Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio
This Sunday is the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time, and as everyone knows, that means it is the Solemnity of Christ the King!  This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  The last day of the liturgical year will be Saturday, November 28, and Liturgical Year 2016 will begin with the First Sunday of Advent, November 29.

I give thanks to God for many things at this time of year, including the joy of living the liturgical calendar, which is such a consolation and guide for one’s spirituality through the seasons of life and the seasons of the year.  Each liturgical year is like a whole catechesis of the Christian faith, as well as a kind of microcosm of the entire life of the believer, from birth and baptism to final anointing and death.

The Feast of Christ the King emphasizes themes that were very dear to the Mexican Christeros, the Catholics who rebelled against the Mexican government in 1926-29 in order to preserve their freedom of religion.  Thousands died, some after being mocked and tortured.  A personal favorite of mine is the young teen martyr Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, who died shouting “Long live Christ the King!” (Viva Christo Rey!)  

The example of these martyrs remind us that, finally, every human being will face Christ the King, the one who will pass final judgment on all that has been done in this life.  Such is also the them for this Sunday’s readings.

1.  The First Reading is Daniel 7:13-14:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Time Flies: The 33rd Sunday of OT

“Tempus fugit,” the Romans used to say.  “Time flies.”  It’s hard to believe that we are already at the second-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year.

[My brother Tim used to say, “Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.”  But that has nothing to do with anything.]

Where has the year gone?  How can it be so close to the end already?  Yet these feelings are very appropriate for Mass we will celebrate this Sunday, whose readings encourage us to count time carefully, to be aware of its passage, to meditate on our mortality and the passing of all things, and to think soberly of the end and the final judgment. 

The Church gives us the entire month of November to contemplate the Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.  We still have about two weeks left, and we should resist letting Advent and Christmas “creep forward” in our thoughts and spirituality, causing us to miss the graces that are meant for us in November. 

1. The Readings look forward to the final judgment.  The First is Daniel 12:1-3:

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Economics of Heaven: The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In this 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church calls us to look more deeply at reality, beyond simply conventional wisdom toward the dawning life of the world to come. In the new world, there is a different economic system, one in which self-giving generosity, no matter how meager in the eyes of this age, is able to generate a fantastic return on one’s investment. This dynamic is mysterious present in our first reading that comes from 1 Kings 17:10-16.

First Reading: I Kings 17:10-16
In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
"Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink."
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
"Please bring along a bit of bread."
She answered, "As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die."
Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
'The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'"
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
In this remarkable story, Elijah demonstrates his divine sanction as a prophet of God, yet in a surprising manner. First, it is surprising in that Elijah’s miracle provides for a rather unexpected beneficiary, a woman from Sidon. Outside of the bounds of Israel, this widow would not have been the natural choice for a miracle to demonstrate Elijah’s prophetic ministry (cf. Luke 4:26).

Faith and Poverty: Readings for 32nd Sunday of OT

In this month of  November we are pondering the Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell) and gearing up for the celebration of Christ the King in two weeks (!).  The falling leaves remind us that our bodies will one day fall to the ground, and our spirits return to God (Eccl. 12:7) to face judgment for the “deeds done in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10).  Can anyone face the judgment of God?  Only those who trust completely in him, and we call this trust “faith.”  This Sunday’s Readings give us a powerful lesson in faith.

1.  Our First Reading is from 1 Kings 17:10-16, the story of Elijah’s visit to the widow of Zarephath:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

All Saints is Here! Reflections on the Readings

We are coming up on the Solemnity of All Saints, which falls this year on Sunday.  This is one of my favorite feasts.  Although the month of November is not formally a liturgical season, it does  have the feel of one.  It begins with All Saints and ends with Christ the King,  and its common in Catholic piety to meditate during this month on the Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgment.  So consider November to be the unofficial liturgical season dedicated to the Last Things.

