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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112716.cfm
This weekend, as we celebrate the First Sunday of the season of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. This year we will use the “A” cycle of readings, which means that our Gospel readings will be taken primarily from the Gospel of Matthew.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” In essence he was saying that people will be doing normal everyday things when the end comes. He sumed up his comments by saying: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. " Clearly Jesus was reminding his followers that we are not to live as did the people of Noah’s time, thinking only of their present comfort and happiness, and giving no thought to the future. Rather, we are to stay awake and be prepared for no one knows when the Son of Man will return, or when one’s own life will end.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading Isaiah offers comfort and hope to the people of Israel who are under threat from their enemies. In this reading Isaiah reminds the people that if they are true to their covenant with God, “many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.’”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. This letter probably was written somewhere between 55 – 60 AD, and reflects the common thinking at that time that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Paul says: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- It is easy to become lulled into thinking only of our comfort in the present moment and to forget about being prepared for the Lord’s coming. What is one concrete thing you could do to keep better focused on being prepared for the Lord’s coming?
- Priests of our Archdiocese are asked to do advance planning for our funerals. It is an interesting experience. If you knew the end of your life was approaching what would you do to plan for it?
- How would you respond to someone who claimed the return of the Lord was near?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112016.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This Feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Seeing the devastation caused by World War I, Pius established this Feast as a way to remind people that Christ is Lord of both heaven and earth. Initially this Feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but when the Roman Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar in 1969 it was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year. (The new liturgical year will begin on November 27th with the First Sunday of Advent.)
Our Gospel this Sunday is the scene of the crucifixion. Jesus is ridiculed by the rulers and jeered at by the soldiers. We are told that the soldiers taunted him by saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” There were also two criminals crucified with Jesus. One of them reviled Jesus saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other rebuked him, however, and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. In reply Jesus said to him: “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the second book of Samuel. It recounts the story of David being anointed as King of Israel. As Christians, we see the Kingship of David as pre-figuring the eternal Kingship of Christ.
Our second reading this Sunday contains a wonderful Christological hymn (a hymn to Christ). It is St. Paul’s pronouncement of Christ’s place in God’s plan of salvation. The hymn really needs to be read in its entirety to fully appreciate it, but it reminds us that: “He is the image of the invisible God ……………………. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- A friend of mine likes to say that the criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom was a thief to the end, in that he even stole heaven. Hearing Jesus’ response to his fellow criminal why do you think the other criminal didn’t also ask to be remembered when Jesus came into his Kingdom?
- Jesus’ exchange with the “good thief” gives me a profound sense of hope that the gift of eternal life will be offered to all who are open to that gift. What do we need to do to be open to that gift?
- What does it mean to call Christ our King?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111316.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. As we come close to the end of this liturgical year, (It will end next weekend when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.) our Gospel reading focuses on the end times. It begins with Jesus reminding people that: “All that you see here --- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” The people naturally ask: “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” In response to this question Jesus tells the people not to follow anyone who comes in his name saying: “The time has come.” He then describes catastrophes and calamities that will occur before the end times. He ends, though, with a note of consolation: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t promise that his disciples won’t experience pain or difficulties. He does promise, though, that ultimately God will triumph.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Malachi. It shares the apocalyptic theme of the Gospel. Like the Gospel, though, it also offers a promise of consolation and hope: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
For our second reading this Sunday, we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. In this reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians (and us) that while we await the end times, we are not to grow slack or idle. Rather, Paul is clear that we are to work diligently as we await the return of the Lord and “if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- There seems to be a constant ebb and flow in regard to interest in the “end times” Why do you think this is?
- When have you felt God’s comforting grace in the face of difficulties or pain?
- Has there been a time when you have grown slack or been idle in your faith? What re-energized your faith?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110616.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday some Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, posed a question to Jesus that presumed there would be a resurrection. Not only was their question insincere, but also it was rather implausible. As background to their question, though, it is important to remember that for many Jewish people there was/is no clear belief in an afterlife. Rather, it is believed that you lived on through your descendants. Given this, having children was very important. In fact, having children was so important that if a woman’s husband died without offspring, it was the responsibility of the next unattached male from the husband’s family to marry the widow and try to have children. Knowing this, the Sadducees invented a story about a woman who married seven brothers, each of whom died without producing any children. When the woman died, the Sadducees wanted to know "at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her."
