Monthly Archives: March 2016

26-27 March 2016: Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday

Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents two different sets of readings for Easter: the Easter Vigil mass, and the mass of Easter day. This commentary follows the readings for the Easter Vigil mass.

Easter Vigil readings

 OT reading  Response  NT reading  Response  Gospel
1. Gn 1:1-2:2

2. Gn 22:1-18

3. Ex 14:15-15:1

4. Is 54:5-14

5. Is 55:1-11

6. Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4

7. Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28

1. Ps 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35 or
Ps 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20, 22

2. Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11

3. Ex 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18

4. Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13

5. Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

6. Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

7. Ps 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4 (Baptism) or
Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 (No baptism)

8. Rom 6:3-11 8. Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23 9. Lk 24:1-12

Easter day readings

 Reading 1  Response  Reading 2  Gospel
 Acts 10:34a, 37-43  Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23  Col 3:1-4 or
1 Cor 5:6b-8
 Jn 20:1-9

He is not here

The Easter Vigil is the most important liturgy in the church year. The Lectionary presents seven Hebrew scripture readings and two Christian scripture readings, carefully chosen to highlight creation/re-creation, slavery/freedom, exile/return, as well as water (baptism), God’s Spirit (Confirmation), and messianic feast (eucharist) The readings are:

  1. Creation of the world (Gn 1:1; 2:2). This reading tells the story of God’s creation, from the dark, formless wasteland to humans in God’s likeness. The first creation, centered in goodness, prepares us for Christ’s new creation, which restores the world to God’s intended goodness.
  2. Sacrifice of Isaac (Gn 22:1-18). The “binding of Isaac” tells the story of a son who consents to be offered as a sacrifice. Jewish tradition associates this story with Passover; Christians understand Isaac as a type who foreshadows Jesus’ sacrificial death.
  3. Escape from Egypt (Ex 14:15-15:1). This reading tells of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt through the sea. Just as the Hebrews passed from slavery to freedom through the water, so also new Christians pass from the slavery of sin to the freedom of new life through baptism’s waters.
  4. Your husband is your maker (Is 54: 5-14). In this reading, Isaiah uses marriage as a metaphor for Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity. The Jewish people imagined this return as a “second Exodus”–they were again freed from bondage in a foreign land. Christians see both saving events–the escape from Egypt and the return from Babylon–as foreshadowing Christ’s ultimate saving event: his death and resurrection.
  5. Come to the water (Is 55: 1-11). In this reading Isaiah invites everyone to come to the messianic feast of the new covenant. This banquet offers not just food but divine forgiveness. Christians recognize this messianic banquet as the eucharist. In Jesus, God’s Word achieved God’s end: Jesus’ death and resurrection restores our relationship with God.
  6. The book of God’s precepts (Bar 3: 9-15, 32-4:4). In this Wisdom reading, Baruch reminds Israel that exile can be spiritual as well as physical. The Torah is God’s wisdom personified. Christians know Jesus as God’s wisdom incarnate; his death and resurrection leads us from spiritual exile to God’s presence.
  7. Stony hearts become flesh hearts (Ez 36: 16-28). Ezekiel also speaks of exile and return. Return means purification (“sprinkle clean water”), new hearts to know God’s law, and a new spirit to live as God’s people. Christians hear the call to baptism, to become God’s children and receive the Spirit.
  8. Baptized in Christ’s death (Rom 6: 3-11). This reading is the turning point from Hebrew scriptures to Christian scriptures, and from prophecy to fulfillment. Baptism moves us from darkness to light, from death to life, from exile to resurrection.
  9. He is not here (Lk 24: 1-12). The perfect summary of the paschal mystery: He has been raised. Peter, like all of us, returns home amazed.

This is the night when RCIA catechumens and candidates live the liturgy’s messages: they are baptized and made new; the receive God’s Spirit in Confirmation; they join us at the messianic banquet in eucharist. Christos anesti! Christ is risen!

—Terence Sherlock


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20 March 2016: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 50:4-7  Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24  Phil 2:6-11  Lk 22:14–23:56
or Lk 23:1-49 (short)


Lent: songs and stories

As Lent draws to a close, the Lectionary readings for Palm Sunday give RCIA participants and the believing community many images to reflect on for Holy Week. Today’s readings include two songs and a story.