1. The First Reading is Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14:
I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Bible is a Dangerous Book" says Pope

Pope Francis described the Bible as a "dangerous book" in his introduction to the new German edition of the YouCat Bible.  The whole introduction is worth pondering.  I reproduce it here, from the translation provided by Jules Germain at Aleteia:

My dear young friends:

If you could see my Bible, you would not be particularly impressed. What—that’s the Pope’s Bible? Such an old, worn-out book!

You could buy me a new one for $1,000, but I would not want it. I love my old Bible, which has accompanied me half my life. It has been with me in my times of joy and times of tears. It is my most precious treasure. I live out of it, and I wouldn’t give anything in the world for it.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Getting 20/20 Vision: The Readings for the 30th Sunday in OT

Sorry this post is late. I'm subbing for John Kincaid, whose had some stresses this week.  Plus I've been gone all weekend and only seldom had internet access.--JB

My vision is terrible.  Uncorrected, it’s probably much worse than 20/200.  My glasses prescription is about -8.0 diopters, for those of you who know what that means.  Without my glasses, the whole world looks like a poorly-executed Impressionist painting.  I’ve often wondered in Monet had bad eyesight, too.  

Bad vision usually isn’t too much of an inconvenience these days.  High index lenses have taken the bulk out of the old “coke bottles.”  For sports, I can slip in a pair of contacts.  However, there remains a more serious form of “visual impairment” in the spiritual realm: the inability to see reality properly, to see it from God’s perspective.  The Readings for this Sunday seem to be about physical sight on the surface, but on a deeper level point us to our need to see things through the eyes of God.

1. Our First Reading is Jer 31:7-9

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"And Ransom Captive Israel": Readings for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Messiah died.

As Christians we have become numb to the oddity of such a message. The thought was apparently abhorrent to some of Jesus' disciples. When Jesus announces his coming passion, Peter protests, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16:22). Likewise, Paul explains that Christ (the Greek word for "Messiah") crucified was "a stumbling block for Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23).

Indeed, it is hard to find clear evidence that ancient Jews before Jesus believed the future Messiah would be defeated. Yes, the idea could be seen as hinted at in Daniel 9, where we hear about a future "anointed one" (i.e., "Messiah") who will be "cut off" (Dan 9:26). But the disciples apparently didn't think this passage relevant for Jesus' mission.

More popular seems to have been the vision of the Messiah in the non-biblical work, the Psalms of Solomon, which depicts the Messiah as a triumphal figure who defeats the enemies of God's people (cf. Ps. Sol. 17)

This Sunday's Gospel contains one of Jesus' clearest passion predictions. In fact, not only does Jesus announce his coming death, he also explains the rationale behind it--he will give his life as a "ransom" for many.

What does that mean?

Let us unpack the readings and find out.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

How Can I Live Forever? The 28th Sunday in OT

Very few of us want to die.  In fact, there’s an obsession in this country with staying young and looking young.  Entire industries have developed around cosmetics, nutritional supplements, plastic surgery, and fitness gyms, all for the sake of staying young and staving off the natural effects of aging.  I think it’s partly a refusal to embrace the inevitability of death.  

Along one of the roads between Steubenville (where I live) and Pittsburgh, there is a cyrogenics warehouse that stores the frozen corpses and heads of persons who paid a lot of money to be preserved until medical technology is able to thaw them out and cure their ailments.  I suppose that’s the ultimate attempt to gain eternal life for those who believe we are composed of nothing but a physical body.

The desire to live forever is not new.  We see it in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, when a wealthy young man comes to Jesus to ask for the path to eternal life.  Jesus’ answer does not involve cyrogenics or nutritional supplements.  His answer is as relevant now as it was then.

1. Our First Reading is Wis 7:7-11:

Friday, October 02, 2015

"The Two Shall Become One Flesh": Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday the lectionary readings focus our attention on marriage and family. Indeed, the texts we read here will serve as the basis for the discussion of the upcoming Synod Pope Francis has called together in Rome.

So much could be said about them. Here are some brief thoughts to consider.

