Thursday, June 14, 2018

Now Seeds, START GROWING!: The Readings for the 11 Sunday of OT

In this week’s Mass readings, Jesus teaches us about himself and the Church using agricultural images.

We have to get re-oriented to what is going on in Ordinary Time of Year B.  The Gospel is moving ad seriatim (sequentially) through Mark.  We are going to read a substantial amount of Mark this year by the end of November, with the exception of the Passion and Resurrection accounts (Mark 14-16), which were already read at Palm/Passion Sunday and Easter.  

The second reading is moving through Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians.  

The first readings for the rest of the year are selections from the Old Testament chosen to complement the Gospel reading.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Reality of Satan: 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday we return to Ordinary Time for the first time since February 11.  That was the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, but the seventh, eighth, and ninth Sundays were overridden by Pentecost, Trinity, and Corpus Christi.  So we pick up with the Tenth Sunday in Year B on this Lord’s Day.  We are still near the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, following Our Lord’s early ministry.  On this Sunday, the readings are tied together by the theme of defeating Satan.

1. Our First Reading recalls the sorry introduction of Satan’s influence into human history: Gn 3:9-15:

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Scandal of Divine Intimacy: The Readings for Corpus Christi

This is a truly joyful time of the Church year as we conclude the long sequence from Advent to Pentecost with these great feasts celebrating central truths of our faith: the Trinity last Sunday, and the Eucharist this week, followed by the Sacred Heart on Friday.

One might ask, What is the relationship between the Trinity and the Eucharist?  Why does the one feast follow the other?

There is, of course, a strong inner unity between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Eucharist.  It is striking, for example, that Jesus’ clearest teaching on the Trinity—the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit—is all delivered during the Last Supper Discourse (John 13–17), in the context of the institution of the Eucharist.  In a sense, it is in the Eucharist that the reality of the Trinity becomes most personal to us, and is applied to each one of us.  Yes, we speak of receiving Jesus “body, blood, soul, and divinity” in the Eucharist, but we must remember that in Christ we also receive the Father, for “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38), and the Spirit, who is the bond of love between the Father and Son.  So there is a sense in which the whole Trinity comes to live within us through the Eucharist: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” and, “the Spirit of Truth … dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 4:23 and 4:16).

The readings show us that the Eucharistic meal is the culmination of a tradition of sacred covenant meals throughout salvation history.

1.  The first reading is Exodus 24:3-8:

Monday, May 28, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  While the Trinity might evoke a “Ho-hum, don’t we know that already …” response from many Catholics, the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to—and distinctive of—the Christian faith and is vital to our daily prayer and walk with God.  The doctrine of the Trinity touches on who God is; if one has this doctrine wrong, one has the wrong idea of God and may in fact be worshiping a god who does not exist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost!

(For a better biblical-theological understanding of Pentecost, it’s best to read the commentary on the Vigil readings below.)

Now let’s turn to the Readings for Pentecost Sunday Mass during the Day.

The First Reading is, finally, the account of Pentecost itself, from Acts 2:1-11:

The Vigil of Pentecost: Gathering the Family of God

Pentecost is a very important feast in the liturgical life of the Church, and it has it’s own vigil.  Not only so, but the Readings for the Vigil are particularly rich.  I cannot think of another that has such a wide variety of options, for example, for the First Reading.  Even though only one First Reading will be proclaimed in any given Mass, it is well worth pondering them all, in order to come to understand the significance of Pentecost more deeply:

The First Reading Options for the Vigil:

Monday, May 14, 2018

Pentecost (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's Mass Readings Explained is now out.  You can check it out below and subscribe here to get your 14 day free trial.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Royal Priesthood: Readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter

(Readings for Ascension Day are below)

Those of you fortunate enough to live in a diocese where the Ascension is observed on its proper Thursday will be able to hear proclaimed this Sunday the proper Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  Pre-empting this Sunday by the Solemnity of the Ascension is a bit unfortunate, because it damages the pattern of the Lectionary.  During the later Sundays of Easter, we read from the Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17), culminating in the Seventh Sunday, on which we read the grande finale of the Last Supper Discourse, namely the High Priestly Prayer (John 17).  Ironically, although John 17 is important enough that it is read on the final Sunday of Easter in all years (A,B,C), due to the transference of Ascension Day, this remarkable and beautiful chapter—the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture!—is never read at a Sunday Mass.  A passage that the framers of the Lectionary wished the faithful to hear every year is thus never heard.  Hopefully some kind of adjustment will be made in the future. 

God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

In the Diocese of Steubenville, as well as in most of the USA, Ascension Day is observed this Sunday.  I wish the traditional observance on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter was retained, but reality is what it is.

Therefore, this weekend we will look at the powerful readings for Ascension Day. 

