Monthly Archives: May, 2020

Commentary on the Pentecost Readings, Cycle A

1ST READING: ACTS 2: 1-11

Luke is telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing is to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is the Spirit!  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336; Celebration, May2002)

Every essential step in Acts of how witness was borne to Christ from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth is guided by the Spirit, whose presence becomes obvious at great moments where the human agents would otherwise be hesitant or choose wrongly  (R. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 68).  Isn’t this profoundly hopeful and encouraging?  

2ND READING:  1 CORINTHIANS 12: 3-13

In Corinth, they seemed to feel that ‘spectacular’ gifts such as speaking in strange tongues were more impressive gifts. Those who did not display such wonder-filled gifts were seen as inferior. Paul is trying to help them set their priorities straight. He wants to ground them in the reality that it is Jesus, the crucified one, who is called Lord. The Spirit of this Jesus gives us gifts that are for the good of all. No one gift is to be prized over another – except perhaps love (1 Cor. 13). Through baptism, we are one body – the body of Christ. Through Eucharist we “drink of the one Spirit” — together we are to nourish and build up the entire body that is the very presence of Jesus in the world.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 336)

The term ‘body’ (soma, in Greek) means the whole person – the whole human being as he lives in relationship with and for others – the way we are REAL for each other.  Paul is using the metaphor in 2 ways:

  1. As a body has different parts yet is one body, so are we.
  2. We, as church, are a living organism: Christ’s body in the world.  We derive our life from Jesus; and, it is the way Jesus remains involved in our history, relating to us – to each other.  

As we experience and LIVE Jesus’ presence in His Word and Eucharist, we are to BE that presence in the world.  The Spirit is both the source of our unity AND our diversity.  Our hope, our consolation, our strength and challenge is in the Spirit who is God-with-us. (from notes taken from John Dwyer’s talks on this subject)

Martin Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers emphasizes that each Christian has a vocation, a calling, by virtue of their standing or office in the world.  It is through faith, for Luther, that one accepts one’s divinely appointed standing and lives out that faith through the good works of daily life, whether as a cobbler, painter, spouse, or son.  Each of these paths gives glory to God…For work to be a calling means it is recognized as both a gift and a response.  It is more than a desire to do something for others; it is felt as an imperative that I must do this, regardless of how difficult.  In that sense work is experienced as a calling that brings both joy and fulfillment.  (Cahalan, K., Introducing the Practice of Ministry, p. 27).

THE GOSPEL: JOHN 20: 19-23

From The Vatican II Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (translated by Bill Huebsch, chapter one):

‘This Spirit is a fountain of living water springing up to life eternal! . . .

Working through the ordinary lives of us all,

the Spirit gives the Church everything it needs . . .

Praying through the heart of the faithful and dwelling in us as in a temple,

The Spirit unifies us all in love . . .

Life in this church is sometimes messy because the Church includes everyone

with all their various talents and desires.

We would end up in a mess with all this if we did not have Christ to lead us. . .

Christ wants us to love each other, to endure sorrow with one another,

to share happiness, to forgive each other freely,

all in a family-like lifestyle.

Therefore, whoever leads us as the Church toward a community of love . . .

real love lived out in everyday life, that person speaks for Christ.’

From Wm. Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 272-273:

Jesus was suddenly in their midst.  He gave them the normal everyday eastern greeting:  “Peace be with you.”  It means far more than:  “May you be saved from trouble.”  It means:  “May God give you every good thing.”

The Church must never be out to propagate her message; she must be out to propagate the message of Christ.  She must never be out to follow man-made policies; she must be out to follow the will of Christ.  The Church fails whenever she tries to solve some problem in her own wisdom and strength, and leaves out of account the will and guidance of Jesus Christ.  

From https://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/042714.html:

‘whose sins you shall retain they are retained’”.  Doesn’t that say that God doesn’t forgive after all, but entrusts the Church to decide who gets forgiven and who doesn’t?  This is perhaps where we have introduced complexity where simplicity should reign. The word “sins” is not actually in the original Greek of the second half of Jesus’ statement. We put it there in our translation because it is how we think things must be. This passage might be better translated “Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven; those [individuals] you have embraced should be held fast.” We should remember that forgiveness in New Testament times refers to baptism. So the best understanding of this phrase seems to be something like: “Those you’ve brought into this community by Baptism have received God’s forgiveness. Don’t lose any of them!”

 

 

Commentary on the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

 

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

Jesus reminds his hearers that not only did he promise the Spirit, but so did his Father.  John the Baptist also prophesied regarding the sending of the Spirit.  Jesus thus relates the prophetic utterances of 2 prophets:  himself and John the Baptist.  But this is not a one-time event!  It is the active movement of the Spirit in the ongoing life of the church.  (Birmingham, W&W, p. 321)  How is Spirit active in our church?  How is Spirit active in YOU?

Reflect on the experience of the disciples after the death of Jesus.  Imagine what it would have been like to have followed Jesus, lived with him, eaten with him, and now he was gone.  He is not physically here anymore.  How would that make you feel?  

