Reflection for December 9, the Second Sunday of Advent

refl pic Advent 2c puppies

“In the second year of the presidency of Donald J. Trump, while Emmanuel Macron was president of France, Vladimir Putin ruled Russia, and Xi Jinping ruled China, when António Guterres was Secretary General of the United Nations, during the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio, when Daniel DiNardo presided over the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the word of God came to some random person no one had ever heard of.”

That’s how our Gospel passage for today begins. Well, that’s a bit of a paraphrase, but you get the idea. Luke rattles off the names of the rulers of Rome, Judea, Galilee, and the surrounding regions, as well as the Jewish high priests, before zeroing in on lowly John, some random person no one had ever heard of. The next stage of salvation history began with him, not with those in power, not even with the religious authorities. Moreover, John, like the one who came after him, ran into conflict with and was ultimately killed by some of those powerful people.

Yet all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Christianity spread from Jerusalem and Galilee to the surrounding regions and beyond, to Rome itself, and from there right on into the nations and institutions that we know today. When we do what God calls us to do, no matter how insignificant we feel and despite the challenges we face, we participate in God’s ongoing work of salvation. When our words and actions echo the transformative, life-saving word of God, no power on earth can stop us.

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

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

Advertisements

Study Guide for December 16, The Third Sunday of Advent

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 4.32.26 PM

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

Sample Commentary on Luke 3:10-18

Getting ready

In Luke’s Gospel possessions represent a person’s spiritual state. Those who truly welcome Jesus would give up everything in order to follow him. 

Verses 10-14 of this passage, found only in this Gospel, highlight this theme of Luke’s work. In order to prepare for whatever is about to happen, people must show with their material possessions that they are spiritually ready. Even if someone has only two shirts or two loaves of bread, that’s a shirt and a loaf to give to someone else.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Dec. 16, The Third Sunday of Advent

Reflection for December 2, The First Sunday of Advent

refl pic Advent 1c climate change

Our Gospel reading warns us not to let “that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” The earliest Christians expected the risen Jesus to return in glory at any moment. Some of them watched for signs that Jesus might be on his way. An eclipse or a war might be a clue: both were expected to happen when all of creation and even heaven itself became caught up in evil’s last stand against God. The expectation was for these end times to unfold swiftly and suddenly.

Today far fewer of us expect the world to come to an abrupt end. We might be momentarily distracted by one of those idiot prophesies that tells us the world’s going to end at such-and-such a time, but my impression is we regard such prophesies the way we do a horror movie or roller coaster ride – they give us an easy scare, but then we turn our attention to other matters.

St. Luke has anticipated how different our expectations are from those of the early Christians. He knows that until the fullness of God’s kingdom comes we’re too easily lured into meaningless activities (“carousing and drunkenness”). He knows we too easily trade our commitment to Christ for a preoccupation with “daily life.” In other words, Luke knows that we’re in danger of wasting our days before the great day of the Lord comes. Advent gives us the chance to retrain ourselves to live each day as people of justice, peace, prayer, and faith. Such people will stand confidently before the risen Christ on that great and final day.

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

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

Study Guide for December 9, The Second Sunday of Advent

Screen Shot 2018-11-24 at 9.50.49 AM

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

Sample Commentary on Luke 3:1-6

Setting the stage

Other Greek writers of Luke’s era also began their literary works by noting the people who ruled and where they ruled. They did this in order to establish the historical context of the events they wrote about. Such introductions also lend weight and solemnity to the events that follow. Some of the prophetic literature in our Old Testament begins the same way. 

Luke might also have been making other points with this introduction.

  • despite their positions of power, God doesn’t call any of these people to announce the gospel
  • both John the Baptist and Jesus will come into conflict with those in power
  • although John’s ministry begins in one small pocket of the Roman Empire, it has repercussions that stretch from Jerusalem to Rome itself (all flesh shall see the salvation of God)

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Dec. 9, The Second Sunday of Advent

Reflection for November 25, The Solemnity of Christ the King

Christ the king b risk

Pontius Pilate must have been baffled about why he had to interrogate a Galilean Jew from the dinky village of Nazareth. As he questions Jesus, Pilate surely sensed that something was amiss, but the issue of whether Jesus lived or died was not of primary concern to him. Pilate wanted to ensure stability in the region, maintain Rome’s dominance, and project his own strength and authority. He probably also wanted to show his allegiance to the emperor in the hope that he would advance to a more prestigious post. If Jesus was crucified in order to achieve any or all of this, so be it.

Although he speaks in somewhat cryptic statements, Jesus assures Pilate that he has not come to carve out a kingdom for himself among other worldly powers. As Jesus puts it, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Jesus is here using the word “world” in the negative sense, as in a world that values domination, control, self-protection, etc. Pilate, however, either knows no other world or refuses to consider that there might be a better one. He replies, “Then you are a king?” Pilate persists in holding a world view in which people succeed by dominating and controlling others.

