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.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Christ the King - November 20, 2016


First Reading Commentary
The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas.  It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, immediately preceding the Solemnity of All Saints.  The revision of the liturgical calendar placed it at the final Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

In this First Reading we read about the crowning of David as king of Israel.  He was God's choice.  And it is from his lineage that the Messiah would come.  In Saint Matthew's Gospel, Jesus Christ is listed as "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).  David's kingship has its limitations as he is crowned to be the shepherd and commander of Israel.  Jesus Christ's Crown is not a result of victory over flesh and blood, but of victory over the mystery of evil which seeks the ruination of souls. 

In an incredible act of love God became Man to redeem sinful humanity; and because of our sinful ways, all we could do was crown Him with thorns.  Christ's love is not only beyond the means of human expression, but also logically it doesn't make sense: the God-Man Who was crowned with thorns is offering us who continue to crown Him with thorns by our sins, eternal glory. 

As our Lord says: "My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways" (Isaiah 55:8).

Second Reading Commentary
In this Reading there is a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  The "holy ones in light" represents all the supernatural benefits of salvation including God Himself Who is the Source of all benefits.  God the Father has delivered us from the adversary and transferred us to the perfect, well-ordered Kingdom of His beloved Son.  We have been liberated from a state of guilt. 

Jesus "is the Image of the invisible God".  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "By His revelation, the invisible God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company" (CCC 142). 

Saint Thomas Aquinas relates "image" with "prototype" and says that image has three qualities at the same time:
It must have a likeness with the original prototype.
It must be derived from the prototype.
It must belong to the same species as the prototype.

This explanation of "image" delineates that mere likeness alone would not be sufficient.  A photograph, for example, is a likeness but it is not an image in the sense that is applied here.  By Saint Paul writing that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God, he most certainly means God the Father.  Therefore, Christ is the Image of God the Father because He exemplifies the Father.  Saint John Damascene explains that image in itself does not demand equality with the original model, but we know that Christ, the Image, is identical and equal to the Father in every way.  The only difference is that Jesus is begotten. 

Saint Paul continues this letter by writing that Christ is "the firstborn of all creation".  This is not a reference to being born of the Virgin Mary.  Paul's meaning is that Jesus was before all creatures, proceeding from all eternity from the Father.  Firstborn, then, as it is applied here is a metaphor for pre-existence before creation. 

Christ is Supreme, eternal and the final revelation of God because "all things were created through Him and for Him".  He is the reason and cause of all things and yet as our Creator He does not distance Himself from us, but instead, He wishes to have communion with us by means of His boundless love. 

Christ is "Head of the Body, the Church", and yet His Sovereignty over the members does not deter Him from a close and intense union with them. 

He is "the firstborn from the dead" in the sense that He is the first to rise to a New Life and in His glorious Triumph He is the cause of our resurrection. 

"For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell."  Generally, "fullness" is synonymous with "totality". In this case, however, "all the fullness" more appropriately means "all existence". 

Being reconciled to God through Christ with those on earth primarily means the human race; but what does Paul mean by reconciliation with those in heaven?  Saint John Chrysostom defines those in heaven as angels.  This doesn't mean, however, that Christ sacrificed Himself for angels.  Angels are totally and unequivocally devoted to the cause and glory of Almighty God.  This suggests, then, that before Christ's redeeming Sacrifice, the angels were at enmity with the human race because our sins separated us from God.  Christ put an end to this division by restoring us to God's favor "through the Blood of His Cross".

Gospel Commentary
The Solemnity of Christ the King kicks off the final week of Ordinary Time; and perhaps this scene in the Gospel might remind you more of Holy Week than the celebration of Jesus Christ as King.  But that's just it!  Christ is no ordinary King.  It is usually the king's loyal subjects who are dying on the battlefield to save the life of the king.  Here, the King is dying for the life of His subjects, who just happen to be sinners and therefore not all that loyal. 