Monday, May 07, 2018

Jesus Prays for Unity (The Mass Readings Explained)

This weeks Mass Readings Explained is now available for the 7th Sunday of Easter.  In it we discuss Jesus' prayer for unity among his disciples and the casting of lots in Acts to replace Judas with Matthias.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Mary Arose!

Although it is the Easter Season and this might be more appropriate for Passion Week, I thought I'd share this beautiful song, "Qamat Mariam," ("Mary Arose"), sung by Fairuz, who is something like the Celine Dion or Barbara Streisand of Lebanon.  It was sent to me by someone who spent 8 years in a Syrian Catholic monastery, serving the Syrian Catholic community.  

Here is the English translation:

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

All You Need is Love! 6th Sunday of Easter

In 1967 the Beatles wrote and performed a song for one of the first world-wide TV broadcasts called, “All You Need is Love.”  It became a classic and as late as the 1980’s I can remember working on the trombone line of an adaptation of it for high school band.  It’s one of a number of Beatles songs where they stumbled on something true out of their Christian heritage, without understanding the full implications.  In fact, they actively distorted the real implications.

Be that as it may, “All You Need is Love” could serve as the theme for this Sunday’s readings, but as we will see, the Readings define “love” in a far more demanding way than the Beatles would have. 

1.  The first reading is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Roman centurion, Cornelius:

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How Do You Know That You Are Saved? 5th Sunday of Easter

Back in the nineties, when I was serving as an urban pastor/missionary in West Michigan, I did a lot of door-to-door and contact evangelism.  I was trained to talk with people and hone in on their assurance of salvation: the key question was, “If you died tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?”  This would often lead to a follow-up where I would share some Scriptures with them that seemed to show that you could know with certainty that you were saved provided you “believed” in Jesus. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book on Work Comes Out

I was delighted to find in my mail today my contributors copy of the book Work: Theological Foundations and Practical Implications (eds. R. Keith Loftin & Trey Dimsdale; London: SCM Press, 2018).

I was given the opportunity to write the first chapter of the body of the book (after the intro), on the theology of work in the creation narratives and the Pentateuch. 

This was a lot of fun, as the other contributors included luminaries like Miroslav Volf (Yale), Jay Richards (CUA), Jürgen von Hagen (Bonn) and Darrel Bock (Dallas Seminary).

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the chapter, and am indebted to my colleague Jeff Morrow, who has written several similar essays.  As is often the case, I started off with some ideas I knew were present in Genesis 1-2, but as I pursued those themes through the canon, many new insights arose that I had never seen before.  Human work is an important theme in Scripture and is an integral part of salvation.  I really encourage economists, theologians, Bible scholars, and those interested in social justice to pick up a copy of this essay collection.

Cajetan and His Continued Relevance

A student who is something of an expert on Cardinal Cajetan sent me a brief essay that I found very edifying and relevant for Catholic believers soldiering forward nowadays in this valley of tears, so I thought I'd share a portion of it:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Scandal of Jesus: The 4th Sunday of Easter

The readings for this Sunday’s Masses are truly “scandalous” in more ways than one. Our English word “scandal” comes ultimately from the Greek skandalon, “a stumbling block.”  A “scandal” is something that causes people to “stumble,” i.e. that offends or injures them in some way.  As we will see, the exclusive claims made for and by Jesus in the readings for this Sunday are scandalous to the “inclusive” and “diverse” culture we live in today, which does not recognize the possibility of a religious truth binding on all humanity.

1.  The first reading is Acts 4:8-12:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Salvation History as a Good Movie: The 3rd Sunday of Easter

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.”  It’s a cross between Robert Benton’s “Places in the Heart” and Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day,” and probably a couple other movies I’m forgetting at the moment.  Anyway, one of the marked features of the movie is its foreshadowing.  Shyamalan introduces all sorts of strange themes associated with the different characters who surround Fr. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), an (Anglican?) priest who’s lost his faith and left his ministry: the strange last words of his dying wife, his brother’s obsession with hitting home runs, his son’s asthma, his daughter’s water-drinking compulsion.  The significance of these motifs does not become clear to the viewer until the final scenes, where one discovers that a strong hand of Providence was guiding the life of Fr. Hess through it all.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Readings for Divine Mercy Sunday

Behind the readings for this Sunday lies a Gospel text which is never read, but whose influence is felt and whose concepts and images serves as a link between the texts that are read.  That passage is John 19:34:

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.  35 He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe.

The blood and water flowing from the side of Christ is the background for the Divine Mercy image seen by St. Faustina. 
This “river” that flows out from the side of Christ is understood in the Church’s spiritual tradition as a river of mercy, but there is also a rich biblical background to this passage of John.  

