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Jesus’ Birth Stories: Matthew 1 & 2; Luke 1 & 2

Both writers differ in their details, but their central religious message

about the meaning of Jesus is often remarkably similar.

The Birth of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke 2:1-20+

Jesus is born as one of the poor: Good News!  Emmanuel: God-is-with-us!

Luke’s story emphasizes that:

  • God is utterly faithful.
  • God upsets human expectations.
  • God is found in the most ‘unlikely’ places: in humble, faithful servants, in the needy and oppressed, in the poor and ignored, in the rough and ‘uncultured.’
  • God delights not in suffering, but in life
  • God cares for and honors the poor.
  • The ordinary can be filled with God’s glory and power.
  • As followers of Christ we should value cooperation, mutual support, faith-sharing, rather than competitive status and power-seeking.
  • We are called to prayerful contemplation of the mystery of God’s loveand to humble service.

The people in Luke’s story:

Zechariah                    Elizabeth                     John                 Mary    Joseph Angels Shepherds                                           Simeon            Anna

How do these people further the meaning to Luke’s story?  What else do you find in this story?

From Celebration Dec. 2004:

On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death.  “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.

Karl Rahner says that “when we say that God is the Lord and goal of humankind, that without God there is no meaning to our lives, that God is our helper and savior” . . . then we shall know what it means that God-is-with-us.

The Birth of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-16+

Jesus is a Light to the Nations.

Matthew’s story emphasizes that Jesus is:

  • sent by God and fulfills the Jewish OT prophecies.
  • rejected by the powerful, the greedy.
  • welcomed by the humble, the just, the wise.
  • recognized by people from all nations.

The people in Matthew’s story:

Joseph Mary                Angel

3 seekers from the East                       King Herod

Chief priests and teachers or scribes of the Law

What meaning do you find in their reactions to Jesus?  What meaning do you find in these symbols?

The Star           Frankincense   Myrrh  Gold

*How do both stories ‘prefigure’ the story of Jesus’ life and death?

What similar meanings do we find in both stories?

What differences do you notice?

An unknown poet wrote:

“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.”

*from “Birth of Jesus” The Catholic Vision, by Mark Link

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Lower your mountain

Fr. Bob’s 2nd Sunday of Advent homily…

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2nd Sunday of Advent C
Prepare the way of the Lord. Nothing sums up Advent more than those words. As John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Christ, we too are called to prepare the way for Christ coming into our lives. But for John and for us, it is not as easy as we would think. Evidently, there are obstacles in the way – the high mountains and deep valleys, the winding roads and the rough ways.

Why is it hard for the Lord to come to us?  I have a theory. It is not God’s fault. Actually, not being God’s fault is a theological foundation for me. The whole history of God proves it. God created the world that we might be in relationship with the divine. God gave us beautiful things so that God might be known. And in an ultimate way, perfectly, God…

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Peace Be With You

Fr. Bob’s 1st Sunday of Advent homily…

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1st Sunday of Advent C

Ominous signs will appear.  The sun and the moon and the stars will change.  Waves will rise and the seas will roar.  Nations will be in upheaval.  It will be so bad that the fright of all this actually kills people.  Then the Son of Man will come riding in a cloud into this turmoil.  But it is different for the Christian.  While everyone else is falling apart, the believer, unafraid, will stand erect and lift their heads.  Their redemption is now at hand.

Why is it different for the believer?  It is different because we have a relationship with the one who is to come.  He is our savior, our hope and our friend.  It is different because this is not what we fear, but what we pray for – “Thy kingdom come.”  We are not afraid because we possess something utterly unassailable…

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2nd Sunday in Advent, cycle C

The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9

This short, prophetic book was claimed to be from the hand of the famous secretary of Jeremiah, but theologians think it was more likely written later (between third and first century BC) as a work of encouragement to those Jews being forced to adopt Greek ways  (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, 502-503).

A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots.  It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner.  A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls.  The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building.  God is in your corner!  Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory? 

