Monday, May 1, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2017

First Reading Commentary
This is a continuation of last weekend's speech from Peter.  Again, it's very tempting to think that the hearers of this message are being read the riot act; but an angry tone delivered among adults usually produces the same in return.  But the fact that the hearers "were cut to the heart" intimates something very different.  Peter, perhaps in a deeply sad tone, delivered these poignant words.  Fortunately, Peter is quick to offer a remedy for such a barbaric series of events in the form of sacramental Baptism.  He might very well be wearing on his sleeve his own personal experience of betraying Jesus. 

Even though as disciples of Jesus we are most grateful for our Lord's ocean of mercy, our often feeble minds are not so quick to forget some of the sins committed.  The Image of our Lord nailed to the Cross is a vivid reminder of the wages of sin.  But our Lord's love for us will not abandon us to live out a life of despair.  We are a sacramental Church which produces healing and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

In this Reading the question, "What are we to do, my brothers?" surely suggests a desire to repent.  Much of the childhood and early adult years of Jesus was hidden.  What we don't know and is interesting to consider is how many of the hearers of Peter's message grew up with Jesus and maybe played together as kids or were friends as teenagers?  How many are a little older and perhaps associated with Joseph and Mary and maybe shared meals together?  What drives friendships to utter betrayal?  How did "Hosanna!" turn to "Crucify Him!"?  Saint Peter makes it clear who the real enemy is: "Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Saint Peter's exhortation to "save yourselves from this corrupt generation" reaches even our ears separated by two thousand years.  We've all suffered the consequences for not always being so vigilant. 

The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said: "Jésus sera en agonie jusqu'à la fin du monde; il ne faut pas dormir pendant ce temps-là" – "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; during this time we must not sleep."  When we find that sleep or a lack of vigilance has become habitual, that is also when we will find ourselves very much a part of the corrupt generation. To live a sacramental life is to stay close to the Bosom of Jesus Who envelops us with His Love; and love which freely offers forgiveness is a wounding blow to our adversary.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Peter desires that we follow in the Footsteps of our Lord especially when he uses the example of Christ handing Himself over to the One Who judges justly.  You can bet that the Church's first pope prays for us unceasingly in heaven.  Our commitment to discipleship is an act of handing ourselves over to our Lord and trusting in His Providential care.  Our sufferings in which Peter calls us to patient endurance are inevitable.  No one will escape suffering.  Suffering without patient endurance, however, no matter how minimal or extreme can be a catalyst to sin. 

Our struggle to be without deceit in our mouths, our struggle to remain silent when insulted and our struggle to offer no threats in the heat of the battle perhaps is caused by unwittingly adhering to the whispers of the tempter which leads to an unbeknownst pulling away from the embrace of Jesus.  And because of that human weakness, that elusive ingredient within us that needs to control, or at least is led to believe we're in control, the straying sheep that we are need a means in which we can return to the Shepherd and Guardian of souls.  And hopefully the graces received from the frequent reception of that sacrament will help us to remain more intently in the Bosom of our Lord while going astray like sheep becomes a rarity.

Gospel Commentary
Concerning the sheepfold, the Catechism of the Catholic Church shares these words: "The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ.  It is also the flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the Shepherd, and Whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of shepherds, Who gave His life for His sheep" (CCC 754). 

All three Readings this weekend plead with us to stay close to Jesus.  This message would not be necessary if it weren't for our tendency to stray.  The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God's intention of taking care of His sheep by taking the sheep away from shepherds who feed themselves.  This prophecy of God taking care of His sheep also reveals that this will occur through a Davidic Prince (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-24).  And, of course, this Prince from the line of David is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The thieves and robbers that our Lord speaks of could refer to the false prophets who preceded Him throughout salvation history; but Jesus is speaking mysteriously in the present tense when He says: "All who came before Me are thieves and robbers."  The word "are" is present tense and agrees with the ancient texts, therefore, Christ is most likely referring to the scribes and Pharisees. 