Jesus’ response to this question was masterful. He implied that the Sadducees’ question was completely irrelevant because: "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the second Book of Maccabees. This is the only time during our three year cycle of readings that we read from this book. It tells the story of seven brothers who died rather than "eat pork in violation of God’s law.” The reason they were willing to die was because of their belief in an afterlife: “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever."
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to continue to live a life of faith. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What causes or helps you to believe in an afterlife?
- How would you describe the resurrection to someone who didn’t believe in an afterlife?
- What causes you to live a Christian life? Is it hope of heaven or fear of hell?
I don’t know if I am the only one for whom it is true, but I am positively dangerous when it comes to using super glue. When I attempted to use it a few weeks ago the task seemed relatively simple. I was at my cabin and had forgotten to bring my reading glasses with me. I found an old pair of glasses, but the plastic nose guard had fallen off and needed to be glued back on. I found a tube of super glue in my junk drawer, read the instructions, and followed them precisely. I painstakingly cleaned the surface areas that were to be glued together. I next made a small hole in the top of the dispenser with a pin, and then I attempted to squeeze a small drop of the glue onto the bridge of the glasses where the plastic nose guard would be positioned. It was at this point that things began to go awry.
Inadvertently, I squeezed out an extra drop of super glue, which landed on the kitchen counter. While I was able to quickly wipe it off with my hand, when I did so I hit the tube of super glue, which fell to the floor. As I picked up the tube of super glue, I must have squeezed it again because another few droplets oozed out. At this point my cell phone rang and startled me so that I dropped the plastic piece for the glasses which fell and stuck to my pants. As I reached for it, I discovered that my fingers had begun to adhere together. Realizing this was not a good thing, I pulled the plastic piece off my pants and turned on the hot water faucet in the sink.
While waiting for the hot water to make its appearance, I discovered that the plastic piece was now adhering to my fingers. I reached for the soap and began to work the fingers of my hand with hot soapy water. My fingers soon came apart, but as they came apart the plastic piece also came loose. It popped up in the air, and although I made two valiant attempts to catch it, it slipped out of my soapy hand, and as you can probably guess, went right down the drain as if drawn by a magnet. Realizing that retrieval was not likely, I finished washing my hands and turned my attention back to the tube of super glue. Unfortunately, it had adhered to the kitchen counter. With a scrub brush and hot soap and water it took me about ten minutes to remove the tube and the super glue that had leaked out of it, from the counter. That evening I used the glasses, sans the plastic nose guard. The metal piece made an indentation on my nose that looked like someone had taken a divot out of my nose. Fortunately, it eventually disappeared, but not until mid-afternoon the next day.
As I reflected on this experience later, I was struck by the idea that, at least in my life, super glue and sin have a lot in common. When I am using super glue, things that I never intended to stick together suddenly have bonded and become a single entity. In a similar way, often times without being aware of it, and certainly without intending it, I have discovered that sin has adhered itself to an area of my life. These moments of discovery are not pleasant and definitely not something of which I am proud. They remind me, though, how easy it is for sin to become a part of my life without my even realizing it is happening. Sin, like super glue forms a strong bond in certain areas of my life. And like my experience with super glue, once I am stuck in sin, it is not all that easy to get unstuck. I suspect something similar is true for most of us. Few of us intentionally set out to give sin a safe haven in our lives. What happens, though, is that sin begins to insinuate itself into our lives, and soon we discover that we are stuck.
While it is difficult to live with the fact that sin has attached itself to our lives, there is some good news in this. You see, unlike things bound together with super glue, the hold that sin has on us can be easily broken by the power of God’s grace offered to us most generously and most particularly in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The power of God’s grace is no match for the hold that sin has on us. God’s grace breaks the hold of sin and restores us to right relationship with God.
Sin and super glue do have a lot in common in my life. The major difference between them, though, is that in regard to sin we are never left on our own. God’s grace is there with us and for us, and if we allow it, it will help us become unstuck. Now if someone would only come up with something that would do the same thing with super glue, I would truly be a happy person.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/103016.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday we read the familiar story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector, but more importantly the chief tax collector and therefore a very wealthy man. Since taxes were no more popular at the time of Jesus than they are today, Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, would have been held in low esteem, if not contempt, by the people of that time. When it came to Jesus, though, Zacchaeus was not concerned about people’s opinion of him. We are told that “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.”
When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus was, he said: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” People began to grumble at this, but Zacchaeus “stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.'" Clearly the encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Wisdom. It shares the theme of the Gospel in that it reminds people that: “you (Lord) have mercy on all, because you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent…………………Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord.” The message of both the first reading and the Gospel is clear. God wants the sinner to be saved and will give ample opportunity for people to turn away from their sins and back to God.
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians. In the section we read today, Paul prays for the Thessalonians (and us) that “our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…………”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Zacchaeus was unwilling to let his short stature keep him from Jesus. What keeps you from Jesus?
- The encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life. What changes might you need to make in your life in order for you to follow Jesus more closely?
- I love the image of God making us worthy of God’s calling, but how does God do this?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102316.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus addressed a parable to "those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” The parable begins: “two men who went up to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee with head unbowed prayed in this fashion: ‘I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like the rest of men --- grasping, crooked, adulterous --- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all I possess.’” The tax collector, though, “kept his distance, not even daring to raise his eyes to heaven. All he did was beat his breast and say, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”
The difference between these two people in terms of their prayer is striking. The Pharisee was not so much praying as he was giving a report on his “supposed” goodness. The tax collector, though, had a clear since of his own sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy. His prayer was honest and heartfelt.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Sirach. It shares the theme of our Gospel in regard to prayer. It is clear that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, it does not rest till it reaches its goal.”
In our second reading for this weekend, we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy. In it Paul writes very personally about feeling abandoned by those who whose support he had anticipated. He also is clear, though, about his trust in God: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I don’t think any of us would deliberately pay as the Pharisee did in our Gospel for this weekend. (Few of us are that grandiose.) I also don’t think that many of us pray as the tax collector did. (Few of us are that honest.) How do you approach God in prayer?
- How do you know when God has heard your prayer?
- Even though he felt abandoned, Paul was sure of God’s presence and grace. Have you ever experienced God’s grace at a time when you have felt abandoned or betrayed.?
On the weekend that Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis, I was listening to report on the radio it while I was getting ready to come to Church. As part of the report, an individual, who was critical of Mother Teresa being named a saint, was interviewed. In his comments he criticized Mother Teresa for what he termed her overly dogmatic views regarding abortion and other church teachings. As I listened I was incredulous that this individual would criticize Mother Teresa’s canonization because she believed in and adhered to our church’s teachings. It seems to me that in addition to living a virtuous and holy life, another important part of being named a saint in the Catholic Church is believing in our Church’s teachings. Since canonization is a specifically Catholic act, it would make no sense at all for our Church to canonize someone who didn’t believe in our Church’s teaching.
I believe that the timing of Mother Teresa’s canonization was fortuitous and probably not accidental. I say this because for many years now, our Church has designated October as Respect Life Month. During this month particularly, we are called to remember and give witness to our belief that because God is the author and source of life, all life is sacred. Our task—our challenge—is to seek to promote and enhance life at every moment and in every circumstance. Certainly this was something Mother Teresa did through the witness of her life.
Now in seeking to give witness to our belief in the sanctity of life I believe there are certain things about which we need to absolutely clear and unyielding. Six things come to mind.
- We need to be clear that there are not different categories or gradations of life—some that are more deserving of our respect than others. We need to be as respectful of the unborn life in the womb, as we are of the life that is being supported by machines. All life is sacred. There are not different levels of respect that we accord to the different stages or manifestations of life.
- Our respect for life is not based on what we are, or what we have, or what we are able to accomplish. Rather, our respect for life is rooted in our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of our God. The sacred image we bear exists from the moment of our conception. It cannot diminish with age. Created in the image and likeness of our God, and infused with a soul that seeks to know and love God, all human life is sacred and is to be respected.
- Our respect for life does not allow us to be disrespectful toward those with whom we disagree or those who do not share our beliefs. Rather our respect for life calls us to treat with dignity even those who actively oppose our beliefs. We cannot claim to respect life if we disparage those who don’t share our beliefs. And most certainly we cannot claim to be pro-life if we use inappropriate or inflammatory language, or worse, engage in acts of violence. The Bishops of the United States stated this clearly in a document they issued several years ago entitled: “Living the Gospel of Life.” In that document they said: “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each other and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others.”
- Our respect for life calls us to seek dialogue and communication with those with whom we disagree. I am convinced that we are far more apt to convince people of the rightness of our beliefs through our words and actions than we are to coerce them to accept those beliefs. Through communication that is open, honest, and respectful, I believe we can engage people in dialogue, and they will come to see the wisdom of our words and understand the rightness of our position.
- Our respect for life does not allow us to sit in judgment on those individuals who have had, or who have participated in an abortion, or people who have shown disregard for life in any way, particularly in end of life decisions. As people who are pro-life, one of the things we must always remember is that judgment is God’s work, not ours. Where we have made judgments about others, we need to offer our profound and deepest apologies.
- Finally our respect for life calls us to invite and welcome back to our communities those who feel estranged from our Church or from God because they have made choices that were not respectful of life. Our task—our challenge—as Christians is not to make judgments about the worthiness of others to be at Church, but to do our best to make sure we are worthy to be there. To those who feel estranged from our Church or from God because they have made choices that were not respectful of life, we need to say clearly that we want and need them to come home—without exception or distinction, without reserve or hesitation, we need to invite them to come home. God’s love and grace await them.
Human life is indeed a precious gift from a loving God. Our task as followers of Jesus is to show our reverence and respect for life in all we do. To the extent we fail to do this, we fail to give witness to our respect for life. To the extent we do it well—like St. Teresa of Kolkata—we truly live up to our call as people created in the image and likeness of God.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101616.cfm
In our Gospel this Sunday we read the parable of the unjust judge. This parable is unique to Luke. It is introduced with the words: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always.” He then tells the story of a widow who continually comes to an unjust judge demanding her rights. Eventually the judge thought: “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”
Our first reading for this Sunday is taken from the Book of Exodus. It tells the story of a battle between the forces of Amalek and those of Israel. During the battle: “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” So “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so this hands remained steady till sunset.”
The Gospel and the first reading together remind us of two essential elements of prayer: 1. persistence; and 2. the support of others. At times it is easy to become discouraged in prayer. The support of others, though, can help us persevere in prayer.
In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy. In it Paul urges Timothy to “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when you have been discouraged in prayer? What helped you to persist?
- When have others been helpful to you in your spiritual life?
- Are you persistent in prayer whether it is convenient or inconvenient?
Many years ago just after I was ordained I had a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer leaving behind a wife and small daughter. On one of my visits to the hospital as he was dying, his wife said to me: “Father, I must not be saying the right prayers or maybe I’m not praying enough because God isn’t answering my prayers.” I assured her that it wasn’t her prayers that were wrong, but rather it was our limited vision as to how God might be responding to her prayer. Sometimes God responds to our prayers in ways that are not evident or obvious, and/or not in the way we had hoped.
I have trouble with the notion that when our most sincere and heartfelt prayers go unanswered or seem to fall on “deaf ears,” that we are praying wrong or that we aren’t praying enough. I also reject the idea that God is capricious in the way God responds to prayer—answering some, but not others. Now certainly it is our firm and abiding belief that our God is all loving and all powerful. Given this, when our best and most fervent prayers go unanswered we are left wondering why.
There is no simple or satisfying answer to the question of unanswered prayers. I believe, though, that when we are talking about God and our relationship with God, there will always be an element of mystery involved. For as God has reminded us through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways," declares the LORD.” (Is. 55.8) The ways and work of our God are not always—or even often—comprehensible to the human mind. And while this can be frustrating, when you stop and think about it, this is the way it should be. God is divine and as such is beyond our words, our images, our imaginings and yes, our comprehension.
Now while God is beyond our comprehension, God is not beyond our experience. We experience God’s love and grace-filled presence in a multitude of ways in our lives. And because of this, while we may not understand the ways and work of God, we do believe that God abides with us and we are always held firm in the embrace of our God’s love.
While I wish it were not so, unanswered prayers are a mystery that I have learned to live with. I take comfort, though, in the fact that God has loved our world into existence, and that God continues to abide with us and shower us with God’s grace. I have also learned that in regard to God, “mystery” will always be an element of my relationship with God. And it is a mystery that will never be resolved or answered in this world.