Monthly Archives: March 2018

1 April 2018: Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday

OT Readings Responses 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)
Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 (No baptism)
or Ps 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
Rom 6:3-11

Response: Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

  Mk 16: 1-7

Lectionary note: Reading options
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.

Seeking the one who is raised

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter Vigil is the most important liturgy in the church year. The Lectionary presents up to 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).

Many parishes read a shorter list of the readings, including the following required ones:

  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 will 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 Christians pass from the slavery of sin to the freedom of new life through baptism’s waters.
  4. Baptized in Christ’s death (Rom 6: 3-11). This reading is the turning point from Hebrew scripture to Christian scripture, and from prophecy to fulfillment. Baptism moves us from darkness to light, from death to life, and from exile to resurrection.

Mark’s gospel proclaims the resurrection. A young man in a white robe explains its meaning to the women who are Jesus’ disciples:

  • You seek the crucified one. The Greek verb ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh) means “to seek” or “to search after.” Mark has used this word before to indicate someone seeking discipleship. Mark also uses the gerund form of the Greek verb σταυρόω (stow-ROH-oh) (=”the crucified one.”) This seems to be a formula for an early confession of faith (see 1 Cor 1:23).
  • He was raised. The Greek verb ἐγείρω (eh-GYE-roh) means “to wake,” “to raise up,” or “to restore.” Here Mark uses the passive voice, or the “divine passive,” to indicate that it is God who has raised Jesus. God has answered Jesus’ prayer from the cross (see Mk 15:34).
  • You will see him in Galilee. The Greek verb ὀπτάνομαι (ohp-TAH-noh-mah-ee) means “to be visible to,” “to appear,” or “to show oneself.” Mark uses this word to let the disciples know that Jesus will appear to them, as the other gospels describe.

Mark leaves his readers, all new and newly received Catholics, and the believing community with an empty tomb, the white-robed young man’s message, and the promise that we will see Jesus. Mark’s resurrection account forces our choice: either we believe everything we’ve heard in his gospel and become a disciple, or we walk away, fearful and confused. Mark’s ending leads us back to his gospel’s beginning: it starts with a message from God that points to a meeting with Jesus. The empty tomb is a promise that God fulfilled to Jesus by raising him from the dead, and a promise Jesus will fulfill to us by raising us.

Easter’s message is this: the empty tomb is a sign that those who seek Jesus in faith will see him. This night he is especially present in the Sacraments of Initiation and the new members of the believing community. Alleluia!

—Terence Sherlock


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25 March 2018: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Procession Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Mk 11:1-10 or
Jn 12:12-16
  Is 50:4-7   Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 Phil 2:6-11   Mk 14:1-15:47 or
Mk 15:1-39 (short)
Lectionary note: Reading options
On Palm Sunday, the Lectionary offers optional readings for the procession with palms: either Mark’s account or John’s account. This reflection uses Mark’s account.

Palm Sunday’s songs and stories

Red_banner_sm At the start of Holy Week, the believing community follows Jesus from triumph; through an intimate meal with friends; and into betrayal, suffering, and his saving and transformative death. RCIA participants experience the Triduum feasts, concluding with the Easter Vigil’s sacraments of initiation. In story and song, today’s readings trace Jesus’ arc of triumph, suffering, and death.

In the processional reading from Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. Jesus’ entry is prophecy-in-action: Jesus, who has downplayed his messiahship to this point, now reveals his identity through a full range of Hebrew scripture prophetic references. The colt (Zech 9:9), the cloaks (2 Kgs 9:13), and the leafy branches (1 Mac 13:51) all echo kings’ and warriors’ victorious entrances into Jerusalem. The pilgrim crowds welcome Jesus with joyful songs: Hosanna (“Save! Now!”)! Blessed the one coming in the Lord’s name! (Ps 118: 26).

The first reading is Isaiah’s third “servant song.” Scripture scholars identify four servant songs in Isaiah: 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 53:1-11. The early ekklesia read Isaiah’s songs as proof-texts for Jesus as messiah, and included these passages in their liturgies. The suffering servant type or model informs both the second reading and gospel: “I gave my back to the ones who beat me,” “I did not shield my face from buffets and spitting,” “God is my help; I am not disgraced.”

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, also includes a song. Scholars believe Paul quotes a liturgical hymn he taught the Philippian ekklesia in AD 50. This hymn, called Carmen Christi or Christ-song describes Christ’s humility (“emptied himself,” “took on a slave’s form”), obedience (“obedient to God to death”), and ultimate vindication (“God has super-exalted him”). Paul cites Christ’s humility and obedience as a model for how the Philippians should live.