The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right.  If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor.  What does that mean to you?  Think deeply about that question.  Doing what we feel is right within us is what is right with God.  This is what brings joy and mercy into the world.  What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!

The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11

Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil).  It was one of Paul’s favorite churches.  Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church.  Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick.  Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved.  Paul sent this letter with him.  Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity, p. 375)

This is a love letter.  Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect.  Love is powerful!  It moves people.  It changes us.  It makes us want goodness.  And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is.  When has someone’s love transformed you?  When has it opened your eyes to something?  How does love make a difference?  The second candle in the Advent wreath stands for love!  May its light inspire you along with Paul’s words!

The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6

Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately?  Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted.  There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are.  God takes us “AS IS”.  Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate.  God makes us ready for to be full price again!  And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in.  We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!

From Living Liturgy, 2004: Salvation – the fullness of life that our God wishes to offer us – is revealed – or shows forth – in our repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind – one’s life. Our work of repentance is about turning ourselves toward God who wishes to embrace us in mercy, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, mountains of work, or paths of indecision, or valleys of doubt and fear keep us from the Lord’s embrace – the Way of the Lord. It is a reading that seems more like a civil engineer’s road plans. But it is only this God who can give sure direction to our lives. Let God re-engineer our lives. This Advent may we take the time to rest in the security of God’s nearness. (p.6). Then our ‘tense hearts’ can be eased opened to receive Jesus, the true Good News.

Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh.  (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)

God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus.  By the incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world.  But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God.  Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death.  But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life  (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).

1st Sunday of Advent, cycle C

1st Reading – Jeremiah 33: 14-16

Jeremiah the prophet wrote this just after the northern kingdom (Israel) was conquered by the Assyrians but before the Babylonian exile.  Jeremiah was actually a prophet from the southern kingdom (Judah).   It was a time of destruction and confusion.  There was a deep desire for a king from the Davidic line.  In the ending of the book of Jeremiah as we have it, the future of the monarchy is open, continuation possible but not assured.  Christian readers may read into this passage that it is a foreshadowing of Jesus.  In actuality, Jeremiah and his audience were looking for a more immediate solution to their problem, (An Intro to the Old Testament, Brueggemann, 188).  And yet, they hold on with great hope. How does this reading both comfort and challenge us this Advent?  What do you make of, “The Lord our justice”?

Semah saddiq or ‘just shoot,’ also rendered as ‘righteous branch’ and/or ‘legitimate heir,’ had become a classic prophetic term for the messiah, the anointed one.  Because of this promised shoot, a renewed Jerusalem would be renamed Yahweh Sidqenu, ‘The Lord, our Justice’.  This new name for the capital city is a play on the name of Zedekiah, Judah’s king, a weak and vacillating man, whose reign had resulted in disaster for his people.  However, under the rule of the just shoot of David, the new Jerusalem or Yahweh Sidqenu would flourish in peace and justice  (Preaching Resources, 2003, 514).

2nd Reading — 1 Thessalonians 3: 12 – 4:2

This is the oldest New Testament piece of writing, dating from about

50-51 AD. It is the beginning of Christian literature.  Paul’s preaching and the belief of Jesus caused so much unrest and turmoil in this city that Paul was forced to leave.  He later writes this letter to his new community. In the midst of difficult times, what is Paul’s message?  What is the message to us this Advent?  How does this reading compare to our 1st reading?

The Gospel – Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

How is this gospel ‘good news’ for you?  What words from this passage are most meaningful to you at this time?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said when asked about the future coming of Christ:

“The future is not in our hands.  We have no power over it.  We can act only today.  We, the Missionaries of Charity, have a sentence we try to take to heart: ‘We will allow the good God to make plans for the future — for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come and we have only today to make God known, loved, served.’  So we do not worry about the future.”

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2000:

Fearful living is not faithful living! While these readings may seem unnerving, they are meant to offer us hope – even in the midst of disaster. Jesus assures us that our salvation is at hand. ‘Be not afraid’ is one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice in the New Testament. With Jesus, we have nothing to fear, even when our boat is rocking in a violent storm.