As we celebrate the solemnity of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” we might suppose that Jesus has beaten the kingdoms, governments, and institutions of this world, that he is stronger and mightier than they are. To think this, however, is to make the same mistake Pilate did. Jesus insisted that his kingdom does not conform to the world. Jesus did not come to grasp, seize, or dominate. This Galilean Jew from the dinky village of Nazareth came instead to invite us to love one other. Jesus lives in eternal glory not because he beat the world at its own game but because he refused to play that game at all.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 25 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Nov. 25

Study Guide for December 2, The First Sunday of Advent

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 10.56.26 AM

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

Sample Commentary on Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Cataclysmic events

Most Jews expected violence and chaos to increase dramatically right before God established the fullness of his kingdom. The upheaval would be the result of the forces of evil desperately trying to stop God from completing his transformation of the world. Signs of the end times would include…

  • celestial bodies no longer giving light
  • the oceans (symbols of death and chaos) again becoming dangerous
  • heaven itself shaking at the enormity of what’s happening

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Dec. 2, The First Sunday of Advent

Reflection for November 18

refl pic 33b ipcc report

If you’ve ever been in a really bad mood, it’s strangely validating when the weather turns bad, too. Maybe it starts raining or there are harsh thunderclaps, and you sense that your feelings are mirrored by the weather. The weather seems to participate in and even amplify your mood, as if creation is mad, too.

For the next three Sundays we’ll hear from particular biblical texts in which the natural world participates in and even amplifies human events. This link between the natural world and human events is a feature of apocalyptic literature, a genre or type of writing that people readily misunderstand and misinterpret today. The primary purpose of the genre is to encourage people to remain steadfast in faith despite whatever evil comes their way. In apocalyptic literature there is also no middle ground: believers must choose either to remain faithful to God or succumb to evil. In the end, God will vindicate the just and vanquish evildoers forever.

No literary genre today is anything like apocalyptic literature, but scientific texts offer surprising parallels. I’m thinking in particular of the Fifth Assessment Report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This meticulously prepared and thoroughly reviewed report underscores the devastating repercussions that human activities are having on the rest of creation. We are causing increasingly severe wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods, ocean acidification, mass extinctions, and so on. All creation is having to participate in and amplify our actions. 

If we took this information on climate change and incorporated it into apocalyptic literature, then the conclusion would be stark: our actions are evil. The heavens are darkening and the earth is shaking in response. In the Gospel passage Jesus insists that no one knows when the end will come, but today it seems as though the end is not only near, it is much closer than we’re prepared for it to be. Time is running out. We must take our stand for or against evil, for or against creation. We must take our stand today, and we must take it unequivocally, for there is no middle ground. When the Son of Man comes, I find it difficult to believe that he will bring us into a new creation if we persisted in destroying this one.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 18 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Nov. 18

November 25 – Solemnity of Christ the King

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 4.28.10 PM

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 25 (usccb.org)

The origins of this solemnity

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925 in response to totalitarianism, secularism, and other forces opposed to God’s reign. Pius wanted to remind people that everything belonged to the risen Jesus, and so individuals and governments must subject themselves to Christ. Pius also hoped that the annual celebration of Christ’s kingship would further help Catholics to reject anything that opposed Christ’s reign.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: Study Guide for Nov. 25 (The Solemnity of Christ the King)

Reflection for November 11

refl pic 31b pennies

Today we hear in our Gospel reading that a widow donates the last bit of money she has to the operation of the Jerusalem temple. Jesus points out that the rich gave in proportion to what they could afford whereas the widow gave what she could not afford. At one level we’re invited to imitate this widow. The widow is like Jesus – she gave all she had, even at the risk of her own life.

The story invites another level of reflection, however. Jesus condemns some of the religious authorities for cheating widows out of their money – perhaps the widow we hear about had been the victim of fraud. Next Sunday we’ll hear Jesus warn that the temple will be destroyed – in which case even the biggest donation to the temple won’t matter at all. Given this broader context, we wonder if the widow should have spent her money on her own needs, instead. 

If the widow herself could speak to us, she might tell us that she knows all this. She might say she was angry and sad that she’d been cheated. She might point out that her gift was so small it was already insignificant, never mind the future of the temple. She might tell us that she knows Jesus didn’t want her to go hungry, but she had been an upstanding Jew all her life and would continue to make the required offering regardless of her circumstances. She might tell us she doesn’t care what we think. She might also point out that she’s not the only person who has little or nothing to live on – and then she might ask us how much we’re willing to give to do something about that.

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 11 (usccb.org)

Click here for my questions and commentary: Study Guide for Nov. 11

November 18 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 4.06.23 PM

Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: Nov. 18 (usccb.org)

Apocalyptic literature

Apocalyptic literature took shape around 200 BC for Jews who were facing persecution and chaotic times. Christians adapted the genre for their own needs. Apocalyptic literature tells how God will triumph over evil. Therefore, those who side with God must persevere in their faith.

Here are some features of apocalyptic literature.

  • Historical people and events are referred to with startling imagery (monstrous beasts, stars falling out of the sky, etc.). Such references are sometimes kept deliberately vague so that they heighten suspense and mystery and can be broadly interpreted.
  • The forces of good combat the forces of evil, and a person must choose which side to be on. (You can’t sit on the fence.)
  • All creation (heaven and earth) is caught up in the events being described, such as war, famine, and immorality.

People who think this type of literature predicts exactly how and when the world will end have failed to understand the features and purpose of this genre. Its purpose is not to describe what will happen, but to urge believers to stand fast no matter what happens.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage click here: November 18 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time