Catholic Readings

Reflection for June 17

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When I read the first parable of today’s Gospel passage, I initially thought it didn’t hold up well. Jesus said, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land… and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” But we do know how the seed grows. Not only that, we’ve designed varieties of wheat and corn and soy beans to resist drought and pests and diseases. Some farmers have tractors with a built-in GPS that enables them to inject fertilizer or spray insecticide in precise amounts onto specific sections of their land.

Yet for all our genetic splicing and satellite-guided sowing, we are not in control of the land. We aren’t in control of the water, either, or the climate, or other species. There are some things about our planet that we can control, like global climate change and the pollution of our air, sea, and waterways, but there remain many things that we don’t even understand.

God does. In his parable Jesus speaks about God’s hidden, mysterious movement in the world. This world is God’s, and God continues to work within it, renewing and recreating it. We are the only species on earth capable of participating, of joining God in the work of taking care of the world. And given how much we’ve advanced in the realm of farming alone, there is a great deal we can do.

There are many practical reasons for taking good care of our home, reasons like not making ourselves sick on our own pollutants, protecting other forms of life that could provide cures to human diseases, ensuring the health of our oceans so people have fish to eat, and so on. But for Christians there is also a theological reason. God is trying to work within our world, not to take us out of it. What we do to our planet, to our home, reveals whether we truly want to be part of the kingdom God is remaking all around us.

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June 24 – Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: June 24 (usccb.org)

Discussion Questions on Luke 1:57-66, 80

  1. What all might Elizabeth have felt?
  2. What do you imagine happening in her home?
  3. How do you think Elizabeth knew to call her son John?
  4. How do you imagine the relatives arguing about the child’s name?
  5. Why do you think Zechariah agrees to call the child John?
  6. What all might people have said about the  decision to name the child John?
  7. What all might people have said in response to what happened to Zechariah?
  8. What expectations about John might people have had?
  9. How do you imagine John as a child?
  10. Why do you think John went into the desert?
  11. Are there any interesting stories surrounding your birth?
  12. Why do you think we celebrate John’s birth?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: June 24 – Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Reflection for June 10

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When God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” the answer is lost. Lost. Having done precisely what God told them not to do, the man and woman experienced the very opposite of whatever it was exactly they wanted. Did they want knowledge? They learned how little they knew. Did they want to be in control? They discovered they couldn’t even control themselves. Did they want to be creators? They realized they were merely creatures.

The man and woman mistook evil for good. They confused wrong for right. Something similar is happening in our Gospel passage. Some of the religious authorities think Jesus is in league with the devil. Jesus has come to bind up Satan, “the strong man” and to advance God’s reign throughout creation, but some people so oppose what Jesus is doing that they call it evil. They attribute the work of God to Satan. They denounce the Spirit of God that is at work in God’s own Son.

Demonizing the Spirit of God is an unforgivable sin because we no longer accept correction. We no longer listen to or look for God. We become even worse off than Adam and Eve, who at least still recognized God. But when we blaspheme the Holy Spirit, we call the God who comes looking for us, the God who comes calling out to us, the God who wants to find us, to rescue us from being so utterly lost — we call this God Satan. And with that we close ourselves off to rescue, to forgiveness, to salvation forever.

We might think that we would never do such a thing, we would never call God evil, but when we’re enraged by or denigrate or ridicule someone because we refuse to recognize the good that the person is trying to do, then we, in that moment, demonize the holy Spirit of God.

June 17 – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: June 17 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Mark 4:26-34

Hearing and believing

These two parables come right after the parable about the sower. People who hear and accept the teaching of Jesus sprout from the seed planted on good soil. Such people become Jesus’ followers. Jesus directs these next two parables to them.

Parables

While reflecting on a parable we must remember that parables don’t mean only one thing. A good parable invites people to think about it, talk about it, and come to more than one insight. Parables are not allegories. In an allegory each element of the story directly corresponds to something else.

Good parables change the way people think about something. Ideally, parables also change the way people act. One of the reasons Jesus was such a good teacher is his parables challenged people to think and live differently.

To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and Gospel passage, click here: June 17 – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for June 3

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You’ve heard the expression, “Live each day as if it were your last.” What if instead you were told, “Treat each meal as if it were your last?” Would you pig out or eat nearly nothing? Would you invite as many people as you could or eat alone?

During his last meal with his disciples, Jesus said something like, “I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Wine was a drink associated with festive occasions, with celebrations. (Think of the wedding at Cana). Jesus seems not to have had any wine during his last meal as a sign of his sorrow at his forthcoming death and a sign of his total commitment to it.

But Jesus was far from alone at his last meal. In fact, we don’t have a single story in which Jesus “went off by himself to eat.” Meals were a centerpiece of his religious world. Meals that filled people were a taste of God’s kingdom, a taste of the future in which every person would have enough to eat and drink.

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we gather on Sundays for a taste of the kingdom of God. And like Jesus first disciples, there is an element of sorrow about the gathering, even though it is a day of feasting and celebration. We know that as we eat and drink, others go hungry, others thirst. We know that as we gather together, others are forgotten or excluded. On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate the kingdom that Jesus has opened for us, but we also pray for fullness. We pray that the kingdom will fully come, and we pray for our total commitment to filling that kingdom with every single person we know so that one day all might be full.

June 10 – Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: June 10 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Mark 3:20-35

Colliding kingdoms

The name Beelzebul (or Beelzebub) might be derived from the Canaanite god Baal, whom the Jews’ ancestors had sometimes fell to worshiping.

Jesus first refutes the scribes using simple logic. If he were on Satan’s side, then by casting out demons he would be opposing Satan. That implies  Satan is attacking himself, which is ridiculous.

Jesus next clarifies the purpose of his ministry: to free people from evil. Jesus is tying up Satan, the strong man, so that people can listen to him and follow him into God’s kingdom, or house, instead.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage, click here: June 10 – Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for May 27 (The Trinity)

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Because we talk about “the three persons” of the Trinity, we’re inevitably going to picture three people — although you might be picturing two men and a bird or a flame or something. We know that the Trinity doesn’t really look anything like what we’re imagining, but these are the images that have been presented to us. These images have their value: they remind us that God is ultimately love, and love must go outside of itself in order to be authentic love. We insist on calling God a Father, for instance, because this term expresses how God, out of love, shares his life with another, his Son, and since God is eternal, God eternally shares his love with his Son. We go on to say that God created and is saving the world out of love.

The Holy Spirit is the wind, maybe, that moved over the primordial waters at the moment of creation. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life God breathed into the first human beings. The Holy Spirit is God’s empowerment of leaders and prophets. The Holy Spirit, descending like a dove, revealed God’s unique presence within Jesus at his baptism. The Holy Spirit, appearing next as tongues of fire, emboldened Jesus’ followers to start spreading the gospel. The Holy Spirit unites us and our prayer as we gather for worship.

The Spirit is God’s love for us, the “person” God sends to bring us — however slowly — into God’s eternal life. And so another way to picture the Trinity is to place ourselves in the picture. We are the third person of the Trinity. As we embody God’s Spirit, we’re joined by countless others, we’re joined by all of creation because God loves us all. Such imagery is not the most orthodox way of envisioning the Trinity, but it does take seriously God’s invitation to become part of the divine life.

June 3 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: June 3 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Exodus 24:3-8

Sacrifices

The Hebrew word for sacrifice comes from the verb to bring near. By offering something to God a person draws closer to God. Animals, fruit, and grain were common sacrifices in ancient times.

Holocaust and peace offerings were types of sacrifices that, at this point in time, overlap in meaning. Both gifts celebrate the covenant while showing the people’s intention to uphold it.

It’s a blood bath!

Because the Israelites believed that blood symbolized life and all life ultimately belonged to God, they never consumed blood. Blood from an animal sacrifice had to be properly drained and symbolically returned to God. The blood that Moses puts in the bowls by the altar shows this respectful use of blood.

The blood that Moses splashes on the altar symbolizes the union between God, represented by the altar, and the community. The people agreed to the terms of the covenant; now they are ritually committed to it.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage, click here: June 3 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Reflection for May 20 (Pentecost)

When I heard someone say recently, “The Spirit keeps moving,” I thought, Ahh, that’s the problem! If only the Spirit would keep still, would stay with us, would linger for days, months, years, then maybe we would become able to follow the Spirit when it next moved on. As it is, we feel a bit too wind-blown, too breathless, to even want to keep up. Perhaps we’re not in good spiritual shape and assume we can’t keep up. Perhaps we don’t like the direction the Spirit is headed. Whatever the reason, we prefer to let the Spirit move on by. We throw it a friendly wave. Catch you next time, Holy Spirit.

And we’re relieved. We’re relieved that the Spirit keeps moving. We’re relieved that it will rush on by and leave us where we are. We’re cool with the Spirit doing its work so long as it doesn’t do its work in us.

Inviting the Spirit to work within us means that we will eventually be led outside of ourselves, outside of our preoccupations, our wants, and even our needs. When the disciples let God’s Spirit into them, they began speaking whole new languages, and while I find this particular change quite appealing, I know the disciples underwent far more difficult, unnerving, and spiritually painful changes. If we let the Spirit in, much of us will be blown away, swept aside, and remade, too. And so I, for one, often prefer to say, Catch you next time, Holy Spirit.

We’ll never be ready for the Spirit. We’ll never entirely want the Spirit, either. That’s ok, so long as some days, at least, we try to flag the Spirit down, try to move in its direction and let it move in us. The Spirit will wait. The Spirit moves fast when we let it, but the Spirit has also been lingering for days, months, and years to be caught hold of and to catch hold of us, for God does not want the breath of life to leave us.

May 27 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: May 27 (usccb.org)

A Note on Trinity Sunday

A big question Christians had to answer was how the Father, the Son, and the holy Spirit were one God. As this issue was debated in the fourth and fifth centuries, some bishops began celebrating a Mass in honor of the Trinity. The idea didn’t catch on right away because others rightly pointed out that every liturgy is a celebration of the Trinity.

By the fourteenth century, however, this feast had been formally accepted into the liturgical cycle. Trinity Sunday is unusual because it doesn’t celebrate a person or event but doctrine.

To download discussion questions and commentaries on the second reading and Gospel passage for this Sunday, click here: May 27 – The Most Holy Trinity