From Living Liturgy, 2004:

We are told to ‘stand before the Son of Man.”  This is an image of such an intimacy with Jesus that he has already come for us – is present to us. This unity and intimacy comes from prayer; it is our source of strength. Such vigilance does involve a type of dying; it is the paschal mystery. Our focus cannot be only on our own wants and needs. We need to unite our desires to the presence of Christ in our lives. We need to pray to recognize Christ in others and to grow in this likeness ourselves. There is a dying and a rising to all of this.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2006:

During this season of busy-ness and “Jingle-Bell” tunes, let us keep our focus clear. Advent is about the coming of Christ – in the past, in the future, but even more so in the right-now. Justice is coming! Love is on its way! Don’t miss it!

What is truth?

Fr. Bob’s Christ the King homily…

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Christ the King B
The Gospel stops short of the best line. After Jesus speaks of truth, Pilate responds, “What is truth?” It is an important and current question. Back in seminary, I took some young people to our Good Friday service, and as John’s passion was read and Pilate dramatically intoned “What is truth?” one of the young people looked at me and smiled and shrugged. He had a point and it has only become harder since then to answer the question.
So let us wade into what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” There are a few aspects to consider. First there is objective truth – that in reality something is what it is. If I say this is a chair, I expect everyone to know it is a chair. It is the basis for communication. Some questions are harder such as “Is Jesus God?” We have an answer for…

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Daniel 12: 1-3

The book of Daniel is apocalyptic, the 4th of the major prophets.  It is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events.  This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago (Daniel) and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place (about 165 BC).  It is actually written by an unknown person.  Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid empire in Syria ruled of Palestine around 175 BC.  He stripped the temple twice of its wealth to fund military campaigns.  To encourage unity, he demanded Hellenization (follow the Greek ways) which devastated the Jewish people.  A small revolt in 167 began a constant struggle for religious freedom and political independence.  So all of this colors what Daniel is trying to say (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 503-509).

Apocalyptic writing usually has these elements:

  1. Famous names
  2. Secretive
  3. Symbolic
  4. Prophetic prediction
  5. Anonymous
  6. Pessimistic
  7. Dualistic
  8. Deterministic
  9. Confidence in divine intervention
  10. Cosmic viewpoint
  11. Use of intermediary beings such as angels and demons
  12. Old prophecies being fulfilled
  13. Hope in the resurrection of the dead
  14. Hope in a glorious new kingdom in heaven or on earth (p. 513-514)

The words, “At that time” are repeated in this passage.  The emphasis it gives should not be overlooked.  It is calling everyone to the present…right now.  What happens right in this moment makes a difference.  Your life can change for better or worse in an instant.  How does this emphasis on NOW matter to you?

A word on the angel Michael:  He was thought to have fought and defeated Lucifer.  His name means, “Who is like God?”  Whereas men and women have bodies and souls, angels are pure spirits.  They were created before humankind, and they are capable of sin (Catholicism for Dummies, p. 306).   Some are sent to guard over people.  Have you felt like you had a guardian angel in times of distress?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18

From Roland Faley, Footprints on the Mountain:  The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized.  The sitting position, symbolizing work accomplished, is not at odds with the high priest image which depicts Christ as continually offering his one sacrifice in the eternal ‘now’.  The two are complementary, not exclusive.  Christ’s one sacrifice continues to make holy those who appropriate its benefits.  With sin now forgiven and ready access to God assured, no further sacrifice is needed.  Isn’t this good news?

Every day at Temple, morning and evening, the priests would offer a burnt offering of a 1 year old lamb without blemish, a meat offering of flour and oil, a drink offering of wine, and incense.  Did they make a difference?  What Jesus offered as himself could not be repeated.  He offered his whole self as living sacrifice (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 117).  How do we offer ourselves daily?

The Gospel — Mark 13: 24-32:

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, B, 164:

Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience.  Jesus died around 30CE and the temple was destroyed in 70CE.  These were certainly difficult, frightening, changing times.  The audience needs certainty that better times are ahead  (so do we!).  They need something to count on.  By saying ”Amen, I say to you…” it guarantees the truth of what one says.  Jesus is saying, “Trust me!  I speak the truth and won’t fail you no matter what!”  This is more good news.

