Lectio

Occasion: Lætare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

You can find the full readings here. This lectio is taken from the Gospel, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

Reading

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’

So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

Stand-out words and phrases

Welcomed sinners, filled with compassion, lost and found

Meditation

We are halfway through the penitential season of Lent, but every Mass is still a celebration. This Sunday, as we celebrate Lætare Sunday, we are reminded of the joy that penitence can lead to. Lent is a time of great spiritual exercise and to take stock of our lives.

The younger son in the parable was facing the consequences of his choices. He took stock of his life, and he accepted responsibility for his actions. This is when things started to pick up for him; with acceptance.

With acceptance of his wrongs, followed by repentance, the prodigal son was greeted with joy by his father. Our Heavenly Father greets us in the same way when we repent, and He lifts the weight off our souls like the rags lifted off the prodigal son, and He robes us in peace.

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The Law, the Prophets, and Grace

Occasion: Second Sunday of Lent, Year C

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, Luke 6:39-45.

Reading

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

Stand-out words and phrases

overcome by sleep, up the mountain, his glory, they became frightened, did not at that time

Reflection

One of the refreshing aspects of the gospels is how ordinary the apostles behave. Anyone who has tried to pray more than a few words knows how difficult it can be to remain focused on the prayer. Take comfort: even the apostles, who have a “greater than Solomon” present, have a hard time staying awake during prayer! It is not only on “the mountain” that sleep overcomes them; it will overcome them anew in the Garden of Gethesemane. Only our Lord maintains prayer at such times.

Despite their sloth, God grants them a magnificent vision, where Moses and Elijah join our Lord in brilliant glory and speak of “his exodus that he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus is the new Moses, leading us out of a land of slavery — slavery to what? slavery to the lord of this world, a pharoah who oppresses us routinely. Christ is our liberator; to follow him is to pass out of our spiritual Egypt — and where to? Not immediately to the land flowing with milk and honey, but rather through the desert. The apostles themselves will have to pass through his Passion before they can see the glorious resurrection.

For some, the supernatural character of this vision serves as a sign that it is a fiction, but several aspects suggest otherwise. First, all three evangelists report an identical story. It is “a” mountain — no particular mountain is named. Both Moses and Elijah spoke with God face-to-face, and we know the names of these mountains: Moses on Mount Sinai, Elijah on Mount Horeb, which the Book of Kings curiously calls “the mountain of God.” An invented story would certainly deserve a name of significance, associated with God’s presence. Instead, the evangelist offers us a nameless mountain somewhere in Palestine.

Also curious is the choice of personages: why Moses and Elijah? Moses makes some sort of sense, as he is the giver of the law, and Christ gives a new law. We observed above that Christ is also a new Moses on account of the spiritual exodus that he leads.

But Elijah? Of course he symbolizes the prophets, but why choose him? Unlike most other prophets named in the Bible, Elijah left no writings. Isaiah’s writings, for instance, point so clearly to the Messiah that some have called his book “the fifth gospel.” Yet the evangelists name Elijah — Not David the King, nor Abraham the father of the people, but Elijah, a man hated by kings, clerics, and countrymen because he revealed the lies of the followers of a false and foreign god.

Another observation: while all the evangelists speak of a blinding brilliance in Jesus’ clothing, and both Matthew and Luke relate that his face became more blinding than the sun, Luke makes the specific point that this glory is Jesus’ glory, pointing thereby to his divinity. Peter speaks, but is so overwhelmed that he hardly know what to say (again, two evangelists attest to this) — and then the Father reveals his relation to the Son, in a manner even more awesome, or frightening, than what came before.

It overwhelmed them, so much that they said nothing to anyone at that time. We often see this in true encounters with the divine: the experience can be overwhelming, reducing one to silence. How can one communicate to others what one has just experienced? Some things are best communicated when people see that your life has changed for ever.

“Lord, help me to see.”

Sunday, March 3, 2019 Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, Luke 6:39-45.

Reading

Jesus told his disciples a parable,
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Standout words:

blind, like his teacher, your eye first, store of goodness, fullness

Reflection

“Lord, do I see? Do I see clearly? Can I see more clearly?”

If I enter into this reflection with the goal of correcting my brother, I’ll never see. If I only see the Publican and his unworthiness, I’ll leave unforgiven. If I only see the Pharisee and his pride, I’ll leave full of myself and not God.

“It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” How can I be fruitful if I’m not well-planted? How can I be my brother’s keeper if I can’t keep the custody of my own soul?

So, with this understanding, what am I to do? Cry out to Christ, “Show me who I am, and make me who I am supposed to be!” Then, and only then, when I am full I can be a blessing to those around me.

Embrace Extremism!

Occasion: Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the reading from Luke 6·27-38.

Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Stand-out words

love your enemieswhat credit is that to you?, stop, give

Reflection

“Religious extremism” is considered a bad thing these days, but what does a Christian extremist look like? Judging by this Gospel, a Christian extremist is no one to fear!

Consider one of your enemies. It should be someone near you, with whom you interact regularly. If you think you have no enemies, then think instead of someone who makes your life difficult, someone whose success you envy, or someone whose failings you disdain. This could be a parent, a child, a spouse, a coworker, a pastor, a government official. Whatever the case, it should be someone you actually know.

Now, suppose this person suffers a serious setback. He needs help. He doesn’t Continue reading “Embrace Extremism!”

Occasion: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full reading here. This Lectio is based on the reading from Luke  5·1-11.

Reading

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

Stand-out words

Put in to deep water, sinful man, catching men, followed him

Meditation

“Put out into deep water.”  These words are being used by vocational directors, including in my home diocese of Biloxi.  It’s often used in Latin, “Duc in altum.”

