Sunday Readings Reflections

SR-2018-01-21

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B) – January 21, 2018



WHY BIBLE STUDY?
The desired end result of true study of the Bible is to hear God’s voice. That is, to find Him in His word and understand His word so that it may generate in us both gratitude and obedience. Add to this that the Christian faith is not something to be enjoyed alone, but to be shared.

“The greater the knowledge of God, the stronger the love of God.”
(St. Faustina)


This Sunday’s Theme: God’s Call and His Ways, If Followed, Lead to Righteousness

This week, the Church places before us readings that are filled with a sense of urgency with regard to the call to conversion. In the Gospel, Jesus calls His contemporaries (Disciples) to conversion. In Reading 1, the Ninevites surprisingly respond to Jonah’s message of conversion.  In Reading 2, Paul encourages the Corinthians to make the best of the time that they have left in life by conforming their lives to Christ.
Prayer – Dear Lord God Almighty. We know that You are Jesus, and that You died for us. Give us Your Holy Spirit, to live in us forever, and thus bless us with Eternal Life. Let Your Holy Spirit testify through us and speak the Truth through us. Let Your Holy Spirit love through us- a perfect unselfish Holy Love; so that we lay down all worldly ambitions, give up our wills, and do Your Holy Will and follow Your calling for us. (Marypages.com)

“Holiness is simply to do God’s will, always and everywhere.”
(St. Vincent Pallotti)


Reading 1 Jonah 3:1-5,10     God spared the people of Nineveh because they heeded the message God sent through Jonah.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 25:4-9     The Lord teaches us His ways.
Reading 2 1 Corinthians 7:29-31     Paul warns the Corinthians that they must act differently because the world in its present form is passing away.
Gospel –  Mark 1:14-20     Jesus calls the fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John, to be His disciples.

(This Bible Study’s primary references used are from St Joseph Sunday Missal (Themes), Loyola Press, CatholicCulture.org, Ascension Catholic Church Sunday Reflections, USCCB, Understanding the Scriptures by Scott Hahn, St Thomas Aquinas’ Works, RSV Oxford Annotated Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, St Charles Borromeo Bible Studies, LUMINA Bible Study, The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary.)

NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.

Reading 1     Jonah 3:1-5,10             (God’s Mercy for All)

Context – Jonah was a prophet from Gath-Hepher (a few miles north of Nazareth) active during 786-746 BC. He is also the central character in the Book of Jonah where he was ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh (the capital city of Assyria – the Assyrians destroyed Israel in 721 B.C.) to prophesy against it “for their great wickedness is come up before Me.” Jonah seeks instead to flee from “the presence of the Lord” by going to Jaffa and sailing to Tarshish, which, geographically, is in the opposite direction. A huge storm arises and the sailors, realizing this is no ordinary storm, cast lots and learn that Jonah is to blame. Jonah admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard the storm will cease. The sailors try to dump as much cargo as possible before giving up, but feel forced to throw him overboard, at which point the sea calms. Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a large fish specially prepared by God where he spent three days and three nights. In chapter two, while in the great fish, Jonah prays to God in his affliction and commits to thanksgiving and to paying what he has vowed. God commands the fish to vomit Jonah out. God again orders Jonah to visit Nineveh and to prophesy to its inhabitants. This time he goes and the people of Nineveh respond positively and turn from their improper life style.
Today’s Reading – The purpose of the book of Jonah, written after the Israelites had returned from exile, was to teach the people that God loved all people, even Israel’s greatest enemies such as the Assyrians (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and the Assyrians had previously destroyed Israel during the exile). Earlier in the book, Jonah ran away from God when he was asked to go to the city of Nineveh to preach a message of repentance because he hated and feared the heathen Assyrians. He ended up spending three days in the belly of a whale, and finally obeys God’s call and goes to Nineveh. To Jonah’s utter surprise, the Ninevites, from the King down to the lowest person, all respond immediately to Jonah’s call to repentance. This response of an evil people to Jonah’s preaching is an example of the transformative power of the word of God.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’S bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, ” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. (Since God did not immediately destroy them they thought He had a desire for their welfare, particularly as He was going to allow them some 40 days to make up their minds. Also, sackcloth was what the poor and the slaves customarily wore. Thus, wearing it depicted that the entire population viewed themselves as needy (of God’s mercy in this case) and slaves (of God in this case).)

