves as the Body of Christ included in God's plan of salvation and co-fulfillers of the Messianic prophecy.  It is, of course, our Lord's love for us that compelled Him to include us in such an intimate way.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul had previously preached to the Corinthians and spent a great deal of time with them but after his departure several divisions began to form among the people of Corinth.  Many emotional wounds were inflicted on the population because of these divisions.  This letter from Paul was an effort on his part to heal those wounds. 

There are a few opinions as to who Sosthenes is, but the most accepted thought is that he was a great sufferer for the faith in Corinth; and Saint Paul mentions him here to highlight him as a model to follow.  If this opinion is correct, it should be noted that this particular man named Sosthenes of Corinth was once a staunch enemy of Paul and must have had a conversion experience.  Other conjectures are that he is the same Sosthenes who was beaten before the tribunal in Gallio (cf. Acts 18:17); or that possibly he was Paul's secretary. 

In this letter Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are called to unity but that Corinth is not being singled out; this unity of the faith is intended for all those everywhere who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This Reading closes with a familiar greeting from Saint Paul: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of its familiarity it would be easy to pass over this greeting quickly without giving it much consideration but think about how floored you would be if someone said it to you; or consider how much courage it takes for you to say it to someone you've just met.

Gospel Commentary
Saint John the Baptist, as the prophesied precursor, was given the graces to fulfill that office; and now in this Gospel passage he reveals what he knows: First, Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  Secondly, even though Jesus was born after John, He existed before John and ranks ahead of John.  Thirdly, John proclaims that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and remain on Jesus.  Fourthly, Jesus is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  And finally, like a good mystery novel, John the Baptist saves the real jaw dropper for last: Jesus is the Son of God. 

A lamb symbolizes innocence but it cannot be easily determined if John is identifying Jesus as a Victim when he proclaims Christ as the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world.  Today, all of us without hesitation could read Victimization into John's statement because we know the fullness of the Jesus story; and that being a Victim was necessary to take away the sin of the world. 

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah a cruel destiny is alluded to with the words, "Like a lamb led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7); but whether John the Baptist had this in mind is uncertain. 

Even though Jesus was born after John, Christ is depicted as existing before John which identifies Jesus as God and Man although the hearers of John's proclamation probably didn't make that connection.  When John says, "I did not know Him" most likely he means by physical visualization since John spent about twenty years of his life in the wilderness.  John knew Christ was of Divine Origin even before the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a Dove because when Christ came to be baptized, John said to Him: "I ought to be baptized by You" (Matthew 3:14). 

The Church calls us today to evangelize, to prepare the way for Christ's return.  No one in the Church is excused from this mission.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Epiphany of the Lord - January 8, 2017

First Reading Commentary
There are images here such as darkness covering the earth and the appearance of light which take us back all the way to the creation story in the Book of Genesis.  Keeping the creation story in mind, Scripture tells us that the earth was void and empty and darkness was upon the face of the deep (cf. Genesis 1:2).  Void, emptiness and darkness are descriptions that can be symbolic of sin.  And Scripture reveals next that the Spirit of God moved over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:2).  The Virgin Mary also had the Spirit move over her and when God said: "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), the greatest Light of all was now conceived in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And why?  To be the Occupant for that void, the Filler for that emptiness, and the Beacon for that darkness which formerly plagued humanity.  In Genesis, God saw that the light was good (cf. Genesis 1:4).  To say that the Light conceived in Mary is good would be an understatement.  In Genesis, God divided the darkness from the light (cf. Genesis 1:4).  That division of light and darkness literally, prophetically and symbolically has forever remained in tact. 

The light prophesied here in this Reading from Isaiah comes clothed with the glory of the Lord.  The opening verse reads: "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!"  Actually, "Jerusalem" is not included in the Hebrew text or Saint Jerome's Vulgate but is found in the Septuagint.  It could be assumed that Isaiah is referring to Jerusalem or Zion as he probably sees it as the center of religious knowledge and salvation. 

Nations, which means Gentile nations, will recognize the religious leadership of Jerusalem and shall come bearing gifts.  It is upon Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord shines while the thick clouds which cover the peoples probably is a reference to Babylon. 

