Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF

ORDINARY TIME

January 30

Zephaniah 2:3,3:12-13;

Psalm 146;

1 Corinthians 1:26-31;

Matthew 5:1-12

The famous artist and painter Picasso was refurnishing his home. To make clear to the cabinetmaker just what he wanted, he took a piece of scrap paper and sketched what he had in mind.
Finishing the drawing, Picasso asked: "What do you figure it will cost?" The clever craftsman answered: "No charge. Just sign the sketch."

Talent and genius can make many things valuable, but most of the time it is according to worldly standards. The values of the world are wealth, influence or power, education and social status. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, called the Beatitudes, turn this kind of thinking upside down.

The first reading urges us to seek justice and humility, the uprightness of God. God’s perfections must shine in our lives. In the seventh century B.C., God’s people had become corrupt and pagan. The Temple was desecrated by the worship of pagan gods; materialism ruled the hearts of all.

The book of Zephaniah speaks of the "day of the Lord’s anger," which will be a day of punishment for those who worship and live the values of the world. But God will save the "remnant," a few significant people who have been faithful to Him. These are the people who have no influence, are poor in this world, and are humble and must rely entirely on God. That is what "poor in spirit" means.

Greek philosophy taught that "matter" is evil and only "spirit" is good. The Greeks considered all suffering to be evil. To them, it was foolish and unthinkable that God should have become man and absolute nonsense that the Son of God should die on a cross. It was stupidity that the "spirit" should again be imprisoned in the material body in the Resurrection.

People who are worldly wise and sophisticated have a hard time accepting the basic mysteries of faith. Real faith can only come when a person empties himself of all philosophical prejudices and accepts the cross and Resurrection. St. Paul does not condemn all learning, but only that kind which becomes an obstacle to faith.

Jesus’ Beatitudes in the Gospel give us a new way of looking at life. The world values wealth and influence, yet Jesus says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The world wants pleasure at all times at any cost. Jesus says that mourning for one’s sins is a blessing. The world praises pride and self-fulfillment; Jesus praises the meek. The world honors those who get to the top by any means; Jesus honors those who seek justice in all things.

Casual sex has become common in our culture; Jesus proclaims that the pure of heart will see God. Our natural inclination is to get even and seek vengeance against those who have harmed us. Jesus proclaims that the merciful will receive mercy. The world shrinks from pain or suffering; Jesus tells us we are blessed if we suffer for His sake.

So in every way, the values of Jesus are just the opposite of what the world holds dear. That’s why we have to struggle with God’s help to follow His values and not those of the world.

In the second reading, Paul rebukes those who brag about their roots and talents. A follower of Christ can boast only in God and the cross of Christ. The Beatitudes, then, describe the meaning of our life in Christ, the process by which we come to be His followers and disciples and the rewards for following that process. Indeed, "blessed" means "happy" — God’s kind of happiness which lasts forever.

Prayer for the week: Lord, I believe that You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Strengthen me to turn away from the way of life of affluence which would separate me from you, and from the distorted image into which prestige can lead me and from the living death of indifference to the poor all of which is the fruit of pride. Amen.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

AUGUST 3

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78;

Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

OUR GOOD NEWS:Jesus explains the mystery that is the Eucharist.

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we heard how Jesus miraculously fed a vast crowd who eagerly sought Him out. Their question, "When did you come here?," expressed puzzlement and surprise. They couldn’t understand how Jesus crossed the lake, unaware of His walking over stormy waters to join the disciples in their boat. But Jesus remained undeceived by the crowd’s enthusiastic attention, which was selfishly centered on the free food He had provided. Instead of yielding to discouragement, Jesus adapted His teaching to their less-than-ideal attitude, with words full of double meanings characteristic of discourses in John’s Gospel.

The people’s preoccupation centered on "perishable food" that maintains physical life one day at a time. Jesus offered a unique opportunity for getting a new "food" which, when eaten, confers transformed fullness of life, a gift whose effects last forever! This is what they — and we — ought to strive after. The gift that God freely confers through Jesus perverse humanity would rather earn through personal effort. The crowd thus raised the question of "works" (plural), inquiring about religious duties whose observance wins divine approval. Jesus countered that God expected only one "work" (singular), thoroughgoing "faith" commitment to his Son. Sinful human nature prefers prideful noninvolvement, willing to do (works) but refusing to believe (trust and confidence in Jesus rather than oneself).

"So that we can put faith in you, what sign are you going to perform for us to see?" This time the crowd correctly understood Jesus’ demand for faith commitment but continued in their sinful hardheartedness by insisting on the very proof He had just provided. They refused to acknowledge the multiplied barley loaves as God’s miraculous feeding, like manna provided their ancestors through Moses during their desert sojourn. But fulfillment implies more than repetition. Jesus went on with a profound interpretation of the symbolic feeding. Manna came "from heaven," an earthly food given by God to his hungry people. Not barley loaves but Jesus himself is "real, heavenly bread." Uniquely, this otherworldly sustenance confers eternal (rather than passing) "life" upon the whole "world" (instead of Israelites in the desert).

Sunday Scripture Readings

fifth sunday of Easter,

April 28

Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9;

John 14:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Church draws strength from healthy diversity.

Because the first Christians were exclusively Jewish, their community re-flected a major division already existing in Judaism. "Hebrews" were Palestinians who spoke Aramaic and read their Bible in the original Hebrew. "Hellenists" were Greek-speaking Jews with ties to Jewish colonies throughout the Roman Empire, reading their Scriptures in Greek translation.

These two groups roughly differed along conservative-liberal lines in culture, style, attitude toward Gentiles and observance of the Mosaic Law. Many of the pious Hellenist widows who came from the Dispersion to end their days in Jerusalem needed support. Friction between these factions within the Christian community became exacerbated by studied neglect of such "foreign" widows.

Church leaders proposed a major innovation to deal with this injustice. They would delegate some of their authority to others, presumably from the Greek-speaking faction. Proposed qualifications equally apply to every Church office in any generation: good reputation, openness to guidance from the Spirit, gifted with practical wisdom. The 12 officially appointed those whom the whole community chose, following the pattern of Moses installing Joshua as his successor (see Nm 27:15-23). Through "laying on of hands" they passed on power previously reserved to themselves, conferring responsibility and imparting strength along with the community's blessing.

Candid airing of grievance by a segment within the community thus led to prompt and innovative response from leadership, resulting in new vitality. Surprisingly, acknowledging rights of "Hellenists" did not alienate but attracted leaders among the "Hebrews" - "Many priests embraced the faith."

"Exult, you just, in the Lord!" Today's psalm selection urged the worshiping faithful to unrestrained cries of joy at the good things God has done. Failure to praise would be ungrateful and even offensive. The marvelous thing about God is that he says what he means without deviousness ("upright") and can be counted on to do everything he has promised ("trustworthy"). The responsorial verse is a one-line summary of divine initiative and our expected response. "Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you."

Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

NOVEMBER 19

Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8-11;

Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

We all know that there is something not quite right with this world. We sense it every day in ourselves and in our interactions with others.
Try as we may to do what is right and good, we sometimes fail. We cannot help it because we are human, imperfect beings.

The writers of the Old Testament were keenly aware of this inadequacy. They knew that the shortcomings of the world were well beyond our ability to rectify. Wars persisted.Famine occasionally flourished. Disease frequently threatened. Sin was all around.

Even so, they did not give up trying to understand this disorderliness.

They knew that God was involved, but they didn't know exactly how. Over time they developed a notion that God would burst into the world and set everything right. The Book of Habakkuk represents one of the fullest developments of this genre.

Our reading from the Book of Daniel is based on this imagery. It envisions a moment in time when a definitive, divine intervention occurs.

The name of the key player in this drama is Michael, which in Hebrew means "who is like God." Thus, this person will be a magnificent leader of God's people, for his leadership will have god-like qualities.

Even though his appearance will mark a time of enormous distress, he will provide the means of salvation.He will judge all people, both the living and the dead.Some will be blessed with everlasting life while others will be cursed with eternal horror and disgrace. Whatever the case, his judgment will be final. And, as a result, the world will finally reflect accurately what God intended for his creation at the beginning of time.

The Gospel reading for this week depends heavily on this Old Testament theme. Note how the coming of the Son of Man will cause a cosmic upheaval. Stars will fall. The sun will fade to almost nothing, and the moon will eclipse into darkness. All this indicates that the appearance of the Son of Man will fundamentally reorder God's created world. He will bring an ontological change that will inhabit the very pith of all matter.

As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of Man described here. We are aware that his first coming in Judea so long ago marked the beginning of our salvation.Through the Church he founded our restructuring in Christ that is personally and individually inaugurated

in each one of us when we are baptized in his name.

Baptism orients us to him. Confirmation affirms us in him.Eucharist renews us through him. Confession restores us to him. By living as best we can according to the example of Christ, we are assured that we can be among those elect his dispatched angels will gather at the end of the world.Because of Christ we dare hope for an eternal life with him.

Jesus also reveals in the Gospel passage that the precise time of his Second Coming is not known.Herein lies our greatest challenge. Even though the termination of the world may be far off, we need to live in the here and now as though the end were not that distant. For we must keep in mind that we live as much for the present as we do for our future redemption. The two cannot be separated, for our present existence is inextricably bound to our salvation in and through Christ himself.

This week, let us gather among family or friends and try to locate those aspects of our daily lives that connect us to our salvation. Try to identify at least two. Do we attend Mass regularly?Do we pray daily?Do we read God's Word often?

If we are able to say yes to these questions, then we must take the next step and ask ourselves how to integrate best the eucharistic moment, our prayer life and Bible reading into the lives we live. Share ideas with your friends and loved ones.Learn from each other. Guide each other, for those others too are a source of Christ's support on our path to eternal salvation.

Kitz is an associate professor of Scripture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and a member of Cure of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury. Her e-mail address is kitz@kenrick.edu.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FEAST OF THE ASCENSION, May 8

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23;
Matthew 28:16-20

Betty came home from religion class all excited. Breathlessly she told her little brother that God made the whole world with just His left hand.

When their mother heard this she asked: "Betty, why do you say God made the world with His left hand?" "He had to," answered Betty, "because the Bible tells us that Jesus sat on the right hand of His Father."

In the dioceses in many of the states — including the St. Louis Archdiocese — the Ascension replaces the seventh Sunday of Easter. The bishops decided that with Rome’s permission several years ago.

In the creed, it says of Jesus that "He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father." It mentions that the ascension of Jesus happened 40 days after the resurrection. This number need not be taken literally. The Jewish rabbis in Jesus’ time used the number 40 as a norm for completion. The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ public appearances in His risen body; now until He comes again, Jesus reveals Himself through His Spirit in His Church which we call His Mystical Body. St. Paul in the second reading focuses on this mystery of the Church to which Christ calls all people and which He has promised to safeguard to the end of time.

There are several lessons of faith we can take today: The first is that there is another life, a higher life to which we are called. And Christ is the only way to that life. Christ’s way means accepting His word, following His commandments as made known to us through the Church and Scriptures. The interval of 40 days also forms a "grace period" for our advantage to allow the events of Easter to penetrate more fully into our consciousness and awareness. During the past several weeks we had reflected on Jesus’ death, resurrection and His appearances to His apostles.

And so now we should be ready to approach, listen to and touch Jesus in His Church and through His sacraments. This entire time has helped us, we hope, to find meaning in Jesus’ words: "I am going to prepare a place for you."

Another lesson is that while we await Jesus’ second coming either at our death or at the end of the world, we must witness to Christ by daily professing and living our Catholic faith and being loyal to Jesus and His Church.

We must help bring the Light of Christ to all peoples by our example in life, our words, deeds and prayers. And if we live in Christ and for Christ, we shall join Him in glory. The Ascension shows us our true goal in life: to rise with Christ through the power of His Resurrection — to rise over sin and evil — the temptations through which we struggle with each day. And our risen and ascended Lord Jesus is still with us. He has accomplished what we would like to be able to do at times: namely to be in two places at the same time — Jesus is both at home with God, His Father in heaven, and at home with us on earth. What an awesome truth.
The prayer after communion sums up the meaning of today’s celebration: Father, in this Eucharist we touch the divine life you give to the world. Help us to follow Christ with love to eternal life where He is Lord forever and ever. Amen.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT,

NOVEMBER 30

Jeremiah 22:14-16; Psalm 25;

1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:2;

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

OUR GOOD NEWS: We look forward to God’s future for us, the better to learn and do his present will.

Last Sunday, the liturgical year fittingly closed with readings that looked forward to the Second Coming. With this return to Christ His universal and total kingship will become a reality, and all creation will be radically restored and renewed. Advent now begins a new annual cycle, but this does not mean just starting over again. Advent means "arrival," a season when the Church looks back in order to look forward. We recall Jesus’ first coming 2,000 years ago to rekindle hope in the certainty of His final coming.

The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians (second reading) is probably our earliest surviving Christian document, composed a mere 20 or so years after Jesus’ crucifixion — and a generation before the first Gospel, Mark. It provides a priceless view of the young Church that both reassures and challenges subsequent generations. Clearly revealed is the "love affair" that united local Christian communities with founding apostles. (Paul, together with Silvanus and Timothy, comprise the "we" speaking throughout the letter.)

The Good News centers on the universal "love" which sets us apart as a "holy" people. It must be taught by example as well as precept but also prayed for, since it is God’s free gift and is unavailable through merely human resources. "Hearts" strengthened by God are the source of commitment and dedication, not just of good feelings. Jesus’ Second Coming fills us with hope (first reading), but also summons us to practical concern for ongoing spiritual growth (Gospel).

The Church’s task, then and now, is to provide "instructions" in areas of faith and morals (see today’s psalm). She teaches proper conduct, through which we constantly "make still greater progress." The final sentence succinctly expresses the role of the teaching authority. Already in its very first generation, the Christian community acknowledged a normative and binding tradition that originated with the historical Jesus. This was to be applied and adapted by authoritative leaders who are guided by the risen Lord Jesus, invisibly present within every community.

Advent is a time of joyous expectation, centering on the Jesus who has come, is coming daily (especially in biblical word and in the Eucharist) and who therefore will come on the Last Day to complete His salvific work. Like Paul with his converts, we teach one another and our children to love by personal example. Signs of affection, acts of thoughtfulness and genuine practical caring for each other are essential to our Christian witness. Further, there are times to exhort and admonish, but this is to be done positively, building up the good already there. Daily Christian living is strongly focussed on the End. Our attitude toward Jesus’ Second Coming summons us to full involvement in the world but also to a healthy detachment. We are concerned to live each day and each hour as though it were our last. And yet, hope in God’s final victory carries us through every pain, disappointment and loss.

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