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil that He had threatened to do to them; He did not carry it out.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, ” – The Lord was willing to wait 40 days. As stated 13 times in the Bible – the Lord is “long suffering”, meaning that He is being patient for us sinners to come to our understanding that we need to repent and follow His ways.


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 25:4-9                       (God’s Ways)

Today’s Psalm –  This psalm stresses the rightness of God’s ways, which, if followed, lead us to life.

R. – Teach me Your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me Your paths, Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior.
R. – Teach me Your ways, O Lord.
Remember that Your compassion, O LORD, and Your love are from of old
(from the beginning of the world). In Your kindness remember me, because of Your goodness, O LORD.
R. – Teach me Your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD; thus He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble His way
(“Blessed are the poor in spirit (humble): for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”).
R. – Teach me Your ways, O Lord.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Reading 2.     1 Corinthians 7:29-31               (Shortness of Time)

Context – Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul started the Church at Corinth in 51 AD and stayed there only briefly to get things started. Five years after he left, he composed and sent this Letter to Corinth just prior to his second arrival there. Over those five years trouble arose in the Church including: internal divisions, immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and liturgical carelessness. His pastoral guidance aimed to restore peace and unity by fortifying their commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians takes aim throughout at two vices that underlie the Corinthians’ struggles: pride and selfishness.
Today’s Reading – At the time of this writing, Paul believes Jesus’ Second Coming is imminent and that it will occur in his lifetime. So, he sets out to show his readers how to live in a world that is transitory. In light of the fact that the world will eventually be coming to an end, it is foolish to treat as permanent that which is transitory. Paul is not suggesting that people sit around and do nothing but that their primary focus should be on “higher things”—that they should use their time to conform their lives to Christ. Follow God’s call to righteousness while there is still time.

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Gospel            Mark 1:14-20             (Come After Me)

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 – The gospel recounts two stories of calls to discipleship. First, Jesus calls Simon and his brother Andrew. A little later Jesus calls James and his brother John. All four immediately leave what they are doing to follow Jesus. Both stories were used in the early church to convey the radical and wholehearted response that is necessary in order to become a disciple of Jesus. The call of Jesus leads to a total conversion of one’s heart and life. (Recall the Jonah story in Reading 1.) Then the gospel states that discipleship leads to mission: “Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men.” They were called to become disciples and make disciples. So it is with us: we are called to genuine conversion to Christ and called to lead others to Christ.

After John (John the Baptist) had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand (The Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign (supreme) rule over all nations through Jesus.). Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Like John the Baptist, Jesus’ pronouncement of the Kingdom of God is a call to repentance. Yet Jesus’ preaching is greater than John’s. Jesus begins the time of fulfillment since the Kingdom of God is already here – Jesus, in His humanity, is now, at this time, walking on this earth, Himself! He’s here!)

As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed Him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him. (Zebedee, having hired hands, showed that he and his sons had a prosperous fishing enterprise.)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Why did Jesus pick fishermen as His first disciples? – Christ initially choose men of modest education to demonstrate to the world of unbelievers, at that time, that the wisdom of the gospel stems directly from God and not from the ingenuity of man.
Fishermen know where to find “them” and know how to catch “them”. Shepherds know how to care for “them” as a guard, guide, physician – a provider. (That’s why Pope Francis wants his priests to smell like “sheep” after they are done “fishing”!)

Catechism 1427 – Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the Kingdom: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” In the Church’s preaching this Call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and His Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.


