Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 26, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The horn was a very common vessel; it was generally used to hold liquor.  In this case the horn was used for oil; and since the horn is a larger vessel than the vial that was usually used to hold oil, this may be a clue as to the duration and abundance of what would soon be the kingship of David. 

"Surely the Lord's anointed is here before Him."  Samuel's thoughts were coming from his own spirit as he was judging by appearance only; but God rejects this eldest son.  One of God's perfections is His ability to read or look into our hearts and whatever was contained in the hearts of Jesse's other sons apparently was not what the Lord was looking for in a king. 

At the time that Jesse is presenting his seven sons before Samuel, David is not present.  In the estimation of many scripture scholars, David, the youngest, was probably about fifteen years old.  It's not likely that Jesse or Samuel had revealed to the other brothers why David was being anointed with the oil; or if they were told, then great precautions would have been taken to keep this a secret for fear of the danger they would be in if Saul, the current king, had found out.  After the anointing, "the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David," meaning that the Lord came upon him to make him prosper and gave him all the graces needed to make David a worthy commander and king.  The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us at baptism and gives us the graces necessary to fulfill the will of God. 

One of the lessons to be learned from this Reading is that while we don't always understand the ways of God, His ways are the only way.  If the decision to choose a new king had been left in the hands of mortal human beings, they would have made the decision based on outward appearance only, and then salvation history as we know it may have been quite different, as the promised Messiah of David's lineage may not have come to light.  As always, “Thy will be done!” 

As Christians, the Voice of Christ speaks to us in the opening of this Reading.  Jesus fills our vessels, that is, our souls with His Precious Body and Blood, the Food needed to sustain us on our journey; and He says to us: "I have filled you with the Bread of Life, be on your way; I am sending you."  The battle is hard but the Real Food and True Drink along with a viable and vibrant relationship with our Lord through prayer can help us to see not as man sees but as God sees.  Our Lord has given us the blueprint with Scripture; and His is the Voice to be listened to and not the voice of the serpent who tells us to always believe what our physical senses perceive and to trust in our own inclinations to fulfill the desires of the flesh and to commit sin.  Sometimes our own physical senses become tempters because what we can see, hear and feel could deceive us into thinking that this must surely be the will of God because it is right there in front of us; and the seeming obviousness of the physical senses makes it all too convenient to skip the often grueling task of discernment.

Second Reading Commentary
The darkness that Saint Paul writes about here is the state of infidelity into which the Ephesians had plunged to worship false gods and idols and the grievous sins they had committed which Saint Paul writes were too "shameful even to mention". 

Saint Paul instructs us to "live as children of light".  It is the Holy Spirit that makes us children of light and that light is received at baptism.  Baptism is the bath of enlightenment.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that a baptized person has become enlightened and becomes a son/daughter of light.  At Baptism sin is buried in the water (cf. CCC 1216).  When living as children of light the fruitless works of darkness are exposed, revealing the abomination of these works of darkness.   

This Reading closes with the words: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."  The exact origin of these words is unknown but it is believed to be a very ancient Christian hymn that was used at baptismal liturgies.  It may have been formed from words which are found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you" (Isaiah 60:1).

Gospel Commentary
When Jesus healed the paralytic He told him: "Your sins are forgiven" (cf. Mark 2:1-12).  Because of this the disciples must have concluded that his infirmity was sent to him in punishment for his previous sins.  Therefore, when they saw the blind man, they asked Jesus: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?"  Jesus explained that "neither he nor his parents sinned".  A belief that affliction was punishment for sins committed was quite common in Christ's day.  When Jesus explains that the blind man did not sin, this of course is not to be understood to mean that the blind man was not a sinner.  For both he and his parents were sinners; but the meaning is that his blindness was not inflicted as punishment for any sin that he or his parents had committed, but as we see by Christ's healing, this man's blindness was given for the manifestation of the glory of God. 

