Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings



Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126;

Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

Most of us can remember a favorite teacher or mentor. This was the person who made a particular subject in school, or even a particular vocation, come alive for us.

Very often it meant that our perspective on life was transformed by the insights and example of this teacher or mentor so that we could discover our full potential.

In a sense this is the role John the Baptist played in salvation history and, as this is relived each liturgical season, continues to play for us during Advent now.

Just as Luke does in the account of the birth of Jesus, he situates John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry within the context of history.

Using this top-down approach from Emperor Tiberius Caesar through the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, Luke demonstrates that the word of God did not come to the powers of this world but to the desert places where John preached. This should remind us of the desert where God’s people roamed during the Exodus. Furthermore, the fact that John moved about the Jordan River makes it clear that his message would be like the Israelites’ passage into the Promised Land, that is, hope and new life.

This is echoed in the beautiful message of our first reading from the prophet Baruch. Jerusalem appears as a grieving mother whose children are in exile and whose future seemed bleak. Yet the prophet boldly proclaims for her to "take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever; wrapped in the cloak of justice from God."

Jerusalem is also depicted as the high priest who must "look to the east," for in the direction of the rising sun is a new day in which the exiles return home.

We can identify with these feelings for this season is one of homecoming: soldiers returning from war; children and family visiting; neighbors coming over to celebrate. But this homecoming has cosmic implications for Israel. God’s people, once scattered and defeated, are now transformed and even their journey home radiates the power and justice of God.

But what does this hope-filled promise mean in our context today? Possibly we can feel exiled, from God or other people. Sin and the problems of our world and our lives can sometimes overwhelm us. Yet as Paul addresses the Philippian Church and us, his prayer is one of obvious affection rooted in their openness.

They are partners for the Gospel. His confidence is real as he offers the reassurance now echoed in today’s ordination rites and religious profession: "that the one who has begun this good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." Paul’s prayer for them and us is that despite any obstacles, the selfless love that is foundational to Christian living must grow and we "may be pure and blameless" until Jesus comes.

This is a demanding call. And that brings us back to why John the Baptist is such a good teacher and Advent mentor for us. Just as he is that "voice crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,’" so he invites us to enter the quiet of the desert to hear anew God’s word of promise in this new Church year. He asks us to see from a new perspective the events of history as well as our personal lives that God is still active.

Yet we do not remain in the desert. We go out into the promised land of the world with confidence that our words become actions in love, our knowledge is professed in faith and our holiness leads to justice, all because of Christ.

This means that Advent is a time of not only profound waiting but also active listening and learning. It is not merely a time of preparing for a single birthday celebration, even if it is that of Jesus Christ.

We need to stop amid the hustle and bustle of our lives (and this season) long enough to allow God to transform us to "make straight his paths" and see that he has already spoken his Word in Christ and continues to speak in and through us who are yearning for the fullness of life and hope so that "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

Father Heier is pastor of All Saints Parish in University City and director of the archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Sunday Scripture Readings


Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147;

1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

The Last Supper was the meal at which Jesus gave us His greatest gift — His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

Today, on Corpus Christi, we celebrate that gift and profess that Jesus Christ, Son of God, is truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in this Holy Sacrament. It is not just a symbol or a reminder of the past. Jesus is really and truly present.

God’s feeding of His people under Moses in the desert some 1,300 years earlier was a preview of this wonderful sacrament. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that those who share in the Body and Blood of Christ are truly one, just as many grains of wheat make one loaf of bread and many grapes make one wine.

Jesus showed us that He had the power over bread and food by multiplying a few loaves for thousands of people. He showed us His power over water and wine by His miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana.

Today’s Gospel comes right after the multiplication of loaves and Jesus’ clear proclamation of the teaching on the Eucharist, that He would give His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This was a radical and shocking teaching for many of His followers and some stopped following Him because of it. Jesus didn’t explain to them just how He was going to do this because He wanted them to trust Him.

When He asked His apostles if they too were going to leave, Peter said, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." They didn’t understand how He would do it, so they took His promise on faith.

