SR-2017-12-31

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
Holy Family in Christmas Time (Cycle B) – December 31, 2017


This Sunday’s Theme: Family Life

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family which honors the Old Covenant family of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac plus the New Covenant Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
In Reading 1, Abraham is called to trust in God.  In Reading 2, the author praises Abraham and Sarah for their faith in God.  The Gospel also focuses on the obedience on Mary and Joseph to God.

“The word of God is the source of life and spirituality of the family.”
(Synod on the Family)
“The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which they hold out their hand,
and the most precious thing that they possess,
even if they do not realize it, is family life.”
(Blessed Adolph Kolping)


Reading 1 Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3     God fulfills His promise to Abraham, and Sarah gives birth to a son.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 105:1-6,8-9     A prayer of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness to His covenant.
Reading 2 Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19      Paul examines Abraham’s example of faith.
Gospel –  Luke 2:22-40      Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the Temple in accordance with the Law of Moses.


Reading 1     Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3             (Abraham’s Faith)

Context – The Book of Genesis (Greek for “origin”) records the creation of the world and our first parents, and the origin of sin; the history of mankind from the time of Noah; the Flood; the tower of Babel; the confusion of languages, and the division of the human race. The author then turns to the descendants of Shem, the eldest (firstborn) son of Noah, and deals with the greatest of these descendants, Abraham, the father of the chosen people. Then follows the history of Abraham’s son Isaac, of Esau’s forfeiture of his birthright blessing, and the succession of Jacob. Jacob’s fortunes are next related in detail. Lastly, the personal history of Joseph is told, and the migration of his father Jacob (Israel) and his brethren into the land of Egypt.
Today’s Reading – When God calls Abraham, he promises that he will be the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:1-4). In today’s reading, Abraham is wondering when God is going to fulfill this promise.  In the midst of his doubt, God comes and reassures Abraham that He will be faithful to His promise. Then the reading jumps forward six chapters (Ch.21) where we read about God fulfilling His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

The Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision (Visions were one of the three primary methods of divine revelation in the Old Testament along with dreams (like with Jacob’s ladder between Heaven and earth) and direct communications (like with Moses and the Ten Commandments).), saying: “Fear not, Abram! (The same words that the angle Gabriel said to Mary – “Do not be afraid, Mary”.) I am your shield (Divine protector); I will make your reward (numerous descendants) very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what good will Your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” Abram continued, “See, You have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.” Then the Word of the LORD came to him: “No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir.” (At this time Abram is about 85 years old and Sari, his wife, is no spring chicken either.) The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” He added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the LORD, Who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. (See PAUSE, below.) 

The LORD took note of Sarah as He had said He would; He did for her as He had promised. (At this point Abraham is now 100 years old.) Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated. Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him. (The name Isaac means “laughter.” When Abraham had been told by God a year earlier that he and Sarah would be parents of a son, Sarah laughed.)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Abram put his faith in the LORD, Who (the Lord) credited it to him (Abram) as an act of righteousness.” – This is an example of how we should use our faith (obedient belief) in all of life’s situations because it allows us to be able to demonstrate to the Lord that we believe, trust, and have our hope in Him. And He will be pleased since we are actively showing Him respect and goodness, i.e. righteousness, on our part.
How deep is your faith in God’s promises to you? Abraham’s actions certainly demonstrated his most profound obedient belief (faith). How would you answer this question? What promises you ask? How about: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”– John 3:16”?


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 105:1-6,8-9              (God’s Covenant)

Today’s Psalm – In this psalm, the author is full of gratitude to God for His faithfulness to His covenant with the descendants of Abraham.

R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke His name; make known among the nations His deeds. Sing to Him, sing His praise, proclaim all His wondrous deeds.
R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
Glory in His holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD! Look to the LORD in His strength; constantly seek His face.
R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
You descendants of Abraham, His servants, sons of Jacob, His chosen ones! He, the LORD, is our God; throughout the earth His judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
He remembers forever His covenant which He made binding for a thousand generations
which He entered into with Abraham and by His oath to Isaac.
(The Lord’s pledge of ancestry to Abraham is passed on by the Lord in making the same pledge to his son Isaac, revealing Isaac as the “new” Abraham. Genesis 26:3-4)
R. The Lord remembers His covenant forever.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Covenant: A covenant refers to two or more parties bound together. It is a solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees.  It is an elected, as opposed to natural, relationship of obligation under oath. A covenant is elected because it is always entered into by choice rather than necessity.  A covenant is relational because it always involves two parties. It is specifically a relationship of obligation, because it always binds one or both of the parties to certain specified duties. Finally, a covenant is always solemnified by an oath or oath-sign (e.g. rainbow, circumcision, Eucharist).