Jesus says: "We have to do the works of the One Who sent Me while it is day."  This is not a reference to the time of day; He's referring to the time lived in this life as a mortal.  This is a marvelous example of how Scripture gives us the True Reality as opposed to the perceived reality we tend to live out.  Perceived reality might, for example, ignore someone in need because our precious schedule dictates that we must be someplace else or there simply isn't enough time in the day for an inconvenience while at the same time trying to get all these other things done.  But Jesus says, no, "we have to do the works of the One Who sent Me".  Not, "we should do" but "we have to do"; and if you're curious about the ancient text, the Greek translates as "it is binding".  That's strong language! 

Jesus follows this up with, "Night is coming when no one can work," meaning that in death we can no longer do the works of the Lord in mortal life; but only be rewarded for our labors in this life. 

Jesus used clay and saliva to heal the blind man not because clay and saliva were necessary to make the miracle work but instead to make the miracle more visible.  The Church follows this example when administering the sacraments.  Jesus is present in all the sacraments even though we can't see Him or the works He performs in them.  For this reason, the Church, for visibility, administers the sacraments in religious ceremonies.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts forth a very comforting reminder that in the sacraments Christ continues to touch us in order to heal us (cf. CCC 1504). 

The Pool of Siloam was at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem where its waters were collected in a reservoir for the benefit of the city.  The word "Siloam," which means "Sent," was a figure of Christ, Who was sent by His eternal Father into the world to enlighten God's people.  The Pool of Siloam is a representation of the Sacrament of Baptism, by which we are sanctified.  Its waters signify divine grace and light which is given to us through Jesus Christ, Who was sent by the Father. 

When the blind man was questioned about Who Jesus was, the man replied by saying, "He is a Prophet."  The title of "prophet" was given to anyone who seemed to possess one or more extraordinary gifts.  The blind man honored Jesus when he thought Him to be a prophet; but when it was revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God, the man worshipped Jesus.  Worship is an act reserved for God alone.  The Catechism teaches: "If any one is a worshipper of God and does His will, God listens to him.  Such is the power of the Church's prayer in the Name of her Lord, above all in the Eucharist.  Her prayer is also a communion of intercession with the all-holy Mother of God and all the saints who have been pleasing to the Lord because they willed His will alone" (CCC 2827). 

Those questioning the blind man proclaimed, "We know that God does not listen to sinners."  We are all sinners, and so, this statement does not mean that God doesn't listen to our prayers; it pretty much is singling out those who have no intention of repenting. 

The Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath."  This seems to be a popular complaint about Jesus throughout the Gospels.  In Saint Mark's Gospel, Jesus answers this complaint with a question: "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"  After this question the complainers were silent (cf. Mark 3:4). 

Jesus says, "I came into this world for judgment" but in this same Gospel (12:47) Jesus says, "I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world."  On the surface, these two statements seem contradictory.  The meaning, however, is that He has not come to exercise the office of Judge, but He tells them what will be the consequences of His coming, and their refusing to believe in Him and thus remain in their willful blindness.  Jesus did not come so that some should remain in darkness while others receive the light of faith.  Those who are in darkness or blindness are there under their own free will and not by any acts or words of Christ.  The Pharisees ask Jesus, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"  If the Pharisees were blind by reason of never having heard of or about Jesus and His teachings, this kind of blindness might be excused.  But they saw Him and knew of the miracles He performed, therefore, it is for this reason that Jesus says to them, "Your sin remains." Thanks be to God for His love and mercy; if we exercise enough humility to acknowledge our blindness and ignorance, and seriously seek a remedy, namely the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we would soon be delivered from our sin.  The Pharisees, however, remained in blindness voluntarily.  The Catechism makes the point that sin is universal; therefore, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves (cf. CCC 588). 

The Pharisees knew the Mosaic Law.  In early Christian history, it was said that many of the desert Fathers knew all the words of the Psalms by heart.  The similarities end there.  While the Pharisees knew the letter of the Law, they failed to grasp the spirit of the Law.  The desert Fathers, however, knew the Psalms but those ancient hymns were breathed by them.  We need to examine these distinctions in our own lives.  First, are we familiar with the words contained in the pages of Scripture; next, and more importantly, is Scripture a very real part of our lives and not just a Book that is filled with great stories? 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent - March 19, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The people of Israel grumbled against Moses enough for him to think that they might try to kill him.  Scripture reads: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  Jesus quoted this passage when He was being tempted in the desert by the devil.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that tempting God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord.  It always harbors doubt about His love, His providence and His power (cf. CCC 2119). 