In the biblical days, mockery aimed at the king could very well mean death for the mocker.  Here, mockery is aimed at the King with statements like: "He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen One, the Christ of God" - and - "If You are King of the Jews, save Yourself."  In this case, not only will the mockers not be executed, but the King is being executed to save the lives of those who are like these mockers - in other words, sinners. 

Could Christ have come down from the Cross?  Absolutely!  Then why didn't He?  It was not the nails that held Him to the Cross.  Rather, it was His love for humanity collectively and His love for each and every one of us individually.  He sacrificed Himself to defeat an enemy that we, left to ourselves, would never be able to overcome - death. 

Earthly kings have servants; our heavenly King, however, was a Servant.  Earthly kings sit on a throne in all their glory - that is until they are overtaken or deceased.  Our heavenly King also sits on a Throne, but in eternal glory; and what really makes our heavenly King so special beyond human logic is that He has secured eternal glory for His people, sinners that we are.  It seems fitting to reiterate what was written in the First Reading's commentary: "My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways" (Isaiah 55:8).  Who really understands this immeasurable love freely given by Love Himself! 

A wonderful sense of hope is given to us in this Gospel because Jesus promises Paradise to the repentant criminal.  Something else in this scene could also leave one with a sense of hope which perhaps isn't as strong as the former but nevertheless does shed at the very least a dimmer ray of hope.  The repentant criminal reminds the reviling criminal – and really all of us - of the condemnation we could be subject to.  What does the reviling criminal see when he looks at Jesus after hearing that promise of Paradise given to the repentant criminal?  Does He see that Divine Love which cannot be explained by mere words?  Does He see hope for himself even after he tempted God?  What we do know is that Jesus does not condemn him in this Gospel scene.   

At the funeral of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Victoria Petrovna, the wife of Brezhnev, traced the Sign of the Cross on her husband's chest as the casket was about to be closed to begin the state funeral service.  This was quite remarkable for an empire that embraced the principles of atheistic socialism.  But Victoria Petrovna held fast to that virtue of hope.  She trusted that a boundless God could produce redemptive grace that also knew no bounds. 

Original sin dealt us a nasty blow.  We want the bad guy to get what he deserves.  But the kind of love that we operate with has boundaries on all sides; and we're quite good at deciding for ourselves who should reside within those boundaries.  But making God number One in our lives and trying to grow closer to Him by means of persistent efforts at climbing the often rugged terrain of the spiritual mountain could indeed begin to punch holes into those boundary walls. 

It's quite natural from a human perspective to assume that the criminal pretty much made his reservations for hell by reviling Jesus.  On the other hand, what he witnessed in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal may have triggered the beginning of his own conversion.  And since Jesus doesn't even so much as lecture this man in this scene, could it be because our Omniscient God could see changes for the better awaiting this man – even if it would come at his last breath and final heartbeat? 




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 13, 2016

 
First Reading Commentary
The Hebrew text depicts a more graphic description of "stubble" by its translation of straw meeting the flame.  That is not a pleasant visual of what will happen to the “arrogant and wicked,” as it translates from the Hebrew text. 
 
The saints in their writings were very open about their understanding of the sacred texts and did not shy away from difficult passages such as this.  Of course, it's always easier to focus on the merciful God instead of the just God; but ignoring the difficult verses of Sacred Scripture won't make them go away. 
 
In our ongoing conversion process, our sorrow for offending God should contain both perfect and imperfect contrition.  Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin because we love God and have offended Him.  Imperfect contrition or attrition, as it is sometimes called, is motivated by a fear of losing our heavenly reward to the horrors of hell. 
 
Truth comes from God alone and is revealed through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church.  Our pursuit for the Face of Jesus cannot be deterred by the mixed bag of messages from secularism.  No question that the road to sanctity is a tough road to stay on due mainly to cultural influences that are exposed to us daily.   But what is popular or even mainstream is not necessarily right or moral.  There's a promise of healing for all who have a fear of God.  In the bigger picture this Reading not only invites us to examine our own level of love and fear of God, but also prophesies our Lord Jesus Christ's final victory over evil.  That is the promise and Truth of God no matter what other influences try to paint a different picture.
 