Reading 2.     Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19                  (Trust God) 

Context – Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians who were undergoing persecution for their new beliefs. The overall theme is the all-sufficient greatness of Christ. Of all the NT Writings, none reflects more deeply on the Priesthood of Jesus Christ – the high priest of Heaven, and none gives more attention or puts more emphasis on covenant theology – the superior excellence of the New Covenant – the saving mission of Jesus Christ, over the Old Covenant – the Ten Commandments.
Today’s Reading – Abraham is held up as a man of outstanding faith.  God’s call to Abraham means he has to leave family, home and business—and he does.  It means he has to let go of the known and face the unknown—and he does.  The faith of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is also praised.  Both she and her husband believe in what is humanly impossible:  that they will conceive a child in their old age. Verses 17-19 speak of Abraham’s biggest test— when God calls him to sacrifice his son. The story exhorts us to be ready to sacrifice what is dearest to us out of loyalty to God.  It has been said that when Abraham was going up the hill, Isaac belonged to him. But after he showed his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac belonged to God.

Brothers and sisters: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age —and Sarah herself was sterile— for he thought that the One who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol. (Since Isaac didn’t actually die, it is likely that the sacred author sees Isaac’s deliverance from death as a symbol or type of the resurrection of Christ.)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Abraham’s faith accepted God’s promises and acted on them even though there was nothing to indicate that they would be fulfilled.  Faith should be the way the believer looks at all of life and history. Continuance in faith is the only logical and consistent attitude for a believer.


Gospel            Luke 2:22-40              (God’s Anointed One)    

Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD. He was probably the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem (which includes more episodes of Jesus’ life than do the other Evangelists), and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion. He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday, He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him.
Today’s Reading – Luke seeks to portray Jesus and His family as very faithful Jews, fulfilling two requirements of the law: purification of the mother after childbirth (Lev.12:1-8) and dedication of the first son to God (Ex.13:2, 12-16). The purification rite calls for a sacrifice. Mary and Joseph bring two pigeons, an offering of the poor. Within this Presentation Story, we encounter two older and very faithful Jews, Simeon and Anna, who testify to the true nature of the Child. The aged saints represent the faithful remnant of Israel (faithful remaining Jews) at their best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer and led by the Spirit at home and in the Temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They are the portrait of the Israel who accepted Jesus, in contrast to the Pharisees and Scribes who symbolize the Israel who rejected Jesus.
Also, for Luke, this story enables him to speak of the “continuation theme” between Judaism and Christianity.  Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews, recognize and welcome the new Messiah, the One who will be a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of their people, Israel.  Simeon poetically speaks of the painful part of Jesus’ arrival on the scene.  Jesus and His life will be a ‘sword of sorrow’ for Mary and a sign that many will reject. Thus, as Simeon and Anna recognize the good news of Jesus’ arrival, they also make the reader aware of the cost of accepting the Messiah. Simeon’s prophetic words about Jesus is confirmed by the elderly Anna. She gives thanks to God and witnesses about the Child to all who have kept alive hope “for the deliverance of Israel.”

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, They took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel (awaiting the Messiah that will return Israel to greatness), and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to Him, He took Him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, You may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your Salvation, which You prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel.”
The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce— so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Simeon was a godly individual who testified to Jesus’ significance under divine inspiration. This was part of Luke’s purpose of assuring his readers that Jesus was indeed the Lord. He used the testimony of credible people to do this.)
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (God gave Anna insight into Jesus’ identity. The godly in Jerusalem undoubtedly learned about the Messiah’s birth from Simeon and Anna.)