In this Reading, the people of Israel tempt and challenge God to supply water for their thirst.  Water is a symbol of life and every human being needs water to sustain life.  Water is also used for cleansing.  It is fitting that water is used in baptism.  In the Sacrament of Baptism we are cleansed of our sins and are given a new life as a child of God. 

The rock in Horeb, according to Saint Paul, is a figure of Christ: “All drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). 

The words Massah and Meribah mean “quarrel” and “test”.  The people ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  That question never seems to go away.  It was asked thousands of years ago and it is still asked today, usually when tragedy strikes.  It is yet another way of tempting God, trying to get Him to reveal Himself, although, depending on the circumstances, it can be at times quite understandable in our lowly humanity.  During Lent, we do indeed ask the Lord to reveal Himself but not in a way that would be considered tempting God.  Through prayer we seek Him longing for intimacy and forgiveness, longing to quench a thirst that water cannot suffice.

Second Reading Commentary
The apostle Paul proceeds in this Reading to show how wonderful a benefit it is to be truly justified by the coming of Christ.  Saint John Chrysostom adds that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ by laying aside all contentions; or let us have peace with God by sinning no more.  And we can have this peace even during our greatest trials, which, with our Lord’s help, can lead us to an increase in virtue and patience. 

God has showered us with the blessings of faith, charity, patience, and fidelity even though we’re not deserving of it.  Knowing this, there must be the greatest confidence that after this pledge and assurance of His good will towards us, He will finish the work He has begun and bring us to His heavenly Kingdom. 

Saint Paul writes: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”  Indeed, we are temples of the Holy Spirit which means that the great Paraclete resides in our soul, sanctifying it and making it a partaker of His divine love.  Because of God’s love and mercy for His people, Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly; meaning that we were sinners and consequently His enemy.  Saint Paul continues: “Perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die”; that is to say, courage to die for a person that has been good to us.  As Saint Jerome puts it, “Scarcely would anyone die for a just cause; for who would ever think of dying for injustice?”  For however long our journey is in this life, chances are we will never fully grasp how much God loves us.

Gospel Commentary
Saint Augustine preached that the woman of Samaria symbolizes the Church which was not yet justified, but was about to be justified.  Saint Augustine continues: “She comes in ignorance, she finds Him, and He converses with her.  We must see what this woman of Samaria was and why she had come to draw water.  The Samaritans did not belong to the Jewish nation, but were foreigners.  It is part of the symbolism that this woman, who is a type of the Church, came from a foreign nation, because the Church was to come from the Gentiles and so be of a different race.  Because she provided a symbol, she became the reality too.  For she came to believe in Jesus Who was putting her before us as a symbol.  She was surprised that a Jew was quite uncharacteristically requesting a drink from her.  Although Jesus asked for a drink, His real thirst was for this woman’s faith.” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church shares something beautiful about Jesus’ thirst: “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being.  It is He Who first seeks us and asks for a drink.  Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.  Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.  God thirsts that we may thirst for Him” (CCC 2560). 

Continuing with Saint Augustine’s homily, he says: “Jesus asks her for a drink.  He is in need as One Who will accept, He abounds as One Who will satisfy.  Jesus said, ‘If you knew the gift of God.’  God’s gift is the Holy Spirit but He still speaks to her in a veiled language, and gradually He enters into her heart.  The water which He was about to give to her is surely the water referred to in the words, ‘With You is the fountain of life.’  Jesus was promising her plentiful nourishment and the abundant fullness of the Holy Spirit.  The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’  Need drove her to this labor, while her frailty recoiled from it.  How wonderful if she heard the invitation, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’  That was what Jesus’ words to her meant – an end to her labor; but she did not yet understand their meaning.” 