The gospel tells Mark’s version of Jesus’ passion and death. While we understand Jesus’ suffering and death as an historical event (something that actually happened), Mark’s account is influenced by both scriptural and liturgical elements:

  • Scriptural elements. Mark is careful to show how Jesus’ words and actions, as well as the words and actions of the Jewish leaders and Pilate, fulfill Hebrew scripture. For example:
    • Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: Jesus is silent before Pilate; the Servant “did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). Pilate says Jesus has done nothing wrong; the Servant had “done no violence, there was no deceit in his mouth” (Is 53:9). The soldiers spit on and insult Jesus; the Servant “did not hide his face from insult and spitting” (Is 50:6).
    • Jesus is the king of the Jews: The Jewish leaders tell Pilate that Jesus claims to be “king of the Jews,” a gentile-ready translation of the Jewish religious term “messiah.” The “king” title forces Pilate to treat Jesus as a seditionist or revolutionary. In Mark’s story, Jesus’ kingship is ironic. The soldiers mock Jesus’ kingship; they post “King of the Jews” on his cross; and the priests and scribes jeer at Jesus the king. Jesus’ resurrection will show that he is, in fact, the messiah and therefore “king of the Jews.”
  • Liturgical elements. Before Mark wrote his gospel, Mark’s community remembered and commemorated Jesus’ saving and transformative life, death, and resurrection in liturgical words and actions. On the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 (v 2), a liturgical lamentation psalm. Mark incorporates elements of Ps 22 in his narrative: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”, “All who see me mock me, they shake their heads,” “If [the Lord] loves him, let him save him,” “They have pierced my hands and feet,” “They divide my garments among them.” Mark uses this psalm as a template within his passion story to frame Jesus’ suffering, despair, prayer, vindication, and deliverance.

The Palm Sunday readings inscribe the arc of Jesus’ life and mission. Jesus enters Jerusalem amid songs about the royal son of David. Isaiah sings about a suffering servant who is beaten and spit on but who believes in a God who will vindicate him. Paul sings of a divine son who chooses to become human, who accepts death, and whose death God transforms into life for all. Mark describes the last hours of Jesus earthly life. Palm Sunday previews the stories, songs, and mysteries of the Triduum. Our Lenten preparations should ready us to sing Easter alleluias. Are we ready to rejoice or are we still humming sad lamentations?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 March 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jer 31:31-34   Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15   Heb 5:7-9   Jn 12:20-33


Lectionary note: Scrutinies
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary offers two sets of readings. Masses that include catechumens celebrating the Scrutinies use Year A readings; all other masses use Year B readings. This reflection uses Year B readings.

Knowing God by heart

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. As we draw closer to Easter, today’s readings describe God’s promise of a new covenant.

In the first reading from Jeremiah, the prophet foretells God’s restoration of the chosen people. Despite the people’s unfaithfulness, God promises to restore the exiles to the promised land and establish a new covenant. This covenant will not be written on stone tablets, but in the hearts of all who know God. Christians understand that Jesus establishes this new covenant. The second reading describes Jesus accomplishing this new covenant with his death. In the gospel, Jesus announces that his hour of glorification (his crucifixion) has come.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author compares the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant established by Jesus. The new covenant, with Jesus as mediator and high priest, is able to justify or to “put humans right” with God. After Jesus accomplished his reconciling work, he became the source of eternal life to all who believe in him. Today’s gospel echoes this theme in Jesus’ lifting up and drawing everyone to himself.

John’s gospel has two parts: the sign of the gentiles’ request to see Jesus, and Jesus’ discourse on his death and glorification.

  • We want to see Jesus. John uses “the Greeks” to represent all gentiles (non-Jews). The Greeks, asking to see Jesus, use the Greek verb εἴδω (EYE-doh), which means both “to see” and “to know.” Today’s first reading uses the same verb to describe how, in the new covenant, all people will see/know God. The gentiles’ request to know him signals to Jesus that his ministry is complete, and the hour has arrived.
  • Now the hour has come. After announcing the time of his glorification has come, Jesus explains what the hour will mean to him, to his disciples, and to those who reject him:
    • For Jesus, his hour means that his death and resurrection will make eternal remaining-in-relationship with God possible for everyone. This is the meaning of the parable of the grain of wheat.
    • For disciples, his hour means that those who follow Jesus must imitate his service in their own lives. They must be willing to lose their lives to gain eternal remaining-in-relationship with God.
    • For those who oppose and reject Jesus, his hour means their time of judgement. They have aligned themselves with the ruler of this world. Jesus’ glorification will break the ruler’s hold on humans, and the ruler, along with his supporters, will be thrown out of God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the believing community that we are living in a new covenant or relationship with God. Jesus’ words and actions reveal God’s covenant of love, written in every human heart. At every moment, in every choice we make, our hour has come. Do we choose to serve one another or do we serve only ourselves? Do we choose to follow the ruler of this world, accepting only what this world can offer? Or do we follow the glorified one, letting go of this world’s empty promises to gain what is real and lasting?

—Terence Sherlock

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11 March 2018: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23   Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6   Eph 2:4-10   Jn 3:14-21
Liturgical note: Lætare Sunday
The fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare Sunday. The Latin verb lætare (lay-TAH-ray), which means “rejoice!” or “be joyful,” 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.

The liturgical color for Lent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for metanoia–conversion and change. Lætare Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents 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.

Rejoice! God cares for us!

Rose_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. In the middle of Lent, today’s readings reflect Easter’s promise and how God restores us.

The first reading, from the book of Chronicles, retells and interprets Israel’s salvation history. God punishes the Jewish people and exiles them to Babylon because they have been unfaithful to God and the covenant. But God also forgives the people, returns the exiles, and restores them to their land. The Lectionary editors chose this reading of exile and return to match the gospel’s theme of God’s love and saving gift.

The second reading, from the letter to the Ephesians celebrates, Christ and the role of the ekklesia in God’s plan. Through God’s gift of grace, God saves us because of our faith, not because of our actions. Our actions are the result of our choice to accept or to reject God’s gift. The gospel repeats this teaching in slightly different words.

John’s gospel presents a portion of Nicodemus’ nighttime encounter with Jesus. This reading has many themes, but this reflection focuses on God’s gift and Jesus’ saving work:

  • Jesus must be lifted up. The Greek verb ὑψόω (hoop-SOH-oh) means both “to lift up” and “to exalt.” John intends both meanings. To fulfill God’s gift to us, Jesus must be “lifted up” on the cross. In being crucified, Jesus is also “exalted:” he completes his work and the Father raises him. Jesus’ heavenly exaltation presupposes his earthly crucifixion.
  • God gives the Son as a gift. God loves the world, even when we reject God. God gives the Son as God’s gift to the world. The Son’s gift to us is the cross, which enables those who believe in him to be saved.
  • We judge ourselves by our choices. We don’t have to wait for the end of the world and God’s final judgement to be judged. Each one judges himself or herself by accepting or rejecting God’s revelation in and through Jesus. Our own actions (good or bad) flow from our choice.

This week, while still deep in Lent, RCIA candidates and the believing community reflect on God’s love and restoration. Salvation history is the story of God’s love for us and God’s longing to be in relationship with us, no matter what we do. We judge ourselves, based on our acceptance or rejection of Jesus’ revelation. Our choice to accept or to reject is not limited to a single moment. The sum of all our actions–good, evil, and ambiguous–reveals who we truly are. Our daily choices–to hide in the dark or to move more and more into the light–judge us before God, one another, and ourselves. Do we want to remain in exile, or return home? Do we prefer the dark, or do we choose the light?

—Terence Sherlock

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4 March 2018: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 20:1-17   Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11   1 Cor 1:22-25   Jn 2:13-25


Lectionary note
On the third Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary offers two sets of readings. Masses that include catechumens celebrating the Scrutinies use Year A readings; all other masses use Year B readings. This reflection uses Year B readings.

Discipleship: faith and signs

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. Today’s readings ask us to reconsider God’s signs and our response.

The first reading from Exodus describes God giving the commandments to the Israelites at Sinai. The Decalogue (Greek: “ten words”) is a sign of God’s covenant with God’s people. This sign reminds Jewish hearers of their relationship with and requirements to God and to others. For Christians, the Decalogue is the summary of moral obligations, expanded by Jesus’ teachings.

The second reading from Paul’s first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth critiques those whose faith relies on signs or wisdom. Paul preaches faith in Christ crucified: an incomprehensible sign to Jews who want a powerful messiah, and complete foolishness to Greek gentiles who want a brilliant philosopher-teacher. Yet, in the cross, believers will find that God’s foolishness is far wiser than human wisdom, and that God’s power is stronger than human strength.

John’s gospel recounts Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. This reading has many themes, but this reflection focuses on Jesus’ signs and their meaning:

  • Jesus’ sign. Jesus’ opponents ask Jesus to give a sign to prove his authority for prophetic action of cleansing of the Temple. He answers this opponents with the sign of his resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus connects his prophecy-in-action in the Temple with a different temple: his body. In Johannine fashion, Jesus’ opponents misunderstand him, and they reject Jesus’ sign: “And you in three days, will you raise it up?” In John’s hands, Jesus’ opponents’ mockery becomes ironic. They don’t believe Jesus, so no sign he gives them will lead to faith or enable them to see beyond their limited understanding.
  • Relationship between faith and signs. Jesus expects reciprocity with believers. Jesus trusts and abides with someone only if that person believes in Jesus (Jn 1:12-13).
    • Jesus’ opponents demand a sign first, but reject the sign because it isn’t what they expect. They do not believe in the sign or in Jesus.
    • Jesus’ disciples believe first, because Jesus’ prophetic action fulfills Hebrew scripture. Their believing allows them to see the truth in Jesus’ sign of the resurrection.
    • The many who “begin to believe because of Jesus’ signs” may or may not become disciples. If their faith doesn’t move from believing in signs to believing in Jesus, Jesus will be unable to trust and abide in them.

This week RCIA candidates and the believing community reflect on signs and faith. In the readings God and Jesus offer signs that invite us into deeper relationship, and Paul warns about missing signs because they don’t match what we expect. Signs of covenant and community are always present, but we must see with faith to know their deeper meanings. Do we demand signs to guarantee our faith? Is our faith contingent on only signs we want or know? Does our faith let us see in and beyond the unexpected sign?

—Terence Sherlock

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