3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), Cycle A (2)

The Third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday because of the first word of the entrance antiphon. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice.” Advent represents all of salvation history leading up to the Incarnation of Our Lord, and sometimes we lose sight of the fact that, after the Fall, the world was a harsh and unforgiving spiritual desert for a long time due to sin. Now those who were faithful to the Lord are about to be rewarded, and that is a cause for rejoicing. A new life is about to bloom that will lead to a new life to bloom in all of us: the life of Christ.

Generations of prophets encouraged, harangued, explained, and warned God’s chosen people, and other than a faithful remnant the appeals on the Lord’s behalf fell on deaf ears. In today’s First Reading Isaiah paints the coming of the Lord in terms of relief and new life. Dried and arid land comes into full bloom. People withered by poor health are restored. Injustice and the pain injustice brings are addressed and lifted. He describes the joy of being ransomed from the slavery of sin to be able to return to the Temple on Mt. Zion rejoicing. Our Lord takes up these prophecies in today’s Gospel to encourage John during his imprisonment.

John described himself as a voice crying out in the desert; in today’s Second Reading Paul describes the prophets as suffering hardship and showing heroic patience, waiting for the fruits of their work to be seen. Paul also describes the patience of farmers and gardeners who plant, till, and prepare the soil, watching and hoping for rain to make the fruits of their work bloom. John’s in the dungeon this Sunday and he’s waiting for some sign of the “precious fruit of the earth” Paul describes. In Our Lord’s works John sees something starting to sprout, and Our Lord tells him through his disciples that there are signs of new life coming into bloom in order to help him persevere in faith and hope.

To understand the momentous revelation Our Lord makes today for his listeners we have to imagine what it was like to hear prophet after prophet promise, generation after generation, century after century that the Messiah was coming, only to have to keep waiting. Today Our Lord tells them, and us, that the wait is all but over: John the Baptist is the last prophet, the prophet who would come as a new Elijah right before the arrival of the Messiah. A promise made through the prophets for centuries is about to be fulfilled in Jesus. In Advent we celebrate that long wait ending, but also that events are about to take a dramatic turn for the better. When Our Lord describes John as least in the Kingdom of Heaven, he is telling us that if we considered John blessed to be a prophet with a special mission and relationship with God, we would be even more blessed if we believed in Our Lord and formed a part of his Kingdom, a Kingdom he’ll inaugurate with his incarnation and birth. Advent is a time to help us grow in joyful expectation and hope. Let’s ask Our Lord for a great faith that his promises will be fulfilled in our lives if we believe in him. Let’s ask for his blessings as we prepare for Christmas.

In today’s Gospel we see a glimpse of when the Advent and Christmas party is over. John the Baptist has dedicated himself to his mission of prophet to the Messiah, and now he’s in a dungeon for it at the whims of a cruel tyrant whose “wife” wants him dead. He also knows that prophets usually don’t live to a ripe old age, so the doubt comes: was it worth it? Is Jesus really the one? John’s disciples are bringing him news, but it’s no surprise that in the gloom of a dungeon your outlook can get equally gloomy. His decision shows great humility: imagine sending your own disciples to ask whether you’ve been prophesying the right thing all along. It also shows faith: he asks Jesus with simplicity whether he is the one or not and doesn’t demand proof. How many Advent and Christmas seasons have you lived? If a fresh hope in the coming Savior has given way to a gloomy routine of another holiday season that will come and go too quickly, now is the time to ask Our Lord to remind you of all the miracles he has worked in your life in order to re-fortify your hope. Don’t be shy about asking him.

Readings: Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; Psalm 146:6–10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11. See also 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), Cycle A, 2nd Week of Advent, Thursday and 3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday.

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

We have almost reached the half-way point to Calvary. The forty days of Lent remind us of the forty days in the desert. We’ve spent a few weeks in the desert, living our Lenten resolutions, and maybe our stomachs, or spirits, are starting to grumble for those things we’ve left behind for these forty days. How are our Lenten resolutions holding up? The Lenten resolutions are how we enter the desert. If you haven’t giving anything up for Lent yet, it’s not too late, but once in the desert, you must stay the course to reach the Promised Land.

As today’s First Reading reminds us, God is never indifferent to our struggles. When Moses asks God how he should identify him to the Israelites, suffering under bondage in Egypt, God tells them, “tell them I AM has sent you.” God is always there. He doesn’t just stop with that: he reminds them he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to remind them that he is always faithful to his promises. He promised Abraham land and countless descendants if he had faith. Isaac was the fulfillment of that promise, and then Jacob became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite this, when Pharaoh let Moses lead Israel out into the desert, they had forty years of wandering before they entered the Promised Land—and many never made it.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that all the Israelites in the Exodus received the same gifts from God, but many didn’t stay the course out of evil desires. Their forty years in the desert were due to a lack of trust in God. The Lord had taken them straight to the Promised Land, but they were too scared to enter. They put their trust in food and water (and God sent them dew and manna, and quail to eat), ceremonies (trying to set up worship apart from Moses), authority and rumor mongering (asking why Moses should be the only one to speak on their behalf) – and they perished. Our Lord doesn’t mince words in today’s Gospel about how we can stay the course in the desert. We’re guilty many times of the same thing as the Israelites. We don’t understand that the desert is a place for God to purify the hearts of those he loves, away from distractions. There are far fewer distractions in the desert, but the rumbling of our stomachs is also louder, teaching us what we’re truly hungering.