The Samaritan woman uses the term, “our father Jacob” because the Samaritans claimed lineage from Abraham, therefore, they called Jacob their father because he was Abraham’s grandson.  Saint Bede explains that they also called Jacob their father because they lived under the Law of Moses and were in possession of the land that Jacob had bequeathed to his son Joseph. 

When Jesus tells her to go call her husband, He begins to show her that He knows all about her life.  The Samaritan woman says: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,” meaning Jacob and the ancient patriarchs, whom the Samaritans called their fathers.  The mountain is Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a temple; and it was there that the Samaritans would come to worship instead of at Jerusalem.  The Samaritans believed that the patriarchs had exercised their religious rituals on this mountain. 

Jesus tells the woman that salvation is from the Jews.  Saint John Chrysostom explains the meaning of our Savior’s words: “The Israelites, on account of their innumerable sins, had been delivered by the Almighty into the hands of the king of Assyria, who led them all away as captives into Babylon and sent other nations whom He had collected from different parts, to inhabit Samaria.  But the Almighty, to show to all nations that He delivered up His people solely on account of their transgressions, sent lions into the land to persecute these strangers.  The Assyrian king upon hearing this, sent them a priest to teach them the Law of God; but they did not depart wholly from their impiety, for many of them returned again to their idols, while at the same time worshipping the true God.  It was on this account that Christ preferred the Jews before them saying, ‘Salvation is from the Jews,’ whom it was the chief principle to acknowledge the true God and hold every denomination of idols in detestation.  The Samaritans, by mixing the worship of one with the other, plainly showed that they held the God of the universe in no greater esteem than their idols.” 

Jesus tells her: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”  The Catechism explains that worship in Spirit and truth of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any one place.  What matters above all is that, when the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the living stones gathered to be built into a spiritual house.  For the Body of the risen Christ is the spiritual temple from which the source of living water springs forth: incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are the temple of the living God (cf. CCC 1179).  Jesus was not in any way suggesting that Christian worship should have no use of external signs towards God, for that would take away all sacrifice, sacraments and prayers. 

The Samaritan woman tells Jesus: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the One called the Christ; when He comes, He will tell us everything.”  Even the Samaritans, at that time, expected the coming of the Messiah.  Jesus said to her, “I am He,” which He proclaimed to the Samaritan woman, first by His words, but perhaps even more by His grace, which would have convinced her heart that He was indeed the Messiah.  The disciples were amazed that He was talking to her and experiencing this may have taught them something about the humility of Jesus.  The Samaritans looked for the Messiah because they had the books of Moses, in which Jacob foretold of the world’s Redeemer: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah or a ruler from his thigh, till He that is to be sent comes” (Genesis 49:10). 

Jesus tells His disciples to look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.  The harvest of souls was approaching when Christ came to teach the way of salvation and to send His apostles to convert all nations.  “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for”; by these words Jesus testifies to His apostles that the prophets had sown the seed in order to bring all to believe in Christ.  This was the end of the Law, the fruit which the prophets looked for to reward their labors.  Jesus, likewise, shows them that as it is He Himself Who sends the apostles, it is also He Who sent the prophets before them, and that the Old and New Testaments are of the same Origin. 

Finally, through the grace of God, we see that many of the Samaritans came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Savior sent to redeem the world.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The promise of Abram's blessing appears two more times in the book of Genesis (cf. 18:18 & 22:18).  The prophecy in this Reading is confirmed to Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:2-5) and to Jacob (cf. Genesis 28:14).  Abram's faith is tested here as he is commanded to leave the comforts of home and journey to an unknown habitation. 

"All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you."  The blessing begins with Abram but points to Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abram.  Christ calls us to venture out from the ways of the world and walk in His ways, a sojourn that leads to eternal life which is unknown to us because "eye has not seen" (Isaiah 64:4 & 1 Corinthians 2:9).  The journey is difficult but like Abram [Abraham], God's gift of faith can teach us to be poor in spirit and will see us through.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul calls for evangelization here.  By bearing our share of hardship for the Gospel, he asks us to join him in spreading the Good News.  This is not easy in the midst of a mountain of secularization. 