The cosmic events (sun darkening, stars falling) are entirely and exclusively under God’s control.  How does it feel to allow God to take the wheel completely?

From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 726, 730-731:  The ‘fig tree’ had been a common symbol for Israel.  Jesus uses this idea and then changes it to become a symbol of the new kingdom of God.  Here in Mark 13 the fig tree is blossoming as opposed to its withering in Mark 11.  For these early Christians, as followers of Christ, the religious world that they knew was over.  They can no longer be centered around the Temple. Jesus’ new kingdom of God’s love was and is ready to emerge.  Jesus’ words do not pass away; through Jesus, the Word of God, and his cross, the powers of domination will be defeated.  Mark calls all disciples “to live in history with eyes open, to look deep into present events.”  The fig tree that seemed dead will be blossoming again. The old world, centered around the Temple, was coming to an end, but Jesus’ new world was emerging.  It still is.

The trick to understanding these readings is to not to reduce them to an historical period. We must let them speak to every historical time and place – even our own. After all, the end times happen to us all, individually at our death and communally as a generation that passes into the midst of disappearing ages . . . As our projects and pretenses mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling pass the time . . . we may forget that the upshot of our lives is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be–living and dying. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :

Perhaps Jesus is not so much talking about cosmic cataclysms as cataclysms of the heart. Sometimes it is our inner world that is shaken, turned upside down, and darkened. But in this upheaval, only one thing that remains: God’s Word of love and fidelity. When our world is shaken, we have the chance to see more clearly, to grow more authentically, to love more unselfishly. Honeymoons are wonderful, but we do need to love what is real what is beyond the pleasant.  God’s love leads us to reality, to bedrock, to truth beyond illusion.   Jesus is NEAR, he is at the gates, his words stay with us.

Love of Neighbor

Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
When Jesus is asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” he does not strain to find an answer. He responds with the scripture that was inside the doorpost of every house, worn in a pendant on heads and prayed every day. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” It literally surrounded Jesus and every day. But he then adds a second scripture from Leviticus and elevates it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably linked. And it seems obvious as to why. If you love God you should love all that has been created.
That is why it is so painful when the law of love of neighbor is violated. It undercuts all we believe…

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End Division and Be Welcome: Reflecting on Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Philemon Insights

From New American Bible, St. Joseph’s Edition Commentary:

  • This letter is addressed to 3 individuals: Philemon, Apphia (his wife?) and Acchippus (a friend?).
  • It was written by Paul during imprisonment, maybe in Rome between AD 61 & 63.
  • Onesimus is a slave from Colossae who had run away, maybe guilty of theft. He converts.  There is an Onesimus who becomes bishop of Ephesus…the same?  (Brown sites the reference being in a letter that Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Ephesians, “in the person of Onesimus, a man of love beyond recounting and your bishop.” Eph 1:3  Brown wonders if it was Onesimus himself who preserved this letter.)
  • Paul’s letters tend to have a greeting, a note of thanks, the body or main point and final greetings.
  • The name Onesimus means “useful”, so it is a play on words.

From Reading the New Testament by Pheme Perkins:

  • This author suggests it was written more towards Paul’s imprisonment at Ephesus, which would be closer to AD 52-54.

From Introducing the New Testament by Mark Allan Powell:

  • Slaves could be beaten, could not legally marry and any children were master’s property. They were the bottom of the social pyramid.  No honor.  BUT, there was a range in their treatment.  They could be doing hard labor or in charge of finances.
  • The reference to “old man” could refer to chronological age or his status as elder. Presebytes  stood for “old man” but presbeutes stood for “ambassador”.

