Tag Archives: Gospel

Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

The Roots of the Messiah

17 Dec

December 17th marks a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

December 17th also marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which draw on some biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

A more literal translation (since we’re into new translations, right?) might be: “O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.” Check out this chart giving the biblical roots for each of the O Antiphons.

On December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now delving into the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. Continue reading

What Can We Do?

30 Jul

Pope with EucharistEarly in my marriage, I got in the habit of leaving my wife “to do” lists before heading off to work. After a while, I started getting creative and playful with the lists. One time, for example, the final item on the list was “Do something you enjoy.” Upon reading that item, she immediately wadded up the list and with obvious enjoyment tossed it in the wastebasket!

In the Gospel this coming Sunday, the gathered crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). This is a very natural question. However, it does betray a “to do list” mentality. What tasks do we need to do to please God and accomplish His will on earth? Armed with such a list, we can start checking off items one by one.

Yet, in reply the Lord did not give us a laundry list of tasks, though surely there is much to do when it comes to evangelizing our world today. Rather, He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (Jn. 6:29). Of course, that is true, as without the Lord we can do nothing. We would be like branches disconnected from the life-giving vine, unable to bear fruit.

But even more, I think Our Lord is pointing to the primary importance of interiority, of developing a close personal relationship with Him in prayer and seeing in that relationship the vital source of living effective Christian lives. He is teaching us that who we are as children of God and beloved companions of the Lord Jesus is more important than what we do.

Interestingly, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting about, doing everything on the to do list, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, believing in “the one he sent.”

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, we should express our faith in active works of charity, especially with regard to the poor.

As we do so, however, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, to become the holy men and women God calls us to be, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, the center of our faith. Not surprisingly, to follow up on His comment on doing the “works of God,” Jesus is about to embark upon His beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, which we will hear in the coming weeks.

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

You Too Go into the Vineyard

20 Aug

vineyardIn today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). We can approach this rich teaching of Jesus from various perspectives. St. John Paul II reflected on this passage at length in his apostolic exhortation on the apostolate of lay people (Christifideles Laici). He encouraged all men and women to hear and take to heart Our Lord’s words, “You too go into my vineyard” (Mt. 20:4).

Whenever I’ve heard this parable, I’ve placed myself in the role of one of the potential workers. I need to do my part in the Lord’s vineyard. Further, I shouldn’t be envious of those who come into the vineyard later in the day, who nonetheless are equal recipients of the eternal blessings the Lord has in store for those who turn to Him.

Today, however, I was struck by the words of some of the potential laborers when asked why they were just standing there idly. They said, “Because no one has hired us” (Mt. 20:7). In other words, no one has invited them into the vineyard. And whose fault is that?

Through our Baptism, we are called not only to live the faith ourselves but also to call upon others–in endearing, encouraging ways–to join us in the work of helping others to grow in faith and holiness of life. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has emphasized that the Church has to be looking outward. There is a lot to be done in this vineyard.

As one of the men from our Archdiocese who is in formation for the diaconate, I can see that one aspect of being a faithful deacon is simply rounding up workers for our divine Landowner. May we all join together in this great task, which is rightly called the “new evangelization.”

This post originally appeared in August 2013.

Multiplying Mercy

14 Aug

Sermon on the MountThis summer I’ve pounded my head on the table more than once as I’ve tried to help my antsy, highly distractible fourth-grade son learn his times tables. He especially struggles with the 7s. And despite his athletic prowess, the fact that all he has to do is count touchdowns (7-14-21-28-etc.) doesn’t seem to help much.

Just my luck, in today’s Gospel Our Lord turns mercy into a math problem. How often are we to forgive our neighbor? Seven times? Try seventy-seven times (that would be 7 X 11). In other versions of this text, presumably for more advanced math students, Jesus tells us to forgive 7 X 70 times (that would be 490 times).

Is Our Lord really trying to quantify our forgiveness, such that at some point we can comfortably say in good conscience that we’re off the hook, that we don’t have to forgive anymore? Absolutely not. He wants us to understand that we should expect mercy in the measure that we’re willing to give it. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Just as we’re in constant need of mercy, it stands to reason that we’re in constant need of extending mercy.

I expect mercy every time I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess pretty much the same sins that I already told Our Lord through the priest that I was “firmly resolved” to not commit anymore. How can I then turn around and be miserly to others, and not cut them a similar break? That’s the question posed to each of us in today’s Gospel.

It’s not about math, and it’s not about being a doormat or naive. We don’t have to let others take unjust advantage of us. But we can and must forgive even if we think our spouse, child, friend, classmate, or colleague is not sufficiently “sorry” or committed to change his or her behavior. It’s on them to take our mercy and run with it.

Simply put, our job is to reflect God’s boundless mercy to all whom we meet.

Spiritual Cataracts

23 Jun

three blind miceToday’s Gospel is the familiar passage from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, in which He advises us to remove the large beams from our own eyes before trying to remove the tiny specks from our neighbor’s eye. This lesson has long been a source of fruitful meditation for me.

On one occasion well over a decade ago, after hearing this Gospel at Mass, I decided to illustrate the point of the lesson to my children. What I did was blindfold two of my daughters after dinner, and they took turns trying to lead the other around the basement. Quite predictably, there were many humorous collisions and wrong turns. It was truly a case of the blind leading the blind–or in the case of my fair-haired daughters, the blonde leading the blonde! But when one of them was able to remove her blindfold, she was easily able to lead her sister from point A to point B.

The children learned that while it’s a very good thing to help others in need, we have to allow the Lord to help us first. Continue reading

God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Obedience, the Love Language of Jesus

19 May

discipleshipIn today’s Gospel, we hear these words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Our Lord emphasizes in this passage the close connection between love and obedience.

I think there is some parallel here to faith and works. Faith without works is dead (James 3:17), while works without faith are futile. We need both. More specifically, an authentic, living faith should lead to actions that reflect our upward calling in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:14). If the faith isn’t affecting how we live, then it is for all intents and purposes lifeless.

Love without works is also dead. Ask any married person if he or she would feel loved if their spouse on occasion said “I love you” but never backed it up with meaningful action. Learning to love one’s spouse well  involves discerning what actions make each feel loved (i.e., their “love language”) and making a habit of those loving actions.

Our Lord wants those who love Him to follow Him every day. He wants us to be close to Him. We certainly do this by setting aside time for public and liturgical prayer. But following Him as His disciple goes beyond these moments of prayer to how we live 24/7. We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet during Mass or a Holy Hour and then disregard His Word to us the rest of the time!  He expects our obedience–our not only hearing His Word but also putting it into action out of love for Him.

Obeying the commandments without love is not possible and, even if it were, it wouldn’t be what saves us. At the other extreme, saying we love the Lord but not doing what He teaches us through His Church doesn’t work, either. As Jesus says, not everyone who calls out “I love you, Jesus” will be saved, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It’s clear, then, that a significant way we manifest our love for God is by obeying Him. In this regard, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for us. Our Lord says that she is blessed not so much because she gave birth to Him, but because she heard the Word of God and kept it (Luke 8:21; 11:27-28). Not surprisingly, one of her simplest yet most profound messages for all of us is that we ‘do whatever Jesus tells us’ (cf. John 2:5).

Christ has told us and Mary has shown us that obedience is Jesus’s love language. If we truly love Jesus as Our Lord and Savior, we can’t help but strive to keep His commandments.

Go and Sin No More

7 Apr

woman caught in adulteryIn today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), an episode found only in St. John’s Gospel. If we go back a few verses, we read that Jesus spent the evening at the Mount of Olives (John 7:53-8:1), the site of the garden known as Gethsemane, where Jesus would undergo His agony after the Last Supper. This site had always been a place of prayer (see 2 Samuel 15:32; Ezekiel 43:1-4), and Scripture records that Jesus often went to the Mount of Olives to pray to His Heavenly Father (Luke 22:39).

Then, early in the morning, Jesus went to the Temple, where people came to hear Him teach. This was the scene when the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman who had just been caught in the act of adultery. As the scribes and Pharisees quickly pointed out, this offense was punishable by death pursuant to the Law of Moses. They asked Jesus what He had to say about this.

Clearly there was a mob mentality afoot, as the religious leaders clamored for the death penalty for this woman. But there was much more to it than that; they were setting a trap for Jesus. If Jesus called for the execution of the woman, He would be reported to the Romans, as the Jews were not authorized to administer capital punishment. If Jesus refused to call for her execution, He would be violating the Mosaic Law. He already was perceived as being overly indulgent toward sinners, and this would make Him appear to be a compromiser lacking any real moral authority.

Jesus did not choose either of these alternatives. Instead, He stood up and famously instructed the one who was without sin to cast the first stone.

Then Jesus did something very interesting: He bent down and began writing with His finger in the dirt. Saints and theologians through the centuries have speculated as to what Jesus was writing. At no other time in Scripture do we hear about Jesus’ writing down anything. It would be fascinating to know what He wrote on this occasion!

One tradition is that Jesus was writing down the sins of the scribes and Pharisees who were overly focused on the woman’s sin. Whatever Jesus was writing, the effect was that one-by-one they all walked away, beginning with the “oldest,” which in this context would mean the wisest. Perhaps the scribes and Pharisees were convicted by Jesus’ words and/or writings. Or maybe they believed that they were sufficiently righteous so as to execute the woman, but feared reprisal from the Romans. Regardless, from a “pr” standpoint, they were the ones who ultimately appeared weak and sinful in the face of Our Lord’s challenge.

This left Jesus alone with the woman. Jesus made explicit the fact that no one was going to condemn her, and neither was He, even though He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and could have “cast the first stone.” He saved this woman’s life. He showed her mercy. However, He did not condone the sin, but rather commanded the woman to decisively turn away from the sin in her life.

The Church reminds us that each of us is like that woman caught in adultery. In the Old Testament, God revealed that every sin is really an act of adultery, because it entails infidelity to God’s covenant of love. The prophets referred to Israel as His adulterous bride, and, in some ways, each of us by our sins has become that adulterous bride. Each of us merits to be stoned. But, Christ laid down His life to make His bride, the Church, holy and spotless (Ephesians 5:25-27).

He, the only one who is truly qualified to cast a stone, died out of love so that His bride wouldn’t have to.

All this should have three effects in us.

First, we should recognize the gravity of our sins and understand how deadly they are — not only do they kill us, but they killed the Lord, the one who loved us more (and more purely) than anyone ever will.

Second, we should seek out His mercy. He doesn’t want us to wait until others catch us in the act of a serious sin and drag us to Him, but rather we should come to Him on our own accord.

Third, we must stop judging others and begin to extend God’s merciful forgiveness to them, as Jesus clearly teaches us that the measure with which we measure will be measured back to us.

This week’s readings remind us of the inestimable value of the Sacrament of Penance. Just as Jesus cuts through the complexity of our sin to provide a just and merciful decision in today’s Gospel, so today in the confessional He is willing to do something “new” in our lives, as He applies the same wisdom and mercy as medicine so as to restore life and vitality to our immortal souls.

All of the elements found in today’s Gospel—such as sin, law, guilt, contrition, mercy, justice, and liberation—are at work in the confessional: a penitent who has broken God’s Law, a conscience troubled, sins confessed, a just penance assigned, an Act of Contrition recited, and above all, redemptive mercy received.