Study Guide for December 6, The Second Sunday of Advent

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Dec. 6 (usccb.org).

Sample Commentary on Mark 1:1-8

By gospel Mark isn’t referring to the book he wrote but to the good news that salvation has come through Jesus. The story of this good news begins with John the Baptist, but it continues with us. The story will end when Christ returns in glory.

Click here to download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage for Dec. 6.

Reflection for November 22, The Solemnity of Christ the King

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another…

“He’s saying I gave him food. I run a soup kitchen, and I know I’ve never seen this guy before.”
“Me, neither. Hey, Liz, you coordinate that clean water project. Do you recognize him?”
“Nope.”
“I’ve been working with refugees for years, and I’ve never met him.”
“I think that’s Jesus.”
“Who?”
“You know, that guy Christians believe in.”
“Uh-oh. I heard he only saves people who believe in him. Are we being condemned?”
“I don’t know how it works; my parents were atheists. If this is some kind of last judgment, I hope he saves the people I work with. They’ve got serious mental health issues. They’ve been through enough. I’ll even learn to pray, if that’s what it takes.”
“Yeah, I’m with you. I work with inmates. Some of them have been in prison for years because they did stuff they totally regret or got caught up in bad situations. They’ve been through hell. Let them go be with Jesus. I’ll stay behind, if that’s what it takes.”
“I thought Jesus was Jewish.”
“Well, whoever he is, he just said we’ve inherited a kingdom.”
“What kingdom?”
“Beats me.”
“I don’t need a kingdom. I need that grant money to come through. The number of homeless people in our shelter is really going up.”
“Now he’s saying something to that other group. They look as confused as we are.”
“If his kingdom is more equitably funded, then I’m ok being confused.”
“I’m wary of this ‘kingdom’ stuff. Sounds totalitarian. I mean, look at that throne.”
“I think it’s symbolic.”
“This guy let himself get crucified, didn’t he? How totalitarian can he be?”
“Yeah, I don’t think rigid control is how Jesus operates. From the little I heard about his kingdom, nobody in it goes hungry or thirsty or whatever.”
“Wouldn’t that be refreshing.”
“Wasn’t he the one who said, ‘The last shall be first?’”
“Oh, wow, that would be awesome!”
“How does he manage to keep everyone from being hungry and thirsty?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’d love to find out.”

Then he will say to those on his left…

“Who is this guy?”
“He’s talking about poor people. I don’t know any poor people.”
“He doesn’t look poor to me.”
“Why would I help poor people? I figure if you’re poor, you deserve it. Get off your butt and work already! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that’s what I say.”“Prisoners! I don’t go to prisons! Bad people are in prisons.”
“Now he’s talking about naked people!”
“Maybe he means nudists, hah!”
“Why would I help a naked person? If I saw a naked person, I’d call the cops!”
“What’d he say about strangers? I don’t open my door to strangers! That’s dangerous!”
“Is he an immigrant or something? An illegal? His skin looks kind of dark.”
“Maybe he tans.”
“I don’t think so. I think that’s Jesus.”
“I’ve heard about him. He’s the guy people say rose from the dead, right? How do you know it’s him?”
“I’m guessing because of the throne and all those angels.”
“Well, dang! If I’d known it was him, I’d totally have helped! Look how important he is!”
“You wouldn’t have helped him! Not if he was hanging out at soup kitchens and homeless shelters and prisons.”
“Yeah, you’re right. What a weirdo.”
“I’d’ve called the cops.”
“You know, I recognize some of the people in that other group. They’re nice enough, but they’re such softies. People got to make their own way in the world is what I tried to tell them. You can’t let people take advantage of you, no matter how sad the stories you hear.”
“Every man for himself, that’s what I say.”
“There’s the God’s-honest truth!”
“I tried to tell them that, but they just wouldn’t listen. It’s too late now, I guess.”
“Yep, it’s too late.”

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 22 (usccb.org).

Here’s a link to my Study Guide for Nov. 22.

