Monthly Archives: December 2015

27 December 2015: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or
1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or
Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Col 3:12-21 or
1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
Lk 2:41-52

 

Holy family: discipleship and family dynamics

On the first Sunday after Christmas the believing community celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although homilists often use this feast to extol the “perfect family,” the Lectionary editors present real human families facing everyday issues for us to consider.

For the first reading, we hear a reading from either the Wisdom of Sirach or the Book of Samuel:

  • Sirach advises family members about how to act towards one another, especially fathers and sons. If human families were perfect, Sirach wouldn’t need to remind us how to behave.
  • The Book of Samuel tells us about Elkanah and Hannah, who struggled with infertility. When they finally have their firstborn Samuel, Hannah dedicates Samuel to God’s service “as long as he lives.” Samuel grows up to be an important prophet; he and his family are a type or model for Jesus and his family.

For the second reading, we hear a reading from either the Letter to the Colossians or John the Elder’s first letter:

  • Like Sirach, the author of Colossians advises family members about how to act towards one another–with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
  • John the Elder reminds us that the Father loves us so much “that we are called God’s children.” That is, we are all in the same family: God is Father, therefore we are sisters and brothers and must “love one another as he commanded.”

Luke’s gospel tells the “Jesus in the temple” story. On a road trip to Jerusalem, Jesus is lost and his parents are in a panic. In this very human story, Luke wants us to think about our human relationships and our discipleship:

  • What are we seeking? Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (“zay-TEH-oh”) three times in today’s passage. ζητέω means “to seek” or “to search for,” it also includes “seeking what one desires to bring into relationship with oneself” and “seeking in order to worship God.” Luke suggests that Mary and Joseph, already disciples because they have heard and live with the Good News himself, search not only for a lost son but also for God’s Word.
  • What does obedience mean? When his overwrought parents finally find Jesus, Mary says, “You father and I have been looking everywhere for you anxiously.” Jesus replies, “Why? Didn’t you know that I’d be about the things of my Father?” Jesus is not giving his human parents adolescent attitude; Luke is asking disciples to think about priorities. While Jesus recognizes Mary and Joseph’s human parental authority, Jesus also knows he must also fulfill his Father’s will. Luke is hinting that discipleship is sometimes ambiguous. He says that the family went to Nazareth and Jesus “was obedient to them.” Luke uses the Greek ὑποτάσσω (“hoo-poh-TAS-so”), which means “under obedience to” or “submitted himself to.” Jesus lives under obedience to a human family that lives under obedience to God’s laws (“Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover, according to custom”). Jesus lives simultaneously in the human community and in the divine community (the Trinitarian God); Luke invites Jesus’ disciples to do the same.

As we gather with family during the holidays, RCIA participants and all of us can hear in today’s readings the joy and challenges of family life. We don’t always get it right, but we can “bear with one another and forgive one another” so that, as disciples, we can “continue to advance in wisdom and favor before God and others.”

–Terence Sherlock

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25 December 2015: Christmas

Christmas
Mass
Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Vigil: Is 62: 1-5 Ps 89: 4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25 Mt 1: 1-25
Midnight: Is 9: 1-6 Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 Ti 2: 11-14 Lk: 2: 1-44
Dawn: Is 62: 11-12 Ps 97: 1, 6, 11-12 Ti 3: 4-7 Lk 2: 15-20
Day: Is 52: 7-10 Ps 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 Heb 1: 1-6 Jn 1: 1-18 (or
Jn 1: 1-5, 9-14)

 

Incarnation: God takes human flesh; God-with-us

This week the RCIA candidates and catechumens, along with the rest of the believing community, celebrate the Incarnation mystery and rejoice at the savior’s birth. The Lectionary presents four different sets of readings for Christmas: the Christmas Vigil Mass, Midnight Mass, Christmas Mass at dawn, and Mass during Christmas day. The gospel readings are:

