Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


HOLY TRINITY, MAY 26


Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52-56;


2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

OUR GOOD NEWS: The mystery of the Trinity models for us profound unity to which we are called.

In caring for his Chosen People God shows us what he's really like. Contrary to frequent understanding, God is neither an indifferent Creator nor a punitive Judge but is forgiving, loving and caring far beyond human imagining. "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." If we really hear and accept this amazing revelation first announced to Moses (first selection), how would this Good News change our minds and attitudes?

Today's responsorial psalm are the opening verses of a hymn sung by three young Jews as they walked unscathed through Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. We too praise God best by recalling all the good things he has done for us, individually and as his Chosen People. God's sovereignty over all creation has been delegated to Christ, whose kingship is now being extended, primarily through the Church, over the earth through the Holy Spirit's effective activity. Christ, who dwells in the uppermost regions of created existence, oversees with lordly wisdom and power the depths of everything that is. "Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the Cherubim."

In the second reading Paul assures us that Trinitarian life isn't academic or theoretical but practical. It's the basis for authentic Christian living as individuals and in community, overcoming sad sinful tendencies toward factionalism. "Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you." Our venerable practice of greeting during worship summons us to genuine, unfeigned affection, through which we discover the hidden God's love. "Greet one another with a holy kiss!"

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." Reference to the kiss of peace flows naturally into this Trinitarian formula for God, since the love and unity perfectly revealed within the Trinity is to be reflected in the Church on earth. Paul asked for a continuation and deepening of this action-gift that establishes and builds up the Church. Behind this grace is the overarching "love of God (Father)," the central Good News proclaimed in the Old Testament and now fully revealed through what the Son did and suffered. Further, Paul wished a continuing and deepening of our "participation" in the Holy Spirit, a drawing together to receive the divine gifts of love and unity.

Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME

JANUARY 14

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96

1 Corinthians 12: 4-11;

John 2:1-11

Many priests and pastors can attest that when scheduling marriages the date is often determined not for sentimental reasons but by the availability of a reception hall. Wedding receptions can sometimes outshine the actual ceremony. In a sense this is natural. We want to celebrate important milestones in the cycle of life. And it is true in every culture and religion.

A particular blessing for Catholics is that most of the time the Sacrament of Matrimony is celebrated in the context of the Eucharist. This is most appropriate in that the Mass is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet in which we hope to one day be in communion with God face to face. Unfortunately, the connection between this heavenly celebration and the earthly wedding reception can easily be lost.

Marriage and its celebration in the life of humans has been a favorite theme to characterize the relation of God to humanity. Our first reading today, from Isaiah, speaks to a situation in which Jerusalem faces disaster. But the prophet boldly proclaims that for the sake of the people he cannot remain silent. God is about to do something wonderful and new. This newness is described in terms of a marriage covenant.

Just as marriage reflects the creation of a new couple and a new name, so God is doing the same. "Forsaken" can refer to a wife abandoned and "desolate" may refer to a lack of children. But God wants to do everything possible to renew the relationship for now his beloved is called a "delight" and now "espoused."

These intimate terms that characterize God’s enduring relationship with his people reflect an abundance of love and compassion that goes even beyond the normal relationship of spouses.

Thus it is fitting that Jesus performs the first of his signs at the wedding celebration in Cana. These signs, especially in John’s Gospel, are not mere miracles. They point to the deeper reality of all that Christ will accomplish when his "hour" comes. The situation is serious, at least from a social point a view.

During the wedding banquet, the wine ran short. Wine was the common drink in the culture of Jesus, especially since water could often not be pure. But it also had a deeper meaning. It stood for the fullness of life and joy that would characterize the messianic age let alone a marriage celebration.

All of us could identify with the embarrassment of the bridal couple and family. The mother of Jesus notes this to her son. His response may seem abrupt, but in this case calling her "woman" might be only a formal manner of address. Further in reality he is reminding her that his "hour has not yet come." This hour will be on the cross when Jesus, again in the presence of his mother, will show in abundance the love and mercy of God.

Note though that Mary’s faith in her son is undaunted for she instructs the servers "Do whatever he tells you." These last recorded words of Mary in the New Testament form the basis of any further theological of refection on Mary and what she can say to the community of faith then and in any age.