Study Guide for November 29, The First Sunday of Advent

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 29 (usccb.org).

Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Many of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their intelligence and spiritual gifts (vv.5-7). Some of them were so proud, however, that they thought they had nothing more to learn and no more ways to grow in their relationship with Christ. As a result, they said and did things that distorted the gospel and divided the community. Later in his letter Paul insists that these Christians are a long way from spiritual maturity.

Click here to download discussion questions and commentaries on the Second Reading and the Gospel passage for Nov. 29.

Reflection for November 15, The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

During the recent election voters in five states approved the legalization of marijuana. Voters in Oregon decriminalized drug use altogether in an attempt to shift the response from punishment to treatment. In Washington, D.C., voters legalized the use of psychedelic mushrooms. Perhaps voters were eager to approve these measures after a bitter election cycle, an alarming resurgence of Covid-19 cases, persisting racial inequities, ongoing climate change, environmental degradation, and so on. Given all the stress people are under, I get why more people might want to light up legally.

St. Paul might have been horrified by such trends, for as we hear today he exhorts the Thessalonians to “stay alert and sober.” He would recognize, however, that the disasters confronting us have not come upon us suddenly, “like a thief in the night.” The crises we are facing have been headed our way for days and weeks, even decades and centuries, and they will take a long time to resolve and will have lasting repercussions. Sometimes we’ve got to take a break from the challenges that confront us for the sake of our mental and physical health. There have definitely been moments I set my work aside in order to eat well-buttered popcorn and watch amusing animal videos. I think St. Paul would sympathize.

In that same letter to the Thessalonians St. Paul also distinguishes between those who have embraced the way of Christ and those who have not. He assures the “children of light” that the day of the Lord is not something they should fear because it will not be painful for them. This distinction doesn’t apply to our situation, however, because the crises we’re facing are proving disastrous for all of us regardless of what we believe. The distinction in our case is instead between those who strive to mitigate the crises from those who ignore or even exacerbate them. When the day of the Lord comes and the master settles accounts with us, my hope and prayer is that he will overlook the butter on my fingertips and commend my efforts to withstand darkness and prevent disaster.

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 15 (usccb.org).

Here’s a link to my Study Guide for Nov. 15.

Study Guide for November 22, The Solemnity of Christ the King

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 22 (usccb.org).

Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

This passage is part of Paul’s response to Christians who claim that there isn’t a bodily resurrection. After explaining why they’re wrong, Paul goes on to say that Jesus’ resurrection is a promise to all believers that God will also raise them, body and soul, from the dead.

Click here to download discussion questions and commentaries on the Second Reading and the Gospel passage for Nov. 22.

Reflection for November 8, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lately when I read a news item or spot a catchy claim that reinforces one of my beliefs I feel like I’m playing a game of “Gotcha!” I’m constantly stopping to ask myself, “Is that accurate?” I look at the source. I check other sources that I know are credible. I ask myself if the information has been taken out of context or if more complete information is missing or was deliberately excluded. All the time I wonder if my own bias is interfering with my critical appraisal of the material. I wonder if I’m being fooled.

There are times I have been fooled, times I look back with embarrassment at how wrong I was in my assessment of a story or event or a person or group. Such moments compel me to think more rigorously in the future. Such moments also remind me that no matter how vigorously I strive to be thorough and impartial in my judgments, I won’t always get it right. I will continue to misjudge people or assume something or overlook a vital fact or trust a potentially flawed source. And so my search for wisdom continues.

Lady Wisdom is eager to guide me “because she makes her own rounds,” as we hear in our first reading. And yet too often I hesitate to go out to meet her. She will broaden my perspective. She will reveal things about our world and about myself that will undermine beliefs I have held for possibly my entire life. As I converse with her, she will gently point out ways in which I have unwittingly or even willfully promoted evil. She will humble me. Such discovery and change is unsettling, even frightening, but if I don’t go out to meet the wisdom that is “sitting by my gate,” I might find myself forever locked out of the eternal feast she has prepared.

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 8 (usccb.org).