Prophetically, Jerusalem is the Church to which all nations shall come because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ shines upon her and through her comes the Light of Truth.  Traditionally, three kings traveled on camels bearing gold and frankincense, as mentioned in this Reading, as well as myrrh which is not included here.  They came to see the Light and proclaim the praises of the Lord.

Second Reading Commentary
"You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit."  What Saint Paul is conveying here is that the Ephesians have surely heard by now that by the grace of God, Paul has been made their apostle.  The mystery he mentions is the divine plan in which Jews and Gentiles are to be united into one faith.  Paul states that he received this information by revelation which most certainly means Jesus Christ.  What is revealed in this revelation is the redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ, the vocation of the Gentiles and the command to proclaim the Gospel to them. 

Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom suggest that this mystery was not entirely unknown to previous generations as surely many of the Old Testament prophets understood God's future plans.  But now this mystery has been revealed to the apostles who in turn have proclaimed it to everyone they came into contact with.  The revealed mystery of Gentiles being equal partners in God's gift of salvation was a scandal and the cause of many of the persecutions of early Christianity.  Today, we continue to pray for this oneness.  Although hopeful things are occurring as a result of ecumenical dialogues, there is still a long way to go.

Gospel Commentary
Saint Jerome tells us that this city is called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zebulon. 

Both the Latin and Greek text signify the "Magi" as wise philosophers and astronomers.  They came from the east; some say Arabia, others from Chaldea, and yet others from Persia.  Many interpreters speak of them as if they were kings, princes, or lords of small territories.  Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, however, may confirm their Arabian origin because Arabia was renowned for these items. The number of these wise men is uncertain.  Pope Saint Leo the Great, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if there were three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offering (gold, frankincense and myrrh). 

There are also different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to the Magi, whether before Christ's birth, or about the very time He was born, which seems more likely.  The Wise Men found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His Blessed Mother was to remain forty days, until the time of her Purification was expired.  And it seems more logical that the Wise Men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ's birth; for if they had come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, it's hard to fathom that so suspicious and jealous a ruler as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the newborn King.  But it is likely that being alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother's Purification, he then gave those barbaric orders for the massacre of the innocent infants. 

"We saw His star"; they knew it to be His star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation.  It is not known for certain whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the east to Jerusalem.  The Magi may have recalled the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messiah by the emblem of a star (cf. Numbers 24:17), which was to arise from Jacob. 

"When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled" most certainly through fear of losing his kingdom, which he had obtained by violence.  But why was all of Jerusalem alarmed at the news of a King so long and so fervently expected?  Probably because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more afflictive slavery. 

"And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah" was a clear prophecy concerning the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Micah (5:1). 

"And on entering the house" are words in which several of the Church Fathers in their homilies, represent the Wise Men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger; yet others, with Saint John Chrysostom explain, that before their arrival, Jesus may have been moved into some small house in Bethlehem. 

"Gold, frankincense, and myrrh" are gifts in which the ancient Fathers take notice of their mystical meaning.  Gold was signified by their tribute they paid to Him as their King; by incense, because He is God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) because He has also become Man. 

"And did Him homage" which can be translated to mean - they adored Him; therefore, in the Eucharist also, Christ is to be adored.  It is of no consequence under what appearance He offers Himself to us, whether that of a perfect Man, a speechless Child as in this Gospel, or under the appearance of Bread and Wine; for in whatever manner or place our Lord appears, He is true God, and for that alone He is to be adored.  For certain the Magi have left us an example to imitate.  We see Jesus today, not as the magi did, in a crib, but on the altar; not His Mother holding Him, but the priest in Persona Christi, and the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly upon the Sacrifice.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016

First Reading Commentary
If you're a student of the ancient biblical languages, this is the type of Reading that could cause you to abruptly abandon your studies and decide that your native tongue is quite sufficient for scriptural studies.  This Reading has been and continues to be a source of theological debate; and the topic always seems to pop up around this time every year in the media.  The problem is that the ancient Hebrew word used here for "virgin" also could mean "young woman".  Supporters of the Virgin birth obviously like the "virgin" translation and equally obvious is that "young woman" is the preference of those who deny the Virgin Birth and the Divinity of Jesus.  The Hebrew word in question is "almah" which more precisely means "unmarried maiden" which has led to the translation of "virgin" because of the strict ancient Hebrew moral code.  At the heart of the debate, though, is the Hebrew word "betulah" which more accurately means "virgin".  "Betulah" is used several times in Isaiah which naturally raises the question of why it wasn't used in this passage. 

