Thursday, November 16, 2017

Faithfulness in the Little Things: The 33rd Sunday in OT


St. Josemaría Escrivà, the founder of the personal prelature
Opus Dei, has often been called the “saint of the ordinary” for the emphasis he placed on achieving holiness in every-day living.


In fact, one of his most famous sermons was entitled “The Richness of Ordinary Life.”

St. Josemaría once said he could tell a great deal about a man’s interior life by looking in his closet.  Good order in one’s soul is often reflected by good order in one’s lifestyle.  A man who is sloppy or inattentive in the care of his personal effects will often likewise be careless in his life of prayer.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Parable of the Talents (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Waiting for the Party to Start: 32nd Sunday in OT




Many years ago I worked in a cafeteria in northern Virginia with a large group of people who mostly knew each other and lived in the same neighborhood.  Around the 4th of July, they all decided to have a party, and out of politeness invited me, even though I was a bit of a stranger.  They told me the party would start at “six” and I dutifully showed up at six sharp with a dish to pass.  Little did I know that, in the local culture, things tended to start about two hours after the stated time.  It was a lot like what we used to call “Hawaiian time” when I lived on Oahu.  Anyhow, I was the only one there at 6pm, and by 7:30 I had eaten my own dish and was hanging around with still just 2 or 3 other people.  I ended up going home before the party ever really got going.

In the Gospel Reading for this Lord’s Day, we have five young women who, like me, weren’t prepared to wait for the party to start.  The Readings are full of images of the wise person who is prepared for the “long haul”—that is, to endure to the end and to stand upright before God at the final judgment.

1. Our First Reading is taken from the Book of Wisdom:

Monday, November 06, 2017

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Good Leaders for God's People: 31st Sunday in OT



Some years ago at Franciscan University, we had Alexandre Havard on campus to speak about virtuous leadership.  His fine talk is on You Tube here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf36I-n752w

We've also been blessed with visits by Andreas Widmer, another leadership expert, based on his experiences as a Swiss Guard during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II.  He has an excellent book, The Pope and the CEO.

These men of leadership came to my mind this week as I pondered the Sunday Readings, because virtuous leadership for the people of God is the unifying theme of these Scriptures.

Our First Reading comes from the prophet Malachi, who prophesied to the people of Judah during the post-exilic period, after they had returned from the Babylonian exile.  Although restored to their land, the people of Israel were forbidden to establish their hereditary king of the line of David.  They were still ruled politically by the Persian emperor or his representatives.  In this situation, the priesthood seems to have come to the fore once more, and taken a more active role in governing the people, as it had done in earlier times in Israel’s history, and as the Law of Moses had intended.

Unfortunately, the priests in post-exilic Judah were abusing their authority, as we see in this reading: 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Call No Man "Father" (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Of Law and Love: Readings for 30th Week of OT

 
How does love relate to law?  The two can seem opposed, a contrast to one another.  Love is a romantic dinner for two on a veranda overlooking the Seine.  Law is a solemn old man in a black robe, sitting behind a high podium with police officers at his side. 



The Readings for this Sunday insist that law and love, as strange as it may seem, are ultimately united.  Without love, law is cold.  Without law, love is mere emotion.  The Readings show the unity of the Old and New Testaments in pointing to the love of God as the highest law.



1.  Our First Reading is from the Book of Exodus:


Monday, October 23, 2017

The Two Greatest Commandments (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Religion and Politics: Readings for the 29th Week of OT

Religion and politics are a volatile mix, such that the old dictum was, these were the two topics one should not raise in polite conversation.  

The readings for this Sunday are concerned, in part, with the interaction of religion and politics, in the rule of God vs. the rule of men.  The Scriptures affirm that despite appearances to the contrary, ultimate control of human history is in the hands of God.  Human rulers have their place, but even they are ultimately instruments by which God guides human affairs.  In the midst of the chaos that is human politics, we cannot become distracted from the true goal of human life, which is union with God.  

The First Reading is taken from the second part of Isaiah: Is 45:1, 4-6:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Jesus, Caesar, and God (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

All Dressed Up: The 28th Sunday in OT




The standard of dress at Mass has declined in recent years.  People show up looking like their ready for the beach or a football game.  Some pastors are calling attention to this problem.  I agree—I’m all for encouraging modesty and taste in the way we physically dress for worship.

But our external dress is not the main point of this Sunday’s Readings.

What kind of “clothing” does the King see us dressed in at Mass this weekend?

