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.
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
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.
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
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
: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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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  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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
It must have a likeness with the original
It must be derived from the prototype.
It must belong to the same species as the
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".
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?
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
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
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
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."