Absent from this English translation proclaimed at American liturgies is the word "behold".  In the ancient texts as well as in various modern translations the announcement of a son named Emmanuel is preceded by the word "behold".  And "behold" in ancient usage is designed to demand your attention because something of great importance is about to be announced.  This is some added ammo for believers of the Virgin birth because "Emmanuel", although popularly translated as "God with us", in Hebrew usage implies "God's omnipotent aid" and thus the "son" referenced in this Reading seems to be the source of deliverance. 

In this coming weekend's Gospel, the writer, Saint Matthew, explains to his readers that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and makes use of this prophecy from Isaiah to show that it has been fulfilled.  Matthew may have had first hand knowledge that Jesus was born of Mary who was a Virgin.  Minimally, the story of the Virgin birth was told to him; but perhaps more important is his use of this prophecy.  If the author of Matthew's Gospel is the apostle Matthew, then that may give us a clue as to why he used this prophecy from Isaiah.  Matthew, also known as Levi, was employed by the Romans as a tax collector.  As an employee of the Romans, he most likely had some knowledge of the Latin language and if he's a writer of the New Testament, most assuredly he was knowledgeable in the Greek language.  In Greek, the Hebrew word "almah" translates as "virgin".  In Latin, "almah" translates not only as "virgin", "young woman" and "unmarried maiden", but also has the distinction of meaning "holy woman".  This is not true of the Hebrew word "betulah".  Is there any woman more deserving of this distinction than Mary? 

Laying all of this aside, we are a people of faith and most of the truths we cling to in our faith are not supported by indisputable evidence.  We walk by faith, see with the eyes of faith and trust our faith; and it is this faith of ours which we boldly profess in the Creed.  It doesn't matter how many articles, books or documentaries dispute the authenticity of Jesus Christ; we as faithful Christians know that if death couldn't eliminate Him two-thousand years ago - nothing else will ever succeed because He is Almighty God.

Second Reading Commentary
This is one of those Readings where it behooves us to prepare for Mass by looking over the Readings ahead of time because if during Mass is the first time you hear this Reading, you would be fortunate to comprehend it. 

This is the beginning of Saint Paul's letter to the Romans in which he makes use of the Jewish, Greek and Roman custom of beginning correspondence by including a sender [Paul, an apostle], an addressee [to all the beloved of God in Rome], and a greeting [Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ].  Paul does break away from tradition, however, by filling up space with Christian thoughts and ideas in between the sender, addressee and greeting; and he may have been the first to do this.  What's most important about this letter is that it contains the basics of early Christian teachings: 1) The Gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  2) Jesus descended from David and is the Son of God.  3) Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. 

Paul expresses his allegiance to Christ by calling himself a slave.  He also makes it clear that his apostleship comes from Jesus.  And finally, he proclaims the purpose of his apostleship: To bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.  Paul was not one to back down from adversity and what he doesn't do in this Reading is offer proof that Jesus is from the lineage of David which most likely means he was unaware of anyone questioning it.  Of course, what Paul wrote to the Romans as far as what they're called to be is not exclusive to the inhabitants of ancient Rome; we are all called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be among the beloved of God, and called to be holy.

Gospel Commentary
Saint Joseph exhibits exemplary sanctity.  He surely felt betrayed before he knew that the Holy Spirit was the Source of this Child, and yet he had no intentions of humiliating Mary or subjecting her to public scrutiny.  There's nothing in the text that suggests that Mary had any inkling as to what Joseph's intentions were, and so, we might conclude that Joseph even spared Mary's feelings by not divulging his own inner emotions. 

This Gospel passage is preceded by the genealogy of Christ and is careful not to express that Joseph begot Jesus: "Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, Who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16).  Since that verse could leave newcomers to the Jesus story scratching their heads, the text of this weekend's Gospel explains the circumstances. 

Joseph's appearance in this Gospel is apparent for two reasons: First, to show his legal paternity which justifies his part in the genealogy; and secondly, to show his virginal relationship with Mary and his ultimate conviction of the miraculous conception.  In ancient Jewish law, betrothal honored the status of husband and wife.  Conceiving a child during this period was legitimate but the marriage was considered incomplete until the husband formally took his bride into his home; and the husband was free to do this at any time. 

