1st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to not let our heart become hardened to God and others when our faith and trust are subjected to trials. Whether our relationship with God is good or bad, he always tries to speak to us, in our hearts, whether we listen or not. A hardened heart leads to unhappiness. The psalm quoted today refers to the sad episode at Meribah and Massah when the Israelites complained in the desert out of thirst and questioned Moses (Exodus 17:1-7), as well as when the Israelites balked at entering the Promised Land because they didn’t trust the Lord to help them settle it (Numbers 13:30–14:38). As a result they wandered the desert for forty years, and those who were adults, with a few exceptions, didn’t live to enter the Promised Land.

We can suffer thirst and anxiety and become frustrated and close our hearts to God and to others when we should really foster an acceptance that the Lord gives us moments of feast and of famine and invites us to believe in him and to trust in him. The Israelites would have enjoyed forty more years of the Promised Land if they’d trusted the Lord. Experiences only harden us if we let them. If Our Lord is ready to forgive, so should we, trusting in him that everything will work out.

It’s never too late in this life for a hardened heart to turn back to the Lord. A hardened heart is as spiritually repugnant as a leper is physically due to his malady, but Our Lord will reach out to touch both without hesitation, if they let him. Hear his voice today and harden not your heart.

Readings: Hebrews 3:7–14; Psalm 95:6–7c, 8–11; Mark 1:40–45. See also Friday after Epiphany and 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.


3rd Week of Advent, Thursday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord identifies John using the prophecy of Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). This prophecy epitomizes the season of Advent: today Our Lord tells his listeners that John is, in fact, the messenger who’d come to prepare the way for him. That makes him more than a prophet; he is the prophet who would prepare for the Messiah’s coming. John was conceived in Elizabeth’s womb only a few months before Our Lord was conceived in Mary’s. In the Feast of the Presentation we remember when the Lord came “suddenly” to his temple: a baby coming for circumcision. John’s mission began from the moment of conception, just as Our Lord’s did.

Today’s First Reading from Isaiah captures the joy of a new arrival due in the family. It’s time to make room. Yet Isaiah’s imagery doesn’t stop there: the arrival of a newborn is a sign of reconciliation in his family. Some estrangement between husband (the Lord) and wife (the People of Israel) has ended, and love has reunited them and born fruit in new children. Through Baptism we were reborn as sons and daughters of God, the fruit of the reconciliation between the Lord and his beloved People through the mediation of his Son.

Most of us don’t remember the day of our Baptism, but, like John and Our Lord, our mission as Christians began that day too. It’s no coincidence that the octave of Christmas ends on New Year’s Day: it’s never to late to renew our desire to understand the Lord’s will for our lives and take up the mission he has prepared for us.

Readings: Isaiah 54:1–10; Psalm 30:2, 4–6, 11–12a, 13b; Luke 7:12–30.


34th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

A recurring expression in St. John Paul II’s encyclicals is that of “structures of sin”: from people’s sins an entire commerce and social structure of sin is constructed that propagates more evil and sin. In describing Babylon fallen in today’s First Reading John is envisioning one day when sin and evil “go out of business.” Not only will the demand dry up, but the supply as well. Babylon becomes a desolate and deserted city that attracts no one and no longer provides “markets” for the vendors of iniquity. There’ll be no more trafficking of someone or something, and the glamour of evil, against which we promised to be the day of our baptism, will be revealed for what it is, degraded, demeaning, and worthless for the supplier as well as the consumer.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm, taken from the First Reading, is “Blessed are they who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” When the bishop or priest in Mass holds up the Eucharist he says these same words as we look upon Christ in the Eucharist, the Lamb who has ensured that one day evil will never menace us or tempt us again. We too should rejoice in the little victories over sin and evil today, but especially persevere in hope as we continue to wage the good fight.

Evil today may be glamorous, even fashionable, but in faith we’re not buying, confident that others will bankrupt the commerce of of sin as well.

Readings: Revelation 18:1–2, 21–23, 19:1–3, 9a; Psalm 100:1b–5; Luke 21:20–28. See also 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.

33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

The Lamb in today’s First Reading is the Risen Christ, and a vision of Heaven wouldn’t be complete without the Lamb who “seemed to have been slain,” yet lives. Even after Our Lord’s Resurrection he bears the wounds of the crucifixion. His “seven horns” and “seven eyes” symbolize the fullness of power (horns) and knowledge (eyes) that he possesses. He is also the Messiah: a descendant of David, who in turn was descended from the tribe of Judah. As lion, which we saw yesterday, he is the noblest of the tribe of Judah and of David’s line.

The scroll with seven seals is at the right hand of God to show its importance, and its seven seals show that it is totally hidden from all but God, which is why the Lamb is the only one who can open it: it is the Lord’s saving plan in its entirety, a plan that Our Lord alone was able to accomplish. For us God’s saving plan is always shrouded in mystery. John is grateful and we should be too: as today’s First Reading reminds us, Our Lord redeemed us with his blood, all of us, whether we accept it or not.

The elders bear the prayers of the saints as incense; those prayers are our prayers. A speck of incense is small, but it does reach God. Let’s pray not only in thanksgiving, but for our redemption and the redemption of the whole world. The Lamb’s blood has been shed for that purpose.

Readings: Revelation 5:1–10; Psalm 149:1b–6a, 9b; Luke 19:41–44. See also 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

Imagine if an employee of yours stole your property and skipped town, and the police brought him back with a letter from the Pope, personally addressed to you, saying that your employee had converted to Christianity in prison and encouraging you to welcome him into the family as a brother or son? That brings us a little closer to understanding the First Reading today. Paul met Onesimus, an escaped slave, in prison and helped him become Christian, then sent him back to his Christian owner with a letter of recommendation and an appeal for his freedom.

Paul already knew Onesimus’s owner, Philemon, and wanted Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not just as a free brother in Christ, but a freed brother. At the same time, Paul didn’t want to order him to do it; he wanted him to freely welcome back his slave as a member of the family. In Paul’s time slaves were the property of their owners, who had the power of life or death over them. The Romans were very harsh on escaped slaves. We’re not sure how this letter was received, but in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (4:9) he mentions Onesimus once again as a “faithful and beloved brother” to them, an encouraging sign that Philemon did the right thing in the end.

When someone wrongs us we can be very exacting in terms of expecting them to make amends for what they’ve done. We can “chain” them in our expectations of how they should treat us after mistreating us. Yet, for a Christian, the first question should not be, “how will you repay me,” but, rather, “are you sorry for what you have done?” If someone is truly sorry they’ll make restitution as best as they can, and, like Philemon, let’s not be a taskmaster about it, but a brother in Christ.

Readings: Philemon 7–20; Psalm 146:7–10; Luke 17:20–25. See also 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.