The first song is Isaiah’s third Suffering Servant song. Isaiah’s servant songs foretell the passion and glorification of Christ. The third song describes Isaiah abused by his people because they reject God’s message to them. Despite the prophet’s rejection, he remains faithful to God who continues to support him. This song serves as a prototype for Jesus’ passion and death.

The second song is the Carmen Christi (L: “Song of the Christ”), from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This early Christological hymn reflects on Jesus’ humility and love, demonstrated by his incarnation and saving death. The song then meditates on Jesus’ exaltation by God and his rule over the entire created cosmos. This song sets the full context for Jesus’ passion and death.

The story is Luke’s passion narrative. Unlike other parts of the gospels, which are short stories that tell of Jesus’ words or acts, the passion narratives are one, continuous story. This is why the Lectionary proclaims the entire passion story in one hearing on Palm Sunday. The passion narrative is rich and deep and deserves a full and careful reading. Here are three elements to consider:

  • Jesus’ saving act: Luke uses the word σώζω (SO-dzo), meaning “heal,” “save,” and “be made whole” four times in the crucifixion passage (Lk 23:33-43). The Jewish leaders say, “He saved others, let him save himself;” the soldiers tell Jesus to “save himself;” and co-crucified insurgent says, “Save yourself and us.” While those who reject Jesus mock his ability to save anyone, Jesus is saving and healing all humanity through his transformative death. Even from the cross, Jesus ministers to his enemies and cares for the marginalized.
  • Jesus’ completed work: Luke’s Jesus offers trusting and confident final words–“Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” His mission complete (see the second reading), he yields his spirit to the Father who will transform Jesus’ ignoble death into new life (see the first reading).
  • Reactions to Jesus’ death: The centurion echoes Pilate, Herod, and the co-crucified insurgent–all gentiles–saying Jesus did nothing wrong. The crowds express sorrow (“beat their breasts.”) The acquaintances and women followers are witnesses (“saw these events”) to Jesus’ passion and death; they will also be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

Palm Sunday introduces the most important feasts in the liturgical year. For RCIA participants, the Triduum–and especially the Easter Vigil–is the culmination of their journey to become full sacramental participants in our Catholic believing community. Their desire to become true disciples, to witness to the suffering servant and crucified savior, and to share Jesus’ resurrected life should make all of us stop and think. What do we think of Jesus’ saving act? How do we react to Jesus’ death? How to we participate in Jesus work? Where do we fit in Jesus’ story?

–Terence Sherlock

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13 March 2016: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 43:16-21  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6  Phil 3:8-14  Jn 8:1-11


Lent: something new is coming

During Lent RCIA catechumens (those awaiting baptism) pray and study to prepare for the Easter Vigil’s Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). This week the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all of us in the believing community to consider the meanings of sacraments, especially baptism.

In the first reading from the second Isaiah, the prophet envisions the Jewish people’s return from exile in Babylon as a new Exodus. God will give people new signs–water in the desert, rivers in the wasteland. The closer we get to Easter, the more we hear about water. The waters of the first Exodus and today’s new Exodus prefigure Easter’s baptismal waters, where God does “something new” by washing away sin, adopting catechumens as God’s own children, and incorporating them into Christ’s mystical body.

In the second reading, Paul responds to the Philippians and to the gnostic visitors who are “correcting” Paul’s teachings. These visitors tell the Philippians that in baptism they have already achieved resurrection and are already perfected (complete) Christians. Paul explains that everything before his encounter with Christ and his metanoia–including his life and work as a devout Pharisee–“counts for nothing.” Righteousness comes not from Mosaic Law, but only from God through “faith” and “being conformed to Christ’s death through his sufferings.” Paul tells us that he has not yet attained resurrection or Christian completeness, but he continues to strive toward those goals.

In John’s gospel, the scribes and Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus so they can “bring some charge against him.” Their pretext is a woman caught in adultery.

