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There is both a long form and short form of our Gospel this Sunday. The remarks below are based on the short form of the Gospel. For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021217.cfm
I suspect we have all encountered people who could be described as “holier than thou.” This oft used phrase paints a picture of an individual who’s words and actions suggest an attitude of religious superiority and/or self righteousness. Such were the scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They were not necessarily bad people. The problem was they thought that by knowing and following the law to the letter, they were models of holiness and righteousness. The difficulty with this was that they had allowed the following of the law to become an end in itself and not a means by which they could grow in and develop their relationship with God. That is why Jesus’ opening words in our Gospel today are important: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then goes on to challenge those who would be his disciples to go beyond the law in their words and actions. This continues to be our challenge. We may not have born false witness or harmed a neighbor, but have we truly tried to love our neighbor as our self. Following the letter of the law is far easier than giving witness to the law by the witness of our lives.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach. In the section we read today the author reminds us of the importance of following God’s commandments. The commandments, though, are given to help us live justly and uprightly. Following them is not an end in itself.
Our second reading this Sunday is once again taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. It reminds us of God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom. It closes with the wonderful promise: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when you have followed the letter of the law, but have stopped at that point?
- Do you think your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees?
- What do you think God has prepared for those who love him?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020517.cfm
“Pass the salt, please.” How often do we use those words in a given week? I suspect that even those who are trying to cut down on their salt intake still use these words a fair amount of the time. Salt is perhaps the most common seasoning. It is an inexpensive way to give zest and flavor to whatever it is added.
In our Gospel today for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells his disciples that they are “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” In these familiar words Jesus reminds his disciples that they are to live in such a way as to have an impact on the world around them. Jesus is clear. No one “lights a lamp and then puts it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where is gives light to all in the house.” But we aren’t to be “salt” and “light” so that others will think highly of us. Rather we are to be salt and light so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.”
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In it Isaiah exhorts the people to “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light will shine forth like the dawn.” Clearly being a “light” requires some concrete and specific actions, not just good thoughts.
Our second reading this weekend again comes from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul tells the people of Corinth that he “did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom …….... so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
Questions for discussion/reflection:
- When have you been salt or light to those around you?
- When has someone been salt or light to you?
- When has your faith been encouraged not by someone’s words, but by someone’s actions?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
“It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that I realized how many people loved me.” A former parishioner said these words when I visited him in the hospital many years ago. While no one enjoys it when bad things happen to them, these situations often do help people realize how much their family and friends care for them. Given this, in a certain sense, perhaps they could be regarded as a blessing.
In our Gospel this Sunday for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we read Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes. (Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes differs from Luke’s in that in Matthew’s account has 9 blessings, while Luke’s account contains 4 blessings and 4 woes.) While the Beatitudes are very poetic and beautiful, if we’re honest I suspect that if we didn’t know they were the words of Jesus, most of us would regard them as illogical or even absurd. Who would believe that those who experience the conditions mentioned in the Beatitudes are “blessed?” In the Beatitudes, though, Jesus suggests that these are qualities of his disciples. As importantly, while these conditions are not of themselves occasions of grace, Jesus is clear that, in them, his disciples can find and know God’s grace and love.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. We don’t often read from Zephaniah, who was a prophet during the 7th Century B.C.E. In today’s reading, Zephaniah exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to the Lord, to observe the law, and to seek justice and humility that they “may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul echoes the theme of the Gospel when he tells the people of Corinth “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something……...”
Questions for discussion/reflection:
1. When have you discovered a blessing in what was originally a misfortune?
2. Which of the Beatitudes speaks most clearly to you?
3. Why is God so fond of the lowly and meek?
Just before Christmas, Fr. Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me an email that contained a picture that had been published in several newspapers. The picture was that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas. The baby was being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The reason for the surgery was that the baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, and had heard of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure—a procedure in which Dr. Bruner performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb.
During the operation, the doctor removed the uterus via C-section and made a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the baby reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.
The photograph that accompanied the email captured this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture began, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the “gift of life.” Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said; “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person. Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful.”
Now I mention the above because this Sunday, January 22 we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And while many herald this anniversary as a once and for all victory for those who advocate abortion rights, I have to ask, whether in light of the changes in the care we can now offer during pregnancy, and especially given the fact that we can operate on a child while it is still in the uterus, isn’t it time we revisit the issue of abortion?
