Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 3, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The prophet Isaiah speaks literally of the return to Jerusalem from exile and prophetically about the propagation of the Gospel. 
An infant feels most comfortable and secure when being nursed by his/her mother.  Comfort and security is the blessed gift that God is promising His children.  In the New Testament as well there are references to milk: “I fed you with milk” (1 Corinthians 3:2), “Although by this time you should be teaching others, you need to have someone teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God; you need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12), and “Be as eager for milk as newborn babies - pure milk of the spirit to make you grow into salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). 
“When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass.”  The idea of flourishing gives us a sense of excellence.  As Christians, this image of excellence and comfort begins for us when we become a child of God at Baptism; and it never ends because of the promised resurrection and eternal life.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul brings up the topic of circumcision because the Galatians feared persecution if this ritual wasn’t performed.  What’s important, according to Saint Paul, is a “new creation” which means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit, becoming one with Jesus Christ and being transformed into a child of God; all of which occurs at Baptism. 
The “Israel of God” is referring to the Church. 
“From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”  Saint Paul is asking for this topic of circumcision to be put to rest once and for all.  On his first missionary journey to Galatia, Paul was mistreated and more than likely this is what he means by bearing the marks of Jesus on his body.  Saint Paul, without a doubt, was not a stranger to physical or verbal abuse.  There’s also the possibility that he bore the stigmata.  This, however, is not known with any degree of certainty.
Gospel Commentary
This weekend’s Gospel is a continuation of last weekend’s ‘Journey Narrative’.  Today, Jesus sends seventy-two disciples, split up in pairs, to go and preach to the towns that our Lord intends to visit.  The message that is to be preached is clear: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” 
We can also see, at least implicitly, Jesus fulfilling today’s First Reading.  Jesus will be going from town to town with His final destination being Jerusalem.  In the First Reading God promises comfort for Jerusalem; and what could be more comforting than the presence of Almighty God Incarnate?  As we know, Jesus, the Comfort of Jerusalem will be rejected and crucified but that Supreme Sacrifice has gained for us eternal comfort. 
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the Master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.”  Can this be any truer in our modern times?  With a shortage in vocations to the priesthood our first duty is to follow the command of Jesus and pray to God, the Master of the harvest, to send more laborers. 
“Greet no one along the way.”  Jesus is not teaching us to be unsociable but rather it’s more of a continuation of the theme of last weekend’s Gospel: Keeping our eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God and avoiding obstacles.  These seventy-two men are being sent to preach about eternal things, therefore, temporal goods like moneybags, sacks and sandals are not part of their luggage. 
Jesus issues a warning concerning the rejection of the Kingdom of God: “I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”  This is alarming when considering how secularized our culture is today.  Again, the first order of business is prayer.  Saint Clement of Rome writes: “Why are we so lost to all sense and reason that we have forgotten our membership of one another?  There must be no time lost in putting an end to this state of affairs.  We must fall on our knees before the Master and implore Him with tears to graciously pardon us, and bring us back again into the honorable and virtuous way of brothers and sisters who love one another.  For that is the gateway of righteousness, the open gate to life.  There are many gates standing open, but the gate of righteousness is the gate of Christ.” 
The seventy-two men returned from their mission rejoicing because even the demons were subject to them.  This is a certain sign of the reign of God.  Jesus was acting through His disciples whenever they proclaimed His Name.  The same is true today.  There’s power in the Name of Jesus.  One of the prayer practices of Eastern Christianity from the early days in the desert to this very day is to recall the Name of Jesus simply through one’s normal breathing pattern.  With this practice one soon discovers in a very personal way the power that’s in His Name. 
These men are elated about the power they had over demons in the Name of the Lord.  Jesus shares their joy but tells them to be more exuberant about having their names written in heaven.  Again, this is a continuation of our Lord’s lesson about staying focused on the Kingdom.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 26, 2016

