3rd Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds the Christians who formerly participated in Jewish worship at the Temple, before embracing Christianity, that the old sacrifices of animals offered by those priests did not have the power to take away sins, and now Our Lord, the High Priest of a new covenant, offers the perfect sacrifice, once and for all, of himself. His sacrifice takes away the sins of the whole world. Our Lord sacrificed himself on the Cross and, upon ascending into Heaven after the Resurrection, took this sacrifice, himself, to the Father and now at the Father’s right hand continues to intercede for us before the Father as priest and sacrifice.

Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we offer the same sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice, but in an unbloody manner. Our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and now, sacramentally, we offer his Body and Blood to the Father for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. However, we do not just offer it for sins; we offer it in thanksgiving, we offer it for our needs, we offer it for the needs of the whole world as a priestly people. Like our High Priest, Jesus, we too can offer our day-to-day sacrifices, united with his perfect sacrifice, for the good of the whole world.

Sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake does not appeal to anyone. Our Lord teaches us that our sacrifices can benefit not only ourselves, but those we love. Let’s not shy away from sacrifice for the sake of others.

Readings: Hebrews 10:11–18; Psalm 110:1–4; Mark 4:1–20. See also 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II and 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us of the importance of the Word of God in our lives and of those who help us to understand it. Our Lord never meant us to try following his Word without help.

In today’s First Reading, the priest Ezra, as part of a liturgical assembly in honor of the dedication of the newly rebuilt Temple in Israel, reads the law for hours to the people in order to help them to renew the covenant and understand how to live it. It was probably the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Israelites found their identity in the words of the Law, just as we find it in the Sacred Scripture today, especially in the Gospel. In embracing the Gospel we haven’t discarded the Old Testament: God’s Word endures throughout history to guide us and to shape our identity, then in the life of Israel, now in the life of the People of God. The New Testament helps us to understand the Old Testament more deeply. Just as in Ezra’s time, we don’t understand Sacred Scripture just as individuals. We gather to hear and be helped in understanding the Word of God by our sacred ministers: bishops, priests, and deacons.

In today’s Second Reading Paul, envisioning the Church as one great body composed of many members with different functions, strengths, and weaknesses, notes that the Church has certain members of the body that help understand the Word of God. As the Church we are one body in Christ: through Baptism we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. It was one Spirit that moved us to believe in Jesus and seek Baptism—the Holy Spirit—and that same Spirit sustains the unity of the Body, like a soul.

We became a part of this Body after we not only heard the Word of God, eliciting the faith in our souls, but put our love, faith, and trust in the Word—Jesus—completely, through Baptism, making our lives Christian in a way we never could alone. Although we are one Body and have one Spirit in Christ, we don’t all have the same role within the Body, just as the head, the toe, the heart don’t have the same role in a human body. Thanks to the apostles, the prophets, and the teachers we’re always sure to understand and live the Word of God as he has been communicated to us. The apostles and prophets may now be in Heaven, but their words continue to transmit God’s Word to us.

In today’s Gospel Luke explains to Theophilus that he sought to check and compile all concerning Jesus that had been written or handed down by other “ministers of the word.” Our Lord too in today’s Gospel reads from the prophets, but presents something new, something that represents his Incarnation and mission and sheds light on all the Word of God. He has come to fulfill everything promised through the prophets, and to give meaning to the history of salvation lived until that moment. What we call the Bible today was passed along through oral and written traditions, compiled into books at various moments of salvation history, and the Church, aided by the Holy Spirit, established as the canon (rule) of Scripture those books we read and meditate on today. Without God’s Word we’d soon lose our identity and our way in a world plagued by ignorance, confusion, and evil. Sacred Scripture continues to ensure that we have access to the Word of God, spoken through all of salvation history, and remain united in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Just like Ezra, Paul, and Jesus himself, the Lord blesses us with people who conserve and interpret what God has said to us throughout salvation history.