Sometimes, when we have a feeling of the appropriate path before us, we may question it. Maybe it does not initially make sense to us, as it did not to Simon Peter; “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing.”  Once the path is proven, maybe we become afraid, as Simon Peter did, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Maybe we think we are unworthy, or incapable of the road before us.  Maybe we are afraid of letting something go.

Simon Peter is a good role model for us today.  We may question a situation, and then become fearful when we see the truth.  He followed Jesus, but he had his ups and downs with the journey, as we will see when Lent begins in a few weeks.  He would go from high aspirations to low doubts. In the end, Simon Peter, today St. Peter would be given great responsibility by our Lord, because our Lord believed in him, as he believes in us, and asks us to believe in Him in return. We have to trust Him all the way.

 

The silent can speak loudest

St. Joseph teaches us so much without a single, quoted word in the Bible.

Christmas Vigil Mass, 2018

Gospel, MT 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, 
but before they lived together, 
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, 
yet unwilling to expose her to shame, 
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 
“Joseph, son of David, 
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit 
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, 
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him 
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son, 
and he named him Jesus.

Stand-out words: 

Righteous man, unwilling to exposure her to shame, do not be afraid

Meditation

St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.”  About eleven hundreds years before he said that, St. Joseph was did just that.  He has no recorded words in the Gospels, yet we know so much about him by what he did. (How many of us knew what our dads meant by their actions, or by the looks they gave us?)

We know St. Joseph by his recorded actions.  He was a righteous man who followed the Hebrew Law, but he is compassionate.  He suspects Mary has been unfaithful, but will not hand her over to harsh judgement.  They will quietly go their separate ways, and then whatever happens, happens.

This is St. Joseph’s first example to us:  Follow Church teaching, but do not be prudish.  There is a legal judging, and then there is judgemental.  He is not judgemental toward Mary, but he does intend to follow the law with care. No one ever came back to the Church after the door was slammed in their face.

An angel then tells St. Joseph that things are not what he fears; God is behind this situation, not Mary, and that he should not be afraid.  This is the second example St. Joseph sets for us:  Trust God, even if we think we know better.  Sometimes things do not work out as we plan, but that may have been God’s plan all along.

St. Joseph goes on to take Mary into his home.  In further readings, St. Joseph leads his family into Egypt for Jesus’ protection, then back to Nazareth, where he provides for them and makes them the center of his life.  Here, we have the third example of St. Joseph:  He is the provider for the first Christian family.  The Christian family is the most basic building block of the Church.

St. Joseph teaches us so much without a single, quoted word in the Bible.  This Christmas, and throughout the coming year, may we remember to trust God’s Hand in our lives, to practice the Church’s teachings with compassion, and that our family’s needs are our own needs.

Thrice-blessed who bears the Lord

How does Elizabeth know of Mary’s pregnancy?

Occasion: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading: Luke 1·39-45

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah, 
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb, 
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
cried out in a loud voice and said, 
“Blessed are you among women, 
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, 
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, 
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

Standout words or phrases

traveled in haste, blessed, leaped for joy

Reflection

While praying the Rosary some years ago, I arrived at the second Joyful Mystery — the one described here in the Gospel — and somehow got it into my head that perhaps Mary traveled to Elizabeth’s home in order to escape the curious eyes and gossiping lips of her neighbors — perhaps even to escape her parents’ own knowledge. From Matthew’s Gospel we have certain knowledge that not everyone was inclined to believe that her pregnancy was brought about by God; Joseph himself sought to divorce her quietly. The situation for Mary was certainly dire; she could have been stoned. So, thought I, perhaps this was something akin to the situation in contemporary times where a prominent family discovers a pregnant teenage daughter, and has her travel to another location to bring the child into the light.

These days I have been imagining that that was simply a hyperactive imagination, but perhaps not. Consider Elizabeth’s greeting:

Blessed are you among women … blessed is the fruit of your womb … Blessed are you who believed…

This is no mere greeting, for the evangelist tells us that the Holy Spirit himself fills Elizabeth. The words she cries out are divinely inspired, and echo through the millennia in the prayers of the faithful!

Thrice-blessed is Mary, and we repeat the first two blessings word for word in the Hail Mary. In poetic fashion, the second blessing reflects Mary’s unique role in salvation by bringing forth our Lord, the fruit of her womb. Her mere arrival in Elizabeth’s home brings joy, because she bears our Lord. Even John, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. (An aside: One wonders if Luke was inclined to make note of this on account of his possible familiarity as a doctor with the close connection between a mother’s senses and emotions and her unborn child’s.)

Notice also when this leap occurs: at the moment Mary’s greeting reaches Elizabeth’s ears. Reflect on this: When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he foretold John the Baptist, but not Jesus. Some months later, he reminded Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which by now would have been well-known. It seems likely that Mary was already aware of this miraculous pregnancy, and Gabriel was reminding her; while it is also possible that she was unaware, the fact that it was Elizabeth’s sixth month makes this rather unlikely.

But how does Elizabeth know of Mary’s pregnancy? I imagine two possibilities. One is that the news has spread; as Elizabeth is Mary’s relative, this is not unlikely. Luke writes that Mary traveled “during those days” that followed the angel’s announcement, so there was not much time at all for news to spread. Joseph himself probably did not know yet. Mary’s parents may well have arranged a quick departure, as I wondered way back when. Another, of course, is that, when the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth, she was enlightened. This would not seem entirely unreasonable; after all, she was a holy woman herself.

In the end, it is not for us to know. What does matter are the blessings that come to us from God, through Mary, the New Eve, on account of the cooperation she gave him, which we ourselves owe him every day, through whatever angel he announces his plan for us. We, too, might thus be thrice-blessed: blessed among humanity, blessed for the fruit of God’s grace in us, and blessed for our belief.