There is a feeling like the disciples want everything to be fixed FOR them.  The ‘men dressed in white garments’ asked why they were looking up.  In the movie Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman who plays God, asks the same question.  He says that is our problem:  everyone is always looking up.  Can you think of times when you looked up, rather than involved yourself in the solution?

 2nd Reading:  Ephesians 1:17-23

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series (p. 90-94):

We see what Paul asks for a Church which he loves and which is doing well:

  • A Spirit of Wisdom  (Sophia, wisdom of the deep things of God):  To be a thinking people.  Plato said, “The unexamined life is the life not worth living.”  A questioning faith is a healthy one!
  • For fuller revelation and fuller knowledge:  Our spiritual life is like a muscle.  It must be exercised regularly.  Just like any friendship, it takes effort.  
  • New realization of the Christian hope:  isn’t this what the disciples are faced with in the Ascension?  
  • New realization in the power of God:  Because of the resurrection, God’s purpose cannot be stopped by any action of men (or women).  In a world which looks chaotic, it is well to realize that God is still our center.

We are the body of Christ, and Jesus is the head…”the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”  I wonder what challenge this offers us right now?  

The Gospel:  Matthew 28:16-20

From Raymond Brown’s A Risen Christ in Eastertime (p. 34-36):

They doubted.  The doubt reminds us that, even after the resurrection, faith is not an automatic response.  But Jesus is not repelled by their doubt, for he now comes closer to the disciples to speak.  Doubting or not, they have worshipped him, and he responds to them.  The mission is entrusted to the Eleven, even though some doubted.  We are left to suspect that the word of Jesus solved the doubt, and that by proclaiming to others, their faith was strengthened.  Does this resolve your doubts too?

“Make disciples of all nations”  The apostles cannot simply wait for the Gentiles to come; they must go out to them.  And if in the ministry the chief Jewish followers of Jesus (the Twelve) were called disciples, that privilege and title is to be extended to all nations (and you!).  

From Mary Birmingham’s Word & Worship, p. 324-325:  Not only did the appearance stories serve an apologetic function to prove that Jesus died and rose again, they also laid the groundwork for the future mission of the church.  Disciples were to go and tell what they had seen – they were to proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  Jesus appeared to the apostles to commission them to carry on his work.  Quoting Raymond Brown’s RCE, “The sending is based on Jesus’ own status, showing that as Jesus carried on God’s work, the apostles carry on Jesus’ work…The authority of the church is delegated from Jesus who has been elevated and has authority in heaven and on earth; the mission that flows from it will touch all nations.”

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church…

From USCCB’s Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, #24:  Through fervent prayer and pastoral work – and relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit – our efforts together will help the whole Catholic people advance in authentic discipleship and fulfill their baptismal call and mission to grow to the full maturity of Christ.

  1. Invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus in holiness of life.
  2. Promote and support active membership in the Christian community.
  3. Call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world.

Reflective Questions

Have you ever climbed a mountain, and what was it like for you? 

What does this reading say about “being ready”? 

How does this reading call us to action? 

What is it to be a disciple?

Commentary on 6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

1st Reading: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17

Just before this passage Luke tells us in Acts, that Stephen was stoned and that a severe persecution broke out upon the church in Jerusalem. Persecution did to the church what wind does to seed; it scattered it, and it did produce a greater harvest. As this church was scattered like a farmer’s seed, it carried with it the goodness of God’s Word and Love to be sown in every welcoming heart. Here we see Philip, a devout Jewish Christian, offering the Samaritans (previously seen as deviant, tainted, unclean enemies) this Good News of God’s love and truth. His words of love were matched by works of love, and so healing and joy abounded. Evil was overcome, and abundant life was begun. (Celebration, May 1999)

When true faith and authentic Christianity is lived, joy is generated. Luke is  stressing that this out-reach was also authentically a part of the Jerusalem church. This calling of Peter and John to come to Samaria just confirms the right and goodness of this missionary movement. It is not correct to see this as an early separation of baptism and confirmation. Such a separation was not known in the early church. In fact, Luke even has the Holy Spirit come upon believers before baptism as in the case of Cornelius and his household (10:44-48). Also, in Acts 2:38 Luke clearly states that the Spirit is received by those who are baptized.  (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

What is it to be “of one accord”?  The unity and clarity of thought that is described in this reading is palatable.  Remember this when we get to our next reading…

2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3: 15-18

It wasn’t and isn’t easy to be Christian; not only do we have to overcome our own prejudices and blind-spots (with the help of Spirit) – but we can be threatened at times by persecution, or at least by misunderstanding and criticism. The community for which this letter was written was being increasingly threatened. On the local level they were despised as evildoers and challengers to sacredly-held codes and values (2:12). Believers were defamed (3:16) vilified (4:4), and insulted (4:14). Christians were seen as lacking in patriotism; when they refused to participate in the feasts of Roman gods and the cult of the emperor, they were seen as traitors. Yet, they were to give back good for any evil; they were to live Jesus’ law of love – ‘in season and out of season’. Their words of love needed to be lived even in the midst of hatred and confusion. The newly baptized are being warned that they have not been promised a ‘rose garden’. Like Jesus, when crosses come, they must pick them up with love and carry on. So must we.  (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From the Workbook for Lectors, p. 174:  With Christ in their hearts, believers have a living, vibrant explanation of the hope they maintain, even if they are maligned and defamed.  With Christ as the model for responding to suffering without retaliation, believers can offer their defense with clarity and conviction.  How does this ring true for you?  What is it to have a clear conscience?  Why is it better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil?  Some of these questions may be simple, but maybe God seeks us to dig deeper here… 

The Gospel: John 14: 15-21

Do any of you recall Deacon Ron’s homily on Spirit as our spiritual GPS?  We must only believe and trust in Spirit to show us the way, or re-calculate when we stray!