Jesus spoke of Himself being the living bread, then said: If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. So, it’s a matter of being dead or alive with eternal life.

Why did Jesus choose the elements of bread and wine to become His Body and Blood? First of all, it takes faith to believe that Jesus is truly present under the appearances of bread and wine when we can’t see it with our bodily eyes.

Secondly, St. Thomas Aquinas says that "grace builds on nature." Jesus would not go against our nature which He as God created. If the consecrated bread took on the appearance of your own flesh, would you want to eat it? If the consecrated wine looked like the blood the nurse takes out of your arm, would you want to drink it?

We naturally back away from such things. So Jesus took the basic solid food — bread, unleavened because it was the time of the Passover — and He took wine, the common supper drink. As He said, "This is my Body, this is my Blood," the bread and wine were substantially changed into His Body and Blood.

Jesus gave this power to His priests. The most beautiful gift in the world takes place daily at Mass when at the words of Christ said by the priest, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The miracle is that the appearances of bread and wine remain so that we will not be afraid to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

This is what we must do if we are to enter eternal life. And this is the most special way Jesus shares His divine life with us — the way He comes to dwell in our hearts so that He can share in all the aspects of our individual lives.

St. Paul tells us that together with the others who also receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we form one body — the Mystical Body of Christ which is His Church. We, though many, are one — one in Christ Jesus and with each other.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings



Zephaniah 3:14-18;

Isaiah 12:2-6 (responsorial psalm);

Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

OUR GOOD NEWS: Rejoice! God is already in our midst, here and now. Time for us to strengthen our fellowship through reform of life.

Today’s world suffers from loneliness and a feeling of powerlessness before destructive forces, both known and imagined. Zephaniah (first reading) and Isaiah (responsorial verse) proclaim that God is with us, and that because he is in charge we have nothing to fear.

When God summoned his Chosen People to immediate rejoicing through the prophet Zephaniah, happy times still lay in the indeterminate future. Paul (second reading) invites us into God’s Kingdom already begun. He commands: "Dismiss all anxiety from your minds." Would that we could obey — promptly, thoroughly, permanently! And yet our hesitation reveals a deep-seated unfaith, an unwillingness to open up and receive the Good News, a holding back from surrendering to God’s transforming grace. In Jesus, Zephaniah’s promised age has already begun. Fear, discouragement and despair have no place in the lives of those who look to God rather than to frail human resources for support.

"Prayer" is our characteristic activity and antidote to faithless anxiety. Our prayers combine "gratitude" for the Kingdom already possessed, with "petition" that we may more perfectly enter into it. Although the fullness of shalom (peace) lies in the future, these are exciting times since the time hastens to fulfillment: "The Lord is near!" Even now we are given a sufficiency of Final-Age "peace," because of which we can "always rejoice," even in the midst of life’s difficulties.

Paul captured in one Greek word the whole spirit of Christian living when he commanded, "Let your epieikes be evident to everyone." This root Christian virtue has been variously expressed in English as graciousness, gentleness, forbearance, considerateness, unselfishness, tolerance, magnanimity. Such habitual behavior, fortified by constant prayer, is the Church’s sure sign that the Final Age approaches. It is a reality both awaited and already enjoyed by the Christian community. "Rejoice in the Lord always!"

Paul implied that worry and anxiety can reveal pride rather than humility. We want to do for ourselves rather than hand over to God problems too big for human solution. Such fears also mean that we do not pray as we ought. We may be surprised that epieikes is the dominant Christian virtue, but it really characterizes God himself, and is a virtue most appealing to our modern, impersonal world.

The theme of our Gospel selection is that God’s will makes specific demands upon each of us as individuals. Normally we are called to make realistic changes within our present situation rather than do something spectacular after altering our lifestyles. John the Baptist made concrete his generic summons to repentance for three groups of Jews whom strict Pharisaism would have written off as hopelessly immoral: "the crowds," mostly the ordinary poor; "toll collectors" who worked in a milieu of graft; and "soldiers," Jews serving the Jewish king Herod, easily tempted to extortion and intimidation. No one stands beyond the reach of God’s healing power!

Sunday Scripture Readings

sixteenth sunday

in ordinary time,

july 22

Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15;

Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus liberates women from discrimination and exploitation.

The Lord came for dinner one day, invited by Martha (the "lady" or "mistress of the house" and hostess). The story takes its meaning from the posture assumed by Martha's sister Mary. She had assumed the attitude of a disciple, one who "sits at the feet of" the master and there "listens to his words." Martha, the principal character in today's Gospel story, posed a problem for the teacher to solve. She complained about three things: excessive demands of hospitality and table service, her sister's unwillingness to help and Jesus' insensitivity toward an unfair situation. Martha's being "pulled and dragged around" ("busy") refers to her state of mind - feeling overworked and taken advantage of - as well as to all the tasks necessary in preparing a good meal (Can you identify with Martha?) Jesus should solve the problem by acknowledging the unfairness and ordering Mary to help out. No fair!

The Lord rejected Martha's assessment of the situation and her seemingly obvious solution. She, not Mary, was the problem; only she, not Jesus, could correct it. By addressing Martha by name and repeating it for emphasis, Jesus drew attention to her wrong attitude and its implications. His words did not condemn loving service and the virtue of hospitality. They must be interpreted in the context of Jesus' own example of having "come to serve," as well as his accepting Martha's invitation to dinner. As hostess, she was expected to show hospitality. But Jesus faulted her attitude, a subtle form of legalism. Martha preferred hard work over the more demanding challenge of discipleship. Attentive learning at Jesus' feet takes priority over a tasty soup. It involves newness and growing, the painful changing of attitudes as well as values.

This brief narrative demonstrates the destructive effects of unhealthy, excessive preoccupation with tasks (however praiseworthy in themselves), and summons us to a painful reordering of our priorities. Work should express our commitment to Christ, not substitute for it.

Sunday Scripture readings


Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43;

Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4 or

1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20: 1-9

When we say no, God says yes.

That is the message of Easter. On Good Friday human beings said no. On Easter, God overruled this no with his triumphant yes.

That is the earliest Christian understanding of Easter. It explains the use in the earliest Christian preaching of the verse from today’s responsorial psalm: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." When we say no, God says yes.

When we look at all the evil in the world and say there is no hope, God says there is hope. God himself is our hope. He is stronger than all the forces of evil.

When we look at all the suffering and injustice in the world and say that there is no meaning in life, that there is no point in sacrifice because self-sacrifice is always defeated, and that idealism has no future, God says yes, there is a future for us. God himself is our future.

On Good Friday the friends of Jesus thought evil had triumphed. They were wrong. "They put him to death," Peter says in today’s first reading, "by hanging him on a tree." But — and it is the most important "but" in history — "this man God raised on the third day."

Not Satan but Jesus Christ emerged victorious from the conflict on Calvary. The sign of that victory is the empty tomb of Easter morning. It is a sign only, not a proof. Of the two disciples in today’s Gospel reading who saw the empty tomb, only one understood the sign and believed. The other came to belief only later, when he saw the risen Lord.

When we are tempted to think that there is nothing beyond death, no goals beyond such happiness as we may be able to achieve in this life, God says yes, there is life beyond death. This life is a preparation for that life.

This message of our no and God’s yes is central in the letters of St. Paul, who encountered the risen Lord not at Easter but outside Damascus, where Paul was going to say his own no to Jesus Christ by arresting Jesus’ followers.

If God’s triumphant yes, first uttered on Easter morning, is to be heard in our world, it will be heard only through us. "This man God raised on the third day," Peter says in our first reading, "and granted that he be made visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead."

Each Eucharist is the continuation not only of the Last Supper but also of those meals Peter was talking about which Jesus shared with his friends after his Resurrection. Each time we obey Jesus’ command to "do this in my memory," the risen Lord renews his yes.

And he commissions us to be witnesses of that joyful and triumphant yes to a weary and discouraged world.

We bear our witness not so much by words, for people today are inundated by words. Rather, we bear witness to the risen Lord by living as people who know that because of Easter this world is not without hope, life does have meaning, death is not the end.

At each eucharistic meal with our risen Lord he empowers us to live as people who know that this world, with all its horrors and suffering and evil, is still God’s world. At every Mass the risen Lord renews the commission we received in Baptism and Confirmation, that we may be "children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" (Philippians 2:15f).

That is our high calling as God’s daughters and sons, our thrilling destiny as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Can there be a calling more glorious than that?

To the extent that we fulfill this calling we, like Peter, are witnesses to the risen Lord and to his power. We are proclaiming, through lives which speak more eloquently than words, that Jesus Christ, risen triumphant from death today, is truly "the stone which the builders rejected, (who) has now become the cornerstone."

We are proclaiming that Jesus Christ "is not a blend of yes and no, but that with him it was and is yes. He is the yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them."

Father Hughes is in residence at Christ the King Parish in University City.

Sunday Scripture Readings




Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80; Philippians 4: 6-9;

Matthew 21:33-43

A GI, stationed in Germany during World War II, got a "Dear John" letter from his sweetheart telling him she was going to marry a sailor, and to please return the photo she had given him.

He collected photos from every GI and shipped an enormous crate of them back to the poor girl. When she opened the crate, the accompanying note read: "Please pick out your picture and return the rest to me — I don’t remember which one is yours."

There is no pain more intense or distressing than that of being rejected. Like a sword of sorrow, rejection pierces our heart and leaves us deeply wounded.
Rejection is something we all encounter on our journey through life, and Jesus was no exception.

The awe-filled truth is that the Son of God came to earth, showed His love in every possible way yet was rejected. God has done everything possible for us as a people by sending His Son to live among us, and yet many people have turned their backs and offered Him nothing but ingratitude, indifference and hate.

We must see ourselves in this parable. In a sense each of us is a tenant, cultivating a small portion of God’s vineyard, and when harvest time arrives we are expected to produce the fruits of right living by lives of faith, hope, charity, caring and sharing. By doing this we put into practice during the week what we profess and celebrate at Sunday Mass.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus is with us in the Eucharist, and in the persons of the unwanted, the despised and destitute members of society as well as the members of our families and our friends. Yet so many people reject Him, are ungrateful and hateful.

Jesus comes in the person of every child in the womb. He is trying to be born again in our world, but the abortion movement is rejecting Him by destroying Him in what should be the safest sanctuary on this earth, the womb.

He comes to us in the sick, the elderly and the needy, but the movement to approve assisted suicide and euthanasia is rejecting Him. He comes to us in the poor of Third World countries and our own country, but the movement to ban immigrants and
population-control people are rejecting Him.

And of course, as said above, He comes to us in the Church and sacraments and yet almost two-thirds of Catholics, according to one poll, do not believe in His Real Presence in the Eucharist and other sacraments. He comes to us in Scripture, but how many read the Bible outside of Mass time?

The first reading compares God’s people to His vineyard, but He asks why the vineyard yields only wild grapes. And God asks, "what more was there to do for My vineyard that I had not done?"

And, yes, Jesus comes to us in the prisoner and criminal. After all, Jesus, Himself was put to death on the cross as a criminal between two other criminals; but He forgave the repentant thief and excused those who crucified Him by saying, "They do not know what they are doing."

Jesus’ truth demands that we be different from others in that we accept suffering and self-denial, that we abandon selfishness and be generous in our love and service to God and to others.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us what to do: "Keep on doing what you have learned, received and heard from Christ, His Church and the Scriptures dismiss any anxiety and present your needs to God in prayer, always being thankful to Him. Your thoughts and actions should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent virtuous, or worthy of praise . then will the God of peace be with you." Jesus says to us: "I have chosen you from the world to go forth and bear fruit that will last," the fruit of seeing and accepting Him in the Church, sacraments, in our own hearts and in each other.

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

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