There's a level of intimacy here that cannot be overlooked.  There must be a deep, personal relationship with Jesus in order to recognize His Voice.  And one can really get a sense of the personal closeness intended when Jesus says that He calls His own sheep by name.  And that intimacy with our Lord rewards us with abundant life.  The great opportunity we have in the here and now cannot be overemphasized.  Meditating on Sacred Scripture every day enables us to recognize the Voice of the Master. 

In "The Plan of Life" of the Hermits of Bethlehem who are located in Chester, NJ, using our Blessed Mother as the model, there is a very beautiful passage which applies not only to hermits but anyone who desires to make Sacred Scripture a vibrant part of their life.  The passage reads as follows: "Like Mary, the hermit strives to be a servant-bearer of the Word by daily opening oneself to the presence and mystery of the Word (Isaiah 50:4), listening to and pondering the Word (Luke 2:19, 10:39), believing and treasuring the Word (John 17:20), waiting patiently for the Word to take flesh in the heart through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), proclaiming the Word not only by one's speech, but by the very actions and attitudes of one's life (John 2:5), celebrating the Word (Acts 2:46; Luke 4: 17, 18), responding in love to the Word (John 15:23; Mark 3:35), resting in the word (Psalm 62:1-5; Matthew 11:29) surrendering himself in trust that the day-to-day experience is the mysterious revelation of God's plan." 

And it was our Savior Himself Who said: "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:28).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2017

First Reading Commentary
Saint Peter in this Reading is exercising his office as the Supreme Pontiff.  The Gospel verse, "He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16) comes to mind here.  It's tempting to think that the tone of Peter's voice is quite stern.  Here's something to consider, however: The apostle Peter we've grown accustomed to from the Gospels is quite different from the Holy Father Peter heard in this Reading.  Peter speaks here with authoritative confidence - the same confidence which always flowed from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Obviously Peter has been given the graces needed to carry out his appointment as the Vicar of Christ, and so by now, after being an apostle of Jesus, learning His teachings, seeing His miracles and having witnessed His Resurrection, there is evidence that Peter has spiritually matured to a lofty degree.  Thus it might be a mistake to assume that when Peter "raised his voice" it means that he was harsh.  Most likely he "raised his voice" only to be heard. 

An elevated level of Christian spiritual maturity usually means that one conducts themselves with the compassion and mercy of Christ – although it cannot be ignored that some saints were known to have a short fuse.  Most likely Peter's tone is one of heartfelt tenderness even with his use of the blunt words, "you killed" since Peter himself is quite aware of his own thrice denial of Jesus. 

The more that one is exposed to the Light of Christ, the higher awareness one has of their own sinfulness.  The saints were most grateful for that, which is why all of them were very faithful to the Sacrament of our Lord's mercy.  Thus Peter knows he has traveled a long, difficult road to reach the point of what intimates to be an exalted spirituality.  An important theme in Peter's speech is a bit subdued and could be missed if reflection doesn't accompany the perusing of Peter's address.  That theme is - what has happened to Jesus, from brutality to glory, was a divine plan.  Peter says that with the words "set plan and foreknowledge of God" but they are somewhat overshadowed by the words "you killed, using lawless men."  But now Peter and the other apostles stand before us as witnesses to Christ's Resurrection. 

Concerning the Resurrection of our Lord, Peter first points out that David had prophesied it and quotes the king's words from Psalm (15) 16.  After quoting David, Peter then proclaims that he and the others are eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of King David's prophecy.  Another subtle hint that Peter's speech is one of commiserative fellowship rather than angry judge is his use of the affectionate term, "My brothers." 

At the Vatican web site you'll find that most public addresses made by popes began with the words: "Dear Brothers and Sisters."  There's something both ordinary and extraordinary about these words.  First, they are an acknowledgement from these men of God that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.  But also, when these words come specifically from the Vicar of Christ, we also hear Jesus speaking through them and thus it is the Lord Himself saying to us: "You are My brothers and sisters." 

Peter proclaimed that it was impossible for Christ to be held by death and that is prophesied here by David; but another side to David's prophecy is to understand that Israel's king is also referring to himself and all humanity.  Because of Christ, death no longer can hold us as we are called from death to the paths of life, to be filled with joy in our Lord's presence forever.