  • Christmas Vigil Mass: Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus as the messiah (Hebrew: “anointed”), the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Jewish history: Abraham and the patriarchs; David and the kings; and finally through common people. Jesus, born of Mary and of the Holy Spirit, is uniquely related to God. In taking Mary into his home as his wife, Joseph gives Jesus an earthy connection to David–Joseph is a descendant of David. This gospel gives us Jesus’ identity: son of David, Son of God.
  • Christmas Midnight Mass: Luke’s gospel presents Jesus as the savior of the whole world–Jews and gentiles alike. Jesus’ birth takes place at the nexus of cosmic events: Augustus’ census, angelic proclamations of good news, the visible glory of the Lord, and heavenly choirs promising peace. God uses gentiles like Augustus and Quirinius to bring about the long-awaited salvation.
  • Christmas Mass at Dawn: Luke’s sweeping scope of Jesus’ birth includes not only emperors and angels, but also the poor and powerless. The shepherds who come to Bethlehem are the first recipients of the gospel–the good news (Greek: εὐαγγέλιον) about Jesus. They share their good news with Mary and Joseph, who don’t yet fully understand Jesus’ identity. All are amazed by these wondrous events: the inbreaking of the kingdom of God within the daily life of humans.
  • Christmas Day Mass: John’s gospel presents Jesus as the cosmic Christ. In this passage from John’s prologue, Jesus is a divine being (God’s Word), light, and God’s only son, who comes into the world and becomes flesh. God’s Word dwells among us (in Greek σκηνόω, literally “pitches his tent”) as another human, but the tent image reminds us of God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant, which was housed in the Hebrews’ Tent of Meeting in Exodus. Like Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity stories, John’s incarnation story announces the fulfillment of the prophecies, the mystery of God-with-us, and the day of salvation.

In the Christmas season, RCIA participants and the believing community reflect and rejoice in God’s fulfilled promises and in the Incarnation mystery: God becomes human to save us. Glory to God! Peace to us!

–Terence Sherlock

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20 December 2015: Fourth Sunday of Advent

 Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Mi 5:1-4a  Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19  Heb 10:5-10  Lk 1:39-45

 

Advent: a sense of harmony and wholeness

On this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask the RCIA participants and the entire believing community to prepare to greet the coming king and his kingdom.

In the first reading, the prophet Micah foretells that God will bring salvation through “a ruler… whose origin is from ancient times.” This anointed ruler or messiah (a Hebrew word meaning “anointed”) will be in David’s line. Bethlehem is David’s hometown. Micah says that this ruler “shall be peace (Hebrew: shalom).” Shalom is usually translated as “peace,” but it also carries the ideas of “harmony” and “wholeness.” When Micah says the ruler shall be shalom, he means the messiah both symbolizes shalom (“peace”) and also will bring about shalom (“harmony and wholeness”).

In the second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews’ author reflects on Psalm 40. The psalmist says that God prefers conversion (“I come to do your will”), not simply a prescribed offering or sacrifice. The Hebrews’ author imagines Jesus quoting this psalm–“a body you prepared for me”–at the moment of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus, in obedience to God’s will, offered his own body in sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect obedience results in a single sacrifice (“once”) that redeems and transforms everyone (“for all”).

In Luke’s gospel, Mary has just heard and accepted God’s Word (Lk 1:28-38); she then travels to visit Elizabeth. Luke identifies two important revelations at this meeting:

  • First proclamation of the good news of the Word: When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting (ἀσπάζομαι, literally “embrace”), Elizabeth’s baby leaps (σκιρτάω, literally “jumps for joy”) in her womb. Luke connects Mary’s greeting with the Good News she carries. Filled with God’s Word, Mary is the first disciple. Mary fulfills a disciple’s duty–she shares the good news with others. John the Baptizer, still in utero, begins his role of alerting people to the messiah’s presence.
  • Blessed are you: Under the Spirit’s influence, Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed” twice. First, Mary’s yes to God’s plan (Lk 1:38) means she will bear the savior (“the mother of my Lord”). Second, Mary’s faith (“blessed are you who believed”) makes the incarnation possible; she is the key to the incarnation mystery.

Despite the hectic run-up to Christmas, Advent’s end–this time of watching, preparing, rejoicing, and conversion–should leave RCIA participants and all of us with a sense of shalom. The coming king, the one who comes to do the Father’s will, restores wholeness to a broken world. Mary and the Baptizer greet us with the news that the Good News is already among us; we who believe are already blessed. Advent opens to Christmas present: what makes us jump for joy?

–Terence Sherlock

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13 December 2015: Third Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Zep 3:14-18a  Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6  Phil 4:4-7  Lk 3:10-18

 

Advent: a sense of nearness and rejoicing

Amid our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary tells RCIA participants and the believing community to rejoice at God’s closeness.

The first reading is from Zephaniah, who prophesied in Judah between 640-622BC. Zephaniah’s writings and oracles are not hope-filled. However, in this passage, Zephaniah describes Israel’s restoration after its judgement. It is a scene of happiness, song, and rejoicing. When God restores Israel, the people will find “the Lord is in your midst.” When the early Christians heard this passage, they were reminded of Jesus’ coming in the flesh–Emmanu-El, “God-with-us.”