Friday, March 30, 2018

Easter Sunday Readings

The Mass of Easter Day is one of the most joyful in the Church calendar, as the Church basks in the afterglow of the most remarkable intervention of God into human history, the resurrection of his own son. 

1.  The First Reading is Acts 10:34a, 37-43:

Easter Vigil Readings

The Readings for the Easter Vigil recount the history of salvation by focussing on the various covenant stages throughout the Biblical storyline.  My book Bible Basics for Catholics follows this same pattern, using stick figure drawings to illustrate these various stages.

I'll proceed to point out how all these covenants appear in various forms in the seven Old Testament readings that form the backbone of the Liturgy of the Word for the Vigil.

1. The First Reading:

Readings for Good Friday

Every year on Good Friday, we read St. John’s account of the Passion from John 18-19, together with Isaiah 52-53  and Psalm 31.

One of the themes that runs through these reading is the Priesthood of Christ.

1. There is priestly language already in the First Reading, from Isaiah 52 & 53, the famous “Suffering Servant” Song:

The Readings for Holy Thursday

The Readings for the Holy Thursday Mass focus on the continuity between the ancient Jewish Passover and the institution of the Eucharist.  As the Passover was the meal that marked the transition from slavery to Egypt to the freedom of the Exodus, so the Eucharist is the meal that marks the transition from slavery to sin to the glorious freedom of the children of God.

1.  Our First Reading is from Ex 12:1-8, 11-14:

Monday, March 26, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Why Have You Forsaken Me? The Readings for Passion Sunday

How could the Messiah die?

Despite a few mysterious prophetic texts that seemed to intimate this possibility, the idea that the Messiah could arrive and subsequently be killed was radically counter-intuitive to most first-century Jews. 

Yet the conviction of the early Christians, based on Jesus of Nazareth’s own teachings about himself, was that the radically counter-intuitive impossibility was actually prophesied, if one had the eyes to see and the ears to hear it in Israel’s Scriptures.

The Readings for this Mass offer us two of the most poignant prophecies of the suffering of the Messiah.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The New Covenant: The Fifth Sunday of Lent

In this Lent of Year B, we are taking a survey through the Old Testament of the great covenant moments. We have seen the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the covenant failure of Israel resulting in exile, and now finally, on this fifth week, we witness the promise of the New Covenant through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah.  In the Gospel, Jesus speaks in ominous terms about the coming suffering that will be necessary for him to undergo in order to establish that New Covenant.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Grain of Wheat and Jesus' "Hour" (The Mass Readings Explained)

Check out the latest video in The Mass Readings Explained series for this Sunday's Mass Readings.  The 14 day free trial is still available.  God bless.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Parish Mission in Alexandria, LA

If you're in the Alexandria, LA, region, I'll be giving a parish mission at Our Lady of Prompt Succor parish on Tuesday-Wednesday nights this upcoming week:

Laetare Sunday Year B: The Readings

We've reached the midpoint of Lent!  Congratulations, and I hope your Lenten practices have helped you to grow closer to Jesus!

At this midway point, our Readings are filled with themes of judgement, exile, and mercy.  

Friday, March 02, 2018

Parish Mission in Geneseo NY

If you are in the Rochester NY vicinity, I'll be doing a parish mission at St. Mary's in Geneseo next week Sunday and Monday, March 11-12.  Info below:

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Jesus, the Law of God: Readings for 3rd Sunday of Lent

What is the best way to communicate law?  Written law has its limitations, because we are all familiar with the concept of the “loophole.”  There always seem to be methods of interpreting the written law in ways that run contrary to its intent.  The constitution of the United States, for example, says that the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” but somehow in American jurisprudence that has morphed into “a wall of separation between church and state,” such that there are lawsuits to remove memorial crosses from government land.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jesus Cleanses the Temple (The Mass Readings Explained)

My latest video for this upcoming Sunday's Mass readings on the Ten Commandments and the Cleansing of the Temple is now out.  Check it out -- You can still get your 14 day trial for free.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Premonition of Calvary: The 2nd Sunday of Lent

One week into our Lenten journey, the Readings for this weekend’s Masses focus on passages that look ahead or anticipate Christ’s self-sacrifice on Calvary, which awaits us, as it were, in the “liturgical future,” on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

1.  The First Readings is one of the most pivotal texts in the Old Testament, the “Calvary” of the old covenant era.  This is what the Jewish tradition calls the Aqedah, the “binding” of Isaac:

Friday, February 09, 2018

Spiritual Leprosy and Healing: The 6th Sunday of OT

In this weekend’s readings, a healed leper disobeys Jesus and spreads the news of his miraculous cure everywhere, impeding the Lord’s ministry.  Why did Jesus tell him to be quiet about the healing?  What is the role of miracles in the Jesus’ ministry, and in the life of the Church today?