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. (Before their return to Nazareth, Saint Matthew tells us that the Holy Family fled to Egypt where they stayed for some time – Matthew 2:13-23.) The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           The birth of Jesus the Christ was revealed by three kinds of witness in three different ways:  1. by the shepherds, after the angel’s announcement; 2. by the magi, who were guided by the star; and 3. by Simeon and Anna who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Catechism 2205 – The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.
Catechism 529 – The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows Him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord. With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior-the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition. Jesus is recognized as the long-expected Messiah, the “light to the nations” and the “glory of Israel”, but also “a sign that is spoken against”. The sword of sorrow predicted for Mary announces Christ’s perfect and unique oblation (gift/offering/sacrifice for God) on the cross that will impart the salvation God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples”.


 

SR-2017-12-24

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
4th Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 24, 2017



Here Comes Jesus!
Advent, which comes from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming,” is a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and it ends at the start of the Christmas Season, which lasts through the Baptism of Our Lord.  Advent is effectively summed up in the theological phrase, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” i.e., the Mystery of the Incarnation (John 1:14). The first Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church’s “New Year’s Day,” at which time we change the cycle of readings we are using at Mass (Cycle A – Matthew, B – Mark, C – Luke).
Advent is a time of joyous anticipation, but also of penance and preparation for the great Christmas feast. The liturgical color of the season is purple, a sign of penance, which is also used during Lent. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday because in Latin, the first words of the opening antiphon for that day’s Mass are “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). On this Sunday rose-colored vestments are permitted and the rose-colored candle is lit as a reminder that we are called to rejoice.
We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily, both for Christmas and for His Second Coming.

This Sunday’s Theme: Jesus Christ Will Reign Forever

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the liturgy shifts our attention from John the Baptist to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both John the Baptist and Mary serve as important figures for our reflection during the season of Advent; they both played instrumental roles in preparing the way for Jesus. Last week we reflected on John the Baptist’s announcement that the Savior was among us, although not yet recognized. This week we reflect upon Mary’s example of faith and obedience to God, traits which permitted her to receive the angel’s message that God’s Son would be born as a human person, as one of us.

“Set before your eyes the blessed Virgin Mary, whose purity was such that
She earned the reward of being the Mother of the Lord.” (St. Jerome)
“Dear God, Make my soul Your cherished dwelling place, Your home of rest.
Let me never leave You there alone, but keep me there all absorbed in You,
in living faith, adoring You.”  (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity)


Reading 1 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16     The Lord promises David that He will raise from David’s descendants a kingdom that will endure forever.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 89:2-5,27,29     A prayer of praise to the Lord for His faithfulness to His covenant.
Reading 2 Romans 16:25-27     Paul praises God for making His revelation known.
Gospel –  Luke 1:26-38     The angel Gabriel visits Mary to announce the birth of Jesus.


Reading 1     2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16               (A King Forever)

Context – God writes lessons for us not only in words but also by events. Among these events, one of the most prominent is the dependence of a nation’s happiness on its leaders’ personal holiness. First and Second Samuel contrasts the personalities and events in the lives of the early Israeli leaders – Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David.

Today’s Reading – At this point in his career, David has defeated his enemies, reunited the twelve tribes of Israel into one nation and established Jerusalem as his capital. Now he wants to centralize the worship of Israel by building a Temple in Jerusalem. But God informs David, through the prophet Nathan, He has other plans for him.


When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God dwells in a tent!” (The Ark is the sign of Yahweh’s covenant with His people and their protection against every coercive power. The Ark was carried before the troops when they entered into battle.) Nathan answered the king, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” (Almost all of the religions in the Ancient Near East had the idea that their gods and goddesses usually resided in their temples.) But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build Me a house to dwell in?’

“It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. (When we begin to enjoy some success, we would do well to remind ourselves of where we came from and how we arrived at our place of blessing. It’s all God’s doing by His working through us and our cooperating with Him.) And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for My people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over My people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also reveals to you that He will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. (This prophecy partly relates to Solomon, David’s son; but much more to Christ, who is called the Son of David in Scripture, and the builder of the true temple, which is the Church, His everlasting Kingdom, which shall never fail, nor be cast off for any iniquity of her children.) I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to Me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before Me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           David didn’t build the Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, his son Solomon is the one chosen by God for this task. Some scholars say – This is not a rejection of David, but a glorification of him through his son. Other scholars say – David’s background of shedding blood in times of war was God’s reason for choosing David’s son instead. God wanted a man of peace to construct the temple, not a man of war. His house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations”. Still other scholars say – David had become ritually unclean when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah murdered.