Second Reading Commentary
Like the First Reading, it is Saint Peter who addresses us; and what he has to say here might seem obvious but it's not terribly difficult to become weighed down by life and all its concerns and thus turn the focus away from God.  Basically what Peter says here is that if you address God as Father, then conduct yourself like you are His child.  Let your appreciation of the fact that you have been ransomed with the Blood of Christ be evidenced by your actions. 

Reverence is exemplified early on in scripture when God commands Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (cf. Exodus 3:5).  Jesus showed reverence to His heavenly Father by falling flat on the ground to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:35).  Saints Vincent Ferrer, Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, Jean-Marie Vianney and others prayed the Divine Office on their knees.  Many who were privileged to attend a private Mass of Saint John Paul II testified that upon entering the pope's private chapel, they would find the Holy Father kneeling before the Tabernacle immersed in deep prayer. And it has been said that Pope Pius IX prayed the entire Divine Office kneeling without any support.  These examples of reverence were realizations in the lives of these servants of the Servant that we have been ransomed with His precious Blood. 

In part, our love for God is expressed by how quickly we repent and reconcile ourselves to our Lord when we fall.  It was Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York who once said that to truly mean it when you say, "I love you, Lord" - the words, "I'm sorry" must immediately follow.

Gospel Commentary
It's not clear if these two men were prevented from recognizing Jesus because our Lord purposely made Himself appear different or if it is because His glorified Body has vastly different features.  But since our Lord is not recognized until the breaking of the bread, it would seem that our Redeemer has something to say to all of us.  "Jesus drew near and walked with them."  This is not all that different from our own experiences in life.  If Christ dwells within us, then He is close to us in every person we meet; but like these two men, we often fail to recognize Him in that person - and in ourselves. 

No one knows for certain who Cleopas is; Saint Jerome thought him to be a citizen of Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay with him at his house.  Saint Jerome also testified that during his day there was a church that existed which was originally thought to be the house of Cleopas.  Origen, one of the writers of the early Church, thought Cleopas to be Simon Peter.  Other speculations include: the brother of Saint Joseph, or Saint Luke the writer of this Gospel story, or the father of Saint James the Less. 

Jesus interpreted to them all that was in the Scriptures concerning Him.  This must've taken a great deal of time but what a tremendous blessing for these two men to have been given a bible lesson by Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus, however, does say to them beforehand: "Oh, how foolish you are!"  The lesson for us in that statement is to familiarize ourselves with Sacred Scripture and learn what the prophets say of Him and how those prophecies were fulfilled by Him in the New Testament.  Understanding the Old Testament really makes the New Testament come to life.  Through the comprehension of Scripture we are able to welcome Jesus Christ into our lives based on what is preordained by divine decree and not by something our imaginations conjure up. 

The "breaking of bread" was a popular term for the Eucharist during the apostolic times.  It cannot be ignored that our Lord is demonstrating something that is strikingly similar to the liturgy: First, there is the breaking open of the Scriptures – the Liturgy of the Word – an explanation of the Scriptures follows – the homily – and then the breaking of the bread – the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This Gospel should be an eye opening experience for Catholic Christians who only acknowledge Jesus in their lives for one hour a week.  If there is no daily prayer life of any kind, i.e. meditation, reflection, spiritual reading or daily reading of scripture, then Jesus will pass by every day and probably will not be recognized.  It is only during the breaking of Bread at Sunday Mass that He will be recognized, albeit under the guise of bread and wine.  Jesus shows up in our lives every day and takes on many different forms: Sometimes He is the cause of our ability to be in the right place at the right time; sometimes He is the delay that takes us off our schedule because being on schedule would place us right in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance; other times He is found in others who lend a helping hand; and at other times He is even that person who plucks your last nerve especially when having a tendency to be overly impatient. 

On Sundays we're all standing in line to receive the Eucharist since it is there at Mass that we most recognize our Lord, and it is at Mass that He feeds our souls with His Body and Blood.  But Jesus speaks to us daily and He calls us to reflect daily where He works and moves in our lives.  If we can identify our Lord under the veil of ordinary bread and wine, then through daily prayer, sacred reading and meditation certainly His Holy Spirit can be detected in other persons, places or things that are a part of our everyday experience, as well as seeing Him within ourselves.