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippian ekklasia (believing community), gives this Sunday its name: Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word gaudete means “let us rejoice.” Paul tells the Philippians to “rejoice always; rejoice!” because “the Lord is near.” Although Paul is writing about the parousia, Jesus’ second coming, the Lectionary editors place this reading in Advent to emphasize the Lord’s nearness through Jesus’ Incarnation.

Luke’s gospel continues from last week. This week Luke tell us more about John the Baptizer’s teachings and identity:

  • John’s teachings: Three groups ask John the Baptizer for specific advice about how to live. John tells the crowds to share what they have with those who are in need. He tells tax collectors to take nothing more than their assigned share. He tells soldiers to be satisfied with what they have, not to extort (literally “shake down”) people, and not to slander. This is good life advice for any disciple in any age.
  • John’s identity: The people begin to wonder if John the Baptizer is the messiah. “No,” John says, and highlights three differences. First, John baptizes with water; the coming one will baptize with fire and the Spirit. Second, the coming one will be powerful–the Greek word means “physical power,” “strength,” or “might.” Like many first-century Jews, John may have understood the messiah as a political or military leader. Third, John believes the messiah will come to judge everyone. He gives an extended image of winnowing (separating the wheat and chaff), saving the wheat in barns, and burning the chaff in “unextinguishable file.” Luke tells us John the Baptizer “announces the good news”–the nearness in time of the messiah.

While RCIA participants and the whole believing community wait and prepare, we should also rejoice. The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. Jesus comes sacramentally every day to be with us. Jesus will come at the end of history to bring us into the kingdom. God rejoices and sings because God’s people have been restored. Isn’t this why we, too, rejoice?

–Terence Sherlock

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6 December 2015: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Bar 5:1-9  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6  Phil 1:4-6, 8-11  Lk 3:1-6

 

Advent: preparing with hope and joy

As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary calls RCIA participants and the believing community to conversion and to prepare the way.

The first reading is from the book of Baruch. Baruch, a scribe and companion of Jeremiah, lived during the Babylonian exile (597-538 BC). An unknown author writing between 200 and 60 BC composed this book. Today’s reading is from Baruch’s Poem of consolation and hope, which describes the return from Babylon. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it is full of hope (“take off … mourning and misery,” “God is leading Israel in joy”) and echoes Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in today’s gospel.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippi ekklasia, is filled with love and hope. Writing from prison in 54 or 55 AD, Paul prays that the Philippians grow in Christian maturity. He prays that their “love should increase in knowledge (literally ‘precise, correct knowledge’) and perception (literally ‘moral discernment’)” so that they will be “pure and blameless” when Christ returns (“the day of Christ”). The Lectionary editors want us to use Advent to “increase in knowledge and perception” as we prepare for the day of Christ at Christmas.

Luke’s gospel focuses on John the Baptizer and his message: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is what John preached:

  • Baptism: To baptize (Greek: βαπτίζω) means “to immerse completely in water” or “to dunk.” John’s Jewish audience understood John’s baptism as a ritual washing (Hebrew: tevilah).
  • Repentance: John preaches not simply repentance, but metanoia (Greek: μετάνοια), which means “a change of mind” or “conversion.” John links this interior conversion with the outward public sign of ritual washing.
  • Forgiveness: Luke uses the Greek word aphesis (ἄφεσις), meaning the action of freeing someone from something that confines. Forgiveness is a continuous, ongoing action.
  • Sins: The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία), here translated as “sin,” is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Hamartia suggests that a failing has “degrees of wrongness,” rather than being simply “a bad action.” Paired with metanoia, hamartia invites us think about what kind of conversion we need to prepare the way of the Lord.

John the Baptizer preaches an inner conversion, or a turning-toward God. The ones who have experienced this conversion mark this event by a public, ritualized immersion that asked God to free them from the guilt and obligations of their past failings. Only when we turn away from hamartia and turn toward God will the obstacles to God’s coming–mountains, ravines, crooked roads, potholes–be cleared away.

During our Advent waiting, the readings urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming with hope and joy. But we have preparatory work to do. Is metanoia part of our Advent? Are we tearing down our personal mountains and filling up our interior valleys? Have we made straight and smooth the road to our hearts?

–Terence Sherlock

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