The Greek text expresses the difficulties involved as it translates Paul's words as: "Be a partner with me in suffering."  This message is timeless.  Today, in our world of technological advances it's difficult to believe that there are still a great number of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  

"The harvest is indeed great but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2).  In our own corner of the world evangelization is presented mostly by example - and if necessary, by words.  In our secular culture actions tend to speak much louder than words.  We are called to a holy life and are equipped with saving grace which was made manifest by the illumination of our Savior Who brought to light life and incorruption.

Gospel Commentary
In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, chapter 16 (verses 16-17), the Father reveals to Peter Who Jesus is; and now the Father's revelation is visually shown not only to Peter, but also to James and John.  According to a fourth century tradition, the mountain is Tabor which is located about eight miles southeast of Nazareth.  As is the case with most biblical scholarship, not everyone is in agreement with that locale. 

Saint John Chrysostom explains the symbolism of being led up a high mountain and how it impacts our spiritual life: "It is necessary for all who desire to look upon the glory of God that they lie not down amid base pleasures, but that they be uplifted to heavenly things."  Origen, an early Church writer, adds: "Jesus is simply seen by those who do not, by the practice of virtue, ascend to the sacred mountain of wisdom; but to those who do ascend there He is no longer known as Man, but is understood as God the Word." 

Transfiguration does not mean that Jesus temporarily put aside His physical Body to reveal His Spiritual makeup; but instead He added splendor and glory to His physical Body.  In other words, this is how our Savior will appear on the Day of Judgment. 

The presence of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.  Their presence teaches that the Mosaic Law is not abolished but fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  Saint Hilary believes that Moses and Elijah will be the precursors of Christ's Second Coming.  This is alluded to in the book of Revelation (Chapter 11) with the story of the two witnesses.  Most of the early Church Fathers, however, believe that the two in Revelation are Enoch and Elijah. 

Peter's suggestion of making three tents shows how overwhelmed he is by the whole experience.  Peter may have assumed that Moses and Elijah were going to stay and proclaim Jesus in His glory.  It's also possible that Peter was so caught up in the event that he became oblivious to earthly things and wished to remain on the mountain forever. 

In Saint Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, after Peter’s suggestion to make three tents, it is followed by the words “not knowing what he said”.  This may be what is referred to in an Ambrosian hymn as sobriam ebrietatem – sober intoxication.  The Carthusian, Dom Nicholas Kempf, in his work, Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum speaks of “sober intoxication” as a heart that has been moved to jubilation to a point that is utterly mysterious and completely inexpressible, and thus cannot be put into conventional words.  Biblically, we see such mysterious language in the book of Revelation and the Song of Songs.  But how does this impact us personally?  Speaking of the Carthusians, it was a monk of that Order from their monastery in the United States who wrote: “The Transfiguration of the Lord allows us to contemplate, not only the Mystery of Jesus, but also our own mystery.  Prayer and contemplation, lived in pure faith during this life, are the beginning of our own Transfiguration.  A most apropos statement for Lent, a season which exhorts us to intense prayer!  That being said, however, in Henry Maundrell's book, "Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem", he writes that there are three grottos present on Mount Tabor to represent the three tents proposed by Peter. 

In the Old Testament, the book of Exodus (24:15) instructs us that the cloud is the visible manifestation of Almighty God.  As the cloud enveloped Moses on the mountain then, it now casts its shadow on the apostles chosen to witness Christ's Transfiguration. 

In Matthew's Gospel, first during Christ's Baptism (3:17), then at Peter's profession (16:17), and now for the third time we read that Jesus is the Son of God.  Concerning His Son, the Father commands us to "listen to Him".  Our Blessed Mother tells us the same thing at the wedding feast of Cana when she says:  "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).  Since this command comes from a Divine Father and a sinless Mother, thus incapable of deception, how could any Christian ever question the words of the Son? 

The Voice of the Father for certain is meant to be heard by the three apostles but it's also likely that the Voice could equally have been aimed at Moses and Elijah who longed to see the Messiah.  Once Christ's visual glorification has passed, He commands the chosen three not to reveal what they have seen until Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Following the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, it is the recollection of the Transfiguration that probably made these three apostles comprehend the necessity of the Cross.