 

SR-2018-01-14

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B) – January 14, 2018


This Sunday’s Theme: God’s Call and Our Response

Reading 1 and the Gospel focus on a central theme in Scripture, namely, God’s call and our response.  Also, in both of these readings, people are being introduced to God and Jesus. They have a personal experience or encounter with God or Jesus.  In Reading 2, Paul reminds the Corinthians that because their lives belong to Christ through baptism, their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should not be used to engage in immorality. By not engaging in immorality, the Holy Spirit will remain within us and help us to hear, understand, and respond properly to God’s call and our response.
Prayer – Let us pray that all priests and religious may be an example and an encouragement to all of us to accept God’s call and gifts of the Holy Spirit and to transmit to others the fruits of love and peace, to give them that certainty of faith from which derive the profound understanding of meaning of human existence and the capacity to introduce moral order into the life of individuals and of the human setting. (St. John Paul II)

“The growing knowledge of and the love of Christ, above all,
prepares us to follow His call.”
(St. Ignatius)

“It is not riches, but doing the will of God, that makes the heart happy”
(Blessed Eurosia Fabris)


Reading 1 1 Samuel 3:3b–10,19     The Lord calls Samuel.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 40:2, 4, 7–10     A prayer of commitment to follow the will of the Lord.

Reading 2 1 Corinthians 6:13c–15a,17–20     Paul reminds the Corinthians that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel –  John 1:35–42     John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, and Jesus receives His first followers.


(This Bible Study’s primary references used are from St Joseph Sunday Missal (Themes), Loyola Press, CatholicCulture.org, Ascension Catholic Church Sunday Reflections, USCCB, Understanding the Scriptures by Scott Hahn, St Thomas Aquinas’ Works, RSV Oxford Annotated Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, St Charles Borromeo Bible Studies, LUMINA Bible Study, The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary.)

NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.


Reading 1     1 Samuel 3:3b–10,19               (Answering God’s Call)

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.
1 Samuel begins by telling how the prophet Samuel is chosen by Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, at his birth. The story of the Ark of the Covenant which follows tells of Israel’s oppression by the Philistines, which brings about Samuel’s anointing of Saul as Israel’s first king. But Saul proves unworthy and God then has Samuel choose David instead, who defeats Israel’s enemies and brings the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promises David and his successors an eternal dynasty.
Today’s Reading – Today’s Old Testament reading recounts the call of the ancient prophet-priest Samuel who was considered the most important religious figure since Moses in his day. This reading’s episode is about a disciple’s need, to learn how to listen for and how to listen to, the calling, engagement, and spiritual encouragement by God. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many others also had to learn these lessons. In practical terms, one has to cultivate a genuinely human sensitivity and openness to “hearing” the Divine message precisely in order to be holy. Being too busy, too distracted, or too focused on values other than the Gospel’s, generally impede human perceptive abilities.

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. (He is 12 years old at this time. The same age as Jesus when He discoursed in the temple in Jerusalem.) The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.” (Eli is the high priest.) “I did not call you, ” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.” So he went back to sleep. Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. “Here I am, ” he said. “You called me.” But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”

At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. (He had not before had any knowledge of the manner in which God revealed His will to someone.) The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed His presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (The Lord’s repetition of Samuel’s name added a note of urgency to Samuel’s “calling”.)

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of His to be without effect. (He was justly regarded as a true prophet. )


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          There are six dimensions to the “call-response” dynamic in Reading 1. First, Samuel does not recognize God’s “call”, which illustrates the fact that “calls” from God are not always immediately discernible.  Second, the repetitiveness of God’s calling assures us that God does not easily quit on us. He keeps calling.  Third, the setting of God’s “call” to Samuel (at night while he slept in the temple sacristy) reminds us that God’s “call” to us can come at any time or place or during any human activity.  Fourth, the fact that Samuel resorts to his mentor Eli for help suggests that we often may need help from other experienced pilgrims (Priests, Spiritual Directors, religious people) to discern God’s “call”. Fifth, the description of Samuel’s growing to maturity in the presence of God, after his “calling”, underscores the power of grace to sustain whoever responds to God’s “call”. Sixth, the effectiveness of Samuel’s ministry (whereby the Lord did not allow any word of Samuel’s to be without effect [v.19]) reassures those “called” that active cooperation with God can yield astounding results.


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 40:2, 4, 7–10                        (Doing Gods’ Will)

Today’s Psalm –  The response of the true disciple to God’s “call” is an unqualified acceptance of God’s will: “Here I am, Lord. I come to do Your will.”

R. – Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD, and He stooped toward me and heard my cry
(“Please Lord, show me Your will for me.”). And He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God (a new song – “Thank You my Lord for helping me know Your will for me.”).
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.
Sacrifice or offering You wished not, but ears open to obedience You gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings You sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”
(i.e. – I agree to be obedient to You.)
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me, to do Your will, O my God, is my delight, and Your law is within my heart!”
(David is saying the Law was in his heart, not just in his hands. He delighted to do God’s will rather than just doing it out of obligation.)
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.
I announced Your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as You, O LORD, know.
(Part of God’s will for David, as a person and as Israel’s king, was that he should praise the Lord. The psalmist said he carried out this duty joyfully. He spoke publicly of God’s righteousness, faithfulness, salvation, loyal love, and truth.)
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          ”Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will.” – This was stated by the psalmist David and it sounds like Samuel’s comments to the Lord, in Reading 1.  More importantly though – does it sound like you? We all need a period of quiet time with the Lord to allow Him to speak and tell us His will for us. After our Baptism, the Holy Spirit resides within us and helps us to be a Christian, including helping us pray to the Lord and helping to understand His will for us. The Bible tells us to “pray in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:15, Eph. 6:18, Jude 20). Always begin praying by first asking the Holy Spirit to please come and give help and direction to hear His “call” and respond properly.


Reading 2.     1 Corinthians 6:13c–15a,17–20                     (The Spirit in Us)    

Context – Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul started the Church at Corinth in 51 AD and stayed there only briefly to get things started. Five years after he left, he composed and sent this Letter to Corinth just prior to his second arrival there. Over those five years trouble arose in the Church including: internal divisions, immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and liturgical carelessness. His pastoral guidance aimed to restore peace and unity by fortifying their commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians takes aim throughout at two vices that underlie the Corinthians’ struggles: pride and selfishness.
Today’s Reading – The Corinthian text of today’s reading uses the image of the human body as a metaphor for the whole disciple. While the words describe physical reality, the metaphor is not so simplistic or superficial as to mean mere physical, mortal, sexuality. Rather, here “the body” means the entire person of the disciple, including the intellect, the individual’s integrity, and the spiritual wholeness of each of us. The body is, indeed, a “temple” of God’s Holy Spirit as the Jerusalem Temple had been the location of God’s Presence in the Old Testament and even in St. Paul’s lifetime. So, the letter’s author points out that the Holy Spirit of God dwells there in each disciple, an insight which ought to be humbling and motivating.

Brothers and sisters: The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord (Our body is for the Lord – At our Baptism, the Lord allows the Holy Spirit to reside within us, thus making our body as a holy temple for Him, so we should never let our body also become desecrated by evildoing. The Holy Spirit will not reside in the same place as the devil.), and the Lord is for the body (the Lord created us for His purpose); God raised the Lord (resurrection of Jesus) and will also raise us by His power.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (We are Baptized into the mystical body of Christ – His Church.) But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with Him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price (Christ purchased us, the price being His crucifixion, and He now owns us.). Therefore glorify God in your body. (Sexual immorality is wrong, Paul concluded, because it involves sinning against one’s body, which in the case of believers belongs to the Lord through His divine purchase.)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Jesus says to His disciples: the Holy Spirit, “He will guide you to all truth” (Jn. 16:13). 


Gospel            John 1:35–42             (Encountering 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 – In Reading 1, we heard of Samuel’s call to serve God. In this Gospel reading, we hear of the calling of the first of Jesus’ disciples.
After John the Baptist baptized Jesus, he referred to Him as the Lamb of God. This term alludes to the paschal (Easter) lamb offered as a sacrifice when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (i.e. the lamb whose blood was painted on the Hebrew door posts providing safety from death by causing the pass over of their home.). This event is commemorated still today by the Jewish Passover celebration.
John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Messiah (as prophesized in the OT), after which some of his disciples (one named Andrew) followed after Jesus. Andrew then brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus. Immediately, Jesus gave Simon a new name, calling him Peter. Jews normally sought out rabbis and established themselves as disciples of a particular rabbi. Jesus appears to have been unique in that He sought out individuals, inviting them to be His followers.

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following Him and said to them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —, “where are You staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with Him that day.
(Yet they did not continually remain with Him, as His disciples, till He called them, as they were fishing.) It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —. (Messiah in Hebrew means “Anointed One”, in Greek means “Christ”) Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter. (Cephas in Aramaic is translated Peter in Greek, and means rock. Changing Simon’s name to something meaning “rock” did by the word itself aptly signify, that on him, as on a rock most firm, Jesus would build His Church. – St. Cyril)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Catechism 1137 – The book of Revelation of St. John, read in the Church’s liturgy, first reveals to us, “A throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne”: “the Lord God.” It then shows the Lamb, “standing, as though it had been slain”: Christ crucified and risen, the one High Priest of the true sanctuary, the same One “who offers and is offered, who gives and is given.” Finally it presents “the river of the water of life . . . flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” one of most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit.


 

SR-2018-01-07

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
Eiphany of The Lord in Christmas Time (Cycle B) – January 7, 2018



Christmas Time


The Liturgical Season of Christmas Time begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day, followed by Sunday Masses for: The Holy Family, Epiphany of the Lord, and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…including the fact that he was born to die for us. The Liturgical Color is white – a festive, joyful color. And, we can say “Merry Christmas” to our friends throughout this entire Christmas Season!

This Sunday’s Theme: The Epiphany of Jesus’ Royal Messiahship of Both Jews and Gentiles

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “explanation.” A manifestation is the public display of something divine/spiritual made human/mortal. Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as His “epiphanies,” including His birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, His baptism by John the Baptist, His first miracle at Cana, and by His transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. On this Sunday, celebrating the visit of the Magi, the Church invites us to celebrate God’s manifestation of Jesus as a savior of all people – Gentiles as well as Jews.
Prayer – Holy and generous God, in Your great love You have revealed Yourself in creation. But You have done even more – You have revealed Yourself in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By believing in and following Him, we are led to eternal life with You. Help us to be like the Magi who did homage to Jesus – worshiping, respecting, praising, and honoring Him, and were filled with His mercy and delight. We make our prayer in the name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Who is Jesus? – “Jesus is my Lord (King, Leader, Ruler, Judge)
and my God (Creator, Supreme being, Source of all moral authority)”. (St. Thomas)
How do we “epiphany” Him? – “God calls us to praise His name and reveal Him.
We honor the Lord as we worship in our churches, as we testify to His work in our lives,
and as we proclaim the truth of His holy Word in our communities.” (Charles Stanley)



Reading 1 – Isaiah 60:1-6      Jerusalem shall be a light to all nations.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-13      Every nation on earth shall worship the Lord.
Reading 2 – Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6      Gentiles are coheirs in the promise of Christ.
Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12      The Magi seek out Jesus and do Him homage (worship, respect, praise, honor).



Reading 1      Isaiah 60:1-6                (Glory of God’s Church)

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 – Jerusalem’s days of darkness are over (a reference to Israel’s time in exile that is now over). God is about to bring a New Dawn to Israel. So great will this new light be that all the Nations, not just the Jews (a reference to the Gentiles, and they are represented by the Magi in the Gospel reading) will be drawn to Bethlehem bearing all kinds of gifts. This prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled by Jesus’ birth.

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD. (Those who are from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba are all descendants of Abraham. God’s chosen people, who were scattered long ago, now come to participate in their ancient inheritance promised by God’s covenant with Abraham – “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.”)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Responsorial Psalm. Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-13                (The Messiah-King)

Today’s Psalm – “Lord, every nation on earth will adore You,” speaks of God’s universal plan to save all people, thereby connecting this psalm to the overall theme of this Sunday’s readings – Jesus’ Royal Messiahship of Both Jews and Gentiles.

R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
O God, with Your judgment endow the king, and with Your justice, the king’s Son; He shall govern Your people with justice and Your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
Justice shall flower in His days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May He rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him.
R. – Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.
For He shall rescue the poor when He cries out, and the afflicted when He has no one to help Him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor He shall save.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Reading 2.      Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6               (Good News for All)

Context – Ephesians sets before us a vision of Christ reigning in Heaven next to the Father and renewing the earth through His Church. It shows God’s saving work through Jesus. The Church is nothing less than God’s new creation in Christ.
Today’s Reading – Paul’s message about his special mission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles connects this reading with the general theme of the day. Jesus reveals to Paul and the Apostles that the total equality of Jews and Gentiles figures in God’s plan of salvation.

Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (The Jews are God’s chosen people, His family. The Gentiles are now part of this family which forms the new Israel and shares in the inheritance of God’s blessings including the opportunity for everlasting life through Jesus.)


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Gospel      Matthew 2:1-12                (Magi with Gifts)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission, He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.
Today’s Reading – This Gospel is the fulfillment of the prophesy from the first reading, which speaks of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the new King. The Magi represent the non-Jewish world who are seekers of God in their own way. The Magi’s journey to Bethlehem in search of the new King, occurring about the first year after Jesus’ birth, in search of the new King is symbolic of the journey all seekers must take. Thus, Epiphany is not only a feast on which we celebrate God’s manifestation of Himself to the Gentile world, but also our movement toward God that the life of Jesus provides for us.
When Matthew is writing his Gospel in 80 AD, his own people (the Jews) have almost totally rejected Jesus while large groups of Gentiles are accepting Him. This rejection/acceptance dynamic is present in today’s Gospel. While Herod’s plot to kill Jesus symbolizes Israel’s rejection of Jesus, the Magi’s acceptance of Jesus symbolizes the Gentiles’ movement toward Jesus.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? (Since the Mag are not Jews, they can be considered to be the very first gentiles to receive the call to salvation in Christ.) We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Due to his political ambition and lack of a religious sense, Herod saw a potential messiah-king as a dangerous rival to his own worldly power.) Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a Ruler, who is to shepherd My people Israel.” (Quotes from Micah 5:2. It is worth noting that Jewish tradition interpreted this prophecy as predicting the Messiah’s exact place of birth and as referring to a particular person. The prophesies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus the Christ.) Then Herod called the Magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the Child. When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage.” (Not to adore Him, but to dispose of Him. Such was Herod’s exclusively political view of things.) After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the Child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.                The central point of this celebration is that God’s salvation is intended not only for the people of Israel, but for all people. We of the Church are called to be an ever-unfolding epiphany of God’s love and power to the entire world. The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts. The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentiles’ search for a savior. Because the Magi represent the entire world, they also represent our search for Jesus. We have come to consider the gifts they bring as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation. Gold is presented as representative of Jesus’ Kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of His divinity because priests burned the substance in the Temple. Myrrh, which was used to prepare the dead for burial, is offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.

Thought-provoking Reflections – 1. Herod the king was appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC. I wonder what those senators thought when they later witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (the real King of the Jews)? 2. Herod became famous for his extensive building projects, including the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple. Of all places, why would he do this? He was loyal to Rome not to Judaism. 3. From St. Gregory – The Magi gifts represent our gifts that we give to Jesus in our daily lives. Gold is Christ’ wisdom that allows us to worship Him as we reflect Him to others. Frankincense is the prayer and adoration we give Him. Myrrh is our daily self-sacrifices. (Sacrifices are the giving up of something good for something even better. – Such as giving of our time, talent, and treasury (our stewardship) to God. 4. The Coptic Christians in Egypt – Coptic means Egyptian. The history of the Coptic Church in Egypt is basically the history of Christianity in Egypt, for the current Coptic Church is a direct evolution from the visit of the Holy Family to Egypt. This visit was directed by an angel, in a dream to Joseph, to take the Holy Family to safety from Herod. How did the Magi know what gifts to bring? I believe that they had access to the writings of Daniel that talks about the coming of a Messiah and included the mention of a star that would light upon the Savior’s birth place.

Catechism 486 – The Father’s only Son, conceived as Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is “Christ”, that is to say, anointed by the Holy Spirit, from the beginning of His human existence, though the manifestation of this fact takes place only progressively: to the shepherds, to the magi, to John the Baptist, to the disciples. Thus the whole life of Jesus Christ will make manifest “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”
Catechism 528 – The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the Wise Men (Magi) from the East, together with His baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the Magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The Magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the King of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be King of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship Him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires “Israelitica dignitas” (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).


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.


 

SR-2017-12-3

SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
1st Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 3, 2017


 This Sunday’s Theme: Stay Awake (watchful, alert, attentive, responsive).
During the holy season of Advent, the liturgical readings call us to “watch” and “prepare” for a fuller coming of Jesus into our lives. Reading 1 takes the form of a prayer for a new in- breaking of God into the history of Israel.  In the Gospel, Jesus calls His disciples to “watch,” “stay awake,” and be “on guard” for His Second Coming. In Reading 2, Paul tells the Corinthians that there is no better preparation for Christ’s return than to produce the fruits of holiness made possible by the action of God’s Spirit within them.

“Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christian – even though they profess with their lips the teaching of Christ.” (St. Justin)


Reading 1 – Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7     Isaiah prays for the Lord’s forgiveness of the people.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19     A prayer for the Lord’s protection.
Reading 2 1 Corinthians 1:3-9     Paul gives thanks to God for His gifts to the Corinthians.
Gospel –  Mark 13:33-37     Jesus warns His disciples to be watchful so that they will be ready when the Son of Man comes.


Reading 1     Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7              (God Our Redeemer)

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 – This passage is a plaintive (mournful) lament (expression of grief) and cry (call out) for God to reveal His power and presence among the people and to intervene in the course of human events.

You, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer You are named forever. Why do You let us wander, O LORD, from Your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear You not? (God, in punishment of their great and manifold crimes, and their long abuse of His mercy and grace, had withdrawn His graces from them, and so given them up to error and hardness of heart.) Return for the sake of Your servants,
the tribes of Your heritage.
(Isaiah called on God to return to His people. Really the people needed to return to Him.) Oh, that You would rend (slit, tear open) the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before You, while You wrought (produced) awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. (Isaiah is pleading for  God’s personal intervention.) No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but You doing such deeds for those who wait for Him. Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of You in our ways! Behold, You are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon Your name, who rouses himself to cling to You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay and You the Potter: we are all the work of Your hands.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           1. Why do You let us wander, O LORD, from Your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear You not?” 2. “You have hidden Your face from us.” These two quotes from the above scripture always come to mind after every tragic happening in the world in which we live – after the almost daily human made massacres and after natural catastrophes. Why does God let them happen – as a result of the designed supremacy of humanity’s free will, because the earth and the rest of the solar system are still in an evolutionary state, … – it’s a mystery to us! The Saints must have wondered about this, especially the Martyrs. And the above Scripture shows that the prophet Isaiah wondered about this. How much longer will God keep us “wondering”? He kept the Jews wondering in the desert for 40 years until they (individually and collectively) “got their act together”. Maybe the same is happening for us – when we individually and collectively “get our act together”, He may then allow for the Second Coming of Jesus. Who will return in glory to fulfill the promise of wholeness as all creation responds to His healing presence. We should wonder about that. Advent is a good time to prepare ourselves (individually and collectively), and not just wonder. 


Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19               (Come To Save Us)

Today’s Psalm – These verses connect well with Reading 1. The psalmist pleads with God to come and help his hurting people.

R. – Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.
O Shepherd of Israel, hearken, from Your throne upon the cherubim
(winged angels), shine forth. Rouse Your power, and come to save us.
R. – Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine
(Israel), and protect what Your right hand has planted the Son of Man (Jesus) whom You yourself made strong.
R. – Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.
May Your help be with the Man of Your right hand, with the Son of Man
(Jesus) whom You Yourself made strong. Then we will no more withdraw from You; give us new life, and we will call upon Your name.
R. – Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved.


PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          God’s people are similar to a grape vine in that God has called us to be a blessing to others. However if we do not walk in trust and obedience, God may prune us back and limit our fruitfulness (pain and suffering), with a view to increasing our ultimate productivity. The vine experiences blessing itself as it becomes a blessing to others. If we depart from God we need to call on Him to restore our fruitfulness and commit ourselves to Him again. 


Reading 2.     1 Corinthians 1:3-9                   (Fellowship with Christ)    

Context – Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul started the Church at Corinth in 51 AD and stayed there only briefly to get things started. Five years after he left, he composed and sent this Letter to Corinth just prior to his second arrival there. Over those five years trouble arose in the Church including: internal divisions, immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and liturgical carelessness. His pastoral guidance aimed to restore peace and unity by fortifying their commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians takes aim throughout at two  vices that underlie the Corinthians’ struggles: pride and selfishness. His second letter to the Corinthians was written to prevent them from following prey to false prophets.
Today’s Reading – This reading points out that all the baptized, have been “called to fellowship.”  In other words, we are not in the Church by accident or by  mere coincidence.  Being baptized bestows not merely the status of “Christian.” Somehow and for some reason, God’s loving Will has moved us to associate within the Gospel community in some active and dynamic manner.  The church community is often called “fellowship” in the New Testament writings. It is very descriptive of the most practical effects the Gospel ought to have on the lives of each and every believing Christian: fraternal love and compassion.  We ought to live with and among other believing Christians in a sort of loving, engaging, challenging, and practical extended family.

Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in Him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. (God had blessed the Corinthians greatly with spiritual gifts. Note that Paul praised his readers for their gifts that they received but not their behavior – he did not praise them for how they were using these gifts.) He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by Him you were called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (God was faithful to the Corinthians. Now they needed to orient themselves properly toward Him.)


PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Gospel     Mark 13:33-37                               (On Guard)

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 –  We were not present at the First Coming of Jesus and have no idea when the Second Coming will take place. Our annual Advent season is not just about remembering the First Coming and looking forward to the Second Coming.  It also calls us to be alert and awake for present comings of Christ into our lives. Each of us has our own work to do – to discern God’s will for us and then carry it out to its fullness.  As we go about our work, we are to be watchful for the many ways Jesus may break into our lives. Our faithfulness to God, through the good times as well as the difficult times, shows us to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man.


Jesus said to His disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants (Bishops and Priests) in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper (the Pope) to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. ( The opposite of watchfulness is insensibility, lethargy, and inactivity, pictured here as sleep.) What I say to you, I say to all (us): ‘Watch!'”


PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.


Catechism 672 –  Before His Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all of us the definitive order of justice, love and peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.