Our readings for this week begin with Isaiah’s famous prophecy of a feast on Mount Zion:

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The NEW Mass Readings Explained: Year B

If you would like to subscribe to the NEW Mass Readings Explained for Year B, which will begin in Advent and walk through the Mass Readings for next liturgical year in the Gospel of Mark, check out Catholic Productions' site where they are running a pre-subscriber special.  Thank you all.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Fruitful Vineyard: 27th Sunday in OT

 
The past several Sundays we have been reading from the vineyard parables of Jesus in Matthew, and this Sunday we reach a climactic point in the hostility between the leaders of the people (chief priests and Pharisees) and Jesus.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Once Again: Is God Fair? 26th Sun in OT


Apparently Holy Mother Church wants us to learn something about God’s justice and mercy, because the themes of this Sunday’s Readings repeat, with variation, those of last week’s.

Last week we had to deal with the difficult Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which raised the issue of whether God is “unfair” in his merciful generosity

This week the topic of God’s “fairness” rises again at the beginning of the First Reading:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Douglas Campbell, John Paul II, and Christ's "Substitutionary" Death

I've been reading much from Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell's work on Paul. In particular, Campbell has written much on the topic of the atonement imagery in Romans 3.

Without saying too much, Campbell is very uncomfortable with the way Christ's work of atonement is often presented. Like many, he criticizes the way language of "substitution" is used and the way the cross is typically explained in Christian churches:
"Wrongdoers are separated from the appropriate desert for their action, and the innocent Christ, in a supremely unjust action, is punished in their place" (Deliverance of God, 49). 
It seems to me that Campbell and John Paul II would have made interesting conversation partners.

Consider what John Paul II has to say about atonement (h/t to my colleague Douglas Bushman for bringing this text to my attention). The following is a remarkably rich passage that merits much reflection:
What confers on substitution its redemptive value is not the material fact that an innocent person has suffered the chastisement deserved by the guilty and that justice has thus been in some way satisfied (in such a case one should speak rather of a grave injustice). The redemptive value comes instead from the fact that the innocent Jesus, out of pure love, entered into solidarity with the guilty and thus transformed their situation from within. In fact, when a catastrophic situation such as that caused by sin is taken upon oneself on behalf of sinners out of pure love, then this situation is no longer under the sign of opposition to God, but, on the contrary, it is under the sign of docility to the love which comes from God (Gal 3:13-14). Christ, by offering himself "as a ransom for many," put into effect to the very ultimate his solidarity with man, with every man and with every sinner. The Apostle Paul indicates this when he writes, "The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died" (2 Cor 5:14). Christ therefore is in solidarity with everyone in death, which is an effect of sin. But in him this solidarity was in no way the effect of sin; instead, it was a gratuitous act of the purest love. Love induced Christ to give his life, by accepting death on the cross. His solidarity with man in death consists in the fact that he not only died as every man dies, but that he died for every one. Thus this “substitution” signifies the “superabundance” of love which overcomes every deficiency of human love, every negation and contrariety linked with human sin in every dimension.
--John Paul II, General Audience, October 26, 1988

The Parable of the Two Sons (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is God Fair? Readings for 25th Sunday of OT


The Gospel Reading for this Lord’s Day raises the issue of the
fairness of God.  Jesus, being a good teacher, wants his students to think.  He teaches in parables that—on the one hand—do indeed communicate truth and answer questions, but—on the other—do raise new, puzzling questions that require the student (disciple means student, after all) to think. 

1.  Our First Reading emphasizes the distance between God’s perspective and ours:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Aquinas Would Give For A Copy of Chrysostom's Commentary on Matthew

Happy Feast Day of St. John Chrysostom! 

Chrysostom was one of Thomas Aquinas' favorite commentators on Scripture. 

In fact, the following story was told at the inquiry for his canonization in 1319. Accounts of this episode can be found in different forms in some of the earliest accounts of Aquinas' life.  
"Once Thomas was returning to Paris from St. Denis with a number of brethren, and when the city came into view they sat down to rest a while. And one of the company, turning to Thomas, said: 'Father, what a fine city Paris is!' 'Very fine,' answered Thomas. I wish it were yours,' said the other; to which Thomas replied, 'Why, what would I do with it?' 'You would sell it to the king of France, and with the money you would build houses for Friar Preachers.' 'Well,' said Thomas, 'I would rather have Chrysostom on Matthew.' This story, the witness said, he had from—among others—brother Nicholas Malasorte of Naples, who had been an advisor to the French king and a particular friend and pupil of his own; he told it when he came on a mission from the same king of France to King Charles II of noble memory . . . ; saying that it was well known in Paris."
For more sources go here.

By the way, the episode is also mentioned in a new book I want to plug by Romanus Cessario, O.P. and Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., entitled, Thomas and the Thomists: The Achievement of Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017). 

You need this short but important little book!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forgiveness: The 24th Sunday in OT

 


The Readings for this Lord’s Day are unified around the theme of forgiveness.  We begin and end with the words of “Jesus” on this topic: the First Reading records the words of Jesus, son of Sira, and the Gospel records the words of Jesus, Son of God.