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 89:2-5,27,29             (An Eternal Covenant)

Today’s Psalm – This psalm echoes the sentiments of Reading 1 by focusing on God’s fidelity to His promise to be with His people forever.

R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim Your faithfulness. For You have said, “My kindness is established forever”; in heaven You have confirmed Your faithfulness.
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David My servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“He shall say of Me, ‘You are my father, my God, the Rock, my Savior.’ Forever I will maintain My kindness toward him, and My covenant with him stands firm.”
R. – Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.  


Reading 2.     Romans 16:25-27                     (Faith and Obedience)        

Context – Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most influential of all his Epistles, and the only writing of Paul’s which is addressed to a church (congregation) which he did not establish. He addresses the grounds we have for hope in Christ. Sin and death came by Adam: grace and life by Christ. The saving work of Jesus is a major theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today’s Reading – These verses appear to have been selected for their reference to the “mystery” which was hidden for all ages but which is now made manifest. The “mystery” is God’s plan for the salvation of all people without distinction.  Jesus is at the center of this plan. It had been God’s will since the very beginning of everything to send His Word, His Savior, for the benefit and salvation of everyone.

Brothers and sisters: To Him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings (the Old Testament) and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith (Saint Paul sees faith as a process that begins with hearing and ends with a personal commitment and submission. This is what St James calls “faith and works.” Faith = obedient belief. The Holy Spirit’s abiding presence enables all God’s people to carry out God’s will and to live obediently before Him.), to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           According to the “mystery kept secret from eternity, now made manifest”; St Paul means the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, and humankind’s redemption, formerly revealed to the prophets, but now made known to all nations, in order to bring all humankind to the obedience of the gospel, by embracing the faith and doctrine of Christ. (St. Chrysostom.)
Obedience of faith: Catechism 143 –  By faith, humankind completely submits their intellect and their will to God. With their whole being humankind gives their assent to God the Revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the Author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”. Catechism 2087 – Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals His love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations. Our duty toward God is to believe in Him and to bear witness to Him.


Gospel     Luke 1:26-38                     (Mary’s Consent)

Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD. He was probably the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem (which includes more episodes of Jesus’ life than do the other Evangelists), and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion. He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday, He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him.
Today’s Reading –   The Annunciation. At the beginning of the Gospel story, we are told that Joseph, Mary’s future husband, is of the house of David. So, the promise God made to David, in Reading 1, will be brought to fruition in Mary’s child. He will be given the throne of David and will rule forever. Mary’s initial response to the angel Gabriel’s appearance and greeting is fear, a pretty common reaction.  Feeling Mary’s fear, the angel speaks one of the most common phrases in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.” The angel proceeds to tell Mary about her “miraculous conception.” While remaining a virgin, she will conceive a Child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Unlike any other child before or after Him, this Child will be both human (born of Mary) and divine (born of the Spirit). In the Annunciation story, the name ‘Jesus’ is significant. The name means ‘Savior.’ His purpose and mission will be to bring salvation to His people. To help Mary grow in her understanding of God’s strange way, the angel informs Mary of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Though advanced in years, she too is with child (John the Baptist) – for “nothing is impossible with God.” The Gospel story concludes with Mary’s ‘fiat’ (“Let it be done to me.”)—Mary’s ‘yes.’ Her ‘yes’ to the angel makes her a model disciple. It expresses her openness and receptivity to God’s call.
Thus, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, built by David’s son Solomon, contained the Arc of the Covenant and was the location of God’s Presence for the Chosen People, now Mary herself becomes the Arc of the New Covenant for a short time, the new location of God’s Presence (Jesus) in the Mystery of the Incarnation for the whole world.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (The common Lord of all ought in His birth to have something common with all humankind, and still something different. He was conceived and born in the womb like the rest of humankind, but He differed from them in being born of a virgin. -St. Chrysostom) And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the Child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Catechism 148 – The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible” and so giving her assent: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” Elizabeth greeted her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed.