  • The charge and punishment: The Torah defines adultery as a capital crime, punishable by stoning (Dt 22: 22-24, Lev 20:10) for both the man and the woman.
  • The trap: The scribes and Pharisees know Jesus must either support the Torah and allow the woman’s execution, or go against the Torah and give them a reason to discredit him (or worse). Instead, Jesus chooses a third option.
  • Jesus’ answer: According to the Torah (Dt 17: 6-7), the witnesses who testify to the accused’s guilt are the ones who begin the execution. Jesus reframes the accusers’ testimony by calling attention to their own guilt before God.
  • Scribes’ and Pharisees’ response: The accusers, scribes, and Pharisees drift away, “beginning with the eldest.” They leave either because their plan has failed, or because Jesus has made them confront their own sinfulness.
  • Jesus’ judgement: The Greek text says literally: “No one judges against you? Neither (do) I judge against you.” Jesus offers the woman a new start: “Go and do not sin any more.” Jesus calls her to turn away (metanoia) from sin and turn toward God’s infinite mercy.

Throughout Lent RCIA participants contemplate their upcoming sacraments; the Catholic believing community reflects on the sacraments’ ongoing mysteries. Sacraments occur at a specific point in time but their effects last through time. The baptismal waters are only a beginning. With Paul, we live in the already and the not yet: through sacraments we encounter God, but we are not yet completed Christians. Through sacraments Jesus offers us a new start: metanoia. Are we watching for the new things God is doing?

–Terence Sherlock

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6 March 2016: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Lætare Sunday
The name Lætare Sunday comes from the Entrance antiphon for the day:

Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together all who love her.

Lætare is the Latin work meaning rejoice or joy. This Sunday marks Lent’s approximate mid-point, a day to rejoice because Easter is now within sight. Traditionally this day was a day of relaxation from normal Lenten practices.


Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Jos 5:9a, 10-12  Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7  2 Cor 5:17-21  Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Lent: lost and forgiven

During Lent RCIA candidates (those who are already baptized) experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation to prepare themselves for Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. This week the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God thinks about forgiveness.

While the first reading (the end of manna) and the second reading (our ministry of reconciliation) are important, this reflection focuses on the gospel–the parable of the lost son.

Jesus’ ministry–bringing the good news–is often described as “comforting the afflicted.” But part of Jesus’ teaching is about “afflicting the comfortable.” Jesus frequently delivers his unsettling messages as parables. A parable is an opened-ended story or metaphor that overturns the hearer’s expectations and make him or her think.

Today’s parable, “the prodigal son” or, more accurately, “the lost son,” is about forgiveness. The Pharisees and scribes are Jesus’ audience (but we can learn something, too). Here’s what makes the parable:

  • The set-up: “A man has two sons.” Hebrew scripture is full of men who have two sons: Adam has Cain and Able; Abraham has Ishmael and Isaac; Isaac has Esau and Jacob, and so on. Paired sons are a type: the younger son is favored by God, is more successful, and outwits his older brother. Jesus starts his story this way so hearers would recognize the types, but Jesus then overturns the types.
  • The younger son: Unlike the Hebrew scripture type, he’s an irresponsible bad boy who demands his portion of his father’s livelihood and wastes it on wine, women, and song. When things get tough, he goes home with a well-rehearsed speech.
  • The older son: Unlike the Hebrew scripture type, he’s an always-responsible oldest child. When he hears his goof-off brother is back and being feasted, he’s mad. Where’s the fairness in that? He refuses to enter the house.
  • The man: He’s a parent who loves both his children unconditionally. He can and does forgive them anything.
  • The question: Who is lost?: The younger son was lost in another country but has returned alive. His father doesn’t care why his son has returned; he’s glad to have him home. Now the older son is lost to him, because he thinks his father has treated him unfairly. The father and his now-lost older son are left standing outside, while the welcome-home party goes on in the house.

Forgiveness happens only when we give up expectations of or conditions for repayment. Reconciliation is about love, not equality or perceived fairness. The younger son experiences his father’s forgiveness before he completes his rehearsed speech. The older son (Pharisees and scribes take note!) experiences his father’s forgiveness even though he doesn’t understand that he needs it.

Jesus uses this parable to tell the Pharisees, scribes, and us how God thinks: you’re forgiven. RCIA candidates who will experience Reconciliation: you’re forgiven. Everyone: you’re forgiven. If you want to argue that God is too generous in forgiving everyone, and that you don’t think that’s right, and you personally can’t do that, that is your choice. You can stand outside while the party goes on in the house. You’re still forgiven.

—Terence Sherlock

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