While sacred ministers help us know the authentic interpretation of the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, they don’t have a monopoly on learning Sacred Scripture. There are many good commentaries on Sacred Scripture to help us understand the Word of God more deeply and put it into practice: The Navarre Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, and Catholic Study Bible are just a few examples. Reading a little of the Word of God daily is important, but seeking a little help in understanding it will help you meditate on it even more fruitfully.

Readings: Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10; Psalm 19:8–10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21. See also 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s Gospel, taken from John, recalls the first of Our Lord’s signs that show his glory, signs of a new Spirit that wants to transform us and help us to transform others into what truly gives glory to the Lord: our holiness.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us the Word of God continues to resound for our sake throughout history, taking us, spread among the nations of this world, and making us a crown for his glory as his Bride, the Church. The Word of God, Jesus as we know him today, will not keep silent so long as there is any risk of unjust loss or condemnation. Even on the day of Judgment his Word will praise us or condemn us, a point John makes in his Gospel (cf. John 12:48ff.).

Isaiah describes this vindication and victory using nuptial symbolism. Nuptial symbolism is very strong in the mind of Israel as the way to understand the joy her salvation will bring. For Isaiah, any checkered past of Israel, any past disgrace will be swept away by the Lord not only wedding himself to her by way of concession, but with the delight of a young couple in love. That wedding is definitively consummated between him and the Church, with the wedding banquet awaiting us in Heaven. In today’s Gospel John’s account of the Wedding Feast of Cana has this nuptial symbolism in mind. He’s recalling a wedding feast, but he is also recalling that the Heavenly Groom, Jesus, is preparing to wed his Spouse, the Church.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that when we welcome the Word of God into our lives we also invite the Spirit to fill us with gifts for our spiritual edification and the spiritual edification of others, the path to glory. The Word does not just educate us by sharing saving and joyful truth: even as the Word takes root in our hearts his Spirit fills us with gifts as well.

Grace itself is a gift, and common to many, but Paul reminds us today that the Holy Spirit also gives specific gifts to specific people: it can be a spiritual gift to educate, to heal, or to counsel; it can be a vocation to the priesthood, to the consecrated life; it can be to form part of an ecclesial movement or other association of faithful, etc. The Holy Spirit heals, educates, counsels, and sanctifies, but also gives those gifts for the healing, sanctification, etc. of others. The Holy Spirit has a plan for those gifts, so it is being attentive to the Spirit that enables us to use those gifts and help the Spirit’s sanctifying and edifying work.

What starts in today’s Gospel with Our Lord attending a wedding banquet turns into a sign that the Lord’s courtship with Israel, foretold in today’s First Reading, has begun in earnest. The transformation of the water into wine is the first sign Our Lord performs in John’s Gospel. John doesn’t speak of miracles as much as he speaks of signs: each sign is an opportunity for Israel to put her faith in the Lord. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ time were prolonged affairs with abundant wine to represent the joy of the wedding and the future joy of when the Lord would be wed to his spouse Israel.

When it seems today that the joy is going to prematurely run out, Our Lord through transforming the water into wine not only extends the joy but makes it an even greater joy. All the things we enjoy in life that are good and holy for us will experience a similar transformation. The huge jars of water represent penance, conversion, purification, and baptism, everything that shows our contrition for our checkered past and our desire to change. Our Lord takes that penance and purification and converts it into pure joy, just as he turns the water into fine wine. Our Lord envisions his relationship with us, whether as Church or as individuals, as one of intimate and joyful love. If we want to be captivated and purified by him and achieve a greater joy, let’s follow the Blessed Mother’s advice today to do whatever he tells us.

Mary today shows great considerateness toward the young couple about to be embarrassed before all their family and friends, but also toward the seriousness and importance of her son’s mission. She doesn’t ask him so much as mention that there’s a pending need. She could have just ordered told him to do it, backed up by the Ten Commandments (honor thy mother). Our Lord’s enigmatic reply to his mother is going to be the subject of discussion until the Second Coming, but Mary keeps it simple, telling the waiters, “do whatever he tells you.” She leaves it in her son’s hands, just as we, when we need something, should just mention the need to him and trust him to do what’s best, like his mother. Let’s learn from Mary how to ask for what we need.