I think it is time for us to advance the discussion 44 years and look at the issue of abortion with fresh eyes and open hearts, and not allow it to be discussed simply as a private matter involving freedom of choice. At a minimum and as a starting point, the many advances in medical science demand that we raise and respond to the vital question of when life begins.
Now, from our Catholic perspective the answer to the above question is clear. Life begins at conception. From our perspective, human life is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift has the responsibility to protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. This belief flows from ordinary reason and from our faith’s consistent witness that life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception.
Legalized as a private act, abortion remains a very public issue. As such it deserves a new discussion, not one that is 44 years old. As Catholics, as people who are pro-life, I think we need to take the lead in this discussion. In doing so, we need the courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. We need the humility to listen to both friends and opponents. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. And we need to ask God for the prudence and grace to know when and how to do all of this.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the call of the first disciples. We are told that: “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the sea; …………He said to them, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the Son of Zebedee, and his brother John,………..He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”
There are two things to note in the call of these disciples. First, notice the immediacy of the disciples’ response. There was no hesitancy or questions. Such must have been the power of Jesus’ presence that they responded without hesitation to his call. Second, notice that they left everything behind to follow Jesus. Now despite the immediacy of the disciples initial response to Jesus, we know that later they did have some questions and reservations. In this, they serve as a reminder that for most of us the decision to follow Jesus is seldom made once and for all, but needs to be made again and again and again.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It was chosen because it contains a prophecy about the restoration of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. These lands are also referenced in the opening verses of today’s Gospel. We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah.
For the next several weeks our second reading will be taken from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read today, Paul pleads for unity among the people of Corinth “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you heard the call of God in your life?
- Looking back, can you see where you were too preoccupied or busy, and may have missed God’s call?
- Why is unity (not uniformity) so important in the Christian community?
This past All Souls day, I spent some time reflecting on those family members and friends who had died these past few years. I then commended them to God in prayer. In some cases their lives were long and full, and there was much to remember and celebrate. In other cases their passing—at least from my perspective—occurred too soon. There was much that was left unsaid and undone.
As I continued to reflect on the lives of those people who had touched my life and whose passing occurred much too soon, I found myself feeling not just sad, but also a little irritated. I couldn’t get out it of my mind that they had died before their time. As I continued to pray, though, suddenly two thoughts occurred to me almost at the same time.
The first was something the Irish pastor I worked with for six years used to say. Specifically he would say: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” This was his standard response when something happened that he didn’t understand or that seemed nonsensical. I think it was his Irish was of saying that God’s ways are not our ways. And the surprising thing was that once he said it, he was able to let go of whatever it was he couldn’t understand. It was as if having given voice to his lack of understanding, that was all he needed to do. He could let it go and move on.
The second thought that occurred to me as I prayed were the simple words: “Remember the Blessings.” While I had been caught up in the sadness of loss, these words reminded me that I needed to focus instead on the blessings these people had been in my life. Now in saying this I don’t think I was being called to deny or try to block out the sadness I was feeling. Instead I also needed to remember the blessings these people had been in my life, and then let the healing balm of those blessings sooth and console me. And when I was able to do this, I did find comfort and consolation.
When we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, we need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. It is not for us to understand the ways and work of God in this lifetime. Sometimes we will just need to acknowledge and accept this. At these times it may help us to say as my Irish pastor did that: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” Additionally, though, when we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, it can be helpful to “Remember the Blessings.” The memory of the blessings we have experienced and enjoyed can bring healing and hope to the sometimes difficult and painful situations we encounter.
In this lifetime none of us can escape having to deal with situations that are painful, sad and difficult. Accepting the fact that we don’t have to understand them and remembering that even in these situations there are blessings that can help us move forward in faith and hope, trusting in our God’s grace and great love.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011517.cfm
This Sunday we return to what is known as Ordinary Time in our Church. Ordinary Time is that time between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, and between the end of the Easter season and the beginning of Advent.
At first glance our Gospel for this Sunday would seem to suggest that we are back in Advent. I say this because as this Gospel begins we hear John the Baptist, identifying Jesus as “….. the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In this Gospel, though, John also refers to Jesus’ baptism: “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." After his baptism, Jesus began his public ministry. And sincewe have no information about Jesus life prior to the beginning of his public ministry, apart from the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, it is fitting that we move from the stories of his birth to the beginning of his public ministry.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It refers to the “Servant” of the Lord, whom God will make “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Our second reading this Sunday is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. The letter is addressed “to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When John said he did not know Jesus, I suspect he meant that he didn’t recognize him as the promised messiah. When have you failed to recognize God’s presence in your life?
- Have you ever felt empowered by the Spirit to do something?
- In the first reading, Isaiah talked about the “Servant” who was to be a light to the nations. Have you ever felt called to be light to others?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010817.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” meaning manifestation. In the Western Rite Catholic Churches this Feast is celebrated as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East.
On this feast we always read the Gospel story of the visit to the new born Christ child by astrologers or magi from the East. If you read the Gospel text carefully, however, you will notice that the magi are never identified as “kings” and their number is never specified. (We presume there were three, because there were three gifts.) The three “kings” we sing of comes to us from our verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
The message of this feast is important and it is stated well by St. Paul in our second reading today. “……….the Gentiles are now co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.” In essence Paul is saying that Jesus came to save all people for all time. His manifestation to the magi reminds us of this most basic fact.
Our first reading today is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It speaks of the restoration of Jerusalem, when the Israelites will return from their exile. The new Jerusalem will be a light to the nations for the Lord will shine upon it.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- While there have been and will continue to be dramatic and powerful epiphanies of our God, I also believe that subtler epiphanies take place all the time. Can you remember a time when you experienced God’s presence and grace (an epiphany)?
- If Jesus Christ came to save all people for all time, why do you suppose some people want to put limits on God’s salvific will?
- Can you find the Epiphany stained glass window in the Basilica?
In the Gospels, Jesus always asked interesting questions. Do you also want to leave? (Jn. 6:67) What do you want me to do for you? (Lk.18.41) Do you love me? (Jn.21.17) What are you looking for? (Jn.1:38) Do you not yet understand or comprehend? (Mk.8.18) Do you want to be healed? (Jn.5.6). Now originally, Jesus asked these questions of those individuals who came to him with a concern or question, or who wanted him to do something for them. I believe, though, that these are also questions Jesus asks of all of us who are his followers.
Now the questions Jesus asked are not only very interesting, they are also very important. They are the questions we each need to consider as we seek to follow Jesus. As important as these questions are, though, I think equally important are how we answer them. For our answers remind us that in terms of following Jesus, while we know in broad terms what is required of us i.e. we are called to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, the specifics of how we are called to live this out will vary with each individual.
For example, the question “What do you want me to do for you?” will have a unique answer for each of us. Some people may be looking for guidance, others assurance, others friendship; still others, healing or hope. And, while our answers may change as our life situation changes, the questions don’t.
Being like us in all things but sin, Jesus knew our human needs, wants and longings. And he also knew that ultimately the answer to our deepest needs, wants, and longings—the answer to all our questions is to be found only in God. So Jesus continually asked questions that invited us to look beyond our limited horizon and to recognize and respond to God’s presence and to be open to the grace that God is always offering us.
As I said above, the questions Jesus asked in the Gospels are not only interesting, they are important. They are the questions for each of our lives. They challenge us to go beyond the surface, to dive deep, and to recognize our fundamental and abiding need for God in our lives. More importantly, they invite us to recognize that ultimately it is God and God alone who is the answer to our deepest wants, needs and longings.
As we begin this new year, let us ponder the questions Jesus asks. And more importantly, let us pray that we might be more and more open to realizing that ultimately God is the answer to these and to all our questions.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010117.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God. Our Gospel reading this Sunday tells the story of the visit of the shepherds to the new born Christ child. We are told that after the shepherds arrived in Bethlehem “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In this, I think Mary provides a good model for us. Clearly she knew that the birth of her Son was the work of God. But at that point she didn’t have a clear understanding of what his birth meant and what his life would entail. She was not angry about this. She did not complain about it. She didn’t worry about it. Instead she took in all the events surrounding his birth and reflected on them in her heart.
As we begin a new year with all its possibilities and uncertainties, I think it would be good for us to follow Mary’s example, to take in all that this new year will hold for us, to reflect on it and pray about it, and to trust that in God’s good time their meaning and purpose will become known to us.
In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Numbers the Lord tells Moses to teach a blessing to Aaron and his sons that they might bless the Israelites. The blessing is simple, yet eloquent: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” This prayer of blessing reminds us of God’s graciousness and love, which are poured out on all believers.
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians. In it Paul reminds the Galatians that because of Jesus Christ we are all children of God. “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, though God.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when initially you didn’t understand something, but through prayer and reflection came to understand it over time?
- When have you experienced God’s graciousness and love in your life?
- Is it easy to see yourself as a son/daughter of God?