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul always seems to have a sense of urgency.  Unfortunately, even urgent pleas concerning salvation could lose their "oomph" when they've been proclaimed for two-thousand years. 
 
Remember that spirited vigor that followed shortly after the tragedy of 9/11?  Our nation came together, partisan politics took a back seat, and our churches had standing room only.  Now that the sting of that tragic day has subsided, it's back to the status quo.  Time may heal all wounds but it also can reopen old ones and create new ones. 
 
Saint Paul makes a good case for imitating him because he presents himself as a model, but it's now two millennia later and length of time coupled with impatience could easily puncture holes into one's faith and entertain the question of: "Shouldn't Christ have returned by now?" 
 
With all the modern conveniences we enjoy today: televisions with remote controls and now in this age of cable and satellite, Lord knows how many channels there are. There's the Internet and email, cell phones and fax machines; what used to be thirty minutes in an oven is now three minutes in a microwave.  Many of these conveniences which are designed to save us time actually seem to take up all our time.  Emails may save us a trip to the post office; and the Internet may save us a trip to the library but the computer also has a way of enticing us into more things than we intended to get involved with.  Surely one can gain more wisdom from the Internet than reading Scripture?  And isn't it much easier and more relaxing to watch television than pray?  The tempter is a powerful entity and is well aware of our weaknesses.  When conveniences and the lap of luxury begin to interfere with our time with the Lord, then possibly there's more at work here than just our own will.  And most of us would never suspect a thing since these modern forms of convenience could lure virtually anyone into thinking that everything is hunky-dory.  Convenience itself is a good thing and a gift from God but like all good gifts, they can be abused.  And when our salvation is at stake, it would be beneficial to continue to heed the words and example of Saint Paul and all the saints, no matter how long ago it's been since these holy men and women lived on earth. 
 
No one knows when our Lord's Parousia will occur or when our own earthly journey will cease, but let's not forget these words from Saint Paul: "For you know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2).  The point is that our spiritual selves should always be prepared to meet the Lord because He could come many years from now or before you finish reading this commentary.
 
Gospel Commentary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that before Christ's Second Coming the Church will pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.  The persecution that is to come will unveil the mystery of iniquity in the form of religious deception which will offer believers a solution to their problems but in reality it will lead them away from the truth (cf. CCC 675). 
 
As Catholics it would probably be more beneficial for us to stay away from all the doomsday talk concerning the end times which flood the airwaves from various television and radio ministries.  If you take to heart what is shared here from the Catechism, with a decline in both Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood you could make the case that the faith of many has already been shaken; plus all the signs that our Lord lists in this Gospel: wars and insurrections, nations rising against other nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues - one could easily make the argument that these types of things have been occurring for a long time.  And that's why it's best just to continue to walk in faith and whenever the final hour arrives, so be it.  We have no way of knowing the span of years it will take before all the biblical apocalyptic warnings are completed. 
 
Anyone who is now at an adult age could surely testify that the world has been pacing on a moral decline since their childhood.  Christ speaks of persecutions and being seized and thrown into prison while some will be put to death.  Most of the early Fathers agree that this futuristic event was actually not all that far in the future and was meant specifically for Christ's chosen twelve; and most of them were indeed martyred.  Our focus should stay on Jesus and being the holy men and women He called us to be; and try not to get all caught up in the hoopla concerning the end of the world, except only to be prepared for that day by being constantly in a state of grace.  If we are truly making efforts to be genuine disciples of Christ, then while we wait for our Lord's return, we can, as proclaimed at Mass, "wait in JOYFUL HOPE for the coming of our Savoir, Jesus Christ."
 