On the importance of prayer, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said: “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.”  And one could never exhaust the importance of the breaking of bread - the Eucharist, to which this humble saint said: “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist.  If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.”

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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

First Sunday of Lent - March 5, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The breath of life blown into the nostrils is the soul of the formed man.  Eden may have been the name of a country but Saint Jerome interprets it to signify pleasure.  “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east.”  This verse in the Latin is translated as: “The Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning.”  Saint Jerome’s interpretation of Eden to signify “pleasure” comes into play here; but notice the difference at the end of that verse: “in the east” from the American liturgy’s translation and “from the beginning” which is the Latin Vulgate’s translation.  The ancient Hebrew word creating these two very different interpretations is “mikedem”.  Some interpreters understood it to mean “towards the east”.  The Septuagint is in agreement with that interpretation.  Saint Jerome, however, along with many ancient interpreters understood it to mean “old” or “everlasting” or “from ancient times” which led to the “from the beginning” interpretation. 

The exact location of Eden is unknown: East of Palestine, Armenia and Babylon are only a few of the scholarly conjectures.  Some have even theorized that Eden still exists and is the place where Enoch and Elijah were taken until Christ’s glorious Ascension into heaven.  According to Sacred Scripture, Enoch walked with God and was seen no more because God took him (cf. Genesis 5:24).  And Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot (cf. 2 Kings 2:11). 

The “tree of life” is understood literally as a tree in which its fruits would keep man in a constant state of good health and thus man would never die.  Prophetically, it is the Cross of Christ.  The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in which the serpent lured our first parents into thinking it supplied superior knowledge, has been defined as a fig tree or an apple tree.  Of course, it’s impossible to know for certain but whatever it was, it most likely was the only one of its kind in the Garden of Eden.  What the tree of knowledge did supply was knowledge of evil, which before eating of its forbidden fruits our first parents were uninformed. 

It would be difficult to say that the woman succumbed to temptation in the same sense that we define temptation.  We know that what waits on the other side of temptation is not good for us, spiritually unhealthy and in some cases downright evil.  But the woman could not have known this at this point because she had no knowledge of evil and could not have suspected that the serpent was up to no good. 

One thing we learn from the very first book of the bible is that Satan is more acquainted with the ways and word of God than we are and thus is able to pervert it and twist it to fit his own diabolical plan. 

Saint Bernard, using this story from Genesis, asks us to reflect on this question: “Placed between God and the devil, whom shall we yield our assent?”  The plan of the serpent is not to say that God lied about the tree of knowledge because to the woman that would be unthinkable.  It would also be evil to have such thoughts and she has no knowledge of evil.  Instead, the ploy of the serpent is to suggest to the woman that she misunderstood what God was saying to her.  We hear Satan’s twisting of the word of God today by suggesting to us that we’re misinterpreting Scripture by our understanding of the Real Presence, for example. 

As soon as the man and the woman ate the fruit their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked.  Being naked is not evil but what is interpreted from this is that suddenly the two became filled with the intense craving known as lust. 

English poet and scholar John Milton (1608-1674), in his epic poem titled, “Paradise Lost” describes humanity’s fall from grace with these words: “She gave him of that fair enticing fruit, with liberal hand he scrupled not to eat: Against his better knowledge; not deceived, but fondly overcome with female charm.  Earth trembled from her entrails, as again in pangs, and nature gave a second groan; sky lured and muttering thunder, some sad drops wept at completing of the mortal sin.”

Second Reading Commentary
Our physical connection with Adam brings us sin and death; our spiritual bond with Christ brings us salvation and eternal life.  Adam’s fall is the cause of our sin and death; Christ’s redemption is the cause of our salvation and eternal life.  While our destiny of sin and death because of one man’s fall might seem unfair, it would then be equally unfair to say that we deserve salvation and eternal life because of one Man’s Sacrifice.  Perhaps it’s best understood to say that Adam’s fall was like a contagious disease which spread to all humanity; and Christ’s Sacrifice was the antidote.  This whole scenario does make the body of Christ theology more easily understood as we can see from the very beginning that we’re all connected. 

To make the case for original sin, Saint Paul uses history from the time of Adam to Moses whereby everyone born into the world died; but until the Law of Moses individual sin was never accounted for.  Therefore, all eventually die because all were conceived and born in sin.  Adam is the beginning; Christ is a new beginning.  Adam brought an end to paradise; Christ restored it. 

Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that we have been exalted to the dignity of being the brothers and sisters of Christ, the Son of God, and are made joint heirs with Him; and so by the grace of Christ we have a greater dignity in this world, and we shall be exalted to a greater and more eminent degree of glory in the Kingdom of His glory for all eternity.

Gospel Commentary
The Spirit Who made an appearance at Christ’s Baptism now leads Him into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  The desert is the devil’s playground and Christ is led there to confront him on his own turf. 

Desert hermits know very well from experience that there are many temptations to overcome in the silence and solitude of the desert; but they also know that with God’s help they can overcome those temptations and become closer and more intimate with the Almighty.  Our desert is anywhere we choose to sit in solitude to be with God.  There are many temptations there to overcome as well.  Silence and solitude invites distractions but they can be overcome once it is understood that solitude does not mean being alone - but instead, being alone with God, the Victor over all unnecessary distractions. 

Our Lord’s first temptation deals with His forty day fast which our Lenten fast is modeled after.  Here our Lord is fulfilling an Old Testament prefigurement when Moses went up Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and neither ate bread nor drank water (cf. Exodus 34:28).  It is Elijah’s experience that may actually prompt the devil’s temptation because Elijah ate and drank while walking in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19:8).  We might be able to conclude that the devil heard the Voice at Christ’s Baptism proclaiming Jesus as God’s Son (cf. Matthew 3:17) because the devil immediately addresses Christ by saying: ‘If you are the Son of God…’  God’s Incarnation at this point might very well be as much of a mystery to the devil as it is to us; and thus he seeks to tempt our Lord into displaying His Divine Power. 

Later on in His ministry Jesus will multiply loaves of bread for the multitudes (cf. Matthew 14:19-21) but here refuses to perform such a miracle for His own need.  The devil tries to persuade Jesus to turn stones into bread.  This is another indication that the evil one was hanging around during Christ’s Baptism because just before His plunge into the Jordan, John the Baptist was proclaiming to the Pharisees and Sadducees that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from the stones (cf. Matthew 3:9). 

Jesus passes the test of His first temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy 8 [verse 3].  The First Reading’s Commentary mentions that Satan is well-acquainted with Scripture.  And since Jesus used the sacred texts to escape the first temptation, the devil’s next strategic move, then, is to throw another temptation at Jesus by quoting Scripture.  The evil one tries to get Jesus to throw Himself down from the parapet of the temple because Psalm (90) 91 [verses 11-12] states that God’s angels will support Him.  Jesus fights back with more Scripture from Deuteronomy 6 [verse 16]: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” 

The devil’s final temptation is an attempt to entice Jesus into worshipping him by offering all the kingdoms of the world.  Satan’s deceitfulness really comes to the forefront here since the world’s kingdoms are not his to give.  He is sometimes referred to as the “prince of this world” but that refers only to the evil that exists in the world.  Jesus finally says: “Get away, Satan!  It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve”’ (Deuteronomy 6:13). 

Theologically, because Jesus is God He is incapable of sin and is without original sin.  And so, He cannot be tempted from within by concupiscence, a consequence of original sin.  Even though He could not be tempted on the same level as our lower nature, He could be tempted by exterior suggestion, meaning that Satan’s temptations can be introduced to Christ’s senses, imagination and His ability to reason or discern.   His reasoning and judgment, however, cannot be in error because He is God.  The reason our Lord even allows Satan to approach Him is to teach us that even the most pious of souls are prone to temptation and consequently instructs us how to firmly deal with temptation.  He also brings Himself as close to our human experience as His sinless Nature would allow and thus is able to sympathize with us.