Here’s a link to my Study Guide for Nov. 8.

Study Guide for November 15

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 15 (usccb.org).

Sample Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Rather than get worked up about when Christ will return, Paul urges the Thessalonians to reflect on the moral implications of that belief. Until Christ returns to drive sin out of every corner of creation, his followers must work to drive sin out of their own lives.

Click here to download discussion questions and commentaries on the Second Reading and the Gospel passage for Nov. 15.

Reflection for November 1, The Solemnity of All Saints

Nowadays it might seem harder than ever to be holy. Covid-19 cases are surging. People are struggling to pay their bills. Rates of depression and anxiety are increasing. Domestic violence is increasing in frequency and severity, as is child abuse. The quality and availability of education is declining. Authoritarian regimes are using the pandemic as cover for tightening their grip on power and further curtailing human rights. And in the U.S. we nervously await the results and aftermath of a bitter election. Given all that’s happening, many of us are struggling simply to get through the day. Growing in holiness might be the last thing on our minds.

At the start of this bleak November we celebrate our saints. We remember the thousands of people from different times and places who sought holiness despite the challenges that confronted them, challenges that included abandonment by family, broken friendships, chronic pain, the suspicion of Church authorities, imprisonment, and even death. Some lived in new cultural settings, struggled to learn new languages, and withstood plague, hunger, and loneliness. All found a way to holiness. These people were not perfect. When we peer closely into the lives of even our most beloved saints, we see mistakes, unwitting ignorance, and character flaws. We see sin. But we ultimately see people who strove to answer God’s call to be holy.

These people are with God. Despite their failures and failings, they have been enfolded into divine life. With God’s ever-patient Spirit to guide them, they sought and found and forged paths into holiness. Thousands of men and women (and children!) have persevered and hoped their way forward. If they found a path, so will we. Our path will be different, and we will not walk it perfectly, but with their many examples, God’s unfailing guidance, and our support for one another, we will also become part of God’s new, and perfected, creation.

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 1 (usccb.org).

Here’s a link to my Study Guide for Nov. 1.

Study Guide for November 8

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Nov. 8 (usccb.org).

Sample Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

During Jewish weddings of this era the groom would bring his bride from her house into his (or his father’s). A feast was then held to celebrate the occasion. The ten virgins or maidens are waiting for the groom to arrive home with his bride. They will then go out to meet him and accompany him and his new wife back to his home.

Click here to download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage for Nov. 8.

Reflection for October 25, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

After hearing parables that anger and offend them, the Pharisees and other leaders put a series of questions to Jesus in an attempt to turn people against him. They aren’t doing so well. Today they ask a question with an answer so obvious they appear desperate. Jesus tells them that the first and greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love one’s neighbor. In Luke’s Gospel the passage continues with the story we know as “the Good Samaritan.”

Because that parable isn’t in Matthew’s Gospel, the people preparing our lectionary have chosen a passage from the book of Exodus that answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” That is, “Who must I love as fully and devotedly as I love God?” The answer is concrete: immigrants, the elderly, children who’ve lost their parents, the poor. In unmistakably threatening language God declares that he sides with these vulnerable members of society: “If ever you wrong them… I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword.” Although such an attack seems counter-productive as it produces more widows and orphans, the statement underscores the seriousness of God’s concern for those who are marginalized, oppressed, or afflicted.

The unsettling imagery — the sword-wielding LORD of hosts — feels far removed from the image of the crucified Christ. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, however, I note with alarm that when I allow myself to remain ensnared in webs of injustice, God is holding that sword against me. Either I love God by standing with those with whom God stands, or I fail to love both. There isn’t some easier, third option. To love God is to do justice. Doing justice doesn’t come naturally to me: it’s a daily challenge and I frequently fail. The more mindful I become of injustice, however, and the more I try to act justly, the more loving I become and the more God will lower that sword.

Here’s a link to the Sunday readings for Oct. 25 (usccb.org).

Here’s a link to my Study Guide for Oct. 25.