From An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond Brown:

  • Many became slaves in different ways – taken in war, kidnapped by slave huntersm enslaved through debt or perhaps born into slavery.
  • Brown hints that Philemon probably did act generously toward Onesimus or else the letter would not have been preserved.
  • Brown also illustrates the various sides that are taken in how Paul handles slavery. Some interpreters feel he lacked nerve because he didn’t outright condemn it, or call Philemon out on it.  Others think his delicate way of handling it was smart, because Paul otherwise may have seemed a troubler of the social order and a revolutionary.  Brown’s theory is that Paul (and the believers at the time) thought Jesus was coming back at any minute.  So to overturn the Roman societal institution of slavery was not a feasible accomplishment for such a theorized, limited amount of time.

Read the Letter and Review Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think of how Paul handled slavery?
  2. How do you feel about church (Paul) stepping in in order to resolve this societal dilemma? How does the church do this today?
  3. How is Paul’s attitude and treatment of Onesimus similar to Christ’s treatment of us believers?
  4. How would you have handled this situation?
  5. The division between slaves and free people were immense. We still have grave division in our country among people.  What can we learn from Paul?

All Saints, Cycle B

1st Reading — The Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9 – 14)

This is the last book of the Bible. It abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism and language. This type of apocalyptic writing uses symbolic colors, metals, garments and numbers. It tries to show graphically how awful evil is and how much it offends the goodness of God. This book has its origin in a time of crisis and persecution, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the midst of horrible evil and suffering, we are called to trust and remain faithful to Christ and to a God whose care is ever with us – and will be with us for all eternity. No matter what adversity or sacrifice we may endure as Christians, we will end in triumph over evil and pain. This is its enduring message. It is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe. (The Catholic Answer Bible, Fireside Catholic Publishing, pp. 1372-1373)

Symbolism according to Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Iowa:

East:  Or the place the sun rises.  This is often connected somehow with God.

Seals:  Hide the secrets of the future. Only God knows them and opens them.

144,000:  All of God’s people.  12 means God’s people, and 10 means complete.  Cubed (10x10x10) is holy and perfect.  144,000 (12x12x10x10x10) is really ALL of God’s people, holy and perfect.

White:  Clean & pure, or victory & triumph.

Elders:  There are 24 elders:  12 Old Testament and 12 New Testament

4 Living Creatures:  Cherubim or seraphim, like God’s personal servants.  They are very close to God and His throne and carry His word.

Throne:  Where God is, the center of all His glory and power.

We often think of saints and martyrs as sort of ‘out-of-the-world’ holy people – far beyond our own experience or sense of goodness. But they were ordinary folk like us. We should find encouragement along with the challenge. God doesn’t judge us only on our weakness but on our persevering in our willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others. The simple, everyday things we do will wash us in the blood of the lamb. Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Simple, kind, ordinary ways of giving of ourselves brings the kingdom of God’s love and goodness closer (Living Liturgy, 2003, p.236).

2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-3

This letter is dealing with ‘false teaching’ from within the Christian church around the year 100 A.D.  Some were denying the true humanity of Christ; some also misunderstood what it meant to be Christian. This reading is dealing with the second problem. Some people were claiming to be already perfected. They saw no need for moral effort. The writer is trying to encourage them not to rely on their own strength or ‘perfection’ – but on the goodness and love of the Father that Christ has given us. We are his children and must trust as children and live as children of this good and caring Father. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

But isn’t it true that when we are questioning our faith, our journey, our identity…we are also questioning if we are loved?  We need to be reminded that God’s presence is here.  God is with us.  God’s love will never leave us.  It is knit in our bones.  And right now, not just when we think we “have it all together”.  This letter from John speaks to that inner conflict we sometimes have.

The Gospel – Matthew 5: 1-12a

From Wm. Barclay, The Daily Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1:  This Sermon on the Mount could have been “the concentrated memory of many heart to heart” talks that Jesus had with his disciples.  Matthew writes that Jesus “sat down” – the typical position of a rabbi when he was teaching.

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

The Greek word for poor that is used here is ptochos. It means absolute and abject poverty. It describes the one who has nothing, a beggar. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, the idea of poverty underwent this kind of development: it meant poor, and because they were poor they had no power, or help or influence or honor or prestige. Finally, because of all this, they had no hope except to put their whole trust in God.  So the poor came to be described as the one who was humble and totally reliant on God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (Ps. 34:6)

**We must be careful not to think that Jesus is saying that actual material poverty is a good thing. Jesus would never declare ‘blessed’ a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat.  That kind of poverty we as Christians are called to remove.

