Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

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Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT,

DECEMBER 5

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew

3:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: Let us prepare the way for the Lord who comes.

Christian life is paradox. On the one hand, salvation is God’s doing alone. In no way can we earn His blessings.

On the other hand, we must cooperate, for God cannot force His bounty upon us. Today’s first reading from Isaiah emphasizes that, through His Son, God does all the saving. And yet, John the Baptist (Gospel) summons us to play our essential part.

All the kings who succeeded David had proved increasingly unfaithful, bringing eventual defeat and destruction upon the nation. But in the midst of despair Isaiah the prophet proclaimed hope: God will raise up a new king like David and restore the fortunes of Israel (first reading).

The first half of the reading presents him in idealized terms. Never realized in any subsequent leader, this prophecy was eventually reinterpreted to describe Jesus, the final-age Messiah who would bring full and final peace as God’s appointed ruler.

The divine Spirit would confer three groups of charismatic gifts upon the Messiah constituting Him the perfect king: (1) Intellectual abilities suitable for a judge would aid in guiding his people — "wisdom" to separate appearances from reality, "understanding" for proper planning; (2) Practical know-how rescues the people from attack: "counsel" for on-the-spot decisions and "strength" to get things done; (3) No self-opinionated tyrant, this ruler will prove docile and open to God’s direction, intimately experiencing the divine will ("knowledge"), which He reverently obeys ("fear").

These gifts will be manifested in His rule. Able to discern inmost motives and distinguish truth from lies, our expected Messiah would carefully evaluate conflicting evidence to identify and correct genuine grievances. Nor would He hesitate to impose the severest penalties when necessary. By way of summary, metaphors describing royal vestments emphasize that He will direct all the resources of his office toward maintaining justice and good order.

In the second half, the reading simply but profoundly portrays the hoped-for messianic kingdom as a return to the perfect harmony of paradise. Peace will extend even to the world of nature — animals no longer preying upon each other, children playing safely among former predators and poisonous snakes. Throughout the entire land of Israel ("all my holy mountain") all hurting and suffering, even death itself, will pass away!

The selection ends with further unexpected good news, first announced and then explained. Not only Israel but the whole earth shall come to "know (personally encounter and obey) the Lord." The same Davidic descendant destined to restore peace to Judah will be "set up as a signal" of hope and salvation for all pagan nations. In fulfillment of the ancient promise first made to Abraham, the Gentile world too will seek out and find blessing through the Chosen People and their final-age messianic king.

Good News indeed: God’s love includes everyone!

Sunday Scripture Readings


MOST HOLY TRINITY, JUNE 15



Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33;


Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

OUR GOOD NEWS:The Godhead is now revealed as "family," into which we are adopted as children through baptism.

Among the most beautiful verses in the Book of Deuteron-omy, today's first reading is a prose-poem celebrating the witness of history to God's inmost "personality." It opens with a dramatic rhetorical question summoning us to reflection: "Ask now of the days of old..." From the days of Abraham, Israel's ancestors had continued as disadvantaged shepherds dreaming the impossible dream of one day settling down as farmers on their own land. A subsequent calamitous enslavement by Egyptians made their condition doubly hopeless. Suddenly God intervened with a miraculous deliverance, followed by a solemn covenant commitment of special relationship. And now, as Moses spoke, Israel stood poised to realize her centuries-old dream. They had only to cross the Jordan and take possession of their own land, God's gift to his Chosen People.

Poised in the midst of such astounding events, Israel was commanded to reflect on the nature of God as revealed through world history. Ponder the whole panorama of creation from time's beginning; consider the witness of every region on earth. "Has there happened anything like this great deed or has anything been heard like it?" No human achievement but God's, and what kind of God He must be! Nothing remotely comparable ever occurred - anytime, anywhere. Direct encounter with the divinity on Mount Sinai, yet surviving such awesome experience! A God who "dares" to intervene in territory presumably reserved for other divinities, who asserts an unimpeded universal rule through acts of power, "taking" away by force a people formed into his own special "nation"!

This overwhelming evidence, personally experienced as well as recalled, proved there is only one God who revealed Himself in the twin blessings of liberation from slavery and the gift of land as well as nationhood. Thus far, everything has been done for Israel. Now she must properly respond by keeping what had been graciously conferred. "God's statutes and commandments" must carefully be observed for two reasons: as concrete expressions of our gratitude and as unique means of appropriating his offer of truly happy living.