It's assumed that Joseph was unaware of Mary's condition until after she returned from visiting Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39-56) but before he took her into his home.  It's unclear as to how Joseph found out about Mary's condition.  Since Joseph had decided to quietly divorce Mary, that's pretty clear evidence he was unwilling to acknowledge the Child as his own.  It was his supernatural dream which changed his course of action.  This Child, although not biologically his, was now his more than any other man could lay claim to because Jesus was the miraculously conceived Child of Joseph's betrothed.  The name Jesus or Yeshua means "Yahweh is Salvation" and the text is clear that the purpose of His birth is to save us from our sins.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as "Gaudete Sunday" – "gaudete" is a Latin word meaning "rejoice".  Advent is actually considered a penitential season which originally involved a forty day fast leading up to Christmas.  It wasn't until the ninth century that Advent was reduced to a four-week season.  The penitential atmosphere of Advent is deliberately sidetracked on the Third Sunday because we are getting ever so near to the birth of our Savior and the liturgy calls us to rejoice, thus the Church changes the color of its vestments on that Sunday. 

This First Reading, of course, prophesies the coming of Christ and is gushing with rejoicing.  When you consider a desert and parched land in a biblical text, it's normal to think of the area of the Middle East and most especially that which was inhabited by the people of Israel.  Thus the exultation of the desert is referring to the Jews.  The steppe, however, is generally a grass covered area of land – not what you would normally think of in the biblical history of the Jewish people.  Thus the steppe rejoicing and blooming refers to the Gentiles and their eventual conversion to Christ. 

Lebanon is considered glorious most likely because of its cedar trees.  Cedar was used in the building of sacred temples and sanctuaries.  The prophet Ezekiel tells us that the cedars of Lebanon had fair branches, were full of leaves and of a high stature (cf. Ezekiel 31:3).  Cedar wood was also used in purification rituals. 

When trying to understand the splendor of Carmel, Gregory of Nyssa writes: "Elijah lived on Mount Carmel, which is celebrated and illustrious above all because of the virtue and reputation of him who lived there."  And Sharon's splendor likely refers to its fertility as Sharon is a plain famous for its vegetation, its large oak trees and its beauty due to the floral landscaping. 

In the New Testament a paralytic named Aeneas was healed by Saint Peter; and when the inhabitants of Sharon saw him, they were converted unto the Lord (cf. Acts 9:33-35).  These are all images of beauty which the prophet Isaiah is using to try and describe as best he can the glory and splendor of the coming of the Lord. 

What follows in the text are words of healing: Hands being strengthened, knees made firm, hearts are strengthened by abolishing fear, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap and the mute will sing.  Thus Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will be a healer and most importantly, the Messiah is our God Who comes to save us. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his Encyclical titled, "Spes Salvi" writes about a type of healing that comes from hope which comes through prayer.  He writes: "A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer.  When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me.  When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God.  When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, He can help me.  When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone." 

This Reading calls to us to be confident in the love our God has for us; and when we can push aside all obstacles that hinder our trust in Him, then our lives become a perpetual cause to "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always ~ Philippians 4:4).

Second Reading Commentary
If you've ever experienced any form of suffering - and who hasn't - then this Letter of Saint James is for you.  It is because of our sufferings that he exhorts us to be patient.  The word patience in itself suggests that there will surely be something to endure or to bear.  Suffering comes in many forms and degrees.  The farmer's patience in waiting for fruit bears fruit and impacts others.  If the farmer were impatient about waiting on his fruit, then there would be less fruit to be consumed. 

Our own level of patience impacts others.  Scripture tells us that God is our patience and our hope (cf. Psalm 70 [71]:5).  The farmer needs to wait for the early and the late rains.  This is completely dependent upon God.  The same is true for us; and only God knows why His time is more beneficial for us than our time. 

The Greek text exhorts us to establish our hearts because the coming of the Lord is near.  Establish is a good word to use because it conjures up the image of an immovable foundation in which our heart can be placed.  That is an edifying image for understanding patience.  But again, we have to know that the foundation is God and without Him as our foundation, our heart will rest on sand and when the storms come, patience will be washed away. 

Generally, when the train comes off the track, we're all pretty good at pointing fingers as to who is to blame.  Saint James warns us, however, that the Judge is standing before the gates. In the ancient languages the word "gates" is more precisely translated as "door".  In the first book of the bible God said to Cain: "If you have done evil, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door?" (Genesis 4:7).  Saint James offers the examples of the Old Testament prophets.  They waited for the Messiah – we wait for His return but also have the privilege and joy of recalling every year in the liturgy that great day in salvation history when God became Man.  Our Savior calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him.  It's a tall order but let us recall the angel Gabriel's words to the Blessed Virgin Mary:  "No word shall be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).

Gospel Commentary
In our spiritual journey we're all eventually faced with a similar question that Saint John the Baptist asks: "Jesus, are You really Who You say You are?"  Some Christians deal with this question more times than others but the question itself is not a bad thing.  In fact, during His Ministry Jesus Himself presents that very question to us (cf. Mark 8:29).  In our walk of faith there's really no reason to not treat this question like any other question brought forth in normal conversation: Ask the question, then kind of get out of the way of ourselves and wait silently for the answer. 

Before Jesus asks that question of us, however, He asks something else first: "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27).  That question is frequently answered for us in various television documentaries and books which seem to doubt the Divinity of Jesus.  Sometimes it's the influence of those very types of shows and books that lead us to ask Who Jesus is and other times it may be prompted by some form of suffering or just at present going through a rough time.  Our faith needs to be challenged in order to strengthen and grow. 

John the Baptist dedicated his life to proclaiming the coming of the Messiah; and when He finally did arrive to begin His Ministry, John ended up in prison.  That is faith being challenged.  With John's experience in dealing with human corruption, he may have been a little surprised by Christ's gentle way and was expecting from our Lord demonstrative denouncements of human institutions. Jesus answers John's question by citing examples of physical miracles.  John the Baptist was a prophet and a man of faith, therefore his questioning of Jesus was not likely based on a lack of faith, but rather to satisfy the curiosity of his own followers as whether or not to follow Jesus now that John has been imprisoned.  As a prophet, John may have already known that his arrest marked the end of his calling, the end of the Old Testament prophets and marked a new beginning which would have eternal value. 

How has Jesus answered your question of Who He is?  He is the Savior of the world, and so, what has He said or done in your life that offers assurance to your own convictions of Who Jesus is?  Certainly, individual reflection will produce various answers but in this season of hope amidst all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, it's good to sit quietly and reflect on what Jesus has done and continues to do in your own life.  There's a lot of noise pollution in the shopping malls and yet what Christmas celebrates is God becoming a Baby and entering into the world in the stillness of the night. 

As Jesus begins to speak to the crowds about John, it's not so much John's personal sanctity that our Lord is praising, although he certainly was a very holy man, but Christ is pointing out where John fits in according to the divine plan which he so faithfully carried out.  As our Lord proclaims, it was not the scenery of the desert with its reeds swayed by the wind; nor was John a well-dressed man, therefore, many were convinced that John was a prophet and it is for this reason that they journeyed into the desert to hear him preach.  And Jesus confirms that John was indeed a prophet, and more than a prophet.  He was a prophet because he proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and more than a prophet because he saw the Messiah which was a privilege not given to any other prophet.  Although John had many followers, it was probably a shock to all present to hear Christ proclaim him as the greatest prophet of all; and yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  Most likely the "least" is a reference to ordinary people like you and I.  John, as great as he was, was slain before Christ's Crucifixion and therefore did not witness nor have any knowledge of the Gospel in its fullness; and we, the children of the post-Resurrection, have been blessed with this knowledge. 

Saint Paul writes: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.  As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'  Therefore, you are no longer a servant but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Galatians 4:4-7).  Adoption, therefore, is greater than servitude.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The Targum Jonathan is an ancient Hebrew text in which rabbis interpreted passages from the Old Testament.  In these rabbinical writings is the following based on this First Reading: "And there shall go forth a king from the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah shall be anointed from his children's children."  Thus it is quite clear that the Targum Jonathan identifies this Reading as a prophecy concerning the Messiah.  Jesse was the father of King David and therefore, the root of the Davidic line.  The Spirit of the Lord, that is to say, the Author of all gifts, shall rest upon Him.  This has a twofold meaning: First, it describes the Messiah's eternalness; secondly, it also points to our Lord's baptism in the Jordan in which the Spirit makes an appearance in the form of a dove. 

"From Apologetics to New Spirituality: Trends in Jewish Environmental Theology" author Rabbi Lawrence Troster writes: "The Jewish concept of a perfect world is one of harmony among all creatures.  This can be seen in the famous vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-10) in which no creature kills for sustenance and there is no war or injustice in human society. This reconciliation between humanity and the rest of Creation evokes a return to the Garden of Eden."  In other words, a return to Paradise; for it is obvious that this Reading is not pointing to yet another prophet whose influence will terminate with his life – but instead points to God Himself since only He can take us from this valley of tears and welcome us in Paradise. 

Reading on, the text says that there shall be no harm or ruin on God's holy mountain.  In biblical terms God's "holy mountain" is often linked to Moses and the place where he received the Ten Commandments.  In the New Testament, however, Saint Peter refers to the mountain of the Transfiguration as the "holy mountain" (cf. 2 Peter 1:18).  For purposes of identifying the Messiah, Saint Peter's proclamation really opens up for us the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh.  It is divided into three sections: The Torah (the first five books), the Nevi'im (the Prophets) and the Ketuviim (the Hagiographa or the Writings).  The rabbis of the ancient world taught that when the Messiah comes all three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures would bear witness to Him. 

At the Transfiguration the Voice of the Father speaks and says: "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased – listen to Him."  In the Book of Psalms or the Ketuviim section of the Hebrew Bible are the words: "You are My Son" (Psalm 2:7).  In Isaiah or the Nevi'im section are these words: "Behold My Servant, I will uphold Him; My chosen One with Whom I am pleased" (Isaiah 42:1).  And in Deuteronomy or the Torah section is this passage: "The Lord your God will raise up to you a Prophet of your nation and of your brethren like unto Me; you shall listen to Him" (Deuteronomy 18:15).  God our Father shows us that the Messiah is His Son; and also by the words He uses at the Transfiguration concerning His Son fulfills what the ancient rabbis believed and taught. 

The slightest hint of what would later be revealed as the Trinity also seems to be present in this First Reading.  Jesus is the Word of God striking the ruthless with the rod of His Mouth and slaying the wicked with the Breath of His Lips.  "Breath" in spirituality is often synonymous with the Holy Spirit. 

Some interesting points in translation: The words "set up as a signal for the nations" in the Latin Vulgate translates as, "stands as an ensign of people"; and that ensign may indicate the Cross which is the universal banner for Christianity.  Also, the words "for His dwelling shall be glorious" translate from the Latin Vulgate to mean, "and His sepulcher shall be glorious" which Saint Jerome comments on by adding: "Christ's death was ignominious but His monument was full of glory."

Second Reading Commentary
There are some basics here in Christian morality: Receiving one another with charity, peace and patience as Christ received us, and supporting one another for the glory of God.  Jesus was the Minister of the circumcised, Who became Man for the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles.  He would preach His Gospel first to the Jews to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament that the Messiah would come for their salvation and for the conversion of the Gentiles.  Saint Paul refers to Christ as a Minister of the circumcised, who are the Jews, because Jesus lived and preached among them.  Jesus lived according to the Law of Moses to work for the greater glory of God among the Jews by showing that God is faithful to His Old Testament promises; and among the Gentiles He was to be the Instrument of God's mercy by including them in the Almighty's plan of salvation.  All of this is designed to bring an end to division and make us one, a people of God. 

Saint Paul says something to us in the first sentence of great importance, namely that hope comes from the Scriptures.  Real hope does not come from CNN, the Wall Street Journal or the local newspaper.  Hopefully we're all reading the Word of God on a daily basis.  Keep in mind also that Saint Paul speaks of previous writings.  For him and those early Christians, this is what we now call the Old Testament.  If the story of Jesus is to truly come to life and be a Real Presence and force in our lives, then we have to become familiar with the Old Testament because it all points to Jesus. 

Saint Paul also mentions endurance.  If you have a daily craving for what is offered by the secular media, you might need endurance to not let it form your belief system.  Surely Saint Paul is encouraging us – and even pleading with us to be counter-cultural.  Being in harmony with one another, welcoming one another while together glorifying God with one voice - these gems of inspiration are not likely to be found on a daily basis in the secular media.  God's Word gives us hope and certainly Advent is a season of hope.

Gospel Commentary
Saint John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the New Testament.  His desert lifestyle makes him the perfect model for the eremitic way of life.  As he was to be the dividing line between the Old and New Testament, his form of baptism was also the dividing line between the Jewish ceremonial bath known as a "mikvah" and Christ's ordination of the Sacrament of Baptism.  It has the characteristics of the Jewish ceremonial bath as well as a quasi rebirth.  The acceptance of John's form of baptism was an admission that the Kingdom of God was indeed at hand along with a willingness to remedy past faults, thus earning God's grace. 

John was certainly the poster boy for fire and brimstone preaching as evidenced by his words to the Pharisees and Sadducees.  John's sanctity, life of mortification and preaching must have had a tremendous impact among the people, hence explaining their willingness to receive his baptism.  In our modern day, the example of John the Baptist screams at us daring us to be different, to be counter-cultural, and to follow Christ in a radical way. 

John warns the Pharisees and Sadducees that they can't hide behind having Abraham as a father.  Using that same argument, let us reflect on our own lives.  Can we indict ourselves for not being fully Christian?  The Baptizer might say to us today: "Don't tell me you're a Christian because you go to church once a week!"  Christianity is not about fulfilling obligations.  Christianity is a way of life – and when considering the conditions of our modern day world – Christianity is a radical way of life. 

John continues by saying that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from the stones.  In the old law, stones were an instrument of death.  Our Savior's instrument of death was the Cross; and from His death God raised up children He would call His very own. 

John proclaims his baptism for repentance but there will be One Who will come after him Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Here John intimates about the Divinity of Jesus.  Interesting also is that this is exactly what happened at Pentecost reminding us that among other things John the Baptist was indeed a prophet. 

John the Baptist also states that he is not worthy to carry the sandals of Jesus.  This statement would have been very understandable to the people of his day because it was customary for a slave to carry a change of sandals for his master.  Therefore, John, in complete humility proclaims his unworthiness to even be a slave for Jesus Christ.  In a way, like John the Baptist, we are called to be precursors ourselves.  We are the children of God set apart to proclaim the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ by the example of our lives; helping each other by word and deed, heralding Jesus as the Way and only Way to eternal salvation - a gift we are sent to proclaim while at the same time being fully aware of our unworthiness to be recipients of it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

First Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Proclaimed at Mass are the words, "In days to come".  The Latin Vulgate translates as, "In the last days".  The last days are understood as being from the time of the Incarnation of Jesus until the end of the world.  Jesus will usher in a New and Everlasting Covenant and what will follow after those days is eternity. 

"The Lord's house" is prophetic language meaning the Church and being "established as the highest mountain" speaks of the Church's everlasting visibility.  Isaiah tells us that "all nations shall stream toward it". 

Two significant, newsworthy events have occurred in recent times: First, the Traditional Anglican Communion sent a letter to Rome requesting full, corporate and sacramental communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Archbishop Hepworth, a Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion stated that: "Unity with Peter is a biblical imperative."  This led to in 2012 the Vatican’s creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter – Anglican communities becoming Catholic. The Ordinariate has basically the equivalence of a diocese.    

Secondly, in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, for the first time the Orthodox were ready to speak about the universality of the Church.  The document drawn up for these latest talks recognizes that one bishop must hold a special place of honor and in the ancient Church that was the bishop of Rome.  The next set of talks will examine the role of the bishop of Rome, especially in the first thousand years of the Church when Catholics and Orthodox were in full agreement.  We're living in an age where we can watch these prophecies come to life. 

"From Zion shall go forth instruction" which gives us a clue that the Messiah shall come from the Jewish people.  Also, however, Zion was a fortress which was captured by King David and became known as the City of David.  This could be a clue about the Messiah having something to do with the Davidic line.  And then the words of Psalm 49 [50] add that God shines from Zion and is perfect in beauty (cf. verse 2).  This is a remarkable revelation when you put all the pieces together.  Dare anyone think that the Messiah would be none other than God Himself?  The "house of Jacob" is mystical language and it is from there that we can "walk in the light of the Lord" because Jacob's house is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Second Reading Commentary
According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, this short paragraph defines the Christian ideal as: honorableness, sense of honor and purity of life.  Saint Paul uses metaphoric language in this Reading.  On the negative side there is sleep, night, and "the works of darkness": orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry and jealousy.  These descriptions, of course, are among the activities which should be completely absent from the Christian way of life.  The other side of the fence is ideal for the Christian life: vigilance, the day, and the armor of light. 