 

SR-2017-12-17

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
3rd Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 17, 2017


This Sunday’s Theme: My Spirit Finds Joy in God My Savior

On this Gaudete (“Let us rejoice”) Sunday, the rose candle on our Advent wreath is lit. There is a clear theme of joy in Reading 1 and 2 and in the Responsorial Psalm.  In the Gospel, John the Apostle wants his readers to be very clear that John the Baptist is not the Messiah, but the one preparing people to receive the Messiah. Our Priests are like John the Baptist in that they also prepare us to receive the Messiah. We should always pray for our Priests.

“Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace.”  (Pope Francis)
“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought
into the happiness that you are able to give.”
(Eleanor Roosevelt)


Reading 1 Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11     The Lord’s salvation will be made known to the poor and the oppressed.
Responsorial Psalm – Luke 1:46-50,53-54     Mary sings praise to God.
Reading 2 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24     Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice and pray always.
Gospel –  John 1:6-8,19-28     John gives testimony that he is preaching and baptizing in order to prepare for the coming of another.

Reading 1     Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11                (God’s Glad Tidings)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – Isaiah points to the joy he feels because he has been commissioned by God to announce the wonderful rewards which await the faithful.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of his commission as a servant of the Lord. God has anointed him with his Spirit so that he may accomplish his mission to the needy. In this case, the needy are the broken-hearted exiles who have just returned to a land that requires much reconstruction. The “I” in “I rejoice heartily” seems to be a reference to Jerusalem, who is full of joy that God has come to forgive her sins and to restore her to righteousness. The prophet uses spousal imagery to describe Israel’s covenantal relationship with God (“…like a bride bedecked with her jewels”).

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me (For NT people, “Me” is Jesus.) because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. (Jesus read this passage in Nazareth in His boyhood synagogue and claimed that He fulfilled it. He meant that He was the Anointed One of whom Isaiah spoke and that He had come to bring salvation. The day of salvation had begun. Note – Salvation includes deliverance from the power of sin as well as deliverance from the penalty of sin.)

I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Responsorial Psalm.     Luke 1:46-50,53-54                        (God’s Mighty Works)

Today’s Psalm – The psalm is taken from Mary’s Magnificat. Mary’s joy at God’s goodness to her echoes the joy of Jerusalem and points to the joy of all who will open their hearts to Christ.

R. – My soul rejoices in my God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked upon His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed:
R. – My soul rejoices in my God.
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.
R. – My soul rejoices in my God.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy.
R. – My soul rejoices in my God.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Magnificat – The first few words in Latin are, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum . . .” so that is why these words of Mary are referred to as the Magnificat. This canticle is noteworthy because it is a beautiful example of praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for His people and for those in need. We tend to only pray to God in our down times. We could all learn a lesson from Mary here and redouble our efforts to pray to the Lord in good times as well as in bad.


Reading 2.     1 Thessalonians 5:16-24                     (Christian Joy)        

Context – The church at Thessalonica was a very young church. Paul’s two letters focus upon confirming young converts in the elementary truth of the gospel, conditioning them to go on unto holy living, and comforting them regarding the return of Christ.
Today’s Reading – This reading underlines the importance of a Christian’s moral principles and behaviors as the proper disposition while awaiting the Lord’s coming.

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing (continue praying frequently). In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit (follow the Holy Spirit’s direction and control without resistance). Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything (insure, what appear to be spiritual utterances, that they conform to accepted divine revelations from the Holy Spirit); retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit (relation to God), soul (principles of life), and body (material frame), be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will also accomplish it.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           The body is physical and with the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) it connects and interacts with the outer world. The soul and spirit are much more difficult to separate from each other. Many Christians hold to the opinion that the soul is the part of us that covers our will, affections and thoughts. The soul is the part of us that connects with our fellow human beings. The spirit is the part that connects to God and covers matters like faith, trust, worship and so on. The spirit is seen as the innermost part of our being. It is enveloped by our soul, which in turn is enveloped by our body. (From Biblword.net)

Gospel     John 1:6-8,19-28               (Witness to Christ)

Context – John’s Gospel was written around 90 AD. His Gospel has an evangelistic purpose – preaching about Christ for conversion to Him.  John explains the mystery of the person of Jesus – His eternal origin, divine and human nature. He is eternally present with God. So much of this Gospel is devoted to the heavenly identity and mission of Jesus that John was known as the “spiritual” Gospel in the ancient Church. The “divine family” of God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the towering mystery of the Fourth Gospel.
Today’s Reading –   John the Baptist’s ultimate purpose was eliciting belief in Jesus. That was also John the Evangelist’s purpose in writing this book

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the Light (John the Baptist bore witness to the Light, namely, Jesus.), so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but came to testify to the Light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is One among you whom you do not recognize (Jesus was always, by His divine presence, amongst them; or in regard to His humanity, either that He lived in the same country and among their countrymen, or that He stood actually amongst them since Jesus was accustomed to going  up to Jerusalem, annually, for the Jewish festivals.), the One who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          John the Baptist announces that the Savior they seek is already among them, but as yet unrecognized. John’s response highlights for us an important Advent theme: Jesus, in His humanity state, has already come into the world as our Savior. During Advent, we pray that we will be able to recognize Jesus, in His divinity state, presence in our midst. Advent also reminds us that Jesus will come again to fulfill the promise of salvation. We pray that we will continue to be watchful as we anticipate that great day.

Catechism 523 – St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare His way. “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ (at the Visitation of the Blessed Mother Mary with Elizabeth, John’s mother), and rejoices in being “the friend of the Bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.


 

SR-2017-12-10

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
2nd Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 10, 2017


This Sunday’s Theme: Salvation and New Beginnings from God .

New Beginnings:  Isaiah (Reading 1) announces a new beginning for the exiles. Peter (Reading 2)speaks about a new creation for those awaiting the Lord’s return.  Mark (Gospel) introduces John the Baptist who promises a new beginning to all who repent.

“Those that aim at holiness constantly look into sacred writings to examine their lives,
to scrutinize their deeds. In addition, if they find anything reprehensible, inordinate,
or out of keeping with their state, they at once use every effort to amend and set it right,
according to the light they have received.” 
(St. Augustine)


Reading 1 – Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11     Isaiah tells the people to prepare a way for the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 85:9-14     The Lord’s salvation is near.
Reading 2 2 Peter 3:8-14     Peter teaches that we must always be holy because the return of the Lord cannot be predicted.
Gospel –  Mark 1:1-8     John the Baptist preaches repentance and baptizes the people, in preparation for the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Reading 1     Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11                    (God is Near)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (i.e. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom  for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – Isaiah announces to the weary Israelites that their time of exile is over and that they can now return to their homeland similar to what Jesus will announce at His Second Coming.
The reading opens in the heavens where God is holding court with His counsel (the prophets) who will be sent by Him to speak a message of consolation to the weary and disheartened exiles (“Comfort, give comfort to My people.”). Guilt for their sin of disloyalty to God is to be removed. Then ‘a voice’ from the heavenly court speaks of a new exodus when the Lord will create a new highway on which the exiles will travel back to their homeland. In the final two verses, Jerusalem (Zion, the Jews) becomes God’s messenger. She is to cry out to the cities of Judah telling them that God is in their midst. This mighty God is imaged as a gentle shepherd carrying His flock home. Today we are to speak the message of consolation to the world that Jesus, just like His Heavenly Father, is the gentle shepherd that will carry His flock home – He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Comfort, give comfort to My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem (God is directing the prophets to speak to the Chosen People, the Jews in Exile.), and proclaim to her that her service is at an end (the Exile of the Jews from their homeland, due to their disbelief and transgressions, is at an end. They will now be able to return to Jerusalem.), her guilt is expiated (forgiven); indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.

A voice cries out (For OT people this voice is God’s voice, for NT people this is a prophetic reference to the voice of  John The Baptist.): In the desert prepare the way of the LORD (Christianity is called “The Way”.)! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. (God is directing the prophets to help the people to return to Him, by creating pathways that they can traverse (i.e. understand what is proper for them to do.) Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (OT – God will rescue His people. NT – Christ will redeem humankind.).

Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by His strong arm; here is His reward with Him, His recompense (grace/gift for us) before Him. Like a Shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.  


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 85:9-14                     (God’s Salvation)

Today’s Psalm – Just as in Reading 1, God announces His salvation. God and His goodness are about to revisit His people. Just as Jesus will revisit His people in the Second Coming.