Blessed are they who mourn . . .

The word used here for mourning is the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. It is the passionate lament for a loved one. It is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden.  It is a sorrow that calls for compassion from others – and that Jesus reassures us will come from God.  God does not send ‘suffering’ – but God can help us cope with it – and even learn from it. Sorrow can ‘drive’ us to the deep things of life. We are also called by Jesus to be people who deeply care about others, who empathize and feel with them. As God became one of us in Jesus, so are we called to unite with others.  It is right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. We are asked by Jesus to care intensely about the sufferings and needs of others – to mourn over the evil and sickness and blindness in this world –  to work with God to comfort and overcome the suffering where we can.

Blessed are the meek . . .

The Greek word for meek, praus, expressed a great ethical idea. It was the happy medium between too much and too little anger. It was also commonly used to describe an animal that had been domesticated, trained. It was also the opposite of pride and “lofty-heartedness’. It meant true humility. It is a quality that helps us to realize the truth about ourselves — that we need to learn and to be forgiven – that we need to be God-controlled: gentle towards others and open to God’s Holy Spirit.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . .

Few of us really know what it is to be hungry or thirsty. In our abundance, we rarely starve for food or die of thirst – even if we use these words often. Yet, this is the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about –a starving and thirsting for goodness, for what is right. God does not care just about our achievements, but also about our dreams – our yearnings – our hungers. If we hunger and thirst for God’s goodness, Jesus tells us that God will supply our need.

Blessed are the merciful . . .

The Hebrew idea for mercy that Jesus is using means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we see things with his/her eyes, think things with his/her mind, and feel with his/her feelings. This is what God did in Jesus: God came to be one with us. Jesus is asking us to let God help us to reach out in the same way to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart (clean of heart) . . .

The Greek words for pure is katharos; it has a variety of meanings. It means clean, such as soiled clothes that have been washed clean. It was also used to describe corn or wheat that had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all its chaff. It also was often used to mean unadulterated or unmixed – such as a pure metal or wine. Jesus is calling us to be people who are sincerely who we are – not to be fake or have hidden agendas.

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .

The Hebrew idea of peace is expressed in the word shalom. It means everything which makes life good, full, healthy. It is the presence of all good things.  We are called not just to be peace-lovers, but peace-makers. It can be that if we love peace in the wrong way, we may allow a dangerous or threatening situation to develop and not take any action to prevent it because we ‘just want peace and quiet.’  As peacemakers, we are not to pile up troubles for another day, but to do all we can to create life-giving situations. What this beatitude is demanding is that we do not passively accept things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things and the making of peace even when the way to peace is through struggle.  We are to make the world a better place for all to live in – to help create right relationships with all others. Peacemakers are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live – people who bridge the gulfs and heal the broken – and sweeten the bitterness of life. Such people do God’s work.

Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .

Jesus is honest; being his follower is not going to be easy. But it is the way God will bless this world with God’s presence and strength. It is the way to abundant life. Jesus wants us to remember that despite persecution and hardship, “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121)

This feast day was originally one for the early martyrs, when there were so many that all the names could not be listed. This is long before there was anything official about canonization. Also, in the New Testament all baptized Christians were called saints, hagioi, holy ones. The Greek means, ‘called as saints.” (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )  Who do you think of on this day?

The Communion of Saints is an important reminder that our relationship with God and with Christ is both vertical and horizontal, and that our relationship is always mediated. “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to humankind his presence and his face.  He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his Kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn . . . our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ.” (R. P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol.II, 890; Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church)

Those in heaven live fully with God,

yet they remain united to us in love . . .

They pray for us.

They worship with us.

They lend us their spiritual strength in our weakness . . .

In the Eucharist, the whole communion of Christ,

living and dead,

gathers around the table . . .

we experience a profound closeness

with those who have gone before us . . .

It is a marvelous gathering of heaven and earth!

(Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,#49)