FIRST READING: Genesis 2:18-24
The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him."
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;
whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. 
So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep,
he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib
that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:
"This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called 'woman, '
for out of 'her man’ this one has been taken."
That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.
Obviously, much has been written on this text. For our sake here let us simply highlight five important elements of the text.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Unexpected Ways of God: The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In this 26th Sunday in ordinary time, the church puts before us a series of passages that should serve to challenge the tendency to restrict the workings of God to what merely conforms to our expectations. This can be seen in the first reading, for even Joshua was preliminarily unable to comprehend the unexpected work of God.

First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied. 
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
"Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, "
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said,
"Moses, my lord, stop them."
But Moses answered him,
"Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
 Our reading breaks up an account of Israel complaining regarding lack of food in the desert and God’s provision of Quail as well as the sending of a great plague (Numbers 11:1-15; 31-35). In the midst of the people’s infidelity, God moves to help Moses in the task of leading Israel in the desert by granting Moses seventy elders to share in the leadership burden.

When the seventy elders gathered around the tent of meeting, God came down in the cloud and took some of the spirit that was on Moses and LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Why Doesn't Being Good "Work"? 25th Sunday in OT

When I was younger, especially from high school through my early days as a Protestant pastor, I had this strong sense that if a person always did what was right, “things would work out.”  That is to say, righteousness was the path to the good life.  God would pave the way in front of the person that does his will.  

There is some truth to that, of course.  A great deal of interior and exterior suffering is cause by our wicked and selfish choices.  When I used to work as an urban missionary, occasionally I would have the chance to witness a fairly significant conversion in the life of a person who had been living a life basically consisting of criminal activity.  Sometimes there would often be a “honeymoon” period after the person’s conversion, as so much stress and sadness in their life faded away as they stopped making evil choices.  

The wisdom literature of the Bible stresses the link between righteousness and natural prosperity.  Under normal conditions, the virtues—hard work, honesty, kindness, courage—bring blessing and success.

However, the world is not always normal.  In fact, it seldom is. And there are frequently situations where honesty and courage will get you marginalized or even killed, because those who have power are committed to a lie.  St. Thomas More was arguably the most honest man in England in his day, and he got beheaded for his efforts.

Is the answer, then, to just “go along to get along”?  To be righteous, but not so righteous that we provoke opposition?  Not if we are followers of Jesus.  This Sunday’s Readings explore the theme of the suffering of the righteous.

1. Our First Reading is from Wisdom 2:12, 17-20:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Cross and Discipleship: Readings for 24th Week of OT

We have been getting a number of rousing challenges from Jesus in the past several weeks, as our readings have followed the progress of his ministry, and Jesus repeatedly makes clear that following him is not going to be easy in any way.  This Sunday we get another challenge from Jesus to “fish or cut bait” in our relationship with him.  Paradoxically, however, if we think we are going to preserve our lives and comfort by turning away from him, Jesus warns us: long term, that’s a bad strategy.

1.  Our First Reading is one of the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

JP Catholic University seeks to double its campus size

JP Catholic University is looking to buy some more real estate, which could be the site for a new building housing a bigger chapel as well as some other fine facilities. Essentially, the purchase would double the size of the school's campus.

Time is of the essence on this one. The property is on the market and the school would love to be able to make the purchase but is seeking financial backers.

Anyone interested in possibly supporting us can find more information here.

Friday, September 04, 2015

What Does It Mean to be Deaf? The 23rd Sunday in OT

The reality of sight and hearing are a great mystery that natural science has difficulty explaining. 

Robots, of course, can be equipped with sensors to detect sound and light, and react in various ways to audio and visual stimuli.  But a robot cannot “see” or “hear” in the way that a human person does.  A robot cannot create the visual field that each of us “sees” when we open our eyes.  A robot can sense the frequencies of sound but cannot feel the harmonies of Mozart or experience the sensations of good music.  A robot is not conscious.  True sight and hearing are experiences of consciousness, of the mind.  Without the gift of the mystery of consciousness, everything is blackness and silence, because there is no mind to perceive anything.  When God breathed into Adam the “breath of life” and gave him the gift of consciousness, then light and sound came into being for the first man.

To hear and to see are mysterious gifts of the creator God.  In this Sunday’s readings, we are invited to ponder more deeply the different senses of what it means to be blind and deaf, and how Jesus can heal us of these maladies.

1.  Our First Reading is from Isaiah 35:4-7:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Obedience from the heart: The twenty second sunday in Ordinary Time

In this twenty second Sunday in ordinary time the Church offers us a series of readings that center on the nature of true obedience. One of the most important questions that one can ask is: what does it mean to obey God? In turning to this week’s readings, we find valuable guidance regarding the obedience that God requires, beginning with our first reading from Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8.
FIRST READING: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8.
Moses said to the people:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?"
In giving Israel his law, God offers his own people the roadmap for obedience and, in particular, the obedience that leads to life (Deut 4:2, Lev 18:5). Moreover, in obeying God, Israel’s virtue serves to demonstrate to the entire world that Israel’s God is the true God, for no other nation has gods so close to it as the LORD.

However, mere external obedience to the law is not sufficient, for Moses states that Israel is to love God with all their heart (Deut 6:4-8) and Moses vividly elaborates on this mandate by calling on Israel to circumcise their hearts in order to love and obey God (Deut 10:10-16). To do so, is life; failure to do so leads to exile.

In Deut 30:1-6, it is clear that the curse of exile is inevitable, and it seems right to infer that this is due to Israel’s inability to circumcise their collective hearts. Instead, upon return from exile it is God who will circumcise Israel’s heart so that they would be enabled to obey him.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life": Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday we complete the trek through the lectionary's reading of John 6. We begin this Sunday by reading from yet another story linked to the Exodus traditions that form of the backdrop of imagery of the Bread of Life discourse. Specifically, the First Reading is drawn from the story of Joshua.

Notably, Jesus' name is essentially, "Joshua". Thus, in the First Reading we find what the tradition of the Church would see as a "type" of Jesus, a figure in the Old Testament who foreshadows the person of Christ in some significant way. (The language of "type" draws upon imagery used by Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15).

Let us take a moment to carefully examine these readings.

FIRST READING: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,summoning their elders, their leaders,their judges, and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God,Joshua addressed all the people:“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,decide today whom you will serve,the gods your fathers served beyond the Riveror the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered,“Far be it from us to forsake the LORDfor the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our God,who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyesand protected us along our entire journeyand among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
Anyone familiar with the wider context of the story in the First Reading can't help but read it with a knowing smile. Here Joshua insists that the Israelites must decide whom they will serve: the Lord God or the pagans. They can't have it both ways.

The Israelites insist that they want to follow the Lord: "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord. . ."


Of course, anyone familiar with the narrative knows the Israelites "doth protest too much." They have already forsaken the Lord multiple times.

What makes their rejection of God especially heinous is that they have turned to other gods even after witnessing the mighty acts of God: "He performed those great miracles before our very eyes. . ." 

Before moving on, let me highlight something that bears emphasizing. As Chris Tilling has recently shown in his excellent book, Paul's Divine Christology (Eerdmans, 2015), by Jesus' day it was understood that monotheism for Israel was not merely about conceptualizing God in the proper way (i.e., he is the only God). Monotheism entailed a relational dimension--one only worships this God, namely, the God of Israel.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Feast of Wisdom: The 20th Week of OT

As I approach this weekend's Readings, I remember “Babette’s Feast,” a beautiful movie about a french cook in Denmark who wins the lottery and spends her entire earnings to throw a lavish feast for the two old spinsters she works for and all their friends.  It's well worth watching if you haven't seen it already!  Babette is a French Catholic, her employers are some sort of "free church" Danish Protestants. 

The feast that Babette throws for twelve guests at the end of the movie is an obvious and intentional Eucharistic allegory.  Like the Eucharist itself, the feast is not fully appreciated, and only one guest realizes how good it really is.   The readings for this Sunday (20th of Ordinary Time), which are all closely united by the themes that also run through that movie: eating, wisdom, and thankfulness.

1.  Our first reading is taken from Proverbs 9:1-6: