Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 31

Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145; Romans 8: 35, 37-39;

Matthew 14:13-21

A little girl had to be left alone in the house for a long time. When her parents returned, they were afraid that they might find her badly frightened.

"I wasn’t afraid," the little girl said. "When you are here, God expects you to take care of me; but when you are gone, He does it all by Himself."

Father Emeric Lawrence in his book, "The Holy Way," gives us some thoughts from today’s readings. He says that most Christians want to do things for God, and that’s fine unless they do their good deeds with the idea of placing God in debt to them, trying to buy or merit their salvation.

But how many of us realize that the chief message of Scripture is that God wants to do great things for us? God has given us life, family, loved ones and faith. God has given us His Son, Jesus, to be our savior. Jesus has given us salvation, guidance, the sacraments and above all Himself in the Eucharist. Try to imagine what life would be like without these gifts.

In other words, religion does not consist in the great or small things we do for God, but rather in what God has done and continues to do for us. Religion is allowing oneself to be served and loved by God. Nothing evil that we ever do can prevent God from loving and caring for us.

This idea is verified in today’s opening prayer: Gifts without measure flow from your goodness. Our life is your gift. Guide our life’s journey, for only your love makes us whole. Not only are God’s gifts for everyone, says Michael Goonan in his book, "Praying The Sunday Psalms," but they are offered to all in abundance. This abundance is seen in the first reading in the words: "All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat. Come, without paying and without cost; drink wine and milk."

And this theme continues in the response psalm: "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all His works ... The hand of the Lord feeds us; He answers all our needs."

According to Father Lawrence, St. Paul in the second reading chimes in: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" The answer is "nothing." We can conquer any human trial, come to terms with any suffering, even death. In short, we are conquerors "because of Him who loved us." The love is free for the taking. All we have to do is to open our hands and hearts.

This abundant love and providence is seen also in the Gospel, where Jesus not only feeds the whole crowd but also provides 12 leftover baskets full. God’s hands are not only open but "open wide" for all who live.

Goonan reminds us that we are the agents of God’s universal care and abounding generosity. Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, but He asks His disciples to distribute it among the people. He asks the same of us: "Give them some food yourselves."

Father Lawrence writes that Jesus intended the miracle in the Gospel to prepare the apostles and us for the greatest of all of God’s love-gifts — the Holy Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. The essential meaning of Eucharist, a Greek word, is "thanksgiving" and "gift." The Eucharist is Christ’s gift of Himself, His gift of love.

And so with all the sacraments: God comes to us in every one of life’s needs. Father Lawrence says that this is true not only of the Eucharist but also of all the other sacraments, especially the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation and confession. The entire Bible shows God’s eagerness to forgive — not just once but again and again.

There is nothing we can do to keep God from offering us His forgiveness, but we have to accept it. Once we realize fully how very much God loves us, anything can happen.

Why, we might even become saints.

(For further reading: "The Holy Way," by Father Emeric Lawrence, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 56321; "Praying The Sunday Psalms," by Michael Goonan, Alba House, Staten Island, N.Y. 10314-6603. )

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

Fifth Sunday in ordinary time, February 8

Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8; Psalm 138;
1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

OUR GOOD NEWS: What it means to be called by God.
In Luke’s usage (Gospel), "crowd" normally designates Jews well disposed to Jesus’ Good News. Here they "press about Jesus," eagerly "listening to the word of God." In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, "the word of God" refers to the Christian message preached by the apostles. By using the same phrase here, Luke shows how intimately the Church’s proclamation is rooted in Jesus’ own preaching.

God’s deliberate plan was at work from the beginning, when Jesus freely chose Simon’s from the two boats available. His concern was that the audience hear without being trampled. Afterward He commanded Simon (as captain) to "put out" (singular) "into deep water," then ordered the crew to "lower your (plural) nets." Simon acknowledged Jesus as possessing authority, addressing Him as "Master" and therefore to be obeyed. Significantly, in Luke, this title is used of Jesus only by His followers or disciples. The resulting miraculous catch of fish is highlighted by details, which emphasize its greatness as well as the power of Jesus’ word. The fishermen’s workday was over; no fish were to be caught at this time (they had "disembarked" and were "washing nets"). The enormous quantity of catch was dramatically evident — their "nets were on the point of breaking," "the boats almost sinking."