One of the last books of the Christian Old Testament to be written, Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) often seems to anticipate the teachings of Christ himself:

1. Reading 1 Sir 27:30-28:7:

Stylistic Differences between Mark and Luke

Yesterday in my Luke-Acts course at the Augustine Institute we examined some of the stylistic differences between the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

As is well known, Luke seems to smooth out some of the features of Mark.

I thought this might make for a brief but interesting blog post. Here are some examples - obviously, much more could be said!

Luke's Smoother Renderings of Awkward Constructions

Mark's Greek can be a bit awkward in places. Luke's expressions are a bit easier to read. 

For example, 
  • Mark 2:7: “Who can forgive sins except one, God?” (literal; likely alluding to the Shema)
  • Luke 5:21: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Parable of the Merciless Servant (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Hoffmann on Why God's Love Makes 'Sin' Possible

"The specifically Christian core of sin is grasped only when sin is conceived as the rejection of the call to that sonship whose innermost nature consists in being the continuation of Christ’s eternal sonship within the realm of creation, which is the 'other' that stands over against God. Sin means the refusal of the grace of allowing the creaturely 'I' to become the earthly abode of the trinitarian act whereby Father and Son turn toward one another. From this it becomes evident that man is not capable of 'sinning' in this way all on his own. In the sense of revelation, 'sin' becomes a possibility—to put it quite crudely for the sake of clarity—only on account of God’s paternal love for man, which opens wide to man down to its most intimate depth."

--Father Norbert Hoffmann, "Atonement and the Ontological Coherence Between the Trinity and the Cross," in Towards a Civilization of Love (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 241. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Watchman on the Walls: Readings for the 23rd Sunday of OT

 
I don’t like personal conflict.  I try to avoid it as much as possible.  Probably most Americans do.  I’m not sure what it’s like in other cultures, although I’ve heard of others where open social confrontation is more common.

This Sunday’s readings deal with situations in which Christians have a duty to confront one another.  They don’t make for comfortable reading in a culture that puts a high value on keeping the peace and minding one’s own business.

1. The First Reading is the great “Watchman” passage from the prophet Ezekiel:

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Harnack on Luke's Paul vs. the "Paul of the Epistles"

As I continue to teach Luke-Acts this semester at the Augustine Institute, I'm working through various issues related to the study of that corpus.

This week in class we tacked the question of whether the author of Luke-Acts is indeed the same Luke mentioned by Paul in his letters (cf. Phlm 24; cf. Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11).

Of course, one of the arguments many have found compelling against such an identification is that the Paul of Acts seems different from the Paul of the Epistles. For some, the differences are so pronounced it precludes the possibility that the "historical Luke" is the actual author.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Jesus and the Authority of the Church (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Luke's Role in Catholic Tradition

This week I taught my first class at the Augustine Institute. I'm quite impressed by the students so far.

As I mentioned, this semester I'm teaching Luke-Acts. As I prepped for the first day of the course, it struck me just how important Luke really is in Catholic tradition.

More of the New Testament is attributed to Luke than any other author; Luke-Acts comprises roughly 28% of the New Testament! That means that he wrote more of the New Testament than Paul, Matthew, and John. We often forget this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship: 22nd Sunday in OT




If last Sunday’s Readings were a soft-ball pitch, a nice high arc to knock out of the park, this Sunday’s Readings are a wicked curve ball for the Catholic preacher.  Nonetheless, while these readings aren’t the “feel good” homiletical experience of last week’s, the truths are just as important and just as “Catholic.”

We begin with a troublesome passage from the prophet Jeremiah:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Suffering and Discipleship (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Biblical Basis for the Papacy: 21st Sunday in OT


In terms of Catholic “preachability,” this Sunday’s Readings are a soft-ball pitch, a long high arc that every homilist ought to be able to knock out of the park.  The lectionary readings have been set up for a clear explanation of the nature of the Papacy and its basis in Scripture.

The context of the Old Testament reading should be explained.  During the lifetime of the prophet Isaiah, the royal steward of the palace, a certain Shebna, was arrogating himself by adopting royal privileges.  In particular, he was having a tomb cut for himself in the area reserved for the royal sons of David.  Like Denethor in the Return of the King (not an accidental parallel, by the way—Tolkien was a devout Catholic), he was forgetting his place as steward and confusing his role with that of the king.  As a result, the LORD sends an oracle to Shebna via Isaiah, to the effect that Shebna will be replaced in his position by a more righteous man, a certain Eliakim son of Hilkiah:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lost Latin Gospel Commentary Found and Made Available Public Domain!