This Reading has been interpreted to mean different things.  The verse, "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" speaks of the days, hours, minutes and seconds that pass by which literally bring us closer to the glorious return of Jesus Christ.  Another meaning is more along the lines of conversion.  Salvation is closer when the Gospel is preached and accepted thus bringing Christ's graces. 

"The night is advanced" refers to the sinful life that is lived before one has a conversion experience.  It should be noted that Saint Paul is addressing Gentile converts and for them their "day is at hand" because the Gospel has reversed their darkness of idolatry and sin.  The dark very much despises the light and tries to conceal itself.  The "armor of light" has been given several other descriptions by various Church writers such as the shield of faith, the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.  In simple terms, it is when we do the work of God that we have nothing to hide and therefore we are letting our light shine.  On the other hand, we have no interest in our sins being in public view and thus try to keep them concealed as in darkness. 

The distinction between light and dark is found often in the pages of the bible.  To use an analogy by making use of one of the sacraments: In the days before face-to-face confessions, the penitent would go into a dark booth and once the priest opened the screen, you could see that his side of the booth was lighted.  For the moment, the penitent's sins remained hidden in that dark confessional booth; but once the sins are confessed they enter into the lighted side of the booth, no longer kept hidden but revealed to the priest acting in Persona Christi, and then those sins are absolved.  The Light of Christ overpowers the darkness of our sins.

Gospel Commentary
Scripture tells us: "But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). The first intimations that there would be a Messiah compared to when He actually did appear covers a span of years that is longer than the two-thousand years the world has anticipated His Second Coming.  The finite's lack of understanding of the Infinite can surely cause impatience and eventually turn a culture away from God. 
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: "We could say that Advent is the time when Christians should awaken in their hearts the hope that they can change the world, with the help of God."  Understanding the impatience factor, however, the Holy Father also said: "In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that 'God is coming'." 

A trust in the word of God is what often separates the saints from the rest of the pack.  Many of those who now walk the corridors of heaven lived earthly lives fully believing what God revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. 

In this Gospel it is not abundantly clear if the one who is taken is saved or the one who is left.  Among some of the early writers there is a difference of opinion. Our Lord uses Noah as an example which could mean that Noah and his family were left in the ark while the rest were taken or swept away by the flood.  The flip side is that Noah was taken away in the ark while the others stayed behind to die in the flood.  No one knows for certain how the real event will play out but it is clear that there is a distinction between receiving mercy and receiving judgment.  Notice the scenarios used here: Two men out in the field and two women grinding at the mill.  These are images of the daily workload; therefore, our Lord seems to be suggesting that our daily work and concerns are necessary.  What separates one man from the other and one woman from the other is that one of the men and one of the women are consumed with the concerns of this world and indifferent to the concerns of salvation.  Whereby the other man and woman are fulfilling their daily duties because they are a necessity of life, but see their duties as a partial fulfillment of what God has called them to do, thus living their life for God.  There's nothing in the text that suggests that the two who will receive judgment were grave sinners; therefore we seem to be visiting, as we frequently do, the topic of indifference and being lukewarm.  Lukewarmness has to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest topic of concern in Scripture that is most ignored.  You might say that many are indifferent to the scriptural warnings of indifference.  Indifference often reveals itself in our modern day with statements like: "I'm a good person; I never hurt anyone, therefore I don't really see the need to go to church" - or - "I give up one hour every Sunday for God and that's enough."  This, of course, is individualism and completely ignores the duties and concerns of being a viable body part in the Body of Christ. 

Our Lord says: "Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."  This is a call for perpetual vigilance - making Christ the Center of our lives.  The voice of John the Baptist crying out: "Prepare the way of the Lord!" should still echo in our hearts today.  This calling was given to one man before Christ began His public Ministry.  As we await our Lord's return that call to prepare His way has now been assigned to all of us.