 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 6, 2016

 
First Reading Commentary
As we're just a few weeks away from the start of the Advent Season this Reading, although written before the birth of Christ, contains Christian ideals: namely, being a disciple of the Lord at all costs and the belief in the resurrection.  Hopefully none of us will ever be put to death because of our faith but even putting aside the fact that these men were about to be martyred, this Reading offers a lesson about how to become instruments of the Almighty by abandoning our ways and embracing His ways.  As these men express a belief in being raised from the dead and living forever, they probably have no idea that God has used them to prophesy the coming of Christ.  Most likely they are expecting their resurrection to come from the workings of the One Creator God and are clueless to the fact that they are prophesying about what will later be revealed as the Triune God; and the second Person of the Triune God would reveal Himself through the Incarnation and as Man He would destroy death forever; and through Him is the hope of resurrection for all. 
 
It is only those who have lived after Christ's Resurrection and those of us who are currently living our earthly existence that can fully appreciate the magnitude of the statements made by these men in this Reading.  God's words today can still be heard through the voice of others.  Has anyone ever said anything to you that was an answer to a prayer?  Has anyone ever been at the right place and the right time whose presence turned your tough situation into a pleasant memory?  Have you ever said anything to someone which turned out to be an answer to their prayer?  Chances are the answer is yes to all three questions even if you don't recall or were not apprised by the other party that you were an answer to their prayer. 
 
It's easy to get caught up in our busy lives and completely miss the workings of God.  But these are the kinds of things that God does through us when we simply say yes to Him.  Occasionally, spoken words seem to be insignificant for the moment; and then somewhere down the road those words have extraordinary relevance.  Frequently reflecting on the Power within us can all the more enrich our spiritual life.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet a prophet?  If so, look in a mirror or look at the person sitting next to you at Mass.
 
Second Reading Commentary
The human heart bears a tremendous burden.  Sacred Scripture tells us that God judges by the heart alone (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).  In this Reading, Saint Paul's prayer for us is that our Lord will encourage our hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. 
 
In the oldest Catholic translation of Scripture in English, the Douay-Rheims version, the word "heart" or a derivative of it appears there 1,067 times.  What an interesting piece of apparatus God has given us in the human heart!  It is capable of expressing a mixed bag of emotions.  Quite often the battle between good and evil takes place within our own hearts.  The human heart has more to it than we can fully comprehend; and because of this its importance can never be underestimated.  Why else would God want permission from us to take complete possession of it?  When God holds our hearts in the Palm of His Hand so much good can from it - the impossible becomes very possible.  But when the door of the heart is slammed shut, leaving God on the outside, it is capable of concocting unspeakable evils.  Prejudices, dislikes, pure hatred and harboring anger are negative forces that could dwell within our hearts because in our human weakness we find it very difficult to let our Lord be its Master.  There is always that part of us that desires to be our own boss.  And even when we attempt to let God take charge, the serpent is always there whispering in our ears that what our Lord promises simply isn't true.  Cultivating a humble heart will breed sympathy and understanding for one another's weaknesses. 
 
Prayer is the best defense against the one who is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  May we continue to pray for a complete conversion of our hearts: "Iesu, mitis et humilis Corde, fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum" – (Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine).
 
Gospel Commentary
It's quite obvious that the Sadducees are attempting to make a complete mockery of Jesus.  They are asking Him to teach how multiple marriages will fare in the resurrected state even though the Sadducees have no belief in a resurrection. 
 
As Christians, we are able to look beyond the horizons of earthly existence and know perfection is waiting for us even though the meaning of perfection in an eternal state is indecipherable: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard: neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). 
 
What Jesus makes clear, though, is that conjugal love will not exist in the resurrected life.  In heaven we will find out and perhaps be downright shocked by how limited and conditional is the love we offer in this world.  Married love, creating a new family, love for our children and love for parents is just about the fullest extent of love that human beings can currently comprehend.  Does anyone really understand the kind of love that would make Love Himself die to save all of humanity - past, present and future?  In the sacred bond of married life, considering the elimination of conjugal love in the afterlife right now might seem disappointing because we don't understand how unflawed and beautiful Love is in heaven which is also coupled with an equal inexplicability of how limited the love is we currently share. 
 