The six stone water jars would have been used to provide both ritual as well as basic cleansing. When these are filled with water and some is drawn for drinking it has become wine. Two facts point to the wonderful nature of this event. First, it is, even by modern standards, a tremendous amount of wine. Second is the comment of the headwaiter to the groom that it is a better vintage than had been offered.

This sign of Jesus demonstrates the overwhelming gift of God’s grace and radical newness this grace can be for those who partake.

In a sense this is the message of our selection from Paul’s words to the Corinthians. The expansive nature of the Holy Spirit is operative in the variety of gifts, works and ministries to be used within the community of faith. The fact that they vary among the individuals who make up the community has certain practical implications. One only has to look around your parish to experience the different gifts, skills and services that not only unite to make the church function but also reflect the wonderful nature of a community united by Christ.

This gives us profound reason to celebrate. Just as at the wedding banquet at Cana, Jesus begins his public ministry showing forth the glory of God as mediated in the loving concern for others. This loving concern will be fully expressed in the ultimate way when he dies on the cross. This is why we should never hesitate to experience the celebration of the Eucharist as the sign and promise of Christ’s act of self-giving on the cross as well as the joyful banquet of a people wedded to God anew.

With this Sunday we begin Ordinary Time, or the ordered Sundays and weeks of the year outside of the particular liturgical seasons. These weeks further the joyful message we recently heard during Christmas and Epiphany. In the liturgical sense, the story of the wedding at Cana was linked with the visit of the Magi and the baptism of our Lord as the real Epiphany, that is, the manifestation of God in Christ. During this ordinary time may we recognize what is far from ordinary, that is, the wonderful unfolding mystery of Jesus who is calling us to fulfillment in a wedding banquet far more lavish than any our culture could imagine. And to top it off, a good wine to long for!

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 3

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145;

Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Scientists and language experts some years ago were working on a new translator box. It had a microphone on one side and a speaker on the other.

By pushing a button, a person could select a language into which he wanted to translate from English. In a few seconds a voice came out in the language chosen.

In one experiment, a scientist spoke the words of Jesus into the mike: "The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The voice from the speaker said in perfect French literally translated into English: "The whiskey is good, but the meat is tough."

When St. Paul uses the flesh (second reading), he doesn’t mean our biological body but our tendency toward sinfulness. And for Paul, spirit meant our tendency toward godliness. Paul is reminding us to realize that baptism has removed from us the influence of the "flesh" and has given us strength to live a godly life. The word "die" means to die to the old ways of the flesh, namely sin, to live fully the life of the spirit — the spirit of Jesus who is our best friend and our brother.

The beautiful Gospel quotes a prayer of Jesus to His Father: "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones."

What things? That the kingdom of God is at hand, that the kingdom of God is in our midst, that the kingdom of God abounds in the person of Jesus who lives within our hearts and that what Zechariah prophesied in the first reading has come to pass: "Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem. See, your king shall come to you, a just savior is He and He shall proclaim peace to the nations."

God intends these things for all His children but those who are childish will not listen — they are closed to Him; on the other hand, those who are childlike cannot hear enough; they are open to receive Jesus.

In Jesus’ time, the childish were the Scribes and Pharisees, who were closed to Him. The childlike were mainly those who suffered at the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees.

"Come to Me," Jesus says to these childlike "all you who labor and are burdened"; burdened with the law made intolerable by the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus continues: " will give you rest." The Scribes and Pharisees had translated the Ten Commandments into 613 precepts and these were even complicated more by interpretation. The law had become a yoke too difficult to bear. "Take My yoke," Jesus says, "and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden light."

Legend has it that Jesus, the carpenter, was the best yoke-maker in Galilee. A yoke was the wooden bracket that bound oxen together to lighten the burden they were hauling. Jesus’ yokes were always fitted to the ox so as not to gall its neck.

When Jesus says, "My yoke is easy," He means, "the life I give you is not a burden to you if I am yoked to you to help you. Your task is easier. It fits you." Together with me, you can carry the burden of your lives. A little prayer says, "Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle."

When Jesus uses the words, "meek and gentle of heart," He fulfills perfectly Zechariah’s prophecy that He would not come on a war horse leading a great army, but humbly and gently, riding on the colt of a donkey, just as He did on the first Palm Sunday.

Meek does not mean weak. Jesus was anything but weak. He stood firm for truth. In fact, He gave His life for our salvation. St. Francis de Sales once said: "Nothing is as strong as gentleness; nothing is more gentle than real strength."

Jesus is our strong, gentle friend. Baptism, in making us children of God, makes Jesus our brother. The psalm response says it this way: "The Lord is ... compassionate the Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down."

Jesus, our best friend and brother, lives in the Eucharist and in our hearts. He says to us: "I love you with everlasting love. No matter how you feel, I love you as you are. I will never abandon you. Come to Me when you are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you. Come to Me in prayer and worship. Accept My forgiveness in confession. Receive Me in Holy Communion. I will help you bear your burdens."

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

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 10

Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65;

Romans 8:18-23;

Matthew 13:1-23

A religion teacher asked her second-graders how Jesus knew the Scriptures so well.

Richard quickly answered: "Oh, that’s easy. His Daddy wrote them."

Actually, Jesus Himself is God’s Word made flesh, the Word of God alive. And His Word is passed down to us both in the written word of Scripture and the unwritten word of tradition in the Church.

The first reading and the Gospel are about the planting of the seed of God’s Word and various kinds of soil or hearts that receive it. Isaiah in the first reading says that God does not speak in vain but accomplishes what He wills by His Word. It’s like the rain that nourishes the soil and helps it bear fruit.

The psalm response sees God as a master farmer responsible for a rich harvest. In the second reading, St. Paul says that all creation is excitedly anticipating the coming of God’s reign God’s glory will be "revealed for us," that God’s Word will achieve the end for which He sent it.

The various kinds of soil in the Gospel represent various kinds of human hearts receiving God’s Word and how they respond to that Word. Those who, for example, think that the Church is out of date or old fashioned and not relevant to today’s world and that her teachings no longer apply to us today are like the footpath where the seed falls and the birds come and eat it.

Those who on hearing God’s Word say, "Now that’s really a good idea, and I certainly ought to do that," then quickly forget it are like the rocky ground that has no depth so that the seed cannot take root. Those people caught up in the cares, riches and pleasures of this life and who really prefer all these things to God are those where the seed is choked by thorns.

Finally, there are those who hear God’s Word and respond to it by applying it to themselves, striving daily to grow like Jesus and follow Him. These are the good ground. The Word of God comes alive in them. In Jesus’ parable, then, three of the four portions of seed either never take root or never reach maturity. Only a remnant of what is scattered produces a yield, but a yield so great that it makes up for the lost seed.

For any person to have the faith to accept God’s Word alive in Jesus and what He says through His Church takes a gift of grace from God, grace we need to ask for. While God desires the salvation of all, He does not force belief or acceptance. But if we ask Him, He will help us open our hearts to receive and live His Word.

What kind of soil is in your heart? If it isn’t like the good soil, you still have time to change it. How? Every farmer knows that there can be no germination nor growth of the seed into the tree or plant without cultivating and fertilizing the soil, pulling out the weeds followed by watering and plenty of sunshine. So the seed of God’s Word has to germinate in our hearts through cultivation and weeding out the sin and evil there.

With God’s grace to open our hearts, we have to welcome God’s Word in our hearts. We need the "sun" of God’s love and the "water" of grace from the sacraments, prayer and reflection on the Word, all of which help it to "germinate" or grow in our hearts and actions.

If this weekend seems to find you among the seed that is growing and yielding much fruit, thank the heavenly Father for that. Say a prayer for those who have sprouted and then withered, or who have never even sprouted. Don’t judge them. And take to heart the prayer after Communion: By our sharing in this Eucharist, Lord, may your saving love ever grow within us.

We must never be discouraged. The abundant harvest will come and we must look forward to that day with hope. All things will work together for good for those who love the Lord and are faithful to Him.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY IN

ORDINARY TIME

JANUARY 18

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96;

1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: God invites us to his wedding banquet, celebrating our "marriage" to him through Jesus.

Since the time of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, marriage and the marriage feast served as the standard metaphor for Israel’s intimate covenant relationship with God. Although Israel as the virgin bride quickly became an adulteress through disobedience and infidelity, the Lord remained her faithful but abandoned husband. Today’s first reading transferred the realization of this marriage from the past to End Times. Only then would God’s kingdom of love and obedience be fully established on earth through a final outpouring of divine gracious power. Then, at last, the "Bridegroom will rejoice in his bride" at the everlasting Messianic marriage banquet.

At Cana (Gospel), Jesus proclaimed by a prophetic-symbolic gesture that this long-awaited wedding was at last taking place. What Jewish cult and ritual could never do was brought about through the divine "glory manifested" in Jesus. Only through Jesus is there admission to the Messianic banquet (salvation) that celebrates the perfect union of God and His people (redemption). "The wine (of Judaism) ran out; the good (Final-Age) wine has been kept until now."

Jesus’ "hour" — His Passion, death and exaltation through which God’s Kingdom was established — "had not yet come." The Cana miracle was, therefore, incomplete and only a foreshadowing, only the "beginning" of His signs. Nonetheless, the Final-Age community of the saved, the Church, was already being formed: "His disciples believed in Him."

When the Cana miracle is understood on its own terms and according to the author’s intention, the primary theme is Christ-centered. He presides over the Final-Age banquet which celebrates the full covenant intimacy of God with His people. Secondary themes must be interpreted within this framework. The story addresses Christian marriage insofar as this sacrament symbolizes the union of Christ and his Church. The Eucharist is relevant because, as a sacred banquet, it is the sacramental anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Mary mediates between old and new covenants, summoning "the ministers" (rather than "waiters") to a new ministry as disciples of her Son. She is the Mother of the Church insofar as her presence and service were essential to its formation.

In context of the first reading from Isaiah, today’s psalm epitomized God’s "marvelous deeds" in a new and intimate union, His "marriage" with His people. But this good news is not the only reason calling forth from us a radically "new song" of praise. All peoples, families of all nations, are now invited to join the Chosen People in "giving glory" to the Lord whose special goodness now extends worldwide. The psalm thus verbalizes the Church’s missionary proclamation, summoning the whole world to accept and to acclaim the Lord as their King. Thus, the second reading teaches that we are all called and empowered by the Spirit to serve others in special ways. The Church’s ministries, Paul insisted, are many and varied. Each of us has been given a charism (spiritual gift) empowering our service for the good of the community.

Sunday Scripture Readings


nineteenth sunday


in ordinary time,


August 11


1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85;


Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

OUR GOOD NEWS: God meets us in adversity; calls us to himself and safety.

Earlier, the prophet Elijah had fearlessly de-nounced Israel's king and queen for disobeying God, raised a widow's dead son, and on Mount Carmel called down fire and rain from heaven - all in the power of God's mighty prophet reverted to a weak human being, fleeing from royal agents seeking his execution. He returned to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where God had appeared to his people and given the Law through Moses, there to hand over his failed life into God's hands.

Instead of welcoming death, Elijah found himself a second Moses, privileged with a direct encounter with the Lord. Israel's God had come to his people in great battles and mighty acts, amid violent spasms of nature. Now the prophet learned something new: The Lord can be found in less spectacular events, such as a "tiny whispering sound" (literally, "sound of thin silence").

Like Moses, Elijah's face must be covered lest he die from directly viewing God. By this gesture of self-preservation he opted to live, persuaded to return to active service. The future for the Chosen People - and our future - lay in Elijah's hands; none other remained to mediate between Israel and her Lord. Lessons for us in today's story include: We can encounter God in humble as well as spectacular events; failure no less than success is our privileged opportunity for growth; finally, the elder Elijah serves as a model for Christian seniors.

Christianity's greatest scandal is the failure of Judaism as a whole to accept Jesus as Messiah. Jesus himself lived as an observant Jew, and the earliest Christians - Mary, the Twelve, the first disciples and later converts - were exclusively Jewish. These continued to keep the Mosaic Law and considered themselves Jews who accepted God's Messiah, not members of a new and rival religion.

Deeply moved, Paul (second reading) cried out in passionate grief: "How great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart!" Notwithstanding all her privileges and Paul's strenuous apostolic labors, Israel rejected the Good News. Instead of yielding to frustration and resentment, Paul selflessly offered to trade his own election for "my own flesh and blood (kinsmen)," were that possible.

Judaism's uniqueness consists in being the Chosen People. God gave their ancestor Jacob the name "Israel" as a sign of Jacob's special role in the divine plan of salvation. Election means called apart, not for special treatment as pampered favorites but to mediate a universal blessing. Paul listed seven privileges, then concluded with Jesus, the greatest gift of all. Romans 11 insists that God has not rejected the Jews. Privileges once bestowed - whether on them or on us - are never taken back. Paul assuaged his sorrow with spontaneous praise ("blessing") of "God, who rules over all," inviting us to pray and set example for the Jews, like us uniquely blessed.

Sunday Scripture readings

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, MAY 6

Acts 13:21-27; Psalm 145;

Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Walk down the aisle of any supermarket. Scan the ads on TV. One word recurs in ever fresh combination: "new."

If it isn’t a new look, it’s a new taste, a new feeling, a new formula. During political campaigns candidates promise us a new society, a new frontier, new ideas or at least a new approach.

How many of these promises are fulfilled? Is life a cheat? Is our longing for newness doomed to be forever frustrated? To these nagging questions our second reading returns a ringing and confident No. "The One who sat on the throne said to me, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’"

The Lord who makes all things new does this in many ways. Our second reading speaks about one when it says: "Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.

He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God."

Deep in every heart there is a longing for a companion, a friend, a lover, who will accept and love us just as we are; who will support us in sorrow, share our joys, help us to rise above failure and injustice; who will be with us always.

When we were little children our parents probably did this for us. Few things are more devastating for a small child than to be suddenly separated from Mommy or Daddy. Across the span of 74 years I can still recall my feeling of panic when, on my first day at school, I found that my mother was gone. I realize now that she wanted to spare me a tearful farewell. At the time, however, I was crushed.

We have all had experiences like that. We carry those childhood hurts into adult life, still afraid that we shall be hurt again; that our efforts at friendship and love will be rebuffed; that we shall be let down, hurt, abandoned by someone we love and trust. When we are, the old wound is reopened and our fear of loneliness is reinforced.

To those oppressed by loneliness the Lord proclaims: "Behold, I make all things new." When no one else understands, there is One who does understand.

When everyone else seems to ignore us, to reject us, to condemn us, there is One who accepts us.

When I cannot find one other person to accept the love I long to give and receive, there is One who does accept, who loved me before I loved him, who loves me more than I can ever love him, who will go on loving me no matter what. His name is Jesus Christ.He is the One who makes all things new.

Jesus knew greater loneliness than we shall ever experience. Today’s Gospel reading opens with the departure of one of Jesus’ closest friends to betray him.

Immediately, however, Jesus speaks not of defeat but of victory: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him."

What gave Jesus that breathtaking ability to view betrayal as victory? It was his faith in a God who does indeed make all things new. God fulfilled that promise for his Son, however, not by delivering Jesus from death, but by raising him on the third day to a new life beyond death.

In his resurrection, Jesus experienced the fulfillment of the great promises of our second reading. On Easter, God wiped away all his Son’s tears. In his resurrection, Jesus was raised to a life in which there is "no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."

For us, as for Jesus on the night of his betrayal, the complete fulfillment of those promises belongs to the future. As St. Paul says in our first reading: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." God’s promise to make all things new means not preservation from hardships, but support amid hardships.

The Lord’s promise to make all things new is a glorious reality — but one that is both present and future. We live at the intersection of the "already" and the "not yet." Already God is with us, supporting us in so many ways: through his holy Word, through the sacraments, through our sisters and brothers. God’s promise of newness begins here and now.

Complete fulfillment of that promise belongs, however, to the "not yet." Only in a future life will God wipe away all tears from our eyes. Only beyond death shall we experience what Jesus experienced in his resurrection: "no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."

Life is not a cheat. There is One who does make all things new. His name is Jesus Christ. He can make your life new. He will never do this, however, without your consent.

His assurance, "Behold, I make all things new," is certain. One thing alone is uncertain. Do you really want the new life that God is offering you, even now, through his Son Jesus Christ?

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

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