All this serves only as background for Peter’s call. Like Isaiah in today’s first reading, Peter experienced a personal and direct encounter with God. Similar, too, his response: a deep sense of personal sinfulness that caused Peter to classify himself with publicans as "sinful men." Jesus however neutralized Simon’s paralyzing fear before the divine presence by an implicit offer of forgiveness, followed by formal command to discipleship. Isaiah too was forgiven but had been allowed — was expected — to volunteer. The two calls taken together thus preserve both divine omnipotence and human self-determination.

Having encountered the mighty power of the Spirit at work in the Master, Simon however let himself be summoned to a unique role among the earliest followers. He was first: the first Galilean to witness Jesus’ miraculous power, the first called to "catching human beings" (literally "taking human beings alive"); and the first witness to the risen Christ (Lk 24:34; Acts 2:14-40).

Peter is thus the first/premier missionary, through whom others are gathered as followers of Jesus into God’s Kingdom, where they can be saved from death and preserved for fullness of life. The miraculous catch of fish foreshadowed Peter’s apostolic success; his personal commission as catcher-rescuer established his leadership among the disciples. Peter immediately assumed the role. Because of his own experience and example, "the others" likewise "left everything and followed Jesus."

This same experience is shared, with adaptations, by everyone of us as Christians, since each of us is called ("vocation") in personal encounter with God and sent as apostles bringing Christ to others. Peter is our model and our support throughout life and into eternity.

Sunday Scripture Readings


twenty-third sunday


in ordinary time,


september 8


Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95;


Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

OUR GOOD NEWS: What is genuine, practical concern for each other?

Instead of generalizing about love of neighbor, Jesus gets painfully specific (Gospel). We simply can't tolerate alienation and bad example within the Christian community and must spare no prudent effort to make things right again.

Through baptism we assume serious responsibility for fellow believers. Equally unacceptable is withdrawing - pretending not to see, remaining uninvolved, keeping quiet, minding our own business - as well as playing the busybody, butting into others' lives where we don't belong.

The situation Jesus envisioned is all too common in our modern world. A son or daughter, friend or acquaintance, relative, neighbor, even parent or teacher, does something wrong, whether sin of commission (doing) or omission (failing to do). Jesus' advice about our responsibility includes three stages. First, don't brood; it's unhealthy to keep the hurt to oneself and unloving not to show practical concern for another. Don't gossip either. Instead, go and confront the other with love, privately, out of respect for his or her reputation. If our love is truly selfless, we're willing to risk others' displeasures for their good.

If the person refuses to admit wrong, continuing in behavior bad for him or herself as well as others, what then? This creates a problem, for example, among young persons whose friend steals or shoplifts, uses drugs or drinks excessively, hangs around with a bad crowd, plans to run away, or just "goofs off" in school.

Jesus reminds us that keeping quiet out of a false sense of loyalty is really unloving and uncaring. His second step consists in bringing along someone else to emphasize the situation's gravity. Nowadays that means involving a qualified third party - counselor, teacher, priest or physician.

Finally, when all else fails we shouldn't hesitate to "go public" and bring in the establishment - parents, school officials, even police. Jesus' final word of advice when nothing has worked is a hard saying but worth serious consideration. Sometimes our only option is tough love which demands confrontation and challenge, to the extreme of suspending friendship. Not only is the other's influence dangerous to oneself, but also destructive of community life.

Temporary alienation alone may bring the erring person to repentance and change. In any case we treat them like "pagans" ("Gentiles"), persons not members of God's people, and public sinners ("tax collectors"), members who have turned traitor. For Matthew, this means care to avoid imitating their behavior rather than "shunning" (deliberate avoidance of all contact).

Note, first, that reconciliation and forgiveness are the final goals of fraternal confrontation and admonition, not "making sinners pay" for their sin. Second, a priority goes to the erring member, not preserving at all cost the Church's reputation or its image as a "pure community."

Quite the opposite: every obvious case of unrepented sin denies the Gospel's power and witnesses against the Church's mission of reconciling sinners to God and to the community.

If necessary as a final step, excommunication should be carried out with genuine grief (1 Cor 5:2), not vindictive glee over another's "fall" or self-righteous pride.

Sunday Scripture Readings

PENTECOST SUNDAY, May 27

At the Vigil Mass:
Ezekiel 37:1-14; or Joel 3:1-5; Psalm 104;
Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39

Mass During the Day:
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;
Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
or Romans 8:8-17;
John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23-26

A little southern boy who had been drilled to be respectful in speaking to his elders was asked in religion class how many persons there are in God.

"Three: the Fathah," he began slowly, "the Son," and after a pause of head scratching, "Ahs forget the other gentleman’s name."

The name the little fellow forgot is the Holy Spirit. It seems he is the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity. Today on the feast of Pentecost, as we bring the Easter season to a close, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the Greek word for 50. The Jews had a feast on the 50th day after Passover. That’s why there were so many of them in Jerusalem from "every nation under heaven," when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and Mary. It was the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus.

Like a roaring wind, the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire on the heads of Mary and apostles and breathed new life into this first gathering of the Church. The impact on the apostles was immediate, radical and dramatic. Inspired by the Spirit of God, they boldly got out into the market place and proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over sin and death to those who had only recently crucified their master.

The apostles were no longer terrified or cowardly individuals. Their world, which had fallen apart with the crucifixion and death of Jesus, was now changed and transformed into a new creation. They emerged full of enthusiasm, with eloquence and a clear sense of their vocation.

It must have been an exciting time to be alive in the new Church. The atmosphere was joyful, change was in the air and the outpouring of God’s love upon all creation was like a river in flood. From the Holy Spirit they had already received the power of forgiving sins, as the Gospel tells us.

The Holy Spirit comes not only at the beginning of the Church, however. The living breath of God is at work in every age as a permanent feature, renewing and building up the Church. The Holy Spirit is available to all of God’s people including ourselves, but depends on people’s response to his promptings.

If we are ready to live our lives by his guidance and inspiration, always doing what we sincerely believe to be God’s will for us, there will be no limit to the support he will give us. As St. Paul says in the second reading, "we have all been given to drink of the one Spirit."

This is a good time to ask ourselves how we are making use of our God-given gifts. The Church is built up when we use our talents, not selfishly but for the good of all. We are stewards of the gifts God gives us. How we love and care for each other is a message to others. By it, outsiders judge our Christian faith.

For the most part, our gifts are not the spectacular type that fascinated the onlookers at the first Pentecost. But that doesn’t mean they are not important.

Being a patient father, a loving mother, a good friend and listener, having time for elderly parents and others who are needy may not attract the headlines. But those actions witness to the fact that God is to be found in the humdrum of daily routine.

It is in the ordinary things that we share most fully in the greatest of God’s gifts. God in his Holy Spirit is ever present, strengthening us in the difficulties and trials of our earthly journey and gradually forming Christ in us just as he did in the womb of Mary and in the hearts of the early Christians.

So today we pray: "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love." Far from being the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity, it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the Father and the Son continue their work in our hearts and in the world today. It is the Holy Spirit who is the infinite love of Jesus and his Father for each of us.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT,

NOVEMBER 27

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80;

1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

Thirty-five years ago a 43-year-old professor of Catholic theology in Germany named Joseph Ratzinger wrote:"It seems certain to me that very hard times await the Church.Her crisis has hardly begun."

Today the author of those words is Pope Benedict XVI.What form the hard times he predicted back in 1970 would take, Joseph Ratzinger did not say. Today we know. The crisis of priestly sexual misconduct with minors, which burst upon us in January 2002, is the most painful that we American Catholics have ever experienced.Similar things have happened elsewhere.
The people whom Isaiah addresses in today’s first reading were also experiencing a painful crisis. They had returned to Jerusalem from exile with high hopes. Now, years later, the temple was still in ruins.

Selfishness and corruption were rampant. Many felt that God had deserted them.Isaiah’s words reflect their mood: "We are sinful ... There is none who calls upon your name ... You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt."

In this crisis, Isaiah prays for a dramatic intervention from on high, proving that God has not deserted His people."Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down."Even as Isaiah utters this prayer, however, he affirms that God is still caring for His people: "Yet you, O Lord, are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands."

God does care, Isaiah is saying.Through pain God is shaping us, as the potter shapes a lump of clay on his wheel.The things that pain us are signs not of God’s absence, Isaiah says, but of His presence. He is still working on us.

The same Lord is still working on His Church today. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church is "at the same time holy and always in need of purification ..." ("Lumen Gentium" n.8).Our anguish over priestly misconduct is part of this purification.

If we understand this, and cooperate with the purification, our present distress will bring forth a more dynamic Church, filled with greater missionary zeal.Cooperating with the Lord’s purification of His Church means for all of us — bishops, priests, and all the baptized — deeper commitment to the Lord, who made us His own forever in baptism."Be watchful!" Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel. "Be alert!"

The man who 35 years ago predicted "hard times" for the Church went on to say: "But after the purification ... a great strength will emanate from a spiritualized and simplified Church."And 12 years ago Cardinal Ratzinger told an interviewer: "I am still certain that the Lord prevails and that the Church survives; not only survives, but lives with strength through all these crises.I am in this sense optimistic, because I am one who has the hope of faith."

It was the hope of faith which caused Isaiah to pray: "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down." Mark’s Gospel says that at Jesus’ baptism Isaiah’s prayer was fulfilled: "Immediately on coming up out of the water Jesus saw the sky rent in two and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove" (Mark 1:10).

Every Mass is a "rending of the heavens."In the Eucharist Jesus comes to be with us.He gives us medicine for the wounds we receive in the battle of life; food to strengthen us for the journey still ahead.What prayer could be more fitting on this Advent Sunday than Isaiah’s words from our first reading? "Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of You in our ways!"

When we try to remain "mindful of the Lord in all our ways," we discover that Paul’s beautiful words from today’s second reading are true:

"He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, and by Him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Father Hughes resides at Christ the King Parish in University City.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 2

Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100;
Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30

OUR GOOD NEWS: Joy, trust, confidence, gratitude in God’s caring love, revealed through his Son and proclaimed to the whole world.

The early Church experienced both triumph and tragedy in its enthusiasm to bring the world to Christ. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles provide an historical overview of the first years. Instead of concentrating on the past, handing on such traditions as were available, Luke chose to address the present and future. What is the Church called to become?

Luke fleshed out the results of his research, telling a story that focused the earliest missionary endeavors on two persons, Peter, then Paul. Today’s first reading conveys the Lucan understanding of how Paul typically proceeded in founding local churches throughout the Roman Empire. The story of this model missionary is told in generalized and summary form, Luke’s way of indicating how the Church did — and should — proclaim the Good News.

Christianity first established itself in two centers, Jerusalem and Antioch in Syria. The latter became a base for missionary activity throughout the Roman Empire. Like Paul in today’s selection, the earliest apostles (those "sent" to proclaim the Good News) originally concerned themselves with diaspora Judaism — permanent communities of Jews located in the major population centers, where religious life centered on a local synagogue. Edified by their Jewish neighbors, many pagans had become "God-fearers." These semi-converts could not withdraw completely from their Gentile milieu, and, therefore, were unable to live the Mosaic law fully. But they joined in synagogue worship and patterned their lives on Jewish moral teachings.

Missionaries like Paul visited such Jewish centers and sought to persuade the local congregations to accept Jesus Christ as the promised and expected Messiah. Some responded positively, particularly the God-fearers; but most rejected the proclamation as dangerous heresy. Finally, an appeal was made to interested pagans, who often received it enthusiastically. This is how the early Church eventually evolved from being exclusively Jewish to becoming predominately Gentile.

In his own letters, Paul rejoiced that Old Testament prophecies about salvation being extended to Gentiles were in process of fulfillment. On the other hand, in Romans 9:11, he agonized over the mystery of Jewish resistance to the Good News, even offering (were it possible) to trade his own salvation for theirs. Paul insisted that God had neither abandoned nor cursed Judaism. Jews continue "beloved" because "God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28-29). This truth we must hear and appropriate!

Today’s first reading invites us, as Gentile Christians, to a bittersweet joy — happy that we have been chosen and sad that our Jewish sisters and brothers do not yet acknowledge Jesus as Lord. It also includes a heavy dose of humility. In God’s mysterious providence, we Gentiles are the "last" (least important) who have become "first" (admitted into the Church).

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