1. The First Reading for this weekend’s masses was obviously chosen to provide the background for understanding leprosy as it was experienced by the Jews and other ancient peoples.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Jesus, Healer of the Broken-Hearted: The 5th Sunday of OT

I went to a public high school in Hawaii back in the late 1980’s, and the social group I hung around with had more than its share of young cynics.  For some reason, it was cool to be morose, and one of my buddies was fond of responding to anyone’s account of some problem or difficulty that they were facing with the lovely couplet, “Well, life s***ks, then you die.”  At the time, we thought it was amusing, a kind of gallows humor, but in hindsight I regret showing any approval for such expressions of pessimism.  Life is difficult, but it neither helps nor is it virtuous to utter expressions of stoic fatalism.  The true virtue, the true courage, is to maintain hope (and also love, and joy) in the face of what can sometimes look and feel like an ocean of darkness.

This Sunday’s Readings raise the problem of the great sorrows of life, the reverses, difficulties, and especially illnesses that can seem to sap life of all joy. Yet in the Gospel, Jesus travels through Galilee relieving the ills and oppressions which have reduced so many to a life of “drudgery.”  The Readings leave us to ponder: how is it that even today, Jesus still comes to us to heal our broken-heartedness, restoring joy and hope?

The First Reading is from the Book of Job:

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Listen to the Ultimate Prophet: 4th Sunday in OT

In the Readings for this Sunday, we are following 1 Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark ad seriatim, so there is less cohesion between the Second Reading and the Gospel than on a high feast day.

Nonetheless, the Readings this week can be linked by the theme of “hearing the voice of the prophet.”

1.  The First Reading is a very famous passage from the Book of Deuteronomy that should be familiar to every Catholic student of biblical theology:

Monday, January 22, 2018

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Come Now! Readings for 3rd Sunday of OT

In my house, not everyone comes for dinner when called.  “It’s dinner time!  Come for dinner!” I’ll call up the stairs, but only a spattering of children materializes in the kitchen—maybe three or four, but where are all the others?  So I have to search the house to find them in various corners, engrossed in some activity—reading, building something, or typing something on their laptop.  They’ve ignored my summons, or didn’t “hear” it.  A wave of frustration sweeps over me, tempered by memories of having been the same way when I was their age.  Then the words pass my lips: “Drop what you’re doing and come now!”  We can’t postpone dinner indefinitely for everyone to finish their pet project before coming to eat.

“Drop what you’re doing and come now!” fairly well summarizes the urgency of the call to repentance that forms the major theme of the Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The Scriptures have been chosen to emphasize the immediate response to the call of God.

We begin with a reading from the Prophet Jonah:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Just in time for your Ash Wednesday gift giving ...

Looking for that Ash Wednesday gift for that special person who's hard to buy for?  Look no further than Ave Maria Press and my most recent book in the Basics series ... Psalm Basics for Catholics!
 It's now available for order on Amazon and other book retailers.

I use a series of stick-figure sketches to take the reader by the hand on a tour through the "plot" of the Psalms, which turns out to be the history of the Davidic Kingdom.  (For this I am indebted to Michael Barber, Singing in the Reign, and before him, G.H. Wilson's work on the redaction of the Psalter.)

I also discuss in greater depth twenty-five psalms—five from each book—that fall into the "Absolutely Must Know" category.  The famous, the unforgettable, the pivotal ones fall into this category:  Psalm 1, 2, 8, 22, 23, 51, 72, 89, 90, 100, 110, 136, and many others.  

Did I mention that Brant Pitre and Mike Aquilina say nice things about this book, which should motivate you to purchase it?  If I didn't, let me mention that.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Call of the Disciples: "Fishers of Men" (The Mass Readings Explained)

The video for The Mass Readings Explained for this Sunday is now out.  I hope it is helpful!

Lastly, Catholic Productions still offers a 14 day free trial for all those who may be interested in subscribing.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Personal God who Calls Us By Name: 2nd Sunday in OT

George Lucas’ concocted an interesting religion for his Star Wars film series by combining elements of Christianity and eastern religion.  Ultimate reality, or “God,” in Star Wars turns out to be “the Force,” an impersonal power with a “dark” and “light” side, similar to the way many forms of eastern religion conceive of the divine.  So, instead of the Christian farewell “May God be with you,” Star Wars characters say, “May the Force be with you!”

Is that the ultimate nature of reality?  An impersonal force which is neither good nor evil but somehow combines both?  Or does nature ultimately come from a loving and personal Being, who created us for a relationship with Himself?

The readings for this Sunday’s Mass come down clearly in favor of the personal view of God and reality.

1. Our First Reading recounts the call of Samuel, one of Israel’s greatest prophets, the one who would ultimately anoint Israel’s greatest king, David: