Visitation of Mary

Our Blessed Mother in Luke’s Gospel has just accepted the invitation to become the Mother of God. What does she do? She doesn’t go to Disneyland, worry about her health, or start shopping for a royal dress. She thinks of her cousin Elizabeth and hurries to help her. That’s Our Mother then and now. With the Feast of the Visitation we conclude “mother’s month”: the Church expresses her love and devotion to Mary, singing her praises through May, like Elizabeth, while Mary sings the praises of the Lord to us and hurries to help us, not thinking of herself.

Today’s First Reading describes the joy she will have at the coming of Our Lord. Israel’s misfortune has been reversed with his arrival, even though the majority of Israel doesn’t know it yet. The Lord and Giver of Life inspires her to sing the Magnificat and praise the Lord for the wonders he has put into motion through her fiat. Mary has brought us the greatest cause for Elizabeth’s joy, John’s joy, and our joy: her Son, the Son of God. Together we bask in the glow of our salvation.

Let’s thank Our Lady for her motherly closeness during this May that is concluding, and let’s ask her, as we enter into June, a month especially dedicated to her Son’s Sacred Heart, to help us draw closer to him as well.

Readings: Zephaniah 3:14–18a; Isaiah 12:2–3; Luke 1:39–56.

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9th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Peter, in the introduction to his second letter, expresses the desire that every Christian receive peace and abundance through knowledge of the Lord. He also traces out how this will happen; it is a process of faith leading to virtue, knowledge, and love. Unlike the chief priests, scribes and elders, chastised by Our Lord through the Parable of the Vineyard in today’s Gospel, believers know that through this process they are transformed into something greater than they were before, but only through grace and effort. Through Baptism and a holy life a believer gradually shares more and more in divine life, and that divine life transforms him and introduces him into a world greater than he could have ever envisioned.

This process helps us to see beyond ourselves and our world to something greater, and to understand our place within the greater scheme of things. The tenants in today’s parable tried to turn a leasing arrangement into their world, and convinced themselves that they were its owners. Wine throughout the Bible symbolizes joy; the tenants were invited and expected to help that joy be cultivated and spread, but instead they focused on using it for their own profit. Instead of the path traced out by Peter today–“faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love”–their bad faith leads them down the path of ignorance, selfishness, and hate and, as a result, the little world they’d carved out for themselves would be taken away from them.

Our Lord has promised us a greater world, a greater life. Let’s ask him, in faith, to give us the knowledge and the grace we need to start this process that leads to beautiful promises being fulfilled for ourselves and for others.

Readings: 2 Peter 1:2–7; Psalm 91:1–16; Mark 12:1–12. See also 2nd Week of Lent, Friday and 9th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I.

Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Cycle C

The First Reading today shows us a foreshadowing of the gift we are celebrating today. Abram, who we know today as Abraham, our father in faith, had just rescued his nephew Lot from kings who had raided where he was living and captured him. Melchizedek was a mysterious figure in the Old Testament: he almost came out of nowhere to bless Abram for the rescue, and Abram paid a special tribute to Melchizedek for the blessing. A priest brings forth bread and wine and a blessing, and Abram gives him a tribute…Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of anything you do on Sundays? I’m not referring to the collection plate.

In the letter to the Hebrews we see the connection between Melchizedek and Christ: Christ is that priest who brings bread and wine, but above all a blessing, a transforming one or, as the theologians say and some zealous catechists, a transubstantiating one: through Christ’s blessing that bread and wine become him: his body and blood, soul and divinity: the Eucharist.

In Abram’s case this blessing was not just for him, but for his descendants, and in the Second Reading today, Paul tells the Corinthians that he is just a bearer of the blessing too. Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” and then he recalls the words priests says every time Mass is celebrated over the bread and wine so that they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of Jesus until he comes, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and, as we pray in Mass, until he comes in glory. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a sacrifice. We offer up the sacrifice of the Son of God.

We proclaim Jesus’ death by Holy Communion because we are eating the sacrifice. Christ is not just the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, as we prayed in the Psalm today: he is the sacrifice as well. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews explains why with Christ’s sacrifice of himself the Old Testament priesthood is no longer needed. Christ is carrying out the real priesthood in Heaven: “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26).

How does that priesthood and sacrifice reach us? Every Mass, every Holy Communion. Every time we celebrated the Eucharist we present to God the sacrifice of his Son. Christ’s priesthood is made present through his priest, and the priest is the instrument Jesus uses to make bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood offered in sacrifice for the whole world. We partake of that sacrifice for our world: my life, my family, my friends.

Jesus has given us our priest, his blessing, the bread and wine, our very selves, created by God, redeemed by God in Christ. Most importantly, he has given us his very self, under the appearance of bread and wine. What can we give him in return? Every Mass we bring up the gifts, gifts that God has given us, a blessing is said over them, and a few moments later, those gifts through the priest’s words and God’s power become God himself.

Jesus in the Gospel today teaches us to bring everything to Him for His blessing:

  1. Our sicknesses, spiritual and physical, so he can bless us with healing, spiritual or physical, as he sees best for our souls.
  2. Our doubts and questions, so that he can teach us about the Kingdom of God.
  3. Our problems–so many people, so late, so little food, what do we do?’–so that he can suggest a solution.
  4. Our contribution and effort, big or small, toward solving that problem, even if it seems against all odds: a few loaves and fish, a lot of needy people, so that he can bless our efforts and make them fruitful. Our time, talent, and treasure.
  5. Our thanks for his blessings: twelve wicker baskets full of them.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that he never intended for us to go it alone. When he ascended into Heaven, he promised he would be with is until the end of the age. He remains with us through the Eucharist. He didn’t tell the disciples, “send them off, tell them to read a book, go see a doctor, apologize that the catering was not arranged.” They came to Christ and received a blessing that transformed them and others. If you don’t see the blessings in your life, ask Jesus to show you. He is in every tabernacle so that you can approach him and ask him for guidance, healing, strength, direction. He comes into your heart every time you receive Holy Communion worthily.

He may ask something of you that makes no sense, that is hard to understand, that seems too much for your strength, beyond your means, but he will bless it. He will transform it into twelve wicker baskets full of blessings. They may not be the blessings you expected—the disciples didn’t expect at the end of the day that they would have twelve baskets full of food and thousands of people fed—but Jesus will help you to count your blessings. Let’s offer Jesus our whole life so that he can bless it and transform it.

Readings: Genesis 14:18–20; Psalm 110:1–4; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 9:11b–17. See also Solemnity of Corpus Christi17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B2nd Week of Easter, Friday1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, and Tuesday after Epiphany.

8th Week of Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In the doxology, a prayer of praise at the end of today’s First Reading, Jude describes the Lord as the one who is “able to keep you from stumbling.” It evokes the image of a loving father staying close to his toddler trying to take his first steps. The father remains close, and steps in when needed to avoid a tumble. Jude encourages us to keep in mind that the Lord is always close, ready to help us get our footing should we start to totter.

Paul teaches that whoever thinks he is standing secure should take heed, lest he fall (see 1 Corinthians 10:12). Before the doxology Jude shows how important it is for us to help others who waver, helping them regain their footing or saving them from falling. We’ve all wavered or stumbled at some point of our lives, and the Lord has taken us by the hand in his mercy and guided us back onto our feet. We’re expected to do the same as well when our footing is sure. We don’t rely on our own footing, but on the Lord who, like a loving father, stands at the ready to help keep us from tottering.

Let’s ask Our Lord today for the grace to stand firm by abiding in him and to help others stand firm as well.

Readings: Jude 17, 20b–25; Psalm 63:2–6; Mark 11:27–33. See also 3rd Week of Advent, Monday and 8th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I.

8th Week of Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

Peter in today’s First Reading invites us to consider how we would live if we knew the world was ending soon. With the coming of Christ, as many of the writers of Sacred Scripture attest, we’re in the last days, and age of fulfillment when he comes again. We await the Lord’s return in glory and a fundamental change in things for the better. If we are prepared and vigilant we will rejoice in that better world. Some people prepare for the end of the world as survivalists, digging in, closing themselves off, prepared to eke out an existence in a world that they foresee as even less forgiving than the world in which they live. Others simply follow the daily routine, hoping to not make waves or be caught up in anyone else’s. Some prefer to burn out rather than fade away, in Spirit of Mardi Gras debauchery before oblivion.

Peter invites us today to not face that thought with paranoia, denial, or superficiality, but with dedication and service. We don’t know the day or the hour, so it is as much as question of attitude as it is one of preparation. It will not be easy; there will be trials, and we will feel tested, but the results will make it all worthwhile. Christians live striving to outdo one another in charity and service, identifying and using the unique gifts God has given them to help edify their brothers and sisters, knowing that helps pave the way to the better world inaugurated by Christ.

Let’s ask the Lord today to help leave the old world of sin and futility behind us, and strain toward the new world of justice and love that will continue to unfold with the help of our dedication and service.

Readings: 1 Peter 4:7–13; Psalm 96:10–13; Mark 11:11–26. See also 8th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I.