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.

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.

Are you a mountain or a valley?

Those that ignore our Lord are the mountains that shall be made low. Those who hunger for Jesus are the valleys that shall be filled.

Occasion: Second Sunday of Advent

Gospel, Luke 3·1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Standout words or phrases

Prepare, make straight, mountains made low

Meditation

Last week, Jesus told his disciples of the time to come, when people would see great, destructive signs and die of fright, but they must remain alert for those times and be ready. This week, we are rewinding to when John the Baptist sets off on his mission to make ready the way of the Lord. His message sounds similar. John says to prepare the way of the Lord. Mountains will be made low, valleys will be filled.

This is some vivid imagery that may allude to earthquakes and landslides. Eventually, there would be times when the followers of John and later Jesus would feel that their world was being turned upside down. There were many trials to come, and they would need to be strong and have faith that all would turn out as God wills. This message rings true for us today.

To prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths is to repent of sin and to make oneself worthy to greet Him when He comes. The people of John’s day were to do so for Jesus’s first coming among them. For us, is to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, to prepare to receive Him at every Mass in the Eucharist, and to be ready for His second coming at the end of time.

John’s sermon is one of hope. Winding roads shall be made straight as we mend our sinful ways. Those that ignore our Lord are the mountains that shall be made low. Those who hunger for Jesus are the valleys that shall be filled.

At this time of year, this passage serves to help get our hearts ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but they ring true throughout the year to keep ourselves worthy to receive Him at every Mass, and of course, for the day we stand before Him.

Beware that your hearts be not drowsy

Do you wish, fellow Christian, to keep vigil? …prayer takes but a moment; we need merely turn our hearts to God.

First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Reading: Luke 21·25-28, 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Standout words or phrases

perplexed, die of fright, stand erect and raise your heads, do not become drowsy, surprise, be vigilant, tribulations

Reflection

It has been 2000 years, and our Lord has not returned.

This may well have surprised the evangelist and his first readers; they dwelled in a world where it may well have seemed that these predictions were being fulfilled. Some scholars believe that one reason Nero’s savage persecution of the Christians was popular among Romans was the open rejoicing of many Christians who concluded wrongly during the fire that Christ’s return was imminent. Jerusalem itself was besieged by armies and dismantled, with the leader of the rebellion claiming to be the Messiah. Earthquakes are a commonplace of the Mediterranean world.

Ancient Christians who fell prey to this temptation have good company today. Many of us are familiar with a certain breed of Christian who pays constant attention to earthquakes and other natural disasters. In my youth, one local realtor used his office billboard on one of the two major arteries through town to advertise that the “Rapture [would be the] major event of the [19]90s.” Certain sects have their origins in the conviction that Jesus was about to return during the 19th century; the Millerites even assembled on a mountain to await his return and subsequently referred to this as The Great Disappointment. One group publishes a tract that, for many decades, insisted that the world would end in some way connected with the year 1914.

It is easy to laugh at those who are wrong, decade after decade. On the other hand, what makes people loyal to such organizations? Surely some of it is that they have a reputation for taking care of each other, whereas mainstream Christianity seems to have lost that reputation, at least if we judge by how the mainstream culture’s attitude has changed incredibly.

Have we become drowsy? The roll of those the media terms “devout Christians,” whose devotion to carousing and drunkenness is essentially indistinguishable from that of devout non-Christians is unadmirably long. Others, by contrast, may act superficially pious, but a consideration of their obsessions with the anxieties of daily life make it plain that they are more content with these than with genuine faith in God and Providence. All too many seem to prefer not so much the churches that enshrine prayer and worship as those that enshrine sedation and entertainment, in the form of a carousing and spiritual drunkenness that disdains faith with serious content, but focuses almost exclusively on the concerns of this world; i.e., the anxieties of daily life.

And we laugh at those who would keep vigil. It is, perhaps, no more certain a sign of Satan’s smoke in the Church that we allow him to use us to mock those who try, however incorrectly, to keep vigil for the Lord whom we should desire more than life itself. What reflects love more accurately: so great a desire to be reunited with the Beloved that we mistake His coming? or not to long at all, and to live as if we do not desired to please the Beloved?

The dilemma is false, of course, but that is beside the point.

The Gospel suggests that our attitude should be otherwise. Early Christians frequently rose at night to keep vigil, a practice preserved by monks even today in the service called “Matins”. Thomas Merton writes of this in his poem, The Quickening of St. John the Baptist, memorably adapted by John Michael Talbot:

Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare,
Planted in the night of contemplation,
Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.
Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied sermon.
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world’s gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.

Do you wish, fellow Christian, to keep vigil? There is no need for so great a work; prayer takes but a moment; we need merely turn our hearts to God. When words are wanting, the spirit’s groans will do — though a Psalm or two can also help. But we are to keep watch and to pray ceaselessly, as our Lord  tells us in the Gospel above and the Scriptures tell us elsewhere and repeatedly. Though we may not see the end times in our lifetime, our own death will surely overtake us in due course, and the best way to welcome them is to await them with the confident joy of faith.


The Ascension without an ascension

Death is a phenomenon we are too familiar with. But resurrection? That’s one step too far!

Occasion: Ascension Sunday

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, Matthew 28:16-20.

Reading

The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Standout Words and Phrases

but they doubted, all power, the name, I am with you always

Reflection

So I suppose the first and most obvious thing to point out is that if you struggle with your belief in the resurrection of Christ, you are apparently in good company:

When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.

This, even though they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. This, even though the prophet Ezekiel speaks of God’s raising people from the dead. Curious, isn’t it? The disciples seem to have no trouble doubting Jesus’ death on the cross: death is a phenomenon we are too familiar with. But resurrection? Whoa, there, that’s one step too far!

Even more curious is this statement:

Continue reading “The Ascension without an ascension”

“I am the gate.”

Occasion: Fourth Sunday of Easter

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, John 10:1-10.

Reading

Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Standout words & phrases

thief, robber, the sheep hear his voice, will not follow a stranger, did not realize, I am the gate, life, abundantly

Reflection

“The sheep recognize his voice.” Do we? Do I? Firstly, am I a sheep – part of Christ’s flock? I claim to be. Often I want to be. But am I? Yes. Because I’ve heard him speak the words of life, an abundant life. And I follow him.

Or I try. I really do want to follow him. But there are thieves and robbers whose voices call to me, enticing me to follow them instead. And often I do. And the Good Shepherd seeks for me and brings me back to his fold. I don’t deserve it. But God’s love is rich in mercy. It endures forever.

“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Jesus often went out of his way to tell us of his uniqueness. “I am the Truth.” “I am the way.” “No man comes to the father but through me.” The scriptures tell us that there is no other name by which men can be saved. It is imperative that we hear his voice. That we follow him. How else can we find pasture and rest?

What can I do to better listen? Turn off the noise of this life. Do I need to hear the latest news on the hour, every hour? Does it matter if I don’t know the latest popular music or watch the most talked about television? Do I seek after celebrity gossip, or worse – gossip about my neighbor? Do I purposefully fill my ears with the voices of strangers and wonder why the Shepherd’s voice seems so distant and small?