R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for He proclaims peace to His people. Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land.
(The basis of the Psalmists confidence in the return of the Lord was the Lord’s promised deliverance of those who fear Him. See PAUSE, below.)
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
The LORD Himself will give His benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before Him, and prepare the way of His steps.
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           How to fear the Lord:  Psalm 34 states, to fear the Lord – “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit , depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it”. Also:   – Discover Him, Learn about Him, Worship Him (devotion).   – Seek His will in all matters and act upon it (service).    – Be obedient to Him in both good and bad times.   – Love Him and give Him thanks.   – Reflect Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds.   – Do justly, love kindness, be merciful, humble yourself, and walk humbly with your God.   – Tell others about Him.   – Hate evil.   The “fear of the Lord” is one of the seven gifts from the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2) but we must open up this gift (i.e. this ability) and use it as shown in all the above.   Fear of the Lord = full of love, awe, respect, trust, faith, and obedience towards God. 


Reading 2.     2 Peter 3:8-14                (A New Earth)        

Context – The First Letter Of Peter was written to encourage the church members as they experience apparently undeserved trials and suffering. Also to provide practical advice on relations with the civil authorities, and within society and families. The Second Letter Of Peter was written as a warning about false teachers, especially their denial of Christ’s divinity and His Second Coming.
Today’s Reading – This reading underlines the importance of a Christian’s moral judgment and conduct as the proper behavior, day by day, while awaiting the Lord’s coming. The awaited Second Coming of Jesus seems to be on hold. Why? Because, according to Peter, the Lord wants to give people more time to repent and prepare their lives for their ultimate encounter with God.

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day
(We cannot confine the Lord to our time schedules.) The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard “delay,” but He is patient with you (“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” – 1 Peter 3:15. It means that Jesus is waiting to fulfill His Second Coming so people will have more time to repent. That is, He is patient and long suffering.), not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord
(A biblical expression for times of divine judgment on the world,) will come like a thief (when no one expects it), and then the heavens will pass away (The term “heavens” probably refers to the earth and its atmosphere and the “second heaven” in which the stars and the planets exist, but not God’s abode – the “third heaven”.) with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.
 

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to His promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace.


PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Gospel     Mark 1:1-8                         (Need for Repentance)

Context – St. Mark’s Gospel was the first written of the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The date of writing was prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. St. Peter was Mark’s primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Mark is primarily known by his Roman name “Mark” but is sometimes called by his Jewish name “John” in other New Testament Writings. He was a cousin to Barnabas and  an associate of St. Paul. Recognizing Jesus as the divine Son of God is the goal of this gospel. And it was written to encourage Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith. It begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

Today’s Reading –   John the Baptist is seen as the messenger whom Isaiah spoke about in Reading 1. As the people respond to John’s call to repentance, they are baptized with water—an outward sign of an interior cleansing occurring in their soul. Then John speaks of his subordinate role:  “One mightier than he is about to come, One who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.” John’s diet of locusts (grasshoppers) and honey would have reminded his audience of the two traditional symbols of judgment and comfort. Locusts are considered as instruments of divine judgment because of their fierce punishing power (Ex.10:4), whereas honey signifies peace, plenty and blessing. For those who open their hearts to John, his message will bring the “honey” of peace and joy. On the other hand, those who refuse to receive the truth of his message will experience the devouring “locust” of divine judgment.
John the Baptist was sent to preach in preparation for another. He is presented to us as a model during Advent. We, too, are called upon to prepare a way for the Lord. Like John the Baptist, we are messengers in service to One who is greater than we are. Our Baptism commissions us to call others to life as disciples of Jesus.

The beginning of the gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ the Son of God. 

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I (i.e. God) am sending My messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.” (The Jews believe this messenger to be Elijah, he is the one who is to come to purify Israel before the Day of Yahweh. This is why the Jews, even to this day, always set a place for Elijah at the Passover table.)   John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy (evidence of John’s humility) to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water;’
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.            John’s baptism in water was a baptism of repentance, a baptism that brought forgiveness for the past but which by itself could never enable sinful hearts to persevere in the future. This comes with the baptism that Jesus brings, a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Through this baptism the Holy Spirit enables us not only to follow Christ, but to live His love, His faith, and His triumph over death. This is the Christ we follow and believe that our own baptism in His Spirit enables us to live and act in the mind of Christ Jesus. (From Catholic Herald)

Catechism 523 – St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare His way. “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ (at the Visitation of the Blessed Mother Mary with Elizabeth, John’s mother), and rejoices in being “the friend of the Bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.