Today’s Gospel shows the Jews in a drought of hope. Pilate has slaughtered a group of Galileans as they were offering worship. The Jews ask Jesus why. Why would God allow such as thing? Jesus adds an accident to the list of doubts: eighteen dead in a tower collapse in Siloam. Our Lord’s words are far from comforting: his listeners are in the same danger, and so are we. Staying the course doesn’t mean not taking risks or making sacrifices (that wouldn’t have saved the Galileans), nor does it mean getting lucky (that wouldn’t have saved the people crushed in Siloam); staying the course means putting your trust in God and showing it.

We show our trust by bearing fruit. Fruit? In a desert? We are in a desert, and God wants us to bear fruit. We bear fruit by trusting in God’s patience with us (in the parable he gives the fig tree four chances to get its act together), and, as Jesus tells us, by repentance. Lent is about repentance, not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. The Church teaches us three ways to prepare fertile and fruitful soil: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

Penance prepares the soil, but the sacraments are how we draw close to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus waters the soil with his own blood so that we can bear fruit. The Eucharist gives us strength for the journey, and the sacrament of Reconciliation puts us back on our feet and turns us back in the right direction. The fruits of the Spirit will come, as Scripture reminds us: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. By repentance and the sacraments we gain the strength to bear these fruits. Otherwise, we’ll lose our bearings and never get out of the desert.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul gives a good piece of advice to those who are spiritually presumptuous: “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Life is an exodus and a desert. Through Baptism we’ve left the slavery of sin (Egypt) behind, and the world may materially present itself as a potential oasis, but in faith we know everything in it is fleeting compared to the Promised Land of Heaven. Are you taking a direction in your life that is headed toward Heaven or are you content with wandering around in the desert? The Lord will lead you to the Promised Land if you let him.

Readings: Exodus 3:1–8a, 13–15; Psalm 103:1–4, 6–8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1–6, 10–12; Luke 13:1–9. See also 3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C and 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

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.

3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

The Gospel today makes us ask ourselves one key question, an important question in the Easter Season: how would you react if Jesus appeared to you?

Would you recognize him? In the First Reading Saint Peter tells the Jews that they didn’t recognize the author of life, their redeemer, and handed him over to suffer and die. He also said that it didn’t matter, if their hearts were open, now that they knew. God was ready to forgive them for their ignorance, and the way to receive that forgiveness was by receiving Baptism to wipe away their sins.

Does the thought of meeting with him at the end of your life fill you with fear? In the Second Reading Saint John reminds us that we have Our Lord as our Advocate to stand up for us, and that Our Lord makes expiation for the sins of the whole world. Our sins and the price of them is what fills us with fear, but Jesus has wiped away those sins, if we open our hearts to him. To recognize Jesus when we meet him is one thing, to know him is another. We have acquaintances in our life, and we have friends. Saint John tells us how we truly know God: by keeping his commandments. Jesus at the Last Supper gives the greatest commandment, the commandment that shows we are his friends: to love one another as he has loved us. Saint John also reminds us that whoever keeps God’s word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

Would you be afraid of him, whenever he appeared? For the disciples in the Gospel today, the first thought that came to their minds was, “a Ghost!” We could have that same reaction: Jesus as someone from the past, someone dead, coming back to haunt us for what we’ve done to him. However, he tells them, and he tells us, “Peace Be With You,” and shows the wounds in his hands and feet to show that his suffering wasn’t just a dream, it really happened, and, in spite of that, he wants peace with us (see John 20:19-21).

As Christians we know that his next coming will be in glory to the whole world. We also know that we’ll see him face to face one day, each of us, when we die. However, he does “appear” to me, even now. He appears whenever I follow my conscience, love, and don’t sin. He appears to me in the Eucharist every time I come to Mass and receive him in Holy Communion. He appears to me every time I go to the sacrament of Reconciliation and tell him I’m sorry for sinning and for not loving him as I should. In these encounters with Our Lord we prepare for that big encounter one day when we’ll see him just as he appeared to the apostles in today’s Gospel, and we’ll be filled with joy, not fear.

Jesus comes to us in the sacraments and gives us a chance to recognize him, to know him, and to re-establish our friendship with him again whenever we stumble or fall. Whenever we come to Mass, the first thing we do is the Penitential Rite, and when we encounter Our Lord by receiving the Eucharist, he keeps us from falling when we stumble, and makes sure we stay on our feet. Every time we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whether we are stumbling, flat on the ground, even spiritually dead inside, he comes to us and pulls us back on our feet. We have to help him do that by opening our hearts, by loving him and helping him, by being sorry for what we’ve done, otherwise it’s like he’s trying to lift us up, and we’re trying to pull him down onto the ground, or we just don’t want to get up.

Readings: Acts 3:13–15, 17–19; Psalm 4:2, 4, 7–9; 1 John 2:1–5a; Luke 24:35–48.