Our faith and our hope can imaginatively transport us to something better but our imaginations cannot conjure up the infinite reality of God's love.  In heaven, our royal priesthood will be exercised in unmarred proficiency as we offer worship, praise and adoration to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity. 
 
In Saint John's Gospel Jesus says: "The Father and I are One" (John 10:30).  It is this transforming union of God and humanity that so few experience in the here and now but most assuredly all who love God will experience in the hereafter. 
 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 30, 2016

 
First Reading Commentary
The opening verse describes the unfathomable immensity of Almighty God.  Compared to Him, the unknown vastness of the universe is like a grain or drop of morning dew.  This verse actually doesn't do Him justice but there are no words in any language, nor is there any reachable level of human thought to properly define the boundlessness of our Creator.  Since we are incapable of visiting this level of spirituality, the rest of the Reading is all the more incredible - but true.  He loves all things, spares all things; He is a lover of all souls, and therefore rebukes and warns us of our sins.  Why would this incomprehensible Being whose power is indescribable care one iota about us?  Why does He want to share in our joys and feel our pains?  Why does He listen to our prayers?  Why does He desire an intimate, deep, personal relationship with each and every one of us?  These are questions that even the most gifted theologians and philosophers cannot finitely answer; but then again we are reflecting on the infinite Most High.  The proof of the pudding, though, is when He made His uncontainable Self containable in the womb of a Virgin; when He walked among us, taught us, healed us of our infirmities, suffered and died for us; rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and opened the eternal gates in order to fulfill His longing and our longing to spend eternity together.  And for as long as we remain in this valley of tears, He gives us a taste of heaven by leaving us a memorial of His Love - His precious Body and Blood.  If we were capable of comprehending all of this, our hearts would explode.
 
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul's words here give you the sense that this prayer of his extends far beyond the Thessalonians.  Can you hear him in heaven praying for us using these very same words? 
 
There's a story about Saint Francis of Assisi, in which the authenticity of it has been debated, but makes a point regardless.  The story goes that he asked one of his brother Friars to accompany him into town to preach.  When they arrived in town, they quietly walked all through the town and then Saint Francis said to his brother Friar, "We're finished, let's go back."  His brother Friar said to him, "I thought you said we were going to preach."  And Saint Francis replied, "We just did."  Faith in action speaks louder than shouting from the highest mountaintops and manifests itself in many ways. 
 
How do others perceive us?  Even without mentioning our Lord, do we conduct ourselves in such a way that others would be able to deduce that we are Christians?  The joy that flows from a strong faith reveals itself naturally because of God's grace and could leave the most indifferent of souls asking themselves, "What do they have that I don't have?"  Faith is not a part time job to earn extra credit in heaven.  True faith envelops us and dictates our way of life and is not easily alarmed or shaken.
 
Gospel Commentary
As devout Christians we are well-represented by Zacchaeus.  He was a little man.  In the grand scheme of things, how often do we consider ourselves to be insignificant?  Part of this may be credited to some level of humility but there's always that inner self-demoralizing voice that asks, "How is it possible that I matter to God?"  The answer is simple but not necessarily understandable: We are sinners which bewilderingly qualifies us as recipients of Christ's love.  It is in our inner house that He dwells so that He may stay with us always.  Through prayer and silence we may visit that inner house to be with our Lord where that self-demoralizing voice is overpowered by the Voice that says: "Salvation has come to this house." 
 
As qualifiers of salvation, we are indeed descendants of Abraham.  While Jesus may never require us to literally give up half of our possessions, He does ask for detachment from them. 
 
"The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."  For Christians this is a most comforting verse because the word "was" is past tense.  In salvation history there was a time when we were among the lost, but through Baptism and by surrendering our lives to Christ's care and accepting His gift of salvation we can now joyfully look ahead without ever having to look back.  But the push forward should be an ongoing process of spiritual growth.