Today's psalm, a symphonic hymn of praise, begins with reasons why we're fortunate to be God's Chosen People and motives for a trusting response to His call. God's "word is upright": He says what He means without deceit or crookedness; acts of creation and salvation reveal His dependable nature. As a lover of "justice and right," God faithfully carries out His promises, strengthening the relationship binding Himself to His people, a relationship consistent with the highest moral standards. Truly, the whole "earth" testifies to His trustworthiness!

Rather than philosophical abstraction, the doctrine of the Trinity insists on the personal dimension of divinity: God is deeply involved in the world from its beginning, showing Father-like care for His people, setting an example that summons us to imitation.

Sunday Scripture Readings


twenty-seventh sunday


in ordinary time,


october 7


Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:24; Psalm 95;


2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

OUR GOOD NEWS: Paul reminds us of our re-sponsibility regarding younger generations.

"I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands" (second reading). Paul challenged a promising member of the younger Christian generation to courageous witness. Timothy had been groomed as Paul's successor in the ministry. Timid by nature and unrealistically idealistic, Timothy had grown disillusioned at the Christian community's lukewarmness and embarrassed by Paul's current status as prisoner. (Can we or someone we know identify with this young man?) "Gift of God" refers to graces conferred at ordination by "the laying on of hands." Like other grace gifts these need constantly to be "stirred into flame." They are quite incompatible with faltering in the face of responsibilities and dangers.

"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control." Graces of ordination include "power" to master every situation, self-sacrificing "love" expressed in affectionate service to the community, and "self-control" (restraint, self-discipline) essential for Christian leadership. "Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake." The more mature Paul took a positive view of his own disgraceful condition. Roman bureaucrats may think they have him in custody, but Christ had already "captured" him and (as with us) made him "prisoner" for his own purposes. Timothy must "let go and let God," joining Paul in accepting every hardship inherent in faithful service of the Gospel.

The final verses assume particular relevance for us who live in the post-Vatican II Church, often polarized into progressives and traditionalists. "Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me." Paul held up his own teaching as a "norm" or model, a Greek word rich in overtones.

Thus, we must "guard (keep safe) the rich trust of faith." "Trust" translates a legal term, something entrusted to another's keeping. Finding the proper mean between rote recitation and distortion is the ongoing work of the "Holy Spirit that dwells within us."

In sum, everyone, but especially the ordained, is called and empowered to bold Gospel witness, overcoming diffidence and fear of hardships involved. The deposit of faith entrusted to us must be handed on to the next generation. This divine gift includes a serious responsibility incumbent upon us all.

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

OCTOBER 1

Numbers 11; 25-29; Psalm 19;

James 5: 1-6;

Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

A group of nonCatholics died and went to heaven. There they were to gather for a great party with talking and singing.

St. Peter was showing them the way to their place. As he passed one door and pointed to it, there was a group of Catholics in it who thought they were the only ones in heaven.

Father Michael Goonin in his book, "Praying The Sunday Psalms," writes that we should never think that the Spirit of God is limited only to baptized Christians. Whenever we see people of any creed seeking to act justly and love in tenderness and humility, we can rejoice that God’s Spirit is at work. We should take to heart the wise and broad-minded attitude of Jesus in the Gospel that "anyone who is not against us is for us."

Of course for us Catholics, the ordinary channels through which God gives His gifts to us are baptism and the other sacraments. But God is not limited to these channels. In the first reading, Moses, leading God’s people of old through the desert, felt the burden of his office, and God gave him 70 elders to help him. Joshua complained that there were two men who were not in the group, but the Spirit came on them also. And Moses responded that he wished all Israelites had these gifts.

One of God’s gifts is that of being poor in spirit, completely dependent on God. From this comes a spirit of detachment from material goods. That’s why hard-nosed James in the second reading speaks to the rich in strong terms, because while there are exceptions, the rich are often tempted to put worldly values before those of God. And James says that for those who do this, the day of retribution will come.

The Gospel shows us that Jesus expects his followers to go the whole way for him and with him, even if it means doing away with something we highly value. God’s Spirit is not a spirit of rivalry, strife, jealousy or envy, but a Spirit that unites with all people of good will in seeking truth, justice and love. It is a Spirit which urges us to do everything for the honor and glory of God.

Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been more communication, working together and understanding among the various Christian denominations than ever before. God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is at work not only among Catholics but also among Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians and others. God is also at work among sincere God-loving Jews and Muslims.

Yet, we are still not completely one. For the most part, we love the same God, but we do not yet all accept the same system of sacraments and structure of church authority. And it is the will of Jesus that we do. So there is much work, prayer, struggle and understanding yet to take place. We all need to strive to be one in heart and mind with Jesus and with each other, and to seek the goal of eternal salvation.

Jesus tells us that no sacrifice is too great to attain that goal. That’s what Jesus means when he says that if your hand or foot stand in the way, you should cut it off; if your eye stands in the way, you should pluck it out. Jesus was using a Jewish way of exaggeration to make a point that nothing is more important than eternal salvation, and we should get rid of all obstacles that stand in the way.

I believe there is going to be a great coming together of all of God’s people — Catholic, Protestants, Moslems, Jews and others. But God wants us to pray constantly for that union and for the conversion of all sinners. He will bring about that great reunion and conversion, but he wants to do it in response to our prayers. There may be much to answer for if he has to do it without our prayers.

We are to look forward to our resurrection in Christ and the victory of eternal salvation that Jesus won for us. In heaven we will all be one in Christ. There will be no more walls or divisions among us. We will be one with each other because we will be one with Jesus in a joyful celebration that will last forever.

Father Smith is a priest of the La Crosse, Wis., Diocese.

Sunday Scripture Readings

EASTER VIGIL

EASTER SUNDAY, MARCH 27

Easter Vigil:

I Genesis 1:1-2:2;

II Genesis 22:1-18;

III Exodus 14:15-15:1;

IV Isaiah 54:5-14;

V Isaiah 55:1-11;

VI Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4;

VII Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28; VIII Romans 6:3-11;

IX Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Morning:

Acts 10:34a, 27-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4 or

1 Corinthians 5-6b-8; John 10:1-9

A religion teacher asked her second graders: If the poinsettia is the Christmas plant, what is the Easter plant?

After a few moments silence, a little boy raised his hand and said: "It’s the egg plant."

Of course we know that it is the Easter lily. But if the little boy was thinking of Easter eggs, we forgive him for the mistake. For years the Easter egg has been a symbol of the tomb, and the little chick emerging from the egg is the symbol of Jesus breaking out of the tomb.

However in the Church’s Easter Vigil liturgy, the silence and darkness of Holy Saturday are broken by the lighting of the new fire and the Easter candle. This candle represents the risen Christ — and it will burn during the Easter season and at baptisms and funerals throughout the Church year.

After the lighting of the fire and the Easter candle, the procession begins into the darkened church and the candles of the congregation are lit. When the celebrant reaches the altar, the Easter candle is incensed and the Exsultet is sung proclaiming that this is "the most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead." It is the night "when heaven is wedded to earth," as we celebrate the victory of the Lord Jesus over death.

Following the Exultet, there are nine readings in which the Church recalls the history of our creation, and the new creation, brought by Christ’s death and resurrection, which we call the Paschal mystery.

At least three of these readings must be chosen, including the one from Exodus 14:15-15:1, describing the Israelites under Moses leaving Egypt. The reading recalls how the waters of the Red Sea opened and the Hebrews escaped the pursuing Egyptians. Their passing through the waters to freedom is a symbol and prophecy of our passing through the waters of baptism to salvation.

The Mass begins with the joyful singing of the Gloria. In the first reading of the Mass, St. Paul says that baptism is our share in the resurrection of Jesus. Through baptism, we become a new creation, a new people of faith and live in the glory of the risen Christ, for we have died to sin and have risen to share Christ’s life.

Then the Alleluia is joyfully sung and proclaimed by all. The Gospel is the resurrection story according to Matthew. After the homily, the Litany of the Saints is sung and converts are baptized, confirmed and admitted to the faith. Then the congregation renews its baptismal vows and is blessed with Easter water.

The first reading of Easter morning Mass is from an early sermon of St. Peter, the first pope. He says that our faith is not fiction but fact. Eyewitnesses saw, touched and ate with Jesus after He had risen from the dead.

There are two possible second readings. In the one from Colossians, Paul tells us that baptism is the sign of our mystical death and resurrection in Christ and our pledge that we shall always die to sin and live for God in Christ. In the reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we must rid ourselves of the leaven of evil and sin, and be renewed in Christ. The Gospel is St. John’s story of the Resurrection.

The joy of the Apostles on Easter is meant to be our joy too. Easter life is about the joy of rebirth in the spirit of God, and we can start enjoying it now. Today we have a fresh opportunity of facing ourselves with the issue of our own resurrection. Are we alive in Christ and is He firmly rooted in our hearts and actions, or are we still in the tomb of death with selfishness and sin? If we are truly God’s people, then those who are searching for meaning in life will discover from us that Christ is the resting place for restless hearts and the way to everlasting glory.

Truly, as Psalm 118 says: "This is the day the Lord had made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it. Alleluia!" Happy Easter to all.

Father Smith is a priest of the La Crosse, Wis., Diocese.

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