Readings: Isaiah 62:1–5; Psalm 96:1–3, 7–10; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; John 2:1–11. See also 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

Image result for wedding feast at cana

Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmas season, and that may make you ask yourself why we would celebrate it, especially when Christmas “ended” a while ago. In today’s readings God himself celebrates what is taking place in the Gospel: John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the river Jordan.

In today’s First Reading the Lord speaks of Jesus as his servant who is about to begin something wonderful: his public life. He’s going to bring justice to the world, be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners, and God is keeping his promise through Jesus’ mission on earth. In short, God is sending out the Savior today to get to work. During Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Savior. On today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, we’re celebrating him finishing his silent years in Nazareth and going out to preach salvation to the world.

In today’s Second Reading Peter rejoices that salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone who respects God and acts uprightly. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan he institutes a new kind of baptism. John talks about that baptism in the Gospel today as different from his: it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter is speaking to Cornelius, who was the first non-Jew to be baptized in Church history. The Jews thought originally that the Savior would only come for the Jews, but then the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and the Church through Cornelius’ situation that the Savior was coming for every nation that “fears God” (respects God) and “acts uprightly” (acts in a good way). The Holy Spirit always works gradually. Cornelius had heard about Jesus and his promise of salvation and had been praying for a sign. Peter was praying too, and they didn’t know each other at all. An angel came to Cornelius and told him to send men to find and bring Peter. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, and since he wasn’t a Jew, Peter wouldn’t have visited him unless the Holy Spirit had said it was okay in a dream, because Jews didn’t enter the homes of non-Jews.

As Peter in today’s Second Reading rejoices that the Savior has come for everyone, he recalls Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, recalled in today’s Gospel, as the beginning of doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil. Our Lord’s public ministry began with his baptism in the Jordan, so we celebrate today with God, with Peter, with Cornelius, and with everyone who has become Christian since through the waters of baptism. We celebrate that Jesus began to go out and do good, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and free those who are imprisoned by sin. We also celebrate baptism today. Church Fathers and Doctors have said Our Lord sanctified the waters for baptism even as he took the plunge into the waters of the Jordan to receive John’s. In remembering Our Lord’s baptism we remember our own with gratitude.

In today’s Gospel the Father says Jesus is his beloved son and he is well pleased with him. When you received baptism Our Lord was pleased with you too. For many of us that was a long time ago. It begs the question: am I still pleasing the Lord? We seek approval from those we love, and who loves us more than Our Lord? Make an extra effort this week to live in a way that is pleasing to Our Lord. That’s the best way to show your appreciation for the gift of baptism.

Readings: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Psalm 29:1–4, 9–10; Acts 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22. See also The Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C (1st Sunday in Ordinary Time).

Saturday after Epiphany

Today’s Gospel is an apt conclusion to the Christmas Season, since it’s always the last Gospel before Ordinary Time resumes with the Baptism of the Lord. John’s disciples are concerned that Jesus’ ministry is gaining more traction than his, and John reminds them that he was always called to pave the way for the Christ, not to be his competition. John is happy to “decrease,” even to martyrdom, so that Our Lord may increase. During Advent the readings focused many times on John the Baptist; with the Baptism of the Lord tomorrow we see John’s work concluding and him “passing the baton” to Our Lord.

As believers we are all called to pave the way for Our Lord to come into the lives of others. As the First Reading reminds us today, we have a spiritual responsibility to them, to pray for them to receive the gift of conversion and turn away from sin to embrace Our Lord. Even today, as John warned in today’s First Reading, there are idols that try to take the place of Our Lord, and the Evil One is happy to let us stumble into idolatry out of ignorance, putting money, power, or pleasure in first place. Our Lord has come into the world to show us who we should truly follow: him. John knew, and we know too.

Let”s examine ourselves on this last day of the Christmas season and see whether we’re putting anything before Our Lord. If we put him first, others will see the importance of putting him first too.

Readings: 1 John 5:14–21; Psalm 149:1–5, 6a, 9b; John 3:22–30.