First Reading Commentary
In this Reading we see God calling Elisha to be a prophet.  Notice that Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before Elijah approached him.  This was his vocation.  But then, Elijah threw his cloak over him which signifies that God has now called him to another vocation.  This occurs in our own day.  There are priests or religious who were employed in secular vocations before they heard God’s call. 
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.’  Elijah answered, ‘Go back!  Have I done anything to you?”’  This exchange can be a bit confusing.  What it is meant to convey is that Elijah is telling Elisha that he is not the one who called him to be a prophet.  Elijah is telling Elisha to go and follow the Spirit of God since He is the One Who called him.  When Elisha slaughters his yoke of oxen and feeds it to his people, this is signifying that he has abandoned his former vocation or occupation and has accepted God’s call. 
Throughout the Old Testament God called some to be priests, some to be prophets and others kings.  When God became Man in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, He was a Priest, Prophet and King.
Second Reading Commentary
When reflecting on this Reading from a modern day perspective, how sad it is to go through the laundry list of things that enslave our brothers and sisters today: Pornography, drug or alcohol addiction, lusting after the almighty dollar, an insatiable thirst for power, and the list goes on and on.  People are always searching for ways to be happy or looking for things that will help them forget about their troubles.  These are our brothers and sisters who bear the weight of the cross of this life just like we all do; but for reasons unknown to us they have either turned off of or have never been shown the virtual Via Dolorosa.  They are not on the path that follows the Way, the Truth and the Life.  The road they are on is full of people biting and devouring each other. 
The Good News about Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily have to be presented in words.  Peter, Paul, James, John or any of the evangelists probably would have had little or no success if they weren’t living what they preached and believed.  Living what you believe is probably the most powerful form of evangelization.  Genuine Christian freedom requires good works done in charity.  The Cross of Christ has gained for us our freedom and our salvation.  But by using our God-given free will we have to graciously accept our Lord’s free gift to us by following the Spirit because as Scripture teaches: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). 
Saint Paul teaches us that the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other.  When we were baptized we died to the works of the flesh, but the final victory over ourselves or our enslavement to temporal things is not gained until we earnestly and deferentially follow the Spirit.
Gospel Commentary
This Gospel passage is part of what has often been called the “Journey Narrative” because it follows the progress of what is thought to be Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem to fulfill the divine will of His Passion.  Also, this passage has a bit of a twist because the words of Jesus seem a bit severe.  We’re more accustomed to His words being filled with gentleness and compassion.  Christ’s message to us here is pretty clear.  If we are to be His disciples and follow Him, we must overcome all obstacles. 
As we read in the opening verse, Jesus was resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.  Our journey to the fullness of the Kingdom of God must be approached with that same determination.  Most interpreters believe that the messengers Jesus sent ahead of Him were the apostles James and John.  Saint Jerome, however, believes that the messengers may have been angels because the word for messengers used in the Greek text generally signifies angels. 
Our Lord was not welcomed with open arms at the Samaritan village.  James and John wanted to call down a fire from heaven to consume the inhabitants of that town.  It was these sorts of character traits which earned James and John the title of “the sons of thunder”.  Their zeal for our Lord was so great that revenge was their solution in defending Him.  They would soon learn that revenge was not the way of our Lord. 
It’s highly unlikely that Jesus is suggesting that burying our departed loved ones is a waste of time or conflicts with discipleship.  There’s a couple of possibilities as to what He did mean: First, some Scripture commentators have theorized that “let the dead bury their dead” is Christ’s way of teaching that those who are not focused or preoccupied with the Kingdom of God are spiritually dead.  The other possibility is that Jesus is looking for disciples who are willing to make Him and the Kingdom of God first in their lives because all that is embraced in this world will eventually pass away but His Kingdom shall never pass away.  This explanation would also seem fitting for Christ’s words about the plow.  You can’t plow a straight furrow unless your eyes are fixed on the mark.  Likewise, you can’t journey to everlasting joy if your eyes are not fixed on heaven.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 19, 2016

First Reading Commentary
This prophecy foretells what is to become of the Messiah.  “They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced.”  In John’s Gospel, after Christ’s crucifixion, these very words are recalled (cf. John 19:37).  The Book of Revelation also implicitly makes reference to what is stated in this prophecy: “Behold, He is coming amid the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.  All the peoples of the earth will lament Him” (Revelation 1:7). 

By discovering the greatness of God’s love, our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and being separated from Him.  The human heart is converted by looking upon Him Whom our sins have pierced (cf. CCC 1432). 

Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo is where King Josiah was shot by an archer and later died in Jerusalem and all of Judah and Jerusalem mourned him.  You can read more about this in 2 Chronicles 35:20-26. 

There is a sense that the city of Jerusalem will be purified of moral transgression at the fountain which purifies from sin and uncleanness.  This was fulfilled in the New Testament whereby Christ was made an open fountain by His Incarnation.  Also, at the baptismal font we were purified from sin and became children of God.
Second Reading Commentary
This Reading is a marvelous proclamation on the unity and spiritual equality of human beings.  The unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions (CCC 791).  Through faith we are all children of God in Jesus Christ. It is through the waters of baptism that we have clothed ourselves with Christ. 

Have you ever heard the question: Do the clothes make the person?  In other words, can you know something about someone based on how they are dressed?  Being clothed with Christ should say something to us about how we are to live our lives.  We are all called to chastity as we are clothed with the Model for all chastity.  All of Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life (cf. CCC 2348). 

In baptism we enter into communion with Christ’s death by being buried with Him, and then rising with Him.  As Christians we are the seed of Abraham and true heirs to the Promise.
Gospel Commentary
If we are striving to follow the example of Christ we must take notice of the first verse: “Jesus was praying in solitude.”  In the liturgy we come together as the Body of Christ.  But outside of liturgy Jesus teaches us that we need that time in solitude to continually build and strengthen our personal relationship with our Lord.  Solitude, however, can be a misleading word.  We are never alone; God is always with us.
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”  The disciples reply with specific names of prophets and other ancient prophets but no one perceives Jesus to be the Messiah.  Peter confessing that Jesus is “the Christ of God” is significant.  As the soon to be appointed head of the Church, it was important that he answered correctly because after Christ’s Ascension the spreading of this remarkable news would rest on his shoulders and those of the other apostles.  For now, Jesus directed them not to tell this to anyone.  This has often been referred to as the “Messianic Secret”.  The reason for Christ’s momentary secrecy is that He wanted others to form their opinions of Him based on the character of His works and not by any preconceived notions.  Jesus was also probably trying to guard Himself from the crowd’s misunderstanding of what the Messiah was to be.  Many felt that the Messiah would come as a mighty warrior and destroy their enemies and He would then become their temporal King.  Even some of the apostles thought this to be true. 

In this Gospel we read that the disciples are the first to learn the shocking news of what is to happen to the Messiah: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  The disciples must have been scratching their heads at this bewildering news flash.  The Messiah is going to die and rise again?  This was surely a difficult concept to comprehend and accept.  After this Jesus passes on some more of what could be perceived as disturbing news: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”  It would be correct to understand this literally but since most of us are not likely to have our lives threatened because of our love for Christ, another meaning is more appropriately applied: Taking up our cross daily means to trust that our Lord is the conqueror of the world and with faith we can joyfully confront our obstacles head-on.  Losing our lives for Christ’s sake is to die to oneself; to not be consumed with the ways of the world but instead keeping our eyes fixed on Christ and rising to a new life in Him. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this teaching to help us in our ongoing conversion process: “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness.  Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (CCC 1435). 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 12, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Anyone who is serious about their spiritual life surely understands the destruction caused by sin.  The images can be haunting.  Sin is never more destructive, though, than when it crosses the line of venial and enters into mortal and builds a wall of separation between a soul and God.  A daily examination of conscience and perhaps having a personal Confessor will help to identify the troublesome spots: i.e., the sins of constant repetition.  Examining the personal sins of daily life can plague the heart and mind if it is not balanced by a daily recollection of the good things God does, seemingly irrespective of personal failures.  The fast pace of life quite often misses God passing by to bless a circumstance or situation. 

While it might be better for our soul to have a prophetic Nathan drop by and remind us of the good that God has done in our lives, as well as point out where we have failed Him; or have a Confessor like Padre Pio kick us out of the confessional for deliberately failing to confess certain sins, since these scenarios are a long shot, we have to take responsibility for the condition of our soul by a personal mandate to strengthen our relationship with God.  Sure, it would be embarrassing to be told by a prophet where we have failed God or to be jettisoned from the confessional by a supernaturally gifted priest; but the real shame lies in the inability to be honest with ourselves.  An honest relationship with God will have us admit with David: “I have sinned against the Lord” and embracing the Catholic teaching of Reconciliation assures that the Lord on His part has forgiven our sins. 

A prophetic view of this Reading previews the love of God for His people and the humility of Christ.  The Almighty and all-powerful God would clothe Himself in flesh and dwell among sinful humanity; and He would do so through the lineage of David, a lineage of murder and adultery, placing Himself in the all too familiar role of being a sign of contradiction.  And yet the prophetic voice speaking to David saying: “The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die” foretells a future of mercy and the unworthy opportunity to escape eternal death because of Christ's Sacrifice.  This loving act of Jesus delineates both the justice of God and the mercy of God.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul addresses this letter chiefly to Jewish Galatians who remained faithful to the old law.  Saint Jerome has commented that by the evangelical law of Christ we are now dead to the ancient law and its ceremonies.  As Saint Paul points out, if justification and salvation could be gained through the works of the law, then Christ died in vain and it was unnecessary for Him to become our Redeemer. 

Saint Paul is expressing a kind of inner metamorphism:  The law which he was faithfully attached to has died in him.  Now he is so fully united to Christ and His Cross that he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”  This is a mystical death which comes through faith and baptism.  Now that Paul speaks out against the ancient law, it must be understood that he is speaking about its ceremonial aspects and not its moral content. 

Justification has only one Source which are the graces obtained for us by Jesus Christ.  Saint Paul's words in this Reading presents to us a mystical smorgasbord because they suggest that faithful Christians walk in the Spirit and if we dare be so bold, can say that we are in a sense another Christ by virtue of our union with Him and are receptacles of His graces; and certainly in the ordained priesthood this is even more profoundly true as priests are in Persona Christi as it is Christ Himself Who is present to His Church as the Shepherd of the flock, the Teacher of Truth and the High Priest of the redemptive Sacrifice (cf. CCC 1548).  Because of that mystical union with Christ, our present physical life is a life elevated by our faith in Christ.  It’s quite a calling to try to uphold and requires a committed approach like that of Saint Paul.
Gospel Commentary
"Who is this Who even forgives sins?"  This particular verse, one could say from a Catholic or Orthodox perspective, is a bit prophetic.  Our separated brethren who do not share our belief in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will often ask how a man [priest] can forgive sins.  In Christ are God and Man.  In the confessional it is God through man.  Our Lord told Saint Faustina: “When you go to Confession, know this, that I Myself am waiting for you in the confessional; I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in the soul.” 

There's also an aspect of reverence leaking through in this particular Gospel.  Worship, liturgical or personal, demands reverence.  Our Lord Himself would seem to suggest this with His string of “you did not – but she has” statements; meaning that the woman in this Gospel has shown her Lord the proper reverence even though it comes into question by the Pharisee.  But reverence cannot be exercised merely for reverence sake; it must be motivated by love as is the case with this woman as Jesus points out by saying that “she has shown great love.” 

In the biblical days, feet were surely the dirtiest part of the body with only sandals or bare feet to tread through the desert sand.  Jesus suggests that water would have been the least that could have been used to bathe His Feet, which the Pharisee failed to do; but the woman goes beyond what would have been sufficient and gives her all by bathing our Lord's Feet with her tears, an acknowledgement of her own unworthiness to approach even His dirt-covered Feet.  By kissing His Feet and anointing them, she accepts her own nothingness and submits to the superiority of her Lord and offers thanks for the gift of being permitted to wash His Feet.  All this is done not because of some sort of protocol, but rather it is an expression of her love for Jesus. 

Metaphorically, this opens up a can of worms when considering our own expressions of worship – how we enter a church, bowing and genuflecting, maintaining a reverent silence before the Tabernacle, attentiveness to the proclamation of the Scriptures, spending a few moments after Mass to offer thanksgiving for the phenomenal gift of the Eucharist, etc.  Also, when entering deeper into this particular scene, washing away dirt speaks of Confession and how when partaking of that sacrament we are not only repairing the wounds of the soul but are in a sense washing our dirt off of Jesus which covers His Flesh, thus inhibiting us from kissing His Feet or more comprehensibly, having His Flesh, His Eucharistic presence, pass our lips. It’s something to reflect on when understanding the Church’s teaching that the Blessed Sacrament should not be approached for consumption if there is mortal sin on the soul.

Love is stronger than anything – even death.  And He Whom we consume at Mass is Love.  Our own preparation for such an unfathomable gift prompts the question that was asked of Peter three times: “Do you love Me?” (cf. John 21:15-17).  If Jesus is the One in Whom we show great love, then, as Saint Cyprian puts it, our grief should be proportionate to our sins.  How could one not grieve when having offended the Love of his/her life? 

In the ongoing daily battle of conversion, if it is a true conversion, pious dispositions like faith, hope, love, charity and sorrow are joined together.  This is evident in this Gospel and clears up any controversial theological arguments concerning sins being forgiven because of showing great love versus being saved because of faith.  It also shows that faith is not merely an intellectual ascent but rather an expression and attitude of the whole person.  Sadly, because of our brokenness, what also cannot be ignored are our own prejudices and jealousies that can surface as portrayed here by the Pharisee.  Depending on one's own willingness to love others, the pious expressions of others will either draw out admiration or even a sense of communion with that person or persons - or it will render a first impression laced with jealousy and envy.  Sometimes envy and jealousy are rooted in the misjudgment that one lugs around on his/her shoulders sins that are unforgivable.  Once again, our Lord said to Saint Faustina: “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.” 

There are countless writings from the saints on mercy.  Here are but a few gems: “Everything that God does is born of His Mercy and His clemency” – Saint John Chrysostom.  “God is not the Father of Judgment, but only the Father of Mercy, and punishment comes from our own selves” – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  And finally, “If God had not created man He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable.  Our misery is the throne of God's mercy” – Saint Francis de Sales.