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:  The word, “Advocate,” is sometimes translated “paraclete,” “counselor” or “comforter” – the Greek word basically means “advocate,” a legal term that is for the “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” From its use in the gospel it seems that it has three functions or activities.

  1. It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after his life/death/resurrection/ascension experience.

     2. It is a truth-telling Spirit (14:17; 16:13) assuring us that Jesus is not a shameful failure, but the beloved of God.

     3. It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16: 12-14).

In other words, this Advocate represents divine presence and guidance. It is all we need!

Some thoughts from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium:

“Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will.  May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (p. 3)

“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (p. 4)

“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  (p. 4 quoting, Pope Benedict XVI)

“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.  Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.”  (p. 8)

Commentary for 5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

 

1ST READING:  ACTS 6: 1-7

Hellenists were congregations of Diaspora Jews (those who had lived outside the Holy Land) but returned to Jerusalem.  They were more open to new ideas and less rigid in regard to ritual law than their fellow Jews.  Because of this, they were despised and persecuted by the non-Christian Jews, and were eventually driven out of Jerusalem.  It was providential because it ended up spreading the new faith  (Church History, J. Dwyer. P. 25-27).  

St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons.  This is one of the primary roles of deacons to bring alms to the widows.  The apostles are beginning to organize themselves.  The laying on of hands suggests the idea of being called into formal service.  The apostles listened to the needs of the people and responded.  How do our deacons do this today?  

From Celebration, April 2005:  Church is not a monarchy, but a community. Note verse 5: “The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen” . . .  Some conclusions from this text about leadership in the church: 

* leadership within the church arises from the community’s need 

* leadership arises from ‘below’, not from ‘above’

2ND READING:  1 PETER 2: 4-9

It is likely that this reading is taken from an early homily, perhaps given as instruction for candidates for baptism  (W&W, Birmingham, p.308).  This reading calls us.  How does it call you?

The early Christians did not ‘build’ a church until the 4th century; they met in homes and, at times, catacombs – What can we learn from their idea of church?

“chosen race” – “royal priesthood” – “holy (consecrated) nation”  What does each mean for you?  How does each move us from darkness into God’s light?  Christians, the living stones, are joined by Christ himself who is the cornerstone – the foundation that supports the living stones.  In the Old Testament no one was to approach the rock of Sinai, under penalty of death.  Contrast that with Jesus, the cornerstone, who invites his people to come close to him.  He has created something new and wonderful.  He has gathered his living stones and formed them into a new people, a new religion  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 308).

From Celebration, April 2005:

At Vatican II, it was reaffirmed that “the Church is all the people of God.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #9) It overturned the pyramid model, stressing the privileges and responsibilities of all baptized believers. Hans Kung says that “Laypersons do not belong to the Church, nor do they have a role in the Church. Rather, through baptism, they are Church.” Vatican II states: “All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the Church and all share in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetical, and royal. Among all the people of Christ, there is a true equality, a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation and a personal union with Christ and his mission” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #30-33,37)

THE GOSPEL:  JOHN 14: 1-12

Remember, these words come before the crucifixion in John’s gospel. Yet, they are truly a life-giving Easter message.

Jesus promises that he is going “to prepare a place for you.” William Barclay explains that this means that Jesus will act as our prodromoi which means a forerunner, a scout . . . it was also used at the time to refer to the small pilot boat sent ahead of great ships to lead them through a “dangerous or difficult harbor.” Jesus tells us that he will go ahead, find a path, and secure our passage from death to life. He just asks us to trust – to “have faith in this.” (Celebration, April 2005)

Jesus = THE WAY (the way beyond dead ends), the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings

           = THE TRUTH:  that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn 8:32) 

           =AND THE LIFE, that which nurtures, cares, labors, grows, creates, loves 

From Mary Birmingham:  Only through self-giving love can human beings become their most authentic selves.  We were created to love.  Jesus shows us what that means.  If we live the love that Jesus lived, we will know God, who Is Love. . . the Christians of John’s community were beginning to feel the sting of religious prejudice.  They were expelled from the synagogue.  The synagogue has been heart and hearth to them.  For Yahweh’s chosen people, it was the place of encounter with God.  How would they now encounter God?  Jesus encouraged them and us, ‘If you know me, you know God.’” ( Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p..311)

From Celebrations, April, 2002:

There is no secret word, no magic potion, no hidden wisdom.  If there were, Jesus would surely have found it.  We must learn to read the truth between the lies. Jesus is not the Solution; He is the Way. And the best he can give us is some direction along the way.