This may be old news to some Gospel scholarship geeks, but I just came across this article this
morning: the lost Gospel commentary of Fortunatianus of Aquileia, a mid-fourth century Italian bishop, has been found and translated into English.  De Gruyter is making the English translation available in the public domain (! Thanks, De Gruyter!) here. 

Fortunatianus' commentary is fascinating for a number of reasons, as he works in Latin from a pre-Vulgate (OL or Old Latin) translation of the Gospels.  On the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, he adopts the Levirate marriage solution to the Jacob-Heli problem, although mentions that "many" commentators prefer to see Matthew's genealogy as that of Joseph, and Luke's as that of Mary (which is my own preferred solution).  In any event, it is intriguing to watch him work through many of the well-known interpretive cruces in the Gospels at this early stage in the Church's history.




Monday, August 21, 2017

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Papacy (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Let the Riffraff In? Readings for the 20th Sunday of OT

 
According to Wikipedia, “Riffraff is a term for the common people or hoi polloi, but with negative connotations. The term is derived from Old French ‘rif et raf’ meaning ‘one and all, every bit.’”

My ancestors are Dutch, and—like many other ethnic groups—think they're pretty special.  The typical saying is, “If yah ain’t Dutch, yah ain’t much.”

However one may assess the muchness of the Dutch in modern times, from the perspective of the people of Israel in ancient times, the Dutch were mere riffraff, nameless illiterate Germanic tribes eking out a living on the cold shoreline and humid forests of northwestern Europe.  How could such people ever enter into the fullness of God’s covenant?

The extension of God’s covenant to all the “nations” or “Gentiles” (from the Latin gentes, “races, peoples”) is the unifying theme of the Readings for Mass this weekend.

1. We begin with one of the classic passages from the second half of the Book of Isaiah that indicates a change in the covenant economy under which the people of God were living.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Jesus, the Canaanite Woman, and the Dogs (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Still Small Voice of God: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time




There is so much turmoil in the national and international news these days, it makes it difficult to maintain a sense of peace.  Instability in Venezuela, Syria, and the Korean Peninsula seem capable of spiraling out of control, leading to regional or international war.  Christians are targeted for elimination in various places in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.  Closer to home, we witness political rhetoric becoming increasingly crass and violent, while little is done to heal the culture of our nation.  If this were not enough, all of us face the turmoil of our private lives: struggles to overcome sin in ourselves and our families; illnesses and surgeries; financial struggles; temptations against faith; discouragement and dryness in prayer.  It can feel overwhelming for the individual believer who wakes up each morning to face what seems to be an overwhelming avalanche of challenges on a personal and public level.  

The Readings for this Sunday Mass address the struggle of the believer to stay in relationship with God in the face of overwhelming distractions and threats.  In the midst of wind, waves, earthquakes, the voice of God still speaks to us.

1.  The First Reading is 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a:

Monday, August 07, 2017

Jesus Walks on Water (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Friday, August 04, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration!  This Feast last fell on a Sunday in 2006, and won’t fall on a Sunday again until 2023.

In the first three or “synoptic” Gospels, the Transfiguration marks a pivotal point in the ministry of Jesus, the point at which he begins his “death march” to Jerusalem to suffer his Passion.  It is “the beginning of the end.”  In these three Gospels, too, the Baptism and Transfiguration are paired.  At these two events, the voice of the Father is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved son.”  In this way, the Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the Transfiguration the end of it, at least in the sense that, from the Transfiguration on, the focus shifts to Jesus’ imminent atoning death. 

1. Our First Reading is Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14:

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Transfiguration of the Lord (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Get Wise!: 17th Sunday in OT


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When I was a kid, the phrase “Get wise!” was a provocative taunt—essentially, a way to start a fight.  It meant: “I invite you to act like a smart aleck, so I will have an excuse to assault you physically.” 

But what does it really mean to “Get wise” or “Gain wisdom”?  The Readings for this Sunday’s Mass teach us about this issue.

During this part of Ordinary Time in Year A, the Church is pursuing a lectio continua (continuous reading, i.e. reading in order) of both Romans and Matthew.  (This excellent website by Fr. Just provides an overview of the pattern of the Lectionary. ) The First Readings are taken from key passages of the Old Testament, chosen (more or less) to complement the Gospel reading.

1.  This weekend’s First Reading is Solomon’s famous encounter with God in a dream early in his reign (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12):

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Parables of Jesus - Part 3 (The Mass Readings Explained)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hypocrites in the Church: Readings for 16th Sunday of OT


Our Readings for this upcoming Lord’s Day involve a meditation on both God’s mercy and his justice, and the complex way both virtues of God are expressed in his government of human affairs in general and his people in particular.  We see that God’s apparent tolerance of evil in the short-term is an expression of his mercy and desire that all should repent; yet ultimately God can and will establish justice.  

1.  Reading 1 Wis 12:13, 16-19: