Reflection for February 16

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Our Gospel reading for today is so long that the homilist has the option of choosing a shorter version, which means that you might not hear the following: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you… go first and be reconciled with your bother, then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). We can’t truly worship God if we bear rage or hatred toward another person. Although I’ve never hated another person, there are definitely people I never want to see or speak with or interact with in any way ever again, which is why I’m deeply grateful for the witness of one of my closest friends. Let’s call him “Dave.” 

A few days before Christmas Dave went to a local grocery store in search of a decorative wreath for his mom. As he was standing outside the store appraising the wreaths, a manager stepped into the store entranceway and watched him. Dave asked, “Can I help you?” The manager replied, “No,” but kept watching him. Dave then asked, “What are you doing?” The manager replied coldly, “Watching you.” Dave, who is Caucasian, had that sensation that people of color must have in such moments. Enraged, Dave berated the manager who only yelled back. Fuming, Dave left. Alongside his rage, however, was regret. When he looked at how he had acted, he didn’t like what he saw. The next day Dave went back to the store, found the manager, and apologized. The manager then also apologized and explained that there had been a sharp increase in thefts at the store.

Reconciliation is not always so straightforward. Systemic racism, sexism, and the like take years to overcome and require the participation of whole communities, whole nations. At other times, though, reconciliation is comparatively easy. We simply choose to admit our part in a conflict and to seek forgiveness. The other person might not forgive us, but we will at least have tried. When next we approach the altar, seeking union with our God of mercy, our attempt at reconciliation is a gift God will accept.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 16 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Feb. 16

Study Guide for February 23

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 23 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Matthew 5:38-48

An eye for an eye

“Anyone who inflicts an injury on his neighbor shall receive the same in return” (Lev 24:19). Ironically, God gave this “law of retaliation” not to promote violent behavior but to prevent anger and violence from spinning out of control. If a man poked out your eye, for example, you could hurt only one of his eyes, not both of them.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Feb. 23

Reflection for February 9

In our second reading Paul insists that he “did not come with sublimity of words…” or “persuasive words of wisdom,” yet his letters are often precisely that.

  • For as in one body we have many parts… so we, though many, are one body in Christ… (Romans 12:4-5)
  • We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… (1 Corinthians 4:8-9)
  • If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal… (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • …for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)
  • …For [Christ’s] sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Philippians 3:8-9)

I find these statements compelling, and you might draft a list of your own. Paul’s letters are eloquent, skillfully reasoned, and impassioned. If Paul really was a poor preacher, then I admit I’d love to hear what people like that Apollos guy were saying.

Paul deflects admiration for any skill in preaching he exhibits by pointing to God. He insists that God is at work within him. God speaks through him. Paul is so certain that God stands behind him he even tells people to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). We’re so accustomed to calling Paul a saint and regarding his letters as sacred scripture that we don’t hear how egotistical he sounds. When people make such assertions today I mostly scoff because I can see how they live, and what I see is not the crucified Christ. 

I cannot scoff at Paul. He chose to travel — on foot — all across the Mediterranean world preaching something that provoked ridicule and violence. “Three times I was beaten with rods… three times I was shipwrecked… in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers… dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness… in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst…” (2 Corinthians 11:25-27). The danger culminated in his execution by Rome. Though silenced then, Paul still speaks for God today. It is the eloquence of his life, his complete devotion to the crucified Jesus, that persuades us to listen and to imitate such devotion ourselves so that others will find our lives eloquent and persuasive, too.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 9 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Feb. 9

Study Guide for February 16

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 16 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Sirach 15:15-20

Evil is not from God

In order to understand this passage it helps to start with v.11. We can’t blame God for evil because sin comes from human beings. God gave people free will, and sometimes people choose to do evil things (v.16).

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Feb. 16

Reflection for February 2

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“Suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek… But who can stand when he appears?” These words from the prophet Malachi don’t make us eager for God to come. On the contrary, they’re rather alarming. Prophets like Amos and Zephaniah warn us not to get excited about the day of the LORD because it will bring more darkness than light. Other prophecies about God’s messiah, which describe a glorious era of justice and peace, also warn us that God’s chosen one will humble or even destroy evildoers. Such prophetic warnings provoke us to worry a bit about how God’s messiah will size us up when he comes.

Yet when the day of the LORD dawned, it wasn’t frightening. It wasn’t dark. It wasn’t even unusual. God’s spirit led Simeon, a devout, faith-filled Jew, to a rather poor-looking couple carrying a newborn baby and a cage with two birds. If it weren’t for the guidance of God’s spirit, Simeon probably wouldn’t have noticed Mary and Joseph among the hundreds of Jews filing in and out of the temple courtyard. When he approached them, Simeon calmly took the baby in his arms and praised God, no doubt startling the child’s parents, though perhaps by then they were getting used to such puzzling encounters. Simeon then praised God for the light that had come into the world.

Did the prophets get it wrong? Is God really all light and warmth and love that’s as cuddly as a baby? Not altogether. Light can be so bright it hurts our eyes. It reveals things about ourselves we don’t want to see. Light can also be so hot it burns. Turning toward God’s light means allowing God to purge us of the darkness that persists within us. On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord we praise God for the illuminating, purifying power of his light. Sometimes God’s light is frightening and painful, but without it we would be cold, alone, and forever lost to darkness.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 2 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Feb. 2

 

Study Guide for February 9

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 9 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Matthew 5:13-16

Forming followers

Two Sundays ago we heard that Jesus started his public ministry by teaching, proclaiming God’s kingdom, and healing. In chapters 5-7 Matthew gives us some of the content of Jesus’ teaching. 

Salt

People used salt to add flavor to food and to preserve meat, which was helpful in a world without refrigerators. Salt was sold in combination with other minerals because people hadn’t yet learned how to refine it. When the minerals were boiled, the salt was absorbed into the food.The other minerals were discarded.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Feb. 9

Reflection for January 26

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Do you have a favorite Catholic hymn? How about a favorite painting or sculpture? Maybe you like a certain type of church architecture or a particular preacher or Catholic writer. Some people have a favorite Gospel. I know someone who loves Matthew’s Gospel and another who favors Luke’s. Sometimes we’re able to appreciate other people’s preferences. At other times we insist that our favorite song or artistic style is the best, and we complain about other people’s bad taste, but usually that’s as far as it gets. In some cases, though, our predilections provoke division within our community.

In our Second Reading we hear that some of the Christians in the community at Corinth were so impressed by a particular preacher or minister that they had aligned themselves with that person and were disparaging other leaders, including Paul. Whatever had first drawn them to the story of Christ had become an end in itself. They had become impressed by the preacher (or painting or song or Youtube channel or whatever) rather than what he preached. They had forgotten, or perhaps never understood, that their allegiance was to Christ. More specifically, Paul insists, their allegiance was to the crucified Christ. 

To those Corinthians who felt proud of their allegiance to a particular leader, who felt superior in their wisdom or comprehension or artistic taste, Paul pointed to the cross of Christ. The cross is not beautiful. It is not eloquent. When we peel away all the music and paintings and sculpture and architecture and poetry and homilies that adorn our faith, we’re left with something terribly ugly. The cross is hideous, horrifying, unintelligible. Aligning ourselves with the incarnate Son who hung upon the cross seems foolish and repulsive. Only by entering the dark, haunted, broken places of our world and remaining there for as long as those places need light and healing will the beauty and meaning of the cross — of the crucified Christ — become clear.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Jan. 26 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Jan. 26

Study Guide for February 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Feb. 2 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary from Luke 2:22-40

Luke’s epiphany

Epiphany comes from the Greek verb to reveal. On the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate the perfect revelation of God’s love: Jesus. The Gospel passage for that feast day is the story of the magi from St. Matthew. The magi represent Gentiles who accept Jesus.

Luke’s Gospel contains a different epiphany. He tells how Simeon, guided by the power of God’s spirit, recognizes Jesus as the one he’s yearned to see. In the now famous prayer we call the “Nunc Dimittis,” Simeon praises God for allowing him to see the Christ-child, God’s instrument of salvation.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Feb. 2

Reflection for January 19

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Last Sunday we concluded our Christmas season, a season of epiphanies, of manifestations. Angels appeared, declaring the birth of a savior. Shepherds appeared, glorifying and praising God at the sight of the infant in a manger. Magi appeared, foreshadowing the homage all Gentiles would one day offer to the newborn king. Once the child had grown, God’s spirit appeared as a dove and a heavenly voice declared, “This is my beloved Son.” These stories all help us recognize that Jesus is the one God sent into the world for the world’s salvation. As we hear in the prologue to John’s Gospel, proclaimed on Christmas day, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.”

Although we have left the Christmas season and returned to Ordinary Time, we haven’t quite finished hearing passages in which Jesus’ identity is revealed to us. On the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time we always hear from the Gospel of John. Our other three Gospels present Jesus through the lens of his public ministry, but John focuses exclusively on Jesus’ identity. We even call the first half of John’s Gospel The Book of Signs because in it Jesus acts in supernatural ways with the sole intention of revealing who he is. In today’s passage from this Gospel, John the Baptist offers testimony about Jesus: Jesus is the Lamb of God, he’s pre-existent, and he’s God’s Son. John the Baptist’s testimony, which is much loftier here than in the other Gospels, again serves to reveal who Jesus is.

Having heard all these stories about how Jesus reveals God the Father to us, the question we now ask is, “Who is this God whom Jesus reveals?” We might think we know, but given the state of the world, our understanding of God seems far from complete. We have much to learn, and possibly much to unlearn. As we begin hearing again about the ministry of Jesus, we have the chance to refine our understanding of God, to set aside our notions of who God should be and to welcome the revelation of who God truly is. We’ll be surprised and unsettled during this (re)learning process, but slowly we will come to know God more truly and to manifest God in our lives more faithfully.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Jan. 19 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Jan. 19

Study Guide for January 26

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Jan. 26 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions on Matthew 4:18-23

  1. What do you think life was like for fishermen?
  2. Why might Jesus have chosen these particular men as disciples?
  3. How might each of the men have felt when Jesus called him? 
  4. Why do you think these men were willing to follow Jesus? 
  5. What might their family and friends have been thinking and feeling?
  6. If you were a bystander, what all would you have thought? 
  7. What do you think it was like for the fishermen to see Jesus heal people?
  8. What must you leave behind in order to keep following Jesus? What will you miss